The post-Thanksgiving mail and visitation has been so heavy, we imagined countless family gatherings dominated by intense, Black Commentator-inspired political debate, resulting in massive exchanges of URLs. More likely, good people are slowly coming to grips with the grand scope of evil emanating from the White House, and seek ways to meet the challenge.

George Bush's favorite law firm, the Center for Individual Rights, may succeed in effectively dismantling affirmative action in higher education, this summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the "diversity" program at the University of Michigan law school. Two white women claim that minority students are taking up seats to which they are entitled, based on grades and standardized test scores. 's position is that Blacks and progressives must at long last stop dithering around the edges of the problem, and fight to "abolish the racial tyranny of the tests."

"If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the white women," we wrote, "persons who have achieved higher test scores will be entitled to commensurate, enhanced 'rights' under the law as long as these tests carry weight." There is no room for compromise. SATs will doom Black hopes for meaningful representation in the more prestigious colleges and universities, as confirmed by a report of the Journal for Blacks in Higher Education.

"In a race-neutral competition for the approximately 50,000 places for first-year students at the nation's 25 highest-ranked universities, high-scoring blacks will be buried by a huge mountain of high-scoring non-black students. students make up at best between 1 and 2 percent of these high-scoring groups," according to the JBHE autumn issue.

Jeremy D. Roberts has some experience with standardized tests.

I was particularly happy to see your headline about abolishing the SAT. Although I'm a Black man who has always done well on standardized tests and owe a great deal of my current "good life" to the tests (more appropriately to the access they afforded me), I believe they are obviously designed to always keep Blacks and Latinos in "their" place.

One of the arguments I had hoped to see in the article is the question of how the tests are themselves tested. In other words, when a testing company - and they're all private - wants to know whether they've designed a "good" test, they include a "dummy" section on the actual test. Test takers' answers are then evaluated and, I would imagine, racial and gender characteristics are assessed against the results. So, if it turns out that Blacks outscored whites on that particular version, it would probably be rejected as being not representative of "reality". I'm not sure if this is actually done since I don't work at a testing company, but it seems reasonable that that's how they would operate. If that's how it works then the conclusion is obvious - Black students will never close the gap and, of course, makes clear that these tests are no measure of any objective reality.

The tyranny of the SATs is yet another manifestation of the privatization of civil society. The tests are products, sold for profit. The prime consumers of these tests are the same social demographic favored by the universities that collaborate with the Princeton Educational Testing Service. The consumers and colleges get what they pay for. Now the withered "diversity" fig leaf is about to be snatched away, and supporters of "equality as a fact and as a result" - President Lyndon Johnson's words - have no alternative but to eliminate the tests as arbiters of advancement. Otherwise, high scorers will have achieved an entitlement under law - another white right.

Unsatisfied with the vast advantages conveyed to whites by tailor-made tests, the Hard Right lawyers of the Center for Individual Rights rigged the evidence in their assault on the University of Michigan affirmative action program. Tim Wise tackles racism by-the-numbers with his commentary "Selling Sloppy Statistics," reprinted in this issue.

Marty Williams was thinking about the end result of the higher education process, the point at which Black intellectuals achieve the recognition they seek - and from whom. Mr. Williams was moved to write to us after digesting Shelton Amstrod's historical critique of Harvard University and some of its Black alumni. (See "Harvard: The strange career of a troublesome institution," December 5.)

I read the recent commentary by Shelton Amstrod on Harvard University. I was wondering what the author's opinion is of Henry Gates? Would the author level the same criticism cited in his commentary against Mr. Gates?

In addition, I've always found it interesting that the so-called "Black Intellectuals" are most often associated with predominantly white universities. Why is it that those determined as "Black intellectuals" come from these schools, instead of from Black colleges and universities? And just who determines who is a "Black intellectual?"

Thank you for the very insightful commentary.

Shelton Amstrod replies:

In my opinion, the best analysis of the Harvard Uncle Tom Henry Louis Gates is in the recently published book, "The American Directory of Certified Uncle Toms," pp. 315-24. The book is available at Black bookstores and through several WWW sites. Try a Google search for the title. I am in complete and total agreement with the authors.

Marvin C. Pittman took extreme and lengthy exception to Mr. Amstrod's critique. We offer it in full:

I read Shelton Amstrod's article "Harvard: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Institution." I am interested in his assessment of Harvard's long career of racism and upholding racist beliefs. In other ways, I am appalled at his apparently shoddy journalism and name-calling.

I think that before Amstrod wages his war of words on Harvard, he had better know something about the place. I graduated from the place this past June. The Harvard that Adam Clayton Powell spoke of is not the same Harvard from which I graduated. And the history of the place as racist does not exactly make it a breeder of Uncle Toms, as Amstrod suggests.

Before he uses Adam Clayton Powell's quote, Amstrod should also use the context of that statement for the reader. The quote sounds too much like it was taken out of context. Also, Powell attended at a different time than now, a different Harvard in many ways, though still the same in others. Just like the rest of America.

He should begin by telling us whom he thinks these Toms are. That would be helpful. Also, he should look more into the personality and career of Randall Kennedy himself. What is his stance? Did Amstrod even read Kennedy's book? And does Amstrod know the difference between Kennedy's wearing Harvard on his sleeve, and the media putting it there? Kennedy is a Harvard professor; that's a fact. The media is going to say that no matter what, and no matter what Amstrod thinks, or what the media thinks, it's a big deal. (Don't ask me why, because I still don't know.) Amstrod does not take that into account, either. Instead, he provides Kennedy as a weak segue into what could have been a promising look at the hidden racist history of Harvard, a subject that needs to be talked about. In fact, it's something some black students there do.

Before he heaps on Harvard's racist history, he must also keep in mind that nearly every institution held the same views and had people working or attending them who held such views. Amstrod can write the same piece about just about anything in the United States, hell, any Western country. By his shoddy application of such facts to today, he discounts any idea of progress that has been made at the school. And progress has been made.

Also, if Amstrod makes these statements in order to show how Harvard is still an overwhelmingly racist place that creates Uncle Toms, then he had better make a better case, since he pretty much overlooks most of the 20th century, and especially overlooks 1970s - today, when blacks starting gaining more admittance to Harvard, and things have drastically changed since then. Things are far from perfect, but you'd get the idea that like W.E.B. DuBois, black students still commute from Roxbury. Did Kennedy even attend Harvard? Amstrod assumes it; attending and teaching there are two different things.

Do not use Kennedy as a means to call the rest of us black students Uncle Toms. In fact, many black students attend Harvard to get a chance at gathering the power of society in order to make change for our people. But then, it doesn't appear that Amstrod talked to any black Harvard students. Even one day's experience on the Harvard Black Men's Forum's listserv will change his perspective.

Before he assaults and insults us, he should get to know us in our collectivity and our individual diversity. I wonder if he has even visited. He should see the Harvard African Students Association, the Black Students Association, the Black Men's Forum, the Association of Black Harvard Women, the Caribbean Club, the Kuumba Singers, the Harvard Black Arts Festival, and other groups. He should see just what we, as individuals in the classroom, are doing - from economics to politics to community service to law to education to world health to sports to humanities to art to just plain being there for each other in sometimes-hostile territory - all to make black people better, to make all people better. Some of us rock Angela Davis and Huey Newton; others rock Ralph Lauren; and most of us fall in the middle, but most of us work with that same purpose, to help our people.

I must reiterate: Amstrod, do not use Kennedy to mark the rest of us black people who happen to be at Harvard. Most of us hate it there, and most of us love it for other reasons. Personally, it was a chance to be around some of the damn brightest brothers and sisters acting with a purpose that I had ever seen. For that I will always be thankful.

And if Amstrod is going to use Kennedy to paint the rest of us, then he does the same for folks such as Lani Guinier, Charles Ogletree, William Julius Wilson, other professors and lecturers, the Afro-American Studies Department, as well as the more than 1,000 undergraduates and grad students currently enrolled. Does he dare call us all Toms and Jemimas? Better yet, does he call Cornel West, who graduated Class of 1974, an Uncle Tom?

Just as he claims Kennedy is being used to speak for all black people, Amstrod uses Kennedy to speak for all black people who happen to attend Harvard. He falls into the same trap of which he accuses white journalists.

This is unacceptable. This is poor journalism. This is poor writing. This is poor characterization. And, in the end, it sounds like 100 percent pure hateration.

Marvin C. Pittman
Harvard College Class of 2002
journalism master's student
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
Syracuse University

The Black Plague

Last week saw worldwide commemoration of AIDS Day. The disease afflicts 40 million people, 75% of them African. "It is blatant discrimination - on the basis of race, class, gender and sexual orientation - when governments deny the urgency of this global crisis because of who the victims are," wrote Africa Action director Salih Booker in his Guest Commentary, "AIDS - Discrimination is Deadly" (December 5).

From England, David Burnett sends a message that would rate as ghoulish if the new "Black Plague" were not so horribly real.

One question occurs to me. Since AIDS seems to be one of a group of disorders made to measure for de-population, the designers surely would have provided a safety measure to protect themselves? First the American urban gay communities, then Africans in Africa. Now it is blitzing the Chinese, the Russians and people in India and South East Asia. Left to it's own capabilities it could kill off 60% of the world's population. Surely the makers who lighted this fire had figured out their own fireproofing?

If so, there is a big secret hidden away in Fort Wotzit.

Pirates at the helm

It must have been something we said. "The people in charge of Bush are different from their class predecessors, a relatively recent mutation spawned by hyperactive capital, massive corporate corruption and the maddening allure of global plunder. They are pirates."

visitation, which has grown steadily since we began publishing in April, doubled. Clearly, there is something cathartic about calling the monster by its name. "Rule of the Pirates: The $200 billion Payday," also generated more mail by far than any previous commentary. The December 5 issue also coincided with a radio appearance by co-publisher Glen Ford on Working Assets Radio with Laura Flanders Friday, December 6 (Media Roundtable Program - KALW 91.7 FM in the San Francisco Bay Area.) Readers may Click on this link to listen to the broadcast.

I heard you (Glen) on the Bay Area's Working Assets radio show [writes John].

The sense of relief and solidarity you feel when someone else says things you have been formulating in your car or kitchen - "Yes, finally!" - has some kinship with joy.

Buckminster Fuller in his Owners Manual for Spaceship Earth, talks of the Pirates whose world view was based on maps whose focal point was the middle of various oceans. If I remember correctly, these individuals saw the terrestrial world as a fringe of ports-sites of destination and departure and sites of accessible resources which, gathered, would then depart for destinations.

If I remember correctly, he asserts that World War One was a result of these pirates losing control of the scrum for dominance and survival amongst these pirates.

I am increasingly thinking the word Fascism - we already have the generals, the fancy uniforms, with the rack of metals on their chest, the strutting little man full of rage over entitlement denied; the outrageous explanations of reality, the pubescent circle jerk admiration of the man of action (a G.I. Joe kind of action hero)....

Mr. Ford did not expect that his brief talk with Working Assets' Laura Flanders would inspire such imagery.

Our central premise is that Bush and Cheney represent an ascendant class for whom "war is the ideal business environment." This group, most conspicuously under the corporate brand of Halliburton - Cheney's true fatherland - sees the estimated $200 billion cost of war with Iraq as a big payday. Their behavior seems piratical because that's how they thrive, remarkably like the old buccaneers. International outlawry comes naturally to these guys who, as we wrote, have "no direct connection to the well being of the domestic economy and those of us who depend on it."

Georgia State Representative Nan Grogan Orrock wrote, from Atlanta:

This is a great article - the unvarnished truth on how to understand what the Cheney-Bush crowd is up to in promoting war against Iraq. This article should be spread coast-to-coast. People need to understand what we are up against. Thank you for shedding light on this nest of vipers!

We did some checking on State Rep. Orrock, and found that she was down with SNCC's Mississippi Summer project, in 1963. Her perspective carries weight with us.

Reader Marco Zonka offered comments and a question:

I am someone who reads lots of alternative in depth reportage about the hidden agenda of imperial aspirations that defines the US secret government. Your article "Rule of the Pirates" is really a brilliant piece of work. Thanks for speaking truth to power in such an incisive, comprehensive, and cogent way.

I'm curious: Do you know what percentage of your readers are black or white? Are you bridging the Black/White cultural divide in some measurable ideological fashion?

Our readership roughly reflects the audience we initially targeted: Black "influencers" from all sectors and progressives among the general population. The racial/ethnic breakdown is about 70% African American, 20% white American, about 10% other non-African American. Whites write to us in dramatic disproportion to their numbers in the readership. We don't know why, although we have theories.

Our mission has always been to create a political conversation on issues that are vital to African Americans; others are free to opt-in. If this amounts to "bridging the Black/White cultural divide in some measurable ideological fashion," that's fine with us. Black progressives should take the lead in the struggle for social and economic justice and peace, just as Black people have long represented the only dependable mass base for progressivism in the United States.

In other words, has no problem telling white people what we believe they should do.

Peter Hollings writes with an interesting angle on public monies spent on war compared to the value of the resources at issue.

Your article, "Rule of the Pirates The $200 billion payday," is dead-on. The only thing I might add would be to point out the folly of spending $200 billion with the thought that it would safeguard the $25 billion worth of oil that we import from the Middle East each year. Such wasteful spending of the national treasure in service of narrow interests is a sure path to decline, as the demise of the British Empire demonstrated.

May I propose that our government impose a tax on imported oil equal to the costs of our activities in the Middle East. This would remove the hidden subsidy that our petroleum industry now enjoys, encourage the development of alternative energy sources, and provide an environmental benefit.

Propose, and propose again. We will have an encyclopedia of demands before this battle is done. The current regime in Washington threatens the delicate fabric of civilization and the principle of the rule of law - that's part of what makes them pirates. They rip things apart, so that others will have to patch them back, again. The new forms that result should be superior to the old.

Far from championing the interests of domestic and global business, the Bush-Cheney pirates threaten planetary stability in ways that create uncertainties among everyone except those sectors that have a direct interest in war. That's why we were not surprised to hear from Kathy Smith, vice president of iDSO International, Inc.

At last, truth. It is encouraging to know that others know and are concerned, nay, outraged, at what is happening now. Your current newsletter was forwarded to me, and I forwarded it to my entire address book, who I hope will do the same. Our very future depends on intelligent, thoughtful, principled people spreading the word. Keep up the good work.

Our cartoonist, Khalil Bendib, succeeds where our prose falls short.

Khalil appears to have worked some metaphorical mo-jo on writer Fred Jakobcic.

The American public, and the world deserve better than more water under the bridge, or in this case, over Niagara Falls.

Beating the drums of war, as depicted in this cartoon, is an attempt to make it a fait accompli, should the "war" against Iraq start for any reason, using any excuse, for the American public and the world at large. The Bush administration is aided and abetted in the endeavor by the corporate owned and controlled mainstream media that follows the money first and writes the story that the money allows. Since Bush has a lot of that money his fairy-tale of the threat Iraq is against us prevails, with reality buried in the obituary. So, over the waterfall and through the woods we go....

Russell Camp, on the other hand, has s a more straightforward style of expression.

Your piracy article is very much on target. I was firmly of the opinion that piracy was the proper term, but I didn't think far enough evidently. The potential of profiting from the control of the assets of weaker countries was my perspective. Connecting the money trail to Halliburton is very much a realistic view, that way they can profit at the expense of the taxpayers as well as the expense of the conquered countries. I enjoy the feeling that there are people out there that are unaffected by the constant propaganda.

That's because the louder Bush gets, the wronger he sounds.

Gertrude F. Treadway confirms with the authority of her seniority that the current regime is a different kind of animal.

This was a wonderful article about Bush and Cheney as pirates. You are right on the money with your analysis. I sincerely hope the American electorate mobilizes to do something to change the direction of our country. In all of my seventy-two years of life, I have never been more anxious and afraid of the conditions which prevail here now.

If one wanted to sound like money, Jordan Chadwick would be a good name to have. Mr. Chadwick does not disappoint us.

Thank you for your informative article. I was wondering if your research staff had also looked into the Bush family investments in GOLD... particularly, Newmont Mining. With the dollar being devalued and unemployment soaring, gold becomes the currency of choice and investment. With George in the presidency and all restrictions off mining of federal lands, this is another bonanza for the Bush and Cheney investment portfolio.

We had not thought about gold, but that would have great allure to a family of pirates, wouldn't it?

Black GOP fantasies

Blenus Martin is tired of the constant insults to Black voters' intelligence.

Republicans/conservatives are trying to convince black America that a particular party cares nothing for them, and in return they show even less of a desire to welcome us.

I think our biggest problem is we, as citizens of this nation, have become too comfortable and too thick headed to realize we must participate and become part of what this country is supposed to be, and stop standing on the sidelines cheering.

I was once asked what has the democratic party done for me? My reply was, nothing! But, individuals within the Democratic Party (both black, white and Hispanic) have given me the opportunities to be a part of the "life" in this country. Whereas, I see Republicans/conservatives doing nothing more than convincing whites that I'm taking away their jobs and their classroom spots in colleges, and trying to tell me how I should be thinking and behaving.

The blacks who are running to the Republican party with open arms are doing so with their eyes closed, meaning they are buying into a fantasy that will never make them equals among those who are convincing them they are a much better plan for them.

We as black Americans, need to wake up, take care of our children, listen to what is being said and how it's being said about us, and change those things.

Huntsville, Alabama can take a toll on a progressive citizen. Johns Rabun is exposed to a bunch of people who are definitely not credits to their race.

I am a 51-yr old white male liberal democrat who has the misfortune of living in Alabama. I don't know who sent it to me, but I am glad I found your site. I am so pissed off and embarrassed by most of my party's (mostly white) leaders that if there was any way I could change my race, I would. This started when ALL of my party's senators - and its candidate - sat on their white butts and failed to support the [Congressional Black Caucus] when the electoral votes were certified, and it hasn't let up since. I have that on tape (C-SPAN) and watch it every now and then, whenever I find myself getting complacent.

Your newsletter and website are excellent! I'm forwarding articles to my friends and letting all of them know this perspective and insight is available. They no longer have to listen to the media talking heads to find out what the black voters are thinking. Keep up the excellent work.

There is powerful irony in the scene Mr. Rabun describes. Black lawmakers resisted Bush's installation, but the party apparatus meekly certified the pretender. Yet every absent Black vote spells defeat for the Democrats, who would rather lead a retreat than follow Blacks into battle.

New readers are appearing hourly. Doug Pibel found us while circulating among folks whose opinions he respects.

Links to your site have just recently started turning up on forums I read. I am wildly impressed. Your material is as good as it gets, both in content and presentation.

Julie Butler isn't the wild type, but she does tend to exclaim.

I am a democrat and I just discovered your web site. Great job!!!! The writing is fabulous! Thanks for expanding democracy on the web!!!!

And, Dorina Moreno is refreshingly... happy.

I have just subscribed and am happy to join your cyber family.

We'll accommodate the overflow of mail, next week. Keep writing.

Your comments are welcome. Visit the Contact Us page for E-mail or Feedback.

Click here to return to the home page







Bookmark and Share
Issue Number 20
December12, 2002



If someone passed along to you make sure you visit the Free Sign Up page.

Don't miss anything!


Commentaries in this issue:

Commentary 1
America’s Black Rightwing Forum: The grotesque devolution of a Black news program - by BC co-publishers Glen Ford and Peter Gamble

Commentary 2
The Living Legacy of White Minority Rule: Lott, Thurmond remain, but millions gone from the soil

Unemployment Ravages Blacks... States going broke... Lights get dimmer at BET

Selling Sloppy Statistics. By Tim Wise

Commentaries in Issue 19 December 5, 2002:

Commentary 1
Rule of the Pirates: The $200 billion payday

Commentary 2
College SATs Incompatible with Black Mobility: Abolish the racial tyranny of the tests

Feast of the Parasites... Don’t feed the English... Murderous Frog Rising

Guest Commentary 1
Harvard: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Institution. by Shelton Amstrod

Guest Commentary 2
AIDS - Discrimination is Deadly. by Salih Booker

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.