April 20, 2006 - Issue 180
How the Media Uses Blacks to Chastize Blacks
The Colored Mind-Doubles
by Ishmael Reed
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The article originally appeared in Counterpunch.org.
I Tivo Don Imus as much as I can because his putrid racist offerings are said to represent the secret thinking of the Cognoscenti. Maybe that's why journalists like Jeff Greenfield and others admire him so much. He says what they think in private.
On any day, you might find Bernard McGirk, the man, who, according to "60 Minutes," Imus hired to do "nigger jokes," doing a lame imitation of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, using a plantation type dialect. The blacks who are satirized by McGirk and others are usually displayed as committing malaprops, but, though white writers appear daily on the show, I've rarely seen a black author.
In the last twenty years, black authors have received every prize available to authors. His idea of a black author must be the same as the producers of the movie, The Tenants: Snoop Dogg.
Recently, McGirk referred to Rev. Joesph Lowery as a "shameless skunk," and a joke was made about the manner in which Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's window, was murdered. Black athletes are referred to as "knuckle draggers," which, the Irish and Scot-Irish members of Imus's crew – they discussed their ethnic heritage on C-Span – might be surprised to learn, was the way that the British referred to their groups. When an exhibition of great apes was presented in London, the British commentators said that the exhibition showed the Irish to be the link between ape and man. But their being Irish and Scot-Irish makes sense because it was members of these groups who used to entertain the Anglos by blackening up. Maybe that's why Imus has listeners in Kennebunkport. Bush I is a fan.
Another fan is Congressman Harold Ford (D-TN), whom Imus endorses so as to deflect attention from the show's lowbrow racism. I'm sure that Ford understands what Imus is all about, but he needs the country and western vote in rural Tennessee in order to gain a senate seat. Imus has a big following among this constituency. So did James Earl Ray.
But why pick on Imus? His approach to the treatment of black issues and personalities has become mainstream, the only difference being that instead of using the Irish and Scot-Irish, the traditional white-trash mercenaries, who stand between the Other and the Anglos – when, given their social and economic position, they should strike common cause with blacks – the network and newspaper executives use people who resemble blacks to chastise blacks. This colored auxiliary function as their mind-doubles and iPod people.
I'll bet the executives got the idea from the cynical packagers of President Bush's political strategies. The administration's advocates of torture for example are Vietnamese, Chinese and Mexican Americans. The former domestic policy advisor who was recently arrested for scamming a department store is black, and the secretary of state is black. When they come before congressional committees, the idea is that congressmen would be reluctant to submit them to harsh questioning for fear of being called racist. That way, they can promote the administration's megalomaniac foreign policy with very little criticism. I'm sure that's Karl Rove's thinking.
Unlike Ms. Rice, who I, in a heated public exchange with her, dubbed "the Manchurian Candidate" about a year before she joined the Bush campaign, journalist Barbara Reynolds is a progressive. She said that she was fired from USA Today because she didn't appeal to the demographic group from which the paper gets its sales: Angry White Men. Those black syndicated columnists who have remained must fit the bill. They have become the go-fers for backlash journalism, all of them competing with each other to blame the country's social problems on black behavior.
Clarence Page and others are regularly blaming the victim. Harvard's Orlando Patterson is also brought in by the Neo Con op-ed editors at the Times to characterize the problems of African-Americans as self-inflicted, using the kind of argument that would be ripped to shreds in a freshman class room.
Even Bob Herbert, a liberal and the token black on the New York Times' Neo Con editorial page, has to take the brothers and sisters to the woodshed from time to time in order to maintain credibility with his employers. He too says that Gangsta Rap is the cause of society's woes. (David Brooks, who promotes some of the same ideas as David Duke, but has a more opaque writing style, even blamed the riots in France on Gangsta Rap).
For these writers, black peoples' style is the irritant. If we could only get Rep. Cynthia McKinney to a new hair stylist.
Michelle Martin, who was assigned to beat up on Ms. McKinney by the producers of "Nightline," spent half the interview on Ms. McKinney's hair even though Ms. McKinney has been outspoken on a number of serious issues. Can you imagine Ms. Martin conducting an interview with Trent Lott, the last person on the planet to use Wild Root Cream Oil, or Joe Biden, and spending half the time on his hair?
If "Nightline's" Martin had subjected a white male congressman to this kind of hostile sarcastic interview, sarcastic not only in words but in body language, to which she subjected Cynthia McKinney, Martin would have gotten the same treatment from her bosses that Connie Chung received when she interviewed Newt Gingrich's mom, who denounced Hillary Clinton as "a bitch." (Ms. Martin knows whom to aggress upon. When she appeared on a program with "white militant" Joe Klein and Klein, who lied about his authorship of Primary Colors, talked about "the poverty of values within the inner city," she just sat there and took it.)
Before Chung's interview with Newt's mom, the network executives, according to a media publication issued by the Freedom Forum, wanted someone like Connie Chung for their shows. She still hasn't recovered and has been assigned to a Saturday morning show on MSNBC. Oblivion.
Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution was also solicited by "Nightline" to join in on the ambush of Ms. McKinney. Ms. Tucker, who blames the Hudlin brothers, producers at Black Entertainment Network, for the problems confronting some black kids, is the syndicated columnist who relied on the usual inflammatory and racist reporting to describe those who sought refuge in the New Orleans Astrodome as "bestial." The New York Times, the New Orleans Time-Picayune and the LA Times all discounted these rumors and the LA Times even apologized, saying that such reporting would never have occurred had there been white middle class inhabitants of the Astrodome.
Ms.Tucker never retracted her false accusation, nor did Jeff Koinange, the reporter whom CNN has assigned to cover all of Africa. He replaced the African-American reporter who was covering the Astrodome because this reporter presumably wasn't sensational enough.
While one can see African leaders, intellectuals, and scientists, sessions of parliaments, cultural events on the B.B.C., CNN's view of Africa is on par with that found in the Tarzan movies. When CNN bade Koinange farewell on the occasion of his new assignment, they presented the highlights of his Africa coverage. One picture showed him staring at a crocodile. Another showed him grinning at a monkey. No wonder the American public's knowledge of the world is on par with that of their president's.
You'll also notice that the moderator of the "Nightline" show where Congressperson McKinney was grilled was of South Asian origin. According to a memo I have from a Cuban reporter, who was fired from CNN, the executives there, led by Jonathan Klein (the new head of CNN who is trying to boost his ratings by running mug shots of black males all day, while dropping the story about the middle class white kids who were caught on video beating up homeless people, killing one of them; they were sent to psychiatric counseling) prefer South Asians as anchors, especially the women, and particularly on CNN International.
CNN Atlanta features a South Asian anchorwoman who giggles while the male correspondents exchange remarks with her that are loaded with sexual innuendo, certainly an issue that feminists should take up.
Even C-Span, the only network where you can obtain a variety of viewpoints from African Americans, though they give disproportionate time to think-tank blacks like Shelby Steele, has gone Imus. Last week, Jadish Bhaghati, a South Asian professor at Columbia who supports Bush's plan to bring Mexican slave labor into the United States to serve his big agri-business contributors, shared laughs with host Pedro Echevarria and a caller, a white employer, who was voicing the kind of jokes about black work habits that one reads at the Klan's "Nigger Watch" website. Both Bhaghati and host Echevarria are black, but that didn't prevent them from enjoying the kind of barbs against African-Americans one hears on the Imus show.
Of course, one should avoid generalizing about South Asians, but obviously the British, who, referred to them as "niggers," trained some of them very well and they're not the only "people of color" who serve as stooges for the corporate media. Michelle Malkin, instead of a hard-hitting anti-establishment writer like Emil Gulliermo of Asia Week, represents Filipino Americans. For Muslim Americans they give us Irshad Manji, who refuses to debate the young playwright Wajahat Ali. For Mexican Americans we are awarded the syndicated Ruben Navarrette, Jr., who believes that black people are too dumb to compete with the cheap Mexican labor that has been brought into New Orleans. People who work off the books, for less than the minimum wages, and who are subject to blackmail by their employers. People who threaten to wipe out all of the gains that American workers have fought for over the last one hundred years. Apparently, there is no room for the views of Patricia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriquez, who are to the left of Navarrette, Jr.
African-Americans have a number of individuals who are willing to serve as mind-doubles. Some are supported by right wing think tanks like the Manhattan Institute's John McWhorter, black front man for the Eugenics movement. The Manhattan Institute boasts that they can provide enormous publicity for their fellows – the kind of clout that enables them to impose their viewpoints upon discussions about black issues – by using proxies who are unknown to black Americans. When McWhorter attacks me in Commentary, a magazine that praised Charles Murray's "The Bell Curve," or in his books, where do I go to get equal time? He once challenged me to a debate, threatening "to wipe up the floor with me," but when I accepted, he backed out.
Another proxy person-of-color intellectual for right wing interests is Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institute. He just got three hours on C-Span to explain his one-note theory that blacks complain too much about their "victimization." He accused blacks of expressing "victimization" when they complained about being robbed of their votes in Florida during the Presidential election of 2000, even though there is abundant evidence that they were victimized.
But even Shelby Steele isn't as popular with the right as Ward Connerly who is so firmly associated with proposition 209, the measure that ended Affirmative Action in California, that lazy journalists claim he started the drive that led to its being passed. He didn't. He was brought on when the real sponsors suffered a lapse in their notion of a color-blind society long enough to realize that a black face on their proposition would aide in its adoption. Before Connerly came on, the proposition was failing. (One of the two white founders of the proposition said that he did so because a woman got the job that he was qualified for. Lydia Chavez, the author of The Color Bind: The Campaign to End Affirmative Action [Paperback, April 1998], an excellent book about the sinister maneuvering that led to proposition 209, says the woman has never been found.)
Connerly, viewed by the media as martyr who braved the scorn of his black accusers to follow his conscience, only agreed to support the proposition if its supporters raised $500,000. Newt Gingrich helped to raise the money. He was also supported financially by President Clinton's nemesis Richard Mellon Scaife. Rupert Murdoch contributed 200,00 dollars and the Pioneer fund contributed thirty five thousand dollars to the campaign to end Affirmative Action in California, so that now Duke University and "Old Miss" have a higher black enrollment than the University of California and California State University.
In his book, The Nazi Connection, Stefan Kuhl says that "Today, the Pioneer Fund is the most important financial supporter of research concerning the connection between race and heredity in the United States." Its largest contributor, until the 1960s, was textile magnate Wickliffe Draper, who worked with the United States House Un-American Activities Committee to demonstrate that blacks were genetically inferior and ought to be "repatriated" to Africa.
The Pioneer Fund also supported Charles Murray's The Bell Curve, the book beloved by publications that hate Minster Louis Farrakhan so much. In this book, Charles Murray floats some of the same stereotypes about blacks that were once aimed at his Scots-Irish ancestors.
Another supporter was Andrew Sullivan, who came to the attention of the mainstream electronic media after he did such a good job bashing blacks at the New York Times Magazine section, which describes blacks as cannibals and crack addicts.
Obviously Ward Connerly, who has made millions from being associated with proposition 209, is supported by such ultra right individuals and groups that he has been reluctant to list his contributors.
Such is the power of their right wing backers that Steele, Connerly, and McWhorter get more media attention than black elected officials. When Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Connerly appeared on C-Span, on the same day, it was Connerly who was featured.
I remember the press conference held by David Duke when he announced that he was abandoning his quest for the presidency.
Only a few news people attended. Duke complained that he had to quit because the mainstream candidates had co-opted his program all about a growing black underclass threatening civilization. (His Nazi colleague, Tom Metzger disagreed with him. He said on Larry King's show that the average woman on welfare is a white woman whose husband has abandoned her.)
The same might happen to Don Imus, whose "nigger Jokes" are sponsored by American Express and other famous brand names. Who needs a white man when there are plenty of people of color willing to take up the slack.
Ishmael Reed is a poet, novelist and essayist who lives in Oakland. His widely-acclaimed novels include, Mumbo Jumbo, the Freelance Pallbearers and The Last Days of Louisiana Red. He has recently published a fantastic book on Oakland: Blues City: a Walk in Oakland and Carroll and Graf has just published a thick volume of his poems: New and Collected Poems: 1964-2006. He is also the editor of the online zine Konch. Reed can be reached at: [email protected].
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