BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
It has been nearly two months since New Jersey 2nd Congressional District candidate Seth Grossman, a former Atlantic City councilman, made stinging and controversial comments about diversity initiatives and diversity in general in the United States.
Those comments, which made public nationally on CNN June 12, continues to reverberate among African-American in the district, many Grossman is hoping to serve in Congress. If nothing else, the comments have given the Republican name recognition in his race against New Jersey State Sen. Jeff Van Drews, even if it has been largely negative.
Grossman called a constitutional conservative by The Press of Atlantic City, and Van Drews are fighting for the open seat left by retiring 24-year incumbent Republican Frank LoBiondo. He has embraced President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” themes.
CNN revealed a YouTube video posted by a progressive super PAC in June where Grossman called diversity “a bunch of crap and un-American.”
“In my view, the best way to bring diversity to the Republican Party is for Republicans to openly say that the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American,” Grossman said in the video.
“The Constitution was designed to incorporate that idea of the Declaration of Independence that everybody is treated equally under the law. Now, what diversity has become, it’s been an excuse by Democrats, communists, and socialists, basically, to say that we’re not all created equal, that some people, if he — if somebody is lesser qualified, they will get a job anyway, or they’ll get into college anyway because of the tribe that they’re with, what group, what box they fit into.”
On National Public Radio’s WHYY shortly afterward, Grossman appeared to double down on the comments.
“Of course, I love diversity,” Grossman told WHYY. “I like to go to Chinese restaurants, Italian restaurants, Mexican restaurants, Vietnamese. I grew up in Atlantic City, probably the most racial, multicultural, multi-sexual-preference city in America, even back in the 1950s when I was growing up.
“But now, diversity has taken on a new political meaning, meaning that if you have an organization, if you have a school, unless you have the proper balance of this racial group, this ethnic group, this sexual preference, it’s bad and that diversity for the sake of diversity is a virtue. I think that’s ridiculous.”
Calling disadvantages African-Americans have faced in the past “exaggerated,” Grossman did not budge when pressed further.
“Most of the African-Americans I speak to about this say that diversity and affirmative action is another word for ‘excuse,'” Grossman told WHYY. “Excuse for failure, excuse for not getting training, excuse for no discipline, and that is what is killing the African-American community, the idea that you can succeed without work, without achievement, just because you can say, ‘Well, my great-great-granddaddy was treated unfairly.’ I do not believe in that at all.”
According to Ballotpedia.com, President Barack Obama won the district in his two elections as president, but Trump won it in 2016 (50.6 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 46 percent) in 2016and it still leans Republican. That gives Grossman fertile ground for his views in what is expected to be a tight race.
Atlantic City mayor Frank Gilliam, who served two terms in the Atlantic City’s city council before becoming mayor this year, bristled at Grossman’s comments, pointing to Trump as setting the tone.
“I think the comments he makes are indicative of how ignorance is still alive in South Jersey,” Gilliam recently to Front Runner New Jersey. “It is also indicative to the type of leadership we have in the White House that helped some of those ideologies.”
William Cradle, president of the Public Relations Council of Atlantic City, said he continues to find Grossman’s diversity comments unsettling.
“To think that in the year 2018 that we could possibly be represented by such backward thinking politician as Seth Grossman is a horrible thought,” Cradle told Front Runner New Jersey. “I would certainly hope that people in southern New Jersey will be more discriminating and select Jeff Van Drew as our next Congressman and not support an agenda that does not reflect the diversity of this area. Seth is in lock step with the Trump Administration of hate, discrimination and repressive thought.”
Loretta Winters, who has spent nearly a decade working on diversity issues in southern New Jersey as president of the Gloucester County NAACP, said she was stunned when learning about Grossman’s views.
“Any intelligent person who knows about the atrocities that were inflicted upon the black race here should know better,” Winters said. “They separated children and families without any sympathies for them. The idea that diversity is a bunch of crap shows you the character of that man.”
While not addressing the Congressional race, Dr. Donnetrice Allison, a professor of Africana Studies at Stockton University, said that some people struggle to understand the continued value diversity has in society today.
“Some do (understand diversity’s value), but many don’t,” Allison said. “I think many see diversity as a nuisance. They also see it as giving handouts to certain groups and they see folks in other groups as threats to them and to their own access to resources. That is problematic and that is what often causes the ignorant comments that we have seen in this recent congressional race.
“Diversity has always been important because it gives us the opportunity to expand beyond our comfort levels and experience others who are different from us. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow. We can get beyond the media stereotypes of people and genuinely get to know one another. Over the years, I have had many white students tell me that I was the first black professor that they ever had. I take that very seriously because I know that their experience with me and in my classes has the ability to shape their understanding of Black women as professionals,” Allison continued.
But will the comments make a difference in the District 2 race? Gilliam said he doesn’t think so at this moment.
“If it stings in the African-American community, I think our folks are numb to these comments because of our inability to engage in the political arena or process,” Gilliam said. “I think it’s unfortunate that we have regressed in what is happening politically and socially. … Atlantic County breeds a different-minded African-American because of the plantation mentality and we’re not as astute as we should be. I don’t think it strung at all. The media gave it more of a boost than the African-American community and that’s upsetting.”
Winters said, though, that minorities should take notice and take Grossman’s comments and the District 2 race seriously.
“We thought it couldn’t happen with Trump and many people thought it was a big joke,” Winters said. “Some threw away their vote because they didn’t want to vote for either party. It’s scary today for any minority or white person who supports diversity and because they feel they will be ostracized. It’s also scary that see that people support someone who says that about diversity. It’s just wrong.”