In dueling headlines published today, the Miami Herald’s City of North Miami’s nominee for new director of the Museum of Contemporary Art is dismissed, says museum’s board of trustees and the Miami New Times’ MOCA North Miami: A Battle Over Race, each side of the war has engaged two of South Florida’s major news outlets to tell their respective stories.
On the one hand, the MOCA board of trustees are refusing to approve of the city’s appointment of Babacar M’Bow as the museum’s director, claiming in a statement, “Despite multiple notifications, Mr. M’Bow did not comply with the background check and is therefore no longer under consideration for the position. The board is disappointed that Mr. M’Bow chose not to take part in the evaluation process.” An anonymous “spokesman for the board” told the Herald that “M’Bow has not provided his Social Security number, which is needed to run a background search.”
In response, Councilman Scott Galvin stated, “They could have picked up the phone and called him, they know where his office is.”
One can’t help but wonder what kind of “multiple notifications” were performed, or how difficult it would have been to obtain M’Bow’s social security number, considering he’s an employee of the City of North Miami.
The Miami New Times didn’t have a problem reaching Babacar M’Bow for an interview, in which he claimed, “Bonnie Clearwater, MOCA’s former director, was an employee of the City of North Miami — as am I — and it’s the city, not the board, that pays the salary.”
Furthermore, neither the Herald nor the New Times had trouble finding background information on Mr. M’Bow.
“A Miami Herald review of public records found no criminal record or civil action against M’Bow in South Florida courts,” while the New Times somehow made the astonishing discovery that the recently appointed director, “was born in Dakar, Senegal, and received a doctorate at the Sorbonne, where he specialized in the sociology of the image.”
On a side note, as a former president of the North Miami Beach Little League, I personally have performed hundreds – yes, HUNDREDS – of criminal background checks on league volunteers. I happen to know that providing one’s social security number is optional, and only required if the applicant has to provide proof that he is not the same person as another individual with the same name who does have a criminal record.
I seriously doubt that Babacar M’Bow’s name is so common that he would have to defend himself against a mistaken identity.
The board’s claim that it could not perform a background check without a social security number is, as NMB’s Councilwoman Phyllis Smith would say, a thousand percent bogus!
In a follow-up article just posted by the Miami New Times, MOCA Board of Trustees Deny Support to North Miami’s Museum Director Candidate, Babacar M’Bow stated, “This is a kind of a last grasp of a dying narrative. I have never been interviewed by the Board. I have received a request by a lawyer for authorization to check my credit record to which I responded by asking the sender who s/he was. If the Board really wanted to engage this process, it could have just asked the city to provide the information (background, medical, drug and other tests) I submitted myself to prior to joining the city staff. Furthermore, how can a Board that is leaving our city still wants to retain the power to approve who the city is hiring?”
If Mr. M’Bow’s recollection of his initial meeting with the board’s chair Irma Braman is any indication that prejudice is at play, that would be my first clue. In his interview with the New Times, he claimed that Ms. Braman said, “I want this conversation to be civilized. We want to move to the Bass but keep the building for programming for minorities.”
M’Bow’s not so rhetorical question to the reporter, “Who is a minority in North Miami?” was right on target.
According to areavibes.com, North Miami’s demographics are broken down as follows:
- Black: 54.36%
- White: 35.45%
- Asian/mixed race/other: 8.02%
Hispanics of any race represent 27.1% and Haitians represent 37.88% of the population in North Miami, while non-Hispanic whites only represent 12.4%, according to Wikipedia.
So, in answer to Babacar M’Bow’s question, “Who is a minority in North Miami?” – certainly not blacks or Haitians.
Even the New York Times in an article published May 18, 2014, North Miami Fights to Keep Its Art Museum, picked up on the board’s “elitism,” if not outright racism, as M’Bow suggests. As I pointed out in a previous column, the Times compared the City of North Miami to the museum’s preferred location of Miami Beach by reporting, “While the Bass Museum is fronted by a blocklong promenade that leads directly to the beach and faces sumptuous hotels, the Museum of Contemporary Art is situated in North Miami’s downtown, near the DaVita Dialysis Center and the Bible Emporium, which sells Creole, French and Spanish translations.”
Mr. M’Bow further insinuated that race was a factor in its decision by decrying the board as being a “tiny minority, because of its wealth, ethnicity, and location, ended up believing that it is not subject to rules governing the board.”
While his charges of racism may be a bit over the top, M’Bow’s illustration of the board’s childish behavior is even more pointed.
He told the New Times, “The education programs at MOCA have recently been moved to the Joe Celestin Center. How can you develop artistic sensibility in the youth by exiling them eight miles away? What Eastside single mother will drop her child so far? The museum has not scheduled exhibitions beyond July.”
MOCA’s board of trustees is obviously still smarting from the voters’ rejection of its hoped for $15 million bond proposal to expand.
The lawsuit which the board filed on the heels of that failed vote amounts to nothing more than a good old fashioned temper tantrum.
Here’s a sign for the wall in that board room:
“Spreading the Wealth”