“Hey, Waj. Come on in. Did you bring your mom’s Biryani?” asks an eager and excited Ishmael Reed, the MacArthur Genius recipient, Pulitzer Prize nominated author and all around, all-star, controversial rabble-rouser.
“Sorry, mom couldn’t make it this time. She asked for a rain check,” I reply and see Reed’s anticipation and grin fall for a moment.
“Well, it’s ok, no problem. Next time. Hey, does that Pakistani joint on San Pablo in Berkeley still serve goat? I think we’ll go get the goat special. Here, come on in to the kitchen, let’s do this.”
Entering the Reed household is like stepping foot into a delicate and vast Archival section of a genius-detective’s library. A wondrous display of books–running the gamut of diversity from novels to poetry to politics to sociology–somehow elegantly juxtaposed to African, European, and American art sculptures and paintings. Then, there’s the papers, including newspapers, reports, journals, and essays, piled on top of one another like a carefully constructed Jenga puzzle ready to blow over at the threat of a loud, inappropriate violent sneeze or negligent and thoughtless sway of a reckless hand gesture. Boxes of books and decades old papers, no doubt a culmination of research Reed uses for his novels and polemical essays, line the stairwells and hallways. This is a house is where documents come to retire: a senior citizens home and Valhalla for pugilistic evidence.
An open laptop sits on Reed’s kitchen table which is currently sharing space with nearly a dozen books and short stories Reed is reviewing and editing for an epic short story Anthology he is publishing in the Summer: Pow Wow: A Century of Short Fiction from Then To Now. The television is on; it’s CNN covering the Democratic Primaries.
“Ok, Waj. I’ll give you 1 hour. Let’s go.”
And so, we sit for nearly 2 hours, where I quickly realized my role in this conversation was to simply sit back and let Reed do what he does best: rhetorically combat, as he does with his writings, all the intellectual con men, self serving politicians, racist academics, poisonous prejudices and stereotypical misconceptions, in his highly unorthodox, extremely controversial, but always entertaining voice.
This is the first part of a two part exclusive: the most in-depth interview Reed has given in nearly ten years. The bell rings: Round 1.
ALI: People say Toni Morrison referred to Bill Clinton as the first “Black President”–
REED: I was the first one. April– wait, I have it here.
ALI: In the Baltimore Sun, right?
REED: Right. Mine was in April 19th 1998. Toni Morrison’s remarks, which were similar to mine, incidentally appeared in the New Yorker in October, 1998. I think that’s just coincidence. But, I was the first. However, Jack White of Time magazine says he was the first, but nowhere in his article does he specifically refer to Clinton as the “black president.” He says Blacks treat him as one of their own, but he doesn’t specifically refer to him as a “black president.”
ALI: What about his personality made you characterize him as such?
REED: In my article on CounterPunch, I said he comes from a tradition of Southern demagogues. He’s got this Anglo, Yale background. He went to England to study. So, most don’t recognize him as a Southern demagogue. I belong to something called the Calhoun House at Yale; I’m a Calhoun Fellow. John Calhoun was a Southerner. They named a House after him. I mean, you can’t get any more Southern than Calhoun; he was for nullification. Harvard, where I’m a Signet Fellow, even contemplated casting a Memorial for Confederate soldiers who attended Harvard.The Black students countered that if they were going to do that they should also cast a memorial for the Japanese Admiral who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. He also attended Harvard. So Southerners have graduated from both Yale and Harvard: Clinton and Calhoun.
ALI: Calhoun was a secessionist, right?
REED: Right, a secessionist. They are another type of Southern demagogues. I mention them as those who hang out with Blacks and are friendly with Blacks like Huey Long. But, basically, they are segregationists. They pal around with African Americans– just like Jefferson Davis did. His biographers say Davis pal’d around with his Black help, but when the Union troops invaded his property, a black slave told them where– (Laughs.) where his papers were. There was a Union spy, a black woman, who stayed in the Jefferson Davis household throughout the war. In fact, she’s been cited in the Museum of Military Intelligence. Unfortunately, her relatives destroyed her diary.
So, the idea was that Clinton hangs out with Blacks, is familiar with Blacks, and picks up some of their style. Sort of like an Elvis Presley figure. But, who uses race as a wedge issue when he campaigns for whites.
ALI: Don’t you think that was a foreshadowing comment in 1998? Because, now we see the polls suggest Clinton’s presence is a major reason for Hilary’s downturn and Obama’s upswing especially in the Southern states with Black voters.
REED: When he first ran, I appeared on a radio program, and my fellow guests Playthell Benjamin, an African American intellectual who wrote a book on W.E.B Dubois, and Paul Robeson Jr., son of the famous singer, said I should stick to creative writing only and writing novels; because, they were all backing Clinton.
I said Clinton had character problems. This was on the basis of the Sister Souljah incident [Clinton criticized rapper Sister Souljah for her “racially charged” rap lyrics] where he again used a Black audience to send a signal to Whites. Obama does the same thing. Obama goes to Black churches and preaches “personal responsibility.”
Now, Whites have been the most subsidized group in the history of the United States and maybe the history of the world, while Blacks were enslaved and were the assets of Whites. Slavery, [we were] like property. Native Americans were driven off their land. Lincoln even took part in the Black Hawk campaign against the Native Americans in Illinois. While they were being exterminated and driven off their land, Whites were collecting assets. The Great Society programs were for Whites. Two thirds of those who gained from the War on Poverty were White. I mean Marlon Fitzwater, former Reagan aide- when he talked about the Los Angeles riots, where the typical rioter was Latino, and the Whites burned down Korea Town but they blamed on Blacks. He said the riots were a result of the Great Society programs, pushing the myth of Black dependency, when 80% of the people getting Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security are White.
Also, the mortgage tax write-off is benefiting Whites to the tune of trillions since the FHA has discriminated against Blacks for many years. They have come around, half-heartedly, only recently. My mortgage was just sold to Wells Fargo; they will not give up records about their lending to African Americans as well as Whites. A report issued by the Association of Community for Reform Now in Sept.2005, said of Wells Fargo’s lending practices:” When reviewing the combined totals of all of Wells Fargo’s lending operations, one out of every four mortgages made to African-Americans was a high rate loan (24.71%), and one out of every nine loans made to Latinos (11.65%) had a high rate, compared to just one of out every thirteen loans to whites (7.44%). In comparative terms, this means that African-Americans were 3.3 times more likely than whites to receive a higher cost subprime loan from Wells Fargo and that Latinos were 1.6 times more likely than whites.”
So, African Americans who have the same credit or better credit are charged higher interest rates than Whites. That’s been documented: the Center for Responsible Lending, another place people can go to. Contray to newspaper myths, two thirds of those homeowners who have been caught in this sub prime mess had good credit. They went to the sub prime predators because they were denied loans by red lining banks.
So, I’m in the position of backing White businesses and homeowners because of my mortgage is at Wells Fargo. So, they use my money to finance White businesses and White mortgages. So, we’re out trillions of dollars over the years for financing White industries. In other words, why don’t Obama and Henry Louis Gates and other “post race” intellectuals and politicians preach “personal responsibility” to Whites?
ALI: Is Obama’s decision to move “beyond race” a convenient form of skirting the race issue? Is he an icon of a modernized society that has evolved in its racial consciousness, or is all this dirty laundry being hidden under the bed?
REED: My friend Gerald Vizenor, a hip, you know, Native American writer; we were hanging out yesterday. He was emphasizing that Obama has a White, Irish mother and a Black, Kenyan father; Obama isn’t what you call “traditional African American.” So, part of Obama’s appeal is that he’s not one of us, not to say he’s not “Black” enough, I mean that’s a ridiculous argument.
I mean anyone who is dark skinned in this country who speaks English is black. (Laughs) That’s it! Period! You know the “Average White person” doesn’t parse things, they lump things; they’re lumpers. If you’re dark skinned, then you’re Black. My friend Emil Guillermo, Asian Week, said that on the basis of yellows and browns voting for Clinton in California that yellows and browns should form an alliance. I advised him that if China shot down another American spy plane, Whites on the west coast might agitate for yellows to be incarcerated, which was the talk show gab after China brought one down a few years ago.
Many Whites can’t tell the different yellow groups a part. As for what the ignorant press calls ” Latinos,” millions of them have Black ancestry, a fact that’s being ignored by the stupid cable talk about the Latino–Black divide. If there is a breach in the relationship between Latino and Blacks, nobody has told the students here at the University of Albuquerque, New Mexico, because, I see Latino and Black students dating here.( Reed was visiting the university while this interview was being
I had dinner with a famous Puerto Rican poet and two Puerto Rican scholars on the lower East Side in November. I had them in stitches as I told them a joke that comedian Paul Mooney tells. He said that Cubans and Puerto Ricans are Negroes who can swim! He didn’t say Negroes. While the “Latino” journalists argue that Latinos support Black candidates, the all White cable panels ignore this. MSNBC’s expert on race relations is Pat Buchanan, a guy who defended a concentration camp guard and brought Charles Murray’s Neo-Nazi tract about Black inferiority to the attention of Richard Nixon. A couple of days ago in a rant where he was joined by Tucker Carlson about how White men are the victims, he implied that no Blacks fought in the Civil War. I sent a correction to MSNBC pointing out that 186,000 Blacks fought on the Union side alone. I get called a crank for writing such corrections that are for the most part ignored, but until Blacks get something like the Anti-Defamation League, the media have to deal with me.
I think a lot of Obama’s support emphasizes the fact he is European and African, but he’s not really what one would call a “traditional” African American.
ALI: Is he an exotic?
REED: I don’t know if he’s exotic. I like the guy. I think he’s a real inspiration. For once, African American kids, especially the boys, are able to see someone handle intellectual combat. Like Jesse Jackson or Sharpton. Instead of the way they restrict us to athletes, or entertainers, or criminals.
ALI: Here’s a recurring criticism of you: Why is Ishmael Reed always so angry? Why does he hate White people? Why does he always play the “blame game”? Why can’t he move beyond the past?
REED: They’ve been calling African American male writers “angry” for over one hundred years. I mean I get most my information about what’s happening in the United States from reports and studies, which are often in conflict with what you read on the editorial pages, or handouts from right wing institutions like the American Enterprise Institute. When USA Today issued a report about single parents contributing to the lack of assets among Blacks, they sought Robert Rector’s opinion. He’s from Heritage or American Enterprise. He once advocated that strychnine be place in the narcotics supply so that addicts might be identified. The Right Wing pretty much runs the editorial pages. The Black spokesperson they choose are sort of like, what I call “mind-alikes” or “colored mind doubles.” They reflect the reality that the editorial board approves of.
ALI: Can we name names?
REED: Sure. The Washington Post just set up a blog for Henry Louis Gates, who calls himself an intellectual entrepreneur. Gates [An African American critic and intellectual] is someone who spends a lot of time preaching “tough love” to 35-year-old grandmothers living in the projects when studies I’ve read suggest that multigenerational welfare families are rare. There are so many people making money off of projects in Chicago. I’ve suggested that the project dwellers do what Indians do for tourists on reservations; like set up food stands and souvenir shops and things, for all these invaders from PBS and HBO, who are all coming there and making money from entertaining White audiences with the misery that goes on there.
Like the television show The Wire, and writers like Richard Price, who has made millions from what he calls ” brief forays into the ghetto.” They even have hired an Indian to do it: Sudhir Venkatesh wrote “Gang Leader For A Day,” a book that resulted from his hanging out with a project gang. He and Scott Simon were laughing it up a few weeks ago on NPR about the antics of some deadly stupid gang that was terrorizing project dwellers. I’d like to get Venkatesh’s views on the oppression of Indian women in India in Indian American households, or how some Indian women are imported for the purpose of sexual slavery. I’d like to get D’Nesh D’ Souza, who has made millions performing circus acts like mocking Black English, to comment about the thousands of Indian children in India who are sold into sexual bondage. These guys know where the money is. Putting down Blacks, so hard to do.
But, Gates takes after these 35- year-old grandmothers in the projects, but from what I’ve read, multigenerational welfare recipients are rare. It’s like Reagan coming to power with the “Welfare Queen,” but Lou Cannon, his biographer, says no one has ever been able to locate this woman. Reagan, of course, had Alzheimers I think in perhaps his first term or second term. So, he probably saw it in a movie or something, because he often mixed up movies with reality. Ok, so he takes after “dysfunctional” people instead of the predatory laws.
Gates thing is the “underclass.” All the social problems are derived from the behavior of the underclass. I’m sure Obama feels the same way: their personal behavior is a cause of their plight. Why don’t they take on the medical profession that is still experimenting on African Americans? There is a book called Medical Apartheid, which was nominated for a National Book Award, that talks about these experiments. The Tuskegee experiments were the tip of the iceberg.
Or, the so-called psychiatric profession testing dangerous anti-psychotic drugs on poor, Black patients, Hispanic patients, and indigents. Or, why doesn’t he take on these predator lenders like Wells Fargo that have put Africans Americans out of $90 billion dollars due to these foreclosures and lending? But, they go after people who can’t fight back and the kind of people their sponsors go after.
ALI: Who are their sponsors?
REED: Washington Post is the blog’s sponsor. Gates is the leader. McWhorther– John McWhorther is there too [African American linguist and intellectual.] He works for an outfit which sort of flirts with Nazi science–the Eugenics movement: The Manhattan Institute. They sponsored Charles Murray.
ALI: Author of The Bell Curve?
REED: Right, The Bell Curve.
ALI: He’s a Harvard guy.
REED: If you read William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, one of Hitler’s big advisors was a Harvard man. Richard J. Herrstein was the co-author of Bell Curve, worked with Charles Murray. Herrnstein was also at Harvard. Charles Murray is Scots-Irish. I was reading Ralph Ellison’s biography and he was writing about White immigrants trying to “get over” at the expense of Blacks. For generations comedians have made jokes about Scots-Irish in the South inter-breeding. “I am my own grandpa” and all that stuff; you know, because they all were marrying their first cousins. I think Jerry Lee Lewis married his first cousin, too. I think there’s a book by Kevin Phillips, American Cousins where he mentioned the Scots-Irish were apparently people who liked loose women and were, you know, “backward.” These are stereotypes of course, but here we have a Scots–Irish intellectual perpetuating stereotypes. All of the founders of the Klan were Scots-Irish. Murray is a Klansman with charts and graphs.
Manhattan Institute is the kind of organization that sponsors Eugenics. They thought John McWhorther was so good they brought him from California to Manhattan, and they brag about being able to give their fellows enormous publicity, you understand? McWhorter is on C-Span everyday it seems and has a show on NPR where he blasted me and a number of Black intellectuals without our receiving equal time. He said I was jealous of his being on “All Things Considered”. I once had a commentary on “All Things Considered” during Bush 1’s term. I was fired after I did a commentary predicting that the Willie Horton campaign would come back to haunt Lee Atwater and Bush. Maybe they find
someone from the Manhattan Institute more to their liking. So, here I am on 53rd street. In the ghetto of Oakland with no foundation support and spending my own dime. I go up against John McWhorther, one of whose sponsors is Chase Manhattan Bank. They set up a debate between the two of us after I called him “the Black front man for the Eugenics movement.” During the debate, he expressed ignorance of the Institute’s history. He never heard of William Casey, the CIA Director, who founded the Manhattan Institute. Casey might have been indicted for Iran-Contra had he not died. Do you think he was interested in welfare for African Americans? No. So, these guys are interested in this quack Neo-Nazi, Eugenics science.
When I debated McWhorther, he said the Institute severed their ties with Charles Murray. Not so. Recently, the Manhattan Institute sponsored Charles Murray in one of these IQ debates at the Harvard Club in Manhattan . So, I guess McWhorther doesn’t know what’s going in this organization that is pushing him out there to say African Americans are their own worst enemy.
The Washington Post blog called The Root or something has Malcolm Gladwell, this guy who wrote “The Tipping Point.” He’s on there with Gates and McWhorter. This guy, now this guy, has a really great con game going in the “post race” hustle; one of the best con games going. He was telling White audiences on C-SPAN that the cops who beat up Rodney King and those who shot Diallo in New York didn’t do it out of racism or racist motives. They did it due to an “autistic moment.”
ALI: What’s an autistic moment?
REED: I guess their senses were scrambled, or they were confused, whatever. So, I wrote him a letter saying, “You know the guys that beat up Rodney king, those cops? They made a lot of racist comments on their way to the beating. Referring to King as a “Gorilla In the Mist.” He wrote me an email saying, “Yeah, I knew that. But, I didn’t have time to go into it, because I was on television.”
So, these are mind doubles. These are intellectual entrepreneurs. So, if you’re on the left wing and you gave them money, then they’d be your mouth piece. But, the right wing has more money, I mean, they’ve got billions. They’ve got William Scaife, a billionaire. The right wing has enormous resources and so they are able to control the so called National Dialogue on Race so that it reflects their ideas.
ALI: Right, the Scaife Foundation.
REED: Yeah, Scaife Foundation is the one that almost destroyed Clinton. Scaife is the guy who put money behind Proposition 209, the anti Affirmative Action bill. They do the same thing with you guys [Muslims], I mean what you’re up against Irshad Manji [self proclaimed Muslim Refusenik and author of “Trouble with Islam Today] and others like that, right? The American Enterprise Institute brought this woman from the Netherlands to slime Islam, but I guess she didn’t work out [Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the disgraced Dutch politician turned author who found monetary and academic shelter with the AEI.] She returned to the Netherlands where she has some link to far right politics. She received enormous publicity because of the American Enterprise Institute.
ALI: Yeah, I called them “the Info-tainment Circus.”
ALI: We both have a lot of “European” friends, “White” friends, and many times when we talk about race, naturally, they get offended and say, “We’re not racists. You’re making assumptions about us, just like we make assumptions about you.” So, let’s discuss this concept of “Whiteness.” Why is the “ticket” to mainstream “Whiteness” entail turning around and beating up other minority groups. For example the Scots-Irish you mentioned, Catholics, Jews, now even some mainstream gay and lesbians do this. Why is this part of the bargain?
REED: That’s to win over the mainstream. You know, Barbara Smith, one of my critics, she is a Black, professional lesbian, she went to Washington D.C. gay pride parade, and they told her to “Get lost” because they were trying to mainstream. They weren’t interested in “Black” issues. These aren’t the first ones to use the underdogs or unpopular groups to “get over” and “cross over.” The American labor movement has done that, the feminist movement had done that, a whole bunch of movements who have to scapegoat African Americans and unpopular groups like immigrants, White immigrants in the 19th century, to “get over to mainstream.” Gloria Steinem tried to win points for Hillary Clinton, a millionaire, wife of a former president whose feminist supporters say has run up against a glass ceiling. She said that being a woman is more of a barrier to success than being Black. I went into a health foods store GMC the other day and couldn’t shop without this Asian American clerk hovering over me. I complained to the storeowner about being treated like a shop lifter. She didn’t deny the racial profiling. She told the over eager clerk that I was a regular customer and that he didn’t have to do it to me. I wonder does Ms. Steinem or Mrs. Clinton receive this kind of reception when they shop?
This is a problem that Obama faces. Wall Street wants him, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, J.P.Morgan are his contributors, and these wealthy people are beyond countries. Some of them don’t even live here anymore. I think that the Firestones live in Turkey.These multinationals, some of them, they’ve been around, they are more sophisticated than the average American, they’ve seen diversity in the world. So, they’re saying, “We need this guy to represent our interests.” Because, this whole 1950’s Country Club, Bush type image is not going to work anymore. I mean, those types of guys can’t go anywhere, I mean they can’t even travel places anymore. Bush, I mean, he can’t go to Spain or he might get arrested. (Laughs.) So, what they need is this really pretty, dark face. When Bush traveled through Africa he was confronted with questions about Barack. It must have got to him because he started attacking Barack when he returned. An Obama election would be an enormous boost to the capitalist system, which seems on the verge of collapse. I could see enormous crowds turning out to greet him as he fronts for the system. If he went to Baghdad he’d receive a ticker tape parade and even the Taliban would turn out to get a glimpse of him. He’d be mobbed in Africa and Asia.
ALI: As long as he’s not too dark though.
REED: (Laughs.) Yes, that’s right. Not too dark, not too this, not too that. But this sort of pastiche or assemblage, or like how the world looks now, right? It’s a dark skinned world. European population is being decimated, and you see all these people going to Europe. I was in Vienna and I said, “Europe is becoming a dark continent.” (Laughs.) Because in Europe, you see dark skinned people: Arabs, North Africans, Africans. I mean if you go to the Champs-Elycees, man, you think you’re in Lagos or something. Wall Street has to get the white working class to go along with Obama.I’m trying to get an assignment to cover the democrat convention. Watch the Clintons steal the nomination from Obama.
ALI: Are they, you think?
REED: I saw some shifts going on in the last Primaries where some were coming around to Obama. It might happen. And, you know, about this “angry” thing they label me. The White critics I mean. I’m writing a piece about my friend the late Bob Callahan, who unlike so called “Whites,” knew where he came from, you know. He didn’t dismiss us as angry or “politically incorrect.” He read our history, and he explored African American culture; he published Zora Neal Hurston after I brought the writer to his attention. He had a different point of view than some of these people who just dismiss us as being politically correct, or angry, or in a rage and all this kind of stuff. They’ve been saying for over 100 years that African American male writers are angry or have a chip on their shoulders.
ALI: Let’s talk about writing. You’ve said before, “Writing is Fighting.” As you know, Miles Davis compared his musical exercise to the discipline of boxing. In fact, he said he respects good boxers so much, because they require and possess an intelligence; that, there’s a “higher sense of theory” going on in their heads. He compared it to his solitary exercise of performing.
REED: Miles was also a boxer.
ALI: Right. So, we have this whole concept of boxing, writing, fighting. Why this philosophy of “boxing” as writing?
REED: I think I have a pugnacious style. My style is not pretty. I don’t use words like “amber” or “opaque.” (Laughs.)
ALI: Or Chrysanthemums? (Laughs.)
REED: (Laughs.) Yeah, yeah. My stuff is direct. Critics have compared my writing style with boxing all the way back to 1978 when my first book of essays appeared: it was compared to Muhammad Ali’s style. Others have compared my style to that of Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson.
As a writer, you explore all kinds of different emotions. My latest poem is about a tree in my backyard, which is from the Tropics. I’m trying to explain how it got there. I had a meditative poem about watching out over the Golden Gate Bridge from a mountain.
It was published in The New Yorker. I think when I write essays I’m out to do on the page what we can’t do in the media. We don’t have billions of dollars that are available to these people who do what amounts to a propaganda attack on us. We’re being out propagandized. When I look at the newspapers, I’m furious. Because I can see where the interpretation of whom we are and how people from the outside define us.
My friend Cecil Brown is very upset because the SF Chronicle is doing a Black History Month series and it’s all White male writers! I mean they assign Black History Month to all White writers with all these African American writers in the Bay Area and in California? I mean I’m here and I’ve written for them. And of course, they wrote about the kind of Black image that appeals to them: Athletes and Entertainers. Not a single scientist, or inventor. I was down at Lockheed Martin, addressing the Black employees: Engineers and Scientists last week. I told them that a lot of the space equipment used by NASA was invented by Black scientists, yet when Mailer wrote that ignorant book about the moonshot, Fire On The Moon, he said that Blacks were jealous of this White achievement.The formula for sending a shuttle into space and bringing it back was devised by a Black woman scientist.
Cecil also said he was pleased that there was a Hollywood writer’s strike so all these demeaning images of blacks would at least disappear for a while, for at least 3 weeks. Because, I mean the Writer’s Guild is only like 2% African American. I think there’s probably, what, no Pakistani American writers?
ALI: I think there is 1.
REED: Well, probably, he’s the one saying, “We all ought to assimilate.”
ALI: Or, he might try to hide it.
REED: Yeah, hides it. Right. So, that’s all we have. All we have is writing. Sometimes it’s very effective. I mean I’m organizing my neighborhood block with emails, because we have criminal activity on our block. Instead of the old days, where we had to confront these people, now we can do it through emails and cyberspace.
I did a book called Another Day at the Front which was my first critical book about the media, and I got on Nightline. I was able to challenge some of these assumptions of African Americans and their culture.
ALI: Is writing a solitary experience? Is it shadowboxing in a sense?
REED: Not for me. I have T.V. on all the time when I’m writing. I have music on. I’m engaged with the world. If the phone rings, I answer it. I’m not the kind of writer who sits around 8 hours a day writing. I’ll write in the morning, and sometimes I’ll get up 4 in the morning sometimes and do this Anthology I’m working on. (PowWow releasing this Summer by De Capo Press). I’m learning a lot. I wasn’t really a short story person, but now I’m reading about 140 short stories and there are a lot of good ones out there. I’m reading stories from different groups– like from the 19th century immigrant perspective which is really overlooked. In this country, it’s not good to be “ethnic.” Although, T.S. Eliot said, “Not all ethnic writers are great, but all great writers are ethnic.” I mean Eliot was the head of the modernist movement!
I don’t know about this solitary stuff. I mean I do plays and they are collaborative. My last play was called “angry” by the New York Times. Even though every line could be footnoted. I got a great review in the Backstage which is a theatre trade magazine, but the Times guy said I was “angry” about a lot of things. But, I mean, what was I angry about? I took on 2 issues. One was the pharmaceutical industry using African Americans as guinea pigs and colluding with psychiatrists, who get $40,000 kickbacks, and how they use these drugs in Africa for testing. They are fully aware of the bad side effects when they produce these drugs. The other issue is how think-thanks front these people like McWhorter to push this line that “all of African American’s problems are self inflicted.”
Shelby Steele, for example. You see Shelby Steele? Nobody knows about Shelby Steele, African Americans don’t know anything about Shelby Steele. They put him up there, the right wing did. He just got $200,000 last year in May from the Bradley Foundation, which funded Charles Murray too, and they had a ceremony at the Kennedy Center. I bet there were many mink coats and limousines pulling up there, because they’ve got a lot of money.
This is what we’re up against. See, our intellectuals don’t know what we’re up against. They think this is all about getting on the Bill Maher show. There is an orchestrated campaign that is tied to the Eugenics campaign. I just had a dialogue with John Rockwell from the New York Times, because we’re in the same anthology together. I said, “Look, the Eugenics movement came out of the United States.” “Where? Where? Where?” he said. So, I had to send him a book on this.
Ward Connerly, I mean, all these people. Connerly got money from Pioneer Fund, whose founders praised Hitler. He refused to reject or denounce support of the Michigan Klan when campaigning against Affirmative Action in Michigan. So, there is something going on behind the scenes. It kind of explains [Hurricane] Katrina. Where people think, to put it bluntly, “These people are sub-human. So, let ’em drown.” Or, as Hitler did– he burned them up. Here, we let them drown.
ALI: Let’s talk about Mumbo Jumbo your most famous novel. Many say this novel was about the forces of “rationalism and militarism” versus the forces of “the magical and the spontaneous.” Today, we find extremist groups rooting themselves in piety, religion, spirituality and faith. In the 1972 version of the novel, Abdul Hamid, a Black Muslim fundamentalist, burns the “Book” which contains the “key” to these ancient traditions of magic, dance, and creativity. If Mumbo Jumbo took place in the 21st century, who would burn the “Book”?
REED: I think there are fundamentalists all over the world. I think all religions have fundamentalists who have different interpretations of scriptures that are very vague. These books are written in metaphor, they are written with symbolism. A lot of it is outdated and tied to the times in which the text was written. So, you can do anything you want to with religion. Unfortunately, in the world today, we have dogmatic people entering into politics. I don’t think the two mix. But, we always believed in separation of church and state. But, I predicted there would be a theocracy in the 80’s in my book The Terrible Twos, where I had a preacher running the White House in 1982.
You see, I think when you’re an independent intellectual you’re going to get it from all sides. I get it from the Left, the Right, the Middle. When I proposed that people said it was silly, but now we have Huckabee and Bush, and others. I mean they’re all still players. But, when I said it, they thought it was silly.
(To be continued next week, where Reed discusses his volatile friendship with Amiri Baraka, his issues with HBO’s The Wire, his ongoing feud with his feminist critics, and White academia’s resistance to multicultural voices.)
WAJAHAT ALI is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and recent J.D. whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org