Russell Timesly is an independent writer, news columnist, and author.

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Here's another demeaning black comedy

Karen Hunter

New York Daily News

The tag line for "Soul Plane," which opened recently in theaters across the country, is, "It's a nonstop party."

It's billed as the ghetto version of "Airplane." But that movie was a clever satire. "Soul Plane" is just plain sad.

On the movie's Web site, rapper Method Man presides over something called "Pimp Our Plane," where viewers can select the plane's color, with choices ranging from "pimp purple" to red with hot-pink polka dots.

Hey, I've got an even better choice: Black America should boycott "Soul Plane" and all the other movies that depict the lowest stereotypes of black people.

I went to see "Troy" a couple of weeks ago. There was a large contingent of Greeks in the audience, and it was easy to see why: The film showed Greeks at war with the Trojans, and the Greeks win. What a source of pride for them!

I wonder when Hollywood might do the story of Hannibal. I'd like to see a big-budget film about the African general who took on ancient Rome. Instead, I am relegated to movies like "Soul Plane" and "My Baby's Daddy" to represent my culture.

But I don't blame just Hollywood. Box-office success dictates what is produced. When "I Got the Hook Up" makes more money than a fine movie like "Eve's Bayou," it sends the message that people won't spend money on serious films that show blacks in diverse roles. We'd rather see chitlin' circuit "comedies" like "Soul Plane."

"We need to laugh. Laughter is good," says Bryan Barber, a video music director. "But when do we get tired of laughing at the same images of ourselves? These images are powerful. It's time we take responsibility."

Responsibility was what Bill Cosby was talking about last week when he went after the state of black America and "those people" who speak English badly and have twisted priorities, especially when it comes to rearing children.

In defending his remarks from outraged critics, Cosby said he was trying to make black America "turn the mirror around on ourselves."

He has the right idea. In fact, it's not only time for black America to look at itself, but also at how it lets itself be depicted in the mass media. Then it's time to use our purchasing power to make a statement.


Why Emmett Till Still Matters

The Justice Department last week that it intends to work with Mississippi authorities in re-investigating the murder of Emmett Till, hoping to identify suspects other than the two who were identified in 1955 and who have since died. One can hope that if any of Till's killers still walk free, they can at long last be brought to justice.

A few elderly individuals involved in a murder committed nearly half a century ago in an obscure part of rural Mississippi would hardly attract the FBI's attention in these perilous times if the crime had not achieved great symbolic and historical importance. It matters a great deal to us how many people killed Emmett Till.

Not long after their acquittal by an all-white Mississippi jury, journalist William Bradford Huie paid Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for their story. Bryant and Milam recounted how they drove Milam's new pickup to Moses Wright's house around 2 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, 1955. Milam and Bryant told Huie that they alone went into Wright's home and abducted young Till and killed him.

Unlike most earlier killings of blacks by white racists, numbering in the thousands, the murder of Emmett Till attracted journalists from around the world. Till's death became one of the most famous lynchings in American history. This story of an innocent boy, killed by white thugs after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, outraged America and spurred the drive for civil rights. Just three months after the trial, the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott began.

The problem is that the facts Huie published do not correlate with any known definition of the word "lynching." This is why the Huie story, focused on just two killers, seems so unsatisfactory. Nineteenth-century newspapers excused mob killings if they had community support. Journalists explained that a horrendous crime, occurring when the courts functioned badly or not at all, could drive a neighborhood wild, making mob violence inevitable and understandable. When journalists first began applying the word "lynching" to mob killings of African Americans, white newspaper editors so completely understood lynching as carried out by the community that they insisted that African Americans actually joined mobs themselves. One thing seemed clear: to be called a "lynching" by the press, a killing had to have community approval.

In the 20th century, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found it had to define lynching as it lobbied Congress to pass a law against such mobbing. In 1921, the NAACP proposed setting the size of the mob at no fewer than five. By the 1930s, three seemed a better number. On Dec. 11, 1940, when the NAACP met with other lynching opponents, those attending agreed that for a killing to qualify as a lynching, the killers had to act under pretext of service to justice, their race or tradition.

In his interview with Huie, Milam did his best to meet the requirement of service to justice, race or tradition. In what now seems a sickening spectacle, Milam pleaded with white people through Huie, claiming he had killed Till, "just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand" against agitation for civil rights.

But the historical image of a lynching as a spectacle, not merely sanctioned by the larger community but actually carried out by a large group, is so set in our culture that if only two people killed Till, it might almost seem that he does not deserve his martyr status. Or so the continued insistence that there must be more suspects would imply.

Given the long history of lynching as a word, for the killing of Emmett Till to properly stand as a symbol for all racial violence, Mississippi white people had to have acted in numbers greater than two. That is the meaning of lynching. Traveling back 49 years to construct a murder case will be like passing through a frustrating hall of mirrors, one populated with dead and lying witnesses. Yet we are driven to the journey by the history of lynching, its meaning and the symbolic importance Emmett Till has assumed in the American historical imagination.

50 Cent and the "Gay" Issue

It's pretty funny to watch liberals when their political correctness gets twisted in several different directions.

Take the thug rapper known as "50 Cent," whose music glorifies sex, drugs and getting shot, which he knows something about, having survived a nine-bullet fusillade in 2000 in his previous career as a crack and heroin dealer. Despite that streak of vicious and violent drug dealing, he's a spokesman for Reebok tennis shoes. It was laughable watching Reebok hand out its "International Human Rights Award" -- for peaceful change through nonviolent means -- while company flacks spun furiously to suggest its endorsement deal with 50 Cent was somehow consistent with that spirit. "Our support of human rights actually does match up against our support of 50 Cent's right to express himself," Reebok proclaimed.

I have no idea what that meant.

From there, it only gets stranger. In an interview published in the April edition of Playboy, 50 Cent boasted: "I don't like gay people around me, because I'm not comfortable with what their thoughts are. I'm not prejudiced. I just don't go with gay people and kick it. We don't have that much in common. I'd rather hang out with a straight dude. But women who like women, that's cool." Later in the interview, he changed his mind on the P-word: "It's OK to write that I'm prejudiced. This is as honest as I could possibly be with you ... We refer to gay people as faggots, as homos. It could be disrespectful, but that's the facts."

The rapper also uses words like "faggot" in his songs, including the big hit "In Da Club." But since he's seen as cool (or maybe because he typically disdains gay males but not gay females), the usually hypersensitive Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) could only muster a milquetoast response.

In a press statement, GLAAD expressed "concern" since it "believes that it can be dangerous to use words like 'faggot' and 'homo' when talking about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community."

In true P.C. fashion, GLAAD trotted out their "People of Color Media Manager," a lady named C. Riley Snorton, to offer an olive branch to the thug: "We applaud his honesty in talking about the murder of his bisexual mother and appreciate his acknowledgment that he is not comfortable with gay people," said Ms. Snorton. "We know that confronting homophobia can indeed be uncomfortable. But honesty is always the first step in overcoming the desire to judge those who are different than us and in overcoming prejudice."

Snorton even strangely invited the rapper to party with her at GLAAD's annual media awards, so he can "get to know the LGBT community, and we are fully confident that in doing so he will find that he has more in common with us than he thinks."

The group no doubt believes that this gangster isn't exactly a Ph.D. and could be educated into the proper talking (or rapping) points. His only obstacle is his unrefined street machismo, not his nonexistent moral beliefs.

Remembering Rwanda

Rwanda still suffers immensely, 10 years after a million people were slaughtered in one of the world's most horrific genocides. But the international community's conscience should ache, too, because it did nothing to stop the slaughter of the minority Tutsis by the Hutus in 1994.

Tutsi President Paul Kagame is forging ahead, refusing to let his nation be paralyzed by the past. But the past is present, especially in the distrust between the Tutsis and the Hutus, who make up 85 percent of the country. And the fear won't go away soon, not after the Hutus launched a genocidal attack on both the Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus a decade ago this month.

The violence was brutal: When soldiers didn't shoot people to death, the Hutus attacked, using machetes, knives, and clubs to hack and beat their neighbors to death.

The devastation took a toll on Rwanda, a nation about the size of the state of Maryland and home to 8 million people. And because violence knows no borders, it spilled over into Rwanda's next door neighbor, Congo, which is still trying to mend itself from two civil wars sparked by Rwanda's ethnic violence.

Today, the Tutsis are in charge. The Hutus claim they have no say in how the country is run, and the suspicion between tribes prevents Rwanda from truly functioning as a democracy. That's partly because the government operates with an authoritarian hand, and there's a constitutional ban on any attempt to promote ethnicity.

It's ironic that despite the violence, Rwanda is experiencing a good measure of prosperity. International observers are surprised by the progress, which contributed to President Kagame's election last year, the first post-genocide election. Economic growth has surpassed 9 percent a year since the atrocities ended, an encouraging sign for the short and long term.

Guilt finally forced the United Nations and former President Clinton to apologize for not intervening in the 100-day slaughter. U.N. peacekeepers from Canada stood by helplessly, pushing one Canadian general, Romeo Dallaire, to the brink of suicide. He has since written a book about the genocide.

Nevertheless, the situation in Rwanda is better than anyone a few years ago would have imagined. Maybe, just maybe, miracles can happen.

Blacks' ballots are colorblind

Before South Carolina's Democratic primary, several political analysts predicted that Al Sharpton would walk away with the majority of black votes in the contest. That analysis was superficial and insulting, based on the broadest of stereotypes -- black voters will support any black candidate, including one whose slicked-back hairdo imitates his role model, soul singer James Brown.

But the results of that primary tell a very different story: black voters supported John Edwards and John Kerry by much larger margins than Sharpton. Once and for all, political commentators should have learned the lesson that black voters cast their ballots for those who best represent their interests -- just as white voters do.

It's surprising that black Southerners are so poorly understood by other Southerners. One of the prognosticators with a skewed and superficial view of black South Carolinians was Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat. In the Jan. 5 Wall Street Journal, Miller proclaimed:
"I'd be willing to bet a steak dinner . . . that Al Sharpton will get almost as many votes as Messrs. Edwards, Clark or Lieberman . . . The last time there was an African-American in the primaries, Jesse Jackson blew everyone away, getting 96 percent of the African-American vote in the South. . . . So get ready to start counting Rev. Sharpton's delegates."

I hope the senator knows some good steak restaurants. Sharpton received 17 percent of the African-American vote in South Carolina; Edwards and Kerry polled 37 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Miller knows better. His two terms as governor owe much to the allegiance of black voters, who were drawn to his then-moderate politics, which included an unsuccessful attempt to change a state flag dominated by the Rebel insignia. It's true that when Miller ran for governor in 1990, he was outpolled among black voters in the Democratic primary by former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. (In the general election against a Republican, Miller drew solid black support.)

But Sharpton is no Andy Young. The New York activist is intelligent and has broadened his expertise in foreign and domestic issues, but he lacks electoral experience and, more important, credibility.

Forty years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, it should be clear that black voters have grown in political sophistication. While there will always be a slender margin of black Americans who will vote for any candidate who panders to their basest racial impulses (just as there will always be a minority of white voters who cast their votes based on their prejudices), most black voters support candidates who articulate their highest aspirations.

Just like most white voters, they are concerned about the economy, about health care costs, about educating their children. They want to be sure that the country is adequately defended. They worry about deficits, about Social Security, about Medicare.

While black voters are often caricatured as blindly loyal to the Democratic Party, their allegiance is hardly blind. It is knowing. African-Americans tend to be conservative on many social issues -- they often support the death penalty and prayer in schools, for example -- but they are suspicious of the Republican Party for an obvious reason: Many Republican politicians are too cozy with interests that still resent the civil rights movement. Gov. Sonny Perdue's decision to campaign as defender of the old Georgia flag, with its Confederate insignia, is just one example.

Black American voters are no great mystery, really. Any politician who wishes to draw their support must respect their political sophistication and pledge to represent their interests. Isn't that the same way politicians campaign for white voters' support?


By focusing on learning, we can save our children

Instead of wasting time debating the Janet Jackson mess, we need to focus on a real issue: the plight of African-American children.

It's not difficult to recognize neglect on the part of black parents. We, black parents, are the main reason that so many of our children are being left behind - and forgotten. Each morning, on my way to work I pass school-bus stops where mostly black children gather. I am always amazed at the large number of kids who do not carry books, notebooks or anything else to indicate that they are en route to school. The absence of school-related material makes me think that these kids did little, if any, homework. I pass the same bus stops in the afternoon after school is out and see many of the same kids. Again, they do not carry books or anything else to indicate that they have been to school at all.

I am just as concerned when I drive at night and see so many black children on the street. I am not saying that children should never be out at night. I am saying, though, that too many of these children are on their own, without adult supervision, doing whatever they please. I am saying that school is hardly on the minds of these kids.

This failure on the part of black parents has little, if anything, to do with discrimination or racial insensitivity. This a failure of personal commitment and responsibility. This is simple parental failure. As a race, we need to establish good-parenting initiatives. Most importantly, we need to make education the center of our children's lives from the moment they are born.

Again, I am not talking about depending on outsiders and outside forces - teachers, principals, mayors, federal and state dollars. We must develop the good sense to help ourselves for our children's sake. Too many of our children are being left behind, shunted into classes for those with disabilities and behavior problems. Too many score low on standardized tests. Too many have poor study skills and habits. Too many come to school each day ill-prepared to learn in a classroom setting.

Many children rarely get a good night's sleep because their mothers are fighting with the men in their lives. Many rarely eat a decent breakfast before school. What are teachers, even the most empathetic, to do with such children? I know many black parents, mostly mothers, who did not graduate from high school, who do not appreciate the need for education. I pity some of these women because they, too, were victims of homes that did not value learning.

Yes, we need a good-parenting initiative. But where to start? Where do we find help? I know where to start: with the black church, the most powerful institution in black life.

Today's black churches that have not done so already need to create efforts that focus on our children's education. I am not talking about reading the Bible, either. We have enough of that. I am talking about the academic side of our children's lives that is being neglected.

If a church really wants to do God's work, find ways to help our children develop a love of learning. In this modern era, education has to become the new gospel.

Despite King Legacy, Racist History Lives on Today

In 1955, 15 year-old Emmitt Till was savagely beaten and lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The men who killed him were never convicted. The 10-year-olds who lived in the thousands of households that supported such efforts to keep blacks in their place are now 57 years old.

In 1962, a full-scale riot accompanied James Meredith's efforts to become the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Meredith was successful, but only after federal marshals and army troops dispersed a violent mob of more than 2,000 whites. The 10-year-olds who lived in the thousands of households that supported such efforts to deny blacks access to premier educational institutions are now 50 years old.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that state laws against interracial marriage are unconstitutional. At that time, interracial marriage was still illegal in 16 states. The 10-year-olds who lived in the thousands of households that saw the Loving decision as a low point in American social history are now 45 years old.

Although many would like to believe that these incidents represent ghosts from our past, the sad fact is that their legacies continue to haunt us. The generation of children that lived through these events is still very much with us. They are a generation that all too often learned from their parents and other respected adults that whites are superior to blacks, and therefore deserve things that blacks do not.

Today this generation can be found in police departments, corporate offices and, as we learned recently, in the halls of political power. Yet it can also be found among parents and grandparents, and it is perhaps here that it has its greatest influence on our society. Although some who were raised in an environment of open and unapologetic racism have come to see the errors of these ways, thousands of others have either wittingly or unwittingly socialized their own children and grandchildren in the subtle tradition of white supremacy.

Unfortunately, our society does little to stem this intergenerational transmission of racist assumptions, beliefs and interpretations. We act as if the American system of white privilege was dealt a critical blow when Lincoln freed the slaves, and destroyed when Martin Luther King had a dream. Yet how many high school students know who Emmitt Till or James Meredith were? More important, how many understand their legacies?

Yet their legacies are evident in a 2000 study by the University of Chicago which found that 38 percent of white adults said they would oppose a relative or family member's decision to marry a black person.

Their legacies are evident in a 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which found that even when whites and blacks have similar housing preferences and incomes, landlords and real estate agents tend to show blacks fewer homes, steer blacks toward less affluent neighborhoods, and be more suspicious about blacks' financial resources.

Their legacies are evident in a 2002 study by the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which revealed that when equally qualified job applicants send resumes to potential employers, they are 50 percent more likely to be called for an interview if they have a name that is typical of whites, rather than a name that is more common among blacks.

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that overcoming our nation's racist history will be as simple as waiting for younger generations to replace older ones. If we hope to exorcise the ghosts of racism from our consciousness, our policies and our practices, we will have to do more than beg forgiveness when a "poor choice of words" exposes our "blind spots."

We will have to do more than pay tribute to the spirit of the civil rights movement on a single day honoring Martin Luther King Jr. each January. We will have to do more than feature profiles of famous blacks during Black History Month in February. Rather, we must strive every day to educate ourselves and our children about the connection between our racial past and our racial present.

Races just don't talk enough

“Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find but something that we must create. And so the ability of Negroes and whites to work together, to understand each other, will not be found ready-made; it must be created by the fact of contact.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Although some among us deny that racial tension and misunderstanding has a grip on our nation, it is ever-present. It is there when our legislators sit down to consider school funding or make judicial appointments or debate crime legislation. It’s there when police profile black males simply because of the color of their skin and the clothes they wear. It’s there when a raucous group of black teens intimidate elderly white women in mall parking lots. It’s there when a black man gets on an elevator alone with a white woman.

The question is, how do we move beyond our differences to create an atmosphere of cooperation and understanding? We must make a conscious decision that we’re going to build relationships that bridge the racial divide.

The goal should be to better understand one another and, at least in our own sphere of existence, to tear down barriers that divide the races.

We must have these kinds of conversations if our nation is to grow economically, socially and culturally.

It is not only right that we learn to build a diverse society, but it is good for business. By 2020, 70 percent of our nation’s workforce will be women and people of color. We must begin to prepare for that change by educating and training minorities and women to assume the jobs and positions of leadership they will take on in the coming decades.

Many people don’t want to talk about race because it is hard work that also can be painful. Black people don’t want to hear white people talk about how they feel blacks use race as a crutch and an excuse. They don’t want to hear whites ask why is it blacks can use racial slurs toward one another, but whites can’t.

As much as we might want to duck the sensitive issues, we can’t talk about race and moving forward by ignoring the ugliness of our past, from slavery to Black Codes to Jim Crowism to discrimination. We shrink away from talking about affirmative action and equal opportunity.

When we do talk about any of those things, we talk about them with bitterness dripping from our tongues. We have to find a way to take the maliciousness out of our conversations so we can actually hear one another.

We need to work more toward increasing the level of trust between the races by developing daily habits and practices geared toward building social capital across racial lines, whether in the public forum, the workplace or in our various private social settings
While we might work together, we really don’t do lunch or dinner together — unless it’s business. While we might speak, we really don’t talk. While we might have similar faith — we don’t worship together.

And thus, the racial divide is forever with us.

The Truth About Ageing

It was my great-aunt a year or two before her death who taught me a truth about the old. They are the young, only in ageing bodies. Even at that age, she never give up; life is for living right to the end. It is an universal urge and age an universal scourge. Everyone's body is giving out; we are all looking into the mirror feeling the same spirit as we did when we were teenagers and gazing bleakly at the ravages of time.

It is no consolation to know that ageing is what gives life meaning because it makes it finite. We still want to live fully to the end; to make the impact at 91 we made at 21, the age my great-aunt said she felt all her life.

The crisis is that in an era of ever greater inequalities, the greatest inequality of all is what is happening to the old. The trite new headline is that as life expectancy rises - men now live to 75 and women to 80, up some seven or eight years since the 1960s - 60 has become the new 50. Better health care, better drugs, better hygiene, better living standards and more wealth have meant that the ageing process has been deferred.

Scarcely a week goes by without a report saying that the over-55s are joining health clubs in droves, going on like their children or that more over-65s are working harder than ever. A bright new future beckons, in which age is being fought back, and we will be as sprightly at 70 as we were at 50.

The problem is that this is only true for a minority. Professional men now live nine-and-a-half years longer than unskilled manual workers, the widest gap on record. The death rates for under- 65s in our poorest urban areas are two-and-half-times higher than in our richest areas. The metropolitan talk is of working well into your sixties and the vital importance of lifting mandatory retirement at 65; the lived reality is nearly half of men between 55 and 65 can't find work.

The gift of living well into your sixties and seventies is being enjoyed by the better off while those on lower incomes are decades behind in their expectation of not just life, but quality of life. It is a source of unfairness that is posing the greatest challenge to our institutional arrangements ever - and which threatens to become one of the hottest and most bitterly contested political issues around.

Jawanza Kunjufu and Casey Lartigue are two prominent African-Americans whose backgrounds and past attitudes could hardly be considered conservative. But they’re now making news by espousing views on controversial topics that reveal the difficulty of trying to pigeonhole or label people.

Kunjufu has written passionately about many crises involving the black community, among them the proliferation of drugs, economic disparity, police brutality, and inadequate resources and crumbling infrastructure. He’s certainly no Republican, and he's hardly a friend of the Bush administration. Thus, Kunjufu’s comments about ongoing African-American problems made to a predominantly black audience at Morgan State University recently elicited widespread attention on such websites as Blackvoices.com and in several black newspapers, as well as the Baltimore Sun.

“I don’t believe our major problem is racism,” said Kunjufu. “The greatest demon in black America is fatherlessness. The common variable for the (African-American)dropout rate, the incarceration rate, and drug use, is the daddy didn’t stay.”

Kunjufu also concluded his talk with this bombshell. “Slavery did not destroy the black family,” he added. Kunjufu was the main speaker for a program sponsored by the African American Male Leadership Institute and the Urban Leadership Institute, who were holding meetings on what they deemed “a state of emergency.”

Lartique was once among the nation’s foremost liberals, but now considers himself a libertarian. He’s the education policy analyst for the Cato Institute in Washington D.C., and has gotten heavily involved in a controversy over spending for the District of Columbia. The House of Representatives over the summer approved a $40 million spending bill that included $10 million in “opportunity scholarships” of up to $7,500 for 1,300 D.C. public school students from low-income families. These students are attending schools considered inadequate at best and blatantly inferior at worst to other schools in the area. The Senate will soon begin discussing its own voucher legislation.

Lartique is leading the charge on behalf of school vouchers, arguing that those parents with the least fiscal resources are also being denied any opportunity to improve the lot of their children. Lartique points out that despite D.C. spending more money per student than every state in the union they still have the second-worst school system in the country.

“I see education as a service,” says Lartique, in an article carried in the Baltimore Sun and also on Blackvoices.Com. “Give people information and let them choose.”

It’s not necessary to agree with Kunjufu and Lartique’s positions to acknowledge their importance. The more salient issue is the fact there’s legitimate debate occurring within the African-American community about philosophy, direction and viewpoints for the 21st century and beyond.

This discourse doesn’t easily fit into neat, left-right boxes, and Kunjufu and Lartique aren’t concerned about whether they’ll alienate the left with their rhetoric and positions. For instance, Kunjufu’s insistence on the necessity of sexually segregated classes for black youth dismays feminists and some educators who see that stance as a retreat to the past. Lartique has drawn fire from teachers’ unions and such major African-American organizations as the NAACP, who see vouchers as merely a means of taking vital funds from public education and funneling them back to private schools, while simultaneously stripping the African-American community of its brightest students and subjecting the rest to substandard facilities and lesser opportunities.

There are no easy answers to these questions, but it’s critical that every option and opinion get fair consideration. The willingness of Jawanza Kunjufu and Casey Lartigue to go public with their views is more evidence refuting the notion that differing and alternative opinions cannot and do not get expressed in the African-American community.


Blacks must ban N-word

The N-word made a comeback last week. In New York City, a clerk at the Board of Elections was accused of using it in referring to one of his superiors. Jerry Vedral has denied the charge, but the board has decided to suspend him for two weeks without pay.

After being asked to clean his area of debris on numerous occasions, Vedral allegedly took out his anger not on the person who asked him to clean up, but on his superior, Pamela Perkins, who is black.

According to one witness, Vedral said, "Who is it, that n----- b---- Pam, who doesn't want it here? She's lucky she got a job at all, and she's management. She couldn't even be a good hooker." Another witness denies having heard him say it.

Perkins, who is the wife of New York City Councilman Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), said on New York's WWRL radio on Wednesday that she is very disappointed the board voted not to fire Vedral and is considering her next action, which could include a lawsuit.

The Council is looking into challenging the board's actions, with Perkins' husband recusing himself from any decision.

Whether anything comes of it or not, the damage has been done. And unfortunately, the actions of some within the black community have set the table for just such incidents.

The hateful, insidious N-word has racist roots in the history of this country. It is as ugly and offensive as any swear word you can think of. But it loses some of its snap when it is bandied about so frequently.

It's difficult to ride the subway or play the latest rap CD without hearing the N-word spoken by blacks; it is also popular among Latinos. It has become a term of endearment, akin to "buddy," that many say is empowering.

Blacks use it so frequently in public that it gives license to nonblacks to say, "Hey, what's the big deal? I hear it from you."

When you present images in music videos of young, scantily clad black women and call them ho's, you can't get so mad when someone turns around and disrespects your sister or mother or wife the way Vedral allegedly did. When those are the prevalent images of black women, how else is America to see us?

It's time for people in the black community to say, "No more!" No more will our women be defined by the filth put out by some in the rap business. No longer will we allow our young people to go out in public and call one another the N-word. No longer will we allow anyone to define or degrade us with vile images and words.

I don't want to hear any more excuses like, "We are just reclaiming the word" or, "We can do it as long as white people don't." If we don't want to be called the N-word and we don't want to be disrespected, we should start by stopping ourselves from doing it.

As for Jerry Vedral, if it is determined that he did say what he's accused of saying, the New York Board of Elections should have the courage to do what's right and fire him. Send a message that such language will not be tolerated. Ever.


Dying in Silence -- African Americans
By Charles Martin

"The beginning of the end of life is when we remain silent about things that matter."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

HIV/AIDS is the number one cause of death for both Black males and females, between the ages of 22-45. In the U.S. African Americans make up about 14% percent of the population, yet they comprise over 50% of the newly infected. In one study of young gay men, 30% of the African-Americans were HIV-positive. That's like the numbers in sub-Saharan Africa. If these statements do not surprise you, you are one of the few. African Americans are becoming infected and dying of AIDS in record numbers. The question to be posed is, why?

Our nation has been in the fight against HIV/AIDS for over 20 years now. The government pours millions of dollars into care, treatment and prevention. Why are there still so many Black people becoming infected and dying from this virus? We know from reports that there are health disparities between communities of color and the white population. We also know that in communities of color there is an inherited mistrust of the system. Do these reasons equate to the disproportionate amount of black people infected by this disease?

Yes, they do play a part, but only a part. African Americans have other obstacles, which put them on the frontline of this virus.
Many people in Black communities are under the misguided perception that AIDS is a disease that only affects the gay population and those people who misuse drugs. In the 1980s, the gay and lesbian community did a great job of putting a face on this horrific virus, and should be commended. They refused to let their brothers die in silence. Now the time has long passed for the other faces of AIDS to be brought to the forefront. Black communities around the country need to rise up and refuse to perish without a fight. We should not pass silently into the night.

Many of those who lose the battle to AIDS in the Black community are not counted as those who have fallen to this virus. Cancer, pneumonia, or heart attacks are causes of death that we tell our family and friends. Those who are infected still fear letting others know on the chance they may be ostracized from family, friends, and the community at large. Many continue to die alone with no one to hold their hands or wipe their brows. Far too many do not seek care fearing that family and neighbors will discover the secret. Still others do not test, wrongly believing that ignorance is bliss. Shame is robbing our community of its lifeline and its future.

Even our churches, which have been a bastion of support in the Black community for many worthy causes, have not risen to this fight in appropriate numbers. Ministers continue to blame those who are infected for being immoral and sinners. How sad it is that some of our churches take this view.

Some of our politicians are saying teach abstinence-only in our schools. Abstinence-only has been taught for many years and we still have a problem in this country with teen pregnancy. We cannot allow our children to die using antiquated solutions, which have never proven effective. If we do not become educated about this disease, if we do not drag AIDS out of the shadows where it has been able to fester and grow in our communities, then we will perish. The shame and ignorance surrounding AIDS in Black America could lead to the demise of us all.

We are in a burning building and only a few are shouting for all of us to get out.

What do we need to do to survive this epidemic? We need to shatter the stigma associated with HIV, homosexuality, and substance use.

We need to destroy the ignorance that has allowed HIV to grow uncontrollably in Black America. We need to become educated about HIV/AIDS. Teaching abstinence is good, but we should also teach our children how to protect themselves if they are engaging in sex. To do this is not condoning sex. It is condoning life.

We must stop treating those with HIV/AIDS as though they are lepers, and give them the support, love and respect that all who have a chronic disease deserve. Our churches and community leaders must be at the frontline of this battle. We need to stop worrying about how an individual became infected and concern ourselves with how those who are infected can live long, loving and productive lives.

We need to become the great caring people that we are possible of being and have been for generations. Most of all, we need to stop allowing our mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers from dying alone and in silence.

Get tested, even if you feel as though you are not at risk for this virus. Get information about treatment options, if you are HIV-positive. Play safe.

Charles W. Martin is the Executive Director of the Julius Adams AIDS Task Force, located in Key West, Florida. He can be reached at Jaatfed@aol.com or (305) 295-2437.


Two problems: he's funny, and he's black

One of the many unpleasant truisms in Hollywood is that, of the few black films it releases in any given year, the majority of them are comedies. To get at exactly why this is a bad trend, consider the career of Eddie Murphy.

Back in the mid-1980s, Murphy was a comedian extraordinaire, combining glib intelligence, street cool, devastating mimicry and leading-man looks in an unprecedented package that captured a new, black postmodern energy and looked to be one of the next great things in US cinema.

Murphy demonstrated early on, in films such as Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours, that he could not only hold the screen as convincingly as white co-stars, but he could fill it with a real persona that was enlarged by comedy, but not bound by it. The classic character of Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop was indeed funny, but compelling in other ways too.

But Murphy's career since has moved him no closer to the realisation of his talents. His latest effort, Daddy Day Care, is a family crowd-pleaser and a respectable box-office performer, but it represents something of a professional nadir for a man who inspired so many black performers and, despite his uneven career, is a history-making figure with enough prime years left to make some more.

But the odds are that he won't. Murphy has a couple of problems that he shares with a host of other black actors lucky enough to be in his position: he's a comic, and he's black. It's hard enough for any comic performer to break out of the mold in Hollywood, but because of America's longstanding cultural preference that black people be funny (they're less threatening that way), black comic performers find it virtually impossible.

America has best tolerated blacks as entertainers, and they tolerate the funny ones best of all, even when the jokes are savage social commentary aimed at members of the audience, as was often the case with Richard Pryor and, at times, with Murphy.

But black people being funny has always appealed far more to the moviegoing public than black people being thoughtful or romantic; the fullness of humanity that the big screen was invented to display has, like so many other perks of American life, been denied to a people never quite considered human in the first place.

Thus, even in his best films, Murphy never really has a love interest or a complex backstory to connect to; he is self-contained in a way that may appear to accent his star status, but in fact has eroded it. The same is true for other black performers who are not primarily comedic but who wind up in the same artistic quandary: Danny Glover is a wonderful dramatic actor who has had greatest success and visibility as Mel Gibson's sidekick in the comedy-flavoured Lethal Weapon series; Will Smith long ago proved himself an actor of impressive range, but his movies don't reflect that.

While black people's film roles have grown in number, the depth and quality of those roles has stagnated. Part of the equation is purely capitalist - Will Smith or Eddie Murphy the comic are known entities and thus eminently more bankable than they would be as, say, lead dramatic actors.

And yet race and profit are impossible to separate: Murphy, Smith and others are encouraged towards comedy not simply because they're good at it, but because the black comedy is, in the eyes of the entertainment business, a sure thing. The institution is bigger than the individual, no matter how talented - after the flush of his first success, Murphy did not hit a ceiling so much as find himself on a very narrow ladder that led up, but in a single direction.

But he is luckier than most - he arrived on the scene before the explosion of hip-hop in the early 90s expanded the black presence, but narrowed the black aesthetic in Hollywood even further. Will Smith was caught somewhere in between. He got along fine as a rapper and star of the sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the late 80s, then amazed critics with a nuanced performance as a gay con man in the film version of Six Degrees of Separation.

Then followed too many middling, action-adventure movies - among them Independence Day and Men In Black, both big hits. His latest release is, alas, a sequel to Bad Boys, the buddy picture he did with Martin Lawrence. It's in the tradition of black ghetto machismo that has become numbingly standard in the last 15 years: all scowls, sunglasses and big guns.

And black comics now are even more restricted by genre than in Murphy's formative days. Chris Rock is a brilliant social commentator with his own cable talkshow, but he hasn't played anything more substantial in the movies than a dimwitted, jive-talking presidential hopeful in the film White House.

If media representation is the measure of civil rights and equal access in America, as many people believe, then black people have certainly made gains. But they too often have to give up something in the process. And getting it back is not only a formidable challenge to this generation of black performers, it will be for the next, too.

Is an 18-Year-Old High School Phenom Worth $90 Million?

His high school basketball games made national television. His moves are followed all over the Internet.

"He is the best high school player I have ever seen," said Terry Pluto, a sports columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal of Ohio.

And Nike is betting $90 million that LeBron James' game is the kind that sells shoes.

"If all of a sudden, kids in playgrounds and kids in school are talking about their player, and therefore their sneaker, there is a lot of juice that comes with that," said Peter Land, general manager of Edelman Sports Marketing.

But juice worth $90 million?

Analysts say an endorsement from a great player can increase market share. And Nike stock jumped more than 30 cents on news of the deal.

Nike wasn't the only company in the hunt. Reebok made a huge bid. And Adidas even put up billboards in James' hometown of Akron to try to woo him.

They see in LeBron James the kind of potential they saw in his hero, the ultimate basketball pitchman, Michael Jordan.

"This is just like with Jordan," Pluto said. "People are lining up just to look at the kid, just like they were with Jordan."

For all of the hype, LeBron James is no sure thing. He has never played a pro game. He's skipping college altogether. All of his success has come in high-school gyms.

High school or not, his contract dwarfs Jordan's first sneaker deal, worth just $2.5 million. Shaquille O'Neal made $3 million in his first deal. And golf superstar Tiger Woods, the current endorsement king, made $40 million in his first deal.

All this adds up to yet another bad example for black youth seeking ways to excape generations of poverty. Now, in addition to rap music, basketball with lucative endorsements moves front and center, ahead of education.

Will all this money overwhelm someone so young? LeBron James won't get to prove himself in the pros until next fall.

For now, he just gets to be 18 — and rich.



High rates of incarceration hit black America hard

With Saddam Hussein deposed and the Soviet Union dead, the United States stands alone as the planet's prison camp. This country has the world's highest rate of incarceration and more than 2 million people behind bars.

Perhaps the fiscal crisis that threatens to swamp state budgets has one fortuitous feature: It may force state legislatures to rescind the harsh laws that have filled prison beds and blown prison budgets. Already, several states have begun early-release programs as deficits force cutbacks in prison spending.
Will that lead to an increase in violent crime, a reversal of the public safety gains made over the past decade? That depends on which felons are being released. Murderers, rapists and armed robbers should be kept behind bars -- perhaps for life. Locking away violent felons protects law-abiding citizens from physical assault.

But the criminal justice policies of the past 20 years or so have incarcerated not only vicious predators but also countless nonviolent offenders, including drug offenders, who might easily be rehabilitated through cheaper alternative sentencing options.

Locking up nonviolent offenders for long stretches has not made the streets safer. Instead, it has drained public coffers while producing a new class of violent thugs. Nonviolent offenders locked away with hardened criminals are likely to end their prison stretches, if they survive them, as hardened criminals themselves.

And because the criminal justice system is not yet colorblind, the harsh justice of the last several years has also devastated black America. Drug prosecutions, especially, have targeted blacks.

"Blacks are arrested and confined in numbers grossly out of line with their use or sale of drugs," Michael Tonry, criminal justice expert and author of "Malign Neglect: Race, Crime and Punishment in America," wrote in 1995.

Just one example is the horrendous miscarriage of justice in Tulia, Texas, where several blacks, caught in a series of drug arrests in 1999, were sent to prison based on the false testimony of an unreliable, racist law enforcement officer, Tom Coleman. Coleman eventually conceded that he never wore a recorder, never used video surveillance and never asked a partner to accompany him. He also admitted that he routinely used racial epithets.

Still, judges and prosecutors were persuaded by his thin and uncorroborated evidence. Now, the state is moving to overturn the convictions of dozens of defendants.

While Tulia is unusual for its obvious law enforcement misconduct, blacks routinely receive a harsher justice than whites. A white drug offender convicted for the first time would be more likely to get probation than a black defendant guilty of the same offense, research shows.

As a result, one-third of black men between 20 and 34 are behind bars, according to Allen Beck, chief prison demographer for the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. And that stunning statistic minimizes the overall blow: Nearly 30 percent of black men will be incarcerated during their lives, Beck said.

This -- and the AIDS epidemic -- are twin catastrophes that are decimating black America. With so many black men behind bars, there is little hope for rebuilding the black family structure. And the cycle only repeats itself in the next generation: Social workers point out that children with fathers in prison are more likely to grow up poor, drop out of school, become parents too soon and drift into lives of crime themselves.

The current fiscal emergency is claiming its share of victims. It has closed hospitals, cut teachers and ended the school year early in some states. But if the recession also forces states to reconsider their high rates of incarceration, it will grant a bit of relief and restore sanity to the criminal justice system.




The Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor Blacks

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist and the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black." This is from the Pacific News Service.

According to a recent report from the Children's Defense Fund, nearly 1 million Black children now live not in poverty, but "extreme poverty." That's the greatest number of Black children trapped in dire poverty in nearly 25 years. Yet barely a week before the Fund released those figures, a Census Bureau report found that Blacks made gains in education and owned more homes and that more Black children lived in two-parent households.

The tale of progress in Black America is evident in more than reports and crunched Census numbers. In recent times, Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson outbid Larry Bird for a professional basketball franchise, Oprah Winfrey cracked the billionaire's club and Colin Powell became the much-touted point man for Bush administration foreign policy.

A year ago, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry copped top acting honors at the Academy Awards and Black executives grabbed the top spots at American Express, AOL-Time-Warner and Merrill-Lynch. Add to that the legions of multimillionaire Black superstar athletes, celebrities and professionals.

The contrast to the tales of poverty can't be more glaring. There are nearly 1 million Blacks behind bars. The HIV/AIDS rampage, a sea of homeless persons and raging drug and gang violence plague many Black communities.

Though the widening rift between the Black haves and the Black have-nots has been blurred by racism, ignored by Blacks and hidden from white society, the class fissures have long existed, and they're getting deeper by the year.

Between 1975 and 1995, the number of Black professionals, technicians, administrators and managers nearly tripled, and the number of Black college graduates doubled, according to census figures. By 2000, more than 15 percent of Black households earned more than $50,000 annually. The top one-fifth of Black families earned nearly half of all Black income.

Black wealth, like white wealth, is now concentrated in fewer hands.
In the 1950s, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier warned that many Blacks were becoming what he contemptuously branded a "Black bourgeoisie" that controlled the wealth and power within the Black community and turned its back on its own people. Worse, many members of Frazier's Black bourgeoisie had begun to adopt the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class and to distance themselves from the Black poor.

In the 1960s, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs initiated during Lyndon Johnson's administration broke the last barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some Blacks was now wide open. More Blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of - they fled blighted inner-city areas in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Atlanta in droves.

By the end of the 1980s, one in 10 Blacks was affluent enough to move to the suburbs. The expansion of tract homes, condos and apartments made the move easier. In the decade since the 1992 Rodney King riots, the stampede of Black business and professionals from the inner cities accelerated.

At the same time, civil rights organizations and Black politicians did an about-face. They defined the Black agenda in increasingly narrow terms: affirmative action, economic parity, professional advancement and busing replaced battling poverty, reducing unemployment, securing quality education, promoting self-help and gaining greater political empowerment as the goals of all African Americans.
This left the one out of four Blacks who wallowed below the official poverty level, trapped in drug- and gang-plagued neighborhoods. Their children had to go to underserved, badly deteriorating inner-city schools that Black middle class families had long since abandoned. Lacking education, competitive skills and training, the Black have-nots were further relegated to the outer fringes of society.

But even though Black professionals, politicians and celebrities may be light years apart from poor Blacks in their wealth and status, color is hardly a relic of the past. Wealthy Blacks fume in anger as taxis speed past and blithely ignore them. They can be stopped, shaken down and spread-eagled by the police. They can be subjected to poor or no service in restaurants. They file countless complaints and lawsuits with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against corporations for stacking them at the low end in management positions. A sharp economic downturn could dump more than a few of them back into the same crumbling neighborhoods they worked long and hard to get out of.

Rich versus poor, progress and poverty. It's an old tale. The twist is that it can now be told in Black America.

For many Blacks, justice comes late

Survivors of the Rev. Joseph Armstrong DeLaine in South Carolina waited 45 years to see his name cleared for firing a gun in self-defense at a caravan of white "night riders" who were firing at him.

Sgt. Henry Johnson's heroics in rescuing a wounded comrade from German soldiers in 1918 didn't earn him a Distinguished Service Cross until 2002.
And it took the State of Florida 113 years to reinstate James Dean of Key West, the first Black county judge in the South, improperly removed from office for approving an interracial marriage.

In 1994, a Mississippi jury convicted Byron de la Beckwith in the assassination of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People field secretary Medgar Evers 31 years earlier. In 1998, another jury convicted former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in the 1966 firebombing murder of an NAACP official.

The residents of Ocoee, a central Florida town, gathered around a gravestone in November to remember a Black man lynched by a white mob after he cast a ballot on Election Day in 1920. The townspeople are only now reckoning with the mob violence that drove every Black resident from Ocoe

Governments, institutions and communities are slowly revisiting historical injustices of past generations in an effort to demonstrate -- by apologizing to victims, honoring heroes or prosecuting wrongdoers -- that times have changed.

"A wrong is a wrong is a wrong. And sometimes it might take us 100 years to get it right," said Donald Spivey, a University of Miami history professor.

Actions and policies that seemed acceptable to previous generations of white-dominated government and society, particularly in the South, are being reevaluated under contemporary standards as racist and offensive.

U.S. Sen. Trent Lott learned that lesson in December, when he lost his Senate leadership after waxing nostalgic for the 1948 presidential campaign of then-segregationist Strom Thurmond.

But change is slow. Some victims of segregation and racial hatred wait decades for redress. Some wait a lifetime.

Sharpton, Jessie, Where Art Thou?

With little protest from its crime-weary citizens, the United States has become the prison camp of the Western world, locking up 2 million of its population.
Young Black men are a disproportionate number of the inmates. Among men between 20 and 34, 1.4 percent of white men and 4 percent of Hispanic men are behind bars. But 12 percent of Black men in that same age group are incarcerated, according to the Justice Department.

That is a stunning statistic. No community can survive the effective loss of so many of its young men.

And the 12 percent figure manages to minimize the crisis, since it is a snapshot of the prison population over any given day. According to Allen Beck, chief demographer for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 30 percent of Black men will be incarcerated during their lives.

Yet you hear little outcry from civil rights advocates. Al Sharpton has campaigned against slavery in Sudan. Jesse Jackson battles gender segregation at the Augusta National golf club.

But the high rate of incarceration -- which is decimating the Black working class -- is not the central focus of civil rights advocates. How could that be? It is the single most daunting challenge to Black America today because it creates the conditions that lead to other failures.

Already, nearly 70 percent of Black children are born outside the bonds of marriage -- leaving those children more vulnerable to educational failure, drug abuse and early parenthood themselves. A community is in trouble when children born to two-parent families represent a minority.

But with so many men of marriageable age behind bars, there is little hope for rebuilding the Black family structure. Even when released from prison, those men will make poor prospects for marriage. With criminal histories, they will not easily find good jobs. Moreover, hard time in prison often turns a bad criminal into a worse one -- a man who will be disinclined to rejoin society on any but the most destructive terms.

Clearly, there are among Black prisoners many violent felons who deserve their sentences. They are men who rob, murder, rape and maim, making war zones of their neighborhoods. The presence of violent predators not only endangers the lives of law-abiding citizens, but it also ruins economic prospects. Down-at-the-heels neighborhoods have a chance at rebirth only when their streets are safe.
But America's criminal justice system does a poor job of separating the hardened criminal from the minor offender with a shot at rehabilitation -- especially if the offenders are Black. Research shows that Black men are more likely to be imprisoned for minor offenses, while white men are more likely to be given probation for the same crimes.

This impulse to imprison Black men now stretches to include the man-child. Frightened by a few highly publicized juvenile crimes, politicians began imposing harsher sanctions on juvenile offenders in the early 1990s. Predictably, the lash has fallen more frequently on Black and Hispanic boys than white.

Among young people who have never been to a juvenile prison, Blacks are more than six times as likely as whites to be sentenced by juvenile courts to prison time, according to a 2000 report, "And Justice for Some," issued by the Justice Department and several foundations. For those charged with drug offenses, Black youths are 48 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to juvenile prisons, the report said.

It is now possible to visit Black neighborhoods where most of the young men have disappeared, where families spend their Sundays visiting their incarcerated loved ones, where boys believe going to prison is a rite of manhood. Those neighborhoods cannot hope to offer their residents a route into the American mainstream.

The epidemic of incarceration ought to be the full-time preoccupation of every civil rights group -- indeed, every human rights group -- in the country. It represents a grave threat to the future not only of Black America but to all of America.






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What's in a Name?

Recently, researchers at MIT and the University of Chicago graduate schools of business tested whether applicants with Black-sounding names received a fair chance when applying for jobs.

The finding: no.

After sending out 5,000 manufactured resumes to 1,250 employers in Boston and Chicago who had advertised in the Globe and the Tribune for administrative and sales help, researchers found that the likes of Anne, Brendan, Emily and Greg received 50 percent more responses across the board than the Aishas, Kareems, Tamikas and Tyrones.

Family names mattered, too. Researchers gave the Black applicants names such as Jackson, Jones, Robinson, Washington and Williams. The names for white applicants were Baker, Kelly, McCarthy, Murphy, Murray, O'Brien, Ryan, Sullivan and Walsh.

The phantom whites received one response (a telephone call, letter or e-mail) for every 10 resumes. Applicants with Black-sounding names -- with the same credentials as their white counterparts -- received one response for every 15 resumes. In other words, interviews were requested for 10.1 percent of applicants with white-sounding names and only 6.7 percent of those with Black-sounding names.

Marianne Bertrand, an associate professor of economics at Chicago, said of the findings: "Our results so far suggest that there is a substantial amount of discrimination in the job recruiting process."

Bertrand and other researchers said the most alarming finding is that the chance of being called for an interview rises significantly with an applicant's credentials, such as experience and honors, for those with white-sounding names, but far less for those with Black-sounding names.

Even companies that advertised themselves as equal opportunity employers had an equally dismal response rate to Black-sounding names.

Bertrand: "It doesn't seem like the problem is that they're sitting there going, 'Well, I really don't want Tamika here.' The problem seems to be that they read through hundreds of resumes very fast and try to form an impression of the person from the resume. And subconsciously, if you see the name Tamika, it's going to bleed into your overall impression; it's going to cue all the negative stereotypes you might have implicitly ... of African-Americans, and I think that's hard to challenge."

As far back as the late 1960s, when the Nation of Islam emerged on the national scene with its message of self-pride, to the airing of the TV miniseries Roots a few years later, Afrocentric names became the new trend in low-income Black culture. Parents, especially mothers, sought ways to highlight the uniqueness and physical beauty of their children. Original names were part of what many Black scholars call "the search for identity."

Few people will argue against the desire, even need, to seek cultural identity. But names stay with people a lifetime. Today, as a result of the MIT-Chicago study, we have strong evidence that Black-identity names hurt Black job applicants.

African-American parents have every right to give their children whatever names they wish. But knowing what we now know, I would say Black parents, even the most well-meaning, are irresponsible when they give their innocent offspring names that hobble them with negative baggage from the start.


How Our Black Sisters are Perceived

Recently, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice defended the impending war against Iraq on "Fox News Sunday." Oprah Winfrey was revealed to be the world's first Black female billionaire. And on Newsweek's cover, singer Beyonce Knowles, TV personality Star Jones and businesswoman Mellody Hobson smiled brightly above the headline "From Schools to Jobs, Black Women Are Rising Much Faster Than Black Men."

I cringed. The cover was something else that could be interpreted as an annoying pinprick to Black men's already tender psyches. Something else that would seem to pit African-American women against the men they love and support despite their sometimes outspoken frustration with them.

As proud as I am of Black women's achievements, I must put them in context. For every time we see a Rice or an Oprah on television, millions of youthful MTV and Black Entertainment Television fans see scores of anonymous, half-dressed Black women booty-shaking next to the latest rapper-du-jour or singing about sex acts that not long ago were only whispered about.

Which type of "sister" is most influential? For a lesson, check out popular rapper-actress Queen Latifah's new movie, "Bringing Down the House." On second thought, don't if you aren't a glutton for stereotypes.

In "House," Latifah plays a voluptuous prison escapee who overturns the life of an uptight lawyer (Steve Martin) to whom she initially misrepresents herself as a skinny, blond attorney via the Internet.

Name the race-based movie stereotype and "House" commits it: Eye-rolling, jive-spewing homegirl who whips butt whenever she's challenged? Check. Thuggish, deceitful Black man waving a pistol? Check. Three-hundred-pound sister dancing suggestively? Check. Often, the movie made me cringe, though at moments it was hilarious.

Know what isn't funny? Latifah executive-produced this affront. Just as she once recorded lyrics so obscene my editors won't let me even hint at them.
I usually admire the pride with which Latifah carries her sexy, plus-size self. I just wonder what she really wants to be.

Black women's images are nothing if not conflicting. As Newsweek pointed out, a quarter of African-American women have risen to the professional-managerial class, compared with 17 percent of Black men. College-educated Black women earn more than the median for all Black working men. And speaking of college, 35 percent of young Black women now attend, compared with 25 percent of Black men.

Not that every sister's life is a house party. Nearly 14 percent of Black working women are below the poverty level; every societal ill that burdens women in general hits Black women harder.

Also discomfiting: Many sisters, successful or otherwise, believe they have little chance of sharing their lives with a Black man. Their ranks thinned by premature death and prison, eligible Black men seem rare.

What bothered me about the magazine cover was that it simplified Black women -- now they're successful at our expense!

Gains of Affirmative Action Not Limited to Minorities

Affirmative action, so long distorted by its critics, makes an easy political target. Thus it was not unexpected, but still was disappointing, that our allegedly "compassionate conservative" president would pile on.

In so doing, George W. Bush has embraced the code language that denigrates as "reverse racism" any sincere program to bring more Black and brown people into the halls of higher education. As if purposely insulting the civil rights movement, the White House chose the day Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 74 to announce that the president would intervene in an affirmative action case now before the Supreme Court.

However, beyond this sad irony, the extraordinary move was emblematic of the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil attitude our nation has continually and conveniently shown in all matters regarding race.

Bush complains that the University of Michigan's mild attempts at affirmative action are "divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution." An interesting claim. Would that be the same Constitution that originally condoned legal slavery and voting rights only for landed men? The same Constitution that was interpreted by the "impartial courts" for almost a century after the Civil War as countenancing segregation?

The U.S. Constitution is perhaps the most enlightened basis for a nation's construction the world has seen. Yet it is a living document, and one that can be torqued around according to the biases of its interpreters. This flexibility has most recently been highlighted by the willingness of the courts, post-9/11, to allow a sudden, sharp reduction in our collective civil liberties.

And, of course, the president is well aware that a conservative majority currently dominates arguably the most politicized Supreme Court in a century. This allows him to hide behind the Constitution, rather than articulate the supposed demerits of affirmative action, because he knows where Justice Antonin Scalia and friends stand on attempts to ameliorate or rectify a legacy of state-supported racism. For the Supremes to rule affirmative action unconstitutional would be as politically motivated a ruling as were the court's decisions that allowed Jim Crow to dehumanize African Americans before an epic social movement forced its hand.

Really, folks, crying "reverse racism" at the drop of a hat is ludicrous. And who better than Bush to understand that white people, especially wealthy white people, have huge social, financial and educational advantages. This is the man who was allowed to consistently underutilize the best educational institutions the nation has to offer because of his race, money and connections to power.
Even with all the tutoring he received, for example, Bush's mediocre grades at Andover and his SAT scores would not have qualified him for Yale were it not for the historical affirmative action policy for whites known as "legacy admissions," whereby the scions of alumni are let into the most prestigious Ivy League colleges through the back door.

To their credit, most private colleges have come to recognize the educational, societal and marketing value of hosting a diverse and representative student body, and they have used affirmative action as a modest tool in striving to achieve that goal. Meanwhile, the efforts of public universities to open up to all segments of society have been severely hobbled by legal challenges supported by radical conservatives.

This is particularly offensive when we remember that the government's establishment and support of higher-learning institutions were explicitly intended to grant real opportunities to the "great unwashed," whether they be from isolated farming hamlets or sprawling urban ghettos.

The quest for diversity was not only morally satisfying but practical, encouraging a meritocracy designed to link all communities with an emerging middle class to create a more stable society and productive economy.

Our tax dollars support universities not to provide a subsidized education for the well-heeled, as is now often the case, but to offer a leg up and a chance to contribute to those with limited means who have worked hard. And with good blue-collar jobs now almost as scarce as Black Republicans, a college education is no longer simply one route to success; it's a prerequisite.

Undergraduate education, in particular, has become a mass finishing school, giving young people the networking, social and linguistic skills necessary for access to jobs that pay a living wage. Affirmative action merely attempts, in a limited way, to assure that this process includes minorities. Which is why both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are on the record as supporting affirmative action.

When the number of African American men in prison rivals the number attending college, how dare the president make it more difficult to confront this national tragedy three centuries in the making?


Is Trent Lott a Racist?

About a year ago, a harried traveler, rushing through an unfamiliar airport to make a connecting flight, stopped for a quick restroom break. He ducked in where he saw the sign, but when he looked around, he was immediately seized by a sense that there was something not quite right about this restroom. Then he realized what was missing: urinals.
But the traveler was in a hurry, so he didn't dwell on the strangeness of the room. Instead, muttering curses to whatever gods of modern architecture had decreed urinals passé, he stepped into a stall and did what he had come to do.

On the way to wash his hands, he saw something that stopped him. A woman was standing there, big as you please, using the sink. The man was indignant, wondering how this silly woman could have failed to realize she had wandered into the men's room by mistake.
Which is when it hit him like bricks. One hand flew to his cheek, he said, ''Oh, my goodness!'' and rushed out of the women's restroom just as the astonished woman behind him remembered to laugh.

I offer this story -- yes, it happened, and I've been extra careful about public restrooms ever since -- as illustration of a peculiar human trait. Meaning, our ability to reshape glaring evidence to fit a predetermined conclusion.

That trait is on constant display these days, every time some politician, political aide, Senate colleague or professional pundit solemnly assures us that Trent Lott is no bigot. Let Sen. Bill Frist stand in for all of them. ''He's not a racist,'' said Frist, speaking on CNN's Inside Politics program. ``I've known Trent well the last eight years. The spin to this and the interpretations to this, I think is abhorrent.''

A few things to remember about Trent Lott. He is recalled by members of his college fraternity as an ardent opponent of integration. He's had a long affiliation with the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. He has expressed his closeness to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He opposed the 1982 extension of the Voting Rights Act. He cast the only vote against the nomination of the first Black judge ever to sit on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. And, of course, he has been in political hot water for better than a week now, after suggesting the nation would have been better off had it elected segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond to the presidency in 1948.

The evidence is all around us. Yet apologists for the Mississippi senator and presumptive majority leader continue to reshape it so that it fits what they believe. And you have to wonder if they're trying to fool us or simply fooling themselves.

I am not here to tell you Trent Lott is a racist, because I don't know. I am here to say that, given the preponderance of the evidence, the idea is hardly as unthinkable as some would have us to believe.

If one weakness of the African-American community is that it sometimes seems to see racism everywhere, one weakness of the white community is that it sometimes can't see racism even when it plants itself astride their path, pokes a finger into their chest and says, ``Hi, I'm racism. Pleased to meet you.''

They duck, dodge, deny, strain credibility to its breaking point with rhetorical brinkmanship and fanciful rationalizations. Anything but follow the evidence to its logical conclusion.
Trent Lott is not a racist? Why not? Why is that so impossible to believe?

With apologies to Marvin Gaye, it makes me want to holler sometimes. I mean, what do they think a racist looks like? Do they think it's some nine-foot-tall guy with a hood on his head and horns poking out on either side?

No. A racist is a guy who waves at you in the morning, who goes to church on Sunday, who works hard at his job, who loves his dog, his kids and his home team.

A racist is a guy who looks just like Trent Lott.

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It's vulgar whoever does the singing

Enough about war. Let us turn to a truly serious issue: whether Ozzy Osbourne deserves a Pepsi commercial.

This is a burning controversy. Why, as you read this, a boycott is being called, down in Atlanta, to keep people from buying Pepsi products -- not because the foulmouthed Ozzy was hired as Pepsi's new spokesperson, but because a foulmouthed rapper named Ludacris was dumped.

I am not kidding. According to the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network -- a group founded by rap mogul Russell Simmons -- "this boycott is being called in response to Pepsi dropping Ludacris . . . and picking up the Osbournes, who are no less vulgar."

In other words, Pepsi thinks Ozzy's $#@%! doesn't smell, but Ludacris' $#@%! does.

Now. In case you don't know the players here, Ludacris is a rapper of some renown. Many kids like him. His lyrics are, shall we say, not in the Doris Day category. A sample, from his tune entitled -- and folks, feel free to sing along --

Get The F--- Back. F- -- that!
Get the f--- back!
Luda make your skull crack!

Osbourne, meanwhile, is a burned-out rock star from the '80s who was rediscovered as a blithering idiot, pushed into the national spotlight, and transformed into a multimillionaire. People watch Ozzy and his dysfunctional family on MTV, and they laugh at his ineptitude, along with his incessant profanity.

A sample of Ozzy's lines:
"Where the f--- is the f------ dog, Sharon? I mean, I'm the Prince of f------ Darkness!"

A few months ago, when Ludacris was Pepsi's man, the bombastic Bill O'Reilly took the soft-drink maker to task. He read some Ludacris lyrics on his TV show. He called Pepsi immoral. He, too, demanded a boycott.

And, like many corporate entities, fear of controversy led Pepsi to cave in. Not a sense of morals, mind you. If Pepsi had that, it wouldn't have hired Ludacris in the first place.

No, Pepsi was worried about customers. So it dumped Ludacris and called his brief stint "a mistake."

Which didn't make Simmons very happy. After all, he controls a stable of rap artists, and they could make some major money with Pepsi-sized endorsements -- not to mention mainstream exposure. Never mind that tunes like "Move, Bitch" (another Ludacris love song) might not be something we want kids who drink Pepsi checking out. Simmons, like most businessmen, is about the money. He saw it slipping away.

And when Pepsi hired Osbourne, he hit the roof.

The accusation, of course, is racism. White profanity is OK, but Black profanity is not. Simmons believes that this is an important issue, and that it warrants a boycott. The heat is on from the rap community. Which leads me to one thought:

How do I get off this planet?

What have we come to when a battle rages over who is more vulgar, the Black guy or the white guy? What is Pepsi thinking in the first place? This is less about racism than it is about stupidity. You make one terrible choice. You fix it. Then you make another.

Is it so critical to reach the teenage dollar that anything goes? Does it really matter which star is drinking which soda anyhow? Isn't there anyone in the whole Pepsi organization smart enough to say, "Let's save our money, avoid this whole celebrity thing, and go back to a bunch of happy faces hoisting their Pepsi cans"?

Apparently not. What's sad here is that nobody seems to question the whole idea of vulgarity as entertainment. A boycott. Another boycott. Black versus white in the race to be vulgar.

You gotta admit, Pepsi got one thing right, even if it spelled it wrong.

Ludicrous is the word.

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