Politics Mondays: WANTED: The Non-Threatening Negro. – The Fear Of A Free Black Intellectual, Whether Fox News, The New York Times, NPR, BET or The Dave Chappelle Show
The findings contained within The Urban League Institute’s report, "Sunday Morning Apartheid: A Diversity Study of the Sunday Morning Talk Shows" which show that only 8 percent of the guests on the major Sunday morning talk shows over the past 18 months – or only 176 times out of more than 2,100 opportunities - were Blacks comes as absolutely no surprise to me. The fact that 122 of those 176 appearances were made by Juan Williams, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice was even less of a surprise.
For years, I have had conversations with Black friends and Black and White colleagues of mine in the media that the problem - that statistics like this point to - is not one of just simple racism, where Whites don’t want Blacks to appear on a show. Nor, I have argued, is the problem simply one of innocent cultural and professional oversight, where people 'naturally' choose to only network and do business with their ‘peers’. It is also not a simple case of liberal or conservative bias in the media, as I am sure many will attempt to prove.
There is something far deeper at work.
What I have consistently shared in public, private and professional conversation is that it is clear to me that there exists - among many White and Black media professionals and institutions – a fear or discomfort with the presence of a relatively speaking, ‘free-thinking’ Black male or female intellectual or professional. This fear manifests in different forms. In some cases it means a Black woman or man won’t be booked on a certain show. In some instances it results in a Black person being omitted or ‘written out’ of a story. In other cases it means that a Black person with expertise won’t be quoted in an article about a subject they know intimately. In other scenarios it means a Black person who has led opinion on a certain issue won’t be invited to speak at a certain conference or appear on a certain panel discussion.
I know about these examples intimately because I am one of many said persons, in my case, as an economist, publisher, political strategist and talk show personality, who has experienced the non-invite, omission, and lack of quotes.
I have not written about it publicly because I have never needed the access, profile, and publicity that so many others crave through these arrangements; nor have I desired my critique to be dismissed as sour grapes or jealousy. I also am blessed to run a website that reaches seemingly countless numbers of people in America and all over the world. But in addition to that, I also think it is not good to speak about one's self in certain ways. Whenever we use the word "I" there is a danger of going down a road that can set up a state of mind, and attitude that negatively affects our relationships with others, and which can abort our growth and development in certain ways. Everything we do is contingent upon and qualified by forces, persons, entities and circumstances over which we, as individuals, have no autonomous control. We can see an instructive example about the dangers of not being aware of this dynamic in what is written in the Torah about Moses smiting the rock and bringing forth water.
I have never been excessively troubled by never having been invited to appear on C-Span’s Washington Journal or any news program on BET (even though I have consulted for them and they have admitted to me that BlackElectorate.com and I ‘know the pulse of Black America.’) I have not suffered an identity crisis because I have never been invited to appear on The McLaughlin Report (although my political friend Jude Wanniski, on his own initiative, and without my prior knowledge, lobbied John McLaughlin personally.) I have not lost my self-concept because I have never appeared on or been quoted by Fox News (even though Juan Williams is on the BlackElectorate.com mailing list.) Nor am I upset because Investor’s Business Daily never interviewed me (even though I have spent hours discussing finance, politics and economics with one of their reporters, John Berlau.) I am not even too disturbed that certain leading Hip-Hop Internet websites and magazines have never quoted me or linked to my writings even though I managed Wu-Tang Clan for two years and consistently write on a wide-range of topics pertaining to the culture, industry and genre. And, finally, yes, I am not having self-esteem issues because Tavis Smiley has never invited me on any of his programs, although we have mutual friends and he and his producers are aware of BlackElectorate.com.
None of these individuals or institutional decisions regarding me affect who I am, or the contribution that I have made, nor do they hinder BlackElectorate.com’s soaring popularity, with each passing week and month.
I am only writing about this problem today, because I don’t want anybody who visits BlackElectorate.com to get the implications of this terrific Urban League Report twisted. I hope our viewers will not get herded into chasing the wrong debate or argument. This is not exclusively about professional and cultural White on Black racism; or racism in the service of political ideology or vice-versa, as I am sure it will be portrayed to be by many opinion leaders. This is more critically about a view of the intellect of Black people, and how it is never to be promoted or amplified once it reaches a certain level. This is about a conscious and subconscious fear that many people, White and Black, have of a Black person – woman or man – whom they cannot categorize, label, control or ‘figure out’ – either because they are not credentialized by a certain institution; don't subscribe to certian views; aren't validated by a certain network; lack the co-signing by a certain individual; and are not affiliated with a certain philosophy. In other words, this is about Black people who are ‘free’, in their minds, as well as their hearts, who make others uncomfortable.
In January of 2003, I had the honor of being an invited guest on a panel at the Committee For A Unified Independent Party’s (CUIP) "Choosing An Independent President" (CHIP) conference. I was graciously invited to appear by Dr. Lenora Fulani. The panel was televised on C-Span. I made a statement that made some of the hundreds of political independents present uncomfortable and one which I really think gets at the heart of one of the critical problems in Black America. In response to the question placed on the floor about the definition of ‘radicalism’; I made the point, in essence, that ideology, partisan affiliation and political identity were secondary factors in determining what a ‘radical’ was. I said, essentially, that while I see radicals, independents and others in name, I don’t see ‘free’ people. I said that I am free at BlackElectorate.com. I said if I want to run a letter from Saddam Hussein to the American people on my website I do it. If I want to run a speech from President Bush, I do it. If I want to run a column by Armstrong Williams on my website I do it. If I am invited to enjoy a three-hour lunch with Donna Brazile or have dinner as a guest of Minister Louis Farrakhan or to have the privilege of advising Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney I accept. I said to me the freedom that is lacking among those who believe they are ‘independent’ and which makes one a true ‘radical’ is three-fold: The courage to enjoy the freedom of assembly to meet with who one wants, the freedom of speech to say what one wants, and most importantly the freedom of thought to explore in the privacy of one’s mind, what he or she wants. If one thinks about it carefully in the light of history, it is not hard to see that Black intellectuals, politicians, preachers and businesspersons are really not free or ‘radical’ according to this standard.
It is one of the reasons why I love so much of what Star of the Star and Buc Wild morning show is doing with his enormously popular program, and why I am probably the only writer with the stature I have, with the courage to support and openly defend him and the program, the way I have been. Over the weekend I corresponded with Mr. Mike Williams, a Black columnist for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, who wrote a column on July 29, 2005, about the reaction to the debut of The Star and Buc Wild in Richmond, Virginia. The view of the show, portrayed in the column, "Listeners Irate Over The Hate", was largely negative. As part of a series e-mails, written beginning last Friday night, and Saturday morning, I sent Mr. Williams the following, in response to his column:
"In addressing current events and serious societal issues, albeit in unorthodox and uncomfortable ways, Star and Buc Wild do more in a single show to educate and enlighten, than the average non-threatening and mind-numbing R&B and Hip-Hop morning shows do in a month, in my opinion.
Upon further inspection, you may consider that Star and Buc Wild might be performing a public service by bringing to light what they do, of pop culture and society - and mocking it, critiquing it and repeating it in raw language. But beyond language, I certainly hope you notice the manner in which Star, the show's host, utilizes reverse psychology, irony, paradox, dialectics and polemics, to make points, drive discussion and motivate his listeners. This show is much more sophisticated than your column would indicate."
Mr. Williams kindly wrote me back and we have begun an intelligent and reasoned exchange that I hope will evolve into a dialogue that elevates the consciousness of both he and I, but more importantly the readers of his column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A point I hope to make persuasively to Mr. Williams and others regarding Star is that much of the initial negative reaction to Star is understandable but really superficial in nature; other parts of the reaction are, in my view, subconscious and very deep in nature. Star makes people uncomfortable not just because of the raw and graphic nature of his show, but because he has the courage to say the things that he does and because he has the discipline, brilliance and genius to masterfully use reverse psychology, dialectics and polemics to raise consciousness. Rather than to imagine or recognize or consider this as possibly a primary driving force behind the show’s content, some would rather attribute the motivation and model of a White man, Howard Stern (rather than say, Frankie Crocker), to shock people for the sake of it, to Star. It makes Black and White people more uncomfortable to imagine that Star, is a ‘free-thinking’ Black man, with genius, accomplishing an agenda to be informative, political and progressive, while making tons of money; than it does to classify him as a reckless ‘shock-jock’, imitating a White man, who irresponsibly is corrupting America’s youth and aggravating racial tensions.
I wrote Mr. Williams something that I intend to get into in much more depth at BlackElectorate.com, in the very near future. I offered to him the proposition that I have been offering to others in private discussion, which is: if you liked Dave Chappelle you should love Star and Buc Wild. I offer that proposition for two reasons. One of those two points is to expose the subconscious fear and double-standard that I have been alluding to and exposing here. Consider what it is that made and makes Dave Chappelle so popular among Blacks and Whites. Then, for those who are familiar with his program, think about what it is that makes Star’s show so unacceptable to many of these same individuals. Could it be the fact that Dave Chappelle is a comedian and Star is not? Both shows, one could argue, are equally raunchy and handle serious subjects with a sense of humor and a way that is relevant to pop culture; but could it be that because Star forcefully says, "I am not a comedian," while Dave Chappelle openly states he is, Dave Chappelle is easier to digest while Star is not? Dave Chappelle is not threatening as a result while Star is. One is a Black comedian and one is not. Think it over.
I hesitate to go too far on this next point because I do not want to disrespect two men that I value and think are highly intelligent, Mr. Juan Williams of NPR, and Fox News, and Mr. Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune. Nor do I want to go too deep into the direction of anecdotal evidence regarding the psyche of Black people and Whites. But privately, I have often pointed to these two men as examples of what I mean by non-threatening Blacks. Yes, it is not just the credentialization, and philosophy that makes a Black man or woman non-threatening, it is their demeanor. I have watched Juan Williams for years on Fox News Sunday. Say whatever you want about the intellectual and political merit of his presentations – he has a physical presence, aura and style that is generally non-threatening to Whites. I met Clarence Page in passing, once at a bookstore in Washington D.C. His demeanor is generally non-threatening to Whites and most people, I imagine. I am not qualified to say that Mr. Williams and Mr. Page have never threatened White people with their ideas, or physical presence. I imagine the mere sight of their skin color may be enough to unnerve some. And I can only imagine what they have suffered, as Blacks, to blaze the paths they have in journalism and media. But what I am saying is that, particularly, with Black men, there is a certain ‘type’ of image that is generally presented on White-dominated network and cable news that the programmers and their consultants know will not unnecessarily make certain people uncomfortable. And I can suggest the same dynamic, in different ways, is at work at BET or even the Tavis Smiley show on PBS. There are just certain individuals that will not be booked as guests not only because of their ideas, credentialization or philosophies, but also because of what their aura, spirit, and physical presence evokes in others – White and Black.
So while I appreciate the benefits that the Urban League Institute’s report, "Sunday Morning Apartheid: A Diversity Study of the Sunday Morning Talk Shows", yields for a straight linear discussion of Black-White race relations, institutional racism, and the persistent debate of whether or not there is a Liberal or Conservative bias at certain media outlets, I think this debate needs to have a more sophisticated two-fold focus on racism. One on White Supremacy and one on the Black inferiority complex.
If I have to, I will rest my case on my own experience and on anecdotal evidence. Here is a final point to ponder, on that front, for those who doubt or deny the validity of my thesis, or for those in the Black community or in the media who want to test me. For the five years BlackElectorate.com has been in existence, I have written extensively in the public, maybe in more in-depth fashion than any other Black person on the Internet over that time period, when it comes to simultaneously addressing politics, economics, and culture - from a national and international perspective. Maybe. And although many of them have privately e-mailed me, know me personally, and on numerous occasions have asked me or our editors to link to or promote their own writings, I can count on a few fingers, on one hand, the number of times a major Black columnist writing for a major White or Black newspaper has quoted me or referred to BlackElectorate.com in any of their writings.
Is this an accident?
I think not.
Monday, August 1, 2005