Uncle Tom. Sellout. Race traitor. Minstrel. Self-hater.
African Americans, who have known for centuries
that living, breathing, groveling, shuffling characters walk
among us who actually match these caricatures, have been put
on notice that it is taboo to point out the obvious.
One would think white media and politicians would
have enough to do, policing the racist statements of their own
group. Yet instead of deploying their censorship squads to suppress
explicit and implicit white supremacist speech – which flows
like a daily tsunami from George Bush’s Confederate/Republican
Party and all its unofficial manifestations – corporate media
and Democrats make common cause to suppress the free speech
of Black writers and artists who dare to confront other Black
people who have committed political offenses against African
How dare these bastions of white power and privilege
attempt to act as arbiters of African American discourse! Seldom
listening to Black people, they are quick to lecture
at Blacks, insanely believing that white institutions
– and this includes Blacks who serve those institutions – have
earned even a subatomic particle’s worth of moral authority
in Black America.
The latest Dem/GOP/corporate assault on Black
internal political autonomy targeted The
News Blog, operated by Black New Yorker Steve Gilliard.
Gilliard altered a photo of Maryland’s Black Republican Lt.
Governor, Michael S. Steele, a candidate for U.S. senator, to
conform more closely to the historical archetype that Steele’s
reflexive subordinate behavior most resembles. “Simple Sambo
wants to move to the big house," read the caption under
what Gilliard had made to look like a flyer for Steele’s one-man
Gilliard’s blog, which he says gets about 15,000
visits per day, routinely lays waste to the high-and-mightily-evil
Right. He has posted a photo of Bush cabal-embedded New York
Times reporter Judith Miller, captioned: “The Face of Treason.”
A picture of New Orleans cops beating a retired Black school
teacher was altered to depict the policemen wearing Ku Klux
Klan robes, explaining: “The
nigger made us beat him. It's his fault.” Good stuff.
A few weeks before Gilliard put Lt. Gov. Steele
in proper visual context, Black Republican Ohio Secretary of
State Kenneth Blackwell – the vampire of 2004 who sucked the
franchise out of that state’s African American voters – got
The News Blog treatment.
N' Eat" Blackwell speaking to fellow
Republicans at country club talent show.
The country club
circuit is also what got Maryland’s Michael Steele on Gilliard’s
dis-list. Steele’s running mate (read, boss) Gov.
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., held a fund-raiser at a country club
that had never in its 127-year history admitted an African American
– a non-problem as far as Steele was concerned. Rather, the
senatorial aspirant, who may face former NAACP executive director
and Democratic congressman Kweisi Mfume in the 2006 election,
spends most of his “white” time badmouthing Blacks – the primary
function of his ilk – in places like the Elkridge Club. Let
the picture fit the crime.
"Generally, it is an accurate depiction of
Steele's groveling, lackey behavior," said Gilliard, in
an email to the Baltimore
Sun. "It is 2005, and such an institution should not
exist, nor should a governor with as many black people as the
state of Maryland attend a function at such a place.”
Lt. Gov. Steele, employing the monstrous flipping-of-the-historical-script
strategy perfected at rightwing think tanks over the past decade
or so, consulted his cue-card. Gilliard’s deformation of his
picture was the "worst kind of gutter racism," he
shrieked, through a spokesman. “Disgusting.”
Even in feigned pain, the Right’s Black minions
(minstrels) give themselves away. Black critics are guilty of
“gutter racism,” while powerful whites who patronize apartheid
institutions are allies, benefactors, running mates. As Gilliard
told the Baltimore Sun:
"My point is that politicians like Michael
Steele insult us, use us as whipping boys and then run to their
white supporters to show how loyal they are. The suffering and
problems of black Americans are beyond their concern. I find
it wildly humorous that Lt. Gov. Steele calls me, a black man,
racist, but then refuses to condemn the governor attending an
event at an all-white country club."
Democrats Act the Fool
"This rogue attack on Lt. Gov. Steele is
distasteful, despicable and degrading," said Derek Walker,
a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party. "Democrats
are ready to engage Michael Steele in a spirited discussion
about the issues that matter to Maryland and to our nation.
... Hatred and bigotry are enemies of the Democratic principles
of fairness and opportunity for all people."
Apparently, Steve Gilliard is the great enemy
of “Democratic principles,” a purveyor of “hatred and bigotry”
– not the segregated country club or Steele’s tirelessly Black-baiting
Republican Party. When it comes to race, leaders of the Maryland
Democratic and Republican parties pull their wagons into the
same circle, like Boer voertrekkers in 1830s South Africa.
Hearing the cries of distress from across the
border, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tim Kaine
pulled his campaign ads from Gilliard’s blog – all $350 worth.
"It's a racist image, and we did not want our campaign
ad appearing next to a racist image," said a Kaine staffer.
When white folks have the final say on what is
and is not racist, we are in deep trouble. And when whites are
allowed to referee an intra-Black argument, the cuckoo has flown.
We can’t show you the Lt. Gov. Steele-as-Sambo
picture that appeared for a short time on Gilliard’s blog. In
a grand gesture of solidarity with the rich and powerful everywhere,
the Washington Post, which had copyrights to the photo, forced
Gilliard to remove it.
Cartoons from Hell
We at BC understand Gilliard’s
situation all too well – we’ve been badmouthed by an even “better”
class of white Democrats. In October, 2003, Senate Judiciary
Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) maneuvered Senators Edward
Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy
(D-VT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) – all considered staunch “liberals”
– into denouncing a BC cartoon as “despicable,”
“offensive,” the kind of image that “has
no place, anyplace in our society.” (See BC,
to the People: The Janice Brown, Orrin Hatch Carton Furor,”
Hatch all but put the condemnations in his Democratic
colleagues mouth’s, successfully transforming hearings on Janice
(“the New Deal was socialist”) Brown’s nomination to the federal
appellate bench into a nationally televised stoning of BC’s
The offending drawing, by then BC
cartoonist Khalil Bendib, dressed Clarence Thomas in drag, put
a fright wig on his head, and called the character Janice Rogers
Brown. Our point: Janice Rogers Brown is another Clarence Thomas.
The Republican chairman convinced
the committee and most of the national press that Clarence-in-drag
was, in fact, a “mammy” figure – despite the fact that both
the cartoon’s “Clarences” were identical in all but attire.
Hatch: [Waving cartoon] “It’s a vicious cartoon filled with
bigotry that maligns not only Justice Brown but others as
well: Justice Thomas, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. It’s
the utmost in bigotry… I hope that everyone here considers
that cartoon offensive and despicable. I certainly do. It
appeared on a web site called [speaks slowly and deliberately]
BC by far the most publicity of its young existence,
Hatch proceeded to tar the Congressional Black Caucus and “liberals”
in general with cartoonist Bendib’s brush – just as, two years
later, Maryland Republicans would charge that Gilliard’s altered
photo of Lt. Gov. Steele was part of a "pattern"
of Democratic dirty tricks.
Get Off My Black’s Back!
The GOP’s fierce
defense of their
Blacks – the constant claims that Black Republicans are vilified
for walking off the Democratic “plantation” – is relatively
new. Until the mid-Nineties, the corporate Right had no grand
strategy for Blacks. Clarence Thomas had to stand in for the
other tokens as the most hated Black man in Black America, earning
him a classic cartoon cover page in Emerge Magazine, November,
Thanks to corporate recruitment and campaign dollars,
Clarence Thomas has lots more company now – and not just on
the Republican side of the aisle. The Democratic Leadership
Council (DLC), which vets corporate contributions to the party,
has purchased a chunk of the Congressional Black Caucus and
threatens a wholesale subversion of African American politics
down to the grassroots level. The DLC appears to be working
in tandem with rightwing foundations and think tanks that are
busily cultivating Black Trojan Horse politicians with the aim
of imposing a “New Black Leadership” – politicians like Rep.
Harold Ford, Jr.
Harold Ford as Jester before King
March 17, 2005
there is a deep current in African American thought that refuses
to countenance attacks by
in high places. Although understandable from an historical perspective,
this reluctance to confront the current massive rightwing infiltration
and subversion of Black political institutions, is suicidal.
Would a Condoleezza Rice at the top of the Republican
ticket represent a victory for Black people? There is a fraction
of African Americans – maybe a large fraction – who are foolish
enough to think so. It is the duty of progressive Black journalists,
thinkers, writers and artists to disabuse our people of such
wishful illusions. Cartoons are singularly useful tools.
April 24, 2003
White American journalists have never denied themselves
the tools of mockery and ridicule. Why should Black journalists
disarm, unilaterally? Indeed, the most revered political cartoonist
in U.S. history, Thomas Nast, mercilessly pursued the post-Civil
War personification of New York City corruption, Tammany Hall’s
Boss Tweed. Nast did not hesitate to portray Tweed and his gang
as beastly predators.
Harpers, 1871 “Let us prey.”
Thomas Nast drew
his potent pictures in powerful publications like the New York
Times and Harper’s Weekly – and ultimately undid Tweed and his
gang. In Tweed’s downward spiral, the Boss wailed:
“"Stop them damned pictures.
I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents
can't read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!"
Well damn it, the public is going
to see altered pictures and weaponized drawings from BC’s
Khalil Bendib and the Artist Known As 29, Steve Gilliard, Aaron
Butler, and all the other scribblers, sketchers and photo-manglers
who shock and amuse folks towards a place nearer to reality.
There is a lengthening list of Black front men
and women in the service of our historical enemies, backed by
billionaires and, often, the power of the state. Our weapons
are few, but we must use them. As BC wrote
”Black people cannot keep these pretenders off
the airwaves; we don’t control the media. We cannot by ourselves
defeat their nominations on Capitol Hill; we don’t have the
numbers. We can’t stop the rich from funding bogus Black front
groups; it’s not our money. But we can heap scorn on the rascals,
and thus deny them legitimacy as “spokespersons,” “leaders”
and “role models” for our communities. We can confront them
with our anger at every public and private opportunity, so
that young people will think twice before considering a career
in the enemy’s camp. We can stop giving them awards, or tolerating
those who award them. We have the power to loudly reject the
servants of Hatch and Bush and rich foundations, to expose
their sources of funding and their true political allegiances.
”In the most egregious cases, we can render
them pariahs, unwelcome and insecure among the people they
have been paid to subvert. We have it in our power to devalue
the 'alternative' Blacks in the eyes of their benefactors,
who are paying for influence among African Americans, not
”We can embarrass them, because they deserve it.
We can draw cartoons that hold them up to ridicule – a small
penalty for treachery.”
Mockery and ridicule is what serious people do
to their enemies, and to those who side with the enemy. If Black
people can’t call each other names, then white folks of all
political persuasions will control every conversation – including
We pass on some words from blogster Steve Gilliard:
“I will never depict [Maryland Lt. Gov.] Steele
in a dishonest way, which is to show him merely in a suit. Lawn
Jockey, shine boy, something will come to mind. The current
art has his face over money.
”I think it is important that black writers and artists feel
free to express their opinions, regardless of the reaction.
”I also can say I have never been happier with the reaction
to my article and picture, even if it had to come down. Black
readers from Maryland were quite happy with the picture and
the controversy, because it was an accurate depiction of their
feelings towards Lt. Gov. Steele.
”It had an effect which was magnified, because Andrew Sullivan,
the longtime promoter of the racist Bell Curve, thought he could
make it an issue. When he found out I was black and refused
to back down, well, he got a different reaction than he expected.
The Steele campaign tried the same thing, and really didn't
have an answer when it was clear that I was black and held him
”The Steele campaign does not want people to realize that his
support in the black community is limited, while the contempt
he was held in is widespread.”
No one will tell the truth about us, but us. And
we are the people most in need of the truth.
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