Monday, November 22, 2004

Empire in Ruins: Black Faces in Low Places

by Rohan Seivwright

An empire falls slow, in increments, with barely perceptible cracks to trip awake a sleepwalking citizenry. Those oppressed by it will welcome the decline, but what will be left? Will lessons be learned? What are the answers for the future? To find answers about what's ahead sometimes one has to look over their shoulder.

In addition, a keen eye on the minority can reveal subjugated truths about society and the ruling elite. This past week, the week of November 13th, was rich with Blacks in the news for what would appear to be varying reasons, but the truth is they're all a product of the same failed revolution which fizzled in the sixties and seventies.

In those times, a wave of indignation grew towards an imperialist American government. The young rejected capitalist greed. The Black people became militant. Women resisted patriarchal rule. It was a beginning of real change. It caused concern for the ruling class.

To quote Richard Nixon:

You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.

If you look at the Civil Rights Movement and the Black people who were fed up with the systemic racism stifling their personal growth, you'll see a divide that continues today, and will continue until more people see the cracks.

The divide began with Martin Luther King who didn't start the movement, he didn't carry the movement, he was a part of the movement. The media built up MLK. He became the friendly face of civil rights; An acceptable Negro.

Then there was Malcolm X. Filtered through the corporate media, Malcolm X would become the unfriendly face, the Boogieman to scare white folks towards MLK, the Negro version of the carrot and the stick.

Truth is, both MLK and Malcolm X, as they fought for human decency, connected and saw the struggle of the poor, the oppressed, the disposable, as a global struggle. They saw the institutional problem, not between races as much as between classes, and not the middle class against the poor but the plutocracy against the working folks. They questioned whether it was wise to integrate without asking two basic questions: What are we integrating into? And if it's flawed, can we change it? This is not what is taught in history class. I repeat, this is not what is taught in history class.

What's been taught in schools has to do with Blacks wanting equal rights. That's it. Blacks were and continue to be looked at as people who just want to be paid. Get a piece of Uncle Sam's pie. No matter how rotten that pie may be.

The struggles of the 60's were not about getting a piece of the pie. Those struggles, seen in the emergence of groups like the Black Panthers, were about institutional change for the betterment of the world. Careerism didn't apply. Black faces in high places mattered little. If the game remains the same, changing faces won't make a difference.

Malcolm's militant stance and message of self-reliance gave fuel to what became the Black Panther Party movement. They were a defense against racist law enforcement and a corrupt state. They were believers in power being decentralized and spread among the people: community control. They believed human beings had a right to the necessities of life: food, clothes, shelter, medicine, a clean cup of water. These things were a threat to the Power Elite. This needed to be co-opted. The corporate media did its job and the Panthers were portrayed as an Afrocentric Jihad against Whites.

The media's fetishistic relationship with the Black Panthers (made fun of in the movie Network) helped shape the members of the Black Panthers as nothing more than dangerously sexy Black Nationals ready-made for Pop-Culture folly. This created the convenience of two groups. On one side, you had the Malcolm X spawned Black Nationals, and on the other side you had the Martin Luther King spawned Integrationists. This can be seen as a classic example of divide and conquer.

Today, with Malcolm and Martin gone, the rewriting of what they stood for produced a certain breed of Negroes. They are wholly connected to the American Dream Machine and the hidden engine of profit over people.

Look at the results:

After the Rodney King beating and the LA Riots, the urban sprawl became a hot topic in the media. Then the media itself came under scrutiny for its coverage or lack of coverage of the social forces behind dilapidated neighborhoods. It was viewed only as a race problem, not a problem of poverty being ignored. The corporate media always uses race in order to displace the bigger issue.

So, viewed as racially insensitive, the answer inevitably would be superficial. Networks hired more Blacks, first as cameramen, make up artists, assistants, then as talent before the camera. Most of this talent came in the form of Black-Barbie-Dolls. Yes, there were the Bryant Gumbels before this, but the numbers increased drastically after the riots; especially the number of attractive Black women. It's a way to sedate dissent.

How these Info-Babes have been used falls in line with the corporate view of the world. Job security and careerism matter more than integrity and truth. To think the reporting on inner city strife would improve because of more Black faces, attractive Black faces, insulted the intelligence of about twenty percent of the population. The rest of people could care less because of the amount of distractions thrown into their faces.

An example of one of these distractions comes in the form of Sharon Reed. She's a news anchor out of Cleveland Ohio who works for WOIO Channel 19. Five months ago, she did a report on the "artist" Spencer Tunick.

Tunick's claim to fame has been his photos of naked people in public areas. Sharon Reed took it as her duty to tell this pressing story to the best of her ability. As reported in The Plain Dealer newspaper:

Anchor/reporter Sharon Reed appeared seminude and nude although the camera caught her from afar and from the rear in a heavily promoted story on WOIO Channel 19's 11 p.m. newscast Monday. Reed participated in Spencer Tunick's nude photo installation in downtown Cleveland in June, and narrated a first-person story.

Reed said she considered it an important story. "I'm my own person. I don't do anything I don't want to do for any job, or anything," she said.

The idea came from general manager Bill Applegate's desire to cover the Tunick event in a different way, news director Steve Doerr said.

Doerr said that besides the sweeps ratings, he held the piece for five months hoping to air it in conjunction with Tunick's art book containing the Cleveland images, which has been delayed.

The nudity, though cheesy, wasn't what made this report suspect. It was the timing. Yes, they said it had to do with sweeps and Tunick's book release. Capitalist greed makes for a handy and honest excuse. But was it a coincidence that the same time this report hit the airwaves, there's been a grassroots effort to investigating voter fraud in Ohio.

It's almost poetic that the secretary of state of Ohio is a Black man named Blackwell, who happens to be a dogmatic Republican. After the 2000 election fraud it's truly American that a Black face in a powerful position would choose to help disenfranchise poor and Black voters this time around. Then to help distract the Cleveland citizens, a Black woman strips naked for her career in showbiz news. I wonder if her vote counted.

Where's Jesse Jackson or the cantankerous Bill Cosby? Cosby, with Jesse Jackson by his side, slammed low income Blacks for not speaking the Queen's English, and called Black children rapists and thieves, then said his critique stemmed from the failure of poor Blacks to hold up their end of the bargain after the Civil Rights movement. He's been pretty damn silent during these last two elections where Blacks have been systematically shoved aside from the voting booth.

Jesse Jackson backed away from the demonstration against voter fraud in 2000, so its no surprise he is silent now. Oh, he'll say a few things here and there, playing the role as Black leader, but he won't lead Blacks against the system that enables voter fraud. He has bills to pay, people he owes.

From Ohio and naked anchorwomen, we'll take a peek at the NFL and Terrell Owens. For the two people who don't know, Terrell Owens took part in a pregame promo, creating an echo chamber of complaints. Here's how OnMilwaulkee.Com described it:

The controversy was created during the promo in which Terrell Owens, who was in full uniform, was propositioned by Nicollette Sheridan, who plays the flirtatious Edie Britt on ABC's hit series "Desperate Housewives." At the end of the skit, Sheridan drops her towel and jumps into Owens' arms. ABC did a very good job making sure the viewers knew that she was completely nude without showing anything that wasn't seen on that afternoon's episode of "Days Of Our Lives".

What I am trying to figure out is why was this controversial? Why are people upset about this promo? How on earth can the NFL call the kettle black while it has been playing the role of the pot for years?

This is one of those instances in which before there can be an answer you have to search for the questions. In my mind, this is nothing but ABC promoting one of its shows during Monday Night Football, which is its right, since it paid equal to the GNP of a small third-world country for the rights to broadcast MNF.

Here's one answer to the question. Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianapolis Colts, said what he found offensive was the idea of a Black athlete willing to toss aside his responsibility for a quickie with a blonde hair blue eyed woman. He added the Kobe Bryant rape case as a reason why this should not have been shown.

Pat Buchanan, a man known for his hatred of the Black radicals of the sixties, did an hour show on the promo. Buchanan has never hid the fact he believes America is a white country and should stay that way.

Terrell Owens, by no means a mental midget, knew he played into a stereotype, and in the end, self-promotion trumped racial history.

But this is not what's important.

What's important had to do with this wordy sentence from the above report:

In my mind, this is nothing but ABC promoting one of its shows during Monday Night Football, which is its right, since it paid equal to the GNP of a small third-world country for the rights to broadcast MNF.

ABC, Disney, FCC Chairman Michael Powell, nor the FCC owns the airwaves. The airwaves are PUBLIC. The airwaves belong to US. The discussion about who is responsible for the tactless promo is moot if the discussion never turns to the monopolization of PUBLIC AIRWAVES.

One of the funniest things about finger pointing among the elite, is the totally willful amnesia the corporate news displays when they attempt to analyze the infighting. When the NFL chastised ABC for the cross-promotion stunt, I hoped, almost prayed for a renegade reporter to dig into the NFL's history and the characters around the NFL to understand the bigger picture.

A majority of early NFL owners were known gamblers. Some were even tied to organized crime. One time Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison Jr., Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt (son of oilman H.L. Hunt Jr.), Cleveland Brown/Baltimore Raven owner Art Modell, New Orleans Saints owner John Mecom Jr. (who had very close ties to Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, a key player in bringing a team in New Orleans), Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinal owner Charles Bidwell (who was a bootlegger and an associate of Al Capone), and Philadelphia Eagle owner DeBenneville "Bert" Bell (who had ties to the East Coast Mafia) all were known to have been gamblers and bet on football (some even their own teams). Carroll Rosenbloom, one time owner of the Baltimore Colts, not only bet on his team, but also altered the outcome of a game because of it.

No wonder Condoleezza Rice dreams of being the NFL commissioner. The NFL world isn't much different from her world in Washington DC.

Speaking of Condoleezza, she's been promoted to secretary of state. This is the same woman who when faced with a memo warning of impending attacks from Osama Bin Laden, ignored it. Can anyone say Treason? Where's Bill Cosby?

George Bush and the Republican Party can now brag of placing the first Black female in that position.

At least Harry Belefonte had the nerve to call Colin (My Lai) Powell a "House Nigger" when Powell still had the job. What will Bill Cosby call Condoleezza?

Cosby and Jackson were happy to bash low income black parents for not being better. Better like Condoleezza? Yes, Black crime has been a problem in poor neighborhoods. But who's more deadly: Condoleezza and her gang of imperialists who bomb women and children in order to remove one man, or a broken street kid with a gun? The kid at least won't lie about his reasons for violence.

Misplaced violence is nothing new for poor frustrated Blacks who grow up disrespected, violated, and left behind in a society where Black men are devalued with the help of the corporate media. The revolutionaries of the 60's wanted to provide something better for the youth, but the establishment had other plans.

Black men of the new millennium are narrow and myopic in their thinking, just like Americans in general, but with more desperation. Most see one avenue for "legitimate" success: Entertainment. Black teens go "balls to the wall" for the Music Industry, the Hollywood Industry, and the Athletic Industry. That's the highest level of achievement a majority of Blacks recognize. Just ask Sharon Reed.

To look closer at the hypocritical media and the outrage at the violence committed by a certain group of people, take a quick run through what happened at the Vibe Award show and the Detroit Pistons game.

During the Vibe award show, a man approached the table of music producer Dr. Dre, where many of his fellow "artists" were seated. The man asked for an autograph then began punching Dr. Dre in the face. This brought the wrath of all the rappers seated at the table. The man who started the fight was stabbed a couple of times, ended up in intensive care, and survived. Needless to say, lawyers will help ease his pain by seeking to beef up his pockets. Young Buck, a rapper who just won an award, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

Now why would a wealthy rapper who has everything he wanted in life, risk jail time to stab one man who was already outmatched by a dozen rappers? The answer is simple. He's reactionary. That's what reactionary people do. They go overboard when they are threatened, or when they perceive a threat. Doesn't matter if he's Black or White. He's a homegrown American, through and through. In today's world, the reactionary American is king. The reactionary American gets respect. The reactionary American gets what they want when they want or else. He's going with the winning formula.

The thing that stands out is the breezy coverage this action got from the media. Sort of a 'Been there, done that' tone in the articles. As far as the mainstream is concerned, rappers who beat and kill each other can only help the rap industry sales, not hurt it. The bottom line dictates the coverage. Battered and murdered rappers are a good thing for the market.

In contrast, look at the brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers basketball teams. Words such as "Uncivilized" and "Disgust" were thrown about. Talk of it as the worst episode in sports history. No mention of Monica Seles being stabbed by a fan, but that's the corporate media for you. The main thing was NBA Commissioner David Stern talking about the "fear" he felt. He stressed the word "fear." He leveled record suspensions and promised to have more security in the stadiums.

This reminded me of mayor Menino of Boston. During a baseball celebration, when Victoria Snelgrove died after a pepper-spray ball pierced her left eye, the Mayor barely acknowledged the fault of the overzealous police officer who aimed his "non-lethal" weapon at the heads of Red Sox fans who celebrated the Red Sox victory. Instead, the Mayor blamed the fans. It's the citizens fault, and they must be punished. It's your fault because you have too much freedoms, and when one starts trouble there will be collective punishment. This is the reactionary father figure. This is the example being set.

The thing is, NBA commissioner Stern didn't care about the safety of the fans or the players. He had to protect the interests of the league. The fear of losing revenue motivates people like Stern. The market dictates. In the rap world, thugs are cool and great for business, but in the NBA, thugs are scary to the middle class folks who buy pricey tickets to these games. At first Stern flirted with the "Hip Hop" crowd, promoting street credible players like the ultra-tattooed Allen Iverson, who kids like, but it's the parents who bring them to the games. At the same time, the NBA has become a global game, marketed all over the world. The merchandise has to be consumer friendly.

Another angle on this whole capitalist exploitation topic can be found in the current R Kelly sex tape.

A man in possession of a tape of R.Kelly allegedly having sex with the wife of a professional athlete and another woman was arrested and charged with extortion.

One of the women turns out to be gospel singer DeLeon, wife of baseball player Gary Sheffield. She acknowledged her relationship with Kelly. They were together ten years ago when she was seventeen.

A quick reminder: R Kelly is known for urinating on a fifteen year old and then paying her for sex, all on videotape.

R Kelly's kinky history with teenage girls isn't news. At least not anymore. What's interesting, has been the reaction of the music world to R. Kelly. While battling court cases for his sexual habit, he's been hotter than ever, a real earner for the music industry. Jay Z, a platinum selling artist, didn't mind going on tour with R. Kelly and making tens of millions of dollars.

R. Kelly is now suing Jay Z for 75 million alleging that "spite and jealousy" prompted violence that forced Kelly off their national tour. The breach of contract suit claims that Jay-Z was bothered because Kelly was the higher-paid performer. The suit alleges that the animosity led to technical problems, violence against Kelly, and threats to force the promoter to drop him. A statement from Island Def Jam Records, which Jay-Z is slated to take over, blamed Kelly's "lack of professionalism and unpredictable behavior" for cancellation of the tour.

Jay Z's view of R Kelly isn't much different from the United States government's view of dictators. No matter how vile, how sick, how demented the man is, it doesn't matter as long as he serves your interest. If he begins to hurt, or stray from your interest, then you can throw his past behavior in his face and the public will follow. It's a proven formula.

To end this with an image which makes for the perfect metaphor of where the culture has arrived, just look at Destiny's Child. First, a quick summary of their background:

Destiny's Child recorded their first album in 1996. A few months after the release of Destiny's Child's second album, LaTavia Robertson and LeToya Luckett left the group because of problems with their management. They were then replaced by Michelle Williams and dancer Farrah Franklin. But it wasn't long until Farrah Franklin kind of disappeared. Farrah Franklin stopped showing up for promotional gigs and the group announced that she had "moved on."

Beyonce Knowles, whose father has managed the group from the beginning, has been accused of the typical ego driven attitute that comes with the terroritory. The girls who left the group, couldn't stand her for one reason or another, and claimed Beyonce Knowles's father played favorites.

Now, fast forward to a show the young ladies did this past week.

While onstage, doing a song from their new album, Michelle Williams, tripped and fell. The other two, Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Rowland left her there to struggle back to her feet. They kept performing as if nothing happened. It was awkward. It was disturbing. It was funny as hell. It's the current state of the culture.