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The Jayson Blair - New York Times affair is a portal to the labyrinth of American racism. Deep in the tangle of passageways and diversions lies the central question of Power. Notions of prestige, merit, fairness and process present themselves along the way, drawing the visitor into intriguing areas of tangential discussion. But it's all really about who's got the Power - to hire or fire, promote or discard, elevate or vilify.

In our May 15 Cover Story, subtitled "Blaming Affirmative Action for White Folk's Mistakes," we attempted to get to the heart of a matter that is made elusive only by the pervasive racism that beclouds American perceptions.

The Times needs an affirmative action program because it does a terrible job of hiring competent Black reporters, many hundreds of whom are willing and able to perform the corporate mission. The same racism that has historically prevented the Times from sufficiently staffing itself with minorities also causes it to hire the wrong candidates. White people have been screwing up affirmative action since before the term was coined, sometimes on purpose, more often through an inability to objectively assess non-whites - one of the definitions of racism

The problem at the Times is a general American problem which, through the magic of corporate media's efficient dissemination of shared white delusions, is made to appear as an aspect of Black group unworthiness.

A good way to begin this week's EmailBox column, we think, is with a letter requesting "clarification" of our May 15 commentary. Patty Brockingham, of Victoria Island, Canada discovered through a posting on IndyMedia Victoria. Below is her letter, followed by our response:

I just read this article. I'd like to ask a question to clarify, so I don't take something from this article that it is not trying to convey. Are you saying that Jayson Blair is not responsible at all for his actions and it is completely the New York Times who is at fault?


We are saying that the principles of "affirmative action" are not to blame for Jason Blair's behavior, that white people are to blame for racial disparities in the U.S. and cannot be trusted to behave objectively in hiring and firing simply because they claim to now practice "affirmative action," and that the New York Times is no arbiter of objectivity or fairness in any case.

That's what we said.

We also believe that white institutions use affirmative action as a cover to continue the kind of Black hiring they have always practiced - if they have hired Blacks, at all. White managers choose Blacks they believe will reflect well on their institution's racial image. (Black managers at white-dominated institutions often use the same criteria, re: Times managing editor Gerald Boyd, whose presence appears to have no effect on the paper's corporate culture.) This kind of "double standard" - a self-serving white invention - rejects Blacks who make whites uncomfortable (a helluva burden to overcome) and elevates Blacks who possess white people-pleasing skills. The theoretical goals of diversity are defeated by white subjectivity, and enormous distortions are inflicted on Black society, which must look to role models from a list of African Americans compiled on the basis of white imperatives. Thus, Jackie Robinson, who by most accounts was not the best player in the Negro Leagues, was chosen to break the color bar because of his ability to bear white insults, stoically.

If you have read any absolution of Jayson Blair into our commentary, it is a product of your imagination.

As Washington Post columnist Terry Neal points out, the New York Times "diversity" program that introduced Jayson Blair to the paper recruited 37 persons, only 16 of whom were minorities. "Of those, seven have been promoted, and only three - of which Blair was one - have been black," Neal reported. The program began in 1995.

No wonder the Times makes such a fuss about the Blair embarrassment - he represented one-third of their Black "diversity" success stories! It is clear that the paper was not prepared to expose itself to any large measure of Black malfeasance - or excellence.

Racists are capable of turning almost any tool to the purpose of humiliating non-whites. reader Janet Hoo knows the deal. She writes:

Your article regarding Jayson Blair and the New York Times was incredibly insightful and well written. Your article voiced what I have been feeling, but was unable to verbalize.

Thank you for this thoughtful article. I am grateful that voices such as yours are out there.

It is no slight against non-African American minorities to point out that affirmative action was originally conceived to redress specific historical injustices against Blacks. Then, in the blink of an eye, all racial minorities were compelled to compete with one another in the affirmative action sideshow, and white women were thrown into the mix. We have wound up with no choice but to defend the feeble, limitlessly subjective concept of "diversity" - not a call to "action" at all, but an amorphous and highly manipulable "goal" divorced from history.

Given the actual results of the New York Times recruitment and promotions program, as outlined by the Post's Terry Neal, it is fair to say that the Times never really mounted an effort worthy of the name affirmative action - at least, not for African Americans.

Haiti: Deep wounds and strangulation

Voices from Haiti speak of an escalating, U.S. abetted terror campaign against supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. American diplomats, frustrated that a three-year aid embargo against the island nation has failed to topple the elected government, openly employ the language of "regime change." (See "U.S. Plots Regime Change in Haiti," May 15.) Assassins and saboteurs associated with previous military rulers operate with impunity from the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Uncertainty envelops the buildup to next year's bicentennial celebration of Haiti's glorious victory over French slavery to become the world's first Black republic. As a discreetly anonymous observer reported from the island:

"The symbolism of having a populist government in Haiti, that represents the interests of the poor black majority, is intolerable to US foreign policy, especially as all the parallels with the history of US slavery are sure to be drawn," said a well-placed observer who must remain nameless due to the atmosphere of terror in the country. "They want a subservient client in power when the bicentennial comes down. They cannot control Aristide, therefore they must do as they always have in these situations, destroy him and his government by any means necessary."

In an April 24 Guest Commentary, former TransAfrica Forum President Randall Robinson wrote of an unfolding, "bloodless coup" that has, nevertheless, proved fatal to many thousands of Haitians:

But there are bodies. They are the bodies of Haiti's nameless, faceless poor who, no longer able to bend, break. They buckle under the weight of an embargo that - incredibly - denies their elected government already-approved loans for safe drinking water, literacy programs, and health care that they need. They die out of earshot, out of sight, and unremarked by "those who matter" beyond their shores.

The U.S. cites "irregularities" in Haiti's 2000 elections to justify the aid embargo. contributor Kevin Pina supplied this retort from a member of President Aristide's Lavalas Party:

"Regardless of the problems we had with our elections it is pure hypocrisy for the US to lecture us about democracy and methods for counting our ballots. It is very ironic that the world's first black republic, which arose from the world's only successful slave revolution, is being lectured to by a government whose methods of determining victory in a presidential election were originally designed over 200 years ago by a small clique of white male slave owners."

Reader Steven Hunt digested these articles, and seethed.

I became very angry as I read Randall Robinson's article on Haiti. So much disinformation in the dominant press; I jump to the conclusion that there is a deeply set racism that keeps journalists from even doing cursory research into the Haiti situation.

The fact that the US government hates the authentic democratic aspirations of the dominant political party, Lavalas, is in keeping with this nation's hatred of democratic people's movements worldwide.

Randall Robinson and Kevin Pina are incredible people. I hope you keep us posted on what is going on in Haiti, because even in the left/progressive press most journalists have a blind spot for Haiti, the first nation to successfully free itself from racist colonial domination.

Keep up the good work, Black Commentator. Hopefully in the near future you can change your name to the Black Instigator because the African American community is one of our last hopes if we are to initiate a revived progressive democratic politics in the US.

Victory declared for Glover

Actor/activist Danny Glover is deeply involved in Haiti's bicentennial celebration. As chairman of TransAfrica's board of directors, Glover has also spoken out against the U.S. embargo against Cuba and Bush's war on Iraq.

Judicial Watch and other Hard Right outfits demanded that MCI fire Glover as the telecommunications giant's ad spokesman. TransAfrica mounted a counter campaign, urging MCI customers to email and telephone their support for Glover. (See "Danny Glover Targeted as MCI Spokesman," May 15.)

Last week, TransAfrica President Bill Fletcher issued another "Urgent Alert":

We Celebrate A Victory

"Our contract with Danny Glover runs through January
2004 and we intend to honor our contract... "

This message resonates with the sound of victory for our "Dial-in for Democracy" Campaign. It was launched in response to the right-wing attack on TransAfrica Forum Board Chairperson Danny Glover. Our action alert last week asked friends and supporters to contact MCI to insist that it not back down in its relationship with Danny in the face of attacks from right-wing extremists. Our alert was followed by an outstanding commentary by Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show (May 15th), along with other media attention. A massive response ensued. MCI was deluged with telephone calls, e-mails and faxes.

This morning we confirmed that the message above is the official position of MCI. To put it in another way, we won!

On behalf of TransAfrica Forum, I personally thank you for your overwhelming support. Dial-in for Democracy was not simply about defending Danny Glover and his right to appear in television spots for MCI. It is about Danny Glover's right to free speech without fear of being targeted and isolated from any entity with which he chooses to be associated. It is about the rights of all of us to be free to oppose the policies of this administration without fear of reprisal, repression or the bully-type tactics that characterized the war on Iraq. If these extremists can successfully silence Danny Glover, they are a step closer to silencing all of us.

While this immediate campaign was a success, none of us can afford to rest on our laurels. What has become clear is that there are active forces who wish to narrow the acceptable space for debate. Using smear tactics and fear, their hope is to crush opposition to their agenda. We cannot ever permit this to happen. This effort in support of Danny is a reminder that in a society that professes democratic values, we all have a right, and in fact a responsibility, to express our views and be heard.

Again, thanks very much for your support.

In struggle,

Bill Fletcher, Jr., President
TransAfrica Forum

For those who appreciate Danny's artistry, please note, he is currently performing on Broadway in Athol Fugard's critically-acclaimed "Master Harold" and the boys.

These days, we will take our victories anyplace we can find them.

EP Verdi makes an interesting contribution to the MCI-Glover conversation:

You might be interested to note in any follow-ups to the Danny Glover story that MCI (ex WorldCom) has (a) close political and financial ties to the Bush administration and (b) was recently awarded a lucrative contract in Iraq although they were recently fined $500 million for an accounting scandal which netted them $11 billion.

"WorldCom Deal in Iraq Troubles Critics"

It doesn't surprise me that Bush supporters/employees are bringing pressure to bear on MCI. Smear campaigns against critics of Bush and the invasion of Iraq have been fanned by big financial/political supporters of Bush (such as Clear Channel, the radio network that blacklisted artists like the Dixie Chicks). The editors of Rock and Rap reported that ClearChannel first started harassing the Dixie Chicks at the behest of the White House.

Note that MCI isn't "firing" Glover ... just "moving to new creative [ad campaign] which is more closely tied to our new MCI corporate branding campaign in terms of its look and feel."

I hope more publications expose the White House's inexcusable campaign of harassment of artists' dissent.

Barbara Bruneau got her licks in, while the campaign lasted.

Thank you for your coverage on Danny Glover's persecution. I am outraged by this rampant neo-McCarthyism (hitting us on all fronts), and have e-mailed MCI, and everyone else I can think of.

Elaine Cole, of Joseph, Oregon, had written the Glover case off as lost. (And, of course, the victory was only partial, in that Glover was not terminated, outright.) Although Ms. Cole was a bit off about the outcome, she's on the mark about everything else.

What MCI did to Mr. Glover was loathsome; if not the act, the rationale (irrationale?) behind it. But I got to thinking, why would anyone decent want to be associated with this rotten POS company, anyway? And so I present to you my letter to MCI regarding Danny:

Regarding the issue of Danny Glover and MCI, Mr. Glover ought to thank the heavens above that he will not be associated with your horrid company. Your reason for breaching the agreement with Mr. Glover is yet another despicable sign of the times, in the Bush game of "how low can you go." You have just been fined $500 million for nine billion dollars worth of fraud, and right on the heels of that ruling you have "miraculously" acquired the contract to build the Iraq cell network. I wonder how that fine piece of bargaining came about. Are you going to rebuild in Iran, too? Syria? Lebanon? Like the Bush Gang, you at MCI have dirty hands and sticky fingers. Mr. Glover is well rid of any association with you. MCI: Malfeasance, Corruption, Ignorance.

I think I pretty well covered it all. Mr. Glover is too fine a man to jeopardize his integrity by associating with criminals.

I use the term "hyena" when describing corporations like MCI. They lurk, they steal, they laugh while they're doing it.

We like Ms. Cole's style.

Malcolm, an upright Black Man

The demeanor and character of Malcolm X shaped the moral outlook of a generation of Black men and women. Malcolm stood - as a Man.

The Negro "revolution" is controlled by these foxy white liberals, by the government itself. But the black revolution is controlled only by God.
The black revolution is the struggle of the nonwhites of this earth against their white oppressors. The black revolution has swept white supremacy out of Africa, out of Asia, and is getting ready to sweep it out of Latin America. Revolutions are based upon land. Revolutionaries are the landless against the landlord. Revolutions are never peaceful, never loving, never nonviolent. Nor are they ever compromising. Revolutions are destructive and bloody. Revolutionaries don't compromise with the enemy; they don't even negotiate. Like the flood in Noah's day, revolution drowns all opposition, or like the fire in Lot's day, the black revolution burns everything that gets in its path.

(From "Chickens Come Home to Roost" speech, December 4, 1965)

C. Lee wrote us the most poignant letter of the week.

Reading your article of Malcolm's speech brought back memories. In the summer of 1959 my mother brought me to New York City. I had been living in the South under America's racist apartheid system .I had never heard a Black man speak like that before. It made me proud to be Black.

Sex overstated in African AIDS

The rich and the racist always describe problems that they choose not to address as "intractable" for one reason or the other, while pursuit of their own comfort and privilege is eminently "tractable." Thus, the intractable aspect of the African AIDS pandemic is said to result from unique and fatal patterns of sexual conduct south of the Sahara.

In our May 15 item, "Sex Less a Factor in African AIDS," we noted the findings of economic anthropologist David Gisselquist, who has concluded that sex is an exaggerated factor in the spread of the virus.

Gisselquist found that the mothers of 39 percent of HIV-positive Congolese babies were uninfected by the disease. The infants had probably been exposed to the virus by substandard health facilities. In Zimbabwe, said the article, "HIV incidence rose by 12 percent per year during the 1990s, even as sexually transmitted diseases sank by 25 percent overall and condom use rose among high-risk groups." Zimbabweans got the message, but the disease kept spreading.

Poverty and lack of development are the great abettors of AIDS in Africa - a fact that should have been obvious to anyone not intent on condemning Africans to some special, subhuman zone of amorality. It is clear that a racialist view of sex and AIDS is as virulent a threat to Africa as the disease, itself.

Gisselquist's conclusions are widely shared, as we were informed by David Crowe, President of the Alberta (Canada) Reappraising AIDS Society.

It is good to see coverage of the important papers by Gisselquist et al that question whether AIDS in Africa is heterosexually transmitted.

People have swallowed the story that Africa is a seething orgy for years. But, this appears to be thinly disguised racism with politically correct icing. It is ironic that AIDS is fading away in America which is more sex-obsessed than anywhere, but in Africa when many cultures are quite sexually conservative, and many people have more basic concerns than sex (e.g. getting enough food to eat) AIDS is supposedly growing rapidly.

Gisselquist's papers postulated two hypotheses. They argued against heterosexual transmission and they argued for medical transmission (e.g. dirty needles).

That second hypothesis seems more tenuous, and it is not the only possible alternative hypothesis. Another is that AIDS is not an infectious disease in Africa at all. Note that the definition of AIDS used in the Third World, the W.H.O.'s 'Bangui' definition, allows AIDS to be diagnosed without an HIV test based on three of the following four symptoms - persistent fever, cough, diarrhea or weight loss (> 10% of body weight).

This sounds remarkably like what one would expect from malnutrition, exposure to parasites, poor living conditions, and lack of treatment for tropical diseases. The real scandal may be that by redefining malnutrition as AIDS the solution becomes ... you guessed it ... expensive (and highly toxic) Western pharmaceuticals rather than adequate nutrition, clean water and housing!

Unwanted DC Vouchers

Washington DC's residents overwhelmingly oppose private school vouchers. The District is among the most Democratic jurisdictions in the country. Mayor Anthony Williams handily won re-election last year, and need fear no Republican challenger in the foreseeable future. Only three months ago, Williams vowed to resist White House pressures to accept $75 million dollars in unwanted voucher money, calling that his "immovable position."

Suddenly, as if massively dosed with Ex-Lax, Williams was moved to abject capitulation, as we reported in our May 8 piece, "Black Spinelessness in High Places."

Back in February, Williams pretended to have a spine and a decent respect for his constituents, who only months before had polled 76 percent against private school vouchers. A whopping 85 percent of Black Washingtonians rejected vouchers. Anti-voucher sentiment goes way back. In 1981, 90 percent of DC voters turned down a scheme to fund vouchers through a tax credit. But the White House is determined to make Washington a showcase for school privatization ....

He has exposed himself as just another Voucher Trickster - albeit one lacking even minimal skills at sleight of hand. He robs the office of all dignity, and shames a Black city.

Steve O'Sullivan writes to put in "a shameless plug for my wife Melody Webb," who heads the anti-voucher "Coalition for Accountable Public Schools."

I agree entirely with your commentary about this. It is so telling that the Republicans are trying to get this passed by bypassing the regular political process (you know, votes, and stuff like that), since they know that as soon as there is an informed debate about this all these truths about who is putting up and money and who will receive the money will come out. Further, it is either heavily ironic or heavily insulting that they talk about "choice", when the means they use to get this passed is by relying on the complete lack of choice and self-government which the citizens of Washington DC have. When they start talking about choice in terms of voting rights, then I'll believe them.

We urge our DC readers to check out the Coalition's web site.

Sharpton's responsibilities

views Rev. Al Sharpton's presidential candidacy as essentially an intra-Black Democratic affair whose effectiveness must be measured in terms of its impact on Black power within the Party. (See "What the Black Presidential Candidate Must Do," April 24.) Electability has nothing to do with it. Rather, the primaries present an opportunity to counter the contention that the Black bloc vote has been extinguished - wishful thinking enthusiastically embraced by corporate media, Republicans and many white Democrats.

Their common goal is to fracture the Black vote and, thereby, eliminate from American political debate the essential elements of the broad Black political agenda. If the Black bloc vote is fractured, or can be made to appear unfocused, the media will declare that the African American vote is no longer strategically important. From that point on in national contests, the Black electorate will be treated as less than the sum of its purportedly scattered parts.

David N. Johnson is concerned that the Black candidate energize the electorate from the bottom, up.

I must agree with your assessment of the national scene with regards to the presidential race and Al Sharpton. But I think you under-defined his role as a national spoke person/candidate for a black agenda. The truly black candidate for president must support a black agenda at the national, international, regional and, particularly, the local the level.

The local level is where we all exist. It was Tip O'Neal who said all politics is local. I believe this. For there are activist struggling against the forces of reaction on the ground and with the people. The black presidential candidate must be willing to stand with the grass roots activist instead of posturing and avoiding the nitty gritty local issues. In other words the black candidate must be willing to take a principled stand at every level of the struggle: locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Otherwise the black candidate appears to be vying to become the new broker of the black vote and settling for voter registration dollars and time to speak at the democratic national convention.

Yes voter registration and sending more people to congress is needed but if these congressional delegates are as weak as the current crop then their value is dubious. How many members of the Congressional Black caucus came to the aid of Cynthia McKinney? Where are they on the question of land in Zimbabwe?

Another concrete case in point was the most recent mayoral election in Chicago where so-called black leadership's silence in that election in the city was bought and sold by the Daley administration despite police brutality, poor schools, gentrification of historic black communities, and the displacement of black folks to the suburbs. All along the major "civil rights" organizations and the black congressional leadership vied to get the academy award for the deaf, dumb and the blind!

Sharpton came to Chicago and dodged the black candidate for mayor of Chicago who was the only voice speaking to the issues in Chicago.

The days of flying into town, giving a speech and flying out with out helping to build independent political organizations in black communities must end. The black candidate for president must give impetus to and support for real grassroots organization at the local level with regional and national linkages. Anything less than this is tokenism.

Two weeks after the mayoral election, a leading black journalist, Salim Muwakil, was fired by the Chicago Tribune because of his opposition to the Bush administration's march toward war without a response from the local black political establishment.

Black elected officials and the presidential candidates must commit to building political institutions outside of the regular Democratic Party. Otherwise black folks will continue to be taken for granted by Democrats and ignored and/ or out right attacked by Republicans. Worst yet black people become further despondent as they experience the ravages of the postindustrial/global economy and the rightward drift in domestic policy.

Running for president without a strategy and plan for building local organizations is like trying to build a house from the roof down.

Black Harvard in perspective

While rummaging through our archives, Harvard Ph.D. candidate Jason Glenn came upon a Guest Commentary he found unsettling. Shelton Amstrod's December 5 "Harvard: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Institution" is a sweeping indictment of both the university and a large chunk of its Black alumnae.

[W]hy have so many Blacks with suspect motives, and having no organic relationship to any Black institution, been placed in front of Blacks to speak on Blacks' behalf? Maybe it is time to examine the legacy of this institution to understand the nature of those Blacks who so proudly wear its brand. Such Blacks continue to be given extraordinary access to public airwaves to opine on and interpret the Black condition for white America. More than a generation ago Adam Clayton Powell confidently asserted that Harvard has "ruined more negroes than bad whiskey." A brief racial history of America's intellectual Vatican puts its special role, and Powell's biting assessment, in proper context ....

Ultimately, those Blacks who seek to append themselves to this corrupt legacy will suffer a shameful disgrace. For increasing numbers of Blacks today are in complete agreement with the great "uneducated" freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer, who could not have been clearer when recounting the battles she fought for political representation and justice:

"Everybody that would compromise in five minutes was the people with a real good education. I don't understand that - I really don't to save my life. Them folks will sell you - they will sell your mama, their mama, anybody else for a dollar."

Doctoral candidate Glenn, at Harvard's Department of the History of Science, believes Mr. Amstrod's piece lacks proper context.

An informative article for sure, but it is an argument that could benefit from a more sophisticated and complex presentation. Certainly, the history of almost every single white institution in this country would reveal a great deal of racism in its past and present, and a great many of the Black people emerging from those institutions are "house Negroes" that have been co-opted to a greater or lesser extent. Harvard, in this sense, is no exception. Having spent some significant time with them, one could examine the past graduates of HBCUs and also find just as many sell-outs, Uncle Tom's and house Negroes - if not more - because of the greater number of Blacks that attend. The reason being that the Black schools, trying to prove themselves against the standard of the white institutions, often have a more rigorously European curriculum than the HWCUs.

As Carter G. Woodson tried to teach us as far back as 1933, it's not the institution or any inherent evil on the part of people who attend them that produces racism among whites and self-hatred among Blacks, but the content of the textbooks. If the texts are the same, it doesn't matter where the student went to school. What does make the difference is the perspective with which a student reads those texts. If you know the texts you are reading are the ones used to validate and legitimize the current world system, and replicate - generation after generation - the set of behaviors that keeps that system in place, then you read those texts with the purpose of deconstructing them, not as the truth that would make one "educated." (And Woodson, by the way, received his Ph.D. from Harvard - the very first Ph.D. whose parents were slaves - and one could by no means classify Woodson as a "ruined Negro.)

I write this not trying to defend Harvard, heavens no, but just to add some balance to the discussion. I would hate to have Harvard singled out as the seat of racism and have people attending Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Brown, etc., thinking their schools do not have a similar history.

New Orleans funk

Thaddeus Delay is a bookstore manager at Xavier University in New Orleans, a city of many contradictions that escape the tourist. Delay describes his current occupation as "working for the white man," while he aspires to achieve "a better day." In between, the scene gets gloomy.

I haven't begun reading your latest issue and I am already excited and saddened by the discussions that will be generated. We are at an amazingly volatile time in humanity. Our basic belief systems are being assaulted daily, our existence gambled and still we can only hope for an unimportant victory on 'American Idol'. America is truly revealing her evil nature, both at home and abroad, yet some of us still treat her as though she is a nurturer to be admired. Living in one of the most downtrodden cities in this America, New Orleans, I see everyday how our lack of recognition and sometimes denial of this 'Great White Assault' will leave us crippled with poverty, fear, and hatred ....

It is truly amazing the depth of ignorance in this society. I applaud you on changing the curve ever so slightly because it is an uphill battle. Keep up the good fight.

We hope and trust that Mr. Delay's place of employment has Molefi Kete Asante's latest work in stock. Dr. Asante is an esteemed author and professor at the Department of Africology, Temple University - and a reader.

You are so good it is unbelievable. I want to thank you for your strong, consistent, and brilliant insights into the contemporary news items. Please watch out for my new book, "Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation."

Dr. Asante's book is available at

Keep writing.

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