Ebony’s Shame

Ebony Magazine is tinkering with the cliff’s edge. It is lapping up its last left days. One inch from chugging down the death pill. But it knows the road from hand-to-mouth is long and winding—and harrowing. So, to stave off the inevitable, it has decided to make good use of that old, but dependable, axiom—when down, kick someone already down. Self-esteem is hard to come by these days. The outfit is toast, and it knows. Last September, Newsweek reported of the vassal’s helter skelter-like panic into the savior arms of corporate White overlords. Not much seems to have come of that. Magic Johnson hopped to the rescue last month, but the deal flatlined. So, what to do in times of uncertainty? Swing for the bleachers!

The batter here is a blogger, Jam Donaldson—not unlike the butter-like spread. She runs an online machine well-oiled by the daily shenanigans our world stocks no shortage of. She seems to toe the same line many other bloggers trail—bash, bash, bash. Then bash some more. To hell with being positive! Nihilism creams my coffee good enough. And this gang knows one thing—controversy sells. Why, their whole enterprise wouldn’t mean a mannequin’s worth if there wasn’t controversy to direct (otherwise sensible) fellows from the travails of life to laughing at the latest star, celebrity, activist, politician curled up on the floor, coughing up blood from the kicks and stomps the blogger-dom have reeled their way. I would name names, but I hate to end up the next blood-spitting, ambulance-seeking victim.

I caught wind of the inspiration for this short piece from the timeless Hip-Hop journalist and social critic Davey D, quick to blow the whistle on his blog. Donaldson put together a 9-paragraph homily in the February feature of Ebony. In it she is built as a liberal lioness trampling down “Black litmus tests” and arm-gear-ready to “fight for large-scale systematic reform when our communities are in shambles.” Ms. Donaldson acknowledges self-contradiction as a god-given garment fit to wear. The Black community is no monolith and ought not to be represented as such in popular press, she scrawls. Adding nothing new to the discourse of racial oppression or the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, she finally surrenders the line sure to light off blog responses the following morning: “One day I’m like, ‘Free Mumia’ and other days I’m like, ‘That n***** probably did it.’ And I’m not afraid to admit it, and I’m not afraid to write about it.” Rimshot! And thus, the comedy routine convulses in one happy-ending.

Donaldson was applying a journalistic device known as “burying the lead.” Take unintelligible readers on a tiresome trip through the sunset and drop them off with a thunderous halt. You wonder: could Jam have scrawled the whole screed just to bury Mumia? Why not? She seems sadistic enough.

But while on the topic, a couple of points deserve addressing. Donaldson is vilifying a man whose shoelaces she’s unworthy to tie. Mumia Abu Jamal is a journalist—she’s not. Mumia Abu Jamal walks the talk—she yaps about celebrities behaving badly and sits back for her minions to tug it out in the comment section. Mumia Abu Jamal holds convictions he believes strongly in that have kept his burning soul lit for decades, no matter the effervescent efforts of the State—she swings pendulum-like between ideologies that even if bound with jump ropes could never hold steady enough to mark convictions. Mumia Abu Jamal is a prolific author with a pen I dare not write with—she is… Oh, you see, there goes my parallel conquest.

Donaldson has a book to hawk. I would link to it, but I don’t fund Right-wing hate groups. The title is suggestive enough—from some perch lord knows who placed her on, she goes after bad English users. Remember the old speck-plank-sawdust thing? I’m a High School graduate with no college education; it’s likely I fare no better in her world than third-grade dropouts. Black Bloggers are famous for this. And let political correctness run into a lion cage on this—Black female bloggers, in the ranking majority, outflank any other demographic I know of for slinging hatred and vile contempt at the eye lids of anyone they deem target practice-worthy. It’s ironic because most Black women I meet with face-to-face exude rare warmth that assures me, as a Black man, life is worth living. But in the blogosphere? Different stakes.

Mumia Abu Jamal, for the curious, has rotted in Philadelphia’s death row since 1982 for crimes almost know one with an unprejudiced mind can claim he committed. Three hours of deliberations by an all-White jury slammed him into the slammer. Witnesses have recanted initial testimonies. Photographic evidence have unburdened him. Abundant documents have since found way out that paint the process of his arrest as racially- and politically-motivated, and in line with what in banana republics Westerners throw arms up to scream political imprisonment at. Academics, artists, activists, actors, scholars, journalists, politicians—in the plenty—have all come out to demand a new trial which almost certainly would exonerate this man. The State has denied each. In April 2006, a Paris street was named in Mumia’s honor. The family of support for Mumia Abu Jamal’s exoneration spans creed and color and continent. Yet, he today wastes away unsure which day his number would come up. But, does he? Is he really wasting away? The author of six books, and contributor of weekly pungent radio commentaries, can hardly be described as a spoilt fruit. Mumia has done in three decades, bound and shackled, what many fail to in a lifetime, free and privileged.

Perhaps his passion for justice is what drives him—but it probably also is his innocence-conviction. The State’s efforts to make Mumia out to be some scoundrel whose blood-hunting appetite stopped the life of his accused victim haven’t sold the public. The same give-and-take meant to paint Mumia as a police-hating rogue is the fate to which many Black men are cast. Last January, as Oakland police officers bashed in Oscar Grant’s skull and emptied their egos into his backside, the talking points had already been drafted—he was the aggressor; he moved with a threatening flair; he started it: if only he had remained calm, submissive, and non-uppity, today he could be stalking the streets with his homeboys, drowning 40 oz jars, and harassing half-naked females. Then, suddenly, every lie told had to commit suicide, as video tape of the execution, captured by cell phone cameras, traveled onto the world wide web and shocked the conscience of a nation, and showed a submissive Oscar Grant—a peace-making father and wife—playing flawlessly his part in the Orwellian Act.

If no video tape existed of the incident, it’s likely Donaldson would have set her alarm bells to go off 4 A.M. just to wake up with one-eye open and fire off another “that n***** probably did it” exhortation. With friends like these, who needs Limbaugh and Beck and Reagan and Duke?

I’m sure Donaldson was paid handsomely for her contribution—and the fruit basket sent by the Fraternal Order of Police should do well in assuring her she did the right thing. Sleep well, woman! And the F.O.P.’s appreciative check should keep Ebony afloat for two more months—before its coffin again opens; this time to seal the deal.

TOLU OLORUNDA is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears in various online journals. He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.