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

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

The Nation of Islam at 28-plus

Minister Louis Farrakhan, Saviours' Day 2009

Minister Louis Farrakhan, March 1, 2009 

ROSEMONT, IL–It was 28 years ago in late February 1981 when, at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, Minister Louis Farrakhan announced the “Rebirth of the Nation of Islam.”

That of course was something of a contradiction because members of the Nation are taught by patron the Honorable Elijah Muhammad that the teaching of Islam “has no birth record–no beginning, no end.” So how then could an entity with no birth record have a rebirth? Especially how, since the movement founded by Mr. Muhammad had continued and not “died”–albeit under a new name and in a new direction, the American Muslim Mission–under the leadership of his son, Imam Warithudeen Mohamed, when Mr. Muhammad left the scene in 1975.

What happened in 1981 was the culmination of a three year rebuilding effort by Min. Farrakhan of the “Black Muslim” Nation of Islam, according to the strict teaching of Mr. Muhammad, and there was nothing which emphasized the Nation’s difference with orthodox Islamic theology or with the message of Imam Mohamed’s community more than the late February observance of “Saviour’s Day,” the birth date of the founder of the Nation “in the Wilderness of North America.” Continue reading

Michelle Obama and Stokely Carmichael

My friend Juan Williams is losing it if he thinks comparing First Lady Michelle Obama to Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) is a bad thing! Furthermore, Black journalists and others who took offense at the Williams absurdity should do some research before they recoil in horror because Stokely Carmichael was and is a hero.

On a cable TV show, on a network I avoid watching like the plague, Mr. Williams baselessly attacked the First Lady recently, claiming that “her instinct is to start with this ‘blame America’ stuff.”

Well the cable, so-called “all news” channels really offer nothing “new.” That’s first. Rather they simulate the sound of the AM-talk-radio, junior varsity, locker room, echo chamber, where snide putdowns resound like the snap of towels on bare bottoms. The remark was intended to appeal to the White-guy, beer-guzzlers in the cheap seats.

The author of the television documentary “Eyes on the Prize,” and a biography of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall clearly forgot everything he learned doing research on those projects when he asserted that Michelle Obama’s “instinct” is to “blame America” or to be “the victim.” Then he said she has “this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going.” Rim-shot! Zinger! Continue reading

President Obama: more than “half White”

The saga of the election of President Barack Obama has drawn out some pretty silly expressions from some people who would otherwise be thought to be intelligent.

Pres. Obama’s status as a “real Black man” has always been an open question. First, when he declared his candidacy, some Black folks said he wasn’t “Black enough.” After his victory some White folks began saying he’s “half White,” he’s “bi-racial,” wanting to rob the delirious Black folks of their moment of pride in the man who “self-selected” himself to be Black. Some Whites belittle his Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr., for abandoning his wife–Ann Dunham–and his young son Barack Jr.

I continue to say that Barack Obama is “an American politician with an African father.” When I think about him, I realize he’s more than “half White.” He’s a pure American who, when faced with the identity choice in his early adulthood, made the best and proper intellectual, cultural, and spiritual decision–that was to self-identify as being Black. If he had chosen to identify as “White,” or “bi-racial,” or any other watered-down version of being a Black man we would have never heard of him. He would have been just another dude, trying to deny his true soul. Continue reading

New Black GOP Chairman: no Fred Douglass

As the Bi-Centennial of the birthdate of the 16th President of the United States–Abraham Lincoln of Illinois–approaches, just days after the incumbent, the 44th President–Barack Obama of Illinois–took his Oath of Office with his hand on the Lincoln Bible, the comparisons abound.

But there is one comparison which may look like it’s similar to that of the time of The Great Rail-Splitter, which is decidedly unlike that time. One of Mr. Lincoln’s Republican Party contemporaries was runaway slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who hailed from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and lived right here in Washington, D.C. Today, there is a prominent Black Republican leader from Washington who once served as the lieutenant governor of Maryland.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

After six grueling votes, Maryland’s Michael Steele was elected Chairman of the Republican National Committee Jan. 30. Mr. Steele, who unsuccessfully sought a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2006, is the first Black man to lead the GOP.

The new African American RNC chairman won 91 votes to Katon Dawson’s 77. Mr. Dawson is the GOP chairman of South Carolina, who only cancelled his 12-year membership in the Whites-only Forest Lake Country Club in September, just weeks before the presidential election. Ohio’s former Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who is also Black, was also a candidate.

By recent Republican standards Mr. Steele is considered a “moderate.” And he definitely was the pick of this year’s Grand Ole Party Litter. Even the other African American candidate has a tainted past. As Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell was an active co-conspirator in the Ohio 2004 election fraud which enabled Pres. George W. (for worst in history) Bush to steal his second, presidential election. His first theft of course was the much more widely discussed 2000 Florida, “hanging chad” election debacle.

And then, there was the candidate for the job Mr. Steele eventually won, who sent hundreds of Christmas greetings to people with a CD containing a song parodying the-then President-elect, called “Barack The Magic Negro,” sung to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Ha-ha-ha. Very funny. Not! Continue reading

Obama exposes skeletons in White House Press closet

Now that the unthinkable–an African American President–is happening before our eyes, some light is being cast on a number of other White House realities.

One of the most glaring is that the lens through which the world looks at the first Black Commander-in-Chief is focused almost exclusively by White hands. Yes, the White House Press Corps is just that: virtually all White. No surprise there.

Like the rest of the “Big Time” media, the White House Press Corps is a tight, White coterie. Way back–28 years ago to be precise, long enough ago to be forgotten, then forgotten again–my Black Journalism Review commissioned and published an article in a special edition with Howard University, commemorating its annual School of Communications Conference asking the question: was there “Racial Discrimination on Sunday TV Panel Shows?”

The answer was in 1981, and is in 2009, a resounding Yes! “…some of the nation’s leading Black writers believe that the (Sunday) shows discriminate against African American journalists, denying to all but a few Blacks, the prestige and authority which comes from appearances on (those) programs,” John W. Lewis Jr. wrote in 1981.

And that reality remains across the board in the elite media circles today, most especially at the White House, the most elite news beat there is. Continue reading

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris and ‘buzzard’s luck’

By way of full disclosure, I worked as press secretary for U.S. Senate appointee Roland Burris’s first statewide campaign for Illinois State Comptroller in 1976. I was never paid a dime, and never got out of Chicago’s Loop with the candidate. It was that kind of a campaign. It went nowhere.

Roland Burris has been appointed to fill the remaining two years of the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The Senate Democratic leadership and 50 members of the Democratic Caucus have vowed not to admit him, or anyone else appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, because of the governor’s arrest on so-called “pay-to-play” corruption charges.

Although Senator-designate Burris has had many subsequent statewide political and electoral victories (he eventually won the State Comptroller’s race three times and was elected the state’s Attorney General), and I believe he will ultimately prevail in this ordeal, in his current plight in political purgatory reminds me of my first impression of this decent, honest, and ultimately honorable man. He has “buzzard’s luck.” That is: Continue reading