Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Connerly Raising a "Ruckus" Over Affirmative Action

I have been pretty caught up in this past week’s political excitement. Barack Obama won South Carolina! And Kwame Kilpatrick… well, Mr. Mayor was his ever-scandalous self. It all made for high drama. But, I wasn’t THAT caught up. Nope, I haven’t forgotten about Ward “anti-affirmative action” Connerly.

Connerly lead the purposefully ambiguous “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative” (Proposition 2) in 2006. “Prop 2” passed in Michigan with a 58% vote. This means that the measures the state of Michigan had in place to ensure that women and minorities get their foot in the door in a variety of public institutions (e.g., government, education, employment) are no more. He has already lead successful campaigns in the states of California and Washington on this point.

Next week--Super Tuesday-- Connerly is hoping to get his anti-affirmative action Civil Rights Initiative on five more states’ ballots. These states are: Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The best predictors say that Connerly will be successful.

I am afraid. As a result of these measures, it is becoming harder to document discrimination against women and minorities in public institutions.

I am nervous. As Ms. magazine explained succinctly: “Connerly’s Civil Rights Initiative (CRI) campaigns use purposefully deceptive language to confuse some voters into repudiating policies they might otherwise support. Virtually all his campaigns purport to ban ‘discrimination and preference’ on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. Even those who read the language of his initiatives with caution will not necessarily recognize a ban on discrimination or preference as a vote to end affirmative action.” As such, I hope voters truly understand what is on their ballots.

I am angry. Connerly fails to understand how diversity is tied to experiential, intellectual, and cultural heterogeneity. He fails to understand how such heterogeneity is good for institutions—competing voices, ideas, and attitudes lead to a smarter, more informed citizenry.

(Image source:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Nipsey Russell-Gong Moment #3: Michael Jordan

What is a “Nipsey Russell-Gong Moment?” Three decades ago, the great entertainer Nipsey Russell was a guest judge on The Gong Show. On one episode, a White male ventriloquist appeared as a contestant. His dummy was white, but he (inexplicably) sloppily painted it brown, hence, it looked a bit like blackface. As the man told bad, though not racist jokes, Russell gonged him. Russell explained that he gonged the man because something just wasn’t right. Sometimes things just feel wrong. If you get that feeling, don’t doubt yourself. Just gong ‘em!

In 1990, at the peak of his popularity, Michael Jordan refused to endorse Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt in a senate race against Republican Jesse Helms. At the time, Helms was neck-and-neck with Democrat Gantt in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina. Helms then launched the infamous “Hands” campaign commercial. The ad featured a close-up of a White man’s hands crumpling a rejection letter. The voiceover said, “you needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority.” Gantt could have used Jordan’s support, but Jordan refused to give it by explaining, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” Helms won the election, and Jordan sold out, literally, to Nike.

This month, Nike is launching the latest (and possibly last) Air Jordan. The limited edition will go for $230, while the standard shoe will go for $185. Who really needs a $200 basketball shoe? Nike claims the Air Jordan XX3 is high performance footwear, but no one, unless s/he is a professional athlete, really needs such an over-priced shoe.

GONG to Michael Jordan. Buy Starbury One shoes for $14.98 instead.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama: A Change is Gonna Come

I wish my grandfather, “Highwater” (as known by his trucker’s CB radio handle), was alive to see this historic day. He was born and raised in Jim Crow South Carolina. His state of South Carolina remains scarred by slavery, secession, Dixiecrats, segregation, Ku Klux Klan raids, lynchings, Strom Thurmond, the Orangeburg Massacre, and Confederate flags. Highwater was born into a family who had difficulty imagining voting, let alone voting for a Black presidential candidate. Instead, the words of Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman (1900) celebrating the slaughter of Blacks trying to vote haunted my kin:

“We were sorry we had the necessity forced upon us, but we could not help it, and as white men we are not sorry for it, and we do not propose to apologize for anything we have done in connection with it. He is not meddling with politics, for he found that the more he meddled with them the worse off he got. As to his “rights” - I will not discuss them now….We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him. I would to God the last one of them was in Africa and that none of them had ever been brought to our shores. But I will not pursue the subject further.”

And yet—amazingly—the citizens of South Carolina, under the watchful eye of their Tillman monument, put all of that behind them (at least for today) to award Barack Obama an extraordinary 55% of the vote win in their Democratic primary.

In his victory speech, Obama seemed to be talking directly to my grandfather: “this election is about the past versus the future…yes, we can change. Yes we can.”

I am certain that Highwater and the ancestors would believe.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Top 10 Most Memorable (Dead) Characters

The demise of “The Wire’s” dangerously unassuming drug dealer Proposition Joe Stewart (Robert Chew) left me thinking: what other characters’ deaths have merited a moment of silence?’ Here are my Top Ten:

10. Simon Adebisi (“Oz”). He gave a new name to heroin chic with his muscle shirts and trademark knit cap. Adebisi beheaded a cop, ran a gang, had a nervous breakdown, sparked a race riot, sold drugs, and did all sorts of nasty things “Oz style.” Seemingly invincible, few saw it coming when this series’ standout character met his bloody end behind a makeshift curtain at the hands of Kareem Said. Actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje went on to “Lost” (and typecasting) fame, but the heroin dealing Mr. Eko is just no Adebisi.

9. Piano Man (“Lady Sings the Blues”). Why, oh, why didn’t Piano Man go ahead and pawn Billie Holiday’s diamond ring to get the money for their next fix? Instead, he held on to it for her and ripped off some really bad drug dealers. In return for his kindness to Lady Day, the dealers beat Piano Man to death right before our eyes. Richard Pryor stole this movie right from under Diana Ross and Billie Dee Williams.

8. Dick Hallorann (“The Shining”). Kindly Dick is telepathically summoned to save little Danny Torrance from his knife-wielding father Jack. Dick makes his way from Florida to Colorado to render aid—on his own dime, mind you, during a blizzard …but to no avail. A mere seconds after Dick arrives, Jack unceremoniously cuts him down with an ax. Stanley Kubrick must occupy a special place in Hades for not only reinforcing the “magical Negro” stereotype, but for also killing the great song and dance man Scatman Crothers in this horrific way.

7. Sister (“Sparkle”). You saw it coming. Sister’s gangster boyfriend Satin forced her to leave her singing sisters behind so that she could embark on a solo career. Sister lined Satin’s pockets, fell victim to his brutal domestic violence, and sought to ease her pain with drugs. Sister’s sultry wail ‘Giving up is so very hard to do’ couldn’t have been more poetic or fateful. Lonette McKee just doesn’t get enough work for my taste. She was marvelously passionate as Drew in “Jungle Fever.”

6. James Evans (“Goodtimes”). A hard working, doting father, James leaves Chicago and his family behind for a better paying job in Mississippi. Before the family can get packed up to join James, wife Florida finds out, via telegram, that James has been killed in a car accident. The news prompts Florida to famously cry, “damn, damn, damn!” It was a surprisingly mournful moment for a situation comedy. “Damn, damn, damn,” was a sacred saying until comedian Martin Lawrence appropriated it as one of his trademark punch lines. Kudos to actor John Amos for making the ultimate sacrifice and ending his ties with “Goodtimes” rather than be involved with a series that resurrected the buffoon stereotype through co-star J.J.

5. Radio Raheem (“Do The Right Thing”). A broiling, hot summer. A predominately Black neighborhood. An Italian pizza shop owner who profits from the community. Enter Radio Raheem who joins Buggin’ Out in boycotting Sal’s Pizza for not respecting the community’s icons. Radio Raheem hoped to “Fight the Power,” but instead pays for his activism with his life thanks to a NYPD chokehold. Bill Nunn is from my hometown, Pittsburgh. His father was a long-time scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers and has five Super Bowl rings for his efforts. Nunn’s grandfather was news editor of The Pittsburgh Courier. What a saintly family.

4. Stringer Bell (“The Wire”). “Stra-ang” (as corrupt senator Clay Davis called the series’ star) just wanted to bring a little legitimacy to the drug game. He was all about buying property and political influence. When all of this failed, Stringer turned snitch, ratting out his partner-in-crime Avon Barksdale. Avon had the unexpected last laugh by ok’ing a hit on Stringer by Omar and Brother Mouzone. Folks were stunned when the cornered Stringer sighed, “get on with it motherf…” and Omar and Mouzone actually did with guns blazing. Idris Elba was fabulous in the vampire-themed TV series Ultraviolet and in the HBO movie “Sometimes in April,” but he will always be Stringer Bell to me.

3. Ben (“Night of the Living Dead”). Ben (pictured above) is the lone survivor of a horrific night battling cannibalistic zombies. However, he is no match for a posse of White militia who “mistake” Ben for one of the undead. The Bull Connor-esq lynch mob shoot Ben in the head and then burn his corpse. Kudos to George Romero for using such symbolism to remind folks that racism is alive and well. “Night” was set in Pittsburgh, and Romero couldn’t have been more insightful about race relations in and around my city. The ill-fated Ben didn’t die first in this horror film; rather his was one of the most sociopolitically important deaths on celluloid. The late Duane Jones was a professor of English and of Theatre. He continued to make an impact upon the arts as an actor and director of theatre.

2. Cochise (“Cooley High”). Cochise was young, good looking, and off to college on a basketball scholarship. The mundane nature of his life—school, parties, hanging out, girlfriends-- made us identify with him all the more. People aren’t supposed to die in a fistfight with a couple of thugs, especially when your ‘boy is rushing to come to your rescue. Cochise’s death was a bitter reminder that the ‘hood can be terribly arbitrary and unforgiving. Even the hardest of Brothers choke up when the soundtrack plays “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” during the Cochise funeral scene. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs channeled a little Cochise into high schooler/basketball player Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington on Welcome Back, Kotter…but it just wasn’t the same.

1. Annie Johnson (“Imitation of Life”). In the 1959 version of the film, Annie dies (nearly) alone. Only her employer, Ms. Lora, is at her bedside as Annie slips away. Annie’s tragic mulatto daughter Sarah Jane is nowhere to be found, as self-hate has alienated her from her darker-skinned mother. The passing away of Annie is sad. Her funeral, however, is truly heart rending as Mahalia Jackson sings “Trouble of the World” in tribute to the saintly Annie who is “going home to live with God.” The tear factor is heightened even more as we learn that Annie was not just a doting mammy figure to Ms. Lora and her daughter, rather she was an exalted member of the Black community and active in her church. By the time Sarah Jane shows up screaming and weeping for her dead mother who is being carted off in a glorious horse-drawn carriage amid a parade-length funeral procession… well, I’ve got a lump in my throat just thinking about it. Juanita Moore was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for this role.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bill Clinton Isn't Black!

In a recent interview posted to, civil rights leader Andrew Young said, "Bill [Clinton] is every bit as Black as Barack! He's probably gone with more Black women Barack."

On January 21, 2008-- the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday-- CNN reporter Joe Johns asked this question of Barak Obama: "the Nobel Prize-winning African-American author, Toni Morrison, famously observed about Bill Clinton, 'This is our first Black president, Blacker than any actual Black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime.' Do you think Bill Clinton was our first Black president?"

While I go off to rant about how offensive the 'Bill is Black' rhetoric continues to be, here is one person's take one the situation....from 2001... by Jabari Asim (Feb. 26, 2001)
Image: President Clinton stands by singer-songwriter Luther Vandross at a Democratic rally in New York's Harlem in November 2000.

Bill Clinton isn't black!
It's time to bury the ridiculous and insulting notion that the former president is anything but white.

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By Jabari Asim

Feb. 26, 2001 | Every time I think it's going to die, it rears its ugly head once again. I'm referring to the dishearteningly durable idea that former President Bill Clinton somehow shares a special kinship with black men. I'm not sure exactly whom to blame for giving birth to this nauseating notion. I do know that it first gained mainstream currency in the fall of 1998, when Toni Morrison launched a spirited defense of the scandal-ridden chief executive in a New Yorker essay. The normally reliable Nobel laureate attempted to bolster her specious argument by unfurling a sequence of stereotypes that would make any self-respecting white supremacist salivate with glee. She contended that African-American men possessed a firsthand understanding of Clinton's difficulties:

Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the president's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke?

In barbershops, churches, diners and taverns, along the sidelines at sporting events, at PTA meetings and during water-cooler rap sessions, I was repeatedly relieved to discover that I wasn't the only person who read Morrison's essay and wondered, what black men? I walk around all day in a black man's skin and rarely in the course of my travels do I trip over any of the "tropes" Morrison attributes to men like me. Furthermore, the black men with whom I associate have not, under any circumstances, engaged in the nonsensical "murmurings" that Morrison describes. Linking Clinton's "metaphorical" frisking to our own experiences -- and those of our fathers and grandfathers -- would be like spitting in the faces of our ancestors, an act of blasphemy most of us would take care to avoid.

In the midst of my dismay I considered the damaging likelihood of white Americans responding as they often have in such situations -- that is, mistaking Morrison's comments as the viewpoint of all black Americans. The danger seemed real given the alacrity with which pundits pounced upon her article. Morrison wasn't the only prominent liberal intellectual to offer a dubious tribute to Clinton in that particular magazine, but her comments were the ones most often dragged through the mud and subjected to the ridicule that, I must say, they deserved. Even so, the ensuing hubbub was mercifully short-lived. Thus, while Morrison's arguments in favor of Clinton's "blackness" were ill-considered indeed, they can hardly be blamed for the idea's persistence.

Eleven months after Morrison's essay appeared, Clinton himself resurrected the concept. He told attendees at the Congressional Black Caucus's annual awards dinner that he recently had met with comedian Chris Tucker, who was developing a film project about the nation's first black president. "I didn't have the heart to tell him that I've already taken the position," Clinton said. News reports noted that audience members, including various black congressmen, "cracked up."

I hope they were laughing to keep from crying. As public officials with agendas to pursue and constituents to placate, maybe they had good reason to soothe the presidential ego. Perhaps Paul Laurence Dunbar was thinking of black officeholders when he fashioned these lines in "We Wear the Mask": "This debt we pay to human guile;/With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,/And mouth with myriad subtleties."

Like the vengeful undead in a seedy horror movie, the specter of "Black Bill" continues to rise and stretch forth its creepy talons. On February 15 -- some 17 months after the black caucus dinner -- a Washington Post story about Clinton's planned move to Harlem quoted a black flower vendor's enthusiastic endorsement of the ex-president. "Oh yeah!" the vendor exclaimed. "He's my MAN! He IS black. He is black. His attitude, his body language, he is a black man. He walks gracefully. He talks gracefully. He would be my brother."

Aaaaaargh! Enough already!

It is time to put this putrid idea to rest, bury it deep in the compost pile where it belongs. Let me make this perfectly clear: Clinton is not black. He does not "talk" black, whatever on Earth that means. He does not "walk" black either. I'm sure I'm not the only black man in America who finds such woefully distorted logic insulting and distasteful. Surely others can't help but see the painful irony of Clinton being celebrated as a hero in a legendary community where giants once walked the streets. Harlem helped nurture the talents of men like W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson, and when we carelessly tolerate the connection of Bill Clinton to their storied legacy we sully the names of immortals.

Are black men so hungry for modern heroes that we eagerly exchange brotherhood for Clinton's occasional teary-eyed assurance that he feels our pain? And are such gestures, regardless of their sincerity, sufficient to overcome Clinton's many, repeated moral failings? What have black men to gain by attaching our loyalty so firmly to a man whose place in history grows shakier by the minute?

I've never understood many blacks' irrational exuberance where Clinton was concerned. I didn't trust him from the get-go, smelled something rotten during his first successful presidential campaign, when he attempted to reassure moderate-leaning whites by making a symbolic punching bag out of Sister Souljah, a marginal hip-hop performer with minimal influence. My suspicion deepened when he turned his back on Haitian refugees moments after moving into the White House. These and other slick maneuverings linger in my memory whenever anyone, even jokingly, associates the content of the former president's character with the color of my skin.

I'd never thought I'd wish that blackness was an exclusive club with its own set of unique privileges but lately I've recognized the value of elite memberships. I've seen how belonging to the Senate club afforded John Ashcroft relatively painless access to the top job at the Justice Department. I've seen how Clinton's stellar resumé affords him the opportunity to practice his putting in exclusive country clubs in places like Little Rock and Miami.

With that in mind, President Clinton and anyone else considering joining the fraternity of black men should be aware that, as with any other elite group, a certain amount of dues-paying is in order. Maybe the former leader of the free world has already successfully negotiated our well-worn rites of passage. Maybe he has been frequently mistaken for a shoplifter, mugger, drug courier or carjacker. Maybe he's been followed around stores for no apparent reason. Maybe he has been pleasantly surprised when a cab responds promptly to his outstretched hand. One thing he certainly has not done is pursue his livelihood as most African-American men have done, with grace, dedication and integrity, far beyond the spotlight.

Mr. President, I've worked with black men. I've known black men. Some black men have been friends of mine. And you, sir, are no black man.

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About the writer
Jabari Asim is a senior editor of Washington Post World and editor of "Not Guilty: Twelve Black Men on Life, Law and Justice," to be published in the fall.

From by Jabari Asim (Feb. 26, 2001)

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Nipsey Russell-Gong Moment" #2: Golf

What is a “Nipsey Russell-Gong Moment?” Three decades ago, the great entertainer Nipsey Russell was a guest judge on The Gong Show. On one episode, a White male ventriloquist appeared as a contestant. His dummy was white, but he (inexplicably) sloppily painted it brown, hence, it looked a bit like blackface. As the man told bad, though not racist jokes, Russell gonged him. Russell explained that he gonged the man because something just wasn’t right. Sometimes things just feel wrong. If you get that feeling, don’t doubt yourself. Just gong ‘em!

A "GONG" to the January 19, 2008 issue of Golfweek for putting a noose on its cover. A "GONG" to Dave Seanor (VP and Editor of Golfweek) for putting it there. A "GONG" to Kelly Tilghman for recommending Tiger Woods' competitors "lynch him in a back alley," thereby prompting Golfweek to go with the noose image. And "GONG" to Tiger Woods who said that Tilghman's comments were a "non-issue."

"Nipsey Russell-Gong Moment" #1: Bizarro

What is a “Nipsey Russell-Gong Moment?” Three decades ago, the great entertainer Nipsey Russell was a guest judge on The Gong Show. On one episode, a White male ventriloquist appeared as a contestant. His dummy was white, but he (inexplicably) sloppily painted it brown, hence, it looked a bit like blackface. As the man told bad, though not racist jokes, Russell gonged him. Russell explained that he gonged the man because something just wasn’t right. Sometimes things just feel wrong. If you get that feeling, don’t doubt yourself. Just gong ‘em!

A "Gong" to January 19, 2008's Bizarro comic. (

Saturday, January 19, 2008

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Observing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

1. DO: Actually give a careful listen to the lyrics of “Happy Birthday,” Stevie Wonder’s tribute song to Dr. King. You’ll find the words powerful. My favorite lines: “And I’m sure you will agree/It couldn’t fit more perfectly/Than to have a world party on the day you came to be…”

2. DON’T: Arrive at any King day event with an R. Kelly song blasting from your car radio.

3. DO: Rent “Boycott” starring Jeffrey Wright, Terrence Howard, and CCH Pounder, and directed by Clark Johnson (of “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” fame). Note how it depicts Dr. King as a complex Black man among Black people.

4. DON’T: Go to the movies to see anything with Katt Williams in it on Dr. King’s birthday. No matter what the advertisements say, this is not the very best way to celebrate Dr. King and his legacy.

5. DO: Venture over to the nearest college campus. Colleges always have a variety of free programs for holiday.

6. DON’T: Simply use the day to catch up on your sleep or work (assuming you even have the day off). Instead, meditate on a Dr. King quote and consider how its meaning is relevant today. Two of my favorite Dr. King quotes are: “Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them” and “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silences our friends.”

7. DO: Explain to your children who Dr. King was and why he remains important. Don’t assume they are ‘getting it in school.’ In his 1968 “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, Dr. King tells this story: "But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, ‘Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.’ She said, ‘While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a White girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune and suffering [Dr. King had been stabbed, and the knife blade rested near his heart]. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

8. DON’T: Let the day end without reading Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” You can download it, and other important Dr. King documents for free here

9. DO: Spend the day with loved ones.

10. DO: Reflect on the Dr. King holiday using the comment feature of this blog. You may post anonymously by selecting the “any open ID” option (under the pull down menu) when asked to sign-in.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

4 Little Girls: From Birmingham to D.C.

The Democratic presidential candidates, specifically Obama and Clinton, have moved the U.S. mainstream media to turn their attention to debates of race and gender. However, nothing of substance is coming out of all of this discussion. That is, unless you are particularly interersted in whether "Billary" really dissed Martin Luther King, Jr.

In focusing on issues of race and gender in this way, the media get scintillating sound bites, but do little to provide us with meaningful information regarding issues such as race and gender inequality and discrimination.

This brings me to "4 Little Girls (2008)." These are not the four little girls murdered by terrorist-racists in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. I am referring to the four little girls killed this month, in the shadows of this nation's capitol, by their mother Banita Jacks. This tragedy is where race and gender debates should pick up. How can this family of women disappear from our communities and not be missed? Are we really that invisible? Must we always first have a voice to get help if our partners have died, our utilities shut off, and our mental health ailing? What if all of these things prevent us from finding our voice and from screaming for assistance? Perhaps Ms. Jacks did find her voice; clearly too many failed to listen. Why is it that law enforcement could not gain access to Ms. Jacks home to save her children, but COULD get in to evict her and her four little girls to return her home to a bank? Are Black women's lives worth less than property? And, if the four little girls had been alive when deputies came to put them out in the January cold, where exactly were they to go? What were Banita, Aja, N'Kiah, Tatiana, and Brittany to do?

At least twice now, we have lost "4 Little Girls" to tragedy. In 1963 the Birmingham church bombing mobilized our communities. 45 years later, we are still losing our little girls. Shouldn't this be enough to shift our focus to meaningful race and gender, and class and policy debates?