Silver Rights

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

Friday, November 26, 2004  

Commentary: Why do they 'front'?

We've considered why someone who is not African-American would support front organizations, such as the African American Republican Leadership Council and Project 21. I believe why the few blacks who are trotted out to represent these groups participate is also worthy of inquiry.

"They put me on TV."

"I want to be like Star Jones."

"It shows that I'm not like other black people. I'm independent."

I have asked and I have gotten answers. There is a temptation to dismiss these people as morbidly shallow, but let's look at their answers more closely anyway.

To a certain kind of person, being on television is the acme of achievement. It doesn't matter why he is on television. Talk television and 'reality' shows on which people make fools of themselves, only to be forgotten within a few months, prove that. Yet, based on what I've observed, the television gambit may be the easiest way to recruit people to organizations such as black front groups. The appeal is to their vanity. And, yes, there is a built-in assumption they are not the sharpest pencils in the box. A thinking person would be interested in why he was being sought. The organizations have been fairly successful. Though the members of the interconnected front groups engage in embarrassingly mindless babble when interviewed, their handlers do put them on television whenever possible. The organizations believe having their rhetoric emerging from a black face serves their purposes, whether what is being said makes any sense or not.

Speaking of vacuous, talk show hostess Star Jones (pictured) is an example what a black person promoted by the far Right can achieve. She meets the criteria -- non-threatening and willing to parrot their views. Jones says she was on welfare, sexually promiscuous and had several abortions before being 'saved' by conservative whites. In other words, but for white patrons, she would be the stereotypical black welfare queen white conservatives put forth as representing black women. She has parlayed her willingness to worship them into superficial, but, one assumes, remunerative success.

The third answer is my favorite because I like irony. It is probably first on the talking points handed to the 'fronts' of Project 21 and other groups. They are expected to believe, or at least to expound, that they are being independent by acting as window dressing for wealthy white conservatives -- whose objectives are invariably detrimental to the interests of poor and working-class people. An independent person educates himself on issues. An independent person is skeptical of arguments that are contrary to common sense or the data on a topic. An independent person makes his own decisions instead of having them dictated by the Olin or Bradley Foundations. An independent person does not need handlers. The last thing the 'fronts' are is independent.

With the Bush administration in office for four more years, I expect to see more recruiting of people of color -- including Hispanics, Indians and Asians, as well as blacks -- for 'front' organizations. The track record of the groups in effecting the electoral process and attracting grass roots support has been abysmal so far. But, we should not be reticent. There is no shortage of opportunists in America. And, no shortage of ill-intentioned people willing to use them.

posted by J. | 8:30 PM

Thursday, November 25, 2004  

Commentary: In search of 'acceptable' blacks

I will be returning to the issue of 'black' front groups run by white conservatives because there is another one that I want to discuss. But, for now, I think it would be beneficial to consider what kind of person would seek out and try to justify organizations such as the African American Republican Leadership Council and Project 21. A blogger has provided insight We will call him "The Disc Jockey." I observed the man for months and gave some thought to what I was seeing. He is a person who surrounds himself with conservative white men who engage in behavior that no reasonable person would doubt has racist and sexist aspects. He invariably claims not to see either. For example, there has been a chronic problem with his friends referring to women by demeaning terms such as 'c---,' 'whore,' 'bitch' and 'ass' in comments on his blog. His see-no-evil policy has largely blinded him to the problem despite the outraged complaints of women, quite a few of whom have stopped participating in the site for that reason. At the same, The Disc Jockey has sought out backward white males, he has been very uncomfortable with women and people of color unless they are subservient. I've observed him clash with just about every blogger of color he has encountered, including one who is a conservative. It appears that those people threaten him by being intelligent and assertive.

I have also observed the man treat two African-Americans in a manner he doubtlessly considers positive. One is a woman from Mississippi with severe literacy problems who grovels in the presence of white people. He showered her with approval. The other is an African man who can barely post a readable sentence in English. Based on my observations, I will hazard a guess that paternalism is TDJ's notion of positive interaction with people of color. Neither of the persons of color approved of are capable enough to be a threat to his notion of his worth. The persons of color who are his equal (actually more than his equal, in my opinion) threaten him. This is not an isolated situation. A typical configuration of an American 'buddy movie,' is white hero with subservient minority sidekick. It probably started with the Lone Ranger and Tonto and hasn't stopped since. White America is still quite uncomfortable with the 'Other' as equal.

But, a person like The Disc Jockey does not want to admit to others, and possibly not to himself, that for all his kneejerk claims of not being a bigot, the 'uppity ones' get his goat. What's a fellow to do? I think the answer is to embrace the relatively few people of color he can bear. That can be accomplished by 'adopting' people like the woman from Mississippi and the man from Africa. Or, one can seek out ready-made 'black' organizations that have the added advantage of not really being about 'them' at all. As I've said in previous entries about 'black' organizations run and funded by far Right foundations, their actual audience is white conservatives. Among the purposes they serve are:

~ Providing a sympathetic mask for retrograde ideas such as opposition to environmental regulations, support of a regressive national sales tax, and advocacy for the tobacco industry,

~ Attempting to mislead the general public about African-American political opinion;

~ Providing a way for conservative whites to 'support' African-Americans without really doing any such thing.

I believe The Disc Jockey sought out Project 21 and one of its black front men for the third purpose. A front group provides a mechanism for a person with his proclivities to delude himself about what his beliefs about 'race' are. He has found 'acceptable' blacks.

What's the art?

A disc jockey.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM

Wednesday, November 24, 2004  

News: Broadcaster retracts 'Aunt Jemima' remark

John Sylvester, the white talk show host targeted by a 'black' front group run by white conservatives, Project 21, has more to say. He has issued a fuller statement of his views regarding national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Sylvester was criticized by conservatives, most of them white, for referring to Rice as 'Aunt Jemima.' In his extended remarks, he says he regrets using that term if it offends African-Americans. Sylvester does not retract his criticism of Rice's role in the Bush administration.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"Every once in a while, the words I use on my radio program seem to create a controversy that take on a life of their own," Sylvester said in a statement issued Monday.

"I'm concerned that I have offended many African-Americans by using a crass term to describe an incompetent, dishonest, political appointee of the Bush administration. I apologize," he said.

. . .In his statement, Sylvester did not, however, apologize for "pointing out that while Condoleezza Rice has clearly enjoyed the American dream, she has allowed herself to be used as a black trophy by an administration who is working so hard to deny that dream to other African-American women."

The statement pointed to what he called Bush's opposition to affirmative action and appointments of "judges who refuse to enforce the civil rights laws."

I said in the previous entry that Sylvester's use of the term was crude, and that better ways of criticizing Bush's African-American appointees existed.

Sylvester criticized two public officials who happen to be African-American for their participation in what he considers wrongheaded foreign policy. One could argue that focusing on how he believes they failed the American people in their roles in the administration would be a better idea than noting their status as tokens.

Now that Sylvester has apologized, the piling on will likely increase. One liberal weblog, Another Liberal Blog, has already referred to him as an 'asshole."

If this Sylvester guy is trying to derail Rice's confirmation, a goal I wholeheartedly support, he's not helping . Her incompetence as NSA has nothing to do with race; it has to do with incompetence. Lack of competence knows no racial boundaries. Likewise, Colin Powell's subservience has nothing to do with race; it's a character flaw. Plenty of 67-year-old career military and government officers swallow their consciences and convictions out of misplaced loyalty to their bosses. If Powell were white, we'd have no term like 'Uncle Tom' to refer to his lack of character. There are plenty of good reasons to hold both Powell and Rice in contempt without bringing race into the picture.

That blogger is wrong. Though race is not the primary issue in the behavior of either Rice or Secretary of State Colin Powell, it is a factor in the role they play for the administration. Their being African-American is used as a form of Teflon to keep the corrupt policies they support from being criticized. Sylvester's error was not in mentioning the role race plays for the pair. It was in using crude terminology. The error is a minor one, in my opinion. Sylvester's two points:

~ The Bush administration is wrongheaded in its foreign policy, and

~ The Bush administration is hostile to the interests of people of color despite having two black appointees

are accurate.

ALB has unwittingly given credence to Right Wing whites like Scott Hogenson of CNS, who tried to claim that Sylvester's faux pas is equivalent to joking about murdering blacks. It is important that thoughtful people keep the matter in perspective. John Sylvester appears to be a person who has long supported the aspirations of people of color. His critics, both white conservatives and their black cat's paws, are largely people hostile to black Americans -- unless the black Americans are Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell.

What's the art?

An image of Aunt Jemima, the icon associated with pancake mix.

Read a history of Aunt Jemima at Ad Age.

posted by J. | 1:25 PM

Tuesday, November 23, 2004  

Opinion: Claims of racism as phony as front group

A recent post by Eric Olsen at Blogcritics led me to revisit Project 21, a front group run by far Right foundations and the GOP. It claims to speak for African-Americans, despite the paucity of support for Right Wing politics among that demographic. About one percent of elected African-American officials are Republicans. Eighty-eight percent of people who voted for George W. Bush in the last election are white. Though Olsen took credit for the perspective in his entry, the meme originated at Conservative News Service, a far Right opinion site that bills itself as a source for news. Managing editor Scott Hogensen (pictured) wrote the entry.

John Sylvester is brilliant.

Sylvester, who hosts a talk show on a small radio station in Madison, Wisconsin, has managed to punch his own ticket and is now basking in his 15 minutes of fame. And all he had to do was use racial epithets to attack black Republicans.

Specifically, Sylvester finds it appropriate to describe for his listeners National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as Aunt Jemima and Secretary of State Colin Powell as Uncle Tom. How progressive of him.

"I'm not a racist," protested Sylvester, a white fellow who claims the reason he referred to Rice as Aunt Jemima was because, "her price of admission to the White House is being subservient."

. . .Tom Walker, a general manager for the company that owns the station on which Sylvester is heard, is sticking by his guy. "He has the right to do it and say it," Walker was quoted as saying in a Nov. 20 report in The Capital Times of Madison. "As long as he isn't hateful and as long as he isn't racist, I'm fine with it."

Walker is "fine" with this employee using racial slurs to degrade Rice and Powell -- nothing hateful or racist here, folks -- and appears to think Sylvester really is the stand-up guy he claims to be. But it's interesting how Sylvester is given the benefit of that doubt while any number of his less progressive colleagues were not.

Hogenson goes on to compare Sylvester to Doug 'Greaseman' Tracht and Rush Limbaugh. Tracht has been in trouble for making racist remarks several times in his career as a broadcaster. In 1998, he caused an uproar by mocking the murder of a black man dragged to death behind a pickup by Texas racists. Josh Benton at Clipfile has the details.

The most recent high profile shock jock to be fired was Doug "Greaseman" Tracht. Washington's WARW fired him in February after he played a record by hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill and remarked, "No wonder people drag them behind trucks," a reference to the murder of a black man in Texas. Three white men were convicted, two receiving the death penalty and one receiving life in prison

Mr. Tracht had drawn fire in 1986 while working at another Washington station. He was talking about the national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., and said: "Kill four more and we can take a whole week off." That remark sparked protests and bomb threats to the station.

Limbaugh, possibly a believer in 'scientific' racism, implied that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is black, does not belong in a thinking position. You know the reasoning: Black people are stupid and stupid people should not be quarterbacks.

It is doubtful that anyone familiar with real civil rights issues would be swayed by Hogenson's hissy fit. In both of the episodes he attempts to associate with Sylvester, a white commentator was attributing a form of inferiority to people of African descent in general. Tracht was treating murdering blacks as amusing. Sylvester criticized two public officials who happen to be African-American for their participation in what he considers wrongheaded foreign policy. One could argue that focusing on how he believes they failed the American people in their roles in the administration would be a better idea than noting their status as tokens.

But, I am not going declare references to the race of people in the public eye off limits. Both Powell and Rice have benefitted from conservative affirmative action throughout their careers. Neither of them would be in the position he or she is but for some degree of tokenism. To pretend that race is not an issue in how the White House uses Powell and Rice is to be disingenuous. Sylvester's point, though crudely made, is true: The Bush administration's prominent black appointees are welcome there for only as long as they play a subservient role. The same seems to be true of black Republicans, period. An African-American Republican in California gave up on the party after the head of the GOP there circulated an email claiming there was no problem with slavery, the problem was with Reconstruction.

Matt Welch blogged the controversy. Shannon Reeves described how his fellow Republicans treat black members of the party.

The notion that this country would be better off if my ancestors had remained enslaved, and considered less than whole people, is personally offensive, abhorrent, and vile. It is particularly offensive because my own party's vice chairman distributed this bigoted propaganda in an official CRP newsletter.

. . .I am sick and tired of being embarrassed by elected Republican officials who have no sensitivity for issues that alienate whole segments of our population. Republican leaders who consort with the Council of Conservative Citizens, highlight stump speeches at Bob Jones University, reminisce about segregationist campaigns, and sympathize with the bigoted views -- and the very real possibility that others in our party affiliate with the Free Congress Foundation and groups with similar offensive ideology -- perpetuate broad public opinion that Republicans harbor racist and bigoted ideals.

. . .Black Republicans are expected to provide window dressing and cover to prove that this is not a racist party, yet our own leadership continues to act otherwise. People judge people by their experience of them, and by their actions, and when those actions do not match their words, actions become the more honest means by which to measure a person.

He was fed up with being told to fetch and carry by white Republicans at party functions, anyway.

Unfortunately, that is the reality of the contemporary GOP. Republicans are in no position to cast aspersions of racism at anyone.

That brings us back to Project 21, the primary water carrier for this disinformation. As I've previously blogged in regard to the similar (perhaps same) African American Republican Leadership Council, the front group is funded and controlled by some of the most conservative forces in American politics. The Olin and Bradley Foundations have both supported the eugenics movement. Bradley is the financier of Charles Murray, the infamous author of The Bell Curve.

Olsen, a Bush supporter, apparently does not care that he is promoting the views of conservative whites claiming to represent black public opinion. Indeed, he may prefer it that way. But, it does matter. If politically aware African-Americans were appalled with John Sylvester for voicing his opinion, they would say so. The fact that conservative whites are the ones complaining -- through their black mouthpieces -- speaks volumes. It says that white conservatives perceive blacks as tools to be used by whites. It also says they believe legitimate African-American public opinion should be ignored while their pretense of representing blacks should be taken seriously.

Reasonably related

More from Scott Hogenson.

•He promotes a study by eugenicists claiming crime can be reduced if black women are encouraged to have abortions.

•He promotes Jesse Lee Peterson, a semiliterate black man conservative whites like to put forth as a leader for blacks. Peterson is best known for harassing Jesse Jackson. The far Right funds his activities.

CNS was never able to bring itself to directly address the Trent Lott controversy. Instead, a writer for the site penned a piece, five days after the remarks had become newsworthy, in which he claimed Lott's comments didn't count because the senator was seven years old when Strom Thurmond ran for president.

It appears doubtful that Hogenson is genuinely concerned about racism.

posted by J. | 6:10 AM