Racism Has No Political Affiliation

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Spend enough time amid casual, culturally ingrained racism and it becomes clear that it doesn't divide along clean political lines.

When news broke last week of a recording featuring Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his mistress not to have her photo taken with black people and not to bring her black friends to games, Mother Jones pointed out that Sterling was a registered Republican. While the NBA banned him from the league for life for the outburst -- which was relatively tame compared to the racially motivated housing discrimination he'd been fined for in previous years -- his party affiliation was likely the least relevant detail of his story. Racism doesn't have a party affiliation.

In my hometown of Belleville, N.J., is a neighborhood known as Silver Lake. Shared with the neighboring town of Bloomfield, Silver Lake is a community of roughly 4,000 people and 1,600 households housing a population that is nearly 50% Latino and 10% black. It is also, however, directly adjacent to Newark's First Ward and has a subset of the population that shares that neighborhood's Italian heritage.

Italian flags fly beneath the Stars and Stripes on neighborhoods lawns. Grandparents dance to Sinatra songs at birthday parties and wedding receptions at the Knights of Columbus hall behind Clara Maass hospital while their kids pump fists to electronic dance music at their graduation and confirmation parties. It is an insular community apart from the rest of Bloomfield and Belleville that's comfortable in its solitude and addresses its neighbors like family -- because many of them are.

It's a place where speaking freely and loudly is a fact of life, but where the content of that conversation is limited to one extremely narrow context. It's a place where things are said, and where Councilwoman and mayoral hopeful Marie Strumolo-Burke learned firsthand that some of those utterances no longer fly with the population at large -- never mind with some of the newer neighbors.

Strumolo-Burke ran in a nonpartisan race, but freely identifies as a Democrat and ran with the support of Essex County Democrats. She lost her mayoral race by roughly 300 votes in an election in which little more than 4,000 of the town's roughly 20,000 registered voters cast a ballot, but it was the way she lost that drew national attention. Weeks before the election, a recording surfaced featuring a woman's voice allegedly belonging to Strumolo-Burke responding to news about a change in township tax rates as her colleague left a voicemail on another Belleville politician's answering machine.

"This is terrible. This is terrible. This is gonna be a (expletive) (N-word) town."

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