Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Distorting Sean Taylor Murder Still Sticks in Craw
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A handful of black sportswriters hit the ceiling when they read initial press reports on the shooting death of Washington Redskins All pro safety Sean Taylor. The issue was the perennial, suspect, and sneaky alleged double standard in the reporting on and public view of tragedies that befall blacks and whites, especially athletes and celebrities. The howl of protest goes up that when a black athlete is accused of bad behavior, criminality or boorishness the press and public go ballistic. They dredge up every misdeed the player has committed and ad nauseum drill it home that they are bad guys (or girls) and deserve the scorn of the nation.

When white athletes are accused of the same or worse bad behavior, criminality or boorishness, the excuses fly like raindrops in a hurricane, and then the news of their misdeeds vanishes from print and the airwaves faster than a Houdini disappearing act. Taylor is no exception to this rule, and the black journalists that raised the hue and cry were right to scream their lungs out about it.

The first accounts of Taylor’s murder were spare on details of the shooting, since there was almost none, and there were no suspects, no reported clues, and no reported motivation for the shooting. But the reports more than made up for the sparseness by dredging up every sordid detail about Taylor’s past run-ins with the law. The image rammed into the public brain, was what’s become a template for depicting supposedly bad behaving, bad acting young black males. The war of words was now on with a vengeance. The denials flew hot and heavy that any disrespect, and minimizing the tragedy, or that a subtle dump the blame for Taylor’s death on his alleged thug lifestyle was intended. After all, those run-ins did badly color his life. As distasteful as they might be, they were fair game for reporting.

That’s a good, even valid, point. Taylor did have problems, and there was nothing inherently inappropriate from a reporting, fact finding, or just plain human interest standpoint in saying that. The double standard line, however, is vaulted when a black athlete’s woes are continuously repeated, and endlessly speculated about as a possible reason for their murder. Though in most accounts after the initial harp on Taylor’s past, balance was restored, and the reports emphasized the suffering of his parents, friends, and fans. There were sympathetic quotes about Taylor being a mature, positive role model, and about the pace of the investigation.

Yet, while follow-up stories mercifully dropped the dig at his past, the new take on him was that he had turned his life around. That still left the bitter taste that Taylor was a bad guy that went good, but it might have been too late to save him. To their credit most fans and writers and much of the public were more than willing to step past the blatant initial and ongoing subtle bias and give Taylor his mournful due. But the bad taste of the initial paint of Taylor as a bad actor stuck like a lead weight in the craw.

This isn’t the only thing that’s hurtful in the coverage of Taylor. There was the hint, and some talking heads did more than hint, that though Taylor was a rich, star athlete, he was still a young black male. And like all young black males he was in mortal peril of being gunned down. In other words his fame and athletic prowess did not shield him from the black on black violence that supposedly rages in all big city poor black neighborhoods.

The problem with that as with the skewed initial picture of Taylor is that it’s a lie. Taylor did not live in a poor, black inner city Miami neighborhood. He lived in a palatial suburban home with his long time companion and daughter. Those that actually knew him said that he was a loner and that he did not hang out with a drug peddling, gang connected crowd.

But even if Taylor was the thug that initial accounts subtly implied he once was, the Taylor as a casualty of black violence line still is a falsity. Murder rates among young black males in Tayor's 16 to 24 year old age group are still far higher than those among young white males. But those rates in Taylor’s age group have plummeted in the last decade according to FBI crime reports, as have murder rates in most urban areas. In New York City, for instance, murder rates have dropped to the lowest level in forty years. In Miami-Dade County, crime plunged more than 20 percent and murder rates also dropped. The chances of a young black male dying at the hands of another young black male are far less today than in the past.

The senseless snuffing out of Taylor’s life was a heartbreaking tragedy. But it’s Taylor’s death, not his life, that’s the only thing that should leave a bad taste. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

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, November 24, 2007

Rising Latino Numbers, Rising Black Fears
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Last month a small but vocal group of Los Angeles black community activists turned up at City Hall to blast Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Latino elected officials for their tight lip silence when the feds cracked down on the terrorist Latino street gang, Florencia 13. The gang’s arsenal of mayhem included murders, assaults and intimidation against blacks in South L.A. Though the protestors were few in number many blacks privately cheered their finger point at Latino leaders for not speaking out on the violence.

In the past two years some Latino leaders have also pointed the same blame finger at blacks when Latino men were robbed, beaten and even murdered in Plainfield, New Jersey, 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. Latinos complained bitterly that blacks were targeting Latinos because they were Latinos.

Latino and black violence against each other is another tormenting sign of the worst kept secret in race relations in America. Race and ethnic conflicts can be just as easily between blacks and Latinos as between blacks and whites. In recent years, black and Latino relations have been characterized more by shocking headlines of hate crimes, campus brawls, prison and jail fights, the anti-immigration marches, job discrimination claims, and racial slurs and taunts against one another.

The black and brown clash draws attention, and lots of it, because it involves two groups that some think should be natural allies. At least that’s what Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez thought four decades ago. They had a mutual admiration society for each other and passionately believed that blacks and Latinos were equally oppressed minorities and should march in lockstep to do battle against racial injustice and poverty. Radical black and Latino activist groups briefly took up their call for black and brown unity.

Their rhapsodic notion of black and brown harmony is now the faintest of faint memories. Three years ago when the Census Bureau proclaimed Latinos the top minority in the U.S., many blacks loudly grumbled that they would be shoved even further to the margin among minorities. The grumbles rose to a near-shrill pitch during the immigration debate among many blacks. Most civil rights leaders and black Democrats publicly embraced the immigrants' rights struggle as a crucial and compelling civil rights fight. Yet, the dread many blacks feel about being bypassed in the eternal battle against poverty and discrimination can be felt and is routinely heard in private conversations and occasional public outbursts by many African-Americans.

Long before the Latino population surge, Latino political activists demanded that racial issues no longer be framed solely in black and white. Their aim was to get policy makers to pay more attention to the problems of the staggeringly high poverty rate, job discrimination, failing public schools, racial typecasting and violence that slam Latinos. The irony is that these are the issues that have caused the sharpest conflict between blacks and Latinos.

The first warning that many blacks felt threatened by soaring Latino numbers was the battle over Proposition 187 in California in 1994. California voters approved the measure, which denied public services to illegal immigrants, by a huge margin. Blacks by a thin majority also backed the measure. They were mortally afraid that Latinos would bump poor blacks from low skilled jobs, and further marginalize them by increasing joblessness and fueling the crime and drug crisis in black neighborhoods.

The prime reason for chronic black unemployment, however, is lingering racial discrimination, the lack of job skills, training, and education. No matter, many blacks still blame their job plight on illegal immigrants.

Racial fear has spilled into politics. Latinos are being courted like mad by the Democrat presidential contenders. The big fear of many blacks is that the national chase for Latino votes will erode the newfound political gains and power they have won through decades of struggle.

Fear has also spilled into the schools. The pitched battle between black and Latino members of an LAUSD advisory board over whether their meetings should be conducted in English or Spanish is another sign of racial jitters. Many blacks feel they are getting the short end of the stick educational in a school district where Latinos make up more than seventy percent of the students. But the high percentage of minorities in the schools in L.A. is not unique.

Latinos and blacks make up the majority of students in many of the nation's big city schools. Their schools are also among the poorest, and most segregated. In their desperation to get a quality education for their kids, Latinos and blacks accuse each other of gobbling up scarce resources, dragging down test scores, and fueling the rise in crime and gang problems at the schools. The answer is to press school officials for more funding, better teachers, and quality learning materials. However, when the money is not there, the problem quickly is reduced to ethnic squabbling over the scarce dollars.

The race tinged violence among blacks and Latinos that drove the black activists to L.A. City Hall to hammer Latino elected officials for their silence is not the norm—at least yet. The overwhelming majority of physical assaults and murders of blacks are by blacks and most attacks on Latinos are by Latinos. But, 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 hostility many blacks express toward illegal immigration.

Then there's the problem of ethnic insensitivity. Many Latinos fail to understand the complexity and severity of the black experience. They frequently bash blacks for their poverty and goad them to pull themselves up as other immigrants have done. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox took much heat from black leaders in 2005 when he claimed that Mexican immigrants would work jobs blacks wouldn’t. Some Latinos repeat the same vicious anti-black epithets as racist whites.

Ethnic insensitivity, however, cuts both ways. Many blacks have little understanding of the impoverishment and social turmoil that has driven many Latinos to seek jobs and refuge in the United States. Once here, they face the massive problems of readjusting to a strange culture, customs, and language, and that includes discrimination too.

Despite the problems black and brown relations is not total gloom and doom. Blacks and Latinos have worked together in some communities to combat police abuse, crime and violence, for school improvements, and increased neighborhood services. Still the painful truth is that blacks and Latinos have found that the struggle for power and recognition is long and difficult. On some issues they can be allies on others they will go it alone. Toppling blacks from the top minority spot in America won't make the problems blacks and Latinos face disappear. Nor will blaming each other for those problems solve them.

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, November 22, 2007

Why Al Sharpton is the Man Millions Love to Hate
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The only thing really remarkable about the warning from the FBI to Al Sharpton that an unnamed, and unspecified dangerous substance may have been mailed to his National Action Network office in New York was that it came from the FBI. For months Sharpton has bitterly complained that he had been receiving a steady stream of hate mail, and death threats, and had repeatedly told law enforcement and the FBI about the threats. He questioned just how seriously they took them. This time the FBI apparently took the substance threat serious enough to warn him.

That Sharpton should be under attack is hardly a surprise. If it’s a police shooting, a protest over housing discrimination, a Jena six march, the charge to dump Dump Don Imus, a fist shake at the Bush administration, the bet is that Sharpton will be in the thick of the action. When Sharpton toppled Jesse Jackson from the top spot as black America’s main man, the notoriety, and the hostility, that that title carries with it, insured that he’d take the heat for whatever went right or wrong when blacks took to the streets in protest. Sharpton’s ubiquitous visibility on the protest front and willingness to go virtually anywhere as the visible, face and voice of angry black America makes him a universal punching bag.

But that doesn’t totally explain the deep, and almost clinical loathing that the mere mention of Sharpton’s name stirs among far too many whites, and a fair number of blacks. There are two bigger reasons why the hatred-fascination for Sharpton. He shakes, rattles, and ignites the goblin of racial denial in many whites. Sharpton is a breathing, walking, reminder that race still matters, and matters a lot in America. He is a slap in the face to the legions that duck, dodge, deflect, and flat out deny that there’s still a lot of racial hurt inflicted on blacks. Sharpton shatters their comforting delusion that racial hate is a dusty antique thing of a bygone past, a figment of the overwrought, paranoid imagination of many blacks, or better still that blacks themselves with their alleged incessant penchant for playing the race card are the only bigots left in America.

The flap over Imus or Dog the Bounty Hunter was a textbook example of that. The instant they copped to their racial sins, the predictable happened. Legions of whites unleashed a torrent of self-righteous, angry, and near paranoid rants on internet chat rooms, on the comment section of news blogs, and in emails to this writer, hysterically defending Imus and Dog. They cussed Sharpton, always Sharpton, even though he had nothing to do with Dog or Imus opening their traps and blurting out their racist digs.

Sharpton got the by now familiar taunts--race baiter, hustler, clown, buffoon, and racial pimp. For an instant one would have thought that Sharpton had called whites the C word, and the Duke Lacrosse players accused of rape, nappy headed honkies.

But then again if there wasn’t a Sharpton, he’d have to be invented, or someone such as him. That’s because blacks are eternally straight-jacketed with the tiresome monolith of race burden. Think how ludicrous it sounds to say the white leader, the Latino leader, the Asian Leader. But that’s not the case with blacks, whites demand a one-size-fits-all black leader; the “black leader.” There’s a method to this absurdity.

When the mantle of black leadership is wrapped tightly around one man, the presumption is that he or she speaks for all blacks. Jackson, pre-Sharpton’s muscling him off the top perch, was the whipping boy. In the 1980s when he talked about forming the Rainbow Coalition, blacks were attacked as radicals.

When he talked about building an independent black political organization, blacks were attacked as separatists. When he talked about boycotting corporations and baseball leagues that racially discriminate in hiring and promotion, blacks were attacked as disruptive. When he called New York "hymietown," blacks were attacked as anti-Semitic. When he talked about leading a national crusade to save affirmative action, blacks were attacked as wanting quotas and special preferences for the unqualified.

It's the same with Sharpton. While he took much heat for the Tawana Brawley rape controversy, the burning down of a Jewish-owned store in Harlem after picketing that he endorsed, and his then penchant for shoot-from-the-lip inflammatory statements, so did blacks. They were forced to publicly defend him from the attacks while privately grousing that he made them look like idiots. Like clockwork, even though the Brawley case happened nearly two decades ago, whenever there’s a Sharpton sighting on an issue it’s instantly thrown up in his face.

When the FBI notified him of the dangerous substance threat, Sharpton quickly sent out an alert to his regional offices. Whether the dangerous substance threat was real, or more likely a crank, it won’t change one thing. Sharpton will continue to be the man that millions love to hate.

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, November 15, 2007

Don’t Rush to Judgment on Bonds
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

President Bush did the right thing when he said that he wouldn’t make any public comment about the five count federal indictment of former San Francisco Giants slugger and home run king Barry Bonds. The press and public should do the same and not rush to judgment about Bond’s guilt. An indictment is not an admission of guilt let alone a conviction. But public silence about Bond’s presumed guilt is about as likely as a blizzard in the Sahara Desert in July. Or maybe giddiness at Bond’s plight is the more apt characterization to describe the unvarnished joy that the legions of Bond’s haters almost certainly had at the news of his indictment. The unabashed orgy of Bond’s vilification has been brutal and relentless, and that’s before Bond’s was accused of any wrongdoing.

The moment, however, there was the hint that Bonds might have laced his body with performance enhancing steroids the growth of the hate Bonds industry took off like a rocket. The industry soared to stratospheric proportion when Bond inched up to and then surpassed rhapsodic American icon Babe Ruth. It propelled out of the galaxy when Bonds inched up to and then surpassed Hank Aaron on the all time home run chart.

The Bash Bonds club sports a formidable line-up. It includes top sportswriters, legions of fans, and advertisers (Bonds hasn't gotten a paid corporate endorsement deal in ages). Then there's the man at the top in MLB, Bud Selig whose duck and dodge of Bonds from the time he chased Ruth and Aaron’s record sent the powerful signal that Bonds isn't worthy of wearing the tag, King of Swat. At least that is without an asterisk in front of the tag. And with the indictment, the clamor for an asterisk after his record will be forgotten. The clamor now will be to exorcise his home run record from the books, and if possible, any mention of him from baseball.

Bonds has run neck in neck with O.J. Simpson as the man much of the public loves to loathe for two tormenting reasons. One is race, and the other is Bonds. The two are not inseparable. A big, rich, famous, surly, blunt-talking black superstar who routinely thumbs his nose at the media sets off all kind of bells and whistles in the public mind.

Outspoken blacks, especially black superstars, and especially those that engage in bad boy behavior are often slammed harder than white superstars who are outspoken and engage in bad behavior. Bonds, for his part, more than any other ball player in living memory seemed to take special delight in irritating the heck out of sportswriters, fans, and the baseball establishment. He says what he thinks, and when he wants to, and doesn’t care who he offends. That defies, or defiles, take your pick, the pristine, story book, nostalgia dripped image of what sports heroes should be, and how they should comport themselves. It makes no difference that Bonds is no bigger a jerk in his boorish, sulking, spoiled behavior than other legendary superstars and that certainly includes Ruth. But coming from him it just seems to rub nerves even rawer.

Then there’s race. Major League Baseball, as all other professional sports in America, is not race neutral. The man that Bonds beat out for the all time top home run top spot knows that. Packs of fans, sportswriters, and some players choked at the thought that Aaron could break the hallowed record of baseball's greatest white icon, Ruth. Aaron received mountains of hate mail, vicious taunts, and threats to his family. He was surrounded by a squad of security guards at ballparks and armed guards off the field.

Bonds got the Aaron treatment, that is, the taunts, hate mail, the snubs from the baseball brass, sportswriter ridicule at every step of the way in his march toward the home run record. The only thing that was missing was having the N word incessantly tossed at him (at least openly) as it was routinely at Aaron.
Bond’s indictment was pretty much a foregone conclusion When the feds went after the biggest name in track and field, Marion Jones for lying to a grand jury, and she came clean on her use of steroids, and copped a plea to avoid a long prison stretch, that was a huge tip that Bond’s days were numbered and that he’d be next. The indictment doesn’t charge him with taking steroids but that he lied about injections and knowingly taking them. This is the finest of fine legal hair splitting, and Bond’s may ultimately come clean and admit he used the drugs. But that hasn’t happened yet, and until it does, Bush was right. Bonds is still innocent until proven guilty—or confesses.

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)

Cosby’s Triumph Can’t Mask the Dilemma of Two Black Americas
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Comedian Bill Cosby turned black morals pied piper has got to be beaming. His relentless pitch to blacks to get their act together, and stop blaming the white man for their failings almost certainly has done much to spur the radical reversal in black attitudes on race. A new Pew Research Center survey found that more blacks are willing to finger point themselves for bad grades, bad behavior, high unemployment, and poverty than they were a decade ago.

But there’s a kicker in the Pew survey. The ones that did the greatest finger pointing were middle class blacks and the ones that got the finger pointed at them were poor blacks. It’s no real surprise that blacks are rivers apart from each other in their view of who’s to blame for the dreary plight of poor blacks. To even think that they wouldn’t and couldn’t have different views, express divergent opinions, and ideas about race, politics and life issues, just as any other group, is to lock blacks into the tightest of tight racial boxes. There is, and never has been, anything that even faintly resembles a monolith of racial thinking among blacks.
For decades, two black Americas have co-existed uneasily side by side, yet hardly equal. In fact, a significant number of blacks told Pew researchers that blacks should not be viewed as a “single community.”

Despite a drastic economic backslide during the last decade in the incomes of black males, detailed in a Brookings Institution report released shortly before the Pew survey, the class fissure between the black haves and have nots has continued to widen in recent years.

Black executives still hold the top spots at three of America's leading corporations. There’s Oprah and the legions of multi-millionaire black superstar athletes, celebrities, and professionals. There’s a bona fide black presidential candidate, Barack Obama that most whites applaud for being in the race. There’s been a big bump up in the number of black households that earn more than $50,000 annually. Black wealth, like white wealth, is now concentrated in fewer hands than ever. The top one fifth of black families earned nearly half of all black income.
But this is not new. In the 1950's, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier warned that many blacks were becoming what he scornfully branded a black bourgeoisie that controlled the wealth and power within the black community and that had turned their backs on their own people. Many members of Frazier's black bourgeoisie had begun to ape the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class, and to distance themselves from the black poor. In the Pew survey, black college graduates said that they had more in common with the white middle class than poor blacks.

In the 1960's, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs initiated during Lyndon Johnson's administration broke the last barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some blacks was now wide open. More blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of: They fled big city blighted inner-city areas in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Atlanta in droves.
By the end of the 1980's, a significant number of blacks were affluent enough to move to the suburbs. The expansion of tract homes, condos and apartments made their move easier. In the 1990s, the stampede of black business and professionals from these areas accelerated.

The greening of the black middle class hasn’t erased the lingering, and some fear deepening, cloud of discrimination. Black professionals, politicians, and celebrities may be light years apart from poor blacks in their wealth and status, and attitudes about race; but color is hardly a thing of the past. It can sting a black millionaire just as easily as it can a black homeless person at any moment. Many affluent blacks still fume in anger as taxicabs speed past and blithely ignore them. They can be stopped, and shaken down and spread eagled by police. They are subjected to poor or no service in restaurants. They file countless EEOC complaints and lawsuits against corporations for stacking them at the low end in management positions.

The Pew survey found that even as blacks blame other blacks for their shortcomings they had no illusion that discrimination is dead and buried. In a seeming paradox, the black middle-class respondents said they were more pessimistic about their future than a decade ago. That pessimism is tied directly to jitters that their economic gains can be snatched away at any time. A sharp economic downturn can dump more than a few of them back in the same crumbling neighborhoods they worked long and hard to get out of.

That’s the dilemma for the two black Americas that no amount of internal fault finding can wipe away. Even Cosby might agree with that.

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)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

“Bitch Fighting” The Troubling Trend among Some Young Women

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The term “bitch fighting” is what some women privately call a pier room brawl that a pack of girls or young women engage in with one another. The term and the behavior is loathsome and offensive. But it was that sort of brawl that claimed the life of 23- year-old Shontae Blanche, and even more shockingly, her 7 month unborn child. The young expectant mother and part time student was killed when another young woman allegedly ran over her and dragged her.

Blanche had tried to break up a fight between a dozen women at a service station in South Los Angeles in early November. The women were young, black, and reportedly some had ties with gang members. They had gathered at the station to battle it out following a dispute between two of the women.

The altercation did more than claim the life of a young mother. It tossed the ugly glare on an age old problem that has grown worse in the past few years. And that’s the escalation in violence by and among young women. A decade ago the Center for Women’s Policy Studies published a landmark study on girls and violence. More than one third of girls they surveyed said that they had engaged in physical fights within a year’s time. Nearly 20 percent said they carried weapons. And nearly half said they believed that girls were nearly as violent as boys. A Justice Department study found that from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s the number of women jailed for violent crimes had more than doubled.

A decade later the willingness of more young women, especially black women, to resort to fisticuffs and even weapons to settle disputes or commit crimes has become an even bigger problem. Girls Inc., a non profit advocacy group that monitors violence by and toward young women, found that far more black girls were injured in school fights than white girls. The spiraling cycle of violence that entraps many black girls was on naked and tormenting display last year when nine black girls were hauled into a Long Beach, California court in shackles.

The girls were charged with a violent hate crime attack on three young white women on Halloween night in 2006 in Long Beach. The sight of so many girls standing trial at one time on a charge, especially the hate crimes charge, was rare. But the sight of so many black girls in a court docket and increasingly in America's juvenile jails and prisons has become anything but rare.

Black women in some states are being imprisoned at alarming rates. And they are being jailed at younger ages than ever. An American Bar Association study in 2001 found that teen girls account for more than one-quarter of the juvenile arrests. They are charged with more violent crimes, and are being shoved back into detention centers after release, in some cases even faster than boys.

The ABA has not done a follow-up study since then to determine if there's been any change in the troubling dilemma so many black girls face in the juvenile system. But, almost certainly, the high arrest and incarceration rate for black teen girls is likely the same if not greater today, and many of them are there for violent crimes. They have engaged in physical fights and assaults, and even school yard brawls with other girls, or even boys.

The explanations for the up tick in female violence are varied. The near glorification of the male code of toughness to get ahead in business, politics, and sport has virtually been enshrined as a prized virtue in society. Women have not been immune from it. There’s the bloat of Gladiator spectacles such as WWF matches with women tossing each other around in a ring, posturing, swaggering, and cussing like drunken sailors, and barroom toughs. The toughness virtue has even slipped into politics. In polls, women by big margins said the thing they admire most about Hillary Clinton is her toughness.

Many young black women are continually exposed to violence in their communities. They have ties with male gang members, they themselves are members of gangs, or they have committed assaults. The Center for Women’s Policy Studies also found that many of the women that engaged in physical fights have been victims of rape, assault, or robbery. This further imprints the tacit stamp that violence is the pervasive method to control, dominate, bully, and gain advantage over people and situations.
There’s a double dilmma for the girls and young women that commit violent acts. The risk is great that they can be maimed, killed or wind up serving a long prison stretch. And since violence is still thought of almost exclusively as a male preserve, there‘s a near total absence of studies on the causes and consequences of female violence. That means even fewer fewer resources, programs, and support outlets to keep at risk girls and young women out of harm’s way and from harming other women. The Blanche killing is tragic proof of that.

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)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

American Gangster, American Stereotype
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

American Gangster is a big, brash and brilliant cinema tour de force. But it also reinforces a glaring stereotype, in fact, one of America’s most enduring stereotypes, and that’s that the drug problem and by extension drug kingpins come with a black face. There are two telling scenes in American Gangster that drive that point home with a tormenting vengeance.

The first is near the end of the film when intrepid cop Richie Roberts ( Russell Crowe) whose sole mission is to nail black drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) faces off with the busted Lucas in a police interrogation room. He indignantly lectures Lucas that his dope peddling spread death and destruction that wrecked and ruined hundreds of lives. In the second scene there is a fleeting glimpse of a white GI shooting up heroin in a Bangkok, Thailand honky tonk serviceman’s hang out. Other than that one scene and a flutter look at a white junkie getting whacked by Lucas, there’s absolutely no hint that the drug racket, the gangsters that run it, bribe cops and politicians, and put an army of small time dealers, and bag men and women on the street are anything but African-Americans.

Washington as only he can do with a character such as Lucas invests him with a chilling mix of charm, business savvy and raw brutality. That further reinforces the notion that a black man can be bigger, smarter, and more audacious than the organized crime racketeers that in decades past ran and still largely run the drug trade in America. They are the ones that hold an iron grip on the foreign growers and suppliers, the transport, street distribution, and the network of banks that launder the dirty money.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey on the sex and drug habits of Americans last June further tossed the ugly glare on who controls and who uses drugs in America. The survey found that whites are much more likely to peddle and use drugs than blacks.

Other studies have found roughly equal rates of drug usage by blacks and whites. But what made the CDC survey more eye-catching is that it didn't solely measure generic drug use, but singled out the use of cocaine and street drugs, the kind of drugs that American Gangster depicts the sale of.

The findings fly in the face of the conventional drug war wisdom that blacks use and deal street drugs while whites use trendy, recreational designer drugs, and that these presumably include powder cocaine. That once more calls into question the gaping disparity in drug sentencing between whites and blacks. More than 70 percent of those prosecuted in federal courts for drug possession and sale (mostly small amounts of crack cocaine) and given stiff mandatory sentences are blacks. The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the racial disparities in sentencing.

But that’s the morality tale theme that heavily underpins American Gangster. If you’re black and you use drugs you’ll either die, become a walking zombie, or rot behind bars. And more than likely the guy that sells the junk will skip away scot free, live a princely lifestyle, retire with fabulous wealth and if unlucky enough to get popped cut a deal to rat out crooked cops or competitors. Lucas did just that and, considering the very real death and destruction that he spread, waltzed away with a relative hand slap sentence. Then in what has to rankle and fascinate gives the supreme self-serving rationale for the dirty dealing by wailing if I didn’t do it somebody else would. True to form that’s exactly Lucas’s fall-back cop-out line in American Gangster.

However, the somebody that Lucas suggested would be the drug boss if not him rarely looked like him. In fact, Lucas and his black competitor who has a cameo role in the film, Nicky Barnes, the subject of a recently release documentary, Mr. Untouchable are the rarest of rare birds. Lucas as a black drug boss that supposedly topped the Mafia for control of the drug business in Harlem, through cunning and dumb luck found an opening the Vietnam War, a willing, strategically placed accomplice among the black GIs in Vietnam, and a supplier to get him the drugs and help with the transport.

It all adds up to one thing. The public scapegoat of blacks for America's drug problem during the past two decades has been relentless, and the at all costs hunting down by Richie (Crowe) of Lucas (Washington) in American Gangster is stark testimony to that relentlessness. The greatest fallout from the nation’s hopelessly flawed and failed drug hunt for scapegoats is that it makes it easy for on-the-make politicians to grab votes, garner press attention, and bloat state prison budgets to jail more black offenders, while continuing to feed the illusion tha the drug war is winnable. American Gangster won’t do anything to change that illusion.

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)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Hysterical Defense of Dog the Bounty Hunter Tells Much about America’s Racial Backslide

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

“I am sick and tired of people like you and the phony and fake Al Sharpton who go after white people who say something you don't like and then using the degrades black women, etc.”

That was one of the tamer emails I got when I called for A&E Television to cancel outright the Dog the Bounty Hunter show. We all know by now what round em’ up and bring em’ back alive Duane Chapman aka the Bounty Hunter did to get the temporary ax. He let fly a “B” and “N” word laced rant and borderline threatening oaths at his son for having the temerity to date a black woman. A&E “suspended” production of the show. That was a weak, tepid, and vacillating response. And I told why. Dog’s comments about black women are more than just gender and racially demeaning and hurtful to black women. They are a vicious attack on and call to end interracial relations, as well as an incitement to violence. Dog the Bounty Hunter’s’ statement was far more damaging than shock jock Don Imus’s.

I frontally challenged A&E and said that suspension of the show is not enough. A&E can send the strong message that the sentiments he expressed will not be tolerated by immediate cancellation of the show.

The suspension I also said is simply a cover your butt holding action by A& E that left the door wide open for Dog to climb back on the airwaves. That prospect was even more real and fresh in mind with the announcement the day before by Citadel Broadcasting that shock Jock Don Imus had cut a deal with the network and would be back on board December 3. A&E might and probably would do the same once the furor died down. The reason is simple. Dog tinkles the cash registers for A&E. It’s a network that in the past few years has transformed itself from a station that prided itself on high brow, educational faire into a channel that now routinely churns out reality type schlock to makes a buck.

But the hysterical defense of Dog and the bile emails this writer got has nothing to do with A&E or even the hunt down the bad guys thrill and titillation of Dog the Bounty Hunter. It has everything to do with the blame the victim with a vengeance mania of far too many whites toward blacks. Think about it. If Dog were black and had unloosed a string of expletive laced white “B”s at his son for dating a white woman, there would have been a national outcry. A&E would have instantly and permanently pulled the plug on the show. And the Dog would have never in this life graced any studio in America.

There would have been no talk of forgiveness, or let by gones be by gones, and he’s suffered enough prattle. He would have been the enduring fount of evil and eternal symbol of bigotry and intolerance. Just ask former Grey’s Anatomy star Isaiah Washington or ex NFL superstar Michael Vick It’s also evident in the backlash to the Jena 6 case in Louisiana and from Genarlow Wilson’s case in Georgia. Two cases where young blacks were harshly charged with alleged crimes against whites. Many turned silly, verbal summersaults to rationalize, duck and dodge and ultimately justify the racial injustice against them.

It’s no surprise why. During the past two decades, the drumbeat of black bashing, stereotyping, negative typecasting, and vilification of young blacks has ballooned into a lucrative growth industry in much of the talking head media. The hunt and scrounge for any excuse no matter how threadbare to justify racial abuse and injustice is relentless.

The battle over shock jock Don Imus was and is a near classic example of the let the villain off the hook syndrome. When Imus was initially canned polls showed a majority of whites waffled on or flat out dismissed his slurs as a right to free speech, or insisted that a hand slap suspension was enough. The pulsating demand for his return to the airwaves never ended. Now that he’s back, he’s hailed as a virtual conquering hero by his legions of admirers.

The same is happening with Dog. He issues a contrite statement, and a belated apology, and his manic defenders wail that he’s touts Christian redemption. That’s more than enough for them to bestow total absolution on him if not make him into an honored figure that has suffered enough. Then in the even more perverse and bizarre twist, leap at the chance to fling the standard name calls of demagogue, race baiter and clown at perennial punching bag Al Sharpton for blasting Dog’s tirade.

Washington and Vick did the same tear jerk mea culpa as Dog but it didn’t soften any public hearts toward them. It shouldn’t with Dog either.

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)