All one has to do is read Poets and Writers to find that the backlash on Multiculturalism has even affected the arts. Except for a few tokens, most of those listed as writers invited to conferences, to conduct workshops and do readings are white. One exception is the Naropa Institute’s summer workshops held in Boulder, Colorado.
Poet Anne Waldman is probably responsible for this being the most diverse of summer workshops. Another is the literary festival held in Flagstaff, Arizona where I appeared from April 21 to the 23rd. Flagstaff is located 8,000 feet above sea level near Hopi and Navajo country. An elderly white woman, a passenger on the shuttle that takes three hours to transport passengers from the Phoenix airport, complained about Native Americans operating casinos, an opportunity denied to whites, according to her. This is Goldwater country. But unlike many of today’s conservatives, who are using the label as a cover for racism, Goldwater was unpredictable.
Flagstaff is a place where you can catch a glimpse of ancient America. Twenty minutes from town, one can find pictographs, carved on rock faces, left by the Anasazi who dwelled in this area for six thousand years before leaving in the 1300s.
The town’s revenues are mostly derived from tourists who arrive from around the world to visit the Grand Canyon. I didn’t notice any blacks when I arrived and so I remarked to our host that I felt like James Baldwin most have felt in Switzerland.
I’ve had this experience on other occasions in the west. In Laramie, Wyoming when I was invited to speak there, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Missoula, Montana and Pullman, Washington. When I was about 19, traveling from San Francisco to Buffalo, New York, our car was stranded in North Platte, Nebraska. Being a black person gave me celebrity status.
Though eastern Op-eders and intellectuals criticize black separatism, one can find hundreds of white separatist towns throughout the United States, though they are not considered as such. James Lowen, in his Sundown Towns, documents a number of communities from which blacks Chinese and other groups were driven out by force, or made known that they weren’t welcome.
These towns still exist. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of those who’ve migrated to places like Flagstaff did so to escape blacks, who have been the targets of an unprecedented media and Think Tank battering. (The old lynch mobs didn’t have access to cable.) They escaped “Urban America,” only to face what some Flagstaff residents view as a Mexican invasion. A younger passenger, a white woman, who was also on the Shuttle ride to Flagstaff, said that she and her husband were heading back to St. Louis.
This is happening all over the west, so that within 20 years nearly everything west of the Rockies will be northern Mexico. The Spanish were here before the Anglos arrived, bringing with them the virus of white supremacy (though many of them were people, who, at the time, weren’t considered white in the east, just as some Natives of South Asia get a Brahmin upgrade when they arrive in the United States, so it was with ersatz whites in the 19 Century when they moved to the West).
Visitors to San Francisco will notice a number of placesnamed Berryessa. The Berryessas are among those families that arrived with the De Anza expedition in the 1770s. They were given large tracts of land by a Spanish King, but this land was stolen by the American invaders. I interviewed Rose Berryessa, a descendant of this family, who is now a school teacher in San Francisco, for my book, Blues City: a Walk in Oakland. The interview wasn’t used. She talks about how her great grandfather was murdered by Kit Carson during a trip to a prison where his son was being held by the Americans without being charged with anything. Given the status of land disputes in the west, one can argue that the real illegal aliens are the Americans who, I suspect, will begin leaving the west for a prosperous Europe before the century is out.
But for three days I forgot about politics and basked in the brilliance of and fellowship of readings by fellow writers, among them, Naomi Shihab, whose poem about sending Johnny Carson to Iraq got a rousing reception from those attending the readings and panels. Heid E. Erdrich gave a brilliant statement about the concept of beauty. Ted Koosier, the United States poet Laureate was supposed to appear but he had to cancel because of illness in the family. He was replaced by a wonderful poet, Li Young Lee. The board of the Northern Arizona Book Festival to make ours a comfortable visit did everything possible. The events were held at the Orpheum theater, part of a funky revitalized downtown of restaurants, shops and bars. The Orpheum has the distinction of housing the original popcorn machine. As I was being dined and feted, Little did I know at the time that the article I wrote for Counter Punch had ignited a blog firestorm 8 thousand feet below, but awaiting the plane for my return to Oakland reminded me of why my observations about the media had to be said.
Maybe if those who manage airport services and the presidents of the airline companies knew how it felt to sit in a place like the Phoenix airport as the sole black person, while watching CNN, surrounded by people, all of whom look like Bush supporters, they would end this service. At home
you can always change the channel. Here you’re stuck.
Within an hour CNN broadcast stories about the alleged rape of a black college student by white members of the Duke University lacrosse team. The report was biased in favor of the white players. When a black man is suspected of a crime, the cable networks are pro prosecution. When whites are involved, like the kids who killed a homeless man in Florida, the kind, who are attacking the homeless all over the country, the suspects are given the benefit of the doubt by the media.
CNN ran the arrests of two black security guards who were the first suspects in the kidnapping of Valerie Holloway, even after they had been released!
Evan Thomas, who, judging from comments he made to Don Imus, believes, like The New York Times, that the typical perpetrator of domestic violence is a black male, when, statistically, black men have a better record of treating women than men of a number of ethnic groups. According to a study issued by a scholar from SUNY, they have a better record than white men. But nobody has told The New York Times where the typical face of domestic violence is black (and the new United States’ postage stamp with the theme of “domestic violence,” also shows a black figure). I tried to set the record straight with an Op-Ed I sent to the Times, using their statistics! It was rejected.
When it came to these white lacrosse players, Thomas just about wrote their defense in Newsweek. He cited Thomas Wolfe’s ugly mean- spirited and bigoted, Plantation School novel, The Bonfire Vanities, to suggest that racism doesn’t happen to black people like the college student who claimed that the Lacrosse players raped her. She made it up! (But even if this turns out to be true, Susan Smith, who lied about black men kidnapping her children isn’t used to challenge the credibility of all white women.)Thomas’ view is similar to that of Heather MacDonald’s claim that racial profiling doesn’t exist,even when the Bush administration says that it does! Ms.Mac Donald is John McWhorter’s colleague at the Manhattan Institute. As for Wolfe, he writes in the tradition of Rev. Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman. His novel The Full Man is a perfect match with Dixon’s book. Black rapist, incompetent black government, the works.
During this CNN airport broadcast, even Condi Rice, their favorite black person, was accused of leaking classified documents to members of the Israeli lobby. Mexican “migrants “were shown handcuffed and there was a story about how a new program allows women in prison to maintain contact with their children. Black and Hispanic mothers.
There was a story about the run off race between Mayor Nagin and Lt. Gov. Landrieu that was pro Landrieu. The reporter, SUSAN ROESGEN, in a previous broadcast, abandoned any pretense of objectivity by criticizing Nagin for his “Chocolate City “remark, yet she nor others, who grilled Nagin for this remark, including Chris Matthews, haven’t paid much attention to the citizens of Gretna, Louisiana, who prevented black New Orleans citizens from seeking safety in that city. By gunpoint. And the city council of Gretna supported this action that was meant to maintain Gretna as a Vanilla City.
There was also a story ridiculing Cynthia McKinney for her run in with a capitol policeman, which, if she had been a white congresswoman, would have been dismissed with a joke. This is another example of the double standard by which blacks and whites are treated by the criminal justice system, whether one is a black drug addict who gets jail, where a white defendant like Rush Limbaugh gets rehabilitation, or whether a black Congresswoman gets the grand jury, while the same gesture by a white congresswoman would have been considered a sign of endearing eccentricity. But for all of its presentation of blacks as buffoons and criminals this particular program was an improvement over one I saw on CNN’s service airport service in Atlanta, Georgia.
I was returning from Spain in 1988 and had a stop over at the Atlanta airport. The CNN airport service was doing a feature called “Christmas on the Plantation,” about how wonderful it was during Christmas in the ante bellum south. It made sense. Ted Turner, who headed CNN at the time, is a big supporter of the confederate “Lost Cause.” He pours millions of dollars into such projects as ” Gods and Generals,” a film that glorifies the war criminal Robert E. Lee, who, in his own time, was considered an incompetent who was responsible for the confederate defeat at Gettysburg.
Maybe Turner doesn’t realize that the black man, who, according to Jet magazine, helped raise him, wouldn’t have had such a wonderful time at the old plantation Christmas. He would have been a slave!
When I returned home, I received an email from Earl Caldwell, a former reporter for the New York Times, who now has a show on New York’s WBAI, indicating that my Counter Punch article had ignited a controversy. (Nobody’s going to give Earl Caldwell, nor George Curry a syndicated column). I did a Google search and found some of my comments and the excerpted reply from Michel Martin, whose interview with Cynthia McKinney was criticized in my piece, at a website operated by the Maynard Institute. The title was “Black Journalists Push Back at ISHMAEL REED.”
Ms. Martin’s interview with Cynthia McKinney came to my attention originally after I received an email from the brilliant young social and media critic, Joseph Anderson, one of those who was offended by it. After viewing the interview at the ABC website, I agreed with Anderson that Ms. Martin was curt, rude and sarcastic to Ms. McKinney. I sent him an email saying that if she had used this tone during an interview with a white male congressman she would have received the Connie Chung treatment. Fortunately, readers may consult the show online and decide whether they agree. Ignored during this interview was the fact that it’s Ms. McKinney’s political views, not the hair or her minor altercation with a capitol policeman that has earned her persecution from one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies and her round the clock ridicule from places like CNN, whose president views dissing blacks as a way of raising the fledgling ratings of the network. Had It not been for the O.J. trial, CNN would have tanked long ago, and they’ve spent much time since then, searching for an O.J. or a Michael Jackson, or Clarence Thomas, Kobe Bryant or another black male who would attract a viewer lynch mob to their product.
They celebrated their 25th anniversary with a visual montage, which I have saved. This montage was supposed to include photos of the most important events of the last twenty-five years. A photo of Anita Hill was larger than the rest.
Does CNN believe that the Anita Hill Controversy, however significant, was the most important event of 25 years- years that included natural disasters, wars and an attack on the American homeland and the impeachment of a president? Does this mean that the morbid excessive fascination with blacks involved in scandals borders on a sickness, something that needs to be examined in a clinic room? Are those who furnish the public with this material, sick, or the market that craves this junk?
Why, asked the late Rick James, during an interview with a CNN bimbo, was the Michael Jackson trial more interesting to the public than the war in Iraqi? Good question.
Ms. Martin is right when she says that she wasn’t obligated to answer skanky Joe Klein when he made one of his frequent generalizations about black morality, the kind of remarks that earned him the title of “white militant,” from For Accuracy In Reporting. Mr.Klein recently said that black inner city should be turned over to the churches. This from one of the biggest liars of the 1990s. I don’t know whether Mr.Klein or his neighbors attend church or temple, but around here my neighborhood is deserted at 11:00 am on Sundays.
Ms. Martin is also correct to rebuke me for misspelling her name. I blew that one and I apologize (though the word “chastise” was spelled correctly in the copy I sent. I didn’t write the headlines). As an author of millions of words, I have made mistakes, but may I suggest that my record of accuracy is superior to that of some her employers?
I remember criticizing ABC for locating all of the drug use among Americans in the black community and my presenting statistics to show that most drug users in this country are white. My comments were broadcast on Pacifica network that had an ABC ombudsman to follow me. He repeated this suburban legend about blacks and was corrected by some policy wonks that followed him.
I also appeared on “Nightline,” on Dec.10, 1993, with the kind of pretty boys whom they hire to do the news. People, who, in England, would be called newsreaders. They offered no resistance when I confronted them about the folklore they spread about black life in this country. Since that show, I’ve noticed that these men haven’t the slightest interest in acquainting themselves with the facts.
Howard Kurtz was a member of that “Nightline” panel. Kurtz is the “media critic” who ridiculed black journalists at NPR when NPR aired one of the nastiest most irresponsible hits on black people ever broadcast. It was something called “Ghetto I0I” produced by David Isay, who armed two black kids with microphones and encouraged them to record all of the sleazy aspects of Chicago project life they could find and when not finding any, create some. Insensitive to the black employers’ complaints, NPR did a sequel that was worse. When I sent an email complaining about the sequel to” Ghetto 101,” NPR got their mind double Hispanic Ray Suarez to reply to me. He defended the show and in the course of his reply disparaged Bryant Gumbel and Ed Bradley. Called them “Showcase blacks.”Another participant on that broadcast was Jeff Greenfield, He became agitated over an issue I raised, and described himself as a ” white man” who had the guts to bring up black crime. By contrast,in a New York Times op-ed, he was soft on insider trading, the kind of crime that nearly destroyed the American economy.
Black people are not good at crime. Been here since 1619 and haven’t produced a single Martha Stewart or Ken Lay.
So I think that I have a good record for accuracy. Why else would NBC call me after I appeared on a network show and request that I share some of my data with them? They never reimbursed me for my faxing expenses. I’m just an ordinary black person living in the ghetto while they have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal, and media stars who might not be informed but are good actors. These pretty boys stick together. Notice how they’re falling over each other to congratulate Tony Snow on his new job as Bush press secretary. They don’t mention that he was part of the right wing conspiracy against president Clinton. He’s the fellow who, according to The Clinton Wars, by Sidney Blumenthal introduced Linda Tripp to Lucianne Goldberg.
But what do we expect from the outfits that employ Ms. Martin? Tim Russert for example accosts every black guest about outofwedlock children in the ghetto without mentioning that the rate among black women has plummeted more than that of any other group. You can’t get him to mention that the outofwedlock birthrate among white women which is soaring.He must have gotten his dated information from his late mentor Daniel Moynihan. Moynihan was the senator who accused black women of “speciation.”Of producing mutants.Little Russ’s idea of a panel on black America is one that included the Manhattan Institute’s surrogate John McWhorter, intellectual godson of far right-wingers, Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, and Taylor Branch, one of the media appointed experts on black America. Only one guest, Marian Wright Edelman, of the Children’s Defense League, knew what she was talking about.
When Russert did a special Easter program with a panel composed of Christian ministers and Rabbi Michael Lerner, not one black minister appeared, not even their favorite, Bishop Jakes. It was the black church that defined American Christianity of the 20th Century.
We expect NPR to offer superior programming than the networks that make money by offering hi-tech lynching of black people, twenty-four hours per day.
I’m glad that Michel Martin is on at NPR. Maybe she can convince Ira Glass that there is more to black life than gangs. He said recently that he was “mesmerized” by ethnic gangs, which shows how blacks and Latinos get defined by people who only see them as perpetrators of crime athletes and entertainers, the image of blacks that hasn’t changed since the 1880s. Booker T. Washington W. E. B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey might have had disagreements, but they all had criticism of the presentation of blacks by the media, and the villains of two of Charles Chesnutt’s novels, The Colonel’s Dream (1905), and The Marrow of Tradition (1901), are newspaper editors. The inflammatory editorials of one leads to the lynching of a black man and the other’s yellow journalism causes a riot. Chesnutt had in mind an actual massacre of blacks that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina. Instead of pushing back on me, maybe the black journalists who belong to the NABJ can get The Newspaper of Society America to issue an apology for all of the civil discord, riots and lynching occurring in the last century that were perpetrated by an inflammatory press.
Ms. Martin might ask Nina Totenberg, who praised The Bell Curve whether she believes that Anita Hill, whom she outed as the anonymous author of a statement about Clarence Thomas’ character, has a low I.Q.
Ms. Martin also feels that I was hard on Bob Herbert. He is also in journalistic shackles, in my opinion. He did a smear job on former congressman Kweisi Mfume about his children born out of wed lock, which is fair game, but he listed the children’s’ names. Does Herbert believe that Mfume was the only Washington politician who was the father of children by unmarried women? Would the Times permit him to write about the moral transgressions of white Washington politicians? Could he, for example, comment on the irony of Bush I spending millions of dollars to force some black women to help sting ex- Mayor Marion Barry while, according to Kitty Kelly, author of The Family, Bush 2 was snorting coke at Camp David?
So when Ms. Martin says that I am imprisoning black journalists, I would suggest that it’s her employers who are confining African Americans to a few areas of media coverage and that she and her some of her fellow black journalists are the ones who are in jail.
They can only express tough love toward blacks when the “tangle of pathologies” that exist in some black communities exist in many American ethnic communities. When Greg Lewis of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that most perpetrators and victims of drive by shootings are Hispanic, he caught hell. They’d probably be surprised to learn that Filipino-American enrollment and women faculty numbers were also affected negatively by Proposition 209, because the propaganda line has it that Affirmative Action is a black program and that Asian Americans are a “model minority.” Among Asian American groups in California, Filipino Americans constitute the largest.
Finally, Ms. Martin says that I treated Cynthia Tucker harshly and says that Ms. Tucker was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. That doesn’t amount to beans, lady. They gave a Pulitzer to Janet Cooke for her story about black people being so low down that they injected a child with Heroin. Robert Maynard objected but he was overruled by the white men who also gave an award to a novel that depicted black men as incest perpetrators and rapists, though it was not the author’s fault that her individual characters were taken to represent all black men by Gloria Steinem and Ms. Steinem’s feminist followers (for the goods on Ms.Steinem and her power to create black Divas see Cecil Brown’s interview with Toni Morrison, Massachusetts Review). Maybe Ms.Tucker was nominated because she called the black victims of the Katrina flood, “bestial,” or maybe for one of her recent columns, “Idle Black Men,Tragically, Aren’t Just A Stereotype”an insult to the millions of black men who, like my step Father, worked thirty years at a crummy job so that he could feed his family. The column was about black men in New Orleans who were too lazy to compete with Hispanics for jobs.
Ms. Martin also objects to my treatment of Jeff Koinage. Jeff Koniage reported widespread looting and mayhem in New Orleans taking place in an area where even white reporters said they found no evidence. Maybe the Pulitzer Committee will create a Jayson Blair award for people like him.
Ms. Martin also says that I dislike her. That’s news to me. I find Ms. Martin to be a highly professional journalist. I admire her. But her talent is being imprisoned by the men who run the outfits where she is employed. Men whose opinions are more aligned with those of white power columnists Joe Klein and David Brooks than with hers. Joe Klein, who feels that his morality is on a higher plane than that of blacks said that Kerry lost the election because of Whoopie Goldberg’s double entendre on Bush’s name and Janet Jackson’s exposing her breast during the broadcast of the Super Bowl.
Don Imus and his friend Little Russ, David Brooks, Joe Klein and others are bullies because they know that the victims of their attacks don’t have the media power to respond. They’re like their role model Ronald Reagan who began his political career as an informer and rose to power by picking on welfare mothers. My CounterPunch article was criticized by a Republican Party blog. Their remarks amounted to the usual towel snapping fratboy type put-downs and wisecracks that you hear from Tucker Carlson.
They disputed my claim that Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve was supported by the Pioneer Fund, a foundation with Nazi links. I sent them the evidence, but they didn’t print it. I don’t understand why the democrats have trouble with these people. They have to be fought the way Holyfield fought the bully Tyson. Bullies can’t fight, backing up.
How can Ms Martin’s considerable talents be put to good use? I have a suggestion.Since she is friends with ” Bill “Kristol, maybe she could ask him about his fathers ties to the far right Bradley Foundation ,which he encouraged to finance a propaganda attack on black Americans. For more on the Bradley Foundation, CounterPunch readers should go to the website Media Transparency. An excerpt about the foundation and its support of Murray’s book:
The book argued that poverty is the result, not of social conditions or policies, but of the inferior genetic traits of a sub-class of human beings. The book was widely seen as a piece of profoundly racist and classist pseudo-science, and was denounced by the American Psychological Association. It had relied heavily on studies financed by the Pioneer Fund, a neo-Nazi organization that promoted eugenicist research. Immediately after its publication, Bradley raised Murray’s annual grant to $163,000.
Irving Kristol is former Trotskyite who became an Neo Con. He’s the one who coined the term,” A Neo Con is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.”His buddy John Q.Wilson, who believes that the genes of black people are damaged, thought it funny to add there are no more liberals because they have been mugged.This is the man who was the philosopher behind Mayor Giuliani’s fascist round up of New York’s black and Hispanic men. This would be a truly challenging assignment for Ms. Martin. Something worthy of her talents. She could even ask Shelby Steele about his ties to the Bradley Foundation.
Instead of pushing back on me, Ms. Martin and her fellow black journalists might prepare black people for President Giuliani, a leader who promises to make George Bush look like Eleanor Roosevelt. They’ll find talking points in a book by the late Jack Newfield’s The Full Rudy, which was suppressed because of its cover art.
Also, how can Ms.Martin defend USA Today, after the treatment they accorded Barbara Reynolds, treatment she writes about in her book, Out of Hell Living Well? Of her firing by USA Today she writes:
“On cue, a blond guy in a crisp blue blazer appeared at the meeting to escort me out of the building. I was not allowed to go back to my office. I was escorted out of the door, into the parking lot. No more was I a founding editor, who had worked day and night, traveling thousands of miles to help start the paper. I was now being treated like a criminal, busted, kicked to the curb all for having an opinion unlike those of my white comrades. Diversity was not only over; it had become virtually a treasonous offense. By that evening I was in the emergency room with tubes hanging off of me.”
I would also recommend that Ms.Martin read a book I published last year. It was written by 80 old Jerri Lange, the dean of west coast black journalists. It’s called Jerri , A Black Woman’s Life in the Media. It’s about how Ms. Lange rose to the pinnacle of media success in San Francisco until she made a speech before broadcast executives about the limited portrayal of blacks in the media. After that speech the same thing that happened to Barbara Reynolds and the late Carl Rowan, who said that he was fired because he was “too old and too bold,” happened to her.
Maybe Ms. Martin will have Ms. Lange as a guest on her show. Maybe the National Association of Black Journalists will find a way to honor Reynolds, Rowan and Ms. Lange like they just honored Cynthia Tucker. Carl Rowan said of the media “Blacks have been out propagandized.”
He was right.
ISHMAEL REED is a poet, novelist and essayist who lives in Oakland. His widely-accalimed novels include, Mumbo Jumbo, the Freelance Pallbearers and the Last Days of Louisiana Red. He has recently published Blues City: a Walk in Oakland and Carroll and Graf has just published a thick volume of his poems: New and Collected Poems: 1964-2006.