Meet Rep. G.K Butterfield (D-NC), 69, and the 24th Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
His presence at CBC functions can sometimes create confusion. In one recent instance, a reporter attending a CBC event asked, “Who is the White guy with the CBC?” only to be told by an aide that Butterfield was indeed Black. “Wait until he opens his mouth,” the aide said.
“I am often asked about my White complexion,” he said. “I am indeed an African American. My great-grandmother was a slave.”
Butterfield acknowledges he has European as well as African ancestry. His mother was the progeny of his slave grandmother and her White owner. His father, who moved to American from Bermuda, is also of mixed heritage. He notes, he grew up on the “Black side” of town and led civil rights marches.
A former North Carolina Supreme Court justice, Butterfield was first elected to Congress in 2004. He’s was elected chair of the CBC in January 2015 and is in the waning years of his two-year term.
When they took the oath of office, the CBC boasted a record 46 members, including freshman Rep. Mia Love, a Republican. Collectively, they represent more than 30 million people and make up 23% of House Democrats. Seven members are the ranking Democrats on key committees.
The position of CBC Chair can often be complicated. The Chair is often assumed to be speaking for all 43 members even when they aren’t, and the Chair must often navigate issues of race and a press corp looking for stories that generate clicks. Accordingly, the job of CBC Chair can get old pretty fast. However, the Chair has an opportunity to be at the head of the table of all discussions on strategy when policy issues and national problems hit the news.
So far this month, Butterfield has spoken out on behalf of the CBC in a strongly-worded letter to Airbnb, an online booking site that allows prospective guests to rent lodging in people’s homes or apartments. His letter was written in response to complaints about discriminatory practices on Airbnb alleged by Black people and other minorities.
In one instance, a Black woman alleged a renter at first accepted her request and then messaged, “I hate niggers, so I am going to cancel you,” and he cancelled her reservation after seeing she was Black on her member profile picture.
According to American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, “the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in Airbnb rentals.”
A week later, Butterfield was demanding a public apology from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, after O’Reilly stated he wanted to “slap” CBC Member Rep. Jim Clyburn for his push to strengthen gun safety laws.
Like we said, the job of CBC Chair can get old pretty fast.