Opinion

Dan Loeb and the political price of racism

By Zakiyah Ansari and Jonathan Westin |  

August 15, 2017 |  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins. (Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

White supremacists don’t all look or act the same. 

As the nation saw this past weekend in Charlottesville, they can be young men in polo shirts and khakis, casually holding tiki torches and traveling from across the country to participate in a campus march.  

Some hold advanced degrees, and some even work on Wall St.  

The events in Charlottesville came on the heels of Dan Loeb, a politically powerful hedge fund manager, comparing state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the highest ranking black woman elected official in New York, to the KKK. In a Facebook rant, Loeb said she has done "more damage to people of color than anyone who has donned a hood.”

Loeb defenders tried to dismiss his remark as an isolated incident and unfortunate choice of words, but he has a history of racist and bigoted remarks.

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Indeed, Loeb has previously compared teachers’ unions to the KKK, and he referred to a Prem Watsa, an insurance company CEO of Indian ancestry as a “schwarze” – a derogatory Yiddish phrase for blacks. Yet he continues to sit on the board of the Success Academy charter school network, and he is among the top political contributors to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other prominent elected officials in New York. 

Racism’s 21st Century makeover means white supremacists can blend in as polo-wearing millennials, billionaire hedge fund managers and top political donors. They’re slicker and more credentialed, with ties to elite education, money, and power.

Richard Spencer, one of the most visible white supremacists of the moment, has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, after all.

Today’s racists have been emboldened by Donald Trump, who holds nothing back when sputtering his bigoted beliefs on Fox News, in the Oval Office or in 140 characters on Twitter. White supremacists took Trump’s initial refusal to condemn them in Charlottesville as “really, really good.” His White House is still closely aligned with white supremacists.

Hedge fund managers like Loeb lined up to back Donald Trump’s policies when he won in November, and never spoke out against the appointments of Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Sebastian Gorka, and other white supremacists to the Trump administration.

Loeb and his ilk got the message from Trump that they could throw verbal bombs at leaders of color with impunity, and face minimal if any consequences.

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When racism is not met with an immediate rebuke, it is legitimized and seen as acceptable behavior, especially for white men who are wealthy and well connected.

While it is true that Gov. Cuomo, Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did distance themselves from Loeb's comments on Facebook, they continue to keep his money.

They refuse to give back the hundreds of thousands that Loeb gave them as campaign contributions. By contrast, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has already pledged he will purge his accounts of funds Loeb gave him many years ago.  

Failure to hold Loeb accountable through swift and stinging condemnation, and forceful rejection of their political contributions, only sends the message that racist actions will be tolerated for the right price.  

To be clear: racism is not just carrying a torch in Charlottesville, or writing a bigoted comment on Facebook. Racism is also the failure of those in power to hold white supremacists accountable for actions and words that harm and demean people of color.

Cuomo, Klein and Flanagan may not be carrying tiki torches, but they are implicitly endorsing racism from certain donors like Loeb who send the biggest checks.  

That's wrong and unacceptable. 

Zakiyah Ansari is advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education. Jonathan Westin is executive director of New York Communities for Change.

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