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It is a core belief among Republican strategists that a prime time TV speech by Rev. Al Sharpton at the Democratic national convention, in Boston, is worth millions of white votes for George Bush in November. Sharpton’s goal is to garner enough delegates to guarantee that he gets to make that speech. Therein lies the perceived convergence of interests between Sharpton and GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone.

If Black Democrats refrained from taking center stage to avoid activating reflexive racism among whites, they would languish in the shadows, forever. In this narrow, perverse sense, there is a permanent convergence of interests between Blacks seeking greater influence among Democrats, and Republicans intent on strengthening the GOP’s identity as The White Man’s Party. That’s part of the hand that American racism has dealt us. How Black politicians play it is another matter, entirely.

The furor over the New York Village Voice’s revelations about the connection between Sharpton and Roger Stone – the political hit man who directed the mob that shut down the Miami-Dade vote recount process in 2000 – revolves around which party got "played" in the deal. Sharpton has not challenged the central facts cited in the Voice piece: that Stone loaned or raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Sharpton campaign, some of which was commingled with funds of Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN); and that Sharpton’s campaign manager, Charles Halloran, and a number of aides are Stone operatives. The Voice’s Wayne Barrett concluded: “The combination of the unpaid or underpaid services of Stone, Halloran, [and Stone operatives] Baynard, Archer, et al., together with the NAN subsidies, paint a picture of a Sharpton operation that is utterly dependent on his new ally Stone, whose own sponsors are as unclear as ever.”

In last week’s Cover Story, “The Problem With Al Sharpton,” we noted Wayne Barrett’s reputation as a crack investigative reporter, and added, “Sharpton and Stone seem to have made Barrett’s job easy – indeed, Stone doesn’t appear anxious to hide the fact that he has captured a Negro.”

Barrett and former Voice colleague Joe Conason – who penned a companion piece in – seemed most upset about Sharpton’s offenses against the Democratic Party and his purported disdain for “white liberals.” The real question, of course, is Sharpton’s future as a Black “leader.”  In our judgment, “Sharpton comes across as a hapless stooge of the worst elements of the GOP.” And that’s worse than stealing something.

Sharpton may have thought he was a playa, but he should have known that the odds were hopelessly stacked against him. He gambled his reputation that he could use Republican money and campaign savvy to get him through the primaries so that he could step up to the microphone in Boston as the certified Go-To Guy in Black America. In the process, he could influence the political tone and substance of the campaign and, possibly, help shape the future of the nation. The ends justified the means, he rationalized.

But in fact, Roger Stone held all the cards – it was a win-win-win, no-lose situation. If Sharpton makes his televised speech in Boston, Stone wins; whites run to Bush. Should Sharpton be treated shabbily by white Democrats, Stone wins; Black voters are angry and disgusted, and stay home in November. If Stone can instigate some madness during the campaign, that’s icing on the cake. And if pesky “white liberal” reporters sniff out the arrangement, so what? – Sharpton self-destructs as a national leader, causing dismay and recriminations in Black and white Democratic ranks; Stone and Bush win. For a dirty trickster, nothing could be more exquisitely elegant.

Sharpton has been spinning as if his political life depends on it. In a highly charged Sunday morning telephone interview with New York’s WRKS-FM radio, Sharpton defended the loans from Stone (“When have you ever heard of a sellout with a loan?”) and the Republican staffing of his campaign (“I was trying to get technical information”). Peter Noel, a Black former Village Voice writer who loudly and repeatedly denounced the paper as viciously biased against Sharpton, nevertheless asked: “Why would you associate yourself with people like Roger Stone, when you know that they have hurt Black people?” Sharpton replied that he had connected with the trickster after “Democratic strategists said to me, You should find out how they are gonna try to eliminate you [from the ballot] in Louisiana.”

Besides, said Sharpton, his voice stuck at the extremes of the decibel meter throughout the 20-minute Q & A, Jesse Jackson and lots of other politicians are involved in questionable or cross-party relationships. “I’m willing to play the game by the same rules as everybody else does.”

On one point, Al Sharpton is, we believe, unassailable: “I dare anyone to show that [Stone] extracted something out of me,” he said.

Reporters Barrett and Conason led their readers to believe that Roger Stone was behind Sharpton’s attacks on Howard Dean. Stone is quoted as taking credit for the “research” that caused former Vermont Governor Dean to admit that no minorities served in his cabinet, for example – as if any Black man needs a racist white man to think up such an issue! Sharpton had his own reasons for going after Dean – what we described in our November 13 issue as “Jacksonophobia.” Sharpton shot straight through Dean to strike at Jesse Jackson Jr. after the Chicago Congressman endorsed Dean in late October – an intra-Black act of betrayal, from Sharpton’s standpoint.

However, Sharpton never veered from his progressive platform; that’s something Roger Stone could not “extract” from him.

We think we were quite circumspect and fair in our treatment of Sharpton. We praised him and Dennis Kucinich as the “Two Civilized Men Among the Barbarians” of the campaign, back in October, and last week credited Sharpton with administering “nine months of behavior modification therapy” on the white contenders. We believe that Al Sharpton did help shape history during the past year. “It is a great irony that the electoral process that Sharpton did so much to enrich, in which his formidable presence deterred white Democrats from reverting to racist type, has resulted in more palatable choices for Black voters, but negligible delegate clout for himself,” we wrote.

Unfortunately, when one happens upon a man lying in the street in his own blood and vomit, another passerby might suspect that you were the cause of the poor fellow’s problem. Thus, Anthony Kennerson writes, from Lafayette, Louisiana:

Well, , you sure know how to knock them down when they need it, do 'ya?

When I first saw the Village Voice piece on Rev. Al's alliance with that nasty Willie-Horton-ad-making, right-wing racist hack Roger Stone, I nearly lost my lunch.  But hearing that Sharpton is making alliances with some of the most meanest, most disgustingly racist, rightest Repubs known to mankind – all out of simple pique at "white liberals" for not jumping into his campaign – just makes this radical Leftist Black man want to throw my computer monitor across the room.

Here's a brief memo to you, Reverend Sharpton: (and excuse my French...OOPS, Freedom):

What is the freakin' matter with you? For someone who claims to represent the most progressive, most humanistic, most humane section of the Black electorate; for someone who steadily, or so I assumed, bashes the DLC quite rightfully as the "Republican" wing of the party – for you to then, just out of personal pique for being overshadowed for Howard Dean, ally yourself with people who represent the very ideology and attitude you claim to oppose, that is not only mass unconsciousness and gross betrayal of your supporters and your progressive base; that's just plain ignorant and stupid.  I guess that since you can't mine Michael Jackson, Russell Simmons, and those other hip-hop kingpins for their cash any more to maintain your failing campaign (and BTW, how in the hell can you not know the rules for filing for the Louisiana primary; are you that stupid or ignorant not to know the difference between a two party check and a cashier's check – or were you too busy plotting with your new racist buddies your "independent campaign?"), the next step is to become a front for the GOP hitmen?

For someone who supposedly wants to see Dubya out of office, you have a mightily strange way of showing it! But, I guess I should have known better, since you came out for censorship of rap and rock lyrics, and pandered to the worst of the Un-Religious Right in your nearly Clintonic views of poor women's personal lives.

Oh, well (sigh) I guess I'll hold my nose real tight and vote for Kerry now – but as far as I am concerned, Al Sharpton is just another Greedygut.

Thanks for giving me the vine and the truth, , and keep keeping it real and progressive.

Rev. Jeanette Pollard was taken aback by the Sharpton revelations.

Thank you Black Commentator, for your enlightening piece on the Rev. Al Sharpton.  Just yesterday someone asked me who I was voting for.  In all honesty, none of the white candidates appealed to me. I was considering writing in Sharpton's name on my ballot.

Your story has shed some revealing and disappointing light on Rev. Sharpton. Friends who used to attend the National Action Network's meetings were unable to find out why meetings were no longer held.  Your article revealed why those meetings are no longer held.

Looking back on Rev. Sharpton's remarks during last Friday's presidential forum with Tom Joyner, he made a statement that received loud applause from the audience.  He said he'd got here (America) as a result of a bad trade policy. It would appear that Sharpton has put African Americans in the middle of his own bad trade policy by selling out to right wing Republicans.

I'm a preacher, and I'm disgusted with preachers' lack of truly standing up for the people and not just for ourselves!!

Michael O. Sibley has the decidedly secular job of Director of Publications, Office of Marketing & Communications at Tuskegee University, in Alabama.

The cover story, "The Problem with Al Sharpton" is the best written piece about the African-American perspective on this year's election that I've read. Well structured, relatively objective. I give the writers two thumbs up!

Alternet was among the many sites that picked up our piece on Sharpton. That’s how Thomas D’Amico found us.

The article was superb. It was also my impression that the man was a powerful force in getting the Democrats to do right. Since Dr. King I have become smarter about life and even at 84 my anticipation still is that Black Americans will rescue the U.S. of A. Well, we lost Sharpton to the money and his narcissism, I am sorry to say. But somehow I still have the hope that Dr. King’s dream will come through for all of our citizens. I won’t see that day but maybe my great grandchildren will.

Bruce Banter prizes efficiency in speech:

Yeah man. The Black Commentator don’t play!

Rev. Sharpton’s “missteps” will certainly affect his future, but they do not erase his past. Sarah Santora writes:

Rev. Al Sharpton has my eternal thanks and appreciation for bringing national attention to police shootings and brutality against Black Americans, especially young Black men and teens. If my teenage son is not shot in the back by a fat cop who doesn't feel like chasing him, it's Al Sharpton I have to thank. He focused national attention on the issue, causing police to behave themselves if only to keep him from coming to town. For that he has earned my deep gratitude and whatever else happens, I will never stop thanking him for what he has done for me and mine.

Here’s how we addressed Sharpton’s place in history in last week’s piece:

We must ask why Al Sharpton emerged as a contender for national Black leadership via the presidential primaries. The answer is simple, and should be deeply troubling: He was the only one to step forward. Such was also the case in the decades of Sharpton’s rise to prominence in New York. When police brutalized African Americans, Al Sharpton was there. When demonstrations needed to be mounted, Sharpton was on point. When Black anger rose, Sharpton rose to the occasion – year, after year, after year.

Whites of all political persuasions denounced Sharpton as an opportunist and publicity seeker – as if they were telling Black folks something we didn’t know. But we desperately needed publicity, and an opportunity to be heard. Rev. Al seized the spotlight and shook things up, which was a lot better than nothing.

Somebody Black had to do it.

So, who’s stepping forward, now?

C. D. Goodison begins her letter, “If I sound as cynical as Sharpton it comes with the territory.” She’s a New Yorker.

I can't speak to the merits or demerits of Sharpton's run for the presidency, his candidacy remains a minor event but it is interesting that Sharpton's white New York City "liberal" critics such as Joe Conason and Wayne Barrett are so concerned with where he gets his money. Forgive my cynicism but I don't care if he gets paid by Halliburton. The Democratic Party of New York has long held its black supporters in utter contempt and without their hypocrisy and racism Sharpton would not exist as a force.

Regardless of what I may think of his attributes as a civil rights leader, Sharpton has done one good thing for black New York: shown them that there is an alternative to supporting people who don't think much of you or your vote while arrogantly expecting it anyway. Sorry but I didn't cry when black voters took Sharpton's suggestion and sat on their hands and refused a fourth term to Prison Governor Cuomo or the mayoralty to the obnoxious, condescending Mark Green. After all, white "liberal" Democrats had no trouble abandoning a black mayor for the atrocious Giuliani and not all of us find the better of two evils argument compelling. When Hillary 'Ghandi owns a gas station downtown' Clinton comes around again for my vote I still won't care too much whether Sharpton plays with Democrats or Republicans.

The ‘Theoretician’

Dr. Andree-Nicola McLaughlin is a Professor Interdisciplinary Studies and Professor of Languages, Literature & Philosophy at predominantly Black Medgar Evers College, in Brooklyn. She’s got a theory.

I read your article, "The Problem with Al Sharpton," and I believe the article should have been entitled "The Problem with The Black Commentator ()".

It's obvious that:

1) erroneously blames Sharpton for the lack of Black unity reflected in African Americans voting for some of the white Democratic candidates in greater numbers than for Sharpton.  There is no mention of the impact of "Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome" in Black voters seeking the approval of "massa" instead of their own kind, or of the opportunism of certain high profile Black Democrats who, following Democratic Party orders, undertook a preemptive strike to throw any Black Democratic presidential candidate overboard unnecessarily early on in the campaign;

believes everything white folks write about Sharpton, from the arch-conservative New York Times to the so-called progressive Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice;

doesn't factor in the human nuances of "personal friendship" or the fact of human nature that human beings, even conservative whites, are attracted to charismatic individuals of influence such as Sharpton;

has a short memory of the battles Sharpton has led, the lashes he has taken over the years. The real sellouts are Black Democratic leaders and voters who could not support Sharpton in a credible way for more than several months despite his sacrifices for the national Black community;

In short,
needs to engage in investigative reporting and a more advanced political analysis instead of rehashing the garbage of the corporate mainstream media.

Despite her credentials, Dr. McLaughlin presents only sweeping statements designed to insult. We have already covered what we believe and don’t believe, what Sharpton denies and does not deny, and Sharpton’s contributions to Black struggle over the years. It occurs to us that McLaughlin’s "Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome" theory might be applicable to Sharpton, himself, or to professors who ignore facts when any Black luminary gets in trouble – but that’s not part of our humble discipline. As for her challenge that do an investigative piece on Sharpton – she does the Reverend no service. Long before this primary season, we already knew enough about Sharpton’s modus operandi to add substantially to the negative body of reporting, had we chosen such a course – as do literally scores of Black reporters and activists. McLaughlin (and Sharpton) should be glad that we find more productive things to do.

Sherletta McCaskill, of Irvington, New Jersey, wonders what drove Sharpton to a  “strategy of madness.”

Words may not be able to describe the depths of my despair regarding the bombshell reporting of Sharpton's dubious political and financial associations by the Village Voice and Black Commentator. By far it is the most disturbing and devastating blow to black empowerment in general and the representation of those aspirations in the person of Al Sharpton in particular in recent memory with the exception of the mute Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

As the daughter of a Baptist minister, I am struck by the Rev. Sharpton's lack of faith in a God of Justice and the grassroots who have meant his survival for these many years. His indiscretion is reminiscent of the story of Moses' impatience with God as he led the children of Israel in the wilderness when he struck the rock to produce water for the people instead of touching the rock with his staff as God instructed. Due to his disobedience Moses was not allowed to see the promised land. Tragically, Rev. Sharpton has mortgaged his future and the future of black and progressive issues for some $270,000 odd pieces of silver (the amount on the promissory note signed over to Roger Stone) and the $348,450 plus in expenses for his presidential campaign.

Given Sharpton's history and humanity perfection is not a requirement for legitimacy. However, one wonders how he can ever extricate himself and his National Action Network from his deal with Republican devils. Moreover, Rev. Sharpton's demise is precipitated by an almost forty year gap in continuity and the co-option of so called black leadership which has not mobilized people and institutions in a coherent fashion to combat the scourge of racist political and economic exclusion that persist in spite of acts by congress and the courts to ameliorate the legacy of slavery. While true that the concerns of the black body politic reflect those of other Americans concerned about jobs, health care and education, the case for Black America is always urgent given our doubled rates of unemployment compared to the national average and dearth in every other measure of societal progress. Blacks this primary season have thus far split their vote among the other candidates, hoping to support a candidate who will beat George Bush. The role that Sharpton would play in keeping the Democratic Party accountable – already undermined by black party operatives – will for the foreseeable future be moot.

Perhaps, Sharpton's sense of outrage at the betrayal of the Jackson family and other establishment black politicos drove him into a strategy of madness casting his entire promise upon the waters of collusion with the enemy. Sharpton has not only destroyed himself but there is now a gaping communal wound with no apparent balm bearer to redeem the fold. As an organizer and activist I have long advocated a community model of leadership where none are as important as the whole. Hopefully it is not too late to council the Reverend to abandon this doomed strategy and "get religion" for real as suggested by Wayne Barrett in the last last line of his Voice Article.

As always your contribution to the struggle of progress is indispensable. I am privileged to share this moment in history with such an erudite and committed vision of humanity justice and community. Can't and won't live without my Black Commentary and Ms. Margaret Kimberly. Right On!

Freedom Rider

Ms. McCaskill provides a fine segue to Margaret Kimberley’s February 5 column, “No More Souls to the Polls.”  The Freedom Rider wrote:

The political appeal of the black church is obvious…. But the history of the black church should not be an excuse for laziness and lack of imagination in making political appeals to the black community. While the presidential candidates campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire they held pancake breakfasts, firehouse chili feeds, school auditorium rallies and luncheons in living rooms. The candidates ought to know that black voters also have living rooms and their neighborhood schools would be excellent sites for political events. Our activities do not begin and end at the church door and those who do not attend church are equally entitled to know what politicians are proposing for their communities and for the nation.

John Whitaker Betances introduced himself to Ms. Kimberley as “a fellow New York ‘product.’” He continued:

I wish to declare both my pleasure, and my agreement, with the tone and specific points contained in this fine article.

While the dramatics you cataloged, on the part of Democratic Party representatives, may have some small attraction to those among us who do not pay even scant attention to local/national politics, they are an insult to the intelligence of the rest – who are capable of clear thought!

Our people have, for too many years, been subject to the trickery and deceit of political "leaders," whose self-interests always came before our interests.  (Far too often, this included many of our own brethren who, in effect, "sold us out" for their personal "enrichment."   And large among this group have been some "Christian" ministers/pastors, who have cooperated in the type of manipulation you described in your writing.)

As a whole, Black America is as much in jeopardy today, as it was prior to the success of our civil rights efforts.  Yet, we have fewer real leaders, have far less family and community cohesion, and have lost much of our ability to teach our young the skills they will need to survive in this well as among the peoples of the world. 

We are ill-prepared, as a people, for this "Brave New World."

One of our few chances to stem this tide of being swept to our destruction clearly involves all of us becoming more aware of, critically-thinking about, and participating in local and national voting efforts.  

Otherwise, we "African-Americans" are doomed!

Corporate Power Media

On the subject of “doom” – once the corporate media decided to question Howard Dean’s “electability,” his presidential candidacy was finished. Through hyper-consolidation, corporate media now possess the power of near-instantaneous prophesy fulfillment, as was demonstrated when they halved Dean’s polled support in the space of two weeks in the latter part of January.  John Kerry, who was polling in single digits in November, suddenly became the frontrunner, having done nothing on his own to get there.  But then, Newsweek polls in mid-December had shown Dean to be just as electable as Kerry and Wesley Clark. What happened?

The Corporate Power Media (CPM) machine happened. We wrote about it’s “Awesome Destructive Power” in our January 29 Cover Story:

It is no longer possible to view commercial news media as mere servants of the ruling rich – they are full members of the presiding corporate pantheon. General media consolidation has created an integrated mass communications system that is both objectively and self-consciously at one with the Citibanks and ExxonMobils of the world. Media companies act in effective unison on matters of importance to the larger corporate class. For all politically useful purposes, the monopolization of US media is now complete, in that the corporate owners and managers of the dominant organs are interchangeable and indistinguishable, sharing a common mission and worldview….

The corporate media has the power of self-fulfilling prophesy, and they know it. Negative impressions rained down on Dean like a monsoon, and didn’t let up even after the damage was done. Dean was tagged by the media as a loser to Bush well before he let out “The Scream” – an innocuous, non-event, on the night of his Iowa defeat.

William F. Brabenec is a very smart guy from Attica, Michigan. He asks and answers the question: “Who controls the agenda?”

Over many decades I chaired a number of committees, each with various goals and philosophies. Early on I found that if I also assumed the duties of physically compiling the committee agenda, I could control the meeting with little challenge or deviation. If the topic wasn't on the agenda, it didn't get discussed. Period. That was the trick I used to steer the committees in the direction I wanted them to go, regardless of sponsors' intentions or those of other members on the committee.

After witnessing the mainstream press ridicule and ignore Dean, Kucinich, Sharpton, Lieberman and Braun in Iowa and New Hampshire and their previous belittling treatment, I realized that my prior experience on committees had a direct correlation to what is going on in Corporate America today.

The power elite control the American public's agenda through their subsidiary, the Corporate Media – which consists of most of our major newspapers, magazines, cable and network TV and radio stations. Over 90% of the media in this country is controlled by just a half dozen individuals behind the conglomerates – who control America’s agenda. And if the topic isn't on the agenda, it doesn't get discussed in their media.

What we hear or read is chosen for us along with its spin. When one considers that the decisions we make are based exclusively on the knowledge we have of a subject, then it's no wonder we act and vote the way they want us to. The topics on our daily agenda – and their political spin – are chosen by Corporate America, not us.

More and more liberal observers are recognizing that “the mainstream media in the current era is the enemy, and must be treated that way.” While we stand and aim our progressive arrows at the Corporate Huns out in the field, their first line assassins in the media who are directly in front of us are cutting open our bellies.

Damien Hyde sent us a kind note from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Just writing to thank you for your excellent article. I am sending this article to many of my friends and relatives. Thank you for exposing what many of us always suspect but are unable to take the time to put together on paper the way you have done.

Kansas City’s Roger Goldblatt has for some time understood that the corporate media is the enemy. However, he writes, the beast is hard to get hold to. 

Incredible article on how the corporate media "punked" Howard Dean and marginalized the peace demonstrators.  I tried to organize a local consumer boycott organization to boycott the corporate media, besides other inappropriate corporate outlets – natural gas distribution companies, etc.  We worked for nine months, but could not pull it off. That is the direct action I think is needed, which the article alludes to at its end.

I marched and continue to march against the war; the international peace movement was marginalized by the press.  I've worked for Dean for a year and for no apparent reason, his "numbers" started slipping.   

Polls of course cannot be trusted but it was apparent the corporate media chose to punk Dean.

In years (we’re not yet two) Peter Taylor is a longtime reader.

For the past year or so, I have found your e-zine to be a weekly breath of fresh air, i.e. life-giving.

As you yourselves have noted: Black people are in a position of leading us all:

“…there is no substitute for confronting the corporate media head-on, through direct mass action and other, creative tactics. The rich men’s voices must be de-legitimized in the eyes of the people, who already suspect that they are being systematically lied to and manipulated. African Americans have an advantage in this regard, since we are used to being lied to and about.”

Many thanks and blessings to you for exercising this leadership position.

Unseen hands

Businessmen engage in “conspiracies” all the time: that’s what boardrooms are for. As fully integrated members of the corporate community, Big Media favor politicians and parties that promise to create “favorable” business environments. Consequently, corporate executives are overwhelmingly Republican – although business also funds conservative Democrats to further narrow the scope of discussion.

Jack Welch is a genuine corporate barbarian, a downsizing and merger maniac. Although retired as General Electric chief – and as the ultimate power at GE-owned NBC – Welch remains a ruling class member in good standing. Folks tell him stuff, and he shares his insight with favored media.

Chris Dodson picked up on the general line of discussion.

On December 3, '03 Chris Matthews [MSNBC] badgered Howard Dean until he answered that he would indeed attempt to break up the media oligarchy if elected.  Even though Matthews had all the candidates on his weekly election special, Dean was the only one who received this "special" treatment. 

Then today (2/7) on CNN's money matters with Jack Cafferty, guest Jack Welch (hissss) blurted out that Dean had been "slotted" as "unelectable" before Iowa.  Hmmm, how would the former CEO of GE know this?  It doesn't take a brain surgeon...

This is going to be a tough fight. We need to work together to build strategies.

MJ Parrish called our attention to an online story that casts a shadow on computer voting in the New Hampshire primary.

I knew electronic disenfranchisement was a real danger, particularly since eight million people will be voting on electronic "black box" voting machines this year.  But I had no idea how easily so many votes could be shifted from one candidate to another without raising a hue and cry – until the NH primary.

At 8 p.m., CNN's Wolf Blitzer said exit polls indicated the race between Kerry and Dean was too close to call.  Yet as the vote tallies rolled in, that too-close-to-call phenomenon wasn't evident.  At the end of the night, the poll results were very, very different from what exit polls would have indicated. In precincts where paper ballots were used, Kerry beat Dean by 1.5%.   Yet the two types of electronic voting machines showed very different results, giving Kerry a runaway victory.   

Ms. Parrish urges readers to click here: “Kerry Beat Dean in New Hampshire by Only 1.5% When Computers Were Not Doing the Counting,” then scroll down to the report.

Memories of Haiti

The endgame of the U.S. campaign for “regime change” in Haiti may be in motion. (See “Haiti Opposition Attempts “Naked Power Grab,” in this issue.) is fortunate to have a readership with the depth and breadth of experience and memory to place apocalyptic events in context.

Jack Kent is a writer and doctor who has been to Grenada and Nicaragua during their revolutions, Cuba, Mozambique shortly after the defeat of Portuguese colonialism, Vietnam in the early Eighties, and many points in the Middle East. Mr. Kent recalls arriving in Haiti on May 20, 1967.

On that day there was a failed exile attempt to overthrow the Papa Doc Duvalier regime. Arriving at the airport I had this deja vu feeling.  Greeting us as we disembarked was a young man with a cane in a white sporting outfit.   There had been a similar character in the movie, The Comedian, which I had seen recently in California.

There were only a few tourists who got off the plane and I didn't come across any others that day. An official assigned me to a hotel. Most striking on the ride into town was the sight of women walking long distances, ferrying water & other goods on top of their heads.

Upon arriving at the hotel, an old, rambling, colonial style building – again, deja vu.  Almost instinctively I looked to my right. Was the pool there? In The Comedian, there was a pool in which some poor butchered soul had been dumped. I was relieved. There was a pool but no body.

The hotel owner brought me up to snuff.  Indeed, this was the hotel. It had been recreated in (forget the country) as the Duvalier government wouldn't permit it to be filmed in Haiti. Richard Burton had portrayed the owner, while the airport greeter played himself.

That was some experience. A haunting close-up of mass starvation. It was tough to take – me, the only fat man among a million clinging desperately to life. There was a quiet.  Had to do, I believe, with preserving energy. I guessed it was no calories in, then no calories out or some such biological conservation. Unfortunately, it hadn't helped much, I could see, as there were easily identifiable signs of starvation – pot-bellied children, for example.

There was more. I wrote about it and sent the article to the journal of the student medical association. At the time I was a staff physician in a VA hospital. The article was to be published but there was a change of guard at the journal. The anti-war editors were replaced by "old guard” sorts and out went the radicals.

There are other memories of Haiti, too, but the present situation doesn't surprise me. Withholding those hundreds of millions of dollars because of so-called fraudulent elections – what a joke considering how many legitimately elected governments the US has overthrown in the last few decades alone.

The article Jack Kent wrote nearly 40 years ago was titled, “A day in Haiti among a million dead.”

Hip-Hop values

A striking number of visitors that rummage through ’s archives emerge with comments on Dr. Martin Kilson’s Think Piece from July 17, 2003: “The Pretense of Hip Hop Leadership.” The renowned Harvard professor castigates the recent crop of Black “intellectuals” that exhibit “mindless hip-hop style irreverence toward African-American civil rights leadership.” Dr. Kilson is especially incensed by California professor of cinema/TV Todd Boyd’s grotesque slanders” against historical Black leadership.

He dismisses as valueless the courage, blood, sweat and tears expended by Blacks in the long and tortuous struggle to smash the cruel edifice of legal White supremacy. This intellectually thuggish outlook embraced by Boyd and his hip-hop followers – an outlook that honors nothing genuinely human – is packaged in slick commercialistic lingo that adds to its profanity. Boyd appears to be building a career on insults to past generations of heroic American-American leaders and citizens who, in Martin Luther King’s words, “fought the good fight.” Boyd’s words drip with contempt for Black people’s civil rights tradition….

The fact of the matter is, there’s nothing whatever that’s seriously radical or progressive about hip-hop ideas and values.  It is sad that there are university academics among us like Michael Dyson and Todd Boyd (respectively at the University of Pennsylvania and University of California) who fail to recognize the political emptiness of most hip-hop expression. Hip-hop entertainers and its entertainment modalities do not represent a “new worldview” for African Americans. Quite the contrary, the “hip-hop worldview” is nothing other than an updated face on the old-hat, crude, anti-humanistic values of hedonism and materialism

Jose S. Gutierrez Jr. is a Hip-Hop radio personality, part of the AHB Network, International. Gutierrez also holds a masters degree in education. He thought long and hard on Kilson’s commentary, and composed this response:  

Dr. Martin Kilson’s words and verbal challenges posed towards Hip-Hop culture are welcome to debate.  However, I find Dr. Kilson’s words lacking insight into the meaningful origins and roots of the Hip-Hop culture. His credibility and understanding of the development of Hip-Hop is certainly open to question – given his statements.  I say this out of general respect for Dr. Kilson.  However Dr. Kilson and others who speak of and claim to celebrate Hip-Hop culture must be aware of the origins of Hip-Hop; a culture that was born of peace created in the midst of war – orchestrated by the honorable founders: Afrika Bambaata, Kool Herc, Flash and many other poor Blacks and Puerto Ricans from The Bronx, New York. 

I am aware that most people wrote off Hip-Hop when my sister, cousin and I were breakin’ as elementary school children in the early ‘80s or when my mother was pop-locking in Watts in the ‘70s.  Most people figured Hip-Hop was a fad, a ghetto fire soon to fizzle and many people recently jumped on the bandwagon when Hip-Hop became “mainstream.”  Most people ignored the joy and love experienced by those who live as Hip-Hop breathes inside and through them.  I am aware.  If nothing else, Dr. Kilson in his statement demonstrates our failure as a people to document, provide mentorship and take ownership of our beautiful creations (jazz, the blues, bluegrass, the golf tee, etc.).  We devalue ourselves to the point where we devalue our creations as well, only for external forces and modern-day Mobutus to allow mercenary forces to tell us what we are worth and juice us to the pulp.  Where are the elders in this process?  The leaders to guide Hip-Hop culture, rather than shun it, debase it or ignore it?

Dr. Kilson rightfully and honorably acknowledges our ancestors and foundation layers and the organizations that they represented and that represented them.  But I must also acknowledge something that I see.  I see a failure of some, not all, of our elders of color holding on to the leadership of our communities to their last dying breath.  I see fake “role models” in church, school and business who are not uplifting our greatest offering: young people.  Our young people will either be future leaders, future followers or future puppets and criticizing one of the only things (Hip-Hop) that empowers them and provides them identity is a crushing blow, rather than an engaging slap on the butt.  I see people trying to please external populations rather than our own.  Recently I met with a brother, the founder of Tacoma, Washington’s Eastside Bloods – notorious in the late ‘80s through the mid-‘90’s for murder and violence.  This brother has been incarcerated for violating the law, but when he was released he began The Big Homie Program, which provides mentorship for young kids in Tacoma – who face many challenges growing up.  This brother, Stone, attempted to reach out to the elder leadership in the Black community and in the church and he was initially turned away by his own and accepted and supported by a White pastor down the block.  Not that the White pastor is not a good man, but if we don’t help our own – we leave them to others to do what they will and this has an effect on how we look at, treat, trust and interact with each other.  This is not unlike how young Hip-Hop artists have wound up signing contracts submitted by businessman who are ignorant of the culture and the people who are of it.  

I respect the efforts made by Dr. Kilson and his colleagues serving for decades and I stand by the fact that there is much room for positive improvement in the messaging and modeling for our young people, but we must communicate with young people rather than dismiss them.  We cannot relinquish influence – these are the youth with much to learn and right now they are learning from people who are more interested in how much money can be made than how much quality of life can be achieved.  There is a fine difference between getting paid and getting paid hand over fist.  Many of the Hip-Hop artists who I have conversed with and managed have been caught up in record deals that only a fool would sign, because at the time they were hungry, too enthusiastic, ignorant and were not nurtured.  At the same time that they must be willing to be nurtured, there must be people enthusiastic about nurturing them.

Therefore, I recommend a refocus.  Rather than making statements like “There’s nothing whatever that’s seriously radical or progressive about Hip-Hop ideas and values”, which is an empty self-satisfying and depressing statement to make – why not change the game or at least try?  Dr. Kilson with all of his educational, organizational and life experience on hand could explore a little and reach out to those people/artists who will respond and who do live off of their radical and progressive ideas and values which extend far beyond Hip-Hop.  Dead Prez is just one of these “radical” organizations/groups with political, racial and economic insights and literature.  DPZ (as they call themselves) speak and rap about empowering people of color, socialism, uplifting Black women (most importantly) and they highlight current issues like police brutality – always while acknowledging the ancestors.  They are very pro-black, but most of the fans at their shows I have attended are White?!  There is something to be said when Black folk aren’t attending Black celebration events.  Dead Prez speak at colleges and in our communities, conversing with the people not about them or around them.  Davey D, Paris, KRS-ONE, KAM, Lighter Shade of Brown and many others also represent a community awareness/activism approach from within the Hip-Hop community. 

I know that elders are tired and have served respectfully, but wisdom and training are needed by the next generation of leaders, and not in-bred leadership either.  The fact of the matter is that Dr. Kilson’s statement that began, “There’s nothing…” is quite premature. Young people can benefit from and be energized by is his (positive) guidance and wisdom, rather than motionless commentary. 

All respects to Dr. Martin Kilson.

Slow death of Hip-Hop

Lamont Slater is a freelance writer, born in the Boogie-Down-Bronx, now living in Dallas, Texas. Here’s his commentary:

It started off as a usual drive home: I threw the laptop in the backseat, checked the gas gauge, and popped in one of my favorite cassettes. In my car, I keep an array of old school Hip Hop that includes the likes of BDP, Public Enemy, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and Bizmarkie. One may feel that at 34, I should have matured to Jazz status by now. However, as I drive home I reminisce of a time that Hip-Hop encompassed a culture, which included break dancing, Graffiti, MC battles, and colorful fashion statements.

In my translation of the word Hip-Hop, I simplify the term as such: Hip, borrowed from the Seventies slang term meaning “cool,” and Hop representing dance, such as a sock hop. When you put these two words together you get the term Hip-Hop, meaning cool music to dance to. Back then, music wasn’t necessarily rated G as evidenced by Boogie Down Productions inaugural album entitled Criminal Minded, but even by using that example KRS 1 acknowledged his violence on his follow up hit single My Philosophy, and raised the bar by using his status in the industry to educate the public about life in the street, the government, and issues regarding blacks in America. Other artists during this era continued this movement on wax, which was created by the grit of the street proletariat. 

When I arrived home, I spent precious family time with my wife and children, and then wound the night down by reading the Dallas Morning News. While perusing the entertainment section of the paper, I was appalled that the nominees for best Rap Album included Petey Pablo and Mystical. It was at that point that I realized that Hip-Hop had turned into Hip-Pop. Gone are the real MC’s that had different personalities and attributes that set them apart from each other. For example, Das Efx, Digible Planets, Rakim, Cool G Rap and Polo and Public Enemy were able to co-exist in an atmosphere that embraced them for their individuality.

Today, most rap songs include explicit sexual innuendo, fairy tales of being rich and famous, gangster brutality, and violence towards our women. We find ourselves typecast all over again, as if today’s artists are nothing but modern day Hattie McDanielses.  Part of me believes that this negative self-imposed image can be attributed to the lack of a positive male influence in the lives of Black males in general. It is my belief that some of these rap artists are emulating a caricature of what being a strong black man really means. The foul-mouth, sex-crazed, muscle-bound caricature is a gross misrepresentation. However, the stereotype can be considered an ugly side effect of the plethora of social ills that plague the Black community. 

The way the industry works is similar to a slave auction block, where the master secures the services of a muscle-laden, young buck so he can be assured that he would have a good crop, and create wealth for himself and his family. Today is no different. The industry is infatuated with marketing hardcore types such as 50 cent, Trick Daddy, DMX, JA Rule, and the late Tupac Shakur. This is the image that the CEOs of major record companies want you to see. As long as this type of new wave blaxploitation is profitable, it won’t go away, but will continue to eat at the fabric that holds the Hip-Hop community together. Rap will suffer the same fate as the infamous “Freaknik,” which started off as a get together between schools that encompass the Atlanta University Center.  Playing football in the park, barbecue, and Frisbee were quickly replaced by sex, violent acts, and t-shirt sales. Greed and blatant disregard for the common good inevitably led to the demise of that event.

Until Blacks in America express their dismay by sending a strong message to the media distributors, record labels, and producers that we are tired of being depicted as minstrels, it will continue to be business as usual.

I don’t fault the artist for making an honest dollar, however, every time I hear children repeat profanity laced verses, I think of the adults that allow their children to be exposed to music that is inappropriate for their age. Hip-Hop, as we know it will die a slow and painful death unless record companies start signing artists that are the mouthpieces of the community. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will take 50 Chuck D’s to save Hip-Hop; it means that we need to hear what is important to us, not what serves the almighty record companies.

For now, I will always cherish the memories of my cousin Terrince and I exiting my grandmothers Bronx apartment toting a large boom box in hand, and walking down a urine drenched stairwell to get to the park bench, where we communicated with each other by nodding our heads to the beat as we prepared ourselves for a game of one on one stickball.

With a very few exceptions, today’s Hip-Hop reminds me only of that stairwell, and not Hip-Hop’s glory days.

Lamont Slater can be contacted at [email protected].

High praise

Richard Haynes made our day – no, he brightened the whole week.

Really enjoy reading your articles. This forum replaces Emerge magazine that was discontinued. I've been looking to find a replacement, either print or electronic – glad I found you.

Glad we found each other.

Keep writing.

gratefully acknowledges the following organizations for sending visitors our way during the past week:

Democratic Underground


Black Electorate



Liberal Oasis


The Final Call



February 12, 2004
Issue 77

is published every Thursday.

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