A Justice like Thurgood Marshall

Now that Justice David Souter has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, I’ve been thinking about the retirement announcement 18-years ago, of Justice Thurgood Marshall. He was salty, and he took no prisoners that day. Me, the “Race Man” in attendance, I was a little put-off by his brusque, almost bitter comments about race.

“My dad told me way back that you can’t use race,” Justice Marshall snapped when pressed as to whether or not his successor should be Black. “For example, there’s no difference between a white snake and a black snake. They’ll both bite. So I don’t want to use race as an excuse.” Ouch. Continue reading

Judging the judges, ‘Supreme’ and ordinary

I have never knowingly been inside the home of a judge.

Not for 50 years, since Lisa Griffith–the daughter of Judge Griffith–and I graduated from John Muir Jr. High School in Los Angeles and I quit my L.A. Herald Express paper route where I delivered to their home, have I even known where a judge lives. But that’s fine with me.

I have however, been kicked out of some pretty fancy parties, and been in some very distinguished homes.

Of course I went in and out of the White House for 30 years. I’ve been in a number of presidential palaces–in South Africa, Nigeria, Mali, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. I’ve been to the Kabah in the Holy City, Mecca. I’ve been (more than once) in the Dessert Tent-homes of Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi. On numerous occasions I’ve visited the homes of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. I’ve been personally acquainted with a couple of “Old Money” Millionaires, and have visited their homes. I was a guest in the home of an heir to the South African gold miner who inspired the movie character “Goldfinger.” And I rubbed shoulders with Michael Jackson at Neverland, but I’ve never knowingly been inside the home of a judge. Continue reading

Do we love Michelle more than Barack?

Truth veiled, Michelle Obama: Capitol Women's Power

It was a thrilling event, the unveiling of the bust of Sojourner Truth in Emancipation Hall of the new U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. While it was a decidedly Black affair–organized for the most part by Dr. E. Faye Williams and her troops in the National Congress of Black Women, I also detected what felt like a strong “feminist (if not Suffragist)” sentiment in the room.

First Lady Michelle Obama (whose family was the largest single private donor to the years-long project) was the really big star of the show bar none: which included three of the four most powerful women in America (Oprah was not there) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), and Oscar-winning actress Cicely Tyson.

Now, I could be wrong about this, but it seems like the ovation for Secretary Clinton was equal to that given to the absent President Barack Obama himself. Hm-m-m.

The late Dr. C. Delores Tucker, founder of NCBW would have been ecstatic!

Larger conspiracy re: ‘executive compensation’

The national debate about executive compensation is woefully inadequate. Most of the talk has been about CEO pay to companies receiving government “bailout” funds. But the problem goes much, much deeper.

Each of the Fortune 1,000 companies has a CEO, right? Plus, a CFO, a CIO, and a COO, right? Not to mention various and sundry Executive Vice Presidents and Vice Presidents. Then they all have boards of directors with upwards of 20 compensated board members each, right? So now, according to my calculations, we have a class of 30,000-40,000 or so individuals nationally with an interest in not having the government regulate executive compensation.

That’s big. That’s a lot of concerned individuals–all of whom have “friends” in Congress and the executive branch and they are spending millions, even as we speak, lobbying the government to keep their interests in mind. That’s more than just a one or two “rogue” CEOs.

Some companies, after receiving government bailout money, straightened out their bottom lines, and then decided to pay the government back, so as to keep the feds from meddling in their companies’ affairs. They seem most interested in keeping the executive compensation issue, out of the public discussion.

It’s not just a few CEOs who have a “nickel in this quarter.”

Let me describe their conundrum in my own version of “Faux Ebonics,” as if spoken by “Big Mama,” the grandmother, matriarch and head of a typical three-generation, inner-city household.

“Honey, I ain’t takin’ no mo’ that Gov’mint Cheese. De’Onte doin’ good now. Him an’ his frien’s down to the Rec Center, makin’ good money now. So we’s givin’ back dat Gov’mint Cheese, cuz we don’ wont none dem Social Wu’kers sniffin’ roun’ here no mo’.”

There’s a lot of “Cheese,” government and otherwise, on these executives’ tables too. A lot of Cheese is on the table.

Deeply Dismayed about Durban II

Back in 2001 I had one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life when I traveled to Kwa-Zululand in Azania–South Africa. There, on the Indian Ocean is Durban, and there, for two weeks, people of the world gathered to successfully address one of the world’s most vexing problems. It was the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

Thanks to heroic efforts by the African Diaspora Group of diplomats and committed Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), the conference reached a monumental consensus, declaring (among other important decisions) the European Trans-Atlantic slave trade a “crime against humanity.” Together, the nations of the world reached that consensus.

There’s just one caveat however: by the time the final document was approved, after an all-night negotiating session on the final day of the meeting, the United States had already pulled out of the conference, declaring that the objective of ending racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance was not helped by the meeting’s insistence on concentrating on “the past,” rather than looking toward the future.

Prominently, and by their own insistence, world attention was focused on otherwise unheard of suffering people. The discrimination faced by tens of millions of India’s Dalit people–otherwise known as the “untouchables;” the suffering a centuries of persecution of Europe’s Roma people–otherwise known as the “Gypsies”–are classic examples of previously little-known problems which were brought to light in Durban.

In 2001, I thought the United States missed a golden opportunity to lead the world by example. Continue reading

Somalia: The ‘Real Pirates’ go unpunished

Many times I have walked the beaches of Tripoli in Libya, but I was never once shown the graves of U.S. sailors from the U.S.S. Philadelphia, or graves of the American Marines who marched there across the desert under the command of Gen. William Eaton in 1805. They are memorialized in the Marine Hymn: “…to the shores of Tripoli.”

Marines also earned their nickname–”Leathernecks”–during those Tripolitan battles which ended the tyranny of the dreaded Barbary Pirates, because they wore uniforms which had leather high collars to protect them from sword wounds.

I never imagined when I traveled to Tripoli–first in a 1978 delegation led by former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, with Presidential brother Billy Carter in the country at the same time; or later after 12-hour boat rides from Malta; or after eight-hour motor caravans from Tunisia with Min. Louis Farrakhan during the era of sanctions–I never imagined that the heroism of those Marines would ever again be a practical example for modern American leaders.

But, lo and behold, the 21st Century world of naval shipping is again bedeviled by and at the mercy of pirates off the coast of Africa. Continue reading

Obama: Shared destiny? Separate destinies?

The elevation of Barack Hussein Obama to be the 44th President of the United States makes for some interesting deliberations. He’s a Black man. That goes without saying, but that fact has meaning beyond its historical “first-ness.”

Brother Malcolm X once said, and the statement still speaks for me: “I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I don’t even know if I’m and American.” President Obama is obviously a Democrat.

The reason that statement is pertinent to me is because of the promise in the Bible: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Now if that promise is also true of nations, then I personally don’t want any parts of the American inheritance for capturing, transporting, and subjugating hundreds of millions of Africans (incidentally murdering tens of millions during the Middle Passage) for more than 400 years; nor do I want America’s heritage for committing genocide against the native Indians; for despoiling the earth’s air and water; and for ruining the world’s economy with America’s thieving brand of robber-baron Capitalism.

But that’s just me. Continue reading

The White House, ‘The Gray Lady’ and The Black Press

More than 28 years ago, when–thanks to Ted Clark–I started doing commentaries for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” I was in a constant race with the staid old “Gray Lady”–The New York Times, so named because of its stodgy, hidebound, gray appearance and style–and with The Washington Post to pitch story ideas to my editors before they appeared in those two important, national “newspapers of record.”

After a story appears in one of those publications, no reporter can claim it’s still “news.” So for me, as often as not when editors rejected my story suggestions, if and when the story later appeared in print, I would always call and remind them that I pitched the story to them, before it was seen in The Times or The Post. I wanted them to know they could trust my “nose for news.”

But once in a while, there is still some “news” after a story appears in The Gray Lady. In this instance, it’s an old saga made new, by a report by Times writer Rachel L. Swarns, published March 27, 2009. “Obama Brings Flush Times for Black News Media,” reads the headline

“For the nation’s black magazines, newspapers, and television and radio stations, the arrival of the Obama administration has ushered in an era of unprecedented access to the White House,” she begins. That may well be true, and it’s about time!

“At his news conference Tuesday (March 24), he skipped over several prominent newspapers and newsmagazines to call on Kevin Chappell, a senior editor at Ebony magazine,” she continued. “It was the first time an Ebony reporter had been invited to question a president at a prime-time news conference.” Stop right there.

What we see today may or may not be “The Greatest” days The Black Press has ever seen at the White House, but understand: these are just “The Latest.” And, by a long shot, they certainly are not The First! Continue reading

‘Black Power’ and shallow scholarship at the Smithsonian

If I may be so bold, I would like to put all the shucking and jiving so-called “Public Intellectuals” who pimp their snake-oil brand of Black history around the country, which excludes the heroic role of the Nation of Islam in their accounts, I would like to put them on notice that at least one writer–yours truly–will not countenance their shallow scholarship and faux intellectualism. Not without a complaint. Not without a scream!

To put it mildly, I am sick and tired of the cheap prevailing Black intellectual view of the Nation of Islam. It’s not just the Neo-Cons and the White Evangelicals of the World who have problems with Muslims, our own Black intelligentsia have issues with the Islamic influence—particularly the Nation of Islam—on Black literature and culture in the United States and they refuse to admit it.

To be fair, there are a few young, curious scholars who (as one told me) “make a living by reading and telling people what I’ve read,” who decry the pernicious exclusion of all positive references to the Nation of Islam’s contribution to the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s and who exclude NOI scholars from their discussions of it. These scholars describe the omission as “anti-historical.” They’re correct. And the Muslim haters are fake, bogus, scholars in my opinion!

Three years ago, I was the skunk at a garden party organized by English professor and English department “legend,” Eleanor Traylor at Howard University. I was rudely escorted from the room when I respectfully demanded to know during the public comment session of a panel, why the Nation’s contribution had been omitted.
Now, here comes the vaunted Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture with a two day colloquium March 30-31 it calls: “1968 and Beyond: A Symposium on the Impact of the Black Power Movement in America.” Ha! Continue reading

Shameless money grubbing (hoarding) criminals

I attended John C. Fremont Sr. High School in Los Angeles, California in the early 1960s–real Old School…the Original O.Gs (Original Gangsters) as a matter of fact. I now realize it was then, maybe the rowdiest school in the entire United States.

We invented the filthy dance called “The Hully Gully” (use your imagination). We invented the dance called “The Slauson Shuffle.” We were home to the notorious South Central street gang called “Slauson Village”–the gang which when it mellowed, became “The Bloods” of crack-cocaine-dealing fame.

During my junior year we were suspended from eligibility for all athletic championships because at one home football game after our previously undefeated team lost, our students and alumni in attendance rioted, sending 22 students from visiting Los Angeles High School to the hospital. Our unofficial sports motto was: “If we don’t win by the fourth quarter, we always win the fifth quarter.”

Our unofficial school motto was: “Can’t be shamed!”

Our school certainly had “moxie.”

But I have never seen anything as bold, as audacious, as shameless as the unapologetic, money-grubbing executives at insurance giant AIG, who came to the American taxpayers, Stetson, beaver-hat in hand to get a hand-out to save the firm from their own insolvent business practices which have taken the entire Capitalist world economy to the brink of destruction. They took the money ($170 billion worth), then proceeded to reward their lying and conniving top executives with more than $165 million in BONUS PAY. Thanks guys for a job really, really poorly done! Continue reading