Here's another demeaning black comedy
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
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
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.
Emmett Till Still Matters
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
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
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.
Cent and the "Gay" Issue
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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?
focusing on learning, we can save our children
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
— 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Silence -- African Americans
By Charles Martin
beginning of the end of life is when we remain silent about things
-- 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
Is an 18-Year-Old
High School Phenom Worth $90 Million?
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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.
many Blacks, justice comes late
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.