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Social Media: The New Grapevine Telegraph

Image Source: Paul Irish – CC By 2.0

I was attending the 30th annual PEN Oakland awards at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library. The date was December 7th. It was about a half hour before the ceremonies would begin. I decided to walk across the street to the Hudson Bay Café to buy a double espresso. As soon as I entered the café, the young black woman who was managing the cash register became alert to my presence. Her eyes showed a tinge of fear. I stood in line. She and I were the only black people in the café. The white woman who was preparing the coffee called on someone in the kitchen. He emerged and stood at the entrance of the kitchen. He began to glare at me. When it came my turn to make an order, and I showed that I was able to pay for the coffee and wasn’t there to take hostages, they relaxed. But at least Hudson Bay sent a white man to stand his ground, were taking hostages my intention.

Others use minorities to do their racial profiling.

On the following Monday, I entered Walgreens on Shattuck Avenue across from the Berkeley Bowl, a grocery store. As soon as I entered, a blonde who was working at the cash register fixed her eyes on me. We exchanged glances. She yelled “aisle two,” which was the aisle in which I was walking. A diminutive Asian American woman rushed up and asked if she could help me. Turns out I had a better idea of the location of the product I intended to buy than she. I know my way around this store. I even have a rewards card.

This would be the third time that I have been profiled in this store. The white women call on Asian American women to assist in profiling, putting minority women at risk. On another occasion, they put a black kid out front. I was searching for a case of bottled water that was on sale. When I arrived at the cash register a whole delegation of profilers was waiting. But it was the black kid who followed me out of the store

At the Student Union store at UC Berkeley, where I taught for 36 years, it was a black man who followed me around when I purchased a sleeve for my computer and it was a black kid who followed me around when I attended a performance at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, even though I had been invited by one of the performers. They were sticking to me like wallpaper sticks to the wall or the lyrics from the song “Me and My Shadow.”

Though my resumé is about 20 pages, I have more in common with the profilers, the help, than the management which assigns them to do their dirty work. I grew up in the projects in Buffalo, New York. My stepfather worked on the assembly line at Chevrolet. My mother led a revolt at a department store where she was employed as a stock girl, based upon their only using black women as stock girls, instead of as saleswomen. During the ’40s, she led a strike against a supervisor at a hotel where she was employed as a maid, who, according to her, were treating her and the rest of the black housekeeping employees “like Hitler.” Though she wrote a well-received book, “Black Girl From Tannery Flats,” her organizing strikes and protests against unfair labor practices were her proudest moments. And so racial profiling pits me, whose roots are in the working class, against working class people.

This is the kind of divide-and-conquer strategy that is used by billionaires as a way of maintaining their privilege and distracting from their gluttony. Racial profiling hurts. These establishments are saying, yes, we will take your money but while doing so, we will insult you. Now there are those among whom James Baldwin calls “The Chorus of Innocents,” his phrase applied to liberals whom he, at that point in his career, sought to redeem, who would dismiss my experience. They will say, perhaps there was another reason for the treatment you received in these stores. The store managers will deny that they have such a policy.

While conducting research for my Audible book, “Malcolm and Me,” about my encounters with Malcolm X and his legacy, I ran across a 1961 debate between Malcolm X, James Baldwin and newspaper man George Schuyler. While the white host seemed fixed on whether Malcolm intended to harm whites, Baldwin and Schuyler scored points against the young minister. Malcolm dismissed the integrationists. Why would you want to force yourself into situations where you’re not wanted, he asked. Baldwin said that many white Mississippians would agree with Malcolm. When Malcolm said that blacks were dependent upon whites, George Schuyler pointed to over 100,000 independent black farmers.

George Schuyler represented The Pittsburgh Courier, a black newspaper with solid black grassroots footing. With the collapse of the black press, black pundits and black public intellectuals have become the proxies of others who get to “filter” their views. Move On.org, Politico, TheRoot, MSNBC, Axios and CNN create pundits whose opinions are patrolled by their employers like the billionaires at Comcast.

During the weekend of February 9th, MSNBC regular Tiffany Cross blurted out the conditions under which MSNBC black pundits work. She said, “If I said a lot of the things that I really think, I would get filtered–we just can’t say that, we have to filter our own voices.” This explains why the black women on Joy Reid’s show can weigh in on the stupid sexist brutish moves of some black athletes and entertainers, but can’t discuss the effect of Michael Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk policy on black and brown women, who were humiliated by NYPD perverts, who used S. and F. as an excuse to molest and fondle.In fact, on February 12, The Washington Examiner reported that, Reid, a feminist, endorsed Michael Bloomberg. The headline read:” ‘Fight like a Republican’: MSNBC hosts pitch Bloomberg as best candidate to take down Trump.” Regardless of his sexist attitudes toward white, brown, and black women? This is bourgeois feminism at its most corrupt.

White women are also restricted. Mika Brezezinski can behave from time to time as the conscience of the Black Nation, weighing in on rap lyrics and supporting Gayle King whose defenders are uninformed about the details of the Kobe Bryant “rape” case,* but she dare not discuss the in-house predators at NBC. Rev. Sharpton, one of a handful of on-the-air black commentators with a following among black church goers, was right to condemn Snoop Dogg, who threatened Gayle King over her uninformed comments* about Kobe Bryant and his “victim,” Somebody should tell Mikka that blacks don’t have the power to create black celebrity Hip Hoppers. White kids do. And even with that The Rolling Stone hails Eminem as “The Emperor of Hip Hop.” Black Hip Hoppers can’t become emperors or empresses of forms that they created? The networks also have a bias against traditional African American commentators. They are cast by the billionaire owners as troublemakers. The same holds true for Hollywood and academia. Multiculturalism has come to mean, everybody but traditional African-Americans.

Social media has filled in the gap left by the Black press. With social media, blacks can tell their stories internationally and share their experience, and transcend the confining images of the corporate media which are based upon reinforcing the stereotypes accepted by those who buy their products. Blacks no longer have to be like the character in “The Invaders (a TV Series 1967–1968),” who tells people about an alien invasion and nobody believes him. People do not believe me when I say that often when I go for a walk at Golden Bear track, a UC Berkeley owned property, which is open to the public, the neighbors call the police, or that I was even profiled while walking through the landmark Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. The police were called. My spouse said that it might have been for another reason. I told her that when I leave, they’ll leave, which is what happened.

Booker T. Washington wrote of the “grape-vine telegraph.” He said that his mother and other slaves would whisper and mutter about great events. The news would travel swiftly from plantation to plantation. When, in 1791, Haitians revolted against French slaveholders, the news reached and worried Alexander Hamilton’s relatives, the Schuylers, who feared the Haitian revolt might inspire a revolt by their mistreated slaves. Both Hamilton and Jefferson supported the slave holders.

The protest one hears about social media is that it presents a threat to privacy. That might be a problem for some, but blacks have been under surveillance since even before arriving here. I grew up in the projects and so I knew at an early age that the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to me. Fourth Amendment rights? The police without warrants used to burst into people’s homes frequently.

While pundits are recalling the Nixon hearings, what I remember about the hearings is that Frank Wills, whose discovery of the burglary toppled the administration, was not called upon to testify because the Southerners who managed the hearings didn’t want to embarrass the administration. Segregationist Senator Herman Talmadge, who said that in Georgia a man’s home is his castle, is a pretty good principle. Except if you’re black and a mob often led by the police wants to drag you out of your house for a lynching.

The late Robert Maynard, publisher of The Oakland Tribune, challenged the media to diversify by 2000. It didn’t happen. It ain’t going to happen. As long as there are huge profits in presenting a one-sided view of black life. In the meantime we have social media. The new grapevine telegraph where I can read about the racial profiling that has been increased in the United States as a result of oligarchs dividing groups so as to distract from their gluttony. I can read about a book fair in Nigeria and black ghetto teenagers winning chess championships. I can read black intellectuals denouncing films like the one that mainstream critics are currently showering with praise and awards. A film in which Harriet Tubman wouldn’t recognize herself and the villain is a made-up black Bogeyman.

While The New York Times provides Scots Irish American, Charles Murray, considerable space to promote his Neo-Nazi ideas about black inferiority, I learned from social media that one of Charles Darwin’s professors was a black man. From social media, I can get an unfiltered and expanded view of black life that is absent from a corporate press that, in terms of diversity, is 50 years behind the South.

Notes.

* https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-nov-06-sp-bryant6-story.html?fbclid=IwAR3N1pSYzgTeinOFNTcBeG3OnY9Bb6jxKLbUpoHfPTH42tW39_nLNO5Duos

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Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

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