When Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Dudley
addressed the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs'
monthly "Coffee & Issues" breakfast on Sept. 24, he reprised a comment he'd made at an earlier interview with the Urban League of Portland
"I heard him say he 'understood what it was like to be a minority because he had played in the NBA," recalls state Rep. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), the only African-American man in the Oregon Legislature. (Frederick's business partner, former Portland Public Schools board member Sue Hagmeier, recalls Dudley's comments similarly.)
(The Portland Observer
reported the exchange this way: "[Dudley] was also asked by Sam Brooks, chair of OAME's board and moderator of the forum, what Dudley had done in the past and would do as governor for minority and women-owned businesses in the state. ‘I was a minority for 16 years,' said Dudley to laughter, referring to his time in the NBA, which is dominated by African Americans." Brooks and OAME President Jorge Guerra did not return WW's
calls seeking comment.)
"Frankly it was stunning that he would say something like that," Frederick adds. "It shows a lack of sensitivity but also shows you do not understand at all what it's like to be a minority and that you have a shallow understanding of what that question is being asked."
Dudley, a 1987 graduate of Yale, played in the National Basketball Association for 16 years, including two stints with the Portland Trail Blazers. For most of his career, he was one of only a few Ivy Leaguers in the NBA and also one of the dwindling number of U.S.-born white players. But Frederick says being a numerical minority in a privileged class such as the NBA is far different from being a racial minority.
"He certainly wasn't being denied a job or housing or health care," says Frederick, who acknowledges he supports Dudley's Democratic opponent, former Gov. John Kitzhaber. "He has no idea what it's like to be denied a loan as a minority small businessman, and he's never had problems getting an equal education. For goodness' sake, he's a Yale grad."
Dudley's spokesman, Jake Suski, acknowledges Dudley made the comment but says he made it light-heartedly and did not intend to make an analogy between his own experience and the experiences of minorities.
"He wasn't seriously making the comparison," Suski says. "In no way was it an attempt to minimize the challenges that members of the minority community face."
Suski notes that Dudley went on to talk in a more serious vein about his commitment to rebuilding Oregon's economy and to minority businesspeople playing a role in that effort.
Frederick says he's unsatisfied with that explanation.
"It's just an unbelievable comparison," he says. "Trying to make a joke out of it because he doesn't know how inappropriate the comparison is, is really upsetting."
Urban League of Portland CEO Marcus Mundy says he understood where Dudley was coming from but shares Frederick's view that there are better choices for humor.
"I understand his perspective that he was only white person in many circumstances when he played in the NBA," Mundy says. "But I agree with Lew [Frederick] that you don't want be glib about that."