Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was justifiably raked over the coals in national media last week for his longtime family memberships at Newport’s posh Spouting Rock Beach Association, otherwise known as Bailey’s Beach Club, and the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. The all-white sun spots are summer enclaves for old money Yankee blue bloods and this controversy is emblematic of the hypocritical, muted enthusiasm for de facto segregation within the ranks of the Democratic Party. Everyone from Marc Lamont Hill to The New York Post and Fox News have made hay out of the controversy.
Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline quickly decided to make a complete ass of himself by tweeting this idiocy:
This is not the first time that Whitehouse has been criticized for his summer vacation habits. Back in September 2017, local Black union leader Mike Araujo wrote:
I find Senator Whitehouse’s position on his membership of the historically restricted Bailey’s Beach Club deeply disappointing yet not surprising. Racism is the air we breathe in this country, there is no place, absolutely no place that can be named that was not the site of a forcible removal or slaughter of Indigenous people, or the trade, whipping, and forced labor of Black people. The air we breathe we can’t see and its presence is not noticed by those who benefit from it. The labor, removal, loans, and laws, that hinder one and lift up the other makes the air refreshing for those who benefit. For those of us Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and in the case of private clubs Jewish, the air is choking. I hope that Senator Whitehouse can see that his membership in this club is carrying on a tradition of exclusion that is rooted in violence and suffering. Whatever rationale he may offer for membership is simply not good enough, he simply should walk away and encourage those other members of Bailey’s Beach Club who have the heart to join him.
There’s no excusing either his segregationist habits or the undeniable fact that these WASP nests are populated by some of the most insufferable snobs on the Eastern seaboard.
However, it seems fitting to add some useful context.
The media venue that broke this story, GoLocal Providence, which I euphemistically call FourLoco Prov, represents the most pathetic strand of yellow journalism in the digital age. Their investigative ethics and practices are so shallow that trying to dive into them would break my neck. They will publish headlines about Facebook posts from local personalities without engaging in simple, easy steps like follow-up interviews, getting autonomous secondary source verification, and checking for conflicts of interest. It’s not that sensational tabloid journalism is bad, that’s our metier as well at Washington Babylon. They just really suck at it.
I can’t imagine that FourLoco editor and publisher Josh Fenton has the ability to even comprehend the first sentence of The Souls of Black Folk, let alone understand the wide spectrum of Black political and philosophical discourse that has emerged in the last 150 years. Without fail, FourLoco will glom onto the Representative Black Voice of the Week that reflects Fenton’s own regressive inclinations. Adolph Reed, Jr. brilliantly articulated the problem with this approach several years ago in a provocative critique.
We continue to indulge the politically wrong-headed, counterproductive, and even reactionary features of the “representative black voice” industry in whatever remains of our contemporary public sphere. And we never reckon with the truly disturbing presumption that any black person who can gain access to the public microphone and performs familiar rituals of “blackness” should be recognized as expressing significant racial truths and deserves our attention. This presumption rests on the unexamined premise that blacks share a common, singular mind that is at once radically unknowable to non-blacks and readily downloaded by any random individual setting up shop as a racial voice. And despite what all of our age’s many heroic narratives of individualist race-first triumph may suggest to the casual viewer, that premise is the essence of racism.
As just one example, the Rhode island state government recently has been seeking to expand charter schools in Providence. This is despite the calamitous impacts such a move would have on English language learners, special education students, and those otherwise judged “unacceptable” by the discriminatory admission standards of the charter operators.
The subtle xenophobia and ableism of the charter expansion advocacy position is impossible to ignore. So, too, is the antidemocratic trend created by surrendering more public infrastructure over to the hedge fund industry, which backs and profits from the charter school movement. Nor is it possible to ignore the longstanding issues of interpersonal and structural racism that Providence school faculty is responsible for. They have protected racist teachers and willingly participated in construction of the school-to-prison pipeline over the past five decades.
Yet, because Fenton had the opportunity to interview a Black woman advocating for charter expansion, that magically makes everyone opposed to charter expansion “wrong.” I have been reporting on this story over the past five years and met plenty of Black, Brown, Latin, and Indigenous teacher unionists who would vigorously disagree with charter expansion in Providence.
Furthermore, it is impossible to ignore the wider white backlash locally. In a month when municipal elected officials and progressive educators in the Ocean State are facing death threats over the lunatic conspiracy theory about Critical Race Theory, this scandal fits into a larger media narrative that aids Republicans in the 2024 election.
In 2016, the Republicans were able to game the system with advertising that reminded voters about how annoyed they were with Hillary Clinton’s treatment of Bernie Sanders. As a result, many Democratic voters stayed home, which delivered key swing states to Donald Trump. Rhode Island is an extremely conservative blue state and a Democrat running to the left of Whitehouse in the general election might inadvertently help the Republicans.
Just look at the 2016 Clinton-Trump electoral returns.
Those baby blue and pink municipalities tilted one way or another by narrow margins, just several hundred votes in many instances. This means Rhode Island could turn increasingly red, even as the GOP has become an extremist organization.
So Shitehouse needs to quit being so insufferably white and get over his WASP cocktail party ego quickly. Failure to do so might be a major problem for the entire country.