Despite passing up multiple chances to speak to constituents of color, Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Port Huron) blamed a vote in D.C. for her lack of outreach.
MARYSVILLE, Mich.—In 2019, a candidate for the Marysville city council was asked at a forum how she’d bolster diversity in the rural community. The candidate, Jean Cramer, offered a pointed response that thrust the tiny town into the national spotlight: “Keep Marysville a white community as much as possible.”
After the forum, Cramer expanded on her comments, telling local media that a “husband and wife need to be the same race. Same thing with kids. That’s how it’s been from the beginning of, how can I say, when God created the heaven and the earth. He created Adam and Eve at the same time. But as far as me being against Blacks, no, I’m not.”
Marysville isn’t a diverse place. More than 95% of its 10,000 or so residents are white, according to 2010 census data. So when Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Port Huron) visited Marysville in late March on a constituent service tour, rural Michiganders of color took notice.
Attendee Bridget Huff asked why McClain hadn’t spoken with more of her constituents of color. The lawmaker had already visited a number of other events in her district that attracted largely white audiences.
Her staff, Huff said, answered that it was Nancy Pelosi’s fault.
Huff said she was incredulous at that remark and pressed to know exactly how it could be true. According to Huff, McClain staff blamed the lack of events with constituents of color on the fact that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had called members of Congress back to Washington to vote on legislation.
McClain’s office declined multiple requests for comment.
Former president of the local NAACP branch and a political organizer in McClain’s district, Alphonso Amos, told The ‘Gander that McClain has not taken him up on any of his invitations to speak to Michiganders of color, either as a candidate or since her election.
That attitude, Amos explained, leaves elected officials missing key voices and perspectives.
“[Republicans] are missing the opportunity to fully understand the issues that impact Black folks within their district,” Amos told The ‘Gander. “They aren’t having a full understanding of the need to pass legislation like the Breathe Act and The Emmett Till Antilynching Act. They are also missing out on a wealth of knowledge and solutions to problems the district faces that come from the Black community.”
Because of systemic racism, for example, Michiganders of color who live in rural communities are more likely to deal with things like disadvantageous socioeconomic conditions or dangerous interactions with police, and it can be challenging to even get rural Michigan to acknowledge those problems, as seen in Leelenau County in 2020.
Those pieces of legislation are important proposals for protecting Black people from state violence in communities around the country, including in Marysville. But unfortunately, not being heard isn’t a new issue for Black rural Michiganders.
Being Black in the Thumb
Amos is an organizer of Black Lives Matter actions in his community, and a former member of the Port Huron City Council. He said he doesn’t feel heard by the people serving him in the US House of Representatives—that includes McClain and her predecessors, he said.
“There is a fair amount of denial about racism in our community; however, many within the Black community know that racism is alive because we have experienced bias and hate on so many levels,” Amos said. “Oftentimes because of my ability to code switch I have endured microaggressions like being told I am ‘the whitest Black guy’ people know … I have had over 100 experiences of being the only Black person in a space and have also experienced individuals excluding my voice or being selective on which Black person they will address.”
Likewise, he continued, people like Cramer, the former Marysville council candidate, exemplify what Amos said he has dealt with as a Black man in rural Michigan.
“There is a huge threat to being Black in rural communities,” he explained. “While addressing racial equity at the state and federal levels we cannot forget about the BIPOC in rural communities. We need representation on things like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Black Leadership Advisory Council, et cetera.”
Amos says that representation is the key to making change. And he doesn’t expect McClain to be a part of that change.
“Unfortunately, I have no hope that she will do better,” Amos said. “We know her showing up and hosting events in the predominantly white cities throughout the district lets us know she has no intentions of reaching Black and brown folks.”
Amos described being Black in the Thumb as “exhausting” and said leaders of the region need to recognize and commit to its diversity.
“I have been blessed to have the ears of Sen. [Debbie] Stabenow (D) and [Gary] Peters (D) who continue to make time to hear from their Black constituents,” Amos said. “They have even participated in our virtual events since the pandemic; however, on the opposite side of the aisle I can’t remember any time our voice was heard by our congressional rep.”
Amos said that McClain “has been invited by the Port Huron Branch of the NAACP and Port Huron Black Lives Matter to speak with voters of colors and have ignored those requests.”