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)