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Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland
Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (Toni L. Sandys)

Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus wanted its members of mixed backgrounds to make a choice: They could stay a part of the 55-member caucus, which represents African American state legislators, but only if they dropped affiliations with other “ethnic” caucuses. In other words, those members who also identified as Latino or Asian, essentially, would have to pick which part of their existence was more important to them. Do they band together with other members to fight for causes and legislation that impact the African American community, such as the funding of historically black colleges and universities? Or do they join the ranks of those fighting for the rights of immigrants or the funding of Korean cultural events?

That’s a choice nobody should have to make, which we’re glad to see the black caucus came to realize amid backlash to their proposed rule change. Some members said the shortsighted plan would have forced them into narrowing their identity. Those members had every right to complain, and it was wise for the caucus to throw out the idea, which had earlier been approved unanimously by a bylaws subcommittee and would have gone to a full vote Thursday.

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America has a sordid history of judging African Americans by their gene pool and how much black or white blood they have. The one drop rule of the 20th century ascertained that a person with even one drop of black or African blood was a part of the African American race. No matter how blonde the hair, blue the eyes or light the skin. We need to leave that kind of arbitrary race assigning in the past where it belongs. At the end of the day, individuals have a right to assign their own meaning to their roots and weigh them however they see fit. No one should have to ignore half — or a third or a quarter — of their family history and experiences. The black caucus proposal to try to exclude those with multi-ethnic backgrounds gives the impression that these members somehow aren’t black enough because of their varied backgrounds.

People of African descent aren’t isolated to the United States. Slave ships landed all over the world, including across the Caribbean and Latin America, and created large black populations just like in America. The legacy of slavery lives on in the Bahamas and Dominican Republic just as it does in America. Afro Latinos have the same concerns with poverty, racial equality and health disparities that African Americans have. The experiences of mixed race and ethnic people should not be downplayed, or worse, ignored.

Instead, the commonality of a black background should be used not as a dividing tool, but one that unifies people in a world that is becoming more multicultural by the day. Maryland’s legislative black caucus is the largest it has ever been, as well as one of the largest in the country. Without the 20 lawmakers of multi-ethnic backgrounds who are part of the caucus, that would not be the case. There is power in numbers.

Black Caucus Chairman Del. Darryl Barnes, a Prince George’s Democrat, seems to get that: “At the end of the day, I need every member,” he told The Sun’s Luke Broadwater after news of the controversial change in bylaws came to light. “We’re stronger if we stand together.” We applaud Mr. Barnes for practicing good leadership, but seriously question how such a proposal advanced so far in the caucus in the first place.

The proposed amendment came after divisiveness in the caucus over the choice of the next Speaker of the House. Adrienne A. Jones was the ultimate winner, but members of the caucus were divided in their opinion. We don’t know if that played a role in recommending the bylaws change, but we would remind lawmakers that even people of the same racial and ethnic background may have very different thoughts on leadership, along with everything else.

There are bigger issues to worry about than what ethnic identity members of the black caucus choose to represent. That is a personal choice, and making judgments on that choice fosters internal bickering that is not conducive to strong policy-making. The caucus clearly has some work to do before next session to build bridges among all its members. Save the political fighting for issues that really matter.

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