Saturday, June 25, 2022

Brunswick commissioner once again under fire for post questioning white privilege

BRUNSWICK COUNTY –– A public official, both celebrated and abhorred for speaking his mind, has spurred backlash once again for a controversial Facebook post. 

Brunswick County Commissioner Mike Forte took to the social media platform Tuesday afternoon from his official campaign page to doubt the meaning of white privilege. The social construct recognizes people with white skin are afforded certain advantages over those with darker skin. 

RELATED: Brunswick NAACP, Dem party, and 1,200 petitioners call for Commissioner’s resignation

These disparities are backed up by research that, for example, shows darker-skinned individuals are more likely to get pulled over during the daytime as opposed to at night, when the difference disappears

“When someone says ‘white privilege’ what they mean is ‘Two parent privilege’ or ‘Marriage privilege’ or ‘high school diploma privilege’ or ‘having a baby in wedlock’ privilege or several other ‘privileges’ that have nothing to do with race,” Forte wrote in the post.

In an interview, asked to elaborate on his position, Forte at first said the post speaks for itself, but later expounded on his belief that white privilege is an overblown concept given far too much attention. 

“I’m getting tired of hearing about all of this. White privilege and white supremacy and, oh my God, is this all we have to fight about? When we got all the other issues going on, not to mention a major pandemic,” he said. “And this is what people want to talk about? I’m so sick of hearing it.”

Forte acknowledged that white privilege is real but thinks it occurs in rare instances –– ”Do I think it’s an everyday occurrence with every person, every Caucasian on the planet? No.”

Citing a difficult upbringing with no outside financial support, Forte rejects the idea that any of his life’s accomplishments are attributable to his skin color. “Anything I have in life I earned,” he said. “I don’t want to hear about my privilege. I’ve been working since I was 7 years old.”

He said the prominence of the discussion unfairly puts white people on defense “for something that does not exist in everyday life.” Back in the ‘70s, Forte said he was a victim of reverse discrimination, when his employer overlooked him in a promotion in favor of a Black colleague he said was less qualified.

What seems like once a year, Forte posts something controversial and ignites backlash, prompting accusations that he’s racist. With gay and minority family members, Forte said he “doesn’t see color” and balks at the assertions. “I know who I am,” he said. “And they’re not going to tell me that I’m not who I am.”

Facebook posts

In previous controversies, Forte’s political colleagues have remained mum (with the exception of the 2017 Santa genitals joke, when then-Chair Frank Williams encouraged him to be more “judicious in what he posts”).

This time at least two fellow politicians promptly reacted. In a reply to the post, Brunswick County school board member David Robinson wondered why Forte would post a “clearly divisive” comment. 

Leland councilwoman Veronica Carter posted a lengthy response and stated she didn’t believe it was in line with the commissioners’ code of ethics. The code, adopted in 2017, requires elected officials to behave “consistently and with respect toward everyone with whom they interact.”

“This post does not become your office as Commissioner for our entire County,” Carter wrote. “I would ask respectfully that you reconsider the impact of what you’re saying and the hurtful message to a large percentage of your constituents and neighbors here in Brunswick County.”

Eric Terashima, chair of the Brunswick County Democratic Party, submitted an op-ed to the Brunswick Beacon, calling for the commissioner’s resignation. “Forte’s inflammatory commentary is a plague to Brunswick County citizens, and he should resign from public office.

Chair,” Terashima wrote. The post was shared on the eve of Dr. Martin Luter King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and serves as “little more than a racist dog whistle,” the chair wrote.

Last year, a different Forte post reflecting on race prompted an online petition, collecting more than 3,400 signatures calling for his resignation (the commissioner doubts the legitimacy of the signees, questioning how many were truly county residents). 

In that post, he shared inaccurate characterizations of the Black Lives Matter movement: “All whites should give their homes and wealth to a black family.”

At a few meetings last year, petitioners protested the post in county meetings, calling for Forte’s resignation, led by the Brunswick County NAACP and the county Democratic party. 

“They like to come out, they like to scream and yell. They have no idea what the job entails. You know, they just want to scream: ‘Everybody is racist,’” he said. 

Despite the controversy (even perhaps because of it –– “they make me more popular,” he said) Forte ran unopposed last year. 

“Let’s be fair, they hate me. Fine. Comes with the job. No matter what you do, half the people are mad at ya,” he said. “Yet, they didn’t bother to put anybody up to run against me. So I can’t be doing too bad of a job.”

Re-elected commissioner of district four, Forte earned 60,233 votes –– 4,383 more than President Donald Trump. 

No matter how many controversies he creates, Forte said he can’t be shamed into changing his style. “Look, I’m pushing 66 years old. I’m too old a dog to learn new tricks,” he said “I’m not going to be stifled or silenced by what is literally a handful of people.”

“They can hate me till the cows come home, I do my job, I do it well, and nobody cares about this county more than I do,” he said. “It’s open season on conservatives. So come on, bring it.”

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