Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

At the Track with El Grande Renaldo!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports!, Photo-Essays with tags , , on March 3, 2015 by playthell

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David Hardiman, Virtuoso Trumpeter, Professor,  San Francisco Jazz Master

 Watching the Sport of the Gods at Golden Gate

 When I agreed to meet my main man Renaldo Ricketts aka El Grande Renaldo – poet, painter and San Francisco Bon vivant – at Golden Gate Field I hadn’t been to a race track in over thirty years.  Not because of any crazy notions about the horses being treated “inhumanely,” since I believe humane treatment ought to be for humans although it is seldom achieved.  And horses well….they should be treated like horses…Duh?    I was kept away from the track by weightier considerations.  Since I am a passionate horse lover and hold a longtime fascination with the equestrian arts, I attended those marvelous horse shows at Madison Square Garden and often rode my own horses.

However I never missed the running of the Triple Crown Races on big screen televisions and thought I had the best seat in the house until yesterday, when I found myself standing tight down by the edge of the track – so close you could feel the momentum of those powerful Thoroughbred horses as they galloped by.  And since I had my camera with me I was happy as a hog in slop.  Renaldo had invited me to join him at the track on other occasions when I was visiting the Bay Area.   But I always played past it.  But this time it was on the eve of his sixtieth birthday, a landmark in the life of anybody these days, but most especially out spoken high spirited black men like Renaldo.

So I thought what tha hell; I’ll go hang out with my buddy and watch some great equine athletes do their thing, which is run faster and longer than any animal on the planet.  While I like to watch the horses Renaldo loves to play them, and is one of the few people who is successful at it.  The way he does it strikes me as some strange conjuration that’s part art, part science, and part Mumbo Jumbo, which makes it beyond the reach of most rational beings and has led to wreck and ruin for may who tried to unlock the secret to winning money playing the horses.  It is a mystery that I long ago decided was beyond the realm of my comprehension and I wouldn’t give a cripple crab a crutch to wager on a nag!

I grew up amid horses, my grandfather was an excellent horseman and my uncle was the town blacksmith in St. Augustine Florida, the nation’s oldest city, where people still rode horses through the street when I was a boy.  Hence I not only learned how to care for horses and handle them whether hitched to a carriage or under saddle, but to shoe them too.  I know a lot about horses, which is why I don’t bet on them.  Horses are living creatures that have a mind of their own and can be moody just like humans; or they just might not feel well, but you never know when they will sit down on you.

I’d rather play the lottery, where all I need is a dollar and a dream and one hit can put me on easy street.  However gambling wise guys know that playing the horses offers much better odds, but to win you have got to work at it and do some study.   In the photo essay below you will witness the intensity of the bettors, as the scan the TV monitors that adorn the walls everywhere, and the disciplined concentration with which they study the racing forms.

El Grande Renaldo is something of a legend at Golden Gate Field, the lovely race track nestled on the banks of the San Francisco Bay, especially in the Second Floor Lounge,  where the bartenders and barmaids treat him as an old friend and his seat at the end of the bar is practically reserved.  He was generous in providing my drink of choice, rum and coke with olives and cherries, while he stuck to light beer and sparkling water.  Like most of the people at the track Renaldo is all business.  He is not only placing bets on races all over the country and following them on the many TV monitors about.  It was fascinating to watch.

However there were many fascinating episodes on that adventure at the track.  It began with the ride on the shuttle bus that ferries people back and forth from the BART train station to Golden Gate Field.  The driver, a Pacific Islander who looked to be in his late thirties, was a passionate fan of vintage 1950’s Afro-American Rhythm and Blues, especially the southern artists.  So on the way to the race track I heard Bobby Blue Bland, BB King, Etta James, Sam Cooke, and James Brown.  They were all original recordings which ran about three minutes and change.  As this was the music that I grew up on it was like a trip back in time, except that back in the day in Florida I would never have been on a bus full of white people grooving to the music and seated next to a white woman with a skirt so short one wrong move and we would have seen her tonsils!

Thus I found myself strolling down memory lane and reflecting  on how dramatically race relations  have changed during my lifetime, not that I need any reminders, after all we have a black family in the White House, everything else pales beside that fact.  I say this without fear of contradiction, despite the verbose ahistorical numb skulls who insist that nothing has changed.   When I arrived at Golden Gate and walked into the vast park I began to have second thoughts as to whether I would actually be able to find Renaldo, but he had assured me in no uncertain terms that he would be where he said he would be.  And he was.

The first thing I heard when I entered the lounge was Renaldo’s voice calling out my name.  There he was in his seat at the end of the bar, impossible to miss with his radiant smile and Falstafian girth, holding forth in his lively loquacious fashion as his fellow travelers looked on.  He asked what I was drinking, introduced me around, and then turned his attention to the next races.  As Renaldo worked his strange alchemy, whereby he turns cardboard tickets into gold the way his Moorish ancestors were rumored to have turned sand into gold back in the day, I wandered down to the edge of the track and began photographing the horse and the humans, who were diverse and of interesting variety.

What was conspicuously absent from the multi-ethnic stew was Afro-American trainers and jockeys.  I’ll bet most people never even notice this, or find it unusual even if they do.  This is because most people who visit race tracks have never seen any significant black presence among the horse handlers.  Yet for many years during the late 19th and early 2th century, Black American Jockeys and trainers dominated the tracks; they owned the Kentucky Derby!  Since I have already written about this in another essay I shall not reiterate it here, for a full discussion of that topic enter “Black Jockeys” in the search engine of this blog.

The point is that they were driven out of the industry by white racist who couldn’t compete with these black masters fairly. And if they had their way Brother Hardiman would not be thrilling the crowds with his wonderful trumpet artistry.  They tried to lay him off but the public wouldn’t stand for it, Renaldo first among them in sparking a letter writing campaign to the management of golden Gate.  The lesson here is that we must be eternally vigilant and ready to battle the forces of white supremacy at all times: Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere!

I have often felt that there is a serendipitous quality about how I come to write certain essays.  This is a case in point.  Recently I saw a movie starring Will Smith as a con man who hooks up with a foxy grafter and they paint a fascinating portrait of the high fashion hotties and other characters who hang out a race tracks.  So I was looking closely to see if I recognized any of those types.  However the high point for me was watching all of the beautiful horses; I really got an eyegasm.  Some of them you will see in the photographs below.

A hail fellow well met, everybody greeted Renaldo with a warm vibe, what the French call “bon homie.” But the person that I found most fascinating was the official Bugler at the track who plays the fanfare announcing the races.  I was first struck be the fact that he would play impromptu jazz improvisations during the intermission between races, and they were so hip I wondered who it was.  Well he turned out to be David Hardiman, virtuoso trumpeter, Professor of Music and Director of the San Francisco All-Star Jazz Orchestra.

So when he came out to play his next fanfare Renaldo introduced us and I asked him to play the classic Jazz tune Bugle Call Rag, and he swung it.  I have attached a clip of Hardiman and his orchestra in performance at the bottom of this essay.  Every time I hung with Renaldo in San Francisco it has been a fascinating and culturally enriching experience.  The first time we hung out he took me to the Church of Saint John Coltrane; this time I met one of train’s musical descendants. Hence I knew something fascinating would happen hanging out at the track with El Grande Renaldo!

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 After Playing the classic “Bugle Call Rag” at my Request
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The Bugler and I became fast Friends
 We had been Properly Introduced by a Mutual Friend
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El Gran Renaldo: San Francisco artist and Bon Vivant!
 It Was a Stylish Crowd

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 Filled with Free Thinking Fashionistas!
 Folks Still Wear Hats…….
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By the San Francisco Bay
 Even Barely Legal Young Foxes
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Be Rockin Fly Sky Pieces
 Many Mexican Playas Rock Cowboy Hats …

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 …and they play em to the Max!
 Harry Reems Jr Sported a Fedora
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 Played off by a Handle Bar Mustache
 And the Star Girls
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Bedecked themselves in finery
 Then Strutted their Stuff….
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…..before the High Rollers
 Some Fly Girls….
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 Put themselves conspicuously on Display
 While Others…..
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 Are Low Key
 Most People Came to Bet on the Races

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I came to watch these Marvelous Equines
 Among Racing Wise Guys…..Nothing is left to Chance

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They study racing forms as if they were Talmudic Text
 Even as they dine on wine and swine

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They keep their eyes on the prize
  Renaldo has a special spot in the Second Floor Lounge
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From whence he monitors multiple races and watch his fortunes rise or fall
 He has felt the Thrill of Victory…..

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 ……and the Agony of Defeat!
 Man’s Best Friend….The King of Beasts!
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Thoroughbreds can run longer and faster than any animal on earth!
 The Jockeys are cool, calm and collected
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As they wait to board their mo
The Boss Bugler Presented a Fanfare
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To Announce Every Race
 And what splendid Races they Were!
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The ran like they were running for their lives!
Until One Breaks Away From the Pack

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And takes the Money
 The Horses build up such speed
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 They need time to slow down
The Losers are quickly unsaddled
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And returned to the paddock 
While the Winning Steed

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Prances around like a Conquering Hero
 Heading to the Starting Gate

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 Racing Horses are so Hyped they must be Restrained by another Rider
 Ready to Run!
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The Escort’s job is Critical to Keeping the Racers Under control
 Getting them in the Gates require great skill

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 The Calm before the Storm
 The Big Grey took this One!
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A Rare Color for a Thoroughbred
 After the dramatic win…
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…….this champ got all snuggly
 It was just another Day for the Big Gray

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I marvel at his beautiful Conformation

 

In the Winner’s Circle!!!

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 This is what it’s all About!
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Double click to see Hardiman and the Jazz All-Stars

http://youtu.be/eYoFXvfIIA8

Playthell G. Benjamin 
March 2, 2015
 San Francisco

 

 

 

 

On Sports, Academics and  Black Youths  

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! with tags , on February 17, 2015 by playthell

Russell-Wilson V

 Russell Wilson: Seattle Seahawks Quarterback
 An Open Letter To Eric L. Watree
 Dear Eric

I have carefully read your essay and here is my considered response.  I have already addressed most of your concerns in my lengthy essay “On Race, Culture and Sports,” as your argument is essentially the same as that of professor John Hoberman, ” the author of “Darwin’s Athletes,” who presented far more evidence for his argument.   The fact that you read that essay yet make the argument you offer here does not auger well for this discussion.

My first inclination is to simply retire my argument and move on to other pressing issues.  I have more important employment for my time and intellectual energies than to re-litigate an issue on which I have already presented my most compelling arguments.  And if it were anybody but you Eric that is undoubtedly the course I would take. Early on in your essay you make the following claim:

Playthell is a huge sports fan and is of the belief that sports have been invaluable in their impact on helping to move the Black community forward. I, on the other hand, see sports as a two-sided coin. While sports have undoubtedly been of great value in helping many young Black people to build character, obtain an education, and financially prosper, in terms of the overall Black community these people represent a limited few. For the greater part of the Black community, however, the lure of sports often serves as a distraction that prevents many from investing in their intellectual development and pursuing more realistic goals.”

 First let me point out that according to the website Inside Higher Ed, in a 2014 article titled More Athletes get to finish Line, the figures show that in 2007, 70% of black male athletes graduated college and 81% of black females.  Among white athletes 93% of them graduated and 85% of white males.  Many of these young people would never have gotten to college without sports scholarships.

However a later study by the University of Pennsylvania put the graduation rates for black male athletes at 50.2%, but the black non-athlete students only have a 55% graduation rate.  No great difference there. I think these young student/athletes should be celebrated for their hard work and discipline rather than besmirched with a bunch of hackneyed clichés that have no basis in reality.

Furthermore, I would argue that there is no question that sports has been “invaluable “in helping to move the black community forward.  We live in a participatory democracy that where black people are concerned has been a “Tyranny of the majority” in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French sociologist who produced the first serious study of the American polity in his two volume tome “Democracy in America in 1831.

This being the case, as a minority in America our progress has depended upon the ability to persuade the white majority that we are worthy of inclusion into this society as first class citizens empowered with the full array of rights enumerated in that much celebrated declaration of universal humanistic values announcing the independence of the English speaking colonies of North America from the control of the British Empire, and codified in the US constitution.  It is useless to lament this extra burden placed on Afro-Americans; it is unfair to be sure, but nonetheless true.

I would argue that no group of Afro-Americans has been more effective at persuading the majority of white Americans of our human value – by demonstrating our beauty and genius – than Afro-American athletes and entertainers!  Since you are not inclined to read history texts you are probably not aware of this fact.  It is impossible to calculate the positive effects of Joe Louis’s defeat of Max Schmeling in their second fight, which was billed as a fight between “Fascism and Democracy, but it is enough to know that President Roosevelt publicly told him  “America is depending on those muscles tonight Joe.”  And his Jewish promoter, Mike Jacobs, announced at the White House gathering “Yes Mr. President, Joe Louis will show those NAZI’s who the real master race is!”  It is difficult for contemporary Afro-Americans to realize the importance of such statements in an openly racist apartheid America, but I will be posting a major essay on the importance of Joe Louis in a few days.

However the famous Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson remembers that in the aftermath of that fight “It was the first time a white person called me an American.”  And the legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant says the performance of USC running back Sam “The Bam” Cunningham did more to integrate the University of Alabama than Martin Luther King when he came down there in that football state and ran for 220 yards in a rout against them.  When Jesse Owens set world records while winning multiple Gold Medals at the NAZI Olympics in Berlin it was a mortal blow to the NAZI claim of Aryan superiority and inspired the Jewish people and anti-fascist forces all over the world!

None of these achievements led to instant change, because massive social changes do not occur overnight, especially where there are concrete material interests involved , but I can cite endless examples of the positive effects of sports stars in advancing the race in America and abroad.  One final example.  When I interviewed some participants in the bloody Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine Florida, where I grew up, I asked them how they mustered up the courage to go on a particularly dangerous night march – which has been well documented by the historians Steven Oates and Taylor Branch Heyward Fleming told me: “Well Jackie Robinson came down and marched with us, and when we saw Jackie we knew we couldn’t lose.”  It is instructive to note that DR.MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS ALREADY THERE!  This reverence for Jackie Robinson provides a measure of the importance of Jackie having broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball, even though almost 20 years had passed.

Jackie Robinson and Dr. King

jackie_robinson & Martin King

Two Giants in the Struggle

Your comment that “the lure of sports often serves as a distraction that prevents many from investing in their intellectual development and pursuing more realistic goals” is undoubtedly true, but the same thing can be said of those who aspire to be singers, rappers or Jazz and classical musicians.  How realistic is it that one will be able to make a living at any of these occupations?  Furthermore your statement begs the question of what would these youngsters in question be doing if they were not involved in sports?

I think your argument here is based on a false premise: that these young men would be engaged in serious intellectual pursuits if they were not participating in sports.  I see no evidence that this is true, for there is certainly no paucity of failures among those who are not involved in sports.  Alas,  I’d wager that there is a mountain of statistical evidence to demonstrate that impoverished underclass youths and even working class youths who don’t participate  in sports are more likely to end up in jail, dead, on drugs, etc.  That’s because the problem of arrested development is not participation in sports but structural impediments to their advancement and BAD PARENTING!!!!!

There is no evidence of which I am aware that prove sport as such is the main cause of a “lack of intellectual development” in young black males.  If so, would you please acquaint us with it?   Since your essay here is supposed to be a response to my essay “On Race Culture and Sports” I can only conclude that you are not a careful reader.  Since you have repeatedly told me about all of the wisdom you gained from “winos” and other “hood  rats” how could you fail to note this passage about my experience as a devoted football player and the intellectual enlightenment and encouragement that I received from black athletes in my youth:

Hence there was no dichotomy between athletics and scholastics In the black communities I came of age in.  Although I doubt that anyone of my generation loved playing football more than I did, that love didn’t stop me from dreaming about becoming a symphony conductor, nor diminish my curiosity about the wonders of science, nor prevent me from becoming a civil rights activist – although certain football players at A&M shunned involvement in the movement because they thought it could hurt their athletic careers – nor did it dampen my love  for reading Shakespeare…or later becoming a published Shakespeare Critic. (See: “Did Shakespeare Intend Othello to be Black: A Meditation on Blacks and the Bard” in Othello: New Essays By Black Writers, Howard University Press

I first heard the ideas of European philosophers like Kant and Spinoza passionately debated by local black college football and basketball players like “Bubby Robinson and “Big Bama,” outside of McCall’s barbershop, which became an important center for organizing the civil rights struggle when Martin Luther King came to town in 1964, and one of its proprietors, Clyde Jenkins, became a hero of the movement. And, I might add, another hero of that movement was baseball great Jackie Robinson.”

Aside from ignoring personal testimony regarding my experience as a football athlete and being mentored by older athletes, you repeat that hackneyed cliché about participation in sports as the cause of intellectual underachievement in young black males. Yet this bogus claim was demolished by distinguished scholars from several disciplines who participated in the conference discussed in my essay.  Did you not read this passage?

…even if it’s true that Afro-Americans have a love of sport that amounts to a “fixation,” it is not automatically a bad thing. The most persuasive argument for that point of view was put forth by Dr. Keith A. P. Sandiford, an Afro-Barbadian cricket expert who is a Professor of History at the University of Manatoba, in Canada. ‘Some former colonial societies have succeeded extremely well here by emphasizing the value of education, by arguing that athletic triumphs depend to a large extent upon mental acuity, and by promoting their black, brown, and yellow heroes in all disciplines.’ Hence Sandiford, who pointed out that Barbados has the highest literacy rate in the world, argued that  ‘It cannot be disputed that Barbadian cricketers continue to be lionized by a society still enthralled by the cult of cricket, but the Barbadians (committed as they have traditionally been to  the competing cult of education) have never lost their respect for intellectual genius.  There is, in the final analysis, nothing wrong with the sports fixation itself- so long as it leaves time for other constructive addictions.’”

 Since these passages obviously made no impression upon first reading – which is evidenced by the fact that you made no mention of them – I don’t expect them to have a different effect upon a second reading.  Hence the main reason that I am engaging in this exchange is to educate other readers who may happen onto this page.  But any evidence you have that shows a causal relationship between participation in sports and low intellectual achievement would benefit us all in grappling with this critical issue.

 Russell Wilson and Dad
 Russell and Harrison Wilson
 Athletic and Academic Stars!

You insist that the problem of low intellectual achievement in young black males is due to their participation in sports, yet Russell Wilson has been a sports fanatic all of his life.   Excelling in football, baseball and basketball – he is one of a very small group of elite  athletes to be drafted by two professional teams in sports in history – and all of these men have been wildly successful American icons.  No down side there!  Russell Wilson graduated from a major university in three years while starring in two varsity sports.

His father was a sports fanatic who played briefly in the NFL, then went on to a distinguished career in the law.  Russ’s father’s mother and father, his paternal grandparents hold PhD’s, and his grandfather was a basketball star on the black college circuit when the black schools had the best players in the nation. It was he that turned Russ’ father Harrison onto sports.  Yet Harrison and his brother, who is also a sports enthusiast, went to Dartmouth and Harvard.  Calvin Hill, a former star running back with the Dallas Cowboys held a master’s degree from Yale, and his son, basketball great Grant Hill, graduated from Duke.  Tiger Woods has been obsessed with playing golf since he was three years old, but his father, a former officer in the Green Berets, made playing golf conditional on his getting good grades, so he became the greatest golfer in history and was admitted to Stanford.

Richard Sherman, the best corner back in football maintained a four point average in high school and a 3.9 average at Stanford!  He says the work ethic which made such high achievement possible was inspired witnessing his father rise at four in the morning to go out and drive a trash truck around LA, then come home and work on their house in the evenings. And rapper Snoop Dogg’s son Cordell is on his way to UCLA to play football, a sport his father introduced him to and coached his Pop Warner teams, but the coach says when he met with Snoop and his wife on a recruiting visit “He didn’t talk about football; he talked about educating his son for life after football!”  (See the video clip below.)

If you had been playing football like your LA homies, chances are you would not have been a juvenile delinquent faced with jail or a stint in the Marine Corps!  For instance John Wideman was obsessed with basketball as a kid and remained entranced by the sport his entire life, playing the game until halted by age.  His Brother Robbie however had no interests in sports and decided to become a street player instead, killed a man during a robbery, and  ended up spending his entire adult life in jail…where he will die.

John on the other hand won a state wide competitive Benjamin Franklin Scholarship that provided an all expenses paid education at the University of Pennsylvania, which stopped granting athletic scholarships years before Wideman joined the student body.  And despite having to deal with the racism and elitism of white students he became a basketball star and a Rhodes Scholar. Writing about Wideman in a 2002 paper for the University Archives, Elliot A. Greenwald tells us:

“As a Rhodes Scholar, Wideman was heralded in the national media. Look magazine’s article, ‘The Astonishing John Wideman,’ by Gene Shalit, introduced Wideman to the nation, providing a stylized version of his Penn experience, focusing on how he overcame simple racial differences to succeed. Even though Shalit and others from Look followed the team on a road trip to Yale and Brown and attended Wideman’s classes the article fails to discuss racial issues concretely… Shalit explained, ‘Girls call him up for dates, professors invite him to their homes for dinner…[T]he world is his plaything…Obviously it is not. John Wideman is a Negro….'”

Choosing an academic career over pro basketball  Wideman went on to become one of the most distinguished  American writers on the 20th century, and now has an international community of scholars devoted to the study of his work ( see: The John Wideman Society.”   I would hazard a guess that fascination with street life is a far greater danger to black males than sports!

Paul Robeson starred in four sports yet made the highest score in New Jersey on his college entrance exams, tutored his white classmates in Greek and Latin and graduate Valedictorian of his class at Rutgers –  then one of America’s elite universities.  However Robeson’s father had escaped from slavery and worked his way through Lincoln University – where they studied the same curriculum as Harvard – and thus placed a good education at the top of his list.

Alas, since you have declared on numerous occasions that you are not impressed by elite university educations, the academic achievement in such schools by the athletes mentioned above may  make no difference to you Eric, but for a multitude of people admission to elite universities and earning doctorate degrees are outstanding accomplishments; this writer included.  But you can’t have it both ways Eric, either you are for high academic achievement or not; and if you are for it then how do we measure it?  There are so many examples of black athletes who were high academic achievers that I could  go on ad infinitum; especially if I look at it Globally.

For instance Dr. Bartholomew Naji, who came from Nigeria to attend St. Johns University in New York.  Naji not only set collegiate athletic records while graduating in three years, but went on to take a PhD in Industrial Engineering and become one of world’s foremost authorities in Robotics. His expertise in the field was such that the State Legislature in Massachusetts created a special chair in Industrial Engineering to keep him at UMass.

Despite this effort he has returned to Nigeria and if he can get the politicians to fund his projects we will see some cutting edge ideas coming from Nigeria in computer science and robotics.  I knew him well and he too had parents who demanded that he excel in school.  These examples alone – although I could cite numerous others – leave no doubt in my mind that the parents you get are far more important to success in life than an obsession with sports!

It is interesting that you dismissed this argument elsewhere because you claim that it is based on “anecdotal evidence,” when you have offered NO EVIDENCE for your sweeping generalizations: anecdotal or otherwise!  As near as I can tell, it’s just about how you see things; we should take it on your word.  Furthermore you have a tendency to state the obvious as if it were a profound revelation.  The following statement is a case in point:

 “I view sports much like I do morphine. In small doses it can be of great medicinal value against pain, but if you overdo it, it can destroy your life, and it seems to me that many in the Black community are about to overdose from a lack of substance as a result of its abuse, both literally, and figuratively.”

 Of course too much of even a good thing can be harmful, too many vitamins can hurt you, but what evidence do you have that “…many in the Black community are about to overdose from a lack of substance as a result of its abuse, both literally, and figuratively.” Have you read sociological studies that demonstrate this statistically?  Or do these bits of wisdom descend into your head from the ether.

I have no way of knowing how you arrive at these conclusions because you have already told me that you believe sociology is a pretentious fraud, mumbo jumbo I think you called it; so how do you know the claims you make about the cause and effect of large scale social phenomena are true?  Or are we to again take your word on this critical issue because you say it is so?   Is it just common sense?  Well I require a bit more persuasion: what is your evidence for these sweeping generalizations?

You tell us with brimming confidence:

“So I’m not against sports, per se, but I do think that sports should be kept in perspective. It’s perfectly natural for kids to want to indulge in games, but while they are indulging in these games it’s very important that the adults in their lives constantly remind them that sports represent the “Toy Department” of life, and that there are many other things in life that are much more important. But due to our mass societal fixation on sports, and the virtual “worship” of sports figures, they’re rarely getting this instruction. As a direct result, we’ve become a society of easily manipulated, undereducated, and totally distracted sports junkies. “

 First of all,  virtually everything you say about sports in this passage can also be said about music and musicians!  The biggest musical acts fill up those same stadiums and the fans get just as crazy…if not worse!  Here again sports is being made a scapegoat for your rightful concern about other societal ills. Furthermore, since you have cited Socrates as your role model, it should interest you to know that his prize pupil Plato, from whose writings we learn most about Socrates’s life and thought, considered music and sport of equal importance in the education of the youth in his ideal Republic. He also thought the athlete was superior to the spectator and poets should be banned from the Republic!  Hence a joker like you, a poet who disdains sport, would not have fared very well in Socrates’ crowd, for the cultivation of mind and body equally is the essence of the Greek ideal of human development.  Remember Eric, it was the ancient Greeks that gave us the Olympics: the greatest sporting event in history!

I would argue that love for and participation in sports has caused many young men to remain in school that might have dropped out, and raised the academic achievement of many other youths: THOSE WHOSE PARENTS VALUE EDUCATION ENOUGH TO MAKE PLAYING SPORTS A REWARD FOR ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT!!!    I am not guessing about this Eric, that was what me and all of my friends did who had kids that were athletes!  Just like YOUR SON DOES WITH HIS KIDS!   You have no trouble recognizing the good that sports is doing for your grandchildren; so why wouldn’t sport have the same benefits for other youths if they enjoyed the guidance good parents too?

I didn’t tell my children that sport is the “toy Department of life” because that’s not how I see it. I regard your statement as little more than an expression of personal prejudice that bears no observable relationship to the reality of sports in human experience.  And it is certainly at odds with the bulk of the scholarship on the subject.

For instance Dr. Marianne Engle, a professor of Sports Psychology at the distinguished New York University Child Study Center, published a paper in 2004 title “Kids and Sports: Creating a Healthy Experience for Every Child.”  This paper sums up the conclusions of the major researchers in the field of sports participation and human development, and Dr. Engle tells us:

“Participation in sports, whether as an individual or as a member of a team, plays an important role in the social, emotional and physical development of children and adolescents. Successful sports experiences provide benefits – gains in social and interpersonal competence, fitness, health-mindedness, and psychological well-being – that have been shown to last throughout life. As expressed by William Damon of the Stanford Center on Adolescence,” The future of any society depends on the character and competence of its young. In order to develop their competence young people need guidance to provide them with direction and a sense of purpose. They need relationships that embody and communicate high standards. They need to experience activities that are challenging, inspiring, and educative.”

It is an undeniable fact that sports competition is fundamental to all human societies; the more complex and advanced the society, the more complex and advanced the games they play. That’s why football, the quintessential American game, is the fastest most physically and intellectually demanding and complex game in the world!  And I know for sure that whatever a young person wants to do in society – any society in the world – all other relevant factors such as intellect and talent being equal, their chances of success will be enhanced if they are also a great athlete!

I have repeatedly implored you to read “Beyond a Boundary,” by CLR James – an athlete, sports fanatic and one of the most brilliant intellectuals of the 20th century – so you can gain a much broader view of the role of sport in society and how one can share an equal love for sport and scholarship… but to no avail.  It is hard to have serious conversations with you Eric because you do not have a proper respect for intellectual authority; as you have repeatedly told me.  This makes it difficult to build a systematic argument based on that authority and I often get the feeling that I’m wasting my time…..which is like burning money to me.

Far too much of your argument rest on intuition, subjective observations, or outright hyperbole; which as near as I can tell, is totally innocent of facts.   The following passage is a poignant case in point.

“Many in this country can tell you the starting lineup and various statistics of every football team in the country, but they can’t tell you who their congressperson is, how they voted, or what they voted on. That’s not good, and it’s having a negative impact on not only the Black community, but the nation as a whole.”

Well, I have been an avid football fan for over half a century and I have NEVER met anyone who “can tell you the starting lineup and various statistics of every football team in the country.” I have a fabled memory, in fact when I was a professor my colleagues nicknamed me “Univac,” after the giant IBM main frame computer: AND I COULDN’T TELL YOU THE ENTIRE STARTING LINEUPS OF THE  NEW YORK JETS, THE GIANTS OR MY FAVORITE TEAM THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS IF YOU PUT A GAT TO MY HEAD!!!   Frankly I do not believe that such a person as you describe exists accept in your imagination.  As to your point about not knowing who your congressman is, I’ve got news for ya dog: I’ve known highly educated people with no interests in sport who DON’T KNOW WHO THEIR CONGRESSMAN IS!!  I challenge you to present any evidence that sports fans are more politically ignorant than non-sports fans…..this is nothing more than BASELESS CONJECTURE!  How am I supposed to take such arguments seriously?

There are other passages in your essay that sound about as scientific as astrology.  Would you please cite a scholarly source for the following claim?

“What many people fail to realize is how profoundly their thinking can be shaped by social manipulators through the use of sports and other forms of public “entertainment.” The passion engendered through sports allows social manipulators to circumvent an individual’s cerebral cortex, or intellect, and exploit a direct line to the fan’s brain stem, or the most animalistic and condition-receptive part of their brain. That allows manipulators to condition an individual’s thinking and attitudes without  the individual even recognizing it.”

I have a former student who is now a professor of Neuroscience at Harvard, he is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Krolinska Institute in Sweden, where the award the Nobel Prizes for medicine and biology, and he not only played football but considered going out for the New England Patriots as a free agent.  He is a Florida boy and loves football like me…do you suppose that you know facts about these deleterious effects of sports on the brain but it escaped his notice?  Frankly, given your often expressed disdain for intellectual authority and your high opinion of your own intellectual abilities I would not be surprised to discover that you do. But it strikes me as beyond ridiculous.

Surprisingly, you seem unaware that your concentration on sports rather than the “other forms of public entertainment,” such as musical performance, exposes an anti-sports bias that nullifies your pretentions to objectivity.  Since you have openly expressed your ignorance of history and your disdain for sociology, on what do you base the following conclusion:

“But most Americans have blindly accepted the proposition that it’s our ‘competitive spirit’ that makes this nation great. But what evidence do we have of that? How do we know that we wouldn’t have been even greater if we’d embraced a philosophy of enlightenment and the pursuit of excellence with the same amount of zeal as we’ve pursued the need to say, “I’m better than you?”  And why must our national motive be to be “the greatest nation on Earth?” We’d UNDOUBTEDLY be much greater if we’d resolved to compete against who we WERE to become the greatest nation that we can BE. How many minds do we have locked up in the nation’s prison systems who may have the unique intellect to solve the world’s problems? Is it possible that due to this nation’s ‘us against them’ mentality that they might have lynched the very person who might have found a cure for cancer?”

.Unfortunately, sentimental prattle like, “How do we know that we wouldn’t have been even greater if we’d embraced a philosophy of enlightenment and the pursuit of excellence with the same amount of zeal as we’ve pursued the need to say, “I’m better than you?” is not a serious argument!   Maybe in Socrates’s time, when most things were a matter of speculation,  but not now, in the age of quantitative comparative sociology and scientific historical research.  There is a vast scholarly literature on this subject!  Apparently you are unaware that this question has been discussed ad infinitum.

We know that the competitive American system produced the most powerful nation in the history of the world, that’s an incontestable fact, as it the fact that the productivity and efficiency that made the US economy the richest in the world is a direct result of competition between business firms to make a better product at a cheaper price!  Your position on the other hand is baseless conjecture; wishful thinking.  It is your task to convincingly demonstrate that we could have been a greater nation without the American emphasis on competition, not simply pronounce from on high.  That may be enough for you but I am unimpressed.  Your argument denouncing the evils of competition is especially curious coming from a Jazz musician.

One of the most intriguing questions regarding the art of Jazz is “How did Afro-American musicians create and develop an art form that requires virtuosity and originality on the part of every instrumentalist in the orchestra, without the benefit of a formal conservatory?” The answer is to be found in the ruthless competition between musicians striving to be ”the best” on their instruments. Without job security, written contracts, vast financial endowments for orchestras, or retirement pensions for performers, the Jazz world is a Darwinian milieu, red of tooth and claw, where survival of the fittest is the order of the day.  It’s a jungle out there!

The trials and tribulations of the professional Jazz musician are well documented in interviews by the musicians and the writers who covered them.  A poignant description of what life as a Jazz musician was like during the most popular period of modern Afro-America complex instrumental music can be found in “Good Morning Blues,” The Autobiography of Count Basie.” 

Written in collaboration with the great Afro-American writer and cultural critic Albert Murray – author of the classic “Stomping the Blues,”  for my money the best book ever written on Afro-American music – Bill Basie’s autobiography  provides an in-depth look into the world of the working Jazz musician that covers most of the 20th century, when Jazz developed.  It takes us back to a time when Jazz was a new and evolving art, and moves to a time when many big bands worked regularly and some – like Andy Kirk, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, et al  – worked three hundred days a year and could have worked 365 days if they had a mind to.

 Bill Basie
Count-Basie-01_02 
He finally Made the Cut

  There was more work for black Jazz musicians during this period than anytime in American history, but you could only work if you were considered “the best man available” by whatever standard the bandleader wished to judge you – just like today.  So the more versatile and original your sound the better your chances for getting steady work.  And the major venue of instruction in their art was The Jam Session!  The central feature of these events was the “cutting session” in which musicians on every instrument tried to outplay their counterparts.  Basie describes how the competition was so thick for seats in a working orchestra that you could lose your gig from “getting yo head cut” by a musician invited to sit in on your instrument during a gig!

He recalls an incident early on in his career when the band leader gave everybody but him a different time to return from a break, because he wanted to check out a local cat on piano.  Basie says he was outside having a smoke when he heard the band strike up, but by the time he got in the room the cat on piano was wailing.  After listening for a few choruses Basie says he went straight to the owner of the club and asked him for a job parking cars!

That’s how competitive the jazz environment that produced such great musicians was.  And nobody was more competitive that the “Be-boppers” led by Bird and Diz, who took jazz to another level of harmonic and rhythmic complexity.  To get a feel for what this environment was like you should read Ralph Ellison’s seminal essay on the origins of Bop “Things Remembered, Times Past: On Bird, Birdwatching and Jazz.”  Here is a firsthand view live from Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where this new genre was molded in the heat of fierce competition and only the strong survived the savage cutting sessions.

Ellison, a trumpet player from Oklahoma who was studying composition with the famous black classical composer William Dawson at Tuskegee Institute, thought he was a bad man on the trumpet.  But the fierce playing of the musicians at Minton’s scared him.  “They were playing bebops,” he wrote of the horn players “I mean rebopped bebops.”  And he described the drummers as “frozen faced introverts dedicated to chaos.” It was a heroic act to take the stage in Minton’s Playhouse, where the rhythm section often included Theolonius Monk on Piano, Oscar Pettiford on Bass, and Kenny “Klook” Clark on drums!

There are endless stories about the day Bird strolled into that lion’s den dressed like a country boy from Kansas City, whipped out his axe from a raggedy cardboard case, and slayed them all!  Dizzy Gillespie said they had been hearing bits and pieces of what Bop might sound like, but when he heard Bird play “Cherokee” it all came together. Everything about Minton’s was highly competitive – including the gangsters who regularly hung out in there and competed with each other for everything from the flyest cars, to clothes, to girls!

The great Max Roach, arguably the most influential improvisational percussionist of the twentieth century, told me that they had heard about bird from musicians who had passed through Kansas City on tour and came back talking about what a “monster” he was on the saxophone.  “But our attitude was Sheeet, we in the Big Apple baby, ain’t nothing this country boy can play that we ain’t heard before.”  So all the horn players were laying to “cut his head”  and ended up dead…slain by a yard bird from the sticks.

 Bird and Dizzy: Taking no Prisoners!
 Bird and Diz
 Two Innovative Geniuses that Changed Western Music

That was the highly competitive environment in which the fine art of Bebop was born Eric.  Louis Armstrong – a seminal figure in the evolution of Jazz – hated both bebop and the beboppers; the music and the musicians.  He once remarked that they were mean and evil people who just wanted “to carve everybody up.”  He said The music was just a bunch of chords and notes “that don’t mean nothing!”  I have never known a great Jazz musician who was not egotistical about their playing and highly competitive, and I’ve known legions of them over more than half a century. In fact, I don’t know anybody that is great at anything of whom that is not true.

The competitive nature of Jazz as a method of creating a better product is one of the things that makes Jazz the quintessential American Art.   Like athletes, who generally embrace each other after the contest – including boxers after vicious fights – musicians form a unique band of brothers and are generally friendly after the competition on the bandstand.  In fact they embody the highest ideal of sport, unless one’s lively hood is at stake: “It’s not whether you win or lose… but how you play the game.”  And I have never known a great Jazz musician who wasn’t an avid sports fan.

The great Earl “Fatha” Hines says that after his gig at the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chi Town he and the band members would go play baseball as soon as it was light outside; Louis Armstrong had his own baseball team.  Every chance he gets, the great Wynton Marsalis plays pickup basketball games with the youths in the projects across from Lincoln Center, and is quite proud of his jump shot!  The master percussionist Rachid Ali and innovative trumpeter Miles Davis – a seminal figure in 20th century music – were both boxers and fanatical fans who never stopped going to the Gym until hobbled by age.  Miles was best friends with Sugar Ray Robinson, who also idolized Miles.  The peerless Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, trained to Jimmy Lunceford’s “I’m a Rug Cutter,” and the powerful Sonny Liston trained to Bill Doggett’s “Night Train.”  There has always been a close relationship between black musicians and Black athletes, now it is mostly hip hop, but in an earlier period it was Jazz. So it looks like you are just an odd ball Eric; I’d bet all of these great Jazz musicians would find you as strange as I do.

In its philosophy and practice Jazz successfully embodies the highest ideals that American civilization aspires to but seldom achieves.  It is democratic; prizes individual Freedom; promotes innovation; grooves to the tempo of a machine age milieu, and sharpens performance through fair and open competition.  These are the characteristics that make Jazz the most representative American art.  Frankly Eric, as a Jazz musician I am surprised that you don’t recognize this….but then playing music and contemplating its social significance as art are two different things.

Finally, your above passage confuses  and conflates issues that have little to do with each other. People commit crimes and go to jail in every society in the world, including communal ones where competition is not encouraged.  Contrary to your faith based belief, there is no evidence that the prisons are overflowing with geniuses.  Conversely, there are numerous studies which show that the majority of prison inmates have below average IQ’s, that’s partially why they are in jail in the first place. If you do a Google search of the scholarly literature addressing the correlation between crime and IQ levels you will discover that there is abundant statistical evidence showing that incarceration rates are higher among those with the lowest IQ’s.  This proves true even when the studies are controlled for age, race, gender, and economic status.  There is no debate about this among scholars in the field.

The following passage strikes me as self-indulgent nonsense, a mindless diatribe on the evils of sport  uttered during a public temper tantrum that dramatically fails to rise to the level of what I consider serious argument.  Mostly what it does is expose an embarrassing ignorance of the ideals  and virtues promoted through sports.

 “You see, sports appeal to, stimulate, and feed upon the very worst characteristics in human nature, or what’s referred to as the “Seven Deadly Sins” – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.Each is a form of Idolatry-of-Self wherein the subjective reigns over the objective.” The very point of sports is to prove that “I’m better than you.” Sports also promotes the “Us against them” mentality that’s at the very root of every form of bigotry – racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.”

 If you really believe that this is the Message young people get from sports competition, why do you  celebrate their grandchildren participating in such a nefarious activity?   It would take a deranged person to proudly post their pictures on Face book openly engaging in an activity that by your description promotes ideas that have inspired mass murder!!! Racism and Xenophobia inspired the murder, enslavement and dispossession of black peoples all over the world before any of these sports were invented…they also inspired the Armenian genocide and the German  holocaust in the 20th century.  Will you please present some evidence of the role sport played in these atrocities Eric.  It is POLITICS NOT SPORTS that led to these atrocities!!! This is patent nonsense …foolishness!!

Let me share some real information that you obviously know nothing about, or you would be more careful in your argument.  In his 1986 book  “Jessie Owens: An American life,” the  first scholarly biography by a professional historian on the life of the great Afro-American Olympic athlete Jesse Owens, Dr. William J. Baker tells us how the Germans were so impressed by the athletic grace and prowess of Jesse Owens  and the other black American Olympians, that when they went out to nightclubs in Nazi controlled Berlin the German men and women flocked around them and several German men asked them to dance with their wives so they could take pictures….this was in NAZI GERMANY ERIC!!!!

Jesse Owens and Lutz Long in Nazi Germany

Jesse Owens and Lutz Long

In what arena other than sports could this friendship happened?

Obviously sports worked to alleviate the vices of “racism and xenophobiain Nazi Germany among those who met these great black athletes!  Jesse became life- long friends with the German he beat in the broad jump, and Max Schmeling, who turned up to boxing camp in a NAZI officer’s uniform to train for the second fight against Joe Louis, became his life-long friend after Joe kicked his ass in such fine fashion!!  There is plenty of evidence that sports create friendships among different peoples, often overcoming the imperatives of politics and the preachments of religion to do it, that’s the raison d’etre for the Olympic games…where is the  evidence for your charges; or are we once again supposed to just take your word for it?  Well your argument strikes me as baseless!

Sometimes your arguments contain elements of truth and fiction.  The following paragraph is an excellent example of this.

 “Now, if you’re a lifelong sports fan, you’re probably reading this and saying, “That’s ridiculous.” But it’s not surprising that you feel that way, because your conditioning is so ingrained, and so deeply seated at this point that you can’t even recognize the dysfunction in something that you’ve embraced and loved all of your life. It’s like a religion, or someone raised to believe in Voodoo – sticking pins in dolls seems like a perfectly natural way of life to them. So let me give you an example of how the system works, and how you’re being manipulated.”

 Your lead sentence is undoubtedly true,  because you sure sound “ridiculous” to me.  However your diatribe soon sinks back into the murky pseudo-intellectual quicksand  of issuing wild proclamations without the evidence to support them. You seem to take delight in spouting amateur pop-psychological analysis of complex mass human behavior….something southern California is famous for among  Easterners.  Which is why many New Yorkers refer to it as “LaLa Land.”  Alas, psychological analysis is a highly specialized esoteric practice, and I don’t trust ANYBODY who does not have a PhD to conduct it…just Like I wouldn’t think of going to a brain surgeon who didn’t have an MD.  Hence your Psycho-babble means nothing to me.  Can you cite some scholarly sources for your diagnosis? Otherwise I shall just dismiss it as spurious prattle.

Your comment “. It’s like a religion, or someone raised to believe in Voodoo – sticking pins in dolls seems like a perfectly natural way of life to them,” reveals a shameful ignorance of the culture from which so many of our ancestor came.  Voodoo is one of the world’s oldest religions, it is a polytheistic religion much like the one Socrates grew up in, as opposed to the antiseptic monotheistic religion that you grew up in – from whence your silly idea of Voodoo arises.  It is a religion that produced some of the world’s greatest art, such as the Benin Bronzes. Sculptures produced by the Yoruba people rooted in Orisha Voodoo, inspired the innovations of the creators of modern European Art such as Picasso, Salvadore Dali, and others.

The Voodoo Inspired Art of Benin

Benin--sculpture-queen-mother-benin-bronze

The Brilliance of Benin Bronze Sculpture is widely acclaimed

And by the way, despite your cavalier dismissal of religious belief: THE GREATEST ART IN THE WORLD HAS BEEN INSPIRED BY RELIGIOUS BELIEF!   I need only cite the Sistine Chapel, Bach’s B Minor Mass, and the Ellington Orchestra’s recording of “Come Sunday, with Mahalia Jackson as soloist, plus any other great traditional African art to end that conversation.

The music of the Yoruba peoples, inspired by Voodoo, supplied the basis for much of the great neo-African music of the America’s when it blended with European music….such as the Afro-Cuban Rumba and Son Montuno as well as Afro-American Spirituals, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues  and  Jazz; musical forms that have influenced musicians  of all races world-wide! The idea of Voodoo as some evil black magic consisting of people “sticking pins in dolls” is a Hollywood fantasy created by ignorant and racist white folks as part of their demonization of EVERYTHING AFRICAN!

Yet contrary to Hollywood’ s depiction of Africans as ignorant savages terrorized by a naked white man called Tarzan, here is a first-hand description of the Oba’s – Divine King – Palace in Benin, the ancient African city that produced the world famous bronze sculptures, written by the Dutch traveler Olfert Dapper in 1668, over a century before the birth of the United States.

“The king’s palace or court is a square, and is as large as the town of Haarlem and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries…resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles, and are kept very clean.”

The religion practiced by these people is the basis of what would later be called Orisha Voodoo.  And it makes about as much sense as any other religion in the world, but the emphasis on music and ceremonial objects made it a fertile source of artistic production. You really do need to study some black history and culture Eric.

If you want to learn something about voodoo read “Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief,” by Bolasi E. Idowu;Art and Alters of the Black Atlantic World,” and “Tango: A History of the Dance of Love,” by Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, Professor of Art History and Dean of African Civilization at Yale University.  Although you have repeatedly told me that you have no respect for Academic degrees and University affiliations, I am still including them because most people do respect such accomplishments…the present writer included.  For unlike you, I do not consider myself wise or learned enough to comment on the complex problems of the world without constant reference to the work of great thinkers.

Finally, we have trudged to the end of your tortured and curious polemic, only to  find that the contradictions so characteristic of this impassioned tirade persist to the bitter end.  You tell us:

When a fan goes to a football game, what a fan THINKS he sees are two teams on a football field with the coaches and their staff on the sideline. But what the fan’s subconscious and emotions see are two armies on the battlefield preparing to go into combat, with two generals on the sidelines. And that’s not by accident, because the spectacle is DESIGNED to psychologically condition every male in the stadium to be willing to go into combat and sacrifice his life in a blaze of illustrious glory for “The Gipper” – or The Standard Oil Company. The very same is true of the “All-American” pastime of baseball and other sports.”

 Evidently you believe this passage to be pregnant with wisdom. But I’d bet the family jewels that the only spectators who see what you have described have unwisely dropped a hefty tab of acid….it is my fondest hope that you are not among them!    After  reading your essay carefully I am reminded of the man my grandfather says thought he was speeding when he wasn’t doing five miles an hour!   How do you know what football fans think? What studies have you seen that demonstrate this?  Is this another one of your original revelations?  Alas, it sounds like pretentious jibberish to me.   Are you so blinded by ideology that you cannot see that SPORTS COMPETITION IS AN ALTERNATIVE TO WAR!!!!

However  if what you say were true: How did a non-sports fan like you become a gung ho Marine?  Everybody who has seen the Academy Award winning documentary “Hearts and Minds” or read the path-breaking book “Deadly Deceits ” by longtime CIA field agent Ralph McGhee, understands the connection between football training and military training.  Having been a high school football  players was how I was selected for a special unit in the US Strategic Air Command.  But so what Eric?  Every nation has their ways of preparing young men to bear arms in defense of the homeland…why should the US be different?  Are you suddenly a pacifist?  Well for the record, I think pacifism is suicidal in a dangerous world, and evidently so do you; as you repeatedly mention your service in the Marine Corps with evident pride.  Do you want to denounce it now? If not what’s your beef?

However after carefully reading your near hysterical screed, I have come to the conclusion that you understand about as much about sports as a mule knows about playing a saxaphone.  Your essay is full of half-baked ideas based on erroneous assumptions that I found tedious to read and from which I leaned nothing that will have any effect on my feeling about sports.  In regard to the values that sports can teach, well  when my daughter Makeda came to me to ask me if she could join the cheer leading squad in the 9th grade, which seemed like a natural progression for a young lady who had studied ballet since kindergarten, I vociferously opposed the idea.  I was writing a column for the New York Daily News editorial page at the time.  I stopped, looked her in the eye, and said: FUCK BEING A CHEER LEADER, YOU GET IN THE ARENA AND COMPETE!  LET SOMEBODY CHEER YOU!

Well, instead of becoming a cheerleader she took all of that ballet training, joined the Peter Westbrook Foundation, became a student of Peter Westbrook – the greatest American fencer of the 20th century, a five time Olympian  – and became a fencer.  Peter was convinced that the combination of her ballet training and athletic skill – which enabled her to compete in Division I as a sprinter for the University of Delaware, while a Science Merit Scholar and a Dean List Student – could make a world champion out of her if he could just get her to devote herself to fencing.  I was interested in my kids participating in the sport of fencing because it was filled with high achievers from many fields.

 Makeda Voletta Dancing in the Ring of Fire

Makeda Dances in Hawaii

Celebrating the Goddess Pele in Hawaii

Today Makeda is a sports scientist, Certified sports nutritionist, a licensed fitness trainer who travels all over the country and abroad lecturing on women’s health and fitness! She also performs and teaches sacred dances from all over the African world, See “Magical Realism” on this blog.  She has thanked me a million times for encouraging here to become an athlete.  Why? Because that’s where she learned to compete on an equal basis with men, since men learn to compete through the games they play.  She also learned hard work and discipline – attributes which all good athletes must have, and she learned how to be magnanimous in victory and Gracious in defeat, she learned that you win some and you lose some battles…just like in real life!

My son also studied at the Peter Westbrook Foundation, where you had to maintain a high average in school in order to compete.  It was one of the best experiences of his life and he could have gone far in the sport if he had not loved baseball so much.  However what he learned about the price of excellence and what could be accomplished from hard work and perfecting one’s skills from Peter was priceless!  If anyone wanted a compelling example of how sports can save a young man from destruction and provide an avenue to the good life it is Peter Westbrooks.  Growing up in the dangerous rough and tumble  projects of Newark New Jersey, Peter was an angry young man who was headed to jail or an early grave.

 Peter Westbrooks

Peter Westbrook

America’s Greatest Fencer

Half Afro-American and half Japanese, he was small in stature and regularly picked on, but being spunky he was always getting into fights.  One day his mother came home, handed him a new Saber,  and said:” If you want to fight, learn to fight with this.  It will introduce you to a noble class of people.”  Peter began to study Saber fencing and began to love it.  He won a scholarship to a Catholic high school  – which has managed to consistently combine high academic standards and great athletic teams – and from there he won a scholarship the New York University from which he graduated with a degree in business.  After making a fortune in commodities trading he decided to devote his time and energies to introducing the sport of fencing to inner-city kids combining high academic achievement with mastery of sport.  He has now sent several of his students to the Olympics, and Keith Smart, who along with his sister Errin, has gone twice and Keith came within a touch of winning the gold Medal in the Peking Olympics: both are college graduates!

The salutatory effect that sports had on my son’s life was dramatic.  As a young kid he was skinny, asthmatic, and kind of withdrawn and timid.  However I would take him over to the park and throw footballs and baseballs with him. Greg Tate, a writer with the Village Voice, was my neighbor and wrote that I was a splendid father citing all the times he saw us together in the park.   However if we are to take you at your word Eric, you must believe I was actually wounding him psychologically, although even you must recognize that sports is good for developing strong bodies.

However in real life experience, as opposed to the ideological drivel of non-sports fans, sports turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to my son.  When he was five the preschool he attended, which was partially funded by the Dave Winfield Foundation, Samori went on a field trip to Yankee Stadium, to watch their benefactor, star centerfielder Dave Winfield  play, he gave Samori a baseball glove and it magically transformed his life.  The Harlem Little League was just forming, and the next year he was one of their players.

Once he made the baseball team I witnessed a marvelous metamorphosis in him.  He became more self-confident and grew steadily stronger physically.  I had no trouble getting him to eat right, and he became very organized, because that’s what it took to excel in a demanding school and play ball…which was contingent upon his performance in the classroom. I hosted an evening drive time radio show on WBAI FM that dealt with a variety of topics involving politics and culture, and by the time he was nine years old he began writing sports commentaries for the radio.

I began to give him the sports section from the New York Times to read to insure that he was reading the best writers, and people of all races remarked about this little kid riding the subway with his head stuck in the New York Times.  And when he visited his Aunt Claudia, an avid sports fan who directed a large job training program in Carlisle Pennsylvania,  her mostly white employees told him how they wished they could get their kids to read a newspaper.  And they were speechless when my sister let them hear his radio commentaries via the internet!

All of this gave him tremendous confidence in himself and his abilities. Then one day the great Peter Westbrook watched him playing baseball and approached me about enrolling him in his fencing program.  Where he was one of the few black kids competing in fencing in New York City.   In his first year of high school he started a Sports News Letter, posting a notice on the bulletin board for potential writers to submit a sample of their writing to him., who as Senior Editor would decide who made the cut.  Samori’s involvement with sports coupled with his studies, left no time for idleness and I never had a moment’s trouble with him during his teenage years despite the fact that we lived in Harlem during the height of crack and gangsta rap!

By his senior year Samori was the Captain of both the baseball and the fencing team…and he was the only black kid on either team.  Both Samori and Makeda, who are twins, graduated with honors from the prestigious Beacon School in Manhattan, a first rate academic school in the New York City public school system.  After a stint at Norfolk State University he would become the Sports Editor of WBAI, the station he read commentaries on as a child, and he is now finishing his degree and an important book on the disappearing Afro-American athlete in Baseball, a book from which you could learn much about Afro-American history.  But I have seen no evidence that you are inclined to read serious books by black authors.

 Intrepid Sports Reporter Samori Benjamin
 Samori and Reggie Jackson
 Interviewing Hall of Fame Yankee Reggie Jackson

 If the past is any guide to the future I suspect that this essay will have no discernable effect on your opinions about sports, as muddled as they are.   I say this because of your response to “On Race Culture and Sports;” I cannot imagine how you could have gotten less from that broadly learned treatise had you not bothered to read it at all.

If you had been assigned to read and respond to it in the Journalism and Media Studies seminar I taught at Long Island University, you would have received a failing grade. But beyond your failure to present a convincing critique that spoke to the arguments in my essay, I am genuinely puzzled at how you fail to see the beauty, grace, drama and prowess in the performance of Afro-American athletes: the greatest show on earth!   Your failure to recognize such magnificence is compelling testimony to the power of dogmatic ideology to distort reality!

It is even more puzzling that you fail to see that the real danger to the survival and progress of black youth are the decadent, self-destructive values propagated through the thug life ethos of certain genres of Rap Music!  By contrast the values propagated through sports are a God send!

Alas, as the old adage reminds us: “There are none so blind as he who refuses to see.” Although I am not in the habit of wasting my time and energy on lost causes, you insisted that I read and critique your essay….now you have it.  I sincerely hope you found it an enlightening read for I gave it my best effort….in any case, this is my last word on the subject.

 *************************

 

*See: “Thug Life,” and “Is Russell Wilson Black Enough?” ( Both on this blog)
** Hear the Coach that recruited Snoop Dog’s Son  http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/0ap3000000469772/RES-Jim-Mora-on-recruiting-Snoop-Dogg-s-son
 Playthell G. Benjamin
On the Road
February 2, 2015

 

The Day After….

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on December 19, 2014 by playthell
che_and_fidel_castro El Commandante Fidel and Comrade Che Guevara

 Cuba beyond Castro!

As the Cuban Revolution neared its 50th anniversary, much speculation occurred regarding what course Cuban society will take once its aging leader Fidel Castro passes from the scene. Any conjecture on the direction of Cuban society in the post-Castro era begs the question of what will be the character of US/Cuban relations in the future. Internal policy in Cuba has long been shaped by American foreign policy toward that Spanish-speaking Caribbean island ninety miles from the shores of Florida—the largest and most richly endowed island in the region in terms of natural and human resources.

It is impossible to understand the character of Cuban society today and seriously contemplate its future without taking the realities of the 1959 revolution and the American reaction to it into account. Whether we consider the poverty that plagues the island, the repressive internal policies, the refugees who brave the Florida straits, the ignorance of many young Cuban Americans about the motivations of the revolution that transformed the island in 1959 and the man who led it, any review is incomplete without an understanding of US policy toward the island nation. This is because the revolution, which has shaped contemporary Cuba more than any other event in the twentieth century, was in reaction to a system of social and economic relations largely determined by US interests.

In extensive interviews with American journalists Frank Mankiewicz and Kirby Jones, some fifteen years after the revolution, Castro spoke candidly about the conditions that gave rise to the revolution:

“To understand this it is necessary to understand Cuba as it was before the revolution. We had for example, close to 600,000 unemployed men out of a population of 6,000,000…We had a 30 percent illiteracy rate, more than a million illiterates. We lacked sufficient schools; more than 50 percent of the children did not attend school. We had a very bad public health situation, a high infant mortality rate, and other very serious problems, such as prostitution—close to 100,000 women lived off prostitution. We had gambling and beggars on the streets. In today’s Cuba you do not find any of these problems. Unemployment among the male population has disappeared and close to half a million women have joined the work force in addition to those already employed. Prostitution, begging, gambling, were eradicated. Illiteracy was overcome.”

Later, when Ballantine published these interviews as With Fidel, Arthur Schlesinger, a historian and former advisor to President Kennedy who had once supported aggressive policies toward Cuba remarked that “the time has come to rethink our policy toward Cuba.” His words ring true a quarter of a century later as the Bush Administration, driven by the local politics of the Miami based Cuban exile community, has returned to the aggressive policies Schlesinger rejected.

Saul Landau, American journalist and filmmaker, and professor emeritus at California State Polytechnic University,  has documented Castro in four separate films, corroborates the charismatic leader’s sentiments. “Infant mortality rate is equivalent to that of the U.S. and is certainly better than Washington D.C.; their life expectancy is the same as in the U.S. When the Cubans wash ashore, the “desperate” refugees have no cavities. [They] don’t suffer from diseases that people in the Third World tend to suffer from.” Literacy and infant mortality rates indicate how a society invests its resources, and the latter specifically correlate to the general health of the population. So in comparison to Brazil, the largest nation in Latin America that had five times more infant mortality—140 per thousand births vs. 27.4 per thousand—the stunning achievements of Castro’s regime in the area of developing human capital become evident.

 Sao Paulo: A Tale of Two Cities
Brazil's Darwinian class divide A Portrait of Brazil’s Darwinian Class Divide

Socialist order, people-oriented economic priorities, hard work, and discipline are the mainstays of Cuba’s achievements, but without Russian subsidization of their sugar production not nearly as much could have been accomplished. Russia’s economic support effectively shielded Cuba from the drastic fluctuations of the world market and the misguided protracted American economic embargo.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of those subsidies, along with an American embargo which was reinvigorated under the Bush administration, are at the root of the present economic crisis in Cuba. As a result, Cuba has placed renewed effort on promoting the tourist industry, which was de-emphasized during the early years of the revolution – as the Jamaicans say: “Empty belly mek dog lick sore foot.”

The Cuban revolution began as a democratic nationalist movement. It was a struggle against economic exploitation of the laboring classes and the police-state tactics of the rich, corrupt Cuban oligarchy and their armed agents who were prepared to use as much force as necessary to maintain the status quo. In his book The Mafia in Cuba, award-winning Cuban historian Enrique Cirules documented the underworld’s involvement in Cuban life as going far beyond the influence of whores, gambling, cocaine, or even control of the major nightclubs, hotels and casinos.

The Mob also became a major force in politics and economics. Less than two years before the revolution, Cirules wrote that “the US press assured readers that Congress was accumulating evidence to imprison the principal Mafia leaders on home soil. In Cuba, however…they ran a network of untouchable businesses, in which semi-legal control merged with gang-style law…because the Mafia’s contacts reached everywhere, even to the presidential office.”   The American government was more than familiar with the Mafia presence in Cuba and there is irrefutable evidence that the CIA turned to heavyweight Mafia Don Sam Giancana to try and assassinate Castro, in an attempt to promote counterrevolution.

 Fulgencia Batista: Cuban Dictator and American Puppet
Cuban Dictator Batista His Corruption and Ruthless Oppression Sparked the Revolution!

 Added to the injuries suffered by the poor in Cuba was the outrage felt by those principled middle class nationalist intellectuals—like Fidel and his comrades, who became the theorists and organizers of the revolution  – about the pervasiveness of crime and corruption in their society.  Under Batista the Mob had free reign in Cuba. Indeed, they were major factors in Castro’s radicalization. Few Americans who criticize contemporary Cuban society and its suspicion of American intentions understand the powerful role of organized crime in pre-revolutionary Cuba.  Furthermore, “legitimate” American businessmen often conducted themselves little differently, making it a distinction without a difference for the Cuban people.

 Meyer Lansky: Notorious American Jewish Gangster

Meyer Lansky

 He was a very big man in pre-revolutionary Cuba

Castro was a bourgeois lawyer with a social conscience and a belief in democratic reform until General Batista overthrew the government and set up a military dictatorship in 1952, which led a disillusioned Castro to conclude that democratic reform in Cuba was impossible. This realization drove him to become a revolutionary, and sixteen months later, he led the attack on the Moncada Barracks that launched a years-long Cuban Revolution which would force Batista into exile and bring Castro to power on New Years Day in 1959.

Reflecting on her youth in the 1920’s, when the white Cuban upper class experienced a wave of prosperity due to the high price of sugar post-WWI, Fichu Menocal, the daughter of a banker and granddaughter of Mario G. Menocal, the US-backed president of Cuba from 1912 to 1920, paints a poignant picture of the corruption and decadence of the deeply racist white Cuban elite that was wiped away by the Revolution.

 The Precincts of Wealthy White Cubans
Cuba's San Souchi Hotel
The San Souci Hotel and Club

Fichu recalls that among the island’s wealthy families “…there was a rivalry—who was going to have the most fantastic party; Parties that could cost $50,000. At that time that was an incredible amount. I went to practically all those parties. And we forgot absolutely what was below. We drifted so high on that cloud of golden prosperity…everybody just went to Paris and bought their frocks. Summer frocks, winter things.” But their taste for French finery hardly stopped there. “Everybody, they either had a Florentine chateau, or a Versailles-like chateau and everybody was rolling in millions…when I look back on that display of wealth, who could think at the time that anybody in Cuba could be miserable.”

Her remembrances of those halcyon days for the clueless Cuban elite reminds me of the entries in the diary of Louis XVI of France on the morning before the revolutionary Jacobins stormed Versailles palace, took he and Marie Antionette prisoner, shipped them off to Paris and beheaded them in the Place de la Concord before a cheering crowd. When Fichu’s reveries of white upper class life in pre-revolutionary Cuba are contrasted with the remembrances of Nicholas Guillen, an Afro-Cuban and poet laureate of the nation, it is easy to see why there was a revolution. Guillen sums up the situation for the masses of working class Cubans, urban and rural, and black Cubans in particular, in his epic poem I Have: “I, John-only-yesterday-with-Nothing, and John-with-everything-today, with everything today, I glance around, I look and see / and touch myself and wonder / how it could have happened?”

 How The Poorest Blacks Lived in Pre-revolutionary Cuba
Afro-Cuban Poverty- HavanaSlums 1954 This is why Afro-Cubans Defended the Revolution!
 Yet Even Back in the Day, the Solid Working And Middle Classes

Afro-Cubans Dancing at an Afrocuban social club

 Gave elegant affairs at the Buena Vista Social Club

Still other white Cubans hearken back fondly to the days before Castro’s revolution. Mariano Molina, president and owner of a mechanical engineering firm in the U.S., left Cuba in 1959 to study at North Carolina State College in Raleigh. He describes his initial experience in the college town as “a big surprise to me. North Carolina in the 1960s [was] completely segregated; blacks and whites would not be together. I thought the south was very culturally primitive in terms of racial issues.” His memories of the culture he left behind are of “Cuban people [who] were really happy with the way things were, for the most part. Obviously, the wealthy ones were really happy.”

Alas, to my black American ears this sound like the white folks I  interviewed in Florida during 1988 about the 1950’s, they speak fondly of the civility of race relations and mourn the passage of “The Beloved Southern Negro after Dr. Martin Luther King came to town.”   However having grown up in Florida in the 1950’s I know that’s a fiction of silly deluded southern WASPS.  And Molina’s memories of a “really happy” Cuban people belong to the same class of fairy tale.

Those “Beloved Southern Negroes” Led Astray by Dr. King

Civil rights revolt on the Beach

Were did they Go?

I have interviewed many Afro-Cubans over the years who tell a very different tale.  And all of them who grew up in Senor Molina’s Cuba fervently supported the Revolution.  The blacks who deny this should be viewed through the same lens as Michael Steele, the black hustler who is the front man for a racist Republican Party that tries to convince the world that the racist elitist Republicans are friends of Afro-Americans.

I Heard About White Cuban Racism first Hand
 Me and dorothy
 From My Afro-Cuban Wife and her Family
And my Good friend, the Afro-Cuban master percusionist/composer/bandleader

img.411

Mongo Santamaria, who was a fierce defender of the revolution

Critics of the revolution often overlook areas of Cuba’s contemporary infrastructure that parallel or surpass the standards of more developed nations. This is particularly true for Cuba’s education system, which is without question one of the most advanced and resourceful in the world! Castro’s government approaches learning as a lifelong process and treats quality education,  like adequate health care, as the birthright of each Cuban citizen.

From pre-school care to educational programs for parents, citizens of all ages benefit from the demanding expectations and highly trained teachers that are the hallmark of Cuban learning. In fact,  an estimated 30,000 senior citizens will have graduated from Cuban universities as a result of the program for older adults initiated in 2000. And over 630,000 Cubans have received a free university education under Castro.

Cuba budgets nearly twice as much of its GDP for educational spending, more than any other Latin American nation, and its secondary schools consistently rank among the highest in the world in math and science performance. Likewise the island’s 48 universities are among the most highly respected in the Western hemisphere. More than 76,000 international students from 123 countries (including the U.S.) have received free educations from Cuban universities, and 6,000 will be granted scholarships next year alone. Cuba’s medical schools and the health care system they support are so highly regarded that each year over 100,000 foreign patients travel to Cuba for treatment. Moreover, Cuban ophthalmologists are universally considered to be among the finest in the discipline—all of this despite the island’s crippling economic crisis.

At the same time, Castro’s focus on cultivating a highly educated society created a potential thorn in his side.  “When you have an educated population of leaders and thinkers, you cannot expect them to be submissive,” notes Alejandro de la Fuente, author of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in 20th Century Cuba. “You cannot educate people and tell them—as they told us—‘Now you are educated can you please shut up.’ We wanted to say things. We want to debate. We didn’t want violence.

“When perestroika was happening in the Soviet Union we hoped there was going to be space for a free and open debate about the future of the country. That hope was very much crushed, foreclosed, and never allowed to happen. I felt we had no voice, and couldn’t have any voice. Anything we said could be seen as an attack; once you are in that position, you either leave, go to jail, or you conform and lower your head and take it. I was too young and not ready to lower my head or go to jail so I left.”  De la Fuente, now a professor of Latin American/Cuban History at the University of Pittsburgh, took his leave of the island in 1992. He says:

“Power has its own logic. [The government] realized it was easier to not have to respond to an active, critical citizenry. They don’t care if you complain about a lack of food or electricity as long as you don’t criticize Fidel and don’t do anything about it. Again, it is a question of power. Once you open that door it is hard to close. The experience of the Soviet Union terrified them, and they wanted to keep that door shut because if people were allowed to demand explanations they would have a lot of explaining to do. So it was better to impose silence.”

Not only has Castro’s insistence on widespread educational opportunity yielded unpredictable results, but state-sponsored arts initiatives have also seen periods of bounty and scarcity. “In the 60s the Cuban Revolution obviously had a huge impact on Latin American film,” notes María Cristina Saavedra, assistant professor of Spanish and English at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. “Film was really seen as an arm of the revolution and a way of fomenting revolution. After 1990 production went down incredibly; it was quite dramatic. The money just wasn’t there. This led to a lot of co-productions in many countries, one of those being Spain. That is one way people have gotten around the whole issue of a lack of funds.”

Lack of resources notwithstanding, Saavedra is impressed with what she calls a “much more committed cinema that stands in great opposition to the hegemony of Hollywood.” She directed the university’s recently aborted study abroad program in Cuba, which she had hoped would grow its relationship with the University of Havana, but she foresees little hope for the program’s revitalization given recent US governmental restrictions placed on study abroad programs in Cuba.

She points out that “filmmakers in Cuba have always tried to link the current social and cultural context of the revolution with the political processes on the island and revisionist view of colonial Cuba. In Suite Habana there is no dialogue; what you are hearing are the sounds of the city. It is a very stark view of the city and what daily life is like in Havana, sort of looking at things from a much more realistic and not ‘politically correct’ perspective.”

She also notes the 2001 award-winning film Video de Familia, which she says portrays “some of the issues that are confronting average Cubans in terms of the dynamics of family abroad. It is supposed to be set up as a family video to be sent to a family member in the States. In the context of the film family secrets come out…It’s a really fine work.”

 *******************

 Afro-Cubans have many festivals…..
Afro-Cubans -alacrantrumpets
That combine African and Spanish rituals
Afro-Cubans Are some of the World’s Greatest Musicians!
Afro-cuban Allstars II
The Afro-Cuban Allstars
Laura Lydia Gonzales
Afro-Cuban Bass Clarinetists Afro-Cuban Bass Clarinetists__Laura_Lydia_Gonzalez_and_Gilceria_Gonzalez
A virtuosso on the Bass Clarinet
Paying Homage to the World’s Greatest Pianist
Chucho and Me
Chucho Valdez: Ambassador of Afro-Cuban Music

That world-class art continues to spring from the small island is  incredibly surprising to many outsiders, especially the music and dance, which just as in the US is the gift of the neo-African culture of black Cubans. “You have got to keep one thing in mind: Cuba has been the cradle of salsa music. We could go back before Cuba and say we owe this to the Africans,” says Jesse Herrero, band leader and producer of Son Sublime, a Cuban charanga orchestra in the New York area

Herrero, who is a vice president at JP Morgan Chase, got his first instrument when he was nearly ten. “I lived under Fidel for five years, and things were rationed in a way that if you wanted something you had to get in line and sometimes you would sleep there and wait for a store opening. I was on line to buy a toy, but the people before me got everything. The only thing I could get was an accordion, which was probably better than any toy I could have gotten.”

Herrero’s passion for classic Cuban rhythms—Rumbadanzón, mámbo, chá-chá-chá, són, bolero, guaracha, and son montuno, all essential to the formhas brought him an appreciation of the work of contemporary Cuban artists like Los Orishas, a popular hip hop group whose style incorporates traditional Cuban rhythms, pays homage to the birthplace of hip hop in New York, and tackles themes familiar to Cubanos. “In one of their songs they did an arrangement that is wonderful, like chá-chá-chá. I think that rap is not easy to listen to, although it can be poetic.”

 Afro-Cuban Rappers

Afro-Cuban Rappers Los Orichas

 Cuban Hip hop voices address serious Afro-Cuban concerns

The legendary hip hop impresario Fab Five Freddy, who hosted the first rap show on MTV, Yo! MTV Raps was shocked by the rap scene he discovered in Cuba. “I met a brother there named Pablo Herrera who was the pivotal figure in the hip hop scene. Pablo was an incredibly knowledgeable cat who spoke English like he grew up in Brooklyn with me. And he knew the whole history of hip hop, all the old school stuff and everything. They even had tapes of my TV shows!”

Ariel Fernandez, founder and editor of Movimiento, a state-funded hip hop magazine, told me when I interiewed him on WBAI:

“Rap music is the voice of the Afro-Cuban in popular culture. It aggressively asserts our cultural identity as black people, which is not recognized in official government policy which asserts that ‘we are all Cubans.’ But we insist that we are culturally different from white Cubans in significant ways,  and this is based on our African heritage and centuries of historical experience with racism on the part of Hispanic Cubans. Although instititional racism has been outlawed, the ideology of white racism remains embedded in the culture. If you listen to Cuban hip hop you will see that the artists use rhythms from our Afro-Cuban musical culture.”

However this is not the first instance of cross-fertilization of Afro-Cuban and Afro-American musical forms.  During the first half of the 20th century, the virtuoso Afro-American trumpeter, bandleader and Jazz innovator John Berks “Dizzy” Gillespie collaborated with Mario Bauza, an Afro-Cuban multi-instrumentalist who was fluent in the language of European classical music, Jazz and the Afro-Cuban musical tradition. Together they produced a hybrid musical genre known as CuBop.

It was a blending of elements from the modern complex improvisational style invented by Gillespie and Saxophone genius Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, called BeBop, with the Son Montuno Afro-Cuban orchestral form.  CuBop is the basis for all “Latin Jazz.”  The Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra featuring the Afro-Cuban congero Chano Pozo became the signature American exponent of CuBop, while Machito and his Afro-Cubans became the Cuban vehicle for the new sound.  All Latin Jazz has its roots in CuBop, whether they know it or not.  It is a sound that continues to flourish.

I first heard Afro-Cuban music in 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the fascist Batista military dictatorship. I was a student at the all-Black Florida A&M University and there were several Afro-Cuban students studying in the world-famous music school, which had produced the renowned saxophonists and trumpeter Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nat.   The Afro-Cuban students would play Jazz with the Afro-American musicians, and on occasion they would get together and play the Son Montuno.

I fell in love with the music upon first hearing.  At the time I played the trap drums, but I would later ditch them and study the Conga drums, which led to my longtime friendship with the great Mongo Santamaria and my marriage to an Afro-Cuban woman.  I even became a good enough congero to substitute for Mongo himself with his great band – which featured the brilliant flautist Hubert Laws – in concert.  Mongo’s band created a new fusion of styles that combined  Afro-Cuban Music, Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues.  My love of playing the Conga drums remains undiminished after half a century; hence I am a living example of the power of Afro-Cuban culture and its influence on US culture.

 Sitting in For Mongo and playing his sequined Congas cica 1966

playing with mongo's band - Close Up Edit

 At Pep’s Show Bar in Philly: Hubert Laws is at Far right
 At Red’s Java Hut
Jamming with the functionaries 013
San Francisco  2009

************

In addition to a festering race problem, Cuba has failed to deal with the problem of rising expectations in an increasingly youthful population who do not remember the glory days of the revolution and are tired of the sacrifices it continues to demand. And considering the men who are most likely to succeed Fidel, this generation gap is bound to widen.

The Cuban Constitution decreed that the First Vice-President will succeed the President, which means that Fidel has been succeeded by his brother Raul, who as head of the party, military, and the state, thus controls all the instruments of power in the Cuban government. He can be expected to surround himself with the same kind of people who advised Fidel—people like Vice President Ricardo Alarcon, a foreign policy specialist who is committed to Castro’s vision for Cuba.

In the days following President Bush’s second inauguration, Alarcon was frank in an interview with Landau. “I think that there are discrepancies in his second inaugural address. He talked about carrying the fire of freedom throughout the world. Without sounding rude, I’d say this is, at the very least, an over-statement. He isn’t going to carry anything much further. He’s already having difficulty in maintaining this fire in Iraq. If he wants to do that around the world he will not succeed. Indeed, he’s not succeeding in Iraq.

“Cuba is one of the places mentioned, not by Bush but by [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, the day before. I advise them not to try. It will cost a lot of lives if the Americans attack us, more than those dying in Iraq, because this is not a divided country or society that has been suffering under a dictatorial regime. The opposite is true. You will find here a free society, finally emancipated from half a century of oppression and corruption imposed by the US.

We attained our independence in 1959 from US domination. That is a fact of history. From an ethnic or cultural point of view we are a unified country, an island on which a common culture and common identity has evolved. We are prepared to make life impossible for an invader.”

The armed Cuban masses have always een Prepared to Defend Their Revolution
Afro-Cuban cuban soldiersistas
From Maids to Militants!

Castro has pointed to the sustained American embargo as the root cause of Cuba’s economic problems, while more and more of America’s allies are ignoring it. Most European and Latin American countries trade with Cuba, and Canada and New Zealand have publicly rejected the embargo policy as a violation of their national sovereignty. The decision of the Cuban government to relax its economic laws to encourage foreign investment has already resulted in hundreds of joint ventures with foreign companies that are reinvigorating the economy. Furthermore support for the embargo’s demise is growing in the American business community, Congress, and even among the younger generation of Miami’s Cuban-Americans. If sentiments continue to build in that direction, the embargo may well not continue after the Bush Administration.

“Everybody is waiting for the day Fidel dies and I think most people in and out of Cuba think that no significant changes are going to happen as long as Fidel stays in power,” says Professor de la Fuentes. “The big question is what happens afterwards. Most people believe there will be some sort of process of transition. For ordinary Cubans there are several important issues; first the social programs that have been established since the 1960s.

Cuba has fairly successful healthcare and education systems that by Third World standards are pretty good, and for people in the street, these are the things that matter. Then there is the issue of property; many people live in property that belonged to others in the 50s. What is going to happen to these people? There is also unemployment, which is fairly low in Cuba only because the public sector is inflated tremendously. Many people have jobs in public sector that would disappear under different conditions.”

“My hope is that when the change takes place it includes a combination of social and domestic policy freedoms with an emphasis on social programs, including care for the poor and disadvantaged in society. That is one thing that has kept Cuban socialism in power. Care for the poor and disadvantaged is not a bad thing.  My guess is committee government,” says Landau. “His brother will be the nominal president, and I am pretty sure there is no one else that will command consensus. Fidel said his brother will take over. They have been operating for 46 plus years; there is no reason to think there is much uncertainty. There is only one Fidel a century—for good or for ill. There is only one person who ‘when he walks into the room the wind does as well’. He is charismatic in the sense of going back to the root, meaning god-like attributes. He is not replaceable.”

 “I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama

of my country, but by thoroughly expressing

the Negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic arts of the blacks

In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth

Hallucinating figures with the power to disturb,

The dreams of exploiters”

Wilfredo Lamb, Cuban artist
 An Evening At The Tropicana!!
At the Tropicana Club 
The Most Fabulous Night club in the World!
 **********************
Double Click to view  live show at the Tropicana
http://youtu.be/qzHFIu7WU_g
Double click on link to view Afro-Cuban Allstars

http://youtu.be/ayKsqYLvE0g

Double click to view Los Orichas Live!
http://youtu.be/nGReptnrN50
http://youtu.be/ZBoqCDSrWi8
Double Click to View Chucho Valdez
 http://youtu.be/VJi0KwXs6tE
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
12/18/04
Originally published on 1o/26/09

Theater in the Western Provinces

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , on December 10, 2014 by playthell

Witch

 Witches and Warlocks Pay Homage to the Queen

Halloween at the Alterena

When my friend Star Valdez, invited me to an evening of theater at the Altarena, a venue she manages, to see a revival of the Broadway hit musical “A Little Shop of Horrors” I thought it would be an interesting way to spend all Hallows Eve – especially since they requested that the guest show up in costume and a prize would be for the best disguise. So I decided to adorned myself in appropriate costume and take my chances.

As a big fan of Halloween when I was a kid it was an unexpected joy to witness the hordes of trick or treaters swarming through the streets of Alameda, going from house to house collecting candies and other sweets – albeit this being the California Bay Area some probably ended up with dried fruits, unsweetened grape fruit or prune juice and granola bars – as we made our way to the theater in a long line of creeping cars.

Although I expected the evening to be fun, I did not expect to see a performance of the quality that distinguished this production.  It is a small house on a rather ordinary street three thousand miles from Manhattan, where I usually spend evenings in the theater….and that more often than not can render even an open and fair minded person a bit Jaded.

Yet because I have spent countless nights witnessing theatrical performances, and have written theater and film reviews for major publications and broadcast media, in the US and Great Britain – see the film and theater sections on this blog – I recognize a good play when I see one wherever it is mounted. Thus I display my credentials not out of vanity, but to point out that as a result of all those nights watching thespians at work in the theater center of the world I have developed a critical eye and exacting standards.

Hence when I say that by any objective measure this was a superb production, it should be taken by readers in the far western provinces as something akin to the infallible utterances of the Pope regarding Catholic doctrine.  Thus when I say this house puts on a great show  lovers of good theater should stampede the ticket office in quest of a seat for their next production.  The night I was there the house was sold out, and I suspect that once the word gets around that they are opening a new production in this fabulous little theater, tickets will quickly become scarce.

The first thing the tutored eye will notice is the amazing efficiency with which they utilize the limited space.  For instance, rather than a lowered pit or bandstand off in the corner, the band is located in a raised booth which is shared by the sound and lighting technicians, who are all masters of their trade.  There are no jack legs here; these are real professionals who could work any theater anywhere.

The sound mixture is marvelous; it took me half the play to figure out where the music was coming from.  The exquisite balance made me think it was a recording, but its warm vibrant sound told me otherwise. There were some liberties taken with the score, but the changes made served to enhance and modernize the production with fresh melodies and lyrics performed by masters of the musical arts.

Next to the music the aura of magic one can experience in well executed theatrical production is conjured by the lighting.  And the lighting design for this production – a kind of absurdist farce rendered as musical comedy – was an excellent corollary to the imaginative set design.   Since the story revolved around a visual illusion, a small strange looking plant that grows to enormous size by eating people, the lighting and set designer had to work in close collaboration in order to pull it off.  And they pulled it off to great effect.

However no theatrical illusion is complete until the costume designers have sucessfully completed their conjurations.  As is demonstrated in this production, when worn by great actors a mere change of costume can induce a complete change of character.  And like music, the right costumes can transport us to particular times and places.

Yet after all the triumphs of the creators of a theatrical work, whose special alchemy constructs the environment for its performance, finally it’s the performers – the actors, singers and dancers – who bring it to life.   In the end, when all is said and done, it is they, the performing artists, who will make or break the work – give it immortality or consign it to the dustbin of history.

I cannot say for sure, so I offer this judgment as a bold speculation only, but I do not believe a small theater anywhere has been blessed with a more talented cast of thespians.  They sang, they danced, they joked and pranced, evoking pathos and bathos at the bat of an eyelash or twist of the mouth; they cajoled, titillated, and grandly entertained the audience.

Alas, in such a cast of gifted thespians selecting any singular performance for special accolades is an abritrary act. Nevertheless, human nature being what it is I do have my favorites and a unable to resist comment.  Avi Jacobson was both funny and convincing as Mushnick, the cockroach capitalist who owns a flower shop.

Since his shop is located on skid row in a deteriorating section of the city his outlook on life is a strange mixture of optimism and gloom.  When we first encounter him he is agonizing over the possibility of having to fire his employees and closing shop.  Mushnick is clearly a product of the immigrant Jewish shtetl on the Lower East Side of New York, populated with workers, radicals, gangsters, artists, and learned Yiddish autodidacts that the distinguished Marxist writer and Editor Michael Gold reported on first hand  and Irving Howe recreated so poignantly in his seminal text “World of Our Fathers.”

It was a community where the common language, Yiddish, was full of colorful aphroisms informed by an ironic sense of the comedy and tragedy of human existence. They even created a distinguished theater where only Yiddish was spoken, the great character actor Faisal Finkel was a product of this theater.

Avi Jacobson embodies all of these elements in his character, from his vocal inflections when speaking Yiddish words to his Oy Vey body language when things are bad, to his perky huckster attitude when his luck begins to change after his employee Seymour, played by Max Thorne, breeds a new and exotic flower that changes his fortunes.

Avi’s portrayal of Mushnick reminds me of every old style Jewish Shop keeper in New York,  and this is remarkable considering that he spent most of his adult life in Israel, where the Yiddish based culture of the Jewish diaspora has found a hostile or indifferent reception. His performance deserved and received generous applause.

The fact that it was All Hallows Eve and the audience were invited to don costumes and join the make believe made the production all the more magical.  If a jaded New York critic could be so moved….it’s a fair guess that this production would wipe out anybody here in the provinces and leave them breathless!

 It was a Little Shop of Horrors!!!
A Carniverous Flower swallowed a Star
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And he was swiftly Slain

DSCN8953

 By the Grim Reaper’s Sythe!
 His Reincarnated Spirit was so Docile
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Even genteel Poets poked fun at him 
He became such a harmless impotent figure…
DSCN8939
………the kindly Ms. Lottabody found him an object of ridicule
As costumed Revelers partied the night away
The One
The Grim Reaper stood guard….warding off evil spirits  
 *************************
Text by Playthell Benjamin
 Photos by: Playthell Benjamin and Susanna Israel

 

Is Russell Wilson Black Enough?  

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! with tags , , on November 9, 2014 by playthell
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Super Bowl Champion and Quintessential Dual Threat Quarterback

 Who is Blacker: Smart Afro-Americans or dumbass Niggas?

In the aftermath of the sudden release of highly touted wide receiver Percy Harvin from the world champion Seattle Seahawks football team, we hear some black members of the Seahawks think that their superstar quarterback who led them to a Super Bowl victory last year “ain’t black enough.”   This charge was first reported by Mike Freeman, an Afro-American sports writer who does not name names but who is considered a reliable source by his peers in the sports writing fraternity such as ESPN’s Stephan A. Smith and Skip Bayless, two of the best in the business.   A clearly frustrated Stephen A made a heroic effort to explain how and why some misguided black players could make such an embarrassingly stupid comment on his daily TV show co-hosted with Bayless: First Take. 

Alas, Stephen A is a sports reporter and thus his comments, although valid, suffered from an inadequate knowledge of history and sociology which a thorough understanding of this question demands.  He is certainly right when he attributes anti-Wilson animosity partially to the jealousy felt by players who do not enjoy the adulation that is heaped on Wilson by the press, fans and management; which is a result of how Wilson carries himself on and off the field.  He is not only hands down the best player on that super talented team he is also the most impressive personality, displaying an embarrassment of riches in intelligence, eloquence and old school elegance of style and manner.

When I was playing high school football in the 1950’s a guy like Russell Wilson would have been roundly revered by me and my team mates; he is everything that we would have wanted a black star athlete to be…especially a quarterback!  The rap on black men back then was that we were not smart enough to play quarterback because of the rapid analysis and cool decision making under pressure the position required.  Hence a feeling of intense pride in Russell would have been universal!

This begs the rather obvious question: What happened over the last 50 years that radically changed the values of a considerable segment of black America so that the ignorant, inarticulate, blinged out brute is now preferable to an elegant, articulate, gentleman from a great Afro-American family like Russell Wilson.  Obviously an in-depth exegesis on this question is beyond the scope of a single essay – and also the attention span of the Facebook generation who are accustomed to reading brief, semiliterate, graffiti – hence I shall venture a capsule explanation that will at least identify the major elements of the problem.

Reduced to its lowest terms we can sum up the problem as a consequence of the collapse of the nuclear family structure that left far too many poorly educated, poverty stricken, single mothers to raise their sons with little or no involvement from their fathers – who are often ignorant, impoverished teenagers who know as much about parenting as a mule knows about playing the fiddle.  Then there was the great Civil Rights revolution that destroyed the de-jure caste system and the racially restrictive housing covenants that was a fundamental feature of the apartheid system in America and forced Afro-Americans of all classes to reside in the same neighborhoods.

This development dramatically exacerbated the class divide in the black community by freeing middle and upper class Afro-Americans to live wherever their incomes could afford, and opened up myriad opportunities to the educated and talented beyond the black community, which they were no longer confined by law and custom to serving exclusively.  Hence the caliber of community leadership I grew up under no longer existed when the present generation of young Afro-Americans came of age.

Alas, the class of men and women who set the high standards we were expected to achieve and the institutions molded by their vision and values – black church, schools, nuclear family, coaches, etc – which shaped the character of Russell Wilson, Jackie Robinson, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, myself, and legions of other upstanding black men was gone by the time many of today’s athletes came of age.  Hence instead of listening to the wise counsel of black fathers, teachers, coaches and preachers, they took their notions of Manhood from Tupac, Biggie, Lil Wayne, Master P. Sleezy E. Schooly D, Too Live Crew, Fitty Cents, and the like.  The result is both obvious and horrifying.

For instance, my generation was taught to aim for the stars and always put our best face forward when in public because we were representing our race, whether we chose to or not that was how it was.  This instruction was accompanied by the admonishment to  “never cut the fool in public” because it served to confirm the worse racist slander about us, which would surely be used to justify our oppression, and under no circumstances call another Afro-American a “nigger” in public!  It is obvious that many young Afro-Americans were never taught these things by anyone: not their parents, teachers or church.  That these young people were failed by these basic institutions, and thus the socialization process by which a culture indoctrinates their children with its most cherished values, was distorted and thwarted.

Alas, these failures do much explain why some of the present generation of black players in the NFL is presently fighting for the right to call themselves “niggas” on one of the largest stages in the world after the NFL banned its use and is levying penalties and fines at violators.  And some black players with the Miami Dolphins franchise sided with a white racist bully and borderline criminal Richie Incognito against Afro-American player Johnathan Martin, a well-spoken Stanford Grad with highly educated parents like Russell Wilson, because they said Incognito was “blacker” and “more of a brother” than Martin.  And thus, in their considered opinion, it’s cool for Incognito to call them “niggers.”

Well, I don’t argue with people who proudly announce that they are niggas, since I cannot be more royal than the king, so I have only to say that they are some of the dumbest niggas the Gods ever blew the breath of life in!  The question for the black community is which model of manhood we want for our young men: Russell Wilson and Johnathon Martin, or Tupac, Lil Wayne, fitty Cents and their thugged out “niggas?  Who would you rather have for a son or son-in-law?

And compliments about what good businessmen they are is no argument in favor of their values; for some of the richest businessmen in the world are criminals! It does not require a mastermind to figure out that you cannot build a healthy, life enhancing, society based upon thug values. As Dr. DuBois pointed out over a century ago, “If you just teach people to make money you will produce money makers but not men.”  Civilization is about something far different and much more….and that is what is at stake here.

 ***************

 The nature of athletic talent is such that, like all of “God’s” gifts, it is spread out among every segment of the population.   Hence we get some highly educated athletes and more than a few muscle heads who know little else besides sports.  However due to the incredible amount of time and hard work even the most gifted athletes must invest in a sport in order to succeed on the professional level, we find more players from lower and middle income backgrounds than the scions of the plutocrats.  This is the natural result of young men from the privileged classes having many more avenues to success and thus don’t have to gamble on something as fragile and elusive as a career in professional sports.

This partially explains why in the sports of football and basketball, which attract the largest audiences and generate big dollars, the majority of the players are Afro-American.  It is also due to physical gifts that are tailor made for these sports, and the dedicated work ethic of hundreds of thousands of talented young men who view these sports as their ticket out of poverty and into the great American dream of incredible wealth and celebrity – a dramatic transition in life style that literally happens overnight.

Alas, a lifetime of preparation and anticipation for success in professional sports does nothing to prepare young men from impoverished backgrounds to handle this new life of sudden affluence. And strangely enough most colleges don’t offer courses or guidance counselling on how to handle the next stage of their lives.  That’s why so many of them cut the fool, squander their money, and wind up at the end of their athletic careers scuffling to try and maintain some semblance of the lifestyle they enjoyed during their playing years.

Since many of these players did not receive the education promised to them by the colleges they attended, which would have mitigated some of the deficits of their class backgrounds, many leave college with the same essential values they entered them.  They came from neighborhoods where education and good manners were not valued; a sub-culture where poverty and ignorance is the norm, out of wedlock births are common fare and most people value toughness over intelligence. And they bring their “Hood Rat” values with them into the world of professional sports.

Having grown up in the kind of urban wastelands described by Dr. William Julius Wilson in his path breaking sociological studies – “The Truly Disadvantaged” and “When Work Disappears”- where the presence of strong, loving, intelligent fathers are absent from the majority of homes these young men have to figure out how to be a man on their own, or seek the counsel of other fatherless, clueless, peers.

For many of these young men that now fill the rosters of professional football teams those peers  were rappers like Tupac Skehur, a young man who was so confused about the meaning of manhood that even fame and wealth could not prevent him from self-destructing.  Yet Tupac still inspires a group of devotees among black and Hispanic males that approaches the status  of reverence for a guru or demi-God who spoke some divine truth.   For an analysis of how Tupac Shekur’s thug life philosophy helped put former New England Patriot star tight end Aron Hernandez behind bars possibly for the rest of his life for committing multiple murders read “Thug Life” on this blog.

The same self-destructive tendencies, although far less dangerous to the rest of society,  can be clearly seen in former basketball great Allen Iverson – who refused to grow up and shed his B-Boy demeanor even after he became a big star and had millions in the bank, or Mike Tyson, who squandered 250 million dollars before he was thirty!  Lacking education and thus the rich internal life and moral compass it provides, these young men make a fetish of money in the false belief that it can bring instant and permanent gratification.  Hence they are solely concerned with making a living rather than making a life.  Alas, they do not seem to even recognize that there is a difference between the two even when they can sense there is something missing in their lives.

The great prize fighter Floyd Mayweather is an excellent example of this.  One need only watch the numerous You Tube videos that provide us unprecedented access to his lifestyle outside the ring.  One gets the impression that he is trying to make up for all of the depravations that he suffered as a child, which he provides in harrowing detail in numerous recollections, as he showers himself in expensive toys and pretty girls far beyond what a mature well balance grown up would need to feel real. One gets the impression that everybody around him is on payroll, paid flunkies not real friends, and the thoughtful observer must ask what would Floyd be without the money and bling?

Hence among this crowd of rich but spiritually impoverished and psychologically wounded young celebrities material affluence is their measure of a man; education holds such a low priority that Floyd’s former ace boon coon “Fitty Cents” says that Floyd can’t read!  Fitty even challenged him in an online video to publicly read a page from a Harry Potter book, after which Fitty pledged to give $750, 000 to any charity designated by Floyd! Despite the opportunity to give a gift of three quarters of a million dollars to say, The National Negro College Fund, Floyd, who has given himself the sobriquet “Money” Mayweather, refused the challenge and responds to his critics by flashing stacks of dollar bills of large denominations and announcing that he is worth “500 million liquid!”

It does not seem to occur to Mayweather that the reason so many celebrities go from rags to riches to rags is because they were not smart enough to manage their money and keep track of it.  And in any case, what kind of example is that to set for his children….whom from every indication he loves dearly.  What does it say to them about the value of getting an education?  With a role model like him how are they to come to the understanding that in making a great life – as opposed to a merely a good living – education, not material possessions, is the most valuable thing one can acquire.

The idea that having money is an adequate substitute for an absence of intelligence is a fairly recent phenomenon in the Afro-American community.  When I was growing up acquiring a great education was at the top of the black community’s value system.  Hence the eloquent well-educated Jackie Robinson was the preferred role model for most Afro-American parents over the uneducated Willy Mayes who spoke with a “country Bama” accent, or the mumbling Heavy-Weight Joe Louis, despite their great admiration for him as a pugilist and a man.  However there was a big difference between Joe Louis, Willie Mayes and many of today’s young black athletes: They did not celebrate lumpen values like “thug life.”  In their day people who flaunted rolls of cash money were hustlers who were dismissed by people with real money as “nigger rich,” a joke.  Today we have a new and bizarre phenomenon: really rich Afro-Americans who behave like Niggas!

 Floyd and Fitty: Rich Self proclaimed filth rich “Niggas.”
Floyd and Fitty
How long before these niggas and their money part?
 Sonny Liston and wife dining with arch-opponent Muhammad Ali
Ali and Liston
Back in the Day, before Niggas starting to set the standards

The old school Afro-Americans and Athletes presented themselves in style and manners as gentlemen and responsible citizens that their fellow Afro-Americans could take pride in.  They would have been shocked and scandalized by rich and famous young black men choosing street thugs as their role models!  Even the vicious boxer Sonny Liston – who unlike the Hip Hop play-play gangstas had been a real thug that had formerly been an enforcer for the St. Louis mob – wanted no part of the thug image after he became World Heavy-Weight Champion.  And he said as much in an interview with Ebony Magazine, where he pointed out that he was a married man with a daughter and he wanted her to feel proud of him.

Jackie Robinson: Calvary Officer and Gentleman
jackie-robinson- Calvery Officer
 UCLA Grad, Four Sport Athlete, Baseball Legend, Corporate Executive, Freedom fighter

The reverence for education in the black southern community I grew up in had deep roots in our history.  Reports of former slaves flocking to any school that was available to them in the aftermath of slavery during the 1860’s are common fare in the accounts of educators from the period.  Frederick Douglass considered education so important that he risked death in order to learn to read when he was a slave, and once he escaped slavery and gained a measure of freedom he became one of the best spoken and accomplished writers in America: and he achieved this on his own!

Describing the aftermath of Civil war and Emancipation Dr. W. E. B. DuBois tells us in his masterpiece Black Reconstruction, “A whole race went to school.” Dr. DuBois considered education so critical to the freedom and development of Afro-Americans that he called for the development of a highly educated “Talented Tenth” to arise and lead the masses of Afro-Americans away from “the worst in their own and other races.”   This advice was taken to heart and the leaders of the black community who answered the call to uplift the race took charge of the black community, filled its pulpits and ran its schools all preached the value of education!

One of the virtues of education was to impart values that would serve help to advance one in a racist society that portrayed Afro-Americans in the organs of popular culture as fools and buffoons; a tradition that reached its apotheosis in the wildly popular blackface minstrel shows. Hence one was to present oneself in public as well spoken and well dressed – elegance complimenting eloquence. And these values took deep root.

Indeed Frederick Douglass had set the standard; as a man who spent his life as an advocate for oppressed black people in America, during and after slavery, he had an acute understanding of the importance of public perception of the race.  In fact he considered it so important in the struggle for equality in American society that he mastered the art of oratory and became arguably the best dressed man in America!  And he enlisted the practitioners of the budding art of photography to splash his image all over the public arena, by some estimates he was the most photographed man in 19th century America.  (See: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” on this blog.) 

Frederick Douglass
Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52
He set the standard for black male elegance in America

Thus it is no surprise when we behold the elegant style and eloquent speech of Duke Ellington, who bewitched audiences around the world and hobnobbed with royalty in places where few white Americans would have been admitted.  And in so doing he enhanced the stature of black people around the world by the power and dignity of his presentation of himself and his great orchestra, whose music was an extension of his style and personality.

 Edward Kennedy Ellingtom: Superstar!
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance
An Elegant Gentlemen Virtuoso instrumentalist and prolific composer !

People came from all over the world to hear his concerts.  I had the good fortune to attend a party at Dukes place one evening after a big concert at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, and the variety of people there was fascinating.  They represented several races and included artists of various stripes, assorted intellectuals and European Aristocrats; since I regarded my presence there as an event of historic importance to me, I of course wrote an account of the affair. (See: “An Evening with Edward Kennedy Ellington,” on this blog.)  In Ellington’s day all Americans danced, dined and made love to his poignant musical portraits celebrating the grace and beauty of   Afro-American women such as: Sophisticated Lady, Satin Doll, Black and Tan Fantasy, etc.

 Today these celebrations of black women have been replaced by the notorious “bitches and hos” of HIP Hop fame, which is the only music many young black males listen to and now defines them around the world.  And it is the portrait of black American culture and character that they are referring to in deciding who is really black….”A FOR REAL NIGGA!” Anyone who cannot recognize that that this development represents a decadent and dangerous trend in Afro-American popular culture, a precipitous decline in taste and judgment, is a part of the problem.  The extent of the problem was driven home to me when I was seated next to a young black man on a bus trip through the South where I informally interviewed people about their reactions to the recent election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States.

 Is this what we want as role models for our sons?
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Many young black men look up to this symbol of cultural decadence as a source of wisdom

When I put the question to the young brother, he sat there looking like a clown with his baseball cap cocked at an angle where it was hard to see if he was coming or going from a distance.  “Well that’s cool old school,” he said….but Barack just ain’t street enough.”   My first impulse was to slap his cap straight and then drop some science on his silly ass, but I decided to just school the kid instead.  I told him that the only thing the “streets” could prepare him for is to be a rapper, go to jail…or the graveyard.  By the time I got through he was so embarrassed he got off the bus at the next stop.  Tis a pity that there is no wise older man in the life of these boys to help clarify their confusions and put them on the right track, because the values they hold will lead them to self-destruct even after they achieve their goals of wealth and fame.

Most black football players know but little about the history of Afro-Americans in the game of football and display even less interest in finding out – a natural consequence of having slept through or cut history classes – hence they do not know that the first Afro-American greats in the game of football were Ivy League graduates. (See: “On Race Culture and Sports” on this blog) Perhaps the greatest of these early footballers was Paul Robeson, who tutored his white Rutgers classmates in Greek and Latin while starring in four sports and graduating Valedictorian of the class!  Upon graduation Paul played in the first professional football league formed in the US, where he teamed up with Fritz Pollard – an Afro-American  graduate of Brown University and the first “duel threat” quarterback in professional football – and they went undefeated.

However racism and financial problems prompted Robeson to go back to school and earn a law degree from Columbia University, but he soon abandoned a racist legal profession and went on to become a world renowned concert singer performing the sacred songs of our enslaved ancestors – that beautiful body of music Dr. DuBois called “The Sorrow Songs -” as well as one an accomplished Shakespearean actor who performed in the US and Europe, breaking all records for a Shakespeare play on Broadway.  One wonders what the black football players who say Russell Wilson ain’t black enough would think of a man like Paul Robeson.

This question goes to the heart of the matter and the cultural state of black America can be gauged by it.  It is more than reasonable to suspect that the people who think Russell “ain’t black enough” would surely have felt the same way about Paul.  When asked about the comment Russell said “I don’t know what they are talking about,” and neither would Paul Robeson, whose father had escaped from slavery, acquired a college degree, and personally taught him Greek and Latin.

Big Paul Robeson of Rutgers
Paul Robeson - All American
Scholar Athlete Par Excellence
Paul_Robeson 
 Lawyer and Freedom Fighter

Paul robeson and Peggy AshcroftWorld Renowned Concert singer and great Shakespearian Actor
 Hanging out with his friend Albert Eienstein
Paul Robeson and Albert Einstein
 The World’s Greatest Scientist
 Fritz Pollard: the first Dual Threat Quarterback
Fritz Pollard_Throw
Frederick Douglass Pollard was also the first Black Professional Coach
After football he went on to publish a Newspaper and became an entertainment agent 
Friz Pollard II
He also started  the first black owned investment banking firm

Well, rumor has it that the comment questioning Russell’s Black Quotient came from running back Marshan Lynch; which would be easily understandable because aside from football Russ and Marshan have nothing in common but skin color, and since Russ is tan and Lynch is darker one is tempted to conclude that’s what Lynch was referring to.  But I think not.  Considering the context I am convinced that he was mainly talking about Russell’s style and manner, his values and aspirations. If that’s the case, would to God that he was referring to a pigmentocracy where blackness was graded on a scale of light and dark, a reversal of the old “paper bag” and “blow hair syndromes,” for we have survived color schisms in the past…but cultural and moral decadence will destroy us.

The greatest danger to the survival of black males in America is not white racists, and that includes those who wear police uniforms; rather it is the growing inculcation of a vision of manhood defined by the ability to coldly afflict violence on an adversary who is almost always black like them…and show no remorse.  This value system is embedded in a popular culture which celebrates ignorance and bad taste as if they were virtues.  The evidence is abundant; you can hear it on countless rap records that celebrate “Thug Life,” and witness it in the tragic self-destructive behavior of confused young men like Aron Hernandez. Those who argue otherwise are either charlatans, fools, or the human equivalent of ostriches that refuse to pull their head out of their ass and take a good look at what is really going on.  For instance, much fuss is made over the “Stop and Frisk” policy initiated by former Mayor Blumberg in New York City, it is widely portrayed by black community activist and the white liberal/ left as a sinister racist plot against young black men.

Since I grew up in the apartheid South during the 1940’s and 50’s I know how white racist mayors react to blacks murdering blacks: They didn’t give a shit!!!  They wouldn’t even dispatch an extra squad car to stop it let alone spend millions of city dollars on a Stop and Frisk operation!  Since most of the people who are speaking the loudest in this debate make their arguments without the benefit of historical perspective they lack any basis for comparative analysis, and their arguments suffer because of it. I have consistently argued that this point of view is transparent nonsense that avoids the main issue: The havoc inflicted on the black community by armed black criminals committing murder and mayhem 24/7!

In comparison to those wounded and killed from black criminals, the number of black men killed by white police appears to be few and far between.  Furthermore we can control the behavior of the police just by adding body cameras and changing the rules of engagement – All of these issues are thoughtfully discussed and statistically demonstrated in several essays on the subject See: “Mend it Don’t End It” on this blog – but how to turn our youths away from a seductive popular culture that romanticizes lumpen criminal behavior and makes it the standard for black authenticity is a far more perplexing problem.

Furthermore, the highly publicized violent antics of the niggas which the world can see on You Tube – check out the links below to videos showing armed young black criminals brandishing their assault weapons, which are illegal for police to carry, and bragging about the havoc they are wreaking on the black community just for the thrill of it – causes white Americans to side with the police when unarmed black men are murdered by the police.   Hence this criminal class has put law abiding young black men in a double bind: caught in crossfire between the cops and the robbers.  If we do not soon come up with a solution, these self-destructive tendencies will destroy far more young black people than white racist violence in the 20th century ever did!

Already the numbers of black men killing black men has greatly exceeded the number of black men killed by white racist violence during the height of the lynching phenomenon, the most intense period of white on black violence in American history – 1880 to 1915.  Since I have given the numbers in previous essays published on this blog I shan’t belabor the issue here, but if you really wish to understand the period to which I am referring read “The Negro in American Life and History: The Nadir” by the outstanding Afro-American historian Rayford Logan. It would be an enlightening experience to read this book, it will change your views about American society and race relations, but trust me, I’m right on the figures!

These are sad facts indeed, but to shirk our duty to confront them honestly and seriously is to betray both an ancestral imperative to continue the struggle to uplift the race, and the first law of nature: The instinct for self-preservation.  It is instructive to note that African descendants elsewhere in the American diaspora have virtually disappeared after having played a vital role in the history and culture of the nation.  The story of Afro-Argentinians is the most poignant case in point.  During the 19th century when the nation was constantly at war Argentina sent forth it’s “Black Legions” composed of conscripted Afro-Argentinian men who were either fighting to escape slavery or prison, and they were slaughtered in vast numbers.

The black women were forced to marry men of other races because available black men become so scarce.  The government encouraged large scale immigration of Italian men and encouraged them to take black women.  Hence by the 20th century a popular slogan arose in the Argentine: “There are no blacks in Argentina.”   The strongest evidence of the once prominent presence is the national music they gave the nation: The Tango.  To read about this intriguing and tragic story see: “Tango: A History of the Dance of Love,” by Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, Professor of Art History and Dean of African Civilization at Yale, and “The Negro in Argentina,” University of Florida Press.  Also see the section on Argentina in Professor Henry Louis Gates’s PBS series “Black in Latin America.”

While it is nearly impossible to imagine the physical disappearance of Afro-Americans, who have also fought in all of our nation’s wars and left an indelible print on American culture, it is quite possible to envision a scenario in which a large segment of black men become obsolete in a knowledge based economy based on a Darwinian ethic that is red of tooth and claw and only the fit will survive. One could convincingly argue that we are well into the beginning stages of such an economy.

Hence in a predatory privately owned corporate dominated economy that prizes intelligence, competence and good interpersonal skills young black men whose characters are formed by a lumpen culture that prizes antithetical values are doomed to a life of unemployment and jail…unless life is prematurely ended in the grave yard.  Already there are far more young black men in jail than in college, and what is worse it is a badge of honor for many of them!

Hall of Fame basketball star Charles Barkley, from whom I have rarely heard an intelligent comment unrelated to sports, was moved to speak out on the  reason why some black players on the Sea Hawks might not think Russell Wilson is black enough during a recent radio interview – a clip of which is embedded at the bottom of this essay.  Although Barkley greatly overgeneralizes when speaking of the black community’s failings, albeit he does make some attempt to correct it, he speaks frankly to white radio host Anthony Garano, who was thoroughly puzzled by why any black player would hate on Russell Wilson.

“Young black kids, when they do well in school the loser kids tell them ‘you are acting white.’  The kids who speak intelligently they tell them ‘you are acting white.’  So it’s a dirty dark secret in the black community and one of the reasons that we are never going to be successful as a whole because of other black people.  For some reason we are brainwashed to believe that if you are not a thug or an idiot you are not black enough!  If you go to school, speak intelligently and not break the law you are not a good black person.  It’s a dirty dark secret in the black community Anthony.  We are the only race or ethnic group who tell people if you don’t have street cred, that means you have been arrested, like that’s a compliment.  We are the only ethnic group who says ‘hey, if you been to jail it gives you street cred.”

Of course, Charles Barkly is not very deep in his analysis, but he knows some self-destructive shit when he sees it.  As of this writing Barkley’s interview has nearly a half million hits on You Tube, and over 700 comments.  Since this is such a painful discussion for self-respecting, law abiding, educated, successful Afro-Americans to hear it is predictable that Barkley would be attacked as a “sell-out” and “Tom.”  But even if this is true as a general proposition – and I offer no opinion on that account since I do not follow his affairs closely – what Barkley is saying here has the ring of truth regarding an increasingly large portion of Afro-American youths.  I do not have exact statistics on this but I know that whatever the actual percentage is it is far too large!

Not all of the respondents disagreed with Barkley.   Of course the white racist loved it because it confirmed all of their racist “fakelore” about black people – as the great writer and cultural critic Albert Murray calls it in his masterpiece “The Omni-Americans” – which no doubt compelled some black listeners to attack him, but others thought he was just telling it like it is.  A Ms. Tosh, who is visually black, responded:

“I agree with Charles Barkley 100% and I never liked this man before….until now!!! He is absolutely right and for those Blacks on here who are saying that he’s a coon and denying that the Black community have dark secrets, then you never listened to what this gentleman said. It is a fact that there are far too many Blacks who belittle other Blacks if they speak intelligently, obtain a college degree, own a business, get married, don’t have any kids, and didn’t go to prison. If you are not pro hair hats, then you’re labeled a sellout or an uppity Black b*tch who think that she’s better than the rest. I have personally witnessed this far too many times with these mentally enslaved Blacks, all of what Charles is stating. The #1 enemy for Black people are BLACK people. The #2 enemy of Black people are White people. The #3 enemy for Black people is stupidity. #1 and #3 are me being redundant. I apologize for the redundancy”

One of the tell-tale clues as to who is authentically black among this swelling lumpen crowd is that they do not speak standard English, and they dress like rappers because evidently no one they trust has managed to convince them that the only people who can make a living dressed like that is rappers!  And as that Hip Hop head in the White House, Chilly B. Knowledge, done told them: “We can’t all be Lil Wayne!”  You can look around any black community and find them easily enough….they seem to be everywhere.  And they, in the hearts and minds of too many black youths, are the “real black people” ….  “These niggas keep it real!”  Unlike squares like Obama, these niggas got “Street Cred.”  It is an absurd and self-destructive philosophy of life.

Based on these standards it does not require more than a casual glance at the Seattle Sea Hawks football team to see who is the “realest nigga on the squad,” and it ain’t Russ, who is the antithesis of all that.  Wilson comes from several generations of highly educated successful professional Afro-Americans.  He was born and raised in Richmond Virginia, the home of the late great Tennis champion and eminent sports historian Arthur Ashe, who was no doubt one of Russell’s role models.

Arthur Ashe is the only black person whose statue reposes on the Avenue of Heroes in down town Richmond Virginia, the former capital of the slaveholding Confederacy, right alongside all of the generals and leaders of the Confederate States of America, those beloved southerners who committed treason against the USA in order to keep black Americans in the chains of slavedom.

Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe Statue II
Scholar, Athlete, Officer and Gentleman

Ashe’s statue is unique as a sports monument because he has a tennis racket in one hand and a book in the other.  It symbolizes what Ashe believed about black youths and sports.  After completing a three volume history of Afro-American athletes, Arthur was asked how he would sum up what he had learned from all of his research during an appearance on a national television show: “I would advise black youths to spend most of their time studying their books because they are going to outrun and out jump everybody else anyway.”

There are many examples of this but Paul Robeson is the quintessential example. The personification of the Greek ideal of mind/body perfection he was a star at Baseball, basketball, track and football and was still elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.  John Wideman, an All-American basketball player at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, where he won a much coveted Benjamin Franklin Scholarship which was awarded on a statewide basis and paid all of his expenses.

Wideman turned down a chance to play professional basketball in favor of a Rhodes Fellowship that provided an opportunity to do graduate study at Oxford. Wideman has since gone on to become one of the greatest 20th century American writers, whose works have inspired an international community of scholars that have devoted their academic careers to the critical study and teaching of his many works. It is officially known as “The John Wideman Society.”

Paul Robeson however played for a brief period in the first professional football league on a team quarterbacked by Fritz Pollard – an Afro-American and Brown graduate  who was also a college All-American like Robeson.  They went undefeated!!!!  Then Robeson left the gridiron and took a degree from Columbia Law School.  After briefly practicing law Robeson became a world renowned concert singer and Shakespearian actor whose performances of Othello on Broadway broke all attendance records.  And he accomplished all of this in an openly racist world where racial discrimination was legal; which is why he became a militant activist who fought racism and oppression all over the world!  He is one of the greatest black men in history!   Yet I would venture a guess that those ignorant black hood rats who are hatin on Russ never heard of Robeson, and based on the criteria by which Russell Wilson has been judged by them Big Paul wasn’t “black enough” either.

The magnitude of this problem and the danger it represents to the survival and progress of black America ought to be clear to every reader by now.  Russell Wilson: great athlete in two sports, record setting quarterback of the Super Bowl Champions, graduated from college in three years, eloquent, charming, elegant of style, upstanding citizen, ideal role model for ALL American youths – especially black males – who want to succeed at anything in life because his values and approach to life will work in any field: simply the best the country has to offer!

Like his homie Arthur Ashe -a soft spoken military officer, gentleman and scholar who also happened to be a world champion athlete – I am certain that Russ, who intends to follow his deceased father and hero into the legal profession, will continue to be a credit to Afro-Americans just as his family has been for generations.  But he is spurned by some black team mates as a phony because he has no “street cred” and is therefore: not “black enough.”

Is this Black enough for yhall dumb Asses?
Russell-jayz-beyonce-russel-wilson-basketball-game-1
“I don’t know what they are talking about” says Russell

Yet all the arbiters of niggerism agree that Marshan Lynch is “A FOR REAL NIGGER.” And just what, pray tell, are Mr. Lynch’s qualifications for this honorific?  Well from all appearances he is certainly inarticulate and fairly empty headed, in fact he seems terrified whenever a microphone is put in his face for comment.  On the face of it we can see that he is squandering opportunities to use his football stardom off the field, which will become very important after his playing days are over, which could be with the next hit since he is a running back.

In fact his style of attack is such that it will almost guarantee a relatively short career. He will not last 1ast 16 years like Walter Peyton, let alone 20 years like the great Jerry Rice.  This is partially the reason why the Sea Hawks are reluctant to give him the big contract he is asking for and based on past performance apparently deserves.  But I believe that his attitude and character also has much to do with management’s decision.

Although Lynch is notoriously silent with the media, we are provided some revealing glances into his personality and character in several videos where he unintentionally opens himself up to scrutiny.  One of these is the video “Hooker Boy Filmz Presents Marshan Lynch,” where he is seen strolling through the streets of Oakland and Settle Washington with his homies while rappers shout in the background “Beast Mode Bitch! All my Niggas yelling Marshan Lynch!”  If we had any doubts about his fascination with the “Thug Life” this video leaves no doubt.  At one point in the beginning of the film he talks about how he hosts a football camp for the kids in Oakland on a weekend during the summer, however the next minute we see him shouting “you bitch!” at a woman driving by in a SUV because she wouldn’t stop for the great Marshan Lynch.

Since every other word out of their mouths is a curse one wonders what sort of values they will teach kids in a football camp.  When he talks about his camp the focus is all about identifying pro-football prospects and putting them on the road to the NFL, with college being a short stop to better prepare for a career in the pros.  But what if they don’t make it…what then?  His a very different philosophy from that of Doug Williams, a gracious southern gentleman who was the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl and then went on to coach his Alma Mater Grambling state.  Williams says he does not recruit his players with a promise that they will go to the NFL, because he is far more interested in players concentrating on getting a college degree, because if they have the talent the NFL will find them.

The white folks who approach him to pay respects seem both awed and a little scared.  After all, he happily goes by the nick name “Beast Mode” and plays like a wild beast smashing into opponents and grinding them into the dust with his powerful physique.  He is scary enough on the football field but in a chance encounter on the street in his thugged out rapper gear he can be….well, frightening.   And it shows on the faces of his white well-wishers.  The few comments uttered by Lynch in barely audible grunts reveal a simple minded man child and borderline thug.   Going to college helped to prepare him to play professional football, but certainly didn’t do much to polish up his rough edges.  We must demand more from our colleges in the eucation of the athletes who make millions of dollars for their schools.

Unlike Russell, who graduated from college in three years, “Beast Mode” quit the University after three years and turned pro.  Normally I would consider this a smart decision, but Marshann does not seem to have received the education that a great school like Cal could offer. In fact he gives me the impression that he would probably be locked up doing from now until if it weren’t for football.  Marshan Lynch is everything Russell Wilson isn’t!   I believe that is the true source of his hatred for Wilson, Jealousy growing out of feelings of personal inadequacy, the same syndrome Charles Barkley describes.

Beast Mode aka Marshan Lynch

Beast Mode III

I’d bet my bottom dollar he believes Lil Wayne is spittin wisdom
 He thinks its cool to be inarticulate
Beast Mode II
The Mark of a “for real” Nigga!

It appears to be pretty much a foregone conclusion that Lynch’s days in Seattle are numbered.  He is seen on the Hooker Boy film threatening to leave Seattle if he does not get the money he wants.  I am certain if the front office views this film it will hasten his departure.  The Sea Hawks know that they have a golden boy in Russell Wilson; he seems almost too good to be true.  He will be the face of their franchise for many years to come – a great player, solid citizen, movie star handsome, and fan favorite – while Lynch will become a faded memory.

However the problems revealed by this imbroglio remain, and coming up with a viable solution to it is the challenge that now faces the leadership of the Afro-American community.  I am not blaming Afro-American leaders for this situation; the people who have not properly parented their children must bear most of the blame.  Yet even when they do their best parents can’t guarantee that their children will find meaningful – or any work –at a living wage.  This is a problem that confronts the working class – white and blue collar wage workers – across the board as millions of manufacturing jobs are transferred overseas through globalization, and millions of jobs are eliminated through robotization.

These are the questions our community should be concentrating on with our working class allies from all quarters, but Afro-Americans must first solve the problem of neutralizing and reversing the nihilistic trend among the black lumpen element whose sub-culture celebrates ignorance hedonism and violence, while trashing intelligence, discipline, and even good manners.  It is way past time to put the lumpen element back in their place and not allow their values to replace the traditional values of black America which prized those things that would uplift the race: Industry, honesty, study, love of family, church fellowship and trying to be the best at whatever you do.  These are the values that helped me stay on course despite the trials and tribulations of being a black man in the openly racist American society of my youth.

They are the rocks on which we as a people stood in the most trying periods of our history, and oh what mighty rocks they are!  Let us measure our blackness by these tried and true standards that have stood the test of time, not the nihilistic antics of self-destructive clowns who emerged from the projects spouting semiliterate rhymes with various degrees of artistry and mesmerized listeners around the world.  For white middle class fans in the suburbs listening to these rhythmic rhymes was a sonic excursion into a strange forbidden menagerie populated by exotic others, but for far too many young blacks it was “the truth.”

However some young black men who grew up in the hood around thug life rose above their environment through setting high goals for themselves and working like hell to achieve them.    Richard Sherman is an excellent case in point.  Although he grew up in the heart of the hood in LA, he became a serious student –athlete who graduated from Stanford, one of the world’s most prestigious universities where he was a star on the football team.  Now he is the most feared and highly paid corner backs in the cornerbacks in the NFL.  After a playoff win last year that put them one game away from the Super Bowl he engaged in a bit of animated trash talking with a San Francisco wide receiver that almost caught the winning touchdown and it was caught on the microphone of a reporter.

White racist and paternalists of all sorts tried to label him a LA gangbanger, but he was having no part of the “thug” image that Marshan Lynch wears so proudly that when he heard Percy Harvin had been cut he tweeted “They cut my nigga!” And he threatened not to play in the coming game.   On the other hand Sherman quietly pointed out that he had grown up around thugs and knew them well and that he was nothing like a thug, that he was a Stanford grad, a great athlete and a law abiding tax paying citizen with no criminal record. Of course he is a big supporter of Russell Wilson, whom he regards as a great quarterback and fine person…which he is.  It is clear by his personal style, intelligence and easy eloquence that Sherman like Russell Wilson is headed for great things off the field and after football is but a memory

Richard Sherman at the White House
 Barack and Richard Sherman
 A Stanford Grad Setting his sights on the Future?

Recognizing the injustice done to this young man by his white critics in the press, many of the same scoundrels who tried to paint he and Michelle as “angry blacks who hate white people,” President Obama invited Sherm to the annual White House Correspondents Dinner and used his much maligned rhetoric in his comic routine, calling Sherman out by name and asking him if he was doing it right.  And when he invited the Seahawks to the white house to honor the team for winning the Superbowl he singled Sherman out to Sherman with a special recognition of his accomplishments.

I joke about Richard Sherman,”  the Presidnt said,  “but he grew up in Compton amid some wonderful people, but also gangs and drugs and guns.  His dad had to wake up before 4 a.m. every day to drive a garbage truck.  But because of his dad’s hard work and his family, and his mom, Richard ended up earning a 4.2 GPA in high school.  He won a scholarship to Stanford.  (Applause.)  He showed kids from his neighborhood that they could make it.  And if he seems a little brash, it’s because you’ve got to have attitude sometimes if you are going to overcome some of this adversity.  And the fact that he still goes back to inspire high schoolers for higher goals and making better choices, that’s all-star behavior.”

It was a great moment for Sherman and all black men in America who are trying to make their mark in some worthwhile endeavor.  As the often insightful Afro-America comedian Chris rock aptly pointed out: “Everything black people build niggas try to fuck it up!”   Hence Black Americans must make a clear choice as to what model of man we want our son sand sons in laws to be: smart upstanding productive black/Afro-American men….or destructive dumbass “niggas.”  To be or not to be: That is the only question!

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 To see Videos double click on links below
http://youtu.be/_uYvq_UYXnI
 Rusell Wilson interview with Howie Long
 ***********
Hooker Boy Films present Marshan Lynch Video
http://youtu.be/7ZkXs8ubGtI
Richard Sherman on “Thug Life”

http://youtu.be/7ZkXs8ubGtI

Dangerous Dumbass Niggas in the Hood
http://youtu.be/K1ZmNe8ojkE
A nice AfroAmerican community terrorized by armed thugs
Playthell G, Benjamin,
November 7, 2014
San Francisco, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz and Gumbo!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , on June 24, 2014 by playthell

 Wynton and me

Two Southern boys Partying in the Big Apple

 A New Orleans Style Party at Wynton’s Crib

   The night had been a smash before the party got started.  Earlier in the evening the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra played their season opening concert featuring the inimitable Ahmad Jamal at the piano and we had all attended. It was an affair to remember as the sold out crowd repeatedly rose to their feet in ovations to the musicians.  It is always a special treat to hear Jazz performed in the House of Swing, especially the Rose Theater, the acoustic engineering alone would make it a rare treat for the serious jazz fan; but the opulent and imaginative interior decoration enriches the experience in ways that’s hard to explain but you know it when you feel it.

Hence everyone was in high spirits as we retired to Wynton’s crib for Gumbo and wine, with some succulent and exotically seasoned fried shrimp appetizers.  Nerves were on edge as we waited for the huge pot of Gumbo to heat up, but as there was abundant French breads fruits and wine we persevered. Wynton’s crib is a great place for a party.

It is spacious, elegant but manly and livable, and enjoys a magnificent panoramic view of Manhattan and New Jersey.   The size of the pad and the diversity of the crowd were such that there were actually several parties going on simultaneously.  Wynton mostly hung out in the main drawing room where the piano is located.  Chess sets were also in abundance in the great room, and like the piano they would be played several times before the evening was over.

 Wynton Plays Chess with is homeboy Matt Dillon
 Wynton and LD

 Hanging out at Wynton’s place brought to mind a party I once attended at Duke Ellington’s spot on Central Park South, right after his triumphal concert with the New World Symphony in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, circa 1974.  That gathering also attracted an accomplished international crowd of beautiful people, but Ellington was a much older man and he was treated in the way that religious devotees treat their messiah.

People seemed to struggle to keep from genuflecting before the great man, even the titled European Aristocrats at the party had to struggle to maintain their cool.  But here the vibe was totally different.  Although I’m certain that the guest at Wynton’s party were just as aware that they were hanging out with history, that our host was a rare genius whose great works will live long after he has departed this world, still everybody was laid back and treated Wynton the way he acts: like one of the guys.

 Like Duke Ellington, music is Wynton’s mistress…
 Wynton's Piano
 …..and Just as in Ellington’s apartment, the piano is omnipresent  

 Wynton is the most unpretentious person I know, given his truly spectacular gifts and achievements; he seems indifferent to his greatness and regards celebrity as a picayune matter.  I have known him for twenty years now and I have never seen him talk down to anyone nor show any trace of arrogance or vanity; he seems to always be trying to get better at what he does and help others achieve their dreams.

Musically it amounts to an incredibly generous attitude that I also noticed in Betty Carter and Duke Ellington, who regularly discovered young talent, nurtured it, and graced the stages of the world with their gifts. Although I find him a jovial and even tempered guy, I don’t know anybody who works harder at their chosen profession nor enjoy it more.  Wynton has a restless and endlessly creative mind that is constantly conjuring up new musical ideas, or strategizing with the managers at JALC to market the program, or managing the diverse personalities of the great artists who make up the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and consistently giving great performances on the trumpet around the world.

Thus I would argue that what some critic’s mistake as arrogance is simply the self-assuredness that comes with great achievements and knowing what you are talking about. Hence confidence is mistaken for arrogance.  Wynton does not suffer fools gladly…and neither do I! He relaxes by taking young street b-ball players to the hole, or bombing them out with his “fabled” jump shot on the courts of nearby projects, or scheming on the chess board for the best strategy to defeat his opponents.

But when he defeated Matt Dillon in a game he damn near jumped up did a break dance, yet gracefully acknowledged that Matt had trounced him countless times on the Chess board, even conceding that his opponent had the better game. As soon as Matt decided the Gumbo was properly heated the guest hurried to cue up, and once they savored the gourmet New Orleans cuisine it quickly became apparent from the soft ecstatic moans, and squeals of delight, that Matt “done messed around stuck his foot in the pot” as the old folks used to say down south.

Chef Matt Dillon: The Man of the Hour!

Wynton's buddy Matt

His Gumbo Inspired Much Love from Everyone

Gumbo is obviously a word that is derived from Louisiana’s African heritage, a cultural reality that the arbiters of American culture prefer to ignore.  As cuisine it is a kind of amalgamated stew with generous proportions of shellfish – oysters, clams, shrimp – along with chicken, sausage, peppers, etc served with rice.  It is like a French version of the Spanish dish Paella, except its soupy and a lot spicier.

When properly prepared the myriad flavors assault the senses with a cacophony of delectable sensations that makes it an intense sensual experience rather than merely a meal. It was the kind of meal we used to call “fightyamammys” in Florida back in the day; the idea was that some meals are so good you’ll “fight your mammy” over it.

The cultured and highly civilized guest could barely manage to contain the predatory side of their character in their quest for more of this bewitching brew. After the guest had stuffed themselves on Gumbo and Baguettes, the wine poured and Wynton sat down to the piano and began a lively rendition of “Happy Birthday to you.”  It turned out that it was the birthday of Joe Temperley, the great Baritone Saxophonist with the Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Joe Temperley
 DSC_0004
Playing his Baritone Sax next to the Bassist

Joe is living proof of the global influence of the language of Jazz.  As one of the two great traditions of complex instrumental art music produced in the western world, everybody who is serious about acquiring instrumental virtuosity attempts to play one or the other.  And in rare instances – ala Wynton Marsalis, Hubert Laws, Carlos del Pino, Paquito de Rivera, John Lewis, et al – a truly great musician will perform in both traditions.

Although both genres are expressions of modern western art music, Jazz is the musical Gumbo that was conjured up in the clash and diffusions of West African and European culture as it was played out in the United States.  Wynton recognized this vital cultural connection when he composed A Tribute to Congo Square, an extended work of several movements written as a remembrance of that hallowed ground in New Orleans where the roots of Jazz were formed, for performance by the JALC in collaboration with Adada! a Ghanaian percussion ensemble. The uniqueness of this cultural amalgamation can be seen in the fact that Jazz is strikingly different from the other neo-African musical forms that developed in other parts of the African Diaspora in the Americas.

Offering a Musical Libation to the Ancestors
           Wynton and the Aficans
Photo by: Frank Stewart

There are of course the obvious similarities that are common to all neo-African music, which is a reflection of their common origins, the most important characteristics being polyrhythm, antiphony and polyphony, but while the  music of Cuba and Brazil has remained dance oriented and thus rhythmically restricted to the needs of dancers, jazz is a complex instrumental music in which experiments in melody and harmony were as important as rhythmic innovation; and since the advent of bop it has become increasingly divorced from the dance, evolving into a concert music designed for listening, or deep intellectual and spiritual musings.

Yet what finally sets Jazz apart from any other music of the western tradition are the elements of blues and swing guided by a democratic philosophy that values individual freedom and promotes innovation, which are quintessential American values and thus Afro-American music is a product of the unique experience of Afro-Americans.

We are the only African people who grew up in the belly of the most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the world and played an integral role in its development since birth. The USA is inconceivable without the input of Afro-Americans. From the five thousand patriot/soldiers who fought in the American Revolution that ushered in the bloody birth of our nation, to the quarter of a million black men who bore arms in defense of the Union when the southern aristocrats led the red neck rabble into a treasonous rebellion against our government that tore the nation apart in defense of human slavery, to the many others who fought in the rest of America’s wars that preserved the nation and helped it grow powerful.

And the most powerful defenders of the unique American concept of freedom have been Afro-American clerics, activists and intellectuals. Then there were the unsung millions who cleared the land and tilled the soil, turning the south into the cotton kingdom and making New Orleans the wealthiest city and biggest sea port in the nation by 1850.  A financial empire built on unrequited black slave labor.

But in a grand historical irony, out of this bitter and shameful history came a percolating cultural stew that produced Jazz and Gumbo.  And we had a generous serving of both at Wynton’s crib that enchanted evening, as Matt Dillon not only prepared the Gumbo, he also pre-programmed the music on his computer and we were serenaded with classic recordings from the jazz tradition past and present.  

Joe Temperley, looking as contented as a Carnation cow, gave me a nod, an assured wink, and then declared: “This Gumbo is so delicious eating it is more fun than playing the saxophone.”  Coming from a great Jazz master of the baritone sax, whose big lush silky tone and flawless flow marks him as the rightful heir to the legacy of the late great Harry Carney of the Ellington Orchestra, That’s a rave!

When I was invited to Duke Ellington’s party thirty four years ago I gave not a thought to the fact that I would be an eyewitness to history; I felt the same way about Wynton’s party.  Yet in during the course of the event I realized that it was an event that should be recorded for posterity. So I preserved Ellington’s party for history in the essay “An Evening with Edward Kennedy Ellington.

The Duke!

Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance

The standard to which the JALC Aspires 

The present soirée will be commended to the historical record as Jazz and Gumbo.  And,fortunately, this time I had my camera…and I remembered the words of James Vanderzee, the photographer who set out to preserve for future generations the images of elegance, accomplishment and pride exhibited by African Americans during the cultural awakening of the 1920’s known to history as The Harlem Renaissance: “A picture will last forever!”

********************

Double Click to see Wynton Warming up Before the Gig

 http://youtu.be/ZqtHqCIMyMs

 D0uble Click to see Ahmad Jamal with JALC Orchestra
- Picture Perfect –
http://youtu.be/NBLIhUOWm9Q
Flight to Russia
http://youtu.be/iW7SRlaLrgE
Photographs and Text
By: Playthell G. Benjamin
*Photos of Wynton, Adada!
and Joe Temperly in Sax Section. 

By: Frank Stewart.

Posted: June 24th 2014
*** The event was held at an earlier date.
 

   

On Racism, Privilege and Power

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , on May 16, 2014 by playthell

Donald-sterling-v-stiviano1

Beauty and the Beast: An Ugly Old Jew and his Gorgeous Young Afro-Latino Concubine

 The Deeper Meaning of the Donald Sterling Affair

After watching Donald Sterling, the disgraced owner of the L.A. Clippers basketball team, attempt to explain away his racist comments in a television interview two things are apparent: You can make a lot of money and yet know nothing of the world beyond business deals, and Donald Sterling is just what Snoop Lion  said he is: “A racist piece of shit!”

It is also obvious that no one told him when you are in a hole you should stop digging, or in any case he didn’t take the advice. Sterling sat there on CNN, with the whole world watching, and spouted mindless babble that was part self-serving apologia and part racist diatribe, while trying to convince us that he is not a racist but a jealous lover driven to distraction by his envy of black men.  The only part of his story that is believable is that he is “jealous” of black men; which I believe is an inadvertent admission that he suffers from acute penis envy.

Alas, this is a widespread phenomenon among white males that has deep roots in American history.  When I was a boy growing up in Florida, if a white woman chose a black lover she was condemning him to a certain death by mob violence if their relationship was discovered by white men, but many of those same white men kept black concubines just like Donald Sterling while promoting racist policies against the black community.

The most notorious examples of this in American history are Thomas Jefferson – a founding father who sired seven children by his slave concubine Sally Hemmings – and Strom Thurmon, the longest serving senator in the history of the senate who led the fight to maintain racial segregation in the South while secretly siring a black daughter.  In St. Augustine Florida, my home town, it was Jimmy Brock, the manager of the Monson Hotel.

Brock had sired children by two black women in the town; yet he was such a staunch defender of racial segregation – the cornerstone of “white supremacy” the ideological undergirding of the system of institutionalized racism – that he poured acid in the hotel’s pool when Dr. Martin Luther King led a party of interracial citizens for a swim!

It was such a notorious act it attracted the attention of the national media, and pictures of this vicious racist attack published in the nation’s newspapers appalled people around the world – just as the sound track of Sterling’s covert racist hostility is shocking people everywhere as they listen to it on the internet.

 Racist Hypocrite Jimmy Brock
Jimmy Brock - Copy
Donald Sterling’s Soul Brother

Donald Sterling is cut from the same cloth as Jimmy Brock.  The difference between them was well understood by the wise Afro-Americans who raised and tutored me about the ways of the white world.  “The only difference between racist white men in the north and south,” they would say, “ is that the southern white man will tell you how he feels up front, while white men up north will smile in your face and stab you in the back.”

This is the reason why many of them preferred to remain in the south, choosing to deal with the devil they knew to the demons they didn’t.  Sterling’s comments to Anderson Cooper on CNN provides evidence that this is still true…except now, when racism is unfashionable and it’s corollary racial discrimination is illegal, covert racism is the preferred tactic in every section of the US.

Ironically the white Anglo-Saxon and Scotch Irish Protestants who ruled the American south didn’t like Jews either, as is evidenced by the anti-Semitic proclamations of the Ku Klux Klan. So the question arises as to why Sterling appears to have chosen these white racist as his role models…or at least adopted their values. This is the critical question in understanding Donald Sterling’s attitudes about race.

I think the answer lies in his own experience as a Jew in America.  Sterling is 81 years old, which means that he was born during the great depression in the US and the Nazi holocaust in Germany.  It was a time when Jews faced serious anti-Semitism in America and Europe. However unlike Europe, where Jews had experienced centuries of oppression, in the US there was a pigmentocracy based on skin color.

In this deranged skin game people of color were America’s “untouchables” – especially those of African descent no matter how slight – and those designated as “white” enjoyed special privileges.  Hence the trick was to be included among those defined as “white.”  The difference in the life’s chances and life styles of those who were considered white and those considered Negroes were like heaven and hell.

Walter White
Walter White
He Could have “Passed” but Chose to Remain “Black”
Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson as a young fighter
Both White and Johnson were classified as “Negroes”

The arbitrary nature of racial designation in America in which a person of white skin like NAACP leader Walter White and the ebony complexioned World Heavy-Weight Champion Jack Johnson could both be classified as “Negroes” – due to an irrational social construct called “the one drop rule” – made it possible for people legally defined as “black” who looked “white” to secretly “pass” over the color line and become “white.”

And considering the difference in one’s opportunities based on this superficial distinction it is no wonder that some people chose to “pass;” it was literally a choice between freedom and quasi-slavery. The wonder is that everybody who could pass didn’t.  However many Afro-Americans who were light enough to pass chose not to because they grew up with black people, loved their cultural inheritance, and hated the arrogance and racism of whites, which they understood better than their darker brothers because whites, believing themselves to be talking to a fellow white American, would share their deepest feelings about race with them.

This is why Walter white, who could easily have passed, chose to remain in the “world behind the veil” as Dr. Dubois described black life in the early twentieth century. For Jews, who were also outsiders to the Anglo-Saxons who ruled America, “passing” was a lot easier.  They only had to change their names from obviously Jewish ones like Benjamin Swartz, to Anglo names like Tony Curtis.

Many of the biggest movie stars of my youth were Jews who anglicized their names: Jeff Chandler, Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglass, et al.   And the titan of television Jack Benny was also an anglicized Jew. Ironically the pressure to pass as Anglo-Saxons was placed on these Jewish actors in and industry owned and controlled by Jews!

Kirk Douglass
Kirk_douglas_photo_signed
Born: Issur Danielovit  
Jeff Chandler
Jeff Chandler
Born: Ira Gossell
Tony Curtis aka Bernard Schwartz                  
Tony_Curtis_as_Houdini
Playing the Leading man with blond Shiksa Tony Curtis with
Blond Movie Goddess Marilyn Monroe
Tony Curtis and Marylin Monroe
As Benny Schwartz “Tony” would have offended white southerners 

The distinguished Jewish film historian Neal Gabler deals with this question with candor and insight in his seminal text “An Empire of their Own.”  Among the many important revelations offered up in this book is the fact that the Jewish movie Moguls who created Hollywood and made it the jewel in the crown of American popular entertainment, were European immigrants who desperately wanted to become real Americans and succeed in business.

It is not hard to understand why a man like Samuel Goldwyn, a self-educated Polish immigrant who was born Shmuel Gelbfisz and raised as a Hasidic Jew in a Warsaw ghetto, was not anxious to become a crusader for Jewish causes in America. In his native Poland Jews faced a hellish existence akin to that of Afro-Americans.  After observing their lot in Europe first hand when he was a student in Germany in the late 19th century, Dr. Dubois thought it might be worse.

Samuel Goldwyn
Sam goldwyn-portrait
Hollywood Movie Mogul

After making his way to America and assuming a new identity, first as Sam Goldfish, and then Samuel Goldwyn, he quickly recognized that despite anti-Semitism America offered great opportunities to “white” men so long as he didn’t make his Jewishness an issue. Hence he assimilated into “white” America as much as possible, went into the developing moving picture business and became a rich and powerful Hollywood Mogul.

Goldwyn and his Jewish colleagues achieved tremendous wealth and influence by producing films that appealed to the major market; which was white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.  It is these little swarthy Jews who created the blond sex goddess: May West, Gloria Swanson, Marylyn Monroe, et al.  By glorifying the fantasies of white America they became the arbiters of popular taste and the shapers of the American dream.

The price of success in their business was to completely camouflage their Jewish identity to the extent that they not only required Jewish actors to disguise their ethnic identity, but name changes were sometimes accompanied by “corrective” cosmetic surgery to change their noses to fit the Nordic ideal.  And movies addressing the Jewish experience, especially anti-Semitism, were taboo!

It was so bad that Jewish organizations called them out on their game of ethnic hide and seek.  However another critical component in the quest of the Jewish movie moguls to become “real” white Americans and give the public what it wanted was the projection of racist stereotypes of Afro-Americans in their films.

Before movies were invented in the early 20th century the most popular form of American entertainment was the blackface minstrel show, in which white men “blacked up” by smearing burnt cork on their faces, painting on ludicrous big red lips, and engaged in racist parodies of Afro-Americans.  It was such a rage among whites in the 19th century that the great song and dance men Bert Williams and George Walker named their act “Two Real Coons” when they got together in San Francisco during 1994.

However they were the first Afro-American act that refused to wear the burnt cork mask that white audiences insisted black performing artist don, in order to assume the identity that had already established by white Minstrels.

The Great Bert Williams and George Walker
Williams-Walker-opener
Two Real Coons?

The black face Minstrel tradition, although begun by WASP like “Daddy Dan Rice” with his famous “Jump Jim Crow” act – which is where the term “Jim Crow” used to describe institutional racism originated – it was taken over by white ethnics and immigrants.  Irishmen dominated Minstrelsy by the late 19th century and Jews followed their lead.

Hence by the time the first “talkie” appeared – the first film where the characters spoke, bringing an end to the silent film era that was dominated by the Englishman Charlie Chaplin – it was Al Jolson, an immigrant Eastern European Jew, who starred in the movie which was titled “The Jazz Singer.               

Al Jolson Singing his famous tune “Mammy”
Al Jolson
The World’s Greatest Entertainer?

 

By blacking up Al Jolson – who was dubbed “The Greatest Entertainer in the World” before he appeared in the 1927 film – became a cultural hero in white America, a status he would never have acquired had he simply presented himself onstage as Asa Yoelson, the Russian born Jew.  Hence by donning the black face mask Joelson was engaging in a double masquerade: an immigrant Jew solidifying his “white American” identity by masquerading as an Afro-American while denigrating black culture and character; a role that was quintessentially white American.

The movie was based on a Jewish play, “Day of Atonement,” with the screenplay and direction by Jews. When blackface acts went out of style the Jewish movie moguls brought the same obsequious comic domestic figure that was so popular in the live “Coon Shows” to the silver screen with real black actors.  The most famous of these was Lincoln Perry, aka “Stepin Fetchit,” whom white Americans found a much more fetching personality than the Jack Johnson “Bad Nigger” type.

The Jewish businessmen who ran Hollywood understood the seemingly insatiable appetite of white Americans for grotesque images of Black Americans, and they delivered them in abundance.  However according to his biographer Mel Watkins, in real life Lincoln Perry was far more like Jack Johnson than Stepin Fetchit; to whom he bore no resemblance, just as the American society portrayed by the Jews in Hollywood bore no resemblance to social reality.

It was a world of make believe in which Anglo-Saxon protestant heroes and heroines were the ideal, Jews didn’t exist, and black Americans lived to serve whites with a smile, whether cleaning house or tap dancing.  In any case Afro-Americans were simple minded happy go lucky darkies who could gleefully sing, as indeed the Jewish composer George Gershwin had a black character sing in his opera Porgy and Bess: “I’ve  got plenty of nothing/ and nothing’s plenty for me.”

Stepin Fetchit aka Lincoln Perry with Will Rogers
Stepin Fetchit
The black faced Minstrel Character brought to film played by real blacks

The Real Lincoln Perry

Stepin Fetchit book cover

A Tough Guy and Militant Fighter for the rights of Black Actors

This is the Los Angeles in which Donald Tokowitz – Donald Sterling’s given surname – grew up as a poor and powerless Jew.  Born in Chicago to immigrant Jewish parents’ in 1934, just after Hitler had come to power in Germany, the family moved to an economically depressed, racially mixed, LA neighborhood called Boyle Heights in 1936, where his father eked out a living as a produce peddler.

There were blacks, Mexicans and several white ethnic groups living there at the time.  Ironically, Sterling’s girlfriend Saviano also lived there. In a May 6, article on Sterling in the Boston Globe, “Becoming white: Donald Sterling’s past offers clues to current outcry,” Journalist Farah Stockman quotes sociologist Bruce Phillips, whose father had also grown up the neighborhood during the same period as Sterling.

““During the Depression, no one had any hope of getting out of Boyle Heights,” Phillips observed, and he described the position of the Jews in the racial stratification system Boyle Heights: ““On the ‘social distance scale, Jews were in the middle, between people of color and white ethnic groups. They were either the most acceptable non-white ethnic group, or the least acceptable whites.”  Outside of Boyle Heights the most conspicuous achievement of Jews in Los Angeles, Hollywood, was not promoted as a Jewish triumph by the movie moguls but consciously portrayed simply as an American, i.e. white American, success story.

This was especially true in this period when white racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi sympathizers argued that Hollywood was a Jewish conspiracy to corrupt the morals of white Christian youths. By 1960, when Donald Tokowitz graduated from law school and set out to make his fortune in the rich and glamorous city of Los Angeles, where the Hollywood Jews had found fame and fortune, he had learned his lesson well and followed a tried and true path to the privileged position enjoyed by successful white men in America.

Thus it is not surprising that one of the first things he did upon graduation was to scrap Tokowitz and formally change his name to “Sterling.”  Although he has attempted to put the name change on his father, court documents examined by enterprising reporters tell a different tale. In the legal papers submitted to the court Don Tokowitz claimed he wanted the change his name to Sterling because his colleagues had a hard time pronouncing Tokowitz.  He went on to say that this could hinder him professionally.

Reborn as Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling as young lawyer

Donald Tofowitz became a Rich LA Lawyer/Businessman

Thus by changing his name – which is a ritual of rebirth – his intention was to blend in with the rest of his white countrymen.  For being a Jew at mid-twentieth meant exclusion from the major law firms that were known in the legal community as “White Shoe” firms, where the high powered corporate deals were packaged. While not subjected to the kind of racial oppression that Afro-Americans suffered, many Anglo-Saxons regarded Jews as not quite white.

Ms. Stockman observes that this “almost white status” led many Jews “to focus feverishly on full acceptance. As they grew more prosperous, nearly all of the Jews in Boyle Heights moved to white suburbs in places like the San Fernando Valley, where blacks and Hispanics couldn’t follow.” And when Sterling became a big real estate owner he adopted illegal racist discriminatory practices that made sure even those Afro-Americans who could afford it would be denied entrance into those neighborhoods – and he was not alone, it was a common practice among racist white realtors.  Yet according to the government agencies that heard the complaints against him, Sterling is one of the worse and received the highest fines ever awarded in a housing discrimination case.

It was yet another bid by sterling to be a “real” white man. When viewed from this historical perspective the comments to his Afro-Latina concubine V. Stiviano makes perfect sense.  In essence he was telling her to do what he did: escape her ethnic identity and all the problems it brings.  This is abundantly clear when Sterling tells her not to bring black men to the games or be seen “associating with black people” online, and she reminds him she is part black.  “It bothers me that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people” says a furious Sterling.  “I just saying, in your lousy instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking black people.” At another point he says to her why can’t she just project herself as a nice Latina.

I guess when you have run away from your own heritage in search of, rejected your birthright for fool’s gold, it seems reasonable to demand it from your concubine – whom he describes as “a street girl” with fifteen Mexican brothers and sisters to support.  It is all too obvious that Donald Sterling is a sad deluded old fool, a shameless liar and hypocrite who burst into tears on world-wide television when he recounted how much he had done for his young Afro-Latina concubine who he “thought really cared” for him.

From all appearances this guy is a perpetual trick, a pathetic clueless Putz who thinks he can buy some young love that is only slightly soiled, and his “girl” V. Stiviano, which is one of several aliases she has used, is a hard hearted hustler out to take this chump for all she can get. It is a tawdry tale about racism, privilege and power in contemporary America in which beauty conquers the beast.  Alas, they deserve each other.

***********************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 16, 2014
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