Thursday, December 20, 2007

“They Hate Each Other Too!”
or Blacks and Latinos Can be Bigots Too
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The shock jock on a popular Los Angeles talk radio station screamed through the microphone with apoplectic delight, “You see, they hate each other too. The “they” and the “each other” are African-Americans and Latinos. His shout was loud, crude, and aimed to do what shock jocks get paid to do, namely shock. But this was not standard shock jock bluster. He based his rant on a troubling eye catching response to a question in a recent survey by the New America Media. NAM is a consortium of ethnic media groups in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a wide-ranging poll, it sampled opinion among blacks, Latinos and Asians about each other.

The response that raised the eyebrows was that a near majority of Latinos said that blacks were crime prone and that they feared for their safety around them. A slight majority of blacks returned the negative typecast compliment and said that Latinos take jobs from blacks and they are out to undercut their political power.

Those are the type of utterances that white bigots supposedly spew. However, now they just as easily rolled off of black and Latino lips. That revelation for the shock jock and for many other whites merely confirmed that blacks and Latinos can be bigots too. The ugly truth is they’re right. And that also tells much about the often muddled, confused, and conflicted picture of race and ethnic relations in America.

For decades bigotry was always defined as racial discrimination and violence against blacks by whites. The black power movement and the strident black militancy of the 1960s dramatically changed that. Now blacks were hammered for their anti-white racial taunts. That eventually morphed into and codified as blacks playing the race card whenever things went especially bad. That always meant making whites feel guilty to get an advantage. The point is that blacks and whites were still the only ones that hurled vicious and vile negative stereotypes about each other and at each other, and that’s where it ended. The NAM poll convincingly exploded the notion that blacks and whites were the only groups that saw each other through jaundiced racial lens.

Blacks, Latinos and Asians can hold the same hostile racial attitudes toward each other, and aren’t afraid to voice them. The first real tip that things weren’t as idyllic as they appeared on the ethnic relations front came in 2005 with the furor over the quip by then Mexican President Vicente Fox. In a speech, Fox said that Mexicans are hard workers and will work jobs that blacks won’t work. That ignited a storm of protest from civil rights leaders and many African-Americans.

The top rung Latino civil rights groups and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus instantly understood the severe harm that the remark could do to the fragile relations between blacks and Latinos, and rushed to denounce Fox. But denunciations and demands for apologies couldn’t erase Fox’s words, or the sentiment behind them. Many Latinos openly and many more privately probably agreed with Fox. They insisted that immigrants would work the hardest, dirtiest, lowest paying jobs that blacks won’t work. And some even less charitably claimed that blacks wouldn’t work these jobs because they are lazy and slothful.
That belief, of course, is crude, false and racist. But it reflected the big problem that relations between blacks and Latinos are rife with falsehoods.

Yet ethnic insensitivity, however, is not a one-way street. In a blast at Fox for his remark on immigration and jobs, Al Sharpton also reflected the skewed view held by many blacks that Latinos are an economic threat: “We need to deal with the fact that there has been an inordinate amount of tension where people have come across the border for almost slave wages, competing with Latinos and blacks.” Sharpton rammed the point home by describing illegal immigration as a 21st century slave trade. That dredged up the negative images of hordes of uneducated, poor Mexicans invading the U.S.
Latino activists have waged a furious battle for decades against that image as well as against the depiction of Latinos as lazy, immoral, crime-prone, drug dealers, illegal aliens, service workers, and mothers with packs of ragged children. Those images constitute stereotypes that TV and Hollywood have done much to propagate.

The common litany of stereotypes, myths and misconceptions that many blacks and Latinos now routinely toss out about each other sooner or later will rudely force their way into and badly taint the way blacks and Latinos see each other. In a worse case scenario, the gulf in attitudes, perceptions and ultimately relations could widen rather than narrow between the two groups. The New America Media survey zeroed in on the negative beliefs and sentiments that blacks and Latinos hold about each. It other offered more proof that race relations and worse racial bigotry can no longer be colored in black and white.

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)


Monday, December 10, 2007

Drop State Charges against Vick—The Public Gouged it’s Pound of Flesh Out of Him with Fed Sentencing
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Even the most rabid Michael Vick loathers can’t argue with the toss the book sentence that Federal Judge Henry E. Hudson hurled at the tumbled former football great. The 23 month sentence he got exceeded the recommendation by federal prosecutors, the sentences his co-defendants got, and the average sentence for this type of crime that’s spelled out in federal sentencing guidelines. Given the intense hysteria of legions of animal lovers at Vick, he’ll likely serve the bulk of his jail time. But the punishment is overly harsh. Vick is a first time offender. He expressed remorse, publicly apologized, shelled out nearly a million bucks for the upkeep of the impounded animals, and likely won’t play another down in the NFL. Vick’s life and career is wrecked. The feds and the public have more than gouged their pound of flesh out of him.

That’s exactly why Virginia’s Surrey County Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter should do the right legal and personal thing and drop the state prosecution of Vick. The trial is currently scheduled for April 2. In fact, state charges should never have been brought. This was a federal case from day one. The evidence of conspiracy and trafficking in dog fighters across state lines was overwhelming. Professional dog fighting almost always involves interstate transit of the dogs to the fighting matches and events.

There’s also the troubling fact that while state prosecutors talk a good game about cracking down on the dog fighting top cats, they are still notoriously lax in prosecuting, let alone tossing the book at many of them. The near textbook example of that is the case involving the wealthy and legendary dog fighting father and son kingpins Floyd and Guy Boudreaux in Louisiana. Two years after their arrest on dog fighting related charges, they are still walking free with no sign that the state is sprinting to court to get them in a docket. PETA or the Humane Society of the U.S. that turned out their throngs to curse and wave signs at Vick in front of federal court in Virginia have given absolutely no indication that they have or will mount a national crusade to nail them, or that they have even raised a peep nationally about the glacial pace of the state’s prosecution of them. There was a brief article on the Humane Society’s web site on the case two years ago, and that’s it.

The stiff federal sentence dumped on Vick amply sent the message that a rich, famous, sports glitz figure won’t be treated any differently than the average Joe that breaks the law. But none of that means much to PETA, and it certainly didn’t mean anything to state prosecutors. Despite their weak and disingenuous protest that they went after Vick solely because he broke state law, they didn’t. It was politics and race. They figured that no one could dare say that race or celebrity had anything to do with the state indictment of Vick since four of the six grand jurors are African-American and were not in celebrity awe of him.

The race and celebrity card in reverse ploy doesn't mean much. It defies belief to think that if Vick had been an average African-American guy that the black jurors or Poindexter would have wasted countless hours pouring over his case and ultimately leveled an indictment at him. The fed charges were heavy duty enough and there was every sign that he would not waltz away with the standard celebrity pass hand slap sentence. It meant that Vick’s punishment would have more than fit the magnitude of his crimes. That should have ended the matter for the state, and in most cases it does.

Fed and state officials almost always maintain a rigid church and state separation when it comes to prosecuting cases. It's not just because they fear the potential danger of double jeopardy in a dual prosecution that they stay off of each others toes. It's because legal overkill is wasteful, time-consuming and cost ineffective.

The rare times that fed and state prosecutors stray onto each others turf is when the state fails to get a conviction in high profile politically or legally compelling racial cases that stokes public rage and scream for federal action. The Rodney King beating case and the old 1960s civil rights related racial murder cases are textbook examples of that. The feds retry these cases but on separate civil rights charges. The prosecutors that do the straying almost always are the feds. Even Beltway sniper John Muhammad, though there was strong suspicion that he left a trail of murder victims in other states, the states deferred prosecution of him to Virginia and Maryland. Muhammad's conviction and death sentence rendered another state's prosecution of him moot.

With Vick, the same rule and logic should apply. There's no compelling interest or reason to pile on another prosecution of Vick. Fairness and common legal sense must prevail. Virginia should drop charges against Vick, and drop them 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)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What Oprah Can’t and Shouldn’t Do For Obama
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Oprah can’t help Barack Obama nail Hillary Clinton in Iowa, New Hampshire, or even South Carolina. The throng of Oprah groupies that pitched camp in front of the Obama campaign headquarters in Columbia, South Carolina to get free tickets to her and Obama’s appearance at the Colonial Center in that city were there to ogle, and if they are lucky, touch the garments of America’s favorite TV earth mother at the auditorium.

But after the ogling and touching Oprah, it doesn’t mean they’ll vote for Obama. A Pew Research Center poll after a big Oprah fundraising bash in September found that by a crushing margin respondents said that Oprah’s tout of Obama won’t sway them the least bit. And it shouldn’t, at least not because, Oprah says so. Despite all the talk about Oprah being a transcendental force that supersedes mere celebrity mortals she’s still just that, a celebrity. The thousands that clawed for tickets to rub shoulders with her at her Obama pep rally in Columbia, South Carolina were there precisely because of her star power and the insatiable celebrity mania that grips far to many star struck Americans.

Yet, celebrities fail miserably every time to do much for their political picks. Willie Nelson, Madonna, Jon Bovi, Martin Sheen, and in reverse, George Clooney are big money celebrities and virtual household names. They all endorsed Democratic presidential candidates in 2004. Nelson endorsed Dennis Kucinich. Bon Jovi endorsed John Kerry. Sheen endorsed Howard Dean. Madonna backed Wesley Clark. One of their picks went down to flaming defeat. The other three never came close to getting the Democratic presidential nomination.

As for Clooney, he publicly declared that he hoped that his non-endorsement of Kerry probably helped him at the polls. It didn't. Though Clooney now backs Obama he’s still very mindful of the potential liability of celebrity hood and has publicly said that he thinks campaigning for a candidate hurts a candidate. Clooney recognized a political truism that's etched in stone. That's that a celebrity pump of a presidential candidate does little to boost the candidate.

The one group that Obama hopes is the rare exception to the rule is black women. He banks heavily that Oprah can help him smash through the Hillary fest that many black women have with Clinton. In South Carolina, black voters make up nearly half of the Democratic voters, a greater proportion than any other state, and black women make up a significant proportion of that vote. Though most adore Oprah and are well aware of her long standing backing of Obama, that hasn't shaken their support of Clinton the least bit. Nearly three times more black women say they'll back Hillary over him, and that’s especially true among lower income, working class black women. She is a woman, mother, and most importantly is regarded by many black women as a strong advocate for health care and women's interests.

Selling Obama is not like selling one of Oprah’s handpicked authors that the mere mention of on her show will send their book hurtling to the top of the charts. Voters make their decisions about politicians on a combination of factors, party affiliation, their stance on the issues, their political beliefs, and their experience at getting the job done. Few will rely on Oprah’s word that Obama is the best to handle global warming, tax policy, the Iraq war, terrorism, job creation and inflation, failing public schools, criminal justice issues and judicial appointments.

A candidate, and only the candidate, has to sell his or herself that they have a sound grasp of the issues, and can forcefully and clearly articulate them, and most importantly, are the most experienced. That’s the glaring Achilles Heel for Obama. In every poll, even the most rabid Clinton loathers, rank Hillary at the top of the pile in experience in dealing with foreign and domestic issues. Voters got burned badly with Bush. His gross inexperience in statecraft before grabbing the White House cost Americans dearly in eight years of his disastrous bumbles and fumbles on everything from the Iraq war to domestic policy. Many voters won’t make that mistake again.

That's not to say that endorsements don't help a candidate. But they have to be the right endorsements. The right ones come from seasoned politicians and respected industry, labor, or public interest groups that have the trust and confidence of voters, and a solid track record in fighting for legislation and public policy change. That’s also not to say that Oprah’s endorsement will hurt Obama. The hype, promotion, and allure of Oprah have some value in bumping even higher Obama’s media visibility.

The O and O show has caused the tongues to wag, eyebrows to rise and they will draw legions to their campaign stops. But it won’t be the knock out wallop Obama counts on to floor Hillary. Celebrities simply don’t and shouldn’t pack that kind of political punch. And neither does Oprah.

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)