Posted by: Khepera | Saturday, 1 August 2009

ARTICLE: How Henry Louis Gates Got Ordained as the Nation’s “Leading Black Intellectual”


Well, I had said I wasn’t gonna post anything else about Gates….then Prof. Ishmael Reed comes along & drops a series of photon torpedoes so incisive, I had not choice….. As a sister friend put it full metal jacket…  It’s worth noting the recounting of facts/patterns Prof. Reed unfurls, and, as his writing tends to do, you may find yourself marveling “..the meaning, the connections — it jus’ grew

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Post-Race Scholar Yells Racism

By Ishmael Reed

Now that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has gotten a tiny taste of what “the underclass” undergo each day, do you think that he will go easier on them? Lighten up on the tough love lectures? Even during his encounter with the police, he was given some slack. If a black man in an inner city neighborhood had hesitated to identify himself, or given the police some lip, the police would have called SWAT. When Oscar Grant, an apprentice butcher, talked back to a BART policeman in Oakland, he was shot!

Given the position that Gates has pronounced since the late eighties, if I had been the arresting officer and post-race spokesperson Gates accused me of racism, I would have given him a sample of his own medicine. I would have replied that “race is a social construct”–the line that he and his friends have been pushing over the last couple of decades.

After this experience, will Gates stop attributing the problems of those inner city dwellers to the behavior of “thirty-five year-old grandmothers living in the projects?” (Gates says that when he became a tough lover he was following the example of his mentor Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka as though his and Soyinka’s situations were the same. As a result of Soyinka’s criticisms of a Nigerian dictator, he was jailed and his life constantly threatened.)

Prior to the late eighties, Gates’ tough love exhortations were aimed at racism in the halls of academe, but then he signed on to downtown feminist reasoning that racism was a black male problem. Karen Durbin, who hired him to write for The Village Voice, takes credit for inventing him as a “public intellectual.” He was then assigned by Rebecca Penny Sinkler, former editor of The New York Times Book Review, to do a snuff job on black male writers. In an extraordinary review, he seemed to conclude that black women writers were good, not because of their merit, but because black male writers were bad. This was a response to an article by Mel Watkins, a former book review editor, who on his way out warned of a growing trend that was exciting the publisher’s cash registers. Books that I would describe as high Harlequin romances, melodramas in which saintly women were besieged by cruel black male oppressors, the kind of image of the brothers promoted by confederate novelists Thomas Nelson Page and Thomas Dixon.

Gates dismissed a number of black writers as misogynists, including me, whom he smeared throughout the United States and Europe, but when Bill Clinton was caught exploiting a young woman, sexually, he told the Times that he would “go to the wall for this president.” Feminists like Gloria Steinem defended the president as well, even though for years they’d been writing about women as victims of male chauvinists with power, the kind of guys who used to bankroll Ms. magazine.

Not to say that portraits of black men should be uniformly positive–I’ve certainly introduced some creeps in my own work–but most of the white screenwriters, directors and producers who film this material–and the professors and critics who promote it– are silent about the abuses against women belonging to their own ethnic groups. Moreover, Alice Walker, Tina Turner and bell hooks have complained that in the hands of white script writers, directors and producers, the black males become more sinister straw men than they appear in the original texts.

For the complete text, go to Counterpunch.org

Ishmael Reed
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