Because words are tools we use for expressing ourselves,
and sometimes for getting at the truth, what we choose to call
ourselves and the things around us is important. Look at the
lasting damage to rational discussion that overt and covert white
supremacists have done in the last forty years with terms like
"reverse racism," "quotas," and "playing
the race card." In some of the popular discourse these days
one can be labeled a racist for calling attention to blatant racism.
It seems that the Right would like to somehow define race and
class out of our dialogue and out of existence, leaving us with
language that cannot tell the truths they prefer to ignore.
Occasionally even discerning BC
readers fall into such rhetorical traps. One wrote us:
I applaud Tim
Wise's Think Piece on Ray Nagin, "White Rage and the
Manufacturing of 'Reverse' Racism." It really hit home
and offered some wonderful analogies to illustrate his points.
Only one thing bothered me: Wise's claim that to white folks,
racism is seen mostly as individual and interpersonal - after
all, whites have not been targets of systematic racism in this
Not so Mr. Wise! Most eastern European immigrants
to this country experienced systematic racism for decades while
they integrated into the mainstream: Irish, Italian, Jews, Greeks
and Slavs to name just a few. Okies were driven Westward away
from the Dust Bowl experienced systematic racism from other
settled whites in the Western America. Hillbilly whites from
Appalachia migrating northward to the big cities to look for
work experienced systematic racism.
Fact is - whites have also experienced systematic
racism. The big difference for black folks is - it's much easier
for us to continue to have the experience because we are so
Terrence D. Samuel, a BC subscriber
It looks like we need to define race, first. Race
is a social convention that means different things in different
societies. In the U.S., for instance, one is customarily black
if one has any visible African descent and does not actively disavow
blackness. The "white race" as we understand it, is
a recent and uniquely American invention that generally means
"not black" and not Native American either.
There is no doubt that 19th and early 20th century
immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were treated shabbily
by whites whose forbears invaded America ahead of them. But this
seems to have been only a sort of probation
till those folks learned to be Americans. White Americans.
American whiteness has even been bestowed on European Jews, whose
forbears experienced very real and vicious racism in the Old Word
for centuries, along with a kind of conditional, honorary and
second class whiteness extended to some of those Asians and Hispanics
who really, really want it. As for poor southern whites being
victims of racism, how is this possible when in American society,
they have never been defined as a "race"? Victimized
and trash they may have been. But white trash, and as
the old folks say,
If you white, you alright
If you brown, stick around
but if you black, get back,
We do thank Mr. Samuel for writing us, for subscribing
and helping BC stay out here.
Last week's column
recalled a BC cover story of last fall, "The
Low Down on the Down Low" which called upon the corporation
that is Oprah Winfrey to apologize and atone for another one of
its lying authors, HIV-AIDS huckster J. L. King. We said then
and still maintain that Oprah Inc.'s unleashing of the "down-low"
boogeyman theory to explain the increase in HIV-AIDS among black
women did incalculable and lasting damage to the battle for HIV-AIDS
prevention, treatment, and understanding of the epidemic in the
African American community.
At least one of our esteemed readers and subscribers
took polite issue with our stand, so we here reprint her letter
and take the time to explain ourselves.
I enjoy the website's insightful analysis of the
African American condition. You have expressed the viewpoint
that the explosion of HIV in black women is not being spread
by black men who have had homosexual sex. And you say the CDC
agrees that this is not the case but you do not say what is
causing this tragic upsurge. I believe that bisexual men are
playing a role in the pandemic. And I base my opinion on a
knowledge of human behavior. Before the theory of "down-low"
behavior, many women were not aware that many men, white and
black, engage in bisexual sex without identifying themselves
as gay or bisexual. I'm sure some of the increase in HIV among
women is due to intravenous drug use but how many addicts are
I, also, think that a website dedicated to the
Black American condition should examine the theory that AIDS
is not a natural disease.
We are familiar with the work produced by some on
the origins of HIV-AIDS, some of which was cited in the reader's
letter, but which we edited for the sake of brevity. BC
has nothing original to add to that conversation. Whatever the
origins of HIV-AIDS, it is now a global epidemic, with tens of
millions of infected across every continent. It is ravaging India
and China, Russia and southeast Asia, eastern Europe and the Middle
East as well as Africa, the Diaspora and South America. It
is everywhere a disease of the poor, and in the U.S., where African
Americans are disproportionately poor, it is most often a black
A most irresponsible custom these days in what passes
for mainstream journalism is to report on something, some question
of public interest, then to repeat the statement on that same
topic by someone else with an opposing view, no matter how farfetched
or untrue, and then close the story. The reader or viewer is
left to suppose that both sides are equally credible, or that
since "authoritative sources" disagree, it makes no
difference, or perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle.
How many more times do we need to see reputable warnings about
man-made global climate change "balanced" with the hirelings
of oil companies assuring us that there's nothing to worry about?
How often must we hear sane citizens with and without law degrees
reminding us that torture, secret imprisonment without trial and
undeclared wars are illegal and immoral offset by goons saying
this stuff is perfectly OK? "We report, you decide"
is not journalism because it doesn't help people get at the truth.
Due diligence, in journalism, is presenting the truth and being
able to explain how you got it. Journalism is supposed to get
citizens the accurate information they need about the world so
that opinions citizens have can be based on facts.
For BC's "The Low Down on
the Down Low" story, we did eight telephone interviews with
three M.D.s, and with five people who had advanced degrees in
Public Health. Several people qualified in more than one category.
Two of our interviewees were published HIV-AIDS researchers.
Three were directors or key staff of HIV-AIDS treatment and advocacy
organizations or contractors of state government. One was involved
in inmate health care and another was an employee of or consultant
to the Centers for Disease Control. We consulted material on
the CDC web site along with speeches and articles of the researchers
interviewed and other researchers not interviewed and read two
or three dozen articles by others on the topic, and links to some
of this material were contained in the article.
Every single medical doctor, public health professional,
researcher, or treatment and prevention advocate BC
talked to, whether on or off the record agreed with the CDC that
is no evidence bisexual men are chiefly or largely responsible
for the rise in HIV-AIDS among black women. The "down low
brutha" is a racist and a homophobic slander that has lasting
traction only because some in our community still hold the discredited
view that HIV-AIDS is a "gay disease." In their minds,
the only way black women can get this "gay disease"
is from heedless and predatory bisexual black men. This so-called
"down-low" theory misdirects us from our own responsibility
and from doing the things we need to do to fight the epidemic.
To quote a little of our "down low" article:
"Secretive sexual behavior has been around
since the dawn of time," said Dr. Malebranche to BC.
"Why is it that now we need a new name for this behavior,
aside from our need to blame and demonize black men, and distract
our attention from what’s really going on? … Aside from…injected
drug use, most of it [AIDS] comes from one place - unprotected
sex. And most of the sex that most of us are having and
continue to have with partners of the same or either sex continues
to be unprotected. It’s foolish, and in the context of
an epidemic it’s dangerous to imagine that so-called ‘down low
brothers’ have a corner on the market for risky behavior or
unprotected sex. They don’t. We all have a hand
"The myth of the downlow fails to accurately
explain where the virus comes from or equip us to protect ourselves
and each other.... Oprah’s producers must have known that
however false and misleading it might be, their "down low"
show would attract viewers and be remembered by them, just like
that low-down hustler J.L. King knew it would sell books.
The market has an endless appetite for shocking tales of unique
Repeating and endorsing tales of depravity to sell
books and rope in daytime TV viewers is not journalism. BC's
budget and staff are a lot smaller than Oprah Inc., but we'll
stand our fact-based journalism up against their destructive boogeyman
myth-making any time.
Finally, last week marked the release of CBC Monitor's
second report card on the performance of the Congressional Black
Caucus. For too long, black journalism has done nothing but celebrate
our political leadership, rather than demand accountability from
it. CBC Monitor is at the vanguard of this renewed demand that
black elected officials represent their voters rather than their
campaign contributors or their Democratic Minority Leader.
Here is what reader Edythe Jones sent us on the
RIGHT ON for the latest CBC Report Card. Keep the
pressure on the traitors and the weak. Let's know why it is important
to flush the pollution in the next electoral cycle.
We, and our colleagues at CBC Monitor intend to
do just that. The next CBC report card will roughly coincide
with what used to be called Congressional Black Caucus week, and
is now called something else around the first of September. But
much sooner than that, CBC Monitor and Black Commentator are toying
with the idea of an awards ceremony and dinner to be held somewhere
in the Washington DC area in late spring or early summer. What
kind of awards? We're glad you asked.
Back in 1996, George Curry's now unfortunately deceased
Emerge magazine ran one of the most famous covers in recent black
journalism. Drawing attention to Justice Clarence Thomas's career
of legal and extralegal perfidy, Curry depicted him as "Uncle
for the Far Right." Emerge's "lawn jockey"
cover gave us all something to laugh about in the middle of a
very tough time for black America, and something to think about
too. It wasn't mere negativity. It was a valid political statement,
a cogent reminder of what the vast majority of our people did
and still do believe, of what our forbears in the Freedom movement,
the anti-lynching movement of our mothers and grandmothers, of
our predecessors in Reconstruction and the resistance to slavery
all knew: that a better world is possible, and it depends on
us and our solidarity.
Brother Curry was certainly on to something. While
there is plenty of room for African Americans of differing viewpoints
to come together in a collegial way and do what we can to mutually
advance the fortunes of our people, as in the MMM,
there is also a crying need to hold some of the worst miscreants,
malefactors and race traitors up to public ridicule and derision.
True, it won't change their minds or make them feel any better,
but it may deter others from inadvisable actions.
We like the sound of what may morph into an annual
Lawn Jockey Award event to be held somewhere in the DC area.
We think it honors an established journalistic tradition, and
is freighted with appropriate ridicule and minstrel-show overtones.
Minstrel shows, after all, depicted blacks in the demeaning and
degrading frames of reference favored by racist whites of a bygone
era. Lawn jockey award recipients will be selected too for their
willingness to publicly demean and degrade themselves at the behest
of their benefactors.
There are doubtless other refinements on the "Lawn
Jockey" award matrix that we have not yet considered. What
other kinds of mocking awards might be given to runners-up at
the "Lawn Jockey" ceremony? We will throw that open
to our readers. Email us with your comments and suggestions -
not about who deserves such an award, not yet at any rate. We
are still talking about what some of the other awards should be.
We promise to print some of the best suggestions. Keep it clean,
and we hope to see you in DC later this year at the first annual
Lawn Jockey Awards dinner.
Contact Bruce Dixon at bruce.Dixon@blackcommentator.com.
Your comments are always welcome.
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