For Ishmael Reed, Barack Obama, like Michelangelo's St. Anthony, is a tormented man, haunted by modern reincarnations of the demonic spirits used to break slaves. These were the "Nigger Breakers"-men like Edward Covey, who was handed the job of breaking Frederick Douglass. "Isn't it ironic," writes Reed: "A media that scolded the jim Crow South in the 1960s now finds itself hosting the bird." In this collection, which in includes several unpublished essays, Ishamael Reed brings to bear his grasp of the four-centuries-long African-American experience as he turns his penetrating gaze on Barack Obama's election and first year in power-establishing himself as the conscience of a country that was once moved by Martin Luther King's dream.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Ishmael Reed is an important American poet, novelist, playwright, and song writer who has taught at Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and the University of CaliforniaBerkeley. He is author of Japanese by Spring, The Terrible Twos, and Writin' Is Fightin: Thirty-seven Years of Boxing on Paper. He lives in Oakland, California.
Read an Excerpt
Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media
The Return of the Nigger Breakers
By Ishmael Reed
Baraka BooksCopyright © 2010 Ishmael Reed
All rights reserved.
GOING OLD SOUTH ON OBAMA
Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man
(Black public intellectuals and politicians accused the Clinton campaign of using racist tactics against Barack Obama. The Clintons denied the accusation and the media backed them up. But after the campaign, a report about the Clinton strategy was published and it showed that the aim of the campaign was to paint Obama as different. As someone who was not like us. Mark Penn's campaign memo of March 19, 2007 was printed in the August 11, 2008 issue of The Atlantic:
More than anything else, this memo captures the full essence of Mark Penn's campaign strategy — its brilliance and its breathtaking attacks. Penn identified with impressive specificity the very coalition of women and blue-collar workers that Clinton ended up winning a year later. But he also called Obama "unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun," and wrote, "I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values." Penn proposed targeting Obama's "lack of American roots."
Their effort to break Obama failed, but Clinton supporters' insistence upon painting Clinton as a martyr or someone who was cheated out of the nomination led to the rise of Sarah Palin.)
During Bill Clinton's first run for president, I appeared on a New York radio panel with some of his black supporters, including Paul Robeson, Jr., son of the actor and singer. I said that Clinton had character problems. They dismissed my comments and said that I didn't know anything about politics and should stick to writing novels. (Clarence Page, who has a monopoly on the few column inches and airtime made available to black columnists by the corporate media, said the same thing about me. I should stick to creative writing and leave politics alone.)
These criticisms didn't deter me. Writing in The Baltimore Sun, I was the first to identify Clinton as a black president as a result of his mimicking a black style. (I said he was the second, since Warren G. Harding never denied the rumors about his black ancestry.) As a result of his ability to imitate the black preaching style, Clinton was able to seduce black audiences, who ignored some of his actions that were unfriendly, even hostile to blacks. His interrupting his campaign to get a mentally disabled black man, Ricky Ray Rector executed. (Did Mrs. Clinton tear up about this act?) His humiliation of Jesse Jackson. His humiliation of Jocelyn Elders and Lani Guinier. The welfare reform bill that has left thousands of women black, white, yellow and brown destitute, prompted Robert Scheer to write in the San Francisco Chronicle, "To his everlasting shame as president, Clinton supported and signed welfare legislation that shredded the federal safety net for the poor from which he personally had benefited." (Has Mrs. Clinton shed a tear for these women, or did she oppose her husband's endorsement of this legislation?) His administration saw a high rate of black incarceration as a result of Draconian drug laws that occurred during his regime. He advocated trade agreements that sent thousands of jobs overseas. (Did Mrs. Clinton, with misty eyes, beg him to assess how such trade deals would affect the livelihood of thousands of families, black, white, brown, red and yellow?) He refused to intervene to rescue thousands of Rwandans from genocide. (Did Mrs. Clinton tearfully beseech her husband to intervene on behalf of her African sisters; did Ms. Gloria Steinem, whose word is so influential among millions of white women that she can be credited by some for changing the outcome of a primary, and maybe an election, marshal these forces to place pressure upon Congress to rescue these black women and girls?) President Clinton also repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which permitted the kind of wildcat speculation that has led to millions of Americans losing billions in equity.
Carl Bernstein, appearing on Air America Radio on January 9, 2008, described Clinton's New Hampshire attacks on Obama as "petulant." Bill Clinton's behavior demonstrated that regardless of his admiration for jazz, and black preaching, he and his spouse will go South on a black man whom they perceive as being audacious enough to sass Mrs. Clinton. In this respect, he falls in the tradition of the southern demagogue: grinning with and sharing pot likker and cornbread with black folks, while signifying about them before whites. Though his role models are Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, he has more in common with Georgia's Eugene Talmadge (The Wild Man From Sugar Creek), Louisiana's Huey Long, and his brother Earl, Edwin Edwards, who even hinted that he had black ancestry to gain black votes, Alabama's George Wallace, Texas's Pa Ferguson, and "Kissing Jim" Folsom, who wrote, You Are My Sunshine. He employs the colorful rhetoric of the southern demagogue, the rustic homilies ("till the last dog dies"), the whiff of corruption.
Having been educated at elite schools where studying the War of the Roses was more important than studying Reconstruction, the under-educated white male punditry and their token white women failed to detect the racial code phrases that both Clintons and their surrogates sent out — codes that, judging from their responses, infuriated blacks, caught immediately. Blacks have been deciphering these hidden messages for four hundred years. They had to in order to survive.
Gloria Steinem perhaps attended the same schools. Her remark that black men received the vote "fifty years before women," in a New York Times Op-Ed (January 8, 2008), which some say contributed to Obama's defeat in New Hampshire, ignores the fact that black men were met by white terrorism, including massacres, and economic retaliation when attempting to exercise the franchise. She and her followers, who've spent thousands of hours in graduate school, must have gotten all of their information about Reconstruction from Gone With The Wind, where moviegoers are asked to sympathize with a proto-feminist, Scarlett O'Hara, who finally has to fend for herself after years of being doted upon by the unpaid household help. Booker T. Washington, an educator born into slavery, said that young white people had been waited on so that after the war they didn't know how to take care of themselves, and Mary Chesnutt, author of The Civil War Diaries, and a friend of Confederate president Jefferson Davis's family, said that upper class Southern white women were so slave dependent that they were "indolent." Steinem and her followers should read, Redemption, The Last Battle Of The Civil War, by Nicholas Lemann, which tells the story about how "in 1875, an army of white terrorists in Mississippi led a campaign to 'redeem' their state — to abolish with violence and murder if need be, the newly won civil rights of freed slaves and blacks." Such violence and intimidation was practiced all over the South sometimes resulting in massacres. One of the worst massacres of black men occurred at Colfax, Louisiana, in 1873. Their crime? Attempting to exercise the voting rights awarded to them "fifty years" before white women received theirs. Lemann writes "burning Negroes" met "savage and hellish butchery."
They were all killed, unarmed, at close range, while begging for mercy. Those who tried to escape, were overtaken, mustered in crowds, made to stand around, and, while in every attitude of humiliation and supplication, were shot down and their bodies mangled and hacked to hasten their death or to satiate the hellish malice of their heartless murderers, even after they were dead.
White posses on horseback rode away from the town, looking for Negroes who had fled, so they could kill them.
Elsewhere in the South, during the Confederate Restoration, black politicians, who were given the right to vote "fifty years before white women," were removed from office by force, many through violence. In Wilmington, North Carolina, black men, who "received the vote fifty years before white women," are the subject of Charles Chesnutt's great novel, The Marrow of Tradition:
On Thursday, November 10, 1898, Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, a Democratic leader in Wilmington, North Carolina mustered a white mob to retaliate for a controversial editorial written by Alexander Manly, editor of the city's black newspaper, the Daily Record. The mob burned the newspaper's office and incited a bloody race riot in the city. By the end of the week, at least fourteen black citizens were dead, and much of the city's black leadership had been banished. This massacre further fueled an ongoing statewide disfranchisement campaign designed to crush black political power. Contemporary white chronicles of the event, such as those printed in the Raleigh News and Observer and Wilmington's the Morning Star, either blamed the African-American community for the violence or justified white actions as necessary to keep the peace. African-American writers produced their own accounts — including fictional examinations — that countered these white supremacist claims and highlighted the heroic struggles of the black community against racist injustice.
Black congressmen, who, as a rule, were better educated than their white colleagues were expelled from Congress.
Either Gloria Steinem hasn't done her homework or, as an ideologue, rejects evidence that's a Google away, and the patriarchal corporate old media, which has appointed her the spokesperson for feminism, permits her ignorance to run rampant over the emails and blogs of the nation and though this white Oprah might have inspired her followers to march lockstep behind her, a progressive like Cindy Sheehan wasn't convinced. She called Mrs. Clinton's crying act, "phony."
Moreover, some of the suffragettes that she and her followers hail as feminist pioneers were racists. Some even endorsed the lynching of black men. In an early clash between a black and white feminist, anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells opposed the views of Frances Willard, a suffragette pioneer, who advocated lynching.
As the president of one of America's foremost social reform organizations, Frances Willard called for the protection of the purity of white womanhood from threats to morality and safety. In her attempts to bring Southern women into the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Frances Willard accepted the rape myth and publicly condoned lynching and the color line in the South. Wells argued that as a Christian reformer, Willard should be speaking out against lynching, but instead seemed to support the position of Southerners.
Ms. Willard's point of view is echoed by Susan Brownmiller's implying that Emmett Till got what he deserved, and the rush to judgment on the part of New York feminists whose pressure helped to convict the black and Hispanic kids accused of raping a stockbroker in Central Park. After DNA proved their innocence — the police promised them if they confessed, they could go home — a Village Voice reporter asked the response of these feminists to this news; only Susan Brownmiller responded. She said that regardless of the scientific evidence, she still believed that the children, who spent their youth in jail on the basis of the hysteria generated by Donald Trump, the press, and leading New York feminists, were guilty.
Feminist hero, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, offended Frederick Douglass — an abolitionist woman attempted to prevent his daughter from gaining entrance to a girls' school — when she referred to black men as "sambos." She was an unabashed white supremacist. She said in 1867, "[w]ith the black man we have no new element in government, but with the education and elevation of women, we have a power that is to develop the Saxon race into a higher and nobler life."
Steinem should read Race, Rape, and Lynching by Sandra Gunning, and Angela Davis's excellent Women, Culture, & Politics, which includes a probing examination of racism in the suffragette movement. The Times allowed only one black feminist to weigh in on Ms. Steinem's comments about Barack Obama, and how he appealed to white men because they perceive black males as more "masculine" than they, an offensive stereotype, and one that insults the intelligence of white men, and a comment which, with hope, doesn't reflect the depth of "progressive" women's thought.
Do you think that the Times would offer Steinem critics like Toni Morrison Op-Ed space to rebut her? Don't count on it. The criticism of white feminism by black women has been repressed for over one hundred years (See: Black Women Abolitionists, A Study In Activism, 1828-1860, by Shirley J. Yee).
I asked Jill Nelson, author of Finding Martha's Vineyard,Volunteer Slavery and Sexual Healing, how she felt about Gloria Steinem's use of a hypothetical black woman to make a point against Obama. She wrote:
I was offended and frankly, surprised, by Gloria Steinem's use of a hypothetical Black woman in her essay supporting Hillary Clinton. I would have liked to think that after all these years struggling in the feminist vineyards, Black women have become more than a hypothetical to be used when white women want to make a point, and a weak one at that, on our backs. It's a device, a distraction, and disingenuous, and fails to hold Hillary Clinton — or for that matter, Barack Obama and the rest of the (male) candidates — responsible for their politics.
On the second day of a convention held at Seneca Falls in 1848, white suffragettes sought to prevent black abolitionist Sojourner Truth from speaking. The scene was described by Frances Dana Gage in Ms. Davis's book:
"Don't let her speak!" gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and announced "Sojourner Truth," and begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments.
Many minority feminists, Asian-American, Hispanic, Native-American and African-American, contend that white middle and upper class feminists' insensitivity to the views and issues deemed important to them persists to this day.
Their proof might be Ms. Steinem's lack of concern about how Mrs. Clinton's war votes affect the lives of thousands of women and girls — her brown sisters — in Iraq and Iran. One hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi people have been killed since the American occupation was ordered by patriarchs in Washington, DC, patriarchs who were responsible for the Welfare Reform Act.
With this in mind, I recently asked Robin Morgan, who was editor of Ms. magazine, where I was called the worst misogynist in America, whether she still held those views. I replied to that accusation that I should be accorded the same respect given to the men who ran the magazine at the time, Lang Communications. The accusation was made by Barbara Smith, a black feminist whom I debated on television and whose bitter comments about the white feminist movement make mine seem timid. She also criticizes the white gay and lesbian movements. She said that when she tried to join the gay and lesbian march on Washington, the leaders told her to get lost. That they weren't interested in black issues. That they wanted to mainstream. About me, she wrote in The New Republic magazine, edited by Marty Peretz, a man who once said that black women were "culturally deficient," that my black women characters weren't positive enough. For running afoul of this feminist "blueprint" for writing that she tried to lay on me, her views and those like hers were repudiated by Joyce Joyce, a black critic who deviates from the party line.
I also reminded Ms. Morgan that the Ms. editorial staff reflected the old plantation model, even though its founder, Gloria Steinem, said that she's concerned about the progress of black women. White feminists had the juicy editorial Big House positions, while women of color were the editorial kitchen help as contributing editors. A few months later, Ms. Morgan resigned as editor and was replaced by a black woman, but not before taking some potshots, not at misogynists belonging to her ethnic group, whose abuse of women has been a guarded secret according to feminists belonging to that group, but at Mike Tyson and Clarence Thomas (incidentally, when the white women who ran for office as a result of Ms. Anita Hill's testimony against Clarence Thomas arrived in Congress, they voted with the men).
Excerpted from Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media by Ishmael Reed. Copyright © 2010 Ishmael Reed. Excerpted by permission of Baraka Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Goin' Old South On Obama
Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man 41
The Crazy Rev. Wright 61
Springtime for Benedict and Sarah 73
The Big Let Down
Obama Scolds Black Fathers, Gets Bounce In Polls 101
McCain Gurgles in the Slime 111
How Lee Atwater Perfected the GOP's Appeal to Racism 117
The Promised Land?
Morning in Obamerica 127
A Tale of Two Callahans The Irish Black Thing 133
Finally Came The Inaugural
The Inaugural and My Coffee Pot Search 141
How Henry Louis Gates Got Ordained
As The Nation's "Leading Black Intellectual"
Post-Race Scholar Yells Racism 159
Why The Media And The "General Public" Bought Sgt. Crowley's Lie
Let's All Have a Beer 171
Obama Souljahs On, Africa This Time 185
From Jubilation at Election Night...
To Cries of Kill Him 193
Afterword: Obama, Tiger, Vick, MJ, etc. Is There Any Cure of Negro Mania? 219
Appendix: Poll shows the Jim Crow Media is Barack Obama's Chief Opponent 245
What People are Saying About This
Brilliant!--(Jill Nelson, award-winning novelist and journalist)
I hope his book will lead to more journalistic self-reflection and intellectual honesty.--(Werner Sollers, Harvard University)
"There is brutal candour in Reed's argument, which often feels refreshing in light of the euphemisms and platitudes typically expressed in both polite discourse and the media's self-scrutiny . . . Whether or not one agrees with Reed, one can only be entertained by his gleeful barbs and edgy turns-of-phrase. He names names and shames with derision." Montreal Review of Books
“Among American writers, Ishmael Reed is probably the one whose sensibility is closest to jazz.” New York Times
“The brightest contributor to American satire since Mark Twain.” Nation
"Reed’s prose style resembles the youthful Ali’s ring style.” New York Times Book Review
"Brilliant!" Jill Nelson, award-winning novelist and journalist
"I hope his book will lead to more journalistic self-reflection and intellectual honesty." Werner Sollers, Harvard University
“Just when you think that Reed is exaggerating, or being one-dimensional in his analysis of racial issues, he’ll open another page of American history and show you something new.” David Homel, Rover Arts
"Reed's writing is incisive and astute; impassioned and amusing. He fully researches his topics and makes a decisive stand based on the facts, as he sees it. . . . An unabashed mixture of political polemic, scathing wit and cultural commentary a jazz-like riff that is purely Ishmael Reed." phati'tude Literary Magazine (June 1, 2011)