A Republican fringe candidate in St. Petersburg's mayoral race has gone viral after a video shows him telling black activists seeking reparations
to "go back to Africa."
The Tampa Bay Times
reports the racist comments from Paul Congemi were in response to supporters of Jesse Nevel
, another mayoral candidate who's associated with the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement
, which advocates for reparations for black people. Nevel is white, but many of his supporters, who are black, were in the audience.
"Mr. Nevel, you and your people, you talk about reparations," Congemi said. "The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations. Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama."
Yes, because obviously the election of the first black president is enough to account for 250 years of slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow segregation, domestic terrorism and economical policies created to disadvantage African-Americans. If you don't know what reparations are and have the time, read writer Ta-Nehisi Coates' lengthy piece
in The Atlantic
on the case for reparations.
In the video, you can hear the crowd jeer and yell at Congemi to "Get out of here!" but he continues.
"My advice to you, my advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport," Congemi told activists. "Go back to Africa, go back to Africa."
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is running for re-election, said in a statement that he regretted his reluctance to engage with Congemi at the forum.
"It is simply unacceptable to spew this kind of bigoted rhetoric," Kriseman said. "Free speech should not compromise the dignity and respect of any person or community. This candidate spoke hateful words about African-Americans and our LGBT community. He has the right to do so, but nothing about what he said is right. His comments just aren't who we are."
Congemi later told the Washington Post
that he doesn't think all black people should go back to Africa – just the ones who in St. Petersburg who see reparations as a form of economic equality. How generous.
Granted, Congemi is probably as fringe as fringe gets – he was arrested
in January on elderly abuse charges after his mother was found with bed sores so severe that her tailbone was exposed, though those charges were later dropped, according to the Times
. The 60-year-old has described himself as a constellation; has been banned from a KFC for getting aggressive over an eight-piece chicken meal; and got upset with the Tampa newspaper for not running a photo
of his "disembodied head surrounded by stars," the Times
reports. So, yeah.
Still, his attitude toward reparations isn't as singular as it seems. Some Republicans have tried to argue that reparations already exist in the form of welfare
programs, while some Democrats
, including President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, have strayed away from talks of reparations and instead focused on fixing economic policies and "investing" in black communities.
Last year, a panel for the United Nations found the history of slavery in the United States justified reparations for African-Americans, according to the Post
"In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent," the report from the panel said. "Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching."