April 27, 2006 - Issue 181

Bruce's Beat
Good Race Relations Happen When Black People Shut Up or Go Away
Cynthia McKinney Asks the Questions We Want Asked
Tavis? Oh No He Didn't?
Who's Afraid of Bobby Rush Now?
Email from readers
by BC Editor Bruce Dixon

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For a significant chunk of white America including its ruling elite, the best and most desirable state of race relations is achieved when black people just shut the heck up. While this condition is not obtainable in the real world, the evacuation of New Orleans appears locally to have yielded for them, the next best thing. The city's black population has been largely dispersed, made to go away. Over the ensuing months, innumerable roadblocks have been strewn in the way of their return by private agencies such as the Red Cross and insurers, and from a constellation of federal, state and local governmental entities.

Last week's BC cover story, “New Orleans is Our Gettysburg” explained how farcical elections, in which the participation of the city's black residents was massively and selectively hindered, are intended to put the stamp of legitimacy upon the dispossession and exile of much of black New Orleans. Widely referenced and linked to from around the net by such sites as BuzzFlash, the story generated quite a few emails from individuals who probably are not regular BC readers. One of the very few of these that was nearly civil or printable came from Anne McNeal:

I am a Caucasian who has lived in New Orleans or in the surrounding area of New Orleans for over 45 years. I don't judge people by their color. I judge people by their actions.

The article is so antagonistically written that it leaves little opening for a reconciliatory approach by anyone the author is attacking. I suggest if the author wants to do more than just merely complain about injustices in life then the author should monitor the tone in the article. Using a softer tone does not equate to invalidating ones thoughts, feelings and opinions. A soft tone and strong opinions can coexist. A soft tone signals approachability and a desire for reconciliation.

In my opinion, the author is not ready for reconciliation but is still in the divisive stage of anger. The author shows no sign to work in partnership with others to mend the fences of racism and classism.

At the risk of appearing sarcastic, a tone of equanimity is far easier to adopt and sustain when someone else's community and family has been dispossessed instead of one's own. No current white resident of the Crescent City can possibly dodge the fact that she or he is the beneficiary of unearned privilege vis-a-vis the hundreds of thousands of black residents who cannot return, and who, under the present dispensation can expect neither accounting nor apology for their lost homes, property, their unburied and unaccounted for family members and their dispersed communities.

In such a context, condemning black indignation as “divisive” and proof that the folks who've been done wrong are “not ready for reconciliation” is a transparent and classic defense of unearned white privilege. This editor is no bible scholar but there is a relevant passage in the Gospel somewhere about criticizing your neighbor for the mote in his eye while ignoring the beam in one's own. Rather than writing to BC about our “antagonistic tone” the cause of reconciliation might be better served first by realizing the extent of one's unearned white privilege and secondly by reaching out to some of the activist organizations on the ground in New Orleans and exploring with them what “reconciliation” might actually look like in the real world.

The singling out of Georgia's Rep. Cynthia McKinney for the sins of demanding a sane and even handed foreign policy in the Middle East, for questioning the war in Iraq, and for having been first to demand an investigation into what the government knew or should have known prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001 continues. So does the telling silence of established black leadership including most of the Congressional Black Caucus. Thankfully, there are exceptions. BC received the following communication last week from Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq., Chair of the National Congress of Black Women.

Like Cynthia McKinney, I am a Black woman who has withstood many indignities – racial and otherwise. But as Maya Angelou says, "Still I Rise." I know that Cynthia will rise from this, too. Many Black women I know join me in standing with Cynthia for responding in a way that many of us often want to when we get so tired of racism, sexism and all the other garbage other women don't have to endure.

Whatever anybody else thinks of Cynthia, I love her for what she has done for the peace movement, for progressive politics, for standing firm even when others disagree with her, and just for being a beautiful and courageous human being. I know Cynthia. I know her family. She's my neighbor, and I call her a friend, so even if she did one thing that some may see as wrong, she is still a wonderful person who is not afraid to stand for what she believes is right.

Not one of us is perfect. Show me a Member of Congress who has not done something that at least somebody thought was wrong, and maybe then, I will listen to that person criticize Cynthia and tell me why I should desert my sister because of a little turbulence caused by a system she did not create.

Tell me no other Member of Congress has walked into congressional buildings without a lapel pin, or rushed in to vote without showing any type of identification! I've worked there and I know better. Cynthia is one of the most recognizable Members of Congress, so by no means will I buy the fact that an officer who works there would not know who she is.

It doesn't matter what the Grand Jury decides or what anyone else thinks of her, Cynthia McKinney is a woman who is widely known around the world, much loved and highly respected – and no incident like the one here that's been so blown out of proportion BECAUSE SHE IS CYNTHIA MCKINNEY will ever change that.

Dr. Williams has it about right. Everyone has a certain amount of good credit to exhaust, and Rep. McKinney's record of public service has earned her more than most. She has also earned the unremitting hostility of the establishment media who have knowingly lied about much bigger things than what did or didn't happen at a Capitol Hill checkpoint.

Reportedly, white and black Capitol Police are bitterly divided over the McKinney incident, with African Americans insisting the Georgia congresswoman is being unjustly harassed, while many white officers maintain that she's only getting what she has coming.

Howard University's Dr. Paula Matabane was kind enough to share with BC a letter she wrote to the Washington Post's Robin Givhan in response to an April 7 fluff story on Rep. McKinney, which seemed to reduce the discussion around the Georgia congresswoman and her career to trivializing speculations about her hairdo:

Ms. Givhan,

After reading your caustic if not toxic essay today on Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, I thought about a line from the film "Brother Future" when enslaved Isaac says to Zeke, the black overseer slave, "You like being massa's darkey."

Your complaint that McKinney has made her hairstyle part of her politics is juvenile journalism especially for a fashion editor. All fashion is politics especially in race divided, racist driven commercial America. Have you not noticed that white women's hair has been the standard of femininity and female beauty for the past four centuries – at least since the first slave ship arrived to these shores? Hair in America is not just a hairstyle but a path to defining black women out of the female gender and into the animal kingdom.

If fashion were not part of your politics, then why didn't you rag out Susan Taylor for her braids, sophisticated or not, that have apparently eaten her hairline a mile back from normalcy? No, you wouldn't because you freelance for Essence and you're not about to bite the hand that feeds and coddles you. Plus, Taylor's achievements earn her more respect than such a cheap shot.

I found a 2002 interview on-line in which you proudly proclaim that you were not surprised when you got your present position because "I think highly of myself." And yes, maybe you ought to. But you also have a responsibility to think critically even as a fashion editor. You would not have license from the Post to reduce McKinney to the black mammy of fashion if her politics were popular and mainstream. Your article could easily be a companion to “Birth of a Nation” ridiculing and judging black politicians for a personal appearance that deviates from the white norm.

In the same way that you ought to be respected for your substance and achievement, McKinney is due not less but more as a clear trailblazer of substance not trivia. Clearly, you are open to a stinging critique as the editor of fluff by any culturally conscious and intelligent black person. Your clinging to and advocating white standards of beauty even in your own appearance condemn you, too, as a time dated (pre-civil rights) symbol sporting an expired white woman hairstyle.

Finally, while I think McKinney can push the envelop politically at times, I fully understand her reaction to the white police grabbing her. I asked several Ph.D. black women colleagues (all over 50, i.e. daughters of segregation) at Howard University what they would do at the building entrance if a white cop grabbed them versus a black one. They all said they would do what McKinney did – recoil, protect themselves including jabbing with a cell phone. Their response to a black officer would be different. This speaks to history not hairstyle.

Ms Givhan, maybe you ought to do an article on what hairstyle the black woman raped by the Duke lacrosse team was wearing. I wonder was she "fashionable," "professional" or wearing the crown of a "washerwoman" who, by the way, sent many a Negro child to college including the ivy league and also deserve respect for what they achieved on their knees.

Fluff and trivia may be your arena, but when you step into politics and history, please try to write critically and respectful of those who have blazed a path for you.


Like Drs. Williams and Matabane, we support Rep. McKinney without reservations. So does BC reader Ed Rynearson:
Rep. McKinney is a courageous American who asks the questions I want asked on the behalf of myself and millions of other loyal tax paying citizens about the high price of oil, the 9-11 attacks, the muscle flexing at Iran, and related matters. My only recommendation to Ms. McKinney is that she get a Taser so that next time she can put one of those SOB's on the ground where they belong.

While we endorse the spirit of Mr. Rynearson's accessorizing suggestion, it is doubtful that the congresswoman will adopt such a measure any time soon.

On the other hand, the reaction of the relentlessly self-promoting and self-involved Tavis Smiley to the noxious cloud of calumny directed at black womanhood, and any black woman criticizing the powers that be, according to one source, was to pronounce Congresswoman McKinney – not the attacks against her, but the congresswoman herself – "a distraction." After an "...oh no he didn't..." moment here at BC we pondered the issues of Brother Tavis and who was being distracted from what. We were rescued by this illuminating letter from reader Jeff Richardson regarding Tavis's most recent State of the Black Union.

If Tavis really wants to achieve something lasting and positive with his annual SOBU he really should make the community feel included, rather than to give all the best lines to honored guests. If we the People are going to really take on the institutional barriers to our peoples' progress, we definitely have to pierce some of this artificial boundary between folks who've "made it" and those of us who haven't.

Why wasn't NYC Transport Workers Union leader Roger Toussaint or one of his coworkers there? Why don't the interests of workers get much play on Tavis's panel? If it weren't for Cornel West and Belafonte, the needs of working families might have been totally overlooked.

Richardson has a serious point. It's easy to understand why corporate media want to direct us away from what we can gain by collective action and keep us exclusively focused on individual real estate, bond and stock market manipulations as the sole responsible road to ensuring economic security for our families. It's not nearly as easy to explain why much of our so-called black leadership class has the same fixation, unless these leaders owe greater allegiance to corporate America than they do to us.

The title of Tavis's 2006 morning SOBU panel was “Economic Empowerment: Building and Leveraging Wealth in the African American Community.” Arguably, the December 2005 NYC transit strike exerted greater leverage and did more to maintain “wealth building” and economic security for a larger number of black families than any three or four of Tavis's bankers, entrepreneurs and investment advice columnists have done in their entire careers. Again, it's appropriate to wonder just who is distracting who, and from what.

Over the last week we have become aware that Congressional Black Caucus member Bobby Rush of Chicago appears to be the sole Democratic co-sponsor of a truly catastrophic bill that would end the Internet as we know it and leave it up to AT & T, Verizon and other ISPs and owners of the Internet backbone to determine what content users will be allowed to access. This is not exaggeration, and not hyperbole.

Daily Kos explains the issue this way

Internet service provision in the U.S. is covered by telecommunications law, and has operated under the idea of "network neutrality." In it's early years, telephone companies provided most Web service, and carried most of the traffic. Because of the nature of laws regulating phone service, Web traffic was handled just like phone traffic, each "call" being equal. That means every page you surf to on the Internet is served up just like any other, as far as your ISP is concerned. You can go from Amazon.com to Aunt Harriet's family history blog equally.

Here's what's at stake with this legislation.

”The nation's largest telephone and cable companies – including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner – want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all.

”They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video – while slowing down or blocking their competitors. . . .

”On the Internet, consumers are in ultimate control – deciding between content, applications and services available anywhere, no matter who owns the network. There's no middleman. But without net neutrality, the Internet will look more like cable TV. Network owners will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu....”

A simple and graphic explanation of network neutrality is available at link. Turning the public internet into their private toll road has been the Holy Grail of telco monopolies for more than a decade. Congressman Rush and the telco monopolies have brought into existence a national coalition called Save the Internet because this is precisely what is at stake.

As if that were not enough, the legislation will create a national cable TV franchise, invalidating the hard-won agreements negotiated between communities and cable TV companies around the country which guarantee a small measure of access to public service, educational and community affairs programming, and which require cable companies to offer service to the poorer, mostly black areas of cities and towns across the country to which they otherwise would refuse to “build out.” Having such a national franchise means that new giant corporations entering into the cable business could bypass local communities and governments and cut a single deal on the federal level alone. Good for them. Bad for cable customers, and worst of all for those of us who live in the parts of town which will not be offered “lightspeed service” or “priority service” or whatever your local tentacle of the telco monopolies are calling it.

BC contacted the congressman's office by phone to inquire about the proposed legislation and have yet to receive a reply. We are not the only ones. For more than a month, the good people at Chicago Media Action have tried too. They finally printed an open letter to the congressman which you can read here.

Some of us go way back with the congressman from the first district of Illinois, back to when he was a comrade of Fred Hampton, and worked tirelessly to end the exploitation of man and woman by man. Back then, corporate and governmental evildoers were actually afraid of Bobby Rush, and for good reason. Who's afraid of Bobby Rush now? Maybe we all should be.

(As BC went to print, we learned that two Blacks on Rep. Rush's committee joined two other Democrats in voting for the GOP/teleco industry's bill. The CBC members are Edolphus Towns (NY) and Albert Wynn (MD). The bill now goes to the full House. - The Editors.)

According to some sources, the apparent goal of Rush, of his Republican co-sponsors and of the telecommunications industry appears to be to rush this privatization of public resources and of the vital public space for information and debate itself into law as quickly as possible before the summer recess and mid-term elections. They must not be allowed to succeed.

BC urgently recommends that readers sign the petition to prevent the corporate hijacking of the Internet, as more than a quarter million already have. Email your own representative in Congress too, and let him or her know how you feel about giving the internet away to Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. And as a last step you might phone the DC office of CBC chairman Mel Watt of North Carolina at (202) 225-1510 or fax him at (202) 225-1512 to inform him of your concern that Rush's legislation will deprive black communities of the limited protection against redlining and discrimination in the provision of cable service that they now enjoy. He'll appreciate it.

For more information on the incalculable damage which will be done by this ill-advised legislation, we strongly suggest our readers check out some of the following sites and share the information with everyone who uses email on the internet. While you still can.

  • MyDD's page on the issue
  • Common Cause's brief summary of the bill's objectionable provisions
  • Community Media Workshop’s Newstip

Finally, Counterpunch magazine is a daily must-read for most of us at BC, and should be for you too. We take this opportunity to highly recommend our readers check out Alexander Cockburn's article “Obama's Game” which is notable not just for its deconstruction of where the African American junior senator from Illinois is, but for what he says about the current state of the rest of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Move On and the class of self-serving political consultants who actually spend most of the corporate billions raised to pay for political campaigns.

Assuming that Congressman Rush's telco bill does not become law any time soon, we intend to be here next week. We answer as much of our email as possible, generally privately, but some of it publicly in this space. Send it to us at [email protected].



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