Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why Obama Becomes Osama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s no harm no foul denial that he intended any slander in mixing up Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s name with terrorist bogeyman Osama bin Laden was tepid and perfunctory. So much so that it sounded less like a denial than a simple misstatement of a fact. But that’s what it was intended to be. The reason Romney got off with a half-baked blow off of his verbal goof starts and ends with Obama.

There’s his name. The similarity to Osama, America’s universal symbol of evil and mass death and destruction has been just too juicy to pass up as the butt of jokes, ridicule, and sincere or calculated confusion. Two years ago a befuddled Senator Ted Kennedy stumbled and confused Obama with Osama. Kennedy had no political ax to grind with Obama. Both are moderate Democrats. Since Obama announced his candidacy, some off beat bloggers have run rampant poking fun at the Obama-Osama name nexus. Then the fun and games with his name turned malicious. There was the flood of emails that fanned the rumor that Obama is a Muslim (he’s not) and therefore suspect in the terror war, and insinuated that he’s less than patriotic.

Any other time the Obama name tweak could be laughed off as just another silly, warped, cheap shot at a politician. But the fear of terrorism makes the Obama-Osama name mix-up anything but off color camp. Polls still show that terrorism ranks at or near the top of America’s jitters. On the sixth anniversary this past September of the 9/11 terror attack, an AP poll found that an astounding nine out of ten Americans said they believe the U.S. will be attacked again by terrorists on American soil. Despite Bush’s towering foreign and domestic bumbles and failures, and ocean bottom popularity ratings, polls show that a majority of Americans still approve of his response to the 9/11 attacks.

The terror scare and Bush’s adroit milk of it was the single biggest thing that propelled him back to the White House. Romney and the GOP contenders know that, and in a campaign season when legions of Americans are fed up with GOP corruption and sex scandals, policy failures, and a failed and flawed war, and when the current bunch of GOP contenders barely stir a pulse among hard line evangelicals, the terrorism card looms as the biggest, maybe the only, ace in the hole for the GOP in 2008.

That makes Obama a tailor made fall guy to again blast the Democrats as soft on terrorism. Unfortunately, Obama gave them some ammunition for blasting. In a Democratic debate in July Obama loosely proclaimed that he wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to America's favorite pariahs, Fidel Castro, Iran, and North Korea. That brought howls from conservatives, and even raised the eyebrows of Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats. That instantly transformed Obama into the presidential candidate even more suspect in waging the war against terrorism.
Obama tried mightily to do damage control, and shot from the lip again with a quip a week later that he'd launch preemptive strikes against terrorists wherever they were and that included search and destroy missions to ferret out Osama and Al-Qaeda. He added more bluster when he quipped that he’d put his own life on the line to stop another 9/11 attack. Obama’s bring-on-em’ Bush like saber rattle on terrorism, let alone a little rhetorical bravado on 9/11 won’t make one iota difference to conservatives and legions of voters. He’ll still be their perfect foil to whip saw the Democrats as losers on terrorism.

That was evident with the audience that Romney picked to make his Obama-Osama gaffe. He addressed the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce meeting, a group not likely to give Romney the boot for his slip. It’s even less likely to have much sympathy for an Obama candidacy. Then there are the anti-Muslim tremors that shake millions of Americans. Romney flatly told the Chamber audience that Osama implored radicals and jihadists to further bloody the killing fields in Iraq with American lives.

In Romney’s Osama name twist, it wasn’t Osama that made the call it was Obama. In one crude stroke, Romney punched three political hot buttons--America’s horror of Muslim initiated terror attacks, disdain for liberal and moderate Democrats, and Obama’s soft-on-terrorism tag. Romney had it both ways. He made the obligatory denial of any insult to Obama while driving home the point that terrorism is still very much in play on the campaign political table, and that whenever and wherever he can, he’ll play it. If that means Obama becomes Osama and vice versa than so be it.

One more note. Despite repeated requests to Romney from the press for clarification during his other stops campaign stops in South Carolina, he refused. As far as he was concerned, the case was closed on the issue. In other words, Obama is still Osama.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Obama Should Repudiate and Cancel His Gay Bash Tour, and Cancel it Now
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama ripped a page straight from the Bush campaign playbook with his announced upcoming three date barnstorm tour through South Carolina with notorious gay basher, gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. The Grammy winning black gospel singer’s last effort on the political scene was his song and shill for Bush’s reelection at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Obama has hitched his string to McClurkin’s high flying gay bash kite in part out of religious belief (he purports to be somewhat of an evangelical), in bigger part because he’s falling further and further behind Hillary Clinton with the black vote in South Carolina and everywhere else, and in the biggest part of all because he hopes that what worked for Bush’s reelection will work for him. Enter McClurkin. He’s black, he’s popular, and gospel plays big with blacks in South Carolina, especially black evangelicals, and many of them openly and even more of them quietly loathe gays.

Bush masterfully tapped that homophobic sentiment in 2000 in part with McClurkin and even more masterfully in 2004 again with McClurkin and the top gun mega black preachers in Ohio and Florida. He tapped it so masterfully that Bush‘s naked pander to gay bashing with the GOP spawned anti- gay marriage initiative in Ohio did much to win over a big chunk of black evangelical leaning voter to Bush.
In fact, the great untold story of the 2004 presidential elections was the black evangelical vote. Although black evangelicals still voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, they gave Bush the cushion he needed to bag Ohio and win the White House. There were early warning signs that might happen. The same polls that showed black's prime concern was with bread and butter issues – and that Kerry was seen as the candidate who could deliver on those issues – also revealed that a sizeable number of blacks ranked abortion, gay marriage and school prayer as priority issues. Their concern for these issues didn't come anywhere close to that of white evangelicals, but it was still higher than that of the general voting public.

A Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies poll in 2004 found that blacks by a far larger margin than the overall population opposed gay marriage. That raised a few eyebrows among some political pundits, but there were much earlier signs of blacks' relentless hostility to gays and gay rights. A survey that measured black attitudes toward gays published in Jet magazine in 1994 found that a sizable number of blacks were suspicious and scornful of them. Many blacks also were put off by Kerry's perceived support of abortion. In polls, Kerry got 20 percent less support from black conservative evangelicals than Democratic presidential contender Al Gore received in 2000.

In Florida and Wisconsin, Republicans aggressively courted and wooed key black religious leaders. They dumped big bucks from Bush's Faith-Based Initiative program into church-run education and youth programs. Black church leaders not only endorsed Bush but in some cases they actively worked for his re-election, and encouraged members of their congregations to do the same.

This lesson isn’t lost on Obama. Desperate to snatch back some of the political ground with black voters that are slipping away from him and to Hillary; Bush’s black evangelical card seems like the perfect play. Obama wouldn’t dare go down the knock gay path, and risk drawing the inevitable heat for it, if he didn’t think as Bush that anti-gay sentiment is still wide and deep among many blacks.

And that’s what makes Obama’s ala Bush pander to anti-gay mania even more shameless and reprehensible. From the moment that he tossed his hat in the presidential ring, Obama has done everything he could to sell himself to voters, as the Man on the White Horse, a fresh new face on the scene, with new ideas, and the candidate that’s not afraid to boldly challenge Bush and the GOP on everything from the Iraq war to health care. He’s also sold himself as a healer and consensus builder. Legions have bought his pitch, and have shelled out millions to bankroll his campaign. But healing and consensus building does not mean sucking up to someone that publicly boasts that he's in "a war" against gays, and that the aim of his war is to "cure" them. That’s what McClurkin has said. Polls show that more Americans than ever say that they support civil rights for gays, and a torrent of gay themed TV shows present non-stereotypical depictions of gays. But this increased tolerance has not dissipated the hostility that far too many blacks, especially hard core Bible thumping blacks, feel toward gays.

Obama has spent months telling everyone that he's everything that Bush isn't. He can proof it by saying a resounding no to McClurkin and to gay bashing. He can repudiate and cancel the South Carolina “gospel” tour, and do it now.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Painful Dirty Secret:
Latinos and Blacks Commit Hate Crimes—Against Each Other
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The much publicized crackdown on a Latino gang that unleashed a three year campaign to drive blacks out of a mixed neighborhood in South Los Angeles ripped open a dirty and very painful secret. Latinos and blacks can and do commit hate crimes against each other. The violence can be just as deadly as the worst Southern Klan, Aryan Nation, or Skinhead attacks. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles say Latino gang members committed or are suspected of complicity in 20 killings during its reign of terror in the area. The arrests and indictment of the gang members came barely two months after the slaying of three black students in Newark, New Jersey by illegal Latino immigrants, some with alleged gang ties.

But two years before the Newark killings, Latino men were robbed, beaten and even murdered in Plainfield, New Jersey, in Jacksonville, Florida, and in Annapolis, Maryland, and seven members of a Latino family were murdered in Indianapolis. The attackers in all cases were young black males. The men attacked were mostly undocumented workers, and police speculated that the attackers regarded them as easy prey for robbery since they would be reluctant to report the attacks to the police.
A Los Angeles county Human Relations Commission report on hate violence in 2005 found that overall Latinos committed nearly half of the hate attacks in the County, while blacks committed thirty percent of the hate attacks. However, when it was Latino and black violence, the figure for hate violence soared. Latinos and blacks committed the bulk of the racially motivated hate attacks against each other. Nationally, blacks and Latinos commit about one in five hate crimes, and many of their victims, as in Los Angeles, are other blacks or Latinos.

This represents two more disturbing trends. One is that blacks and Latinos committed the majority of hate crimes in Los Angeles, and a sizeable number of them nationally. The other is that hate crimes are increasingly being committed by blacks and Latinos against each other and that in some cases the victims are innocent random victims of the violence.

The racial tinged violence in Los Angeles, Newark, and the other cities is not the norm--yet. The overwhelming majority of physical assaults and murders of blacks are by blacks and most attacks on Latinos are by Latinos. However, black and Latino racial attacks against each other, no matter how infrequent, as is the case with white on black hate attacks, stir fear, rage, and panic, and deepen racial divisions. That’s especially true given the latent and increasingly openly expressed unease and hostility many blacks express toward illegal immigration.

There are two easy explanations for the hate violence in Los Angeles and nationally. One is that the perpetrators are bored, restless, disaffected, jobless, untutored, or violence-prone gang members engaging a bloody turf battles to control the drug trade. That seemed to be the case with the Florencia 13 street gang, the target of the federal crackdown.

The other explanation is that the violence is a twisted response to racism and deprivation. The attacks no doubt are deliberately designed by the gang hate purveyors to send the message to blacks that “this is our turf, and you’re an interloper.

There is still another reason, though, more subtle and nuanced, as to why some gang members commit racial attacks. The violence is a source of ego gratification for them; negative stereotypes provided a convenient rationale for their violent acts. University researchers found that those individuals who suffer low self-esteem or have serious self-image problems are much more likely to view others, especially those they consider rivals, through the warped lens of racial stereotypes.

Then there is the vehemence of the racial hate. The dirtier and even more painful secret is that blacks and Latinos can be as racist toward each other as some whites can be toward them. It’s easy to see why. Many Latinos continue to demean blacks for their poverty or type them as clowns, buffoons and crooks. Some routinely repeat the same vicious anti-black epithets as racist whites. A 1998 poll by the National Conference, a nonprofit organization that promotes racial dialogue, found that Latinos were three times more likely than whites to believe that blacks were incapable of getting ahead. These myths and stereotypes bolster the notion that blacks are a racial and competitive threat, and any distancing, ostracism, avoidance and even violence toward them seems a rational response to keep blacks at arm’s length.

But stereotypes can cut two ways. Some blacks feed on the same myths and negative images of Latinos as anti-black, violence-prone gangsters who pose a menace, and who are their ethnic and economic competitors. The same 1998 poll found that as many blacks as whites believed that Latinos breed big families and that they are unable to support them. The skewed misconceptions and fears both groups have about and toward each other in many instances drown out the efforts by many residents in South Los Angeles and other neighborhoods in other cities where the racial attacks occur to lessen tensions.

The galling new fact in America is that hate can come with a black or brown face, and the victim can have the same face. That’s yet another heart wrenching challenge for blacks and Latinos.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Come on People, No, Come on Cosby
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Comedian Bill Cosby is the walking and now writing proof of the ancient adage that good intentions can go terribly awry. That’s never been more painfully true than in Cosby’s latest tome, Come on People. Cosby and his publisher boast that the book is a big, brash, and provocative challenge to black folk to get their act together. That’s got him ga ga raves, and an unprecedented one hour spin job on Meet the Press. In the book, Cosby harangues and lectures, cobbles together a mesh of his trademark anecdotes, homilies, and personal tales of woe and success, juggles and massages facts to bolster his self-designated black morals crusade. Stripped away it’s the same stock claim that blacks can't read, write or speak coherent English, and are social and educational cripples and failures.

Since Cosby’s much touted tirade at the NAACP confab a few years back, and on countless talk shows, and at community gatherings, he has succeeded marvelously in getting the tongues of blacks wagging furiously and their fingers jabbing relentlessly at each other’s alleged mountainous defects. They stumble over themselves to hail Cosby as the ultimate truth-giver.

He isn’t. While Cosby is entitled to publicly air black America's alleged dirty laundry, there's more myth than dirt in that laundry. Some knuckleheads in black neighborhoods do kill, mug, peddle dope, are jobless untouchables, and educational wastrels. They, and only they, should be the target of wrath. But Cosby makes a Grand Canyon size leap from them to paint a half-truth, skewed, picture of the plight of poor blacks and the reasons and prescriptions for their plight. The cornerstone of Cosby mythmaking is that they are crime prone, educational losers, and teen baby making machines.

The heart wrenching and much played up news shots and specials of black-on-black blood letting in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and a handful of other big cities and the admission that blacks do have a much higher kill rate than young whites tell a tale of out-of-control, lawless blacks. The truth: homicides and physical assaults have plunged among black teens to the lowest levels in the past two decades. The rate of drug use among young blacks is no higher than among young whites. Blacks are more likely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned than young whites who if arrested at all are more likely to get drug rehab, counseling, and treatment referrals, probation or community service. This horribly distorts the racial crime picture.

Then there is the black teen girls as baby making machine myth. The truth: The teen pregnancy rate among black girls has sharply dropped during the past decade. And they continue to fall.

The biggest myth that young blacks empty out the public schools, fill up the jails and cemeteries, and ridicule learning as acting white has risen to urban legend rank. The truth: The U.S. Dept. of Education found that in the decades since 1975, more blacks had enrolled in school, had improved their SAT scores by nearly 200 points and had lowered their dropout rate significantly. It also found that one in three blacks attended college, and that the number of blacks receiving bachelors and masters degrees had nearly doubled. A survey of student attitudes by the Minority Student Achievement Network, an Illinois-based educational advocacy group in 2002 and confirmed in other surveys, found that black students were as motivated, studied as hard, and were as serious about graduating as whites.

Cosby publicly bristles at criticism that he takes the worst of the worst behavior of some blacks and publicly hurls that out as the warped standard of black America. Cosby says that he does not mean to slander all, or even most blacks, as derelict, laggards and slackers. Yet that’s precisely the impression he gives and the criticism of him for it is more than justified. Even the book title, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors (a hint they’re all losers) conveys that smear.
He did not qualify or provide a complete factual context for his blanket indictment of poor blacks. He made the negative behavior of some blacks a racial rather than an endemic social problem. In doing so, he did more than break the alleged taboo against publicly airing racial dirty laundry; he fanned dangerous and destructive stereotypes.

This is hardly the call to action that can inspire and motivate underachieving blacks to improve their lives. Instead, it further demoralizes those poor blacks who are doing the best to keep their children and themselves out of harm’s way, often against towering odds, while still being hammered for their alleged failures by the Cosby’s within and without their communities. Worse, Cosby’s blame the victim slam does nothing to encourage government officials and business leaders to provide greater resources and opportunities to aid those blacks that need help.
Come on People, intended or not, continues to tar the black communities and the black poor as dysfunctional, chronic whiners, and eternally searching for a government hand-out. Come on Cosby.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hanging Nooses: Hate or Hoax Upsurge

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Susan Smith, Charles Stuart, and Jennifer Wilbanks have one thing in common. They are the poster names of whites that foisted off racial con jobs on the nation. They shouted that a black or Latino man committed murder or mayhem to cover up their heinous crimes or their personal neurosis. They knew that finger pointing a black or Latino for wrongdoing sets off panicky bells and whistles in police stations, titillates the prurient juices in press rooms, and stirs public anxieties. Racial hoaxes almost always fall apart but they work for a time because they play hard on the stereotypes, myths, and fears about blacks and Latinos.

But racial hoaxes can cut both ways. The flurry of hanging nooses around the country may be a case in point. Hate crime experts and civil rights leaders say, and the media spin is, that the nooses are a white racist backlash to the firestorm of black protest over the Jena 6 case involving black teens in Louisiana accused of battering a white student. Others go further and issue dire a warning that that the nooses are a grim sign of a new racist hate upsurge in America.

A hanging noose found dangling on the office door of Madonna Constantine, a black race relations expert at Columbia University, is supposedly proof positive of the hate wave. The noose on her office door and at other places may well be the handiwork of a loony with a racial ax to grind or it may just be a put up job by a few silly, clueless, students who think stringing up or planting nooses is good for a few yucks and a brief media titter.

However, there’s another painful possibility. One or more of the nooses could be a hoax to make a point about racism. More than a few writers on the CNN website in discussing the Columbia University noose discovery had no hesitation in pointing the blame finger at blacks. While others simply said they didn’t believe that the noose had anything to do with race.

There’s no evidence that the hanging nooses are anything other than what they appear, namely sick, racial digs. Yet, the fact that so many believe that blacks are capable of pulling a dumb prank to get attention, or play the race card can’t and shouldn’t be cavalierly chalked up to white ignorance or bigotry. While the overwhelming majority of those that racial wolf shout to cover misdeeds or for kicks have been white, some blacks have screamed it too.
In her book, the Color of Crime, University of Florida professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, found that blacks perpetrate one in six racial hoaxes. The reasons the blacks commit hoaxes aren’t totally different than those of white hoaxers. Both are angry, resentful and play hard on stereotypes and fears—that whites are racist, and violent, and that blacks are menacing and violent. The hoaxes encase the worst of black and white fears about each other.

The Duke University rape case is a near textbook example of how those fears can boomerang. The female black college student that screamed that she was raped at a frat house by white Duke Lacrosse players ignited angry protests and a momentary deep soul search about racial and sexual victimization of blacks. As her story unraveled into a tissue of contradictions and lies, the soul search quickly turned into anger, rage, disgust and racial backlash not just against an on the make prosecutor but at black leaders that accepted her story at face value. Police and public officials felt they were played and may well be far more cautious about rape allegations made by blacks against whites. That wasn’t the only blowback. The Duke case was flung in the face of civil rights leaders as the danger of overplaying the race angle in Jena or anywhere else a black is victimized under muddled circumstances. City and school officials in Jena screamed that the infamous noose hanging incident at the high school was not racial since black students also stuck their heads through the noose.

At Historically Black Grambling University, school officials hit the roof when pictures of a young girl being hoisted by a black adult into a noose hanging from a tree hit the national newswires. As it turned out, five professors dangled the noose from the tree to make a dramatic point about the torment of race relations. The professors may have been well-intentioned, but to have an adult stick a child’s neck into the noose turned the horror of lynching into a cheap theatrical farce. The terror was trivialized and lost. It sent the even worse message that blacks are perfectly capable of stringing up nooses too.

Hanging nooses no matter whether they dangle from a tree, an office door, or are planted in a Coast Guard cadet’s bag, are still a hideous symbol of America’s racial past. That’s hardly the stuff of fun and game hoaxes no matter who put them there or why they did it.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Better Imus on The Air Than Off
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Die hard Don Imus dissers will lose round two with the shock jock. Round two is a renewed battle to keep him off the air. He will be back on the air possibly as early as December. And he should be. It has nothing to do with him, his talent, his marketing draw, or the legions of fans that have shouted for his return since the nappy head ho dumping episode. His return has everything to do with the blacks that screamed for his hide back in April. The top Imus scalp hunters have mellowed, softened, or proclaimed disinterest in and toward keeping him off the air. The list includes Al Sharpton, the Rutgers women’s head basketball coach, some of the Rutgers players (one dropped her lawsuit against him), and a few prominent black columnists.
Their silence or indifference on an Imus return should not be mistaken for any ringing declaration of support for him. It’s simply recognition that continuing the vendetta against Imus serves no real purpose. There are two reasons why. It fuels the eternal accusation of a racial double-standard . That accusation came up time and again during the Imus firefight.

When Sharpton, the NAACP, and black journalist groups sprinted to the barricades to oust Imus, white and black Imus defenders pounded them for their vehement Imus assault while playing like deaf mutes when it came to the misogynist spouting black rappers, comedians, and filmmakers. The Imus denouncers scrambled fast and mounted a noisy campaign against the rap defilers to quash the double standard charge. But that hasn’t stopped the fling of the double-standard accusation at blacks that scream racism when whites mouth off, but say nothing, or make a tepid criticism when blacks do the same.

Sharpton got hit again with the double-standard accusation when he called on New York Knicks president Isiah Thomas to apologize for demeaning women. Sharpton bashers hammered him for calling on Thomas only to apologize and not demand that he be fired, as he did with Imus. Sharpton has since said that while he called for Imus’s firing, he did not call for him to be banned in perpetuity to broadcast Siberia. This fine distinction won’t satisfy those that pounce on any inconsistency blacks show when it comes to dealing with black and white verbal bashers.

In any case, the debate over Imus’s Rutger's gibe and the defense of it and him skirted the all too fine, and often blurred line, between what's free speech and offensive, libelous speech. The insult was, of course, crass, crude, and repulsive. But Imus almost certainly didn’t intend the poor taste joke or vile crack – take your pick – as a hate epithet against the Rutgers Lady Cagers. As Sharpton and countless others noted, his dig was no worse than the bile that the pantheon of rap opportunist/defilers regularly spew against black women.

There’s another reason for standing aside when Imus returns to the airwaves. It goes far beyond the self-serving moans from his posse that the poor guy has suffered enough. A live and sobered Imus behind the mic would serve as the O.J. Simpson of broadcast media. He’d be the permanent broadcast poster boy for what can happen to shock jocks that stray over the line of racial trash talking indecency. That can always ignite the swift wrath of much of the public. A tame, well-behaved Imus won’t instantly turn shock jocks into reincarnated Edward R. Murrows. It will make them pause and think a tad more carefully about their words and possible consequences.

That’s already happened to a few shock jocks that have dribbled out an Imus like slur. They have been quickly called on the carpet and suspended or canned.
Imus also made some corporate sponsors wince at his antics. And when the clamor for his hide rose to a crescendo, they instantly cut bait, and Imus was the bait. And since the name of the game on the airwaves is still ratings and dollars, corporation’s---post-Imus--- have tipped more gingerly around controversy. While the truism remains in full force that controversy always gets the cash registers jingling, too much controversy can turn those jingles into headaches for a station management that has to spend countless hours fending off black, Latino, Asian, gay and women’s groups that are up in arms over a shock jock’s taunt. The perverse silver lining in Imus’s fall from public grace then is that he slightly redefined the rules of ethnic and gender engagement on the airwaves for some station owners and management.

The hard reality is that Imus did pay a steep price for his mouth, and he deserved to pay that price. Now that he will and should return to the broadcast studio, he has a chance for redemption. His return is no cause for cheers and popping the champagne corks. But it’s certainly no cause for jeers and tossing those bottles at him either when he returns.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Do The Right Thing Marion, Return The Medals
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The buzz in the crowd at the stadium at Cerritos College near Los Angeles on that warm Saturday evening in June 1993 was electric. The more than 10,000 high school track buffs that packed the stands for the California state High School track and field championship were there almost to a person for one reason. They came to be thrilled by and to cheer the young high school phenom, Marion Jones. Her talent was prodigious and her reputation had gone far beyond high school track circles. On the track, she looked even then like a woman among girls. Her two sprint races were for the most part an exercise in going through the motions. Her victories were a foregone conclusion. The only question was would she set yet another record.
She didn’t disappoint.

Jones was magnificent that evening in her near record breaking double sprint wins. It was the fourth time that she accomplished the unprecedented fete, and the second time that I personally saw her do the double. After each win that evening, she flashed her trademark toothy smile to the wildly cheering crowd, and graciously took a short victory jog. Everyone, this writer included, just knew that we were not only witnessing history, but felt that we were in the presence of someone truly special. Jones added to that feeling by pulling a fete that no other track athlete had done. She copped the Gatorade Athlete of the Year Award for a second time. Being a track nut, I continued to closely follow, admire and cheer Jones on through her college and Olympic triumphs.
The lofty perch that she rested on that evening after her victories at the state championship meet never seemed more secure. With her special blend of seemingly awesome natural talent, grace, and personal charm, she seemed destined to stay on top for years to come. But even then there was a wisp of a cloud. After a high school championship meet in 1992, she failed to show up for a mandatory drug test.

That prompted a flurry of faint whispers that maybe there was more to Jones’s track reign than met the eye. But Jones moved fast, and hired famed attorney Johnnie Cochran to clear things up. Her failure to show was chalked up to a misunderstanding and quickly forgotten. As Jones continued to firm up her spot as America’s reigning track queen, the allegations and finger pointing gnawed deeper at her throne. But Jones always seemed to have the last word for the doubters and finger pointers. The word was always “it taint true.” If you still had doubts, there was her denial in big, bold print on page 173 of her 2004 autobiography, Marion Jones, Life in the Fast Lane, (The title told more than Jones intended). “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

The words, of course, were a bald faced lie. Her brutal plunge from public grace and adulation is a cautionary tale. In fact, it’s two cautionary tales. It a short misstep from public acclaim to public disgrace for superstar icons, and there’s no surer way to make that happen than to lie and cheat to win at all costs. And when the inevitable exposure happens, the public is merciless and pitiless in its wrath and contempt. Jones earned and deserved both.

Even her apology as sincere and heartfelt as it seemed, came only after she was legally pressed to the wall by the feds. The apology is even more galling because it was dumped on top of the years of her duck, dodge, and cover your backside denials, punctuated by lawsuits, and the threat of lawsuits against anyone who dared suggest that she was a cheater. It is even more galling because thousands of fans and admirers, myself included, fervently wanted to believe in her innocence and in blind faith charged her accusers with vicious rumor mongering and character assassination to defame and destroy the reputation of a young African-American woman who stood as an intelligent, poised and successful role model to many African-Americans and young women.

But Jones played us all, and that makes the hurt that she’s a self-admitted cheat and liar even more painful. Her track career is finished. She, of course, will plunge even deeper into financial ruin. She will likely serve a stretch in a federal pen. Now all that’s left is for the International Olympic Committee to drop the axe on her and strip her of the five Olympic medals that she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Jones should not wait for that to happen. She should voluntarily return her Olympic medals. It won’t make her any less the cheater that she was, but her voluntary return of the medals will add real meaning to her public apology, help restore her name and integrity, and send a strong message that cheating and unfair play to win is not the Olympic and American way.

Marion, you owe yourself and your fans that much.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press, October 2007).

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Fight to Save Eso Won Or Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

If I had a nickel each time I’ve heard an African-American commentator say that we make more and spend more than the GNP of many small nations, I’d be a millionaire. I’d be a billionaire, if I had a nickel for the times I’ve heard African-Americans rail that blacks don’t support each other. That means that blacks won’t put their money where their mouths are when it comes to patronizing black businesses, donating to black causes, or doing business with black professionals. Yet, don’t bat an eye when it comes to spending a king’s ransom on expensive cars, trendy fashion designed garb, high priced sneakers, booze, and cigarettes, on concert tickets, and lavish parties.

If I had a nickel for the times that I’ve heard blacks slam mega millionaire black athletes and entertainers for not coughing up more cash to aid or start their own black businesses, support education, and recreation programs, fund health care, and job development initiatives, and to help the black poor. I’d be a trillionaire.

It’s certainly grossly unfair to paint all blacks with the broad brush of being selfish, self-indulgent tightwads when it comes to supporting black needs. There are countless numbers of blacks from the rich and the famous to struggling working folk who give, and sometimes give generously, to black causes, and who dutifully patronize black vendors and establishments. The questions are are there enough that do that? And do they do contribute commensurate to their ability to shell out the bucks to help and support black businesses and causes? The answer is yes and no. The fight to build the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington D.C. is a text book example of the good, bad and ugly when it comes to assessing black financial giving. Many blacks did give generously and willing for the completion of the memorial. The target date for dedication is 2008. Many others haven’t given a penny toward its completion.

It took cajoling, pleading, imploring and a national arm twist campaign by fraternities, sororities, and high profile black celebrities, and the much publicized kick-in of millions by corporations from Walt Disney Corporation to Pepsi to boost the fund appeal campaign to a sum close to the $100 million needed for the Memorial. There’s still a shortfall of nearly $20 million.

The fight to save Eso Won Books is shaping up to be L.A.’s mini version of the King Memorial campaign. It shows the same conflicting trends in black financial giving. The frenzy of emails and appeal letters to keep the doors of the financially strapped bookstore open has been heartwarming and gratifying. But that also raises two more questions. How did it get to the point where there had to be emails and appeals to save the store? And, now that there is the real danger that the store could close, what are the thousands that have attended signings, book discussions, and events at Eso Won during the store’s near twenty year existence going to do about it now that is in danger of folding? Will they recognize its value as an artistic, intellectual and literary icon in our community? Will they buy buy buy buy books at the store in quantities to insure that it’s here twenty years from now (or even twenty more weeks)?

The short answer is that those that believe in the store and what it has done for the community, and will do in the future, must immediately buy buy buy buy at the store. In other words, they must quickly go in their pocket or purse and spend money to preserve a store that has been a vital resource for the cultural and educational nourishment and uplift of the community.

The long answer is that panic buying when the financial gun is held to a black businesses’ head is not enough. There must be a personal commitment made to buy a book or buy a book as a gift from Eso Won monthly or quarterly. That' takes real commitment, discipline, and the awareness of the need to resist the temptation to click on Amazon and get their independent book store crushing discount, or tool offer to Barnes and Noble or Borders to get a chai latte while slipping on headphones to listen to CDs.

The dollars and the discounts for books at Borders and on Amazon don't create one job in our community, provide one service, boost cultural and intellectual enrichment, and stimulate activism on the burning social problems that sledgehammer our community. But the dollars that go to keep an Eso Won and the dwindling number of Eso Wons of America alive and well do.

It's an investment in ourselves, our future and our children's future. The fight to save Eso Won is indeed a fight that's worth putting our money where our mouth is.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press, October 2007).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More than his Grandfather’s Son:
Understanding Clarence Thomas
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A little more than a year after his bruising Supreme Court confirmation battle a media gun shy Clarence Thomas made his first cautious public appearance. He wanted the friendly of friendliest audiences and chose Mercer University, a conservative law school in Georgia for his speech. In his talk, Thomas got right to what he wanted to say or more particularly whom he wanted to lambaste. He cloaked himself in the martyr’s garment and said that he expected to be treated badly by blacks for daring to challenge the tenets of racial orthodoxy. “You were considered a traitor to your race, and not considered a real black person.”

A decade and a half later Thomas hasn’t budged one inch from his relentless public and private war against civil rights leaders and liberal Democrats. In his autobiography, My Grandfather’s Son, his war of ideology and words shows no signs of abating. He wraps himself just as tightly in the martyr’s garment as he did in his Mercer speech. He sledgehammers liberal Democrats and civil rights groups just as hard as before.

In trying to make sense of Thomas' doctrinaire, contrarian court votes and opinions, and his private war against civil rights groups the plain answer is that they are payback to civil rights and civil liberties groups for trying to wreck his confirmation to the high court. But there‘s more to it than that. For the thin-skinned Thomas race has always lurked close to the surface—often too close. And it’s intimately, but falsely, intertwined with the debate over conservative ideology.
In the Mercer speech, and anyplace else where he’s gotten the chance, Thomas has repeatedly bristled at the knock that civil rights leaders don’t consider him a real black person because of his ultra conservative views. He railed at that and them in his Mercer speech but for far different reasons than his black critics say. Many blacks expect whites to espouse conservative views. That expectation is deeply colored by race. They can’t separate racism from conservatism. Since many blacks view whites as racist or as having racist views, they believe that conservatism must be an expression of racial blinders. But racism and conservatism can be mutually incompatible. There is no one to one correlation between a conservative’s espousal of free market economics and their attack on government regulations and them being a racial bigot. Yet the notion that a conservative is by definition a racist is deeply ingrained in the belief of many blacks.

Thomas has occasionally warned Republicans about racial insensitivity. And there are many blacks whose views are just as conservative as his in opposing abortion and gay rights and affirmative action and are just as hard line on crime and punishment. It matters not. Thomas can’t win. Civil rights leaders will continue to brand him as a fake, inauthentic black man. He’s the black guy who sold his soul for a few pieces of conservative and even racist silver to them. The gentile 60 Minutes profile on him so infuriated Thomas bashers that they announced that they’d take the airwaves to set the record straight about him.

The notion that Thomas is not just a Judas and traitor but unfit to be called a real black man bothered the man that Thomas replaced on the high court, Thurgood Marshall. The liberal, activist, blunt spoken, civil rights icon Marshall is everything that civil rights groups consider to be the stuff that makes up a real black man. In other words everything Thomas isn’t. But in a two hour meeting after his nomination, Marshall warned Thomas that he would be held to a far harsher standard of scrutiny on and away from the bench than a white conservative in the same spot.

That’s even more glaring in the way civil rights leaders link Thomas to Antonin Scalia. The ultra conservative Scalia is so organically welded to Thomas in their lock step judicial votes and opinions, civil rights groups routinely slam him as Scalia’s lackey. That’s another way to say that black conservatives are the puppets and Republicans are the string pullers. Yet there was not a peep of criticism that Marshall and liberal justice William Brennan were virtual bopsy twins in their votes and opinions. There was no suggestion that Marshall took orders from the liberal white justice.

Thomas’s conservative, unorthodox, views and legal opinions on the death penalty, age and gender bias, first amendment, prisoner rights and affirmative action cases were well known by the time he hit the court in 1991. It could hardly be said that Thomas latched on to judicial conservatism solely to curry favor with white conservatives to snatch a seat on the high court. Yet the belief that he did guarantees that the grandfather’s son will be man civil rights groups and Democrats will perennially loathe as the black that got away. Judging from his book, Thomas will return the favor.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press, October 2007).