Let’s not mince words. A rich, suburban politician moves into Newark to launch a political career, and spends most of his time on the national speaking circuit and making media appearances in New York City. In his speeches to mostly white donors, he regularly references a crudely stereotypical black Newark drug dealer that he invented out of whole cloth, and tells intricate stories about this character he calls “T-Bone.”
In 2008, Cory Booker confessed to Newark historian Clement Price that he invented T-Bone. Dr. Price, the Distinguished Service Professor at Rutgers confronted Booker because, he said, the T-Bone story “pandered to a stereotype of inner-city black men.” Dr. Price says Booker admitted the story was made up, agreed that it was stereotypical, and said he would stop claiming the story was true. “He told me that my criticism of his invention of T-Bone made perfect sense to him and he had made a mistake,” Dr. Price said.
Yet now, as he launches a national political career, Booker stands by his racial fairy tale. In a remarkable exchange with the Washington Post just days before Dr. Price went public about Booker’s confession, the politician was asked point blank whether telling the crude tale was a mistake. His response. “Nooo”; it wasn’t a mistake. “This is a story that I used to tell all the time that was a hundred percent true.”
Why does Booker have to hang onto his lie? The Newark Star-Ledger investigated in 2007 and what they found was ugly. Not only was his stereotypical black drug dealer character invented, but Booker had also transformed Judith Diggs, a deceased black woman who was an articulate education and housing advocate into a “portly” woman with missing teeth and “cussed” a lot. Her friends and family were incensed.
Newark pastor and Booker supporter Rev. William Howard told the Star-Ledger: “I think the mayor is using stereotypes that register with the stereotypes of some of the people beyond Newark.” He continued: “It is very unfortunate.”
National Review, which broke the story of Booker’s confession to Dr. Price, also asked University of North Carolia professor Walter C. Farrell for insight. “I’ve been up and down the streets and nobody’s ever heard of this T-Bone,” Farrell said.
Then he zeroed in on why Booker hangs on to his stereotypical invention of T-Bone and unflattering transformation of Diggs: “Upper-middle-class white people love to hear these stories, you know, somebody who cares. So Cory Booker gave it to them and is still giving it to them.”
Booker knows a thing or two about upper-middle class white people. Booker wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but his parents’ employer, IBM, did send him one engraved with his name shortly thereafter. They lived in tony Harrington Park in Bergen County.
“I grew up as the only black in an all white affluent suburb in Jersey,” Booker wrote in the Stanford Daily. “As a kid, I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be black. The images of blackness I saw were too persuasive; J.J. on the TV show ‘Good Times,’ the guy with the big afro from the movie ‘Car Wash,’ the criminal on the six o’clock news and the beggar I would see on the streets of New York when our classes took field trips for ‘cultural education.’”
In that Stanford column, Booker went on to describe his experiences with the black community on campus. His takeaway? “When it comes to something as intimate and unique as one’s ethnic identity, personal discourse is a requisite for understanding.”