Reaping What You Sow

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags on January 25, 2015 by playthell
Terrorists shootout in Paris
Islamic Jihadists firing assault rifles on Parisian Street

 Darkness in the City of Lights

If the terrorists attacks that struck Paris recently were not such tragic events, listening to the attempts by western journalists to explain the causes of the random slaughter of innocent patrons in a Kosher butcher shop and the planned assassinations of twelve workers at the Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo that repeatedly published cartoons of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the founding prophet of Islam – which millions of devout Muslims consider blasphemous – their vapid prattle would be funny.  More often than not their explanations boil down to the conclusion that it’s just some crazy Muslim terrorists who fell under the spell of mad mullahs that are jealous of the wealth and progress of western civilization, lost souls wilding on the streets of Paris with machine guns.

According to this narrative the shooters – native born French Muslims of Arab/African origin – are a murderous, misguided lot who are ungrateful to the French nation and people for graciously allowing their parents to settle in the affluent enlightened realm of French Civilization, rescuing them from the backwardness and poverty of their Arab homelands. Even Barack Hussein Obama, the son of an African Muslim, offered a paean to the superiority of French civilization and their “shared values” with American civilization – cherry picking the admirable ideals while conveniently forgetting the values that produced a history of oppression, slavery and genocide against people of color spanning centuries – helping to create the backward conditions in these countries. Viewed from the perspective of western commentators the terrorist actions are inexplicable; there is just no way to explain it logically.  This accounts for the endless stream of confusing prattle that masquerades as serious analysis from government officials and media talking heads.

However it is not ignorance alone that accounts for the low level of commentary, self-censorship is also at play.  For instance, President Obama is a brilliant man who is an astute observer of world affairs and knows this is self-serving BS, but he dare not admit that the Jihadists are motivated by any complaints that reasonable people can understand.  For to admit even the possibility of a rational motive would amount to challenging the master narrative that these terrorists are not inspired by any real grievance against western civilization but are driven to madness by a poisonous irrational Islamic theology.

The news anchors well understand that to admit the Jihadists have any legitimate complaint against domestic conditions in France, or the aggressive foreign policy of western nations against the Islamic world, could quickly end their careers.  Hence self-censorship is the rule…mum’s the word.  If it were not for the independent experts featured on these news shows we would have no understanding at all of what motivates the Paris assassins.

As I listen to the conversation I find myself reflecting on an encounter I had while strolling about the grounds of Notre Dame on a clear February morning during a visit to Paris in 1996, when the city was on high alert for terrorist attacks.  I had come to deliver a lecture on Wynton Marsalis at the Sorbonne.

The Gardens of Notre Dame
Notre Dame cover_image_492
Overlooking the Siene it is one of Paris’ grandest landmarks

As on previous trips I noticed the tentative somewhat downtrodden posture of black Parisians as they went about their business.  There was a kind of “hang dog” attitude that seemed to hover about them which was so different from the bold posture projected by black Americans as they strode about the streets of New York, exuding an attitude of confidence that the streets belonged to them as much as anyone. So when I happened upon a black man in the gardens of Notre Dame, and discovered that he had lived in the city for over twenty years, I pounced upon him with a barrage of questions about black life in Gay Paree.

Having been nurtured on tales about the French fascination with Black American music and dance; their racial tolerance, and the open cosmopolitan milieu of Paris that provided a safe haven for Afro-American artists and intellectuals – Josephine Baker, Sydney Bechet, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, et al. and produced the first black military aviator in the Ace fighter pilot Eugene Bulliard.  A people who cared so little about racial etiquette that the First lady of France had caused a major scandal in the US when she kissed the great Afro-American pugilist and elegant bon vivant “Sugar Ray” Robinson in the 1950’s.  I wondered how much of that racial good will remained.  It was hard to tell in the circles I was moving in because the only blacks I met were academics who dwelled in the rarified atmosphere of the academy.  So I put my questions about how the folk were faring to the brother in the garden.

Like Othello, he told “a round unvarnished tale.”  As it turned out his name was Trevor and he was of Jamaican origin.   He had migrated to Paris from London to pursue his profession as a thespian.  A triple threat actor, singer and dancer he initially found success and had a royal ball.  But then an anti-immigrant sentiment began to grow in France; the more that black Africans from Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Afro-Arabs from Algeria, Libya and Morocco poured into France the more intense anti-immigrant racism became.  He told me that the atmosphere had become so poisoned that he was moving to Berlin.  On the morning that I met him he was just walking about the city conjuring up fond memories before bidding the City of Lights adieu.

Trevor went on to explain that Paris was still a tale of two cities, only now it would have been more accurate to call it a “tale of three cities” because Charles Dickens’ reference in his classic novel was to the class divide; now the city was divided on the basis of class, race and religion.  He explained that you don’t see many blacks on the streets of Paris at night because they lived in the suburbs where the bulk of poor blacks and Arabs lived. They were out of sight and definitely out of mind.  Most had but little contact with the swells, the creme de la crème who dwelled in the city.  And what is worse, even Arabs and blacks who had acquired advanced university degrees in business and the professions often could not find employment commensurate with their training.  The situation sounded a lot what I had observed in London in 1981 (see: “On Being Black in London, ” posted on this blog, which is why Trevor had quit London for paris in the first place.

That same morning I noticed for the first time platoons of Africans in overalls and rubber boots washing down the streets and the monuments that adorn this sparkling squeaky clean city.  In such a social environment, where the life’s chances of young people are circumscribed by race and religion, there is bound to be a critical mass of alienated dispossessed youths seething with anger i.e. social dynamite.  Just nine years later, on October 27th 2005 these suburbs exploded and it took French authorities three weeks to quell the riots/rebellions.

The rioters, who were described as largely unemployed youths from the projects located over two hundred towns and villages ringing Paris, set fire to almost 10, 000 cars and many buildings of all sorts including daycare centers and schools.  Almost 30,000 people were arrested and over 100 policemen were injured.  A year later on October 1, 2006 in the same suburbs, and there have been violent flare ups as recent as 2013.  It is safe to say there will be more.  The poet Langston Hughes asked the essential question here: “What happens to a dream deferred….does it corrode or does it explode!”

What we are witnessing with the rise of home grown terrorists in France is an explosion of pent up anger and frustration whose causes lay not just in local conditions but in their identification with the wider world of Islam.  Hence their anger has taken on a sense of religious purpose which provided inspirational myths of a glorious past and a triumphant future through the establishment of a global Caliphate based on Sharia Law; which is the vision of Al Qaeda and ISIS.   The vehicle by which the New Islamic empire will be brought into being is the Jihad; it is a vision that limitless legions of young Muslim men are prepared to kill and die for.

 Wall Art in the Suburbs of Paris
Wall art in Paris Suburbs
An accurate reflection of the mood of many alienated Afro-Arab Youths

 Consider the statement of Boubakar al Hakim, a French Jihadists who fought American forces in Iraq, given to a French Radio station from the battle front in 2003 and reprinted in the New York Times on January 12, 2015.   “All of my friends…I tell them to come do the Jihad.  All of my brothers who are over there, come to defend Islam.  They are wimps, wimps and buffoons. The Americans aren’t anything.  I am ready to fight on the front line.  I am even ready to blow myself up, to put dynamite and Boom! Boom!  We will kill all of the Americans.  We are the Mujahedeen.  We want death.  We want paradise.”  We hear echoes of this declaration in the statements of the Kouachi brothers who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo and announced that they sought “Martyrdom.”  It proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In a country with a Muslim population numbering in the millions there is obviously no easy solution to the problem of Jihadists.  The French President Francois Hollande has strongly denounced the terrorists and called for “moderate” Muslim clerics and scholars to repudiate the theology of the Jihadists, and for assimilated Muslims to engage with the youths to show them the error of Jihadist tactics.  Added to the police powers of the state these initiatives represent the core of government involvement with Muslim youths.  Central to their strategy is to vigorously deny that there is a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West; hence they must insist that the Jihadists are misrepresenting Islam.

The problem is that such a strategy has little chance of working with alienated youths fed up with the racism and economic discrimination heaped on them by white French society.  It is a policy that amounts to little more than a public relations offensive but offers no concrete solutions to the real problems faced by Africans and Arabs in France, which are exacerbated by the prolonged stagnation of the French economy and the rising racism expressed as anti-immigrant xenophobia fanned by the far right National Front Party headed by Marine Le Pen.

 Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, National Front Leader
Is She the Next President of France?

During my 1996 visit to Paris I blundered into a demonstration by the National Front at which its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, called “The Devil of the Republic” by his opponents, was the featured speaker.  It was a raucous affair and the hostility of the stares directed at me and my companion was palpable, because they had no way of distinguishing me from the hated Africans they wanted to drive out of the country.

A former intelligence officer and Paratrooper with battle decorations Le Pen witnessed the collapse of the French empire in Southeast Asia and North Africa symbolized by the French defeats in the battle of Diem Bien Phu and the Algerian War.  He is a ultra-right wing nationalist politician who champions the superiority of French culture and built a loyal political constituency among those who feel threatened by nonwhite immigrants.  Although he fought to preserve the French Colonial Empire he now demonizes their former colonial subjects who have immigrated to France.

 Jean-Marie Le Pen
Jean-Marie-Le-Pen
Purveyor of a racist xenophobic populist politics of rage

Back then they were a fringe party, now they are the largest party in France by some estimates.  Spurred by the Jihadist assault, a resurgent right wing political force is making their agenda crystal clear; there was no shame in their game.  Angered by not being invited to what many are saying was “the largest mass demonstration in French history,” Marine Le Pen sounded like Sarah Palin – the Alaskan Barbarian who almost became Vice President of the United States.

For instance, casting herself as an outsider, and her disparagement of Paris,  sounds quite familiar.  “Ms. Le Pen’s embrace of exclusion perfectly fits her politics.” Reports the New York Times.*  “Using old tropes of the far right in France, she took pride in avoiding the capital, Paris, which she and her supporters view as the center of political corruption an cynicism, for ‘La France Profounde,’ the ‘real France’ of genuine patriots tied to their land and their provinces.”

It is amazing how the right wing everywhere adopts these silly tropes of the virtuous provincials vs. the corrupt cosmopolites; sounds remarkable like the new Republican Senator from the hayfields of Iowa who delivered the Grand Obstructionist Party’s reply to President Obama – Columbia, Harvard, Chicago, the ultimate cosmopolite!  When coupled with her racist rants against the African and Arab population in France, Ms. Le Pen’s arguments echo Hitler’s appeal to the German Volk.  It’s just new wine in old bottles.

Alas this reactionary attitude will not, indeed cannot, bring peace and internal stability to France.  Confronted with clandestine Islamic Jihadist forces composed of soldiers who welcome death and thus are not deterred by the threat of dying, this is essentially a war of ideas….and Ms. Le Pen is propagating the wrong ideas.  It may make her followers feel good, just like Sarah Palin, but it won’t win the hearts and minds of the alienated Muslim youths of France who are joining the Jihad in increasing numbers.  In fact, should they take power in the next election, as many observers are predicting, Marie Le Pen and the National Front will make a powerful recruiting poster for ISIS.  And they shall reap what they sow.

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

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Janurary 25, 2014

A Mugging in Jerry’s World!

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on January 13, 2015 by playthell
Cardale Jones running
The Amazing Cardale Jones: A True Duel Threat Quarterback

 After winning a National Championship Cardale should Go Pro

It is not often that we are afforded an opportunity to witness history in the making; last night was an exception.  For in the National College Championship game played in the billion dollar Texas play pen euphemistically called “Jerry’s World” – because it was built by Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones – we witnessed the making of history in the event itself and in athletic performance.  There has never been a game to determine the national championship for major college football, and there has never been a quarterback like Cardale Jones.

A month ago he was the third string quarterback sequestered in anonymity riding the pine on the Ohio State bench.  Tonight he became the winning quarterback in the First College championship game when Ohio State mugged Oregon State in full public view.  No quarterback began his college football career as the starter in the Big Ten Championship Game, and none before Cardale went on to beat the #1 team in college football, and then leading the team to victory in the Championship game.

Hence Cardale Jones should turn a deaf ear to all of those who are counseling him to stay in college.  I am amazed at some of the unsolicited advice from so-called football wise guys among sports commentators like Mike Golic, the co-host of the ESPN morning show Mike and Mike, even if they are former pro-players.  For despite their pretentions of prescience in football matters, we have too many examples of when they were wrong about the potential of players to succeed in professional football, and they are most often wrong about quarterbacks.

We need only look at the examples of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Ryan Leaf, Jemarcus Russell, Todd Marinovitch, RGIII and Russell Wilson, et al.  Ryan Leaf was one of the most heralded college quarterbacks to enter the National Football League, everybody predicted that he would be a sensation, but he was a spectacular bust and is now serving time for having for having turned to a life of crime.  Jemarcus Russell was even more hyped and he too went bust.

In Command at the National Championship
Cardale Jones in championship Game
Cardale demonstrated that he is ready for the NFL

On the other hand Tom Brady barely made it into the league; he was drafted with the 177th pick.  He was not only unsung when he came out of Michigan but nobody expected him to get much beyond the practice squad.  Like Cardale at Ohio State, Brady was a third stringer with the New England Patriots and might never have gotten off the bench in a real game unless both the starting quarterback and the backup were sidelined due to injury, a very rare circumstance; one was just as likely to be struck by lightning.  But it did happen, Brady got a chance to play, and he didn’t lose a game…right up to the Super Bowl and a world Championship.  Cardale Jone’s college career has mirrored Brady’s experience in the pros.  One other notable example of a third stringer who has found even more spectacular success is Russell Wilson, quarterback with the reigning World Champion Seattle Seahawks.

Wilson, a great all-around athlete and outstanding young man who graduated from college in three years, was drafted by three professional baseball teams.  But after playing baseball for a year he decided that he liked football better and went back to college in order to play out his final year of eligibility. He systematically chose the University of Wisconsin because of the huge size of their offensive lineman, averaging 6’ 7” and weighting over 300 pounds.  Wilson’s intention was to answer a pressing question about his ability to perform on the professional level due to his height: the ideal pro-quarterback is 6’ 4” and above weighing at least 220 pounds.  Russell Wilson is around 5’ 11” 205 pounds.  Thus despite an impressive winning record in major college football he was drafted in the third round and destined to play on the practice squad.

However Russell was so impressive when he went to camp with the Seahawks he won the starting job in practice before the season began!   This was unprecedented in professional football, especially since they had just signed Mike Flynn as the starting quarterback for ten million dollars.  Over the last three seasons Russell Wilson has won more games than any quarterback in the history of the NFL over the same period of time.

He has also set some all-time records – such as passing for over 300 yards and rushing for over a hundred in a single game.  Yet many teams passed over him because of his size.  But John Gruden, the former Super Bowl winning coach and astute evaluator of quarterback talent as host of the television show Gruden’s Quarterback Camp, predicted that Russell would be great after working him out and interviewing him to assess his football skills physically and intellectually.  He also predicted that the teams that passed over him would live to regret it….and history has proven him right.

I am going to make a similar prediction about Cardale Jones: If he enters the draft he will be chosen, and when provided an opportunity to play he will emerge as a star in the National Football League.  My certainty on this question stands on firmer ground than that of the Supreme Court Justice who said although he couldn’t define pornography “I know it when I see it.”   In the case of Cardale Jones, I not only know that he is the real thing from just watching him play, I can also define the things that contribute to his greatness.

He is 6’ 5” and weighs between 250 – 260 pounds.  He has such a powerful throwing arm that his team mates nicknamed him “12 gage” because it reminds them of a shotgun.  Not only can he throw the ball 70 yards with the accuracy of a rifle with a flick of the wrist standing in the pocket or on the run.  Hence he is a true “dual threat” quarterback who can tuck the ball away and run with speed, power and elusiveness.  He obviously has a high football I.Q. based on the sound split second decisions he makes about when and where to throw the ball and when to run with it. And his poise in the pocket – i.e. grace under pressure – is worthy of an experienced NFL quarterback.  These are the tools of the trade that successful pro quarterbacks have employed.

Despite these obvious and indisputable assets, there is a chorus of naysayers who argue that Cardale should stay in college.  The reasons they give all sound like spurious nonsense to me.   The least convincing of these is that he should not enter the draft because we have not seen enough of his college play to get a solid sample of his abilities since he has only played in three games.  Here we have serious confusion between quality and quantity. When Professor Frederick Jackson Turner wrote his now famous treatise on the formation of American character “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” the gravitas of his argument was such that nobody was willing to dismiss it because it expressed a game changing view of American society in a paper of only 13 pages rather than a book of a thousand.  Sometimes it does not require an extended view in order to recognize greatness.

When I look at Cardale Jones I think of my grandfather, who was an excellent tailor who learned his craft on London’s famous Saville Row, which is reputed to turn out the best tailors in the world.  He was so good at it that he was in charge of the entire coat making division for Botany 500, which produced the finest suit one could buy “off the rack” anywhere in America.  The fact that he had hundreds of white tailors working under him – whom he hired and fired – in a racist American society where a black tailor could hardly get a job on this level attests to his mastery of the tailor’s trade.   One day he was talking about how he assessed the quality of the tailors who applied for jobs.  “They all think that I make my decision based on how they cut the pattern,” Pop said, “but I can tell what quality of tailor they are by the way they balance the scissors.”

That’s how I feel about Cardale Jones, and talent scout worth his hire should be able to see his greatness on the three games he played in college; if the can’t tell what quality of professional quarterback he will make they should find another line of work.  To those who argue  that he lacks experience and thus is unprepared to lead an NFL team just now I say: so what?  For most of the history of the NFL young quarterbacks were expected to sit and observe a master at work for about three tears; it is only recently that rookies have been expected to start.

Quarerbacks were chosen on the basis of their talent and the potential it represente.  Most of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks did not start as rookies, and a prospect who promised a decade or more as a great starting quarterback is a damn good bet; the kind of pick that could make a coach and General Manager’s career.  Cordale Jones was pitted against this year’s Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota – who was being discussed as possibly the #1 pick in the draft, over the sensational Florida State quarterback Jamis Winston, last year’s Heisman winner and quarterback of the national champions whom the Ducks blew out in the first round of the playoff competitions –   and he looked like a grown man competing with teenage boy.  I believe Jones is a superstar waiting in the wings; he is ready to perform on the big stage in prime time.  Despite what the so-called football wise guys say, I predict that Cardale Jones will be drafted in the first round should he enter the draft.

I am also convinced that he would be one of the biggest fools the Gods ever blew breath in should he return to Ohio State.  There is no upside to it, he has already declared in a tweet that he came to Ohio to play football and he has been here and done that splendidly.  There is nothing more to be gained by staying in college; he can get a degree when his pro football career is over, as he will still be a young man and rich enough to do whatever he wants in life.  Alas, football is a violent and dangerous game in which a career can be ended in a single hit; hence it is folly to play one more down of college football…let alone another season. And if I were Cordale I would throw my hat in the ring, kiss college goodbye – where he is making millions for the colleges and coaches – take the money and run!

 A True Duel Threat.

Cardale Jones - assing

He can sling the ball all over the field accurately
And he is a great runner…
Cardale Jones, Champion 
 That can run around you….or over you!

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

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Janurary 13, 2014

Reflections on Abraham Lincoln and Slavery

Posted in Uncategorized on January 5, 2015 by playthell

 

Rappin with Robert Allen Jones, Janie Jones and Miss Barbra 002 The First Baptist Church of St. Augustine Florida

 A New Year’s Remembrance circa 2015

When I was a boy the black churches in Florida used to hold a “Watchman” service every New Year’s Eve. As I remember it we would gather in First Baptist Church around ten o’clock, and there would be singing and sermons and communal prayers. At some point the electric lights would be turned off and we would sit by candle light as the preacher would call out “Watchman what time it is!” And the Watchman would reply “It’s eleven o’clock” and so on at various intervals growing shorter as we got round bout midnight until the New Year dawned and the congregation rejoiced in jubilation. Then we would enjoy a delicious repast prepared by the sisters in the basement of the church.

Held in the shadow of the old slave market, whose iron and stone structure was still standing a few blocks away just as it was during ante-bellum times, the Watchman ceremony had real meaning to the people at First Baptist. For unlike today, when young black people talk so glibly about how “nothing has changed” and a New York Times sports writer who ought to know better titles his book about rich black professional athletes “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” there were still people in our community who had been been born into slavery and they and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were among those huddled in the church waiting for the clock to strike midnight.

The Old Slave Market in Downtown St. Augustine

My Trip to florida with Makeda ETC 509

We viewed this as a sobering symbol of how far we had come

 I have no doubt that if these people who carried the memories of slavery in their hearts and minds could hear 21st century Afro-Americans, living in a time when a black family occupies the White House and many other black people doing everything they are good enough to do, comparing their problems to those of slaves they would surely have regarded such words as the mutterings of fools or a scandalous attempt to mock their ordeal in the hell of American slavery – one of the worse systems of human bondage ever devised by the minds of evil men. Harriet Tubman said it was “worse than hell” and Frederick Douglass told a white audience “One minute” as an American slave “was worse than centuries of that which your forefathers arose in armed revolt against.” Hence to anybody that actually experienced slavery – like my Aunts Gussie and Sally, who showed me the lash marks from the overseer’s whip – the casual equations of their conditions with the problems faced by present day Afro-Americans would be viewed as blasphemy.

They would also have looked upon the denigration of Abraham Lincoln’s role in ending their bondage and bringing about the Day of Jubilee, when the Emancipation Proclamation became law, as sacrilegious. The reverence with which President Lincoln was held by Afro-Americans in St. Augustine Florida is self-evident in the name they chose for their community, the oldest in the nation, which before the Civil War was known as “Little Africa,” but after Emancipation was renamed “Lincolnville.” Even Frederick Douglass – who famously spoke in the city after the Civil War put an end to slavery – and was quite candid in his criticism of Lincoln, had this to say about the assassinated president at the Washington dedication of the statue by Thomas Ball known as the “Freedman’s Memorial,” on April 14, 1876:

“We are here in the District of Columbia, here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory; a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit; we are here in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws, and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broad earth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colors, and conditions of men for our congregation — in a word, we are here to express, as best we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of the vast, high, and preeminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country, and to the whole world by Abraham Lincoln.”

Douglass would go on to say: “we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of aftercoming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.”

The Freedman’s Memorial

Freedman's Memorial II

A Commemoration by Former Slaves

Having begun by unambiguously enumerating Lincoln’s virtues, Douglass, the most incisive and thoughtful commentator on the great issues of his time, understood that in order to learn from history one had to first tell it like it was. Hence he made no attempt to mask Lincoln’s shortcomings. He told the august gathering:

We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery.

His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government.

The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.”

Frederick Douglass

Frederick douglass III

The Wisest Voice in the Nation

Then with his characteristic eloquence and unfailing evenhanded approach to argument, he noted:

“When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, we saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag; under his rule we saw the independence of the black republic of Haiti, the special object of slave-holding aversion and horror, fully recognized, and her minister, a colored gentleman, duly received here in the city of Washington; under his rule we saw the internal slave-trade, which so long disgraced the nation, abolished, and slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; under his rule we saw for the first time the law enforced against the foreign slave trade, and the first slave-trader hanged like any other pirate or murderer; under his rule, assisted by the greatest captain of our age, and his inspiration, we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves forever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slave-holders three months’ grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States. Though we waited long, we saw all this and more.”

The wise and candid Douglass, who had devoted his entire adult life to the struggle for the abolition of slavery, who had rejected the call to African emigration issued by the nationalist intellectuals who opted for “African Redemption,” a euphemism for Afro-American colonization of Africa supported by the white racist in the American Colonization Society, asked if free blacks left America: “who would speak for the millions in chains.” Having been a slave – unlike the African Redemptionist such as Reverend Alexander Crummell, Dr. Martin R. Delany, and Reverend Edward Wilmont Blyden -no one was more emotionally invested in the evolution of the Emancipation Proclamation in a land where the enslavement of Africans and their descendants was a life sentence.   And he provides us moving first hand testimony as to the mood of African Americans on the eve of the Emancipation…the first “Watch Night.”

Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863,” he asks, “when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read today. Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress.”

Black Folk at Watchman Ceremony

Watchman Service on New Year's Eve

A black southern church in the early 20th century

For anyone interested in a balanced assessment of Abraham Lincoln this speech by Frederick Douglass is a must read; the text can be easily found on Google. But for the purpose of this essay I shall offer but one other quote. It was selected for its clarity in stating a fact that few of Lincoln’s contemporary critics recognize: Politics is the art of the possible! Douglas, astute political analyst that he was, understood that Lincoln was not a king; that his power was checked by two other branches of government, and that powerful members of both branches vehemently opposed any attempt at emancipating black slaves. Given that reality he had to make deals, enter into compromises that offended moral purists. He did not always understand this and was wont to condemn these vacillations, but in the end Douglass saw the light.

I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Alas, as the learned and insightful social/intellectual historian and thoughtful commentator on America politics and culture Harold Cruse has observed: Americans are anti-intellectual and anti-historical. Thus people who regard themselves as well educated enough to post their opinions about weighty historical matters on Facebook – that great unmediated forum of opinion – do not take the time to read what Frederick Douglass thought of President Lincoln, despite the fact that they were contemporaries and Douglass watched his every move because ending slavery was the grand crusade of his life. Instead they seek the opinion of popular historians and magazine writers and swear by them.

Indeed, the raison d’etre of this essay is just such an opinion posted on Facebook. The self-assured commentator is convinced that he has found out “the truth” about Lincoln he feels compelled to spread it with the conviction of a Jack legged preacher proclaiming “the good news,” and with no less conviction.

“Folks really need to read Lerone Bennett’s book on Lincoln, “Forced Into Glory.” the writer tells us, “People like Lyman Trumball, Wendell Phillips, Thaddeus Stevens, all more progressive than Lincoln on race. Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor and refused to sign two of the Confiscation Acts which would have doomed slavery years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And the emancipation thing enslaved a half million black people when it was enacted and freed none. But yeah I get the popular mythology of Lincoln”

President Lincoln at Antietam Battlefield

Abraham Lincoln Antietam

The Civil War….and Lincoln’s prosecution of it is no myth

Like most polemics that prize passion over reason this argument misses the mark by a mile.  From the outset our self-styled savant is fatally handicapped by his ignorance of history.    Lyrone Bennet Jr, a friend and respected scribe with whom I shared the podium on several occasions, was a very compelling magazine feature writer, not a professional historian.  This is a distinction that laymen are not equipped to understand but is in a very real distinction nonetheless.

In a nutshell what it boils down to is that historians go to the original records and attempt to present objective arguments based on that evidence regardless of their personal feelings about the subject.  And the work they produce is subjected to rigorous peer review.  Stacking the evidence in order to make a polemical point is called “Special Pleading.”  In its worst manifestation it is called “popular mythology,” which is what magazine writers do.  It is an approach to historical writing that is universally rejected by professional historians, and for very good reason.

Lyrone Bennett was Senior Editor of Ebony Magazine, whose role as stated by its founder and longtime publisher, John Johnson, is to report positive news about black Americans and denounce racist discrimination.  It is a noble goal but it is not what professional historians are about.  The failure to understand this distinction is what led so many black writers to attack Dr. Manning Marable’s book on Malcolm X.  If you really want to understand something about the writing of modern scientific history read my essay “Is Dr. Marable’s Malcolm yet another Reinvention?” on this blog. ( And by the way, if you wish to know what qualifies me to present  this analysis read my resume on this site under “A thumbnail Sketch”)

For anyone to suggest that Abraham Lincoln was a passive figure in the emancipation of American slaves reveals an embarrassing ignorance.  The Emancipation Proclamation was a war time executive order, which ONLY a president could issue.  That way Lincoln could avoid the machinations of a contentious Congress, which would NEVER have voted to end slavery!  Furthermore Lincoln’s position on slavery evolved while he was in office.  When the South started the war he was a “Free Soiler” who mainly looked at slavery as an economic issue, although he personally abhorred the system he was a lawyer who recognized that it was LEGAL and thus had no intention of overthrowing it where it was already established, but he was opposed to its expansion onto “free soil” i.e. non slaveholding states.  However during the war he became a passionate abolitionist who believed that slavery was a mortal sin.

There is no better indication of the depth of his commitment to ending slavery everywhere in the US than his refusal to make a compromise with the Confederates to end the war by allowing them to retain their slaves.  To those that know but little of history this may not seem like a big deal.  However let me point out a couple of facts that should be considered in assessing Lincoln’s opposition to slavery on moral grounds. The US Civil War was the most destructive war in the history of the world at the time, because it was the first war that used modern methods of production, transportation and technology.

Before it began nobody could envision what a bloody affair it would become.  That’s why Lincoln was urged by his closet advisors to end the war by compromising with the Confederates and allowing them to retain their slaves but he refused their advice! This is a compromise that he would have readily made BEFORE the war, but during the travails of war Lincoln spent his evenings reading Shakespeare and the Bible; he came to believe that the horrors of the war was God’s punishment of America for the “sin” of slavery – just as the “Founding Father” Thomas Jefferson, a former president and slave holder had earlier confessed regarding slavery: “I shudder for my nation when I reflect upon the fact that God is just.”   And Lincoln believed: “The judgments of the Lord are always right and just.”

Like everybody that ever lived Lincoln had his contradictions, but for a white man of his time he was enlightened in his view of race, otherwise he would NEVER have invited Douglass to the Inaugural Ball – the first black American to attend that prestigious gathering of the nation’s power elite – and definitely not proclaim him “the most meritorious man in the nation.”  These were radical acts by 19th century standards and cannot be dismissed with simple minded, ahistorical rhetoric based on 21st century standards.  That kind of thinking is mindless propaganda designed to make points in contemporary polemics not scholarly history.

Such tampering with the historical record may help win political arguments but does little to help us understand our past. Of course, I do not expect the average person to understand these distinctions, and thus to recognize their value, but being a compulsive pedagogue who is genetically predisposed to combat ignorance wherever I find it – especially about things that really matter – I feel compelled to offer this explanation of the difference between history and propaganda….i.e. “popular mythology.”

I reiterate: the greatest justification for presenting history based on rigorous adherence to the evidence is that this is the only way for us to learn the lessons it can teach. For instance the criticism made of President Lincoln by our Facebook savant is strongly reminiscent of the criticisms made of his fellow Illinois native Barack Obama today.  When the Facebook savant argues:“People like Lyman Trumball, Wendell Phillips, Thaddeus Stevens, all more progressive than Lincoln on race. Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor and refused to sign two of the Confiscation Acts which would have doomed slavery years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And the emancipation thing enslaved a half million black people when it was enacted and freed none.”

In this one passage we can discern the basic themes in the anti-Obama polemics endlessly reiterated by critics among black and white leftists and Black Nationalists, who have accused him of everything from being a tragic mulatto with divided racial loyalties, to “the brown face of American imperialism.” The comparison with Trumbull, Phillips and Stevens with no mention of the powerful opposition Lincoln faced, is echoed in Cornel West’s criticism of President Obama for not being like Dr. Martin Luther King and other “black prophetic voices” of the past. It is an absurd expectation, the product of a mind trained in theology and philosophy and appears to have no idea of the complexities of politics or the different roles philosophers and politicians must play in society – for a thoughtful discussion of this difference see “On Moral Preachment vs. Political Realities” on this blog.

Then there is the ever present problem of “presentism” when layman discusses historical figures.  The charge that Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor “ is a classic case in point.  Our Facebook savant obviously did not take into account the fact that the use of “nigger” to describe black folks was au courant at the time and was used by a wide variety of people of varying political views, including abolitionists passionately fighting to end slavery.  It was certainly not the subject of near universal condemnation as it was when Richard Pryor was using it in his monologues like a stuck record.  Yet there is no one who believes that Pryor’s intention was to insult or injure black people.  Here the commentator does not appear to make any distinction between words and deeds in assessing the intentions of the speaker or taking the measure of a man, only the race of the speaker is considered….and he is totally indifferent to historical context.

Randall Kennedy, an Afro-American Professor of law at Harvard, has made such distinctions in a thoughtful and provocative discussion in his book titled “Nigger.”  Professor Kennedy selects two white American historical figures that made monumental contributions to the political and cultural advancement of Afro-Americans, and thus based on their deeds cannot reasonably be accused of seeking to injure or insult us despite their documented use of the word “nigger”: Carl Van Vechten and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Van Vechten is well known to students of the Afro-American cultural movement of the 1920’s known to history as the Harlem Renaissance,  because he was one on the men who helped make it happen by introducing the works of black writers to major white publishers, and arranging salons in his downtown digs so that black artists could meet and fraternize with the patrons and exhibiters in the downtown art world, etc.    Yet Professor Kennedy tells us “Carl Van Vetchen, for instance, wrote of ‘niggers’ in correspondence with his friend Langston Hughes and Hughes did not object…should he have objected?” asks Kennedy.  To wit he replies “No. Van Vecthen, a key supporter of the Harlem Renaissance, had shown time and time again that he abhorred racial prejudice, would do what he could to improve the fortunes of Afro-Americans, and treasured his black friends.”

We see this same  attitude about the use of “nigger” by whites who are considered friends in the position taken by black players on the Miami Dolphins football team during the dispute between the Afro-American tackle Johnathan Martin and the white defensive end Richie Icognito.  When Johnathan Martin accused Incognito of hurling racist epithets at him the black players said it was cool for Ritchie to call them “niggers” because he was “more of a brother” than Martin. While this all sounds crazy to me, because I am not down with any white folks calling me nigger under any circumstance, we can see that other black people view the use of the word by some whites differently.

For Professor Kennedy it is purely the intent of the speaker that matters.  In President Lyndon Johnson he provides another compelling example of a friend of Afro-Americans who used the word “nigger” liberally in private conversation; about as often as Abraham Lincoln is said to have used it.   He tells us “In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson decided to appoint an African American to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history.  First on Johnson’s list of candidates was Thurgood Marshall – “Mr. Civil Rights” the hero of Brown v. Board of Education and, of course, the man he ended up putting on the Court.  But before he announced his selection, Johnson asked an assistant to identify some other possible candidates.  The aide mentioned A. Leon Higginbotham, whom Johnson had appointed to the federal trial bench.  Reportedly, the President dismissed the suggestion with the comment “The only two people who ever heard of Judge Higginbotham are you and his mamma.  When I appoint a nigger to the Supreme Court, I want everyone to know he is a nigger.”

It ought to be obvious to all thoughtful readers by now that it is folly to equate Abraham Lincoln’s use of the word nigger with a hatred for black people.  And it ought to be abundantly clear that all talk about President Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation having nothing to do with the abolition of slavery is nothing more than ignorant prattle that reveals an innocence of any knowledge of the history of the period, alas.

Those who care to read a biography of Abraham Lincoln that reveals this complex man in all of his virtues and flaws, a man of conviction who vacillated to accommodate the realities of politics, read With Malice Toward None by Dr. Steven Oates.  And for an excellent account of how Lincoln was viewed by the abolitionist movement read Black Abolitionists, by the pioneering black historian and first biographer of Frederick Douglas Dr. Benjamin Quarles.  And finally, whatever contemporary Afro—Americans may believe about Abraham Lincoln, to those who endured American slavery and witnessed the coming of freedom, the people who huddled with their descendants in black southern churches as the Watchman called out the hour of night…Abraham Lincoln was their deliverer. Of this the great Frederick Douglass left no doubt:

Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually — we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate — for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him — but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.

Fellow-citizens, I end, as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
 January 4, 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.”

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 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
DSCN8946
And he was swiftly Slain

DSCN8953

 By the Grim Reaper’s Sythe!
 His Reincarnated Spirit was so Docile
DSCN8955
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
121213124025-russell-wilson-single-image-cut
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?
lil-wayne-photo
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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Suppressing Hong Kong Protestors

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , on October 26, 2014 by playthell
Hong Kong Demnstrations II 
A Mass Demonstration in Hong Kong

 China is really aiming at the Elephant in the Bushes!

When China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from British rule in 1997 – the city had been stolen by Britain and turned into a Crown Colony in 1842, under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking which ended the first Opium War – they didn’t envision the probability of the kind of mass demonstrations they are facing today; the implications of which spell real trouble for mainland China. Hence I would argue that the strategy employed by the Chinese Communist Party leadership in suppressing the “pro-democracy” movement led by students is really intended to send a message to the rest of China that mass demonstrations will gain them nothing.

In accepting the Basic Law, which amounts to a mini-constitution tailored for Hong Kong under which the city would be governed, the Chinese government announced a unique philosophy of governance based on a two tiered policy: “One Country two Systems.”  This policy was intended to reassure the banks and other financial institutions – the most powerful in Asia – located in the rich and beautiful sea side city that they had nothing to worry about from the Communist Party that ruled the mainland with an iron fist and promoted policies that are anathema to “free market” capitalism.

The Chinese rulers made it clear however, that there would be no attempt to nationalize the “private sector” that had generated so much wealth; indeed they would use it as an engine for generating foreign exchange and an instrument for financing business deals with the capitalist economies.  In other words they viewed the business acumen of Hong Kong as a boon to China’s paramount objective: to achieve a high degree of economic development and modernization in the shortest possible time.

China’s domestic and foreign policy is directed toward this aim. We can readily observe this in their policies on family planning as well as their foreign policy of strict non-interference in the affairs of other countries and their steadfast refusal to become involved in foreign military adventures, while building a formidable technological infrastructure designed to propel their economy into a dominant force in the 21st century, and a military machine that makes an invasion of China unthinkable!

The Chinese communist have shown a unique ability to tailor Marxist dogma to Chinese realities going back to Mao Tse Tung’s scrapping of a fundamental tenet of Marxist/Leninist analysis: that the industrial proletariat is the historically appointed class to lead the socialist revolution.  Instead Mao decided that in China, a quasi-feudal pre-capitalist society with no industrial proletariat to speak of, the revolutionary peasantry would assume the historic task of leading China to socialism. For Marxist this was like denying the theory of evolution to biologists; for the Marxist believes Marxism to be as scientific a method of analyzing the “laws of society” as biology is for analyzing the living world.  In fact, Frederick Engles – a biologist, close intellectual comrade and patron of Karl Marx – argued as much.

The adoption of a policy of allowing a bastion of unfettered capitalism to exist under the rule of a communist party was viewed as no less a heretical act by doctrinaire Marxist.  But as in the beginning the Chinese continue to shape Marxist theory to fit Chinese realities, rather than follow the Russian model of “dismissing reality when it didn’t fit our theories,” which the official ideological advisor to former premier Andropov gave as the major reason for the collapse of Russian communism.   I would argue that this willingness to adjust to reality and innovate is the major reason for the spectacular success of the Chinese Communist Party in converting China from a footstool of the western capitalist nations into a world power in just 66 years!   It also explains why they are still in power even as their would-be Russian Communist “tutors” have receded into history.

By any objective measure – i.e. free of ideological considerations – this is a remarkable achievement.  As I have written elsewhere, I believe the Chinese Communist Revolution is the greatest mass transformative movement in history.   However the Chinese Communist Party is now faced with an unintended consequence of their reclamation of Hong Kong, a spontaneous mass uprising demanding an unfettered democratic process where those who would rule over the people of Hong Kong must have the consent of the governed achieved through popular elections!

In the Basic Law governing Hong Kong agreed to by the Chinese government 19 years ago, the people were given the right to choose their officials through universal suffrage i.e. one person one vote. The present dispute centers around how the candidates will be selected.  The masses of people who have turned out in the pro-democracy demonstrations, led by Student Federation, just like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the fight for Afro-American voter rights in the American south during the 1960’s, insist that the candidates who stand for office should be also selected by a popular vote like the US primary elections.

However the Leader of Hong Kong’s government C. Y. Leung, whose official position is Chief Executive and is backed by the Chinese government in Peking, views the matter differently.  Leung firmly supports the selection process now in place in which a selection committee appointed by Chinese premier Xi Ping will screen and pick the candidates for whom the people of Hong Kong may vote.  Ironically, despite all of the self-righteous chatter from the US State Department, this process resembles the “white primaries” that shaped racial politics in the American South which maintained “white supremacy” based on a legal racial caste system well into the twentieth century, in which black Americans could only choose between pre-selected white racist candidates.

And notwithstanding US denunciations of the Chinese interpretation of “universal suffrage,” the recent Supreme Court decision in “Citizen’s United” will increasingly have the effect of offering up candidates that have been pre-selected by the plutocrats.  Thus one could argue that in essence these two systems of selecting candidates represent a distinction without a real difference: Both are the antithesis of popular democracy. It took a mass movement to attain true universal suffrage in all regions of the US, in which blood was shed and lives were lost as a result of a collaboration between government and white terrorists, which bears a shocking resemblance to the goons now attacking the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong who appear to have covert government backing.

On Tuesday representatives of the Hong Kong government sat down with leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students to explore the possibility of devising a solution to the crisis.  Alas, based on the statements issued by both sides to the press at the end of their meetings they were like Jack the Bear, made some tracks but got nowhere.  CEO Leung decided to play past the powowaltogether and dispatched his second in command, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who offered the following statement to the press.  “”We should work within the system and enhance the transparency and competitiveness of the system as a whole.  This is a good opportunity and a meaningful dialogue. I hope the community will stay united.”

The student leaders made it abundantly clear that they weren’t buying what the government was selling.  Like all people who are about serious business Alex Chow wanted to establish a time table for reaching specific decisions.  To him this went right to the heart of the matter: deeds not words.   He asked: “Why did people come out? People felt like they had no choice. They had to come out and make their voices heard.”  Secretary Lam assured them that the government heard the voices of the students and added, “But no matter how lofty the sentiments, you must take legal means.”  This is evidently the party line issued from Peking because the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, said almost the same thing to American Secretary of State John Kerry at a their recent meeting in the US.

However the Hong Kong students, just like the members of SNCC during Freedom Summer 1964, feel that the law does not address their just grievances and therefore they must petition the government for redress through mass protests by the citizenry.  The resemblance to the US student movement is uncanny.  For instance student leaders, led by their Secretary General Chow, even showed for the meeting with government officials dressed in black T shirts with a favorite slogan of SNCC “Freedom Now!” emblazoned across the front.

And like Afro-American students in the far more oppressive and murderous environment of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, et al – the entire southern half of the USA – the Hong Kong students are willing to pay the price for speaking truth to power. Lester Shum, an aide de camp to Mr. Chow, asked some poignant questions that went straight to the heart of the matter. “”Why are we willing to be arrested? Why are we willing to camp out for 24 days? Why are we willing to bear the risk of being tear gassed, smashed on the head with batons?   We just want the right for democracy.”

When Secretary Lam assured the student leaders that she was compiling a through report on all that has transpired since the demonstrations began, Mr. Chow asked “What concrete change will this report lead to?  Will it help lead to adjustment of the framework or the future direction of legislative council elections?”  His question went unanswered, and thus the stalemate.  However the students can garner some encouragement from the fact that four high ranking members of the government did meet with them to discuss their grievances, and it was broadcast live on television from an auditorium at the Hong Kong  college of medicine and many of the seven million residents of the city tuned in.

Yet when all is said and done the students did not achieve any of their demands from the government, all they got was hollow promises and spurious rhetoric. Hence when viewed in the light of present realities in Chinese politics I fear that the student movement is doomed to defeat.  If the issue was merely a matter of Hong Kong politics perhaps Peking could find a way to accommodate the student’s demands; it would be considered the price of peace.

But they will not make concessions to the demonstrators at the expense of destabilizing the mainland, which they justifiably fear would demonstrate to the billion and a half citizens across the vast expanse of China that government policies can be influenced by mass action.  That is the danger that Peking fears most.   They have witnessed the fall of the Russian Communist Party, and watched numerous well entrenched authoritarian governments all across the Middle-East collapse like paper tigers during the “Arab Spring,” and they do not intend to follow them into oblivion.

When we look at the major ally of the Communist Party in thwarting the popular democratic movement in Hong Kong, we find eloquent testimony to the enduring veracity of Lenin’s axiom: “politics makes strange bedfellows.”  For next to the Communist Party the folks who most want to crush the movement for a wider democracy through universal suffrage are the Hong Kong capitalist elites.  Consider the opinions of CEO Leung Chun Ying regarding true universal suffrage.  After making it abundantly clear that he had no intention of stepping down from his high office, despite student demands, and that he fully supported the committee method of selecting his successor, he offered some candid opinion.

According to the New York Times CEO Leung said: “You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can.  And if it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.  Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.”  Shades of Marie Antoinette and Mitt Romney; these gluttonous cretins seem to always be the same wherever they pop up on the historical stage, which exonerates the insights and lends gravitas to CLR James axiom: “The rich can only be trusted when they are running for their lives.”

The Chinese communist understand this well as adherents to the communist vision of Marx, but they have made yet another deviation from classical Marxist dogma in their brazen collaboration with the class enemy in order to achieve a larger goal: maintaining the stability of Mainland China so that they can continue a steady march on the path to rapid modernization. Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping, who is considered the “Paramount Leader” – a title formerly reserved for the late father of New China Mao Tse Tung – is committed to the belief that in order for China to effectively carry out its modernization program the Party must be firmly in charge of the nation’s affairs. He has left no doubt that the Party leadership is totally committed to achieving their goals by any means necessary.  Hence when weighed against maintaining a stable disciplined society, crushing the Hong Kong student movement is no big deal.

 The Chinese are building a 21st Century Infrastructure
 Beijing_Capital_International_Airport_200908
American businessmen marvel over this Airport with high speed trains

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Playthell G. Benjamin

October 24, 2014

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