Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bob Johnson: Don'tchoo Be Talkin' Bout My Massa!

      Back in November, when I attended the symposium on James Brown that was hosted by Princeton, the event's closing remarks were delivered by Cornel West and he was predictably amazing. I'd watched a whole day of panelists – some were Baptist-preacher-style spellbinding, others were far, far more academic in approach – and the thing that tied them / us all together was the reliance on note cards or written papers. Cornel West took the podium sans those written crutches. As with every time I have seen him speak, he blew me away with the extraordinary leaps he makes from one subject to another, drawing a thread amongst subjects the entire time and pulling a cohesive narrative together. The audience was mesmerized. But he drew two big collective gasps when he mentioned that he'd missed the previous night's opening presentation because he'd been in Harlem at the Apollo introducing Barack Obama. The first gasp came when Mr. West took great pains to amend that statement and make it clear that he hadn't been there to introduce Obama, but to introduce Chris Rock... who had introduced Obama. The biggest gasp came a short while later when West went on to seemingly get in a dig by talking about the word "hope," and stating that Obama had colonized the word. Heads snapped to attention; sideways/sidelong glances were exchanged and a comic-strip style balloon went up over the audience's head: Whatchoo talkin' bout Cornel? Mr. West's speech raced forward from that point (it was actually about James Brown as soul man and soulful metaphor) and he earned a justified standing ovation, but the big buzz as folks left the assembly was around the question of whether that had indeed been a shot fired at Obama.
      The intra-racial divisions among black folk in the current presidential election aren't all bad. It's refreshing to see that a lot of African derived folks have considered and persuasive reasons for why they support Obama, Clinton, Edwards or Kucinich, and that the myth of the monolithic Negro community is being shattered one mo 'gain. Yeah, it will rise again but for now I'm enjoying the shards. (I'm admittedly biased and have to state up front that while I don't want black folk to continue to simply be the Democrats' sideline ho, I just can't wrap my head around anyone, Negro or otherwise, supporting any of the Republican favorites.) The manifestation of support for the various candidates (and what it says about black folk, black folk and/in power, and the volatile generation and class gaps that are at play in illustrating what candidate gets whose support) is fascinating if sometimes kinda predictable. Lines are being drawn, poison-tipped barbs are being tossed and racial solidarity / authenticity / awareness are all being challenged. The oldest drama's being sold as new.
      I love that because of Obama’s candidacy, a lot of black folk, especially black youth, are actually hopeful and motivated to participate in the election process, especially after the two recent (s)elections pointedly proved how flimsily protected our right to vote is, and how easily and cynically black votes and voters can be dismissed without there being any substantial or sustained outcry by media or truly powerful politicians, including our alleged allies. Even though I feel that the empire is on its last legs and there’s not much of anything that can be done to truly salvage it short of ripping this shit to its foundation and making those hallowed constitutional rights and assorted amendments actually apply to poor folk, people of color, and gays and lesbians, all while seriously addressing the health-care crisis, rotting economy and class gaps that have rendered us a third world police state… But I digress 'cause nunnadat shit is really on the table in any meaningful or convincing way from the big dawgs, so bring on the hope and optimism, whoever sparks it. If there is to be any serious change, those will be the elements needed to spark it, and it will necessarily transcend any one candidate or election cycle. It might even spark the desire for truly progressive change, beyond the race and gender identity boxes being hawked as radicalism when the politics in those boxes ain't really on that Tracy Chapman Sings Noam Chomsky. It sounds corny but I believe it’s true: The root of change is hope. And there's precious little of it in the overall black community right now.
      What I don’t love is the cynicism and Driving Miss Daisy mentality of so many (not all) black folk who support Hillary Clinton. I don’t put Dr. West in that camp because I don't think he belongs there (and I think he can eloquently break down his support of his favored candidate) and I most certainly don't think that every black person who supports Clinton is chug-a-lugging that Missy Ann elixir. BET’s Bob Johnson, on the other hand… I mean, what was the point of his intentionally transparent coded raising of some vague, dark activity in Obama's youth [see below] and then just leaving it hanging so suggestively? (That's a rhetorical question.)
      Here’s the New York Times report on Johnson’s throwing barbs at Obama while fanning Hillary Clinton. And peep the update in which he unconvincingly back-pedals:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, who is campaigning today in South Carolina with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, just made a suggestion that raised the specter of Barack Obama’s past drug use. He also compared Mr. Obama to Sidney Poitier, the black actor, in "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner."

      At a rally here for Mrs. Clinton at Columbia College, Mr. Johnson was defending recent comments that Mrs. Clinton made regarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She did not mean to take any credit away from him, Mr. Johnson said, when she said that it took President Johnson to sign the civil rights legislation he fought for.

      Dr. King had led a “moral crusade,” Mr. Johnson said, but such crusades have to be “written into law.”

      “That is the way the legislative process works in this nation and that takes political leadership,” he said. “That’s all Hillary was saying.”

      He then added: “And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood –­ and I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in the book –­ when they have been involved.”

      Moments later, he added: “That kind of campaign behavior does not resonate with me, for a guy who says, ‘I want to be a reasonable, likable, Sidney Poitier ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ And I’m thinking, I’m thinking to myself, this ain’t a movie, Sidney. This is real life.”

      A former Clinton campaign official in New Hampshire had to resign last month after he publicly suggested that Republicans would probably use Mr. Obama’s drug use in his youth, which he first wrote about in his memoirs, against him.

Update | 5 p.m. Mr. Johnson just released this statement, through the Clinton campaign:

      My comments today were referring to Barack Obama’s time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect.

      “When Hillary Clinton was in her twenties she worked to provide protections for abused and battered children and helped ensure that children with disabilities could attend public school.

      That results oriented leadership — even as a young person — is the reason I am supporting Hillary Clinton.”

Update | 6:30 p.m. Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman said: “His tortured explanation doesn’t hold up against his original statement. And it’s troubling that neither the campaign nor Senator Clinton — who was there as the remark was made – is willing to condemn it as they did when another prominent supporter recently said a similar thing.”

You know Hillary got in that ass, right? Johnson's back-pedaling doesn't even track with the shade he threw.


Anonymous said...

You're really are an asshole. You've just proved to me that Obama played the race card and the puppet that he is, jumped off the clif and dragged those idiots with him.

Obama started it with Chris Matthew...ungracious justification why Obama lost because of the "Tom Bradley" effect.

I hope that give you close comfort to have lost every other state with this crap...yep you don't think more and more Blacks are going to get pissed and have a blacklash againist this crap.

Obama is not MLK, Malcom X or have slavery ancestory...nope he is just like his cousin Dick Cheney a liar.

EH said...


Native Son said...

Bob Johnson is the last person to talk about anyone being dishonest. The Obama campaign is not the reason why some African Americans were offended by what Hillary Clinton said; they heard the speech and drew their own conclusions.

They didn't need Obama's campaign to express their objections. There are many black people from Democratic Congressman to avergae citizens expressing outrage over what Hillary said.

The comment Johnson made about Obama's drug use was low. Why didn't he bring up Bill Clinton being dishonest about having sexual relations with an intern? Or better yet, why didn't he mention how he fooled black people into thinking that BET would be cable network that black people could be proud of? This is a clear example of how some in the black community like to bring others down; the crab in the barrel mentality. I am frankly insulted that Bob Johnson was dishonest when he created Black Entertainment Television, or as I call it; Bootleg Entertainment Television.

Johnson claimed that BET would be a one stop shop for news, entertainment and politics. The network would address issues of the black community. Well we all found out that was a lie. BET became the safe haven for exploiting common negative stereotypes of black people. He made billions off of exploiting black people.

Clinton stuck her foot in her mouth, and no matter what she meant to say, she said it and people commented on it. Instead of taking responsibility for what she said or meant to say, she is too busy trying to blame the Obama campaign for adding fuel to the fire.

The bottom line is this: Support a candidate because you believe in their plans for the country; not because you are in some type of pay back mode. You see some black people, especially some in the older generation, feel that since the Clintons supported some issues that affected the black community that we owe them our lives. That we owe them favors for as long as we live; and I say that is complete BS. We paid the Clintons for what they did, by voting for Bill Clinton during his run for second term in office; we don't owe them a thing now. I applaud the Clintons for their service to this country, but that doesn't mean that black people have to sign over their first born just because the Clintons supported causes that affected African Americans.

Lisa Seymour said...

damn, i wish folk would read through, contemplate and process before they comment. i get your point, eh; too bad girladvenger didn't finish her wheaties before typing.

thanks for provoking thought, eh. it's a much appreciated skill. :-)

Danielle said...

I love when people feel the need to pull out their "Negro Front Man" to lend themselves "legitimacy" and "credibility" as if to say, well this black person supports me so I must be ok.

Who is Bob Johnson? Why should his opinion count? I am getting tired of these knucklehead politicos not focusing on the issues.

These personal digs, gaffes and backpedaling are tiresome. Either think before you speak or stand by what you say like and adult.

David Marine said...

Obama's "you're likable enough, Hillary" was snarky, and no doubt a case could be made that it was, at it core, misogynist. Things get said in campaigns.

I love Obama; what's not to love? As for his drug use, it's not an issue for me but it sure as hell will be an issue once the swiftboating starts.

The real question to me is the very question Hillary raises: who will be best able to effect real change once he or she is President. The root of change is hope, I agree. How much hope I truly have a right to embrace in this mess of a country is questionable, but I'm a child of the 60's, and I don't seem to be able to shake off the optimism that maybe it's not too late.

From a symbolic standpoint, it would give me hope if anyone other than a white male wins the Presidency (unless that white male is me: think free iTune downloads of Streisand's "Happy Days are Here Again" for all!). Wait, I take that back. What about Edwards? Isn't he the populist in this race? Isn't he the one really taking aim at the corporate culture that's the belly of the beast?

I'd be happy with a Clinton/Obama or an Obama/Clinton ticket, and I don't think it's all that impossible to imagine. To this end I see both of them pulling their punches, to a degree, and I think that's as it should be.

On another note, Ernest, can I burn your copy of "Tracy Chapman Sings Noam Chomsky"? Mine was nicked by a craigslist hustler, and the kids at Amoeba tell me it's out of print.

Quality Collective said...

Good article mr. hardy. I wish us folks of color would release both these antiquated parties and research some of the the other political parties available to us. Kucinich is an good candidate, not just the lesser of two evils.

And to be truthful, no person of color that runs for president will ever get my vote until they can identify themselves as being black. Not mixed raced, but black.

and i understand the future of race and the past history of race and politics and all that....but the truth is...they treat us all like americans (as long as we act like they want, make enough money or dance fast enough) but as soon as you "FUCK UP" you're back to being a Ni**a in their eyes. So lets at least be on the same page as Black People ya dig?

Great though provoking ish brother.