Ernest J. Quarles is a practicing attorney, intersectional critical race researcher, and historian who teaches at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore.

By Ernest Quarles

It is high political season once again and our street corners are engulfed with increasing numbers of signage for individuals who would be best described as mere strangers.  

This brand of political graffiti is almost circus-like in its visual aesthetic. The names that remain indelibly etched in our minds are not there based on what we have learned about that candidate’s platform as much as it is due to actual visual impressions registered in our brain.

In Maryland, political ascendancy for people of color has been a gradual process. Here, as in many states across the country, our process has an origin story complicit with White supremacy. 

For years real power in Maryland was held in the state senate with Black candidates securing the blessing of people like former state Senator Mike Miller to run for political offices. Once in office, these politicians supported the legislative priorities of their White brethren facilitators. These colored elected officials also provided their individual endorsements to other Black or colored hopefuls and placed them on their own ticket.

This anointing method created individual fiefdoms of political power which kept Black politicians from forming a collective or party-centered vetting system.  The result…White power reigned supreme.

We have only to look at the former and current Maryland Gubernatorial tickets to understand the indentured servitude-like reality that is the Maryland political process and Black political consciousness. What we are witnessing is how we define political liberation (or the lack thereof) in an age of a White supremacy normative.

Whether it is the O’Malley-Brown, Ehrlich-Steele, Hogan-Rutherford, or the current Franchot-Anderson-Walker and Gansler-Hollingsworth tickets, it is clear that there is a not-so-secret sauce to winning the gubernatorial election in Maryland. The last person of color who attempted to run for Governor, Ben Jealous, received both antagonistic and lukewarm receptions by the state Democratic powerbrokers.

It is important to note that while Black and other people of color continue to fill political offices, White power no longer needs to resort to stoking racial tensions as they did in the 1890s. 

Many people of color in Northern Prince George’s County experienced the same systemic issues in the housing and finance market that they faced more than 125 years ago.  Yet, there is a formidable colored middle-class in the area nonetheless. Some would argue, however, that that is a group without real political capital.

We can recount endless examples in present-day America where systemic inequities run rampant and yet the false narrative tends to become one of progress and advancement. Maryland is no different. In fact, Maryland is complicit in a system of indentured political servitude that rewards persons of color in political office who support and endorse White political candidates for governor. Clearly, this is what occurred in the last two election cycles.  

There are many choices for Governor currently, yet few platforms address the wealth gap. That topic is somewhat like the ‘third rail and race’ because it requires a demolition of systems, processes and policies which directly and implicitly work to minimize and control the political, economic, and social power of persons of color.  

The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland is described as an organization that dedicates itself to the mission of ensuring that Black people in the great state of Maryland are equally protected and benefit from the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as afforded by the United States Constitution. Yet that body’s Chair has seen fit to endorse a candidate for the gubernatorial primary whose platform clearly will not directly confront the above-mentioned disparities.

Such endorsements should be of no consequence except for the fact that they remind this writer of the “plantation Negroes” who were designated to monitor plantation affairs of the mind, in order to stymie any attempts at insurrection. 

While one may not be able to swallow the pill, it is well past time for critically thinking Black folk and other persons of color to recognize that White power still reigns in this state. It is time for that to end, even if we are required to disassociate from persons of color that have lost their way and not kept their eye on our prize of “political liberation.”  

Ernest J. Quarles is a practicing attorney, intersectional critical race researcher, and historian who teaches at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore. His courses focus on deficits in America’s storytelling, erased and marginalized histories, and U.S. racial history. Within those spaces, his methodology embraces intersectional frames and other critical lenses and, in so doing, enables truly transformational learning. Quarles began his study of race matters under the late Hon. Leon A. Higginbotham while studying at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. While at Penn, Quarles developed a relationship with the late Professor Derrick Bell, one of the founders of critical race theory. Quarles is on the board of the African American Policy Forum, an innovative think tank founded by Kimberle Crenshaw that connects academics, activists, and policy-makers to promote efforts to dismantle structural inequality. Quarles is also a graduate of Brown University. Please email equarle1@jhu.du for more information.

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