Editors’ Note: This is the second and final part of WAJAHAT ALI’s explosive interview with novelist, poet and essayist Ishmael Reed. Click here to read part one.–AC/JSC
ALI: Most people characterize you as part of the Left; one who is mostly critical of the Right. People couple you, politically, with Amiri Baraka [controversial and influential African American poet and writer], as two figures who came from the ’60’s movement. How accurate are both these assumptions?
REED: I wasn’t part of any sixties movement. I’m skeptical of movements. I’m part of the times that I’m in. Right now, it’s 2008. As for Baraka, he and I have disagreements. I mean, he becomes a demagogue when there’s an audience. He’s a nice guy in private. I mean I like the guy; he’s a terrific writer. I’ve published two of his books. Baraka is one of these fundamentalists who is prone to idol worship. Once he selects an idol, then you can’t criticize the idol. For example, he said Steven Cannon and I should be murdered because of what we said about Malcolm X. The death threat was printed in a magazine called African American Review, edited by Joe Weixlmann, which has received more foundation support than all of the Black literary magazines combined. I asked Joe Weixlmann why he would print a death threat like that in light of the fact that there are all of these armed ideological nuts wandering around loose. He said that for him, to “ice” someone means to reprimand them. Recall, Baraka said that we should be “iced. This from an editor of a Black magazine. A self appointed caretaker of Black lit – doesn’t know what “iced” meant.
ALI: What did you say about Malcolm?
REED: I said, “You can’t criticize Malcolm X, because now he’s a holiday.” I mean, no sense of irony! I mean, this is what happens with these ideological extremists: there’s no sense of humor or irony; although, Baraka is a great satirist. But, we were on panel at NYU in Nov., and I reminded him of some of these statements. The New York audience–
ALI: They love Baraka, right?
REED: Oh, yeah, they love him. He’s very charismatic. They think somebody being murdered because they’re critical of Malcolm X– that’s amusing to them. I was challenged to a fistfight before a NYU audience; I don’t know what it is about Manhattan. I was challenged to a fistfight by Margo Jefferson, the Pulitzer Prize winner, New York Times writer, who is part of a feminist clique at the Times, which believes that Black men are the principal threat to the women of the world. The clique is headed by Michiko Kakutani, who is hard on Black guys but is worshipful of misogynists like Saul Bellow and even wrote a tender tribute to him. Bellow’s ex wife said of him, “He who thinks evil, is evil.”
ALI: Wait, wait, let’s back up for a moment. I need to hear this fistfight story. Why’d they threaten you with fisticuffs in New York?
REED: Now why did Margo Jefferson challenge me to a fistfight to the cheers and encouragement of the women in the audience, the type who are always complaining about men battering women? I was on a panel with light skinned Blacks and a famous gay science fiction writer, who were complaining about how Blacks are against gays and light skinned Blacks and how intolerant Blacks are of different groups. My position was that Blacks were among the most humanistic, tolerant groups in the country and that across the street from my house in Oakland was one inhabited by White gays. They even had the gay liberation flag flying from the house. When I touched on racism among Gays and Lesbians, a phenomenon recorded by the late author Audre Lorde and film maker Marlon Riggs, the gay host of the show on which I made this remark, on KPFA, Berkeley, started screaming and yelling.
So, Jefferson challenged me to a fistfight, and the women in the audience loved that! These contradictions are fodder for my fiction and non-fiction. My work holds up the mirror to hypocrisy, which puts me in a tradition of American writing that reaches back to Nathaniel Hawthorne. In Haitian mythology there is the figure Ghede, who in West Africa, is Iku, whose role is to show “each man his devil.” He’s represented by a figure wearing a top hat and smoking a cigar. That’s my gig. Showing movements like this – what fundamentally corrupts exclusive feminist movements – its devil.
ALI: Let’s go back to Baraka –
REED: I don’t know why people always compare us [Baraka and I.] I was never part of the Black Arts Repertory Theater or the Black Arts Movement; people who claim that I was are wrong. I was downtown. I was living in Chelsea when they were operating in Harlem. I said they were “goons” at the time, because I knew all of them. I was roommates with 2 of the guys who were influential in forming the Black Arts philosophy. I called them “goons,” and Baraka took offense at that. But if you read his autobiography, the night we went up there for a fundraiser, he talks about how he wished that some violence would happen to us. How do you like Baraka as a gracious host? I participated in two fund raisers for the Black Arts Repertory Theater and then, on the occasion of the second one, we, who had gone up to help out, were threatened.
ALI: What’s the tiff you both had at Howard University?
REED: Howard University holds something called “Heart’s Day,” an all day ceremony in which a writer is honored. I was the recipient of this honor. It’s a wonderful ceremony that Eleanor Traylor chair of English at Howard University organizes for writers. Writers from around the country came to pay tribute to my work. It was very flattering.
Baraka gets up there and rehashes some encounter we had forty four years ago, when I was a young writer and told him that I thought his early work to be weak. It was so elliptical; it was inscrutable. He was influenced by the downtown art scene. Compare his book ” Dead Lecturer” with his breakthrough ” Black Magic,” a brilliant work which came about as a result of his coming in contact with Black nationalists. He said himself that his previous downtown art scene writing was weak. He came into contact with writers like Askia Toure and Charles Patterson. The change in his style was dramatic. He never forgot my remark. At Howard he laced into me about my calling W.E.B DuBois, his idol, a Nazi. I didn’t call him a Nazi.
In an essay I wrote I posed the question, “Was W.E.B DuBois Pro Nazi?” W.E.B DuBois was the guest of the Nazi government under a fellowship arranged by a man who was Pro Nazi and who had dined with Hitler. During the trip there, he was wined and dined by Nazis and said that the Hitler dictatorship was necessary. Well, he might not have been a Nazi, but he seems to have admired the Nazi regime at one point.
ALI: But, wait, you guys are also friends, right?
REED: Yeah, we’re friends. Just like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are friends.
ALI: (Laughs) Well, good to know there’s some love there at least.
REED: The cultural wars of the sixties are over. I’ve reconciled with those who were my critics and opponents years ago. I was at odds with some those who were Black nationalists. Yet when feminists attempted to end my career and leave me as literary road kill, it was the Black nationalists who came to my rescue. Gwendolyn Brooks, the great poet, got me a George Kent Award in the late eighties. Do you think that Ms. Brooks would give an award to someone who hated Black women, the lie that was circulated throughout New York and reached all the way down to Martinique where I was a guest Professor? The lie was circulated by people who don’t read my books.
ALI: Let’s talk about the media. Here are some popular examples of media content and personalities that have gone mainstream and are successful: Oprah. Will Smith. Jamie Foxx. Tyra Bank. Tyler Perry. The Wire. Barbershop. American Gangster. You’re known as a vociferous critic of mainstream media and its tendency to stereotype. So, why complain now? You guys– African Americans – have made it.
REED: The Wire– you know, David Simon [the creator of The Wire] and I have a running controversy for years. It all stems from a telephone call I made to KPFA [Pacifica radio] when he was a guest there in the 90’s on Chris Welche’s show. He was going around the country with a Black kid from the Ghetto to promote something called The Corner– it was all about Blacks as degenerates selling drugs, etc.
ALI: Was that HBO?
REED: Yes. HBO does all this kind of stuff. I called in and told Simon, “You’re using this kid.” Later I said it [was] like Buffalo Bill going around the country exhibiting Indians. He got really pissed off and went to the New York Times, where he has a supporter there named Virginia Hefferman, another Times feminist who, when it comes to Black urban Fiction, can’t tell the difference between the real and the fake; she’s his supporter. She said that George Pelecanos, David Simon, and Richard Price are the “Lords of Urban Fiction,” when the Black Holloway authors like Iceberg Slim can write circles around these guys when it comes to Urban fiction.
Simon, Price and Pelecanos’ Black characters speak like the cartoon crows in those old racist cartoons [“Heckle and Jeckle.”] Henry Louis Gates knows this about “The Wire,” yet his right wing blog, The Root, carries an ad for “The Wire” today and a glowing article about this piece of crap. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an intellectual entrepreneur all right. He condemns my work as misogynist yet supports Simon’s Neo-Nazi portrait of Black people. “The Wire” and novels by Price and Pelecanos should be submitted to the Jim Crow museum at Ferris State University– this is the website: www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/, where they can have a honored place alongside of some of Robert Crumb’s Nazi cartoons.
When I was researching my novel Reckless Eyeballing, I attended a lecture sponsored by the San Francisco Holocaust Museum, March 26,1984. The program said that the stereotypes about Jewish men in the Nazi media was similar to that about Black men in the United States. I thought, what on earth are they talking about? And then I went out and examined some of this junk, especially the cartoons in the newspaper Der Sturmer – see Julius Streicher Nazi Editor of the Notorious Anti-Semite Newspaper Der Sturmer by Randall l. Bytwerk. I was shocked. Jewish men were depicted as sexual predators, raping Aryan women. They were exhibited as flashers. Both Bellow and Phillip Roth’s books include Black flashers. Jewish men especially those immigrants from Russia were depicted as criminals. Jewish children were seen as disruptive, a threat to German school children and so on.
If any one looks at this stuff for example, you’ll find a perfect match for the way that David Mamet, David Simon, George Pelecanos, Stephen Spielberg and Richard Price portray Blacks. They are very critical in their projects about the way Black men treat women, yet none of them has produced a project critical of the way that men of their background treat women.
ALI: Ok, so you’ve mentioned Simon, Pelecanos and Price for fake “Urban fiction.” Spielberg, I’m assuming is for the “The Color Purple” and perhaps “Amistad.” But why Mamet?
REED: Mamet is another hypocrite. His idea of Black man is a pimp who abuses women, [Edmond], yet his play Oleanna  ends with a White professor slapping an uppity feminist, at least the version I saw at San Francisco’s ACT. Of course, there’s an old tradition of this. Joel Chandler Harris, who created a multi billion dollar industry, everything from his books, to Disney’s “Song of the South” based upon the Uncle Remus stories. He got his start by transcribing the stories of slave Informants. I’m sure that none them got a dime. Richard Price, who has made a fortune writing fake ghetto books, says he takes a cab into the ghetto, transcribes Black speech for a brief time and returns home. His fake ghetto books have bought him a townhouse in Gramercy Park and home on Staten Island while P. Lewis, author of Nate, one of the best African American writers since Richard Wright, had to self publish his book and sell his books in subways.
Price got a million dollar advance on one fake film book based on a paragraph outline and is able to seduce gullible White reviewers who know less about ghetto life than he. The New York Times has devoted more space to Price’s tourist, ghetto writing than to any Black writer in history. Even Morrison. I’m sure that his ghetto sources like Chandler’s slave informants didn’t get a dime either. Why are they so hard on Margaret Seltzer for her fake ghetto book for which she received a one hundred thousand dollar advance and yet have Virginia Hefferman and Michiko praise Richard Price for his fake ghetto books?
Constance L. Rice, co-director of the Los Angeles of the Advancement Project, told the Times that Seltzer might have been influenced by David Simon’s fake ghetto series, “The Wire.” It figures. Isn’t this sexism? Isn’t this a double standard? They’re hard on this young woman for her fake ghetto book, yet praise these White guys for theirs. So there’s a big market in downing Black men.
In 1899, Joel Chandler Harris even took on a persona of a fictional Black woman, Aunt Minervy Ann, to scold Black men, a genre that’s been recycled for money in recent times. Phillip Roth uses his Black women characters to make anti intellectual remarks about Black history month, begun by a man who reached intellectual heights that Roth will never attain. [Reed reads the following]
“Carter Godwin Woodson began his education at the age of 20. Finished high school in two years. He graduated from Berea College in 1903, a year before Kentucky passed a law prohibiting interracial education. He taught at Frederick Douglass High School in West Virginia. He taught in the Philippines from 1903 to 1907. He received a master’s degree in European History. He submitted a thesis on French diplomatic policy toward Germany in the 18th Century. He studied at Harvard University with Edward Channing, Albert Bushnell Hart, and Frederick Jackson Turner. In 1912,Woodson earned his PhD in history, completing a dissertation on the events leading to the creation of the state of West Virginia after the Civil War broke out. After teaching at Howard University and West Virginia Collegiate Institute, in 1922 he returned to Washington to direct the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History full time. In this role, he founded the Journal of Negro History. In 1926 he launched the annual celebration of Negro History Week.”
ALI: What’s your beef with Phillip Roth? The establishment and critics love him, and he is quite successful and thoroughly celebrated.
REED: Roth is a petty bigot and his ignorant remarks about black culture expose him as a buffoon to scholars the world over. Feminists swoon all over him. When Esquire asked him what feminists would say about one of his books, he answered, “Fuck the feminists.” His wife Clarie Bloom said that he has an “irrepressible rage toward women.” I guess when it comes to this privileged White racist feminist movement they respect someone who treats them rough: John Wayne. Frank Sinatra. Phillip Roth.
Two of the great leaders of the past – Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass– had White fathers – who deserted them. Now Margo Jefferson, who is hard on me and the fellas, wrote in the Times that she has nocturnal, erotic fantasies about John Wayne. What’s up with these feminists? Do you see these double standards these feminists have? They dream about John Wayne, but they’re hard on us [Black men.] (Laughs.) So, I reminded her that John Wayne said, “I’m all for women’s liberation as long as they have dinner ready when I get home.” Like the feminists at NPR who are so hard on the brothers. When Frank Sinatra died they were crying on the air. According to his biographer, the fearless Kitty Kelly, he once shoved a woman through a plate glass window.
ALI: It’s amazing how all the best selling Urban Ghetto writers – they’re all White.
REED: Right. “The Lords of Urban Fiction.” What I can’t understand why Blacks can’t achieve royal status when it comes to forms that they have largely created? I mean there’s a White King of Rock n’ Roll, there’s a White King of Jazz, how come we can never achieve titles of royalty in these fields we are supposed to prevail in? They held a so called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the other night, where White judges credit people who resemble them with the invention of Rock and Roll. I didn’t even see Blacks in the audience.
There would be no Rock and Roll without Ike Turner, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, etc. Fake ghetto books and fake ghetto music. Elvis Presley, whom they idol, is merely a karaoke makeover of James Brown and Chuck Berry.
Anyway, David Simon goes to the Jewish Weekly and said he’s made all this money, but he can’t enjoy it because of criticism by people like Ishmael Reed. He told Virginia Hefferman, I think that’s who it was, she said he said I was against him because he was a White man writing about Black people. We’ve given awards to White writers over the years, many years, who’ve written about Black life.
ALI: White writers writing about the Black experience is OK then? So, that wasn’t the problem?
REED: Of course not! He’s the one who is against White writers writing about the ghetto. Amy Alexander, who worked with Simon at The Baltimore Sun said that he got all pushed out because another White reporter was assigned to cover the ghetto. He feels it’s sort of like his gold mine where he has staked a claim and that all ghetto stories and humans are his property.
I’m not against White writers writing about Blacks as long as they are as objective as say James McPherson writing about an Irish American janitor in his brilliant short story “Gold Coast.” I use non-fiction work written by Whites in my research. It’s indispensable. That wasn’t the problem. I said that “The Wire” was a cliché! It’s like my writing a series about Jewish life and casting all of the characters as inside traders.
They never printed this discussion in the NYT, so I wrote a response to The Jewish Weekly where Simon said that he couldn’t enjoy [the loot] he’s made for showing Black as depraved individuals because of criticism by people like Ishmael Reed. To their credit, The Jewish Weekly published it. So I said he ought to do something new like write a new series about the family of a suburban, illegal arms dealer who’s bringing guns into my neighborhood.
So, the Times had a story about Simon’s ghetto informants, who, like Chandler’s slaves, provided Simon with his material, but, who, I doubt, will get a share of his royalties which must amount to millions. One was a recovering heroin addict and the other did some wretched thing like armed robbery. Their problems made the front page of the NY Times [Aug.9, 2007], of course, in what must have been one of the longest stories in the Times history! Then, they made the society page later [Aug.19,2007] because they got married and Simon was their best man.
How does the Times treat White pathology? They reported an epidemic of heroin addiction in the Philadelphia suburbs [March,20, 1995], which included emergency admissions and overdoses; these White people in the suburbs were doing heroin like it was going out of style. I counted the words: the article consisted of 200 words. “Heroin Epidemic” in the back section. Out here in California, the typical drug addict is a housewife or suburban White woman. [Reed finds a newspaper and reads from it]
“Few experts would have suspected that the biggest contributors to California’s drug abuse, death and injury toll are educated, middle-aged women living in the Central Valley and rural areas, while the fastest-declining, lowest-risk populations are urban black and Latino teenagers.” wrote Mike Males on Jan.3, 2007 in The New York Times.
Think that HBO will do a series about this? Like a “White Wire?” Richard Price, who creates projects which cast blacks as junkies and dealers, is a former cocaine addict himself. They could hire him to write it. Write about something he knows about.
ALI: I’ve read White addicts are unfortunately succumbing to Meth and prescription pills at extraordinary rates.
REED: That’s right. Another California study counted 30,000 substance abusers who are pregnant are White woman. So, The Wire paints the picture of drug addiction, drug dealing, and drug abuse as being a specifically a Black issue.
Now, I hate to say this, but I know somebody has got to say it and somebody has got to do it. I confronted Richard Price about his role in The Wire on a panel held at Ax En Provence, and his friend, I won’t mention his name– a very famous writer– and members of this New York delegation, Price’s buddies, jumped on me for pointing this out. My friend, whom I have known since the 70s, said that I was bringing up a local issue before international audience. The International Herald Tribune, which was on sale at the conference, had a full-page display ad for “The Wire.” This hateful material travels the globe. A few years ago, CNN, America’s Der Sturmer, ran a story about Black parents being so low down that they abandoned their children and the children had to eat rats. I was at a University in Wisconsin at the time and the mother of a student from South Africa called to see whether the story was true. She had seen it all the way over there. The story was untrue. The children lied. CNN never corrected the story.
Now at this French conference, I was thought of as an angry Black nationalist, when my questions to Price were polite. When Price began his career, writing terrific books like “The Wanderers,” I was one of his supporters and he has acknowledged this.
But some where along the way he decided to go for the money. I said to Price, “Why are you dealing with these people: Pelecanos and Simon? You’re a great writer. Why are you hanging out with George Pelecanos?” You read Pelecanos’ Soul Circus: it’s got Black people talking like what you hear on Klan website: Nigger Watch. I heard Pelecanos on a radio show out here and he went into all of these stereotypes about Black men that have been around for a few hundred years. So his writing about Black life is a real fox guarding the chicken coop situation.
ALI: And Pelecanos is a White guy?
REED: Yes. I recorded a episode of “The Wire,” all about Black kids selling drugs Here’s the typical line that Simon puts into the mouths of his Black characters: “Hey, I’m gonna put some whup ass on you!”
So, I told Price’s defender, famous novelist, why don’t’ you look at the first episode [of The Wire]– I have a recording. He came back and said, “Yes, these are White guys trying to be White Negroes who are putting Amos and Andy lines in the mouths of Black people.” He said that Price had to do it because he’s in debt. Here is Price helping Simon to diss Black people, while he has admitted to cocaine addiction himself. He could have been a great novelist. He went to Hollywood instead.
ALI: You know, you’ll get a lot of heat for this, right?
REED: Well, you know, this is something that should be brought up: why are they promoting the same images of us that were promoted against minorities in Nazi Germany and set them up for the camps?
ALI: You think there’s no self-reflection there?
REED: They don’t know their history. They’re a generation that doesn’t know their own history. I’m sure that a previous generation of Jews who published radical newspapers and journals would be critical of Simon’s projects. These were left wingers who suffered casualties in some of bloodiest strikes in American history. They were red baited, Black balled and lost their jobs. They helped to create a safety net that helped millions. They supported the drive for the emancipation of Black people. They were lawyers who went South risking their lives to defend Blacks who were victims of Jim Crow justice. They were among the first to publish great Black writers. They were writers who were Black balled in Hollywood. The Rosenbergs were executed by the government. This generation of Jews would be ashamed of people like Simon and Price. They would turn over in their graves and be disgusted at these people who are cheapening people who can’t fight back, who can’t tell their story, for money.
ALI: What are some of the other stereotypes of Jewish men in the Nazi press?
REED: It was all about Jewish men [accosting German women]: that was the favorite theme of the Nazi newspaper. That the only reason Jewish guys went to the medical profession was so they could be gynecologists to examine German women. Der Sturmer printed cartoons of Jewish men lunging at half naked German women while grinning, lecherously.
ALI: What about Henry Gates’s charge that Blacks are the last of the anti Semites?
REED: They have a funny way of showing it. When Joesph Lieberman ran for
President, he was the first choice among African American voters, and when Sharpton entered the race, Lieberman was the second choice So, a comet must’ve passed the Earth and all the Blacks suddenly changed their minds! The Times promised to follow Gate’s op-ed with one about the racist attitudes of some Jews against Black people; it never appeared. If one ever appeared I’d suggest that it challenge some scriptwriters, novelists, producers and directors who are peddling Der Sturmer type portraits of Black people. I walked out on American Gangster: this evil piece of dreck. Defenders of this junk say that these movies give Black actors jobs. So did “Birth of a Nation.”
ALI: You couldn’t take it?
REED: First movie I ever walked out in my life. Remember, when they did this Fallujah type attack on the projects? When, they ran in there and blew all these Black people away in the projects? Like Fallujah or something. And, they always get a Black guy on the side of the White invaders so the scene wouldn’t appear to be so racist. This movie like “The Color Purple” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” were written directed and produced by White men.
ALI: However, to be fair, I read both Alice Walker and Tina Turner protested certain depictions in those movies.
REED: Right. Both Alice Walker and Tina Turner objected to the way the Black guy in Purple and the way Ike Turner were portrayed. Tina Turner said that the film was unfair to Ike. The Times called Turner an Ogre in their obituary of him and Yahoo News said that his name was synonymous with domestic violence, yet Paul McCartney’s ex says that he beat her even when she was pregnant. Turner is condemned. McCartney gets a knighthood and Starbucks.
Think that White feminists in New York will picket Starbucks like they wrote
letters objecting to a dying Ike Turner’s receiving an award? I doubt it. As for
“American Gangsters” about the life of a man, a despicable drug dealer, who conned Denzil Washington into believing that he was close to Bumpy Johnson, the Harlem gangster, Bumpy’s widow recently published a book saying that this character made it up and Bumpy thought of him as a jerk. The guy who wrote the script also wrote “Schindler’s List.” Think that he would [know] better than to participate in such a vile product. The producer, Ridley Scott, I think also was involved with Training Day –another evil piece with which Washington cooperated.
ALI: We’ve talked about White writers speaking for Black culture. The movie Crash, which you and I have discussed in private, won Best Picture as you know. They said this movie shows how “we have moved and can move beyond race.” When I saw that movie, I thought to myself, “I’ve never met a Persian guy like this crazy, gun wielding Persian in this movie. I’ve never met Black people who talk like this in real life.”
REED: Yeah, well, I mean they have some kind of fixed picture assigned in their mind about whom we all are, where we’re like cartoonish figures– they can label us that way. I objected to Crash– I thought it was terrible. I think Black intellectuals see too deeply. That’s the problem. It’s a cause of anxiety, because we see things differently.
My generation of writers has been prone to premature illness and death, especially the women. When Black male writers meet it’s like a session of the American Diabetic Association. Given all of the anti-Muslim propaganda that’s being disseminated by The American Nazi media, you have to be careful. It can stress you out.
As a pioneer you might feel alone. But already your example has inspired a new generation of Pakistani American writers so you won’t feel isolated. And your artistic career is supported by your parents, which is rare.
ALI: Well, we’re writers. We do what we do, and we just try our best.
REED: Your play “Domestic Crusaders” should be ranked with family dramas written by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neil, but given the present anti Muslim hysteria aided and abetted by the Clintons, there are obstacles between you and Broadway.
You just have to be patient, because Americans are fickle. And what constitutes the enemy is always changing. Believe it or not, at one time Blacks were the favored model minority over Asian Americans. You’ll be joined by some who feel the way you do. Frank Chin, the yellow Malcolm X, never got this support. He calls Chinese Americans the Uncle Toms of American ethnic groups. He’s paid for his defiance of assimilation and the “go along to get along” policy of some ethnic groups with his
I reached the age of 70, because I have cultivated an association of multicultural intellectuals who are informed and alert to whatever “tricknology” that’s laid on us by the powers that be. These include White ethnic intellectuals- people who know their roots- as well as Native American, Asian American, Hispanic and Black intellectuals. These are thirty, forty-year associations with some of the best minds around. Minds that are ignored by the media. And so, while the Black Middle class fails to see the insidious propaganda that’s coming down – they give films like Crash awards – my friends and I are so in tune that we might call each other and comment on an event at the same time. Cross wires. When this most recent fake book came out where the writer said she was half Indian, my friend Gerald Vizenor, a Native American short story writer novelist and critic, said that he recognized the fraud right away.
Like on Oscar night, which has become a White supremacist pageant, and where Tina Brown’s “Invisible” White women soak up the 3 or so hours, and where they give awards to films like Crash or Monster’s Ball or Training Day– all films that denigrate Blacks, my phone is ringing off the hook from my friends who see this thing the same way as I.
ALI: What’s your objection to Crash? It portrays a wide variety of races, not just African American, as prejudiced.
REED: In Crash, you’ve got a pathological cop who at the end justifies police brutality. He tells the naïve, young cop that you’re going to end up the same as him. He’s the most sympathetic character in the movie. So, the naïve cop ends up murdering this Black kid and tries to cover up the evidence. It sort of justifies police brutality and the planting of evidence which is what happened in the O.J. case. You had that psychotic cop [played by Matt Dillon] molesting this Black woman– you know, fondling her. The feminists should’ve been outraged by this movie, but they don’t care about Brown women. They don’t give a damn about them. I read these articles by some Black and Brown feminists pleading, just begging (in whining, begging voice), “Oh, please don’t exclude us, oh White women feminists from your movement.” Some years ago, White and Black feminists clashed so at a convention in Akron Ohio that the Governor’s wife had to intervene.
ALI: Last question: You’ve been writing now nearly 50 years. You look back on your body of work. You must think to yourself, “I came out of the era of the ’60’s, where we wanted progress. Trying to push things forward.” So, you look back on it and ask, “Did anything I do with my work– did it push things forward?” Can you look back and say, concretely, “This! This piece– this made a difference?”
REED: I think the novels. The novels probably. The non-fiction. The plays raise issues that are ignored in other forums. Look, I have Black guys who tell me they put my books on their bed stands to read at night like something for guidance or information. That really pleases me a lot. I think my work has changed some things. It’s changed me.
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
A longer version of this interview can be found on WAJAHAT ALI’s website.