Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Saturday, March 20, 2004  

Law: Neo-Confederate hero loses legal battle

The saga of the aged, but not improved, Maurice Bessinger, marches on. Longterm readers of Silver Rights will recall the Southern colonel with a fondness for slavery and segregation from previous entries. The septugenarian multimillionaire is in the news again after the courts just said no to another of his frivolous legal sallies.

Charleston, SC (AP) - A state judge has dismissed Confederate flag supporter Maurice Bessinger's lawsuit against four grocery store chains that decided not to sell his mustard-based barbecue sauce.

Bessinger had sued Piggly Wiggly, Bi-Lo, Kroger and Publix.

State lawmakers agreed in 2000 to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome.

Bessinger later raised the Confederate flag over his Piggie Park restaurants in Columbia, where he also distributes literature with titles including "The South Was Right" and "Myths of American Slavery."

The chains stopped selling the barbecue sauce because of Bessinger's views.

Circuit Judge William Keesley ruled Bessinger failed to show the stores violated the state's unfair trade practices act because they stopped buying his products.

Bessinger has filed six lawsuits stating various claims that he was wronged by the supermarkets, despite not having a legal leg to stand on. The bulk of the case filed in federal court was dismissed last October. Bessinger had claimed the stores were denying him his right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment by refusing to keep his mustard flavored barbecue sauce on their shelves.

The First Amendment claim was bound to fail for a very basic reason.

Bessinger and his supporters seem unable to grasp the fact that private individuals and entities are free not to associate themselves with views they don't agree with, including refusing to sell products produced by persons holding unsavory perspectives. Only when the government punishes persons for expressing their views does a freedom of expression claim arise.

Since there is no state action involved in the supermarkets' refusal to carry Bessinger's product, he was barking up the wrong tree to the tune of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Bessinger's Unfair Trade Practices claim also suffers a basic defect.

In last week's ruling, Circuit Judge William Keesley said Maurice Bessinger failed to show the stores violated South Carolina's unfair trade practices act.

"There is no claim that the defendants are contractually bound to conduct business with Bessinger," Keesley wrote.

Absent a contract with the grocers, Bessinger has no standing to sue under the Act. The stores were free to stop marketing his product at any time and for any reason they wanted to.

In addition, South Carolina caselaw requires the defendants in an action brought under the Act, Title 39, Chaper 5, have adversely impacted the public interest.

To be actionable under the Unfair Trade Practices Act, the unfair or deceptive act or practice in the conduct of trade or commerce must have an impact upon the public interest; the act is unavailable to redress a private wrong where the public interest is not affected. Noack Enterprises, Inc. v. Country Corner Interiors of Hilton Head Island, Inc. (S.C.App. 1986) 290 S.C. 475, 351 S.E.2d 347, certiorari dismissed 294 S.C. 235, 363 S.E.2d 688. Trade Regulation 862.1

The facts of the case fall directly under Noack -- a private dispute, in which the defendants are not having a negative impact on the public interest. An argument could even be made that the grocery stores are acting in favor of the public interest by refusing to contribute to racial tensions in a state with a history of divisiveness.

Maurice Bessinger can afford to continue his frivolous lawsuits. Indeed, if he were not spending the money on legal fees, he might be using it to produce more pro-slavery and pro-segregation propaganda. However, before bringing legal actions reasonable people should consider whether their grievances meet the basic requirements under the statutes or constitutional provisions they think applicable.

posted by J. | 6:00 PM

Wednesday, March 17, 2004  

American Idol site reflects racism of society

I've rarely watched American Idol. But, it is so omniprescient that anyone who keeps up with current events becomes aware of it. I have been paying attention this time around because a woman from my native North Carolina is currently considered the leader of the pack. Fantasia Barrino is a 19-year-old from High Point (part of the Golden Triangle of textile towns with Greensboro and High Point). She is photogenic, fashion model thin and, of real importance, has pipes. I made my first ever visits to American Idol's message boards to read up on Fantasia. I did learn more about the gifted young woman. But, I also learned or relearned what I already know about Americans. The message the site hopes to convey, one of respect for talent I hope, is marred by the bigotry of the posters. Currently, there are at least a dozen threads attacking Fantasia, the black performers and black judge on American Idol or African-Americans more broadly. Let's consider one of the benighted's entries at length.

I have, in the past, enjoyed watching the American Idol show.

But it has run its course and is now Motown Idol, certainly not American Idol.

I am just sick and tired of hearing the same old 60s and 70s Motown selections by the contestants who all seem to want to duplicate sounding like Aretha Franklin or some other Black warble-voiced church choir screamer and jive performer. This is not a racial comment, this is a question of style and vocal technique and song selection.

This is not supposed to be Black Entertainment Network or the Motown Contest. It is supposed to be American Idol, which spans all types of music and backgrounds.

There is a LOT of good music out there. The judges and the contestants need to quit appeasing the BET audience and appeal to some of us who appreciate all sides of music, including country (like Rascal Flatts or Faith Hill), or how about some nice Beatles tunes, or even some Green Day, or Alanis Morissette? Eh? I would even take a Fiona Apple song over the crap I heard last night for the 10,000th time. Why don't you encourage your contestants to be judged on uniqueness, not just tone and pitch and bellowing.

I am no longer interested in listening to the same old boring, regurgitated crap that was brainwashed into us during the 60s, 70s and 80s from Motown because of record promotion companies incessantly playing songs that made it to the top ten. Oh please. We all understand brainwashing and marketing. But this does not equate to talent.

You need to dump Randy Jackson who probably has never bought or bothered to listen to a non-Motown-sounding song in his life. Wake-up Randy, you are a bore. And Paula please. You are donkey-kisser and I wonder if you are still wearing your cheer-leader outfit under your normal street clothes each day.

There was nothing different last night and these past weeks except for the pale red-head 16 year old.

This was the worst group of talent I have seen from your show. And I bet, our country friend, and Idol loser, Josh Gracin will beat the pants off the Motown copycats in future sales and career success.

Mike is savvy enough to issue a disclaimer that he is not being bigoted before going right on to prove he is. The fellow who posted a competing thread, "It is time for a white boy to win American Idol?" isn't. But, Mike's genuflection to fairness aside, he is anything but. He says:

I am just sick and tired of hearing the same old 60s and 70s Motown selections by the contestants who all seem to want to duplicate sounding like Aretha Franklin or some other Black warble-voiced church choir screamer and jive performer.

I find it hard to believe that anyone who is truly a fan of American music can hate the influence of West African music on it. That influence is inextricable. When I say 'it,' I mean all music developed in America -- blues, rock, jazz, pop, country and, of course soul. When someone makes the kind of remark Mike has, I suspect either he is extremely unknowing about the history of American music or he has an agenda other than being a fan.

My understanding is that AI has highlighted different genres of American music by having theme weeks. So, it seems doubtful that Mike's claim that the show only showcases "bellowing" Negroes is based in fact. It may be true that country (and probably jazz) have received less attention than pop and soul. That is to be expected, since American Idol, as a network television program, needs to appeal to as broad and audience as possible. And, that broad audience prefers mainstream music. Interestingly, rap, also a less mainstream genre, has not made great inroads into AI either, But, for some reason, Mike expresses no concern about that.

As for the commentator's belief the American public has been brainwashed to like music derived from the work songs of slaves from West Africa, it seems to me there may have been an element of choice in why Americans, of all ethnicities, have made that music the American sound. Could it be, that to many people, here and abroad, the music sounds good?

Mike finds hope despite his belief that 'jive shriekers' and "donkey kissers" have ruined American Idol. Not just any kind of hope. Great white hope.

There was nothing different last night and these past weeks except for the pale red-head 16 year old.

This was the worst group of talent I have seen from your show. And I bet, our country friend, and Idol loser, Josh Gracin will beat the pants off the Motown copycats in future sales and career success.  

He is not alone. On other threads, white performers on American Idol are lauded, not for talent, but for being white. It is a bit of a stretch since some of the bigots, who don't seem to read much, include Justin Guarini (mixed-race, including African-American) and Kelly Clarkson (of Lebanese descent) in their white is right raving.

The responses to Mike's entry vary from agreement to education to the virtual slap upside his empty head he deserves. The educational comments reveal Mike to be not much of an American Idol fan after all. The real fans fill him in about theme nights. (He is blissfully unaware of country music nights, including the upcoming one.) Other commenters tell him about the body of Randy Jackson's work as a producer and a rock bass player. Some of the remarks even address the history of American music. Mike vacillates between trying to back out of the assertions in his entry and making more equally repulsive racist remarks. I concluded he is a bigot, but lacks the backbone to consistently maintain his position under pressure.

It is fashionable to say that the American blight, racism, doesn't impact some areas of our culture. Sport and entertainment are usually offered as examples. But, scholarly examinations of sport and entertainment, particularly of the economic aspects, reveal otherwise. However, one does not have to read a tome about the integration of baseball or a bluesman's biography to see that the blight is just as apparent in those areas as elsewhere. One need only visit Internet message boards and open one's eyes.

posted by J. | 6:09 PM

Tuesday, March 16, 2004  

Part I: Blogger's metier is misinformation

We last discussed Tom Bux at Silver Rights in regard to attacks he made on black elected officials and the NAACP. Bux is unable to reconcile his bigotry and majority rule in such places as Philadelphia. If it were possible, he would repeal the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Not that he is capable of discussing the matter in such sophisticated terms. Instead, he claims African-Americans are the real bigots and the NAACP the source of all evil. But, the core of the matter is that he can't stomach the realities of at least political equality. When majority rule means people of color being elected to high positions, he regrets its existence.

But, Bux's reactionary beliefs do not stop with racism, sexism and homophobia. He fears a Great Liberal Conspiracy conspiracy is taking over America. Therefore, he has armed himself with twelve guns. Bux found the most recent evidence of the conspiracy at a public school meeting.

Public School's Evil Nature

I was at a meeting yesterday at a public school, and we were talking about various programs and services they are offering. And one thing they discussed disturbed my greatly.

They were talking about a grant offered by the American Cancer society, and as part of it the promoted cirriculum in schools which indoctrinate kids in anti big business and anti big tobacco thought.

These kids are required to write their favorite restaurant pleading with them to go smoke free. It reminds me of a time when I was in school and we had to write President Reagan asking him to save the rainforests. It is not the school's right to push their left wing agenda on these kids. These children with their brains full of much are much too suceptable to this sort of thing, and it's got to stop.

And I also have a bone to pick with the American Cancer Society. This same group who works to keep teens off smoking (a noble goal) wants to take a grant from Kraft Foods to work on nutrition workshops. The Cancer Society said that if they took money from Kraft they would pull their funding because Kraft is owned by Altria, the parent compnay of Phillip-Morris, the tobacco company.

After seeing what sort of political agenda the American Cancer Society has, along with the threat of them pulling funding from already cash strapped non-profits leads me to think that I will no longer give money to these a-holes at the American Cancer Society.

Yes, I am aware of the parade of spelling and grammar errors in the entry. I have chosen not to mar the page with endless sics because Bux's poor writing skills do not interest me nearly as much as his equally poor reasoning skills.

Let's begin with Bux's belief American public schools indoctrinate children to oppose big business. It seems to me just the opposite is occurring, especially at the high school and college levels. Soft drink and junk food companies' vending machine sales are often a significant source of funds. Schools sign contracts excluding competitors from their campuses in return for a share of the proceeds from selling items with no nutritional value to captive audiences. Many colleges have decreased the sizes of or shutdown dining halls in favor of on-site McDonalds and other franchises.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged schools to reconsider unrestricted access to soft drinks.

CHICAGO - In a new policy statement, " Soft Drinks in Schools," the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that school districts should consider restricting the sale of soft drinks to safeguard against health problems that result from overconsumption.

The policy points out that sweetened drinks constitute the primary source of added sugar in the daily diet of children, and that each 12-ounce serving of a carbonated, sweetened soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Sugared soft drink consumption has been associated with increased risk of overweight and obesity, currently the most common medical condition of childhood. Additional health problems associated with high intake of sweetened drinks are dental cavities and potential enamel erosion.

According to the policy, between 56 and 85 percent of school-age children consume at least one soft drink daily. As soft drink consumption increases, milk consumption decreases, and milk is the principal source of calcium in the typical American diet. With soft drinks and fruit drinks being sold in vending machines, in school stores and at school sporting events, their availability is ubiquitous. While soft drink sales can be a substantial source of income for school districts, nutritious alternatives such as water, real fruit juices and low-fat milks are available for vending, and can help preserve school revenues.

Another way schools slide into the pockets of big business is by selling a la carte cafeteria products. Sometimes, the sales are made through the ubiquitous vending machines. However, fast food products can also be incorporated into the kitchen by buying them in bulk from suppliers. They generate more profit for the schools than nutritional products. Affluent schools in the Atlanta area offer typical choices with typical results.

Faced with extra expenses in the school meals budget in the mid-1990s, Fayette County nutrition director Cheryl Calhoun turned to a solution that has worked for hundreds of other school systems: selling fatty foods in large portions a la carte.

Students ate it up.

The a la carte line at Fayette County High School serves 144 pounds of french fries every day. Over a month, that adds up to 5 pounds of fries for every student who goes through the line.

Sales of a la carte food like those fries accounted for about one-quarter of school nutrition program revenues in Fayette County last year.

. . .School lunch programs are nonprofit and self-supporting. Besides food and labor costs, they often must take in enough money to cover utilities, janitorial services, replacement kitchen equipment and garbage pickup. School districts charge more for a la carte food than for lunches that qualify for federal reimbursement, which means more cash for cafeteria budgets.

Food sales are not the only way big business influences schools, but the practice is primary. An effect of the situation is that students, some of them in elementary school, get the message that big business is like Santa Claus -- a provider of goodies. That uncritical thinking may continue for years or a life time. I believe evidence of the cozy relationship between public schools and big business negates Tom Bux's belief that schools indoctrinate children with 'anti big business . . . thought."

Bux continues to ease on down the road of misinformation. Students are, according to him, though I would prefer a more reliable source, being told to write restaurants urging them to go smoke-free. Bux says that means schools are promoting a Leftwing agenda. It seems to me that, if the allegation is true, schools are, in that instance, promoting a health-wing agenda. If not wanting people's health ruined by smoking was only of interest to radicals, I don't believe we would have made the progress we have as a society in regard to curtailing smoking.

I've said time and again that bloggers need to do more research and less running off at the mouth. Assuming that our goal as publishers of weblogs is to purvey information, not misinformation, that should be basic to all of us. However, Bux, like many bloggers, does no research. He mistakes his uninformed opinions for information. Considering Bux's attitude of contempt toward anyone who does not share his paranoia and belief in the Great Liberal Conspiracy, I do not expect him to change. However, perhaps other bloggers will make efforts to support their opinions with facts, and, blog readers will learn to take the Tom Buxes of the blogosphere with a grain of McDonald's prepackaged salt.

For reasons of length and time, I am going to examine Bux's allegations about the American Cancer Society in a separate entry. Since he did not even name the program he claims is being abused by the ACS, I will need to start from scratch. It will take research to find out what really happened. But, I doubt Bux's description of the situation is accurate.

posted by J. | 6:00 PM

Monday, March 15, 2004  

History: Davis reveals real lives of Southern families

Village Voice writer Thulani Davis (pictured) has produced some intriguing writing as part as her investigation of her ancestors -- both the black ones and the white ones. The native of Virginia comes from a long-lived family. Her grandfathers were slaves. She says history some people (conveniently for them) say should be forgotten, was very alive to her.

More important, though, life for me as a Davis growing up in Virginia, with no knowledge of how we came to be called Davis, was still one of rich family lore. My great-grandfather was born in the county where Nat Turner lived and was an adolescent at the time of the revolt. Later on, he was in my hometown when Union troops came, and he rescued his family from the farm where they were kept. I have always felt how recent slavery was because my Davis grandfather was born in slavery and told of seeing the sea battle of the Monitor and Merrimac . We weren't missing anything, and what we knew of the white ancestors was none too good.

Much of her focus is on her great-grandfather's family.

Will Campbell had one child by Chloe Curry, Georgia Campbell Neal, who had one child: Billie Louise Davis, my mother.

. . .Some years ago, when my grandmother died at 94, she was writing a novel based on her life. She left only a few pages and an outline, but her life was indeed novel material. The daughter of Chloe Curry, a cook and tenant farmer who had been enslaved in Alabama, and Will Campbell, a white Mississippi Delta cotton farmer, she was born at the end of Reconstruction and was raised by this pair, who stayed together until his death early in the 20th century. Since I started searching for more clues to the lives of my grandmother and her mother for a book two years ago, I have, for the first time, come face to face with my white ancestors.

. . .The second item I put my hands on there was a letter written by Rush Owen about my great-grandmother Chloe Curry. It is one of the most scathing, hate-filled letters I have ever read, written after Will Campbell's death in 1901. Rush describes the moral "debt" owed by Chloe for having the relationship with my great-grandfather, in which she saw the black woman as the vengeful debaucher of her brother. I was horrified not so much by the moralistic tone, which I would expect, but by the overwrought language that was rage itself. She blamed Chloe for Will's "blighted, tortured life, cut off from his kind," and predicted that when "her flesh shall fall away and her bones are knotted and twisted with pain, she will cry for that second birth that men call death, only to find herself [on] a . . . spirit path of double suffering."

None of us know what happened when Chloe went to work as Will's cook, brought there by his aging housekeeper, but I know that as a married woman with children who lived as a tenant farmer, she had a lot more to lose in any intimacy with the boss than he did as a single, white planter in the Mississippi Delta. Maybe the very fact that the relationship persisted rankled Rush 20 years later.

Davis is amazed and amused by the interplay between stereotype and reality. Though much of her white ancestors' descriptions of racial oppression fits right into a neo-Confederate portrait of happy slaves, what her ancestors of color say belies that.

And then, Chloe defied all the patronizing, if loving, descriptions in the family literature of loyal, witty, and wise African Americans who sat by the family's hearths. In Rush's fiction the servants are life-saving nurses and charming dreamers. From my grandmother's lips to me, Chloe had come to Mississippi to make a new life after slavery; she was independent-minded, tough, and industrious. She had all the skills necessary for most women in the 19th century—farming, cooking, canning, sewing, and quilting. Thanks to a freedman's school in Marion, Alabama, she was literate and could manage her books. There are no such black characters in the writings of the Campbell women.

Apparently, the tendency of intelligent, capable women of color who don't know their place to attract the ire of some white people is not new.

Southern history is still too often viewed through a lens of white privilege. I do not know when Thulani Davis' book will be completed. But, in the interim, I encourage anyone interested in the complex reality of real Southern families to read the articles she is currently publishing based on research into her families -- both black and white.

Learn more about Davis here.

posted by J. | 4:58 PM