Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

Some Reflections on Forty Two

Posted in Cultural Matters, Film Criticism, Movie Reviews on April 19, 2013 by playthell

Jackie Robinson: An Officer and Gentleman

The Heroic Story of Jackie Robinson Comes to the Screen

Last night I went to see 42, the story of Jackie Robinson smashing the color bar in baseball, which was then the most popular sport in the nation and affectionately called “the great American pastime.”  It was at once an uplifting and a depressing experience.  The story on the screen – which provided us a poignant peek into the life of one of the greatest men of what Tom Borkaw has declared “greatest generation” in American history – was inspiring. But the fact that I was watching the movie in a big IMAX theater in Times Square and there was all of seven people in the theater, none of whom were black alas, was troubling.  I wondered if it was yet another instance of young black people failing to take advantage of opportunities that only the most optimistic and visionary members of my generation dared even dream of.

I was saved from lapsing into despair only because it was 10:20 on a Wednesday night, so it was not the ideal time to count heads.  Perhaps it would have been different if it were earlier in the day, or a weekend, I sure hoped so.  Hence I decided to check the box office performance of the movie, although I wondered if there was a break-down of ticket sales by race.  My anxiety was considerably relieved when I discovered that 42 led all movies in ticket sales last weekend, grossing over 27 million dollars, astonishingly beating out “Scary Movie” at the box office.  Hence what anxiety remains is due to the fact that I have yet to see a racial breakdown on the paying customers.

Forty Two is not a bio-pic in the truest sense, because it seeks not to tell the story of Jackie Robinson’s life, or even his entire baseball career.  Rather it focuses on the trials and tribulations of his entry into major league baseball.  Thus the movie is confined to telling the story of his first season, in which he goes from a despised interloper in “America’s game” to Rookie of the Year.  But even so the movie is about two hours long and provides us an incisive look at the state of race relations in American society as reflected in baseball during the 1940’s.

Well written and directed by the Brian Helgeland, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay L.A. Confidential, the movie takes particular care in visually recreating the historical milieu in accurate detail.  Utilizing newspaper clippings, news film footage, thoughtfully designed sets,period  costumes, automobiles, architecture – including some stunning shots of the now defunct Ebbets Field, home to the Brooklyn Dodgers – we are transported back in time.

All of these things are enhanced by the selection of background music.  Here we see the power of Ralph Ellison’s observation: “Music gives resonance to memory,” as we time travel through history on the swinging blues music that provided the background sound to the drama of Afro-American life.   Curiously enough, the most representative song for this movie is never utilized: Louis Jordan’s anthem: “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball.”

But after the contribution of all these ingredients are taken into account however, Shakespeare’s observation still holds true: “The play is the thing.” Given the complexity of the issues and how they influenced the personal relations between characters, writing a script that could tell this story with any degree of authenticity was no walk in the park.  Although I have some issues with the script, which I shall return to later, the writer/ director was wise to tell this tale as a love story.

Boseman and Beharie
As Jackie and Rachel

Throughout the movie it is clear that the main source of Jackie’s strength and inspiration to succeed is his love for the beautiful, brilliant, gutsy Rachel.  An elegant educated lady of color like my mother and aunts, Rachel grew up in southern California in a middle class black family, and like Jackie, she was a graduate of UCLA.  Self-confident and strong, Rachel was Jackie’s rock in those trying times; his life-long partner and the principal force keeping his legacy alive today as an energetic senior citizen, who is going into her centenary decade.  In fact, she was a consultant on this movie from its inception.

The film was well cast.  All the actors seemed born to their roles, especially their casting of Rachel and Jackie.  Movingly played by Chadwick Boseman and Nichole Beharie, we get a glimpse of black love and family life rarely seen on the movie screen.  It their portrayal of the young Jackie and Rachel I see may own mother and father, my aunts and uncles.  In them we see the true beauty, unshakable dignity, and heroic optimism of that generation of Afro-Americans…whom I insist was the greatest of the greatest generation.  Boeseman has the ebony complexion, handsome face and sculpted physique of Jackie Robinson, and Nicole Beharie embodies the strength, charm, beauty and intelligence of Rachel – whom I met when she was 87 and the lady was still a paragon of feminine elegance and grace….and at 90 she is actively managing a scholarship program for underprivileged youths..

This movie literally traverses the terrain of my youth: Florida, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn.  Hence when Jackie went to Florida for spring training I recognized the community.  Since Jackie was denied accommodations in the city’s many hotels due to his rich ebony complexion, a sure measure of the pathological character of southern Anglo-Saxon culture, he was forced to stay in private homes in the Afro-American community.  The Brooklyn Dodgers arranged accommodations for him in the black community with the assistance of a sportswriter with the nationally distributed black newspaper, the Pittsburg Courier. Who was a major character in the film.

Everybody I knew in Florida subscribed to the Pittsburg Courier when I was a boy, so the whole thing was like taking a trip in a time machine.  And the graceful affluent Afro-Americans with big fine houses of many rooms who boarded Jackie, could well have been some of my family or neighbors.  The same was true of the graceful eloquent middle class Afro-Americans who inhabited them. These were black communities where children could chase fire flies, or play hide and seek at night, without being afraid of catching a stray bullet.

Although everybody had a gun back in the day, they were far too civilized to employ them in resolving trivial disputes with their neighbors.  But the same was true of many black communities in the North and West, because  all these communities were run by the “Talented Tenth,” the educated class of Afro-Americans that Dr. WEB Dubois charged with leading “the mass of Negroes away from the worst in their own and other races.”

This is a movie that all Americans should see – especially our young people who know so little of this nation’s history – because it reminds of us the way we were, and thus helps to  clarify who we are now, and how we became this way.  Historical reflection is a necessary exercise for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the problems of the present.   The cultural critic and historian Harold Cruse once observed that Americans are “anti-historical,” and nothing demonstrates this better than the fate of “period piece” movies. Alas, those films dealing with Afro-American historical issues and personalities usually perform the worse financially.

It is a striking irony, because there is a persistent charge by many thoughtful black Americans that the motion picture industry is only out to defame us…when all they are really interested in is making money, and lots of it.  This was once true, in fact the first hit movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” which is hailed as a path breaking film was a viciously racist attack on the humanity of Afro-Americans. And for most of the 20th century  the dominant image of Afro-Americans on the big silver screen, from which most white Americans formed their conception of black folk in a racially segregated society, was the comic domestic buffoon – like Stepin Fetchit, Eddie Rochester Anderson, Hattie McDaniels, Ethel Waters, Mantan Moorland. et al.  We were always depicted as servants to white people, and just tickled to death to  be catering to the every whim of “Miss Ann and Mr. Charley,” who were more often than not smug, condescending, jiveass motherfuckers.

Stepin Fetchit
Playing the fool for white folks
Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel
Teaching Missy the social Graces

Some will say that the performance of Django Unchained at the box office, and the Academy Awards, discredits my argument regarding period movies featuring Afro-Americans.  To which I would respond: Django was not an actual historical figure and it was an action movie with a revenge motif that had but little relation to black culture –despite the fact that the historical record supports the possibility that such a character might well have existed . Django appealed to the general American fascination with guns and violence that Quentin Tarrantino has so adroitly exploited in his other movies.  It was a replay of a successful formula the director profitably employed in the Jewish revenge flick “Inglorious Bastards.”  I enjoyed both movies.

But there are other movies dealing with historical themes that I like better.  The Great Debaters, Miracle at St. Anna, Malcolm X, Red Tails, Glory, Lincoln, Lady Sings the Blues, Ray, The five Heart Beats, Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, etc.” Forty Two belongs in that distinguished company.  All of these movies except “Heart Beats” are based on real people and their stories.   And this makes them invaluable artistic takes on reality in a very powerful medium.

The Original Red Tails!

Red-tails-original  - originally

Brave Bronze Warriors who Never Lost a Plane

Red Tails: The Movie


There are various ways of relating history. The methodology of professional historians is unquestionably the most reliable because of its rigorous rules of evidence, but telling history in dramas, movies and novels is the most exciting and effective.  The narratives of artists can achieve a higher level of emotional power and popular appeal than the scholar because they enjoy “poetic license.”  That means that they can decide how they wish to tell the story; what they will magnify or ignore among the objective facts.  Furthermore, the literary artist can also manipulate time through the  employment of symbols.

However the virtues of the artists are scorned by the historian, who is allowed to take no liberty with the facts, and in constructing a historical narrative the facts must be weighed by their relevance rather than their dramatic qualities.  This often assures that the scholarly historical narrative will be a boring affair when compared to the romanticized narratives of the novelist or dramatist, even as they often distort  historical reality.  That’s why literary men were driven from the profession with great fanfare as the study of history become professionalized. However the great historical novelist or playwright will consult the works of historians to get their basic facts straight, or interrogate the historical records themselves.

I suspect that the writer of this script consulted both…and he had a living archive in Rachel.  Since Rachel has signed off on the film I shall not attempt to be more royal than the queen.  But I cannot help believing that Spike Lee would have made a better movie.  I say this for several reasons: He has been trying to raise the money to make a movie on Jackie for around 20 years.

He is an avid baseball fan, a die- hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and a devoted student of the career of Jackie Robinson.  Spike was wearing number 42 long before it became the fashionable thing to do.  And on top of all this Spike makes great movies about sports.  His film “He Got Game,” in which he coaxed a great acting performance out of NBA star Ray Ray, was just voted “The Greatest Basketball Movie of All Time,” by a panel of writers cum sports fans on ESPN.

However when the panel chose “Raging Bull” as the best boxing movie, Spike said he thought the movie was good but flawed, because they only gave Sugar Ray Robinson – “the greatest fighter pound for pound in the history of boxing” – a cameo.  Spike thought he should have been a more fully developed character.  I agree.  For one thing, it would have enriched the movie.  I am sure that Spike was thinking about the rich cultural milieu in which Sugar Ray Robinson dwelled in Harlem, where he owned a fabulous night club and could often be found on stage playing drums or performing a tap dance routine.

The point is that white Americans do not know enough about us to paint the kind of richly detailed portrait of Afro-American culture important movies about black life and character deserve.  After all, great African-American personalities don’t just invent themselves; they are products of a culture.  Placing Afro-American characters in the proper cultural context has been one of the great achievements of Spike Lee as a cinematic artist.  In this movie we never saw what Jackie and Rachel did for recreation among their own people i.e. what kinds of parties and clubs they went to.  Were they graceful on the dance floor and loved to dance like most Afro-Americans?  We don’t know these things because we mostly view them outside of an Afro-American communal context.

There is also the question of getting inside the character’s head.  Few in the viewing audience either know or care who the screenwriter and director is, and even if they do it means little to them.  But these are the people who control the creative functions; which is to say that all the lines that come out of the actor’s mouth, as well as how they should be recited, is controlled by the screenwriter and the director.  Hence the actors are glorified versions of a ventriloquist dummy.

This is not to decry the skills great actors bring to the portrayal of their roles.  But the character that emerges on careen has been created and directed by others – the actor is the vehicle.  Hence the problem that Harold Cruse identified as the central contradiction hampering the development of an authentic Afro-American dramatic art – the dependence of Afro-American actors on material and direction from white creative sources, remains true – although considerably less so than in 1965 when Cruse wrote his critique.

One only need look at Spike’s  documentary film on the Hall of Fame running back, “Jim Brown: All American,” in order to get a good idea how Spike would have handled Jackie.  Of all the commentary I have heard about Jim Brown, only Spike dealt with Jim as a sex symbol for white women and how that affected his career in football and later as an actor.  White guys either didn’t see that, or just didn’t want to address it.  The emphasis he put on Jim Brown’s descriptions of his father as a big good looking guy who was a fine dresser and great dancer.  Most white film makers would have concentrated on the fact that he abandoned Jim and his mother and left it as that…just another black deadbeat dad story.

Hence in 42, I am certain that Spike would have included scenes where Jackie and his friends spoke candidly about what they thought of the white guys who he was competing against.  Not just what the white guys thought of him; which is what we get in this movie. Although the film does an excellent job of explicating what Dodger Owner Branch Rickey thought –brilliantly played by Harrison Ford in what could be an Academy Award performance – we never see Jackie sitting around with his peers, which included World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, and the great Sugar Ray Robinson, candidly assessing his white teammates as: “Bitch ass peckerwood motherfuckers!”

The Real Jackie with Branch Rickey….
….and their movie counterparts.

Yet the most racist of his reluctant teammates  were all ignorant white trash compared to this well-educated, eloquent, elegant officer and gentleman who had mastered four sports at UCLA while earning a degree. And the conventional wisdom  among Robinson aficionados is that baseball was not even his best sport; he was better at football and basketball but chose baseball because it was the only sport where he could make a living at the time by playing in the Negro Leagues.  How could such a superior man like this not have been contemptuous of his po dumb cracker antagonist?

I see Jackie as playing a game with whites that originated as a survival mechanism during slavery times and is expressed in the ubiquitous slave ditty: “Got one mind for white folks to see…got another mind I know is really me…and they don’t know my mind.” If I had written the script, or consulted on it, I would have had a scene where Jackie recited that Ditty, either as an internal monologue or in conversation with black fiends.  And I would have found a way to have the black reporter, a literate man who was certainly familiar with the works of our great black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, recite this poem while reflecting on Jackie’s predicament:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,-

This debt we pay to human guile

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile

And mouth with myriad subtleties

Why should the world be otherwise

In counting all our tears and sighs

Nay, let them only see us, while we wear the mask”

The wisdom reflected in the folk saying, which is a mirror into the soul of the black masses, is given literary expression in the artifice of Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose parents were slaves and thus rooted in the wisdom and folkways of the common people. And this wisdom certainly informed Jackie Robinson’s approach to dealing with whites who continued to monopolize power just as they had done since slavery times. Had these quotes been presented in this way, which was very easy to do, it would have given a cultural context to Jackie’s behavior in dealing with whites; we would have recognized that his actions were rooted in the marrow of Afro-American tradition.

But far more grievous is the fact that the brief summation of Jackie Robinson’s life at the end of this impressive movie neglects both his pioneering role as a black corporate executive with the Chock Full of Nuts chain, and his impressive history as a Civil Rights activist and close comrade  of Dr. Martian Luther King, marching by his side on some of his most dangerous campaigns.  One such campaign was my home town St. Augustine Florida in 1964, where local white supremacist in the Ancient City Gun Club led redneck demagogue “Hoss” Manucie was threatening murder and mayhem.  How could deeds of such gravitas receive virtually no attention?  I’d bet my bottom dollar that Spike Lee would have found a way to display all of Jackie’s virtues…which go far beyond the baseball diamond.  Alas, despite its considerable virtues, we never see the full measure of the man in this flick.

  Jackie and Dr. King

jackie_robinson & Martin King

Comrades in Struggle

All of this begs the question: how did Brian Helgeland find the opportunity to write and direct a movie on this iconic Afro-American figure, when a film maker of spike Lee’s enormous gifts could not find the backing for the project after a twenty year quest?  This is no picayune issue.  Harold Cruse argued that the theft of “Negro cultural ingredients” by white creative and performing artists has made the black artist the odd man out.

This is because institutionalized racism and the ideology of white supremacy, coupled with white ownership and control of “the cultural apparatus,” will insure that black artists will only be allowed to write and direct Afro-American productions.  There is no chance that they will be selected to write and direct a major movie on an iconic white historic figure.  In looking at how the movie 42 was made we see the advantages that race and class, and how it conspires against the black artist and places them at a disadvantage even when the issues is mining his cultural inventory.

Reduced to its simply terms, “it’s all about the Benjamins” as the rappers say, or as the most successful black movie mogul ever, Tyler Perry, says “It’s about the Golden Rule; he who has the gold rules!”  The making of 42 is testifies to the truth of Tyler statement as a candid of reality in the film business.  According to statements Brian Hegleman as made in the press he had never thought about making a movie on Jackie Robinson until he received a call out of the blue from Thomas Tull, a financier with deep pockets.

A Jackie Robinson fan, Hull had persuaded Rachel Robinson that a major movie on the life of her late husband was long overdue and offered to finance it.  It Tull  called Hegleman to write and direct the movie. That’s how the deal was done.   And Spike Lee, a great film maker who ought to have several Oscars for his writing and directing, missed his chance to define this African American hero on the silver screen…which audience around the world will see.

Ironically, the most compelling lesson from this movie has to do with its making rather than the onscreen performances, as splendid as they are.  Despite the vast distance Afro-Americans have travelled since Jackie Robinson broke into major league baseball, from the outhouse to the White House; in business it’s still good to be white – especially the movie business.  Yet after all is said and done, 42 remains a very good movie that every black parent should take their children to see!

Jackie Robinson Givin Some Skin to his Peeps

Jackie and the folks

The Pride of Afro-America!

Two Lovely, Elegant, Brilliant, First Ladies!


Michelle showers accolades on Rachel


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 19, 2013

Viva Afro-Americanos!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on April 13, 2013 by playthell
 Viva Americanos
Jay and Beyoncé Surrounded by Cuban Fans

On  Race, Class and US Policy on Afro- Cubans

I was delighted to hear that the second most popular power couple in the world, international superstars Jay Z and Beyoncé, who rank just below Barack and Michel in world-wide popularity, decided to spend their fifth wedding anniversary in Cuba.  There are many reasons why I rejoiced at the news.  First of all I have always regarded the economic boycott as unjust.  It began because the US Congress, acting as shills for the United Fruit Company, a giant American agri-business corporation who viewed the Island nation of Cuba as it’s private plantation…much as the firestone company viewed the West African nation of Liberia as a little more than their rubber plantation.

Hence when a young white Cuban lawyer named Fidel Castro, frustrated by the anti-democratic rule of military thugs on the Island which was a de facto American colony – led a revolution that deposed the corrupt military strong man Fulgentsia Batista, an American puppet, and began to institute sweeping changes, the US became a fierce opponent of the Cuban Revolution and has remained so over half a century later.

Since the Cubans never committed any offense against the American people, US hostility toward Cuba was sparked by internal economic reforms in that revolutionary Cubans made in their country, which ended the dominant role of the United Fruit Company and other American business interests, along with US support for the decadent white racist Cuban elite, who were their partners in the fleecing of the toiling Cuban masses.

It is the remnants of that white Cuban privileged class residing in southern Florida, centered in Miami, that keeps that hostility alive today and tries their best to prevent American citizens from traveling to Cuba – even as they have constantly complained about the Cuban government not allowing their citizens to travel to the US.  Hence it should surprise no one that the loudest voices criticizing Beyoncé and Jay’s visit to the Island are Cuban Americans from Florida.

The chatter began with protests from two Congresswomen – give their names – and has now been joined by that little snarky charlatan Marco Rubio; who is playing to the rightwing white Cubans in Southern Florida that comprise his base.  “According to recent news reports,” says Rubio, “Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s Cuba trip, which the regime seized on for propaganda purposes, was fully licensed by the Treasury Department.  If true, the Obama Administration should explain exactly how trips like these comply with U.S. law and regulations governing travel to Cuba and it should disclose how many more of these trips they have licensed.”

I think President Obama should pay this little Pisher no rabbit ass mind!  He should not be taken seriously on anything regarding Cuba.  This is the same guy who won a Senate seat by lying about his family history. During the election he presented himself as the son of Cuban refugees who fled Castro’s oppressive communist regime, and he won the hearts of all the suckers who will support anybody that has an axe to grind with Fidel.

However an enterprising reporter at the Miami Herald fact checked his story and discovered it was a fabrication.  The truth is that Rubio’s family fled Cuba under right-winger dictator Batista, in 1958, before Castro came to power.  I believe this is why Rubio was not interested in running with Romney in the VP slot; he is afraid his lies will resurface and there is abundant video of him telling this big lie. Only a party composed of shameless liars, who run campaigns based on lies – ala Mitt Romney – would even consider a shameless liar like Rubio as a candidate.  I hope they do select him as their presidential candidate…because this joker will never win the US presidency!

The white Cubans of southern Florida have intimidated politicians into supporting a policy that is not in the best interests of the US; hence I think American citizens should violate the travel ban en mass and force the government to prosecute them!  This would again raise the question as to whether the US government has the right to arbitrarily restrict our right to travel where we please.

It is a challenge that several Americans who support the Cuban Revolution have raised in the past – Afro-Americans such as Reverend Luscious Walker and Dr. Johnetta Cole prominently among them.  Reverend Walker led multi-racial groups of Americans bearing critical supplies denied to Cubans due to the protracted American economic embargo for 21 years straight.

Reverend Lucius Walker and El Presidente
Lucius and Fidel
Embracing the Cuban Revolution

He would get around American travel restrictions to Cuba by embarking from Mexico or Canada, two nations in the hemisphere that saw no danger to themselves from a revolution on the little Island of Cuba.  Reverend Walker saw no danger to the US either; rather he saw US policy as a menace to Cuba and all of Latin America – a view that was reinforced when he was shot by American sponsored “contras” while on a mercy mission to the people of Nicaragua.    That’s why he continued to travel to Cuba while refusing opportunities to travel there legally under a special dispensation of the US government.

Walker’s intention was to directly challenge the morality of the US government’s policy by taking bibles on his missions claiming he was bring “God’s word to Cuba,” and the Justice Department wisely decided not to take the bait.  On his last trip to Cuba Rev. Walker took a variety of medical supplies such as EKG machines, medicines that were hard to get in Cuba but was in abundant supply in the US, Incubators, etc.  Rev. had a special name for these gifts from Americans of conscience: “Friendshipments.”

When this black American preacher from humble origins danced and joined the great ancestors of our struggle at 80 years old, having remained in the fight for a better world through international solidarity with oppressed and working peoples to the end of his days, the reverence with which he was regarded by the Cuban people was expressed in an editorial of Granma, the official organ of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party.  “Cubans, in gratitude, “the statement said, “have to say that we don’t want to think of a world without Lucius Walker”.

Dr. Johnetta Cole demonstrated her solidarity with the Cuban Revolution by writing and lecturing about the realities of revolutionary Cuba and leading Vinceramos Brigades down to the Island to help harvest the sugarcane crop and exchange ideas with revolutionary anti-colonial delegations from around the world, in defiance of US government policy.  Dr. Cole used to argue passionately in defense of the revolutionary policies of the Cuban government when we were colleagues in the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Black Studies at U-Mass.

While these Afro-Americans travelled to Cuba to express solidarity with the Revolution, Jay Z and Beyoncé appear to have just wanted to take a vacation on this beautiful exotic island where Salsa was born.  I have never heard either of them express a political concern beyond working to reelect President Obama by bundling money.  And I have no idea what they think about the plight of Afro-Cubans, since they have been mum thus far.

 Dr. Johnetta Cole
Anthropologist and Defender of Cuban Revolution

 I do know that there is a thriving Hip Hop scene that is heavily black and political.   In fact, I have had Afro-Cubans tell me that it is the true voice of black Cuba, since they have no other vehicle by which to publicly address racial issues. Hence there is no telling what they talked about with Cuban rappers, although inquiring minds certainly want to know.  Despite their silence however, Beyoncé and Jay Z’s controversial Cuban sojourn affords us an opportunity to discuss weighty questions such as the role of race and class race in shaping contemporary politics and economic relations in  Cuban society; and how these issues affect  American policy towards Cuba.

Beyonce at the Tropicana!
Beyonce at the Tropicana
Goddesses of Neo African Dance
 A Taste of Afro-American Style

images VI

Dssto the height of fashion!
Chillin with the Youths


And they are lovin it! 

 And so did the Children


The time of their lives! 



The suppression of serious discourses about race by the Cuban government, which is dominated by Hispanic Cubans – i.e. White Cubans”– is a persistent theme in the critique of revolutionary Cuba by Afro-Cubans.  While most Afro-American Marxist, and friends of the revolution of all ideological stripes, praise the dramatic advances of Afro-Cubans since the revolution, parroting the position of the Cuban government that the race problem is passé, I am reminded of Faulkner’s statement that the American South will never escape it’s past, and noted that “the past isn’t even past.”

This can also be said regarding the question of anti-black racism in Cuba; alas while official policy denounces racism, racist feeling and ideology is deeply embedded in Cuban culture and can only be rooted out by persistently confronting in a thousand forums.  Instead it has been the policy of the Cuban government to suppress discussions of the race issue.  Hence, based on myriad reports from Afro-Cubans, racism persists in that Spanish speaking Caribbean nation despite government denial.

Suspicions about the shortcomings of the revolutionary Cuban government’s policies on race relations began early on by some of the first Afro-Americans to visit the Island after the Revolution.  One of these was political theorist and cultural critic Harold Cruse, author of the seminal text “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,” which offers one of the most astute critiques of the inability of white Marxist to accommodate nationalist aspirations on the part of blacks, which is a healthy response to white supremacy – whether on the right or left.

 Harold Cruse
OBIT Harold Cruse
Skeptical of White Cuban Communist

Hence Cruse reported that while Leroi Jones – aka Amiri Baraka, whom he described as a beatnik poet from Greenwich Village flirting with revolution – was enraptured by everything they saw and heard on the official government tours, Cruse was skeptical because “there were too many white communist walking around looking important.”

After having spent years in the American Communist Party, Harold Cruse, who would go on to become a Professor of history at the University of Michigan, was suspicious of the motives of white communists because he felt that they pursued their group interests while suppressing such tendencies on the part of blacks, mislabeling it “bourgeois black nationalism”

 George Padmore


Father of the African Independence Movement

It was in essence the same reason why George Padmore, a Trinidadian activist intellectual who is rightfully called “The Father of the African independence movement,” quit the International Communist movement and wrote his famous book length polemic “Pan-Africanism or Communism.”  As the director of The Bureau of Negro Affairs for the Comintern, Padmore was the highest ranking black man in the history of the international Communist Movement. (See: Dr. J.L. Hooker’s Black Revolutionary)

By the time this delegation of intellectuals, journalist and artist visited Cuba,  we already had the experience of Robert Williams, President of the Monroe North Carolina NAACP and ex-Marine, who had organized his community to resist the Ku Klux Klan with arms and was forced into exile in Cuba. It was no accident of history that the revolutionary Cuban government was willing to grant political asylum to Robert Williams.   He had recently come to their attention by virtue of a telegram Williams sent to Adele Stevenson, the pompous patrician American Ambassador to the United Nations, after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of October 17th 1961.

From the moment the revolutionaries came to power in Cuba the US government began plotting against them.  This interference would prove counter-productive because it helped to drive a nationalist reformer interested in honest government and a more just economic system that would raise the standard of living for the Cuban working class into an alliance with the Soviet Union.  Had the US supported the Revolution the course of history would have been different and infinitely better.

Alas powerful US economic elites viewed the revolution as a disaster for their interests and prompted the Kennedy Administration to take action to depose Castro and quash the revolution by launching a counter-revolution. After all, the Central Intelligence Agency had successfully overthrown the democratically elected government of Iran in a covert action and installed the dictatorial Shah, just eight years earlier.  High on hubris the CIA was tasked with organizing, arming and training a counter-revolutionary military force composed of white Cuban’s who had fled the Island.

Convinced that the majority of Cubans opposed the revolution, which was the result of relying on a narrative constructed by the losers -the CIA had calculated that once the invaders landed on Cuban soil the Cuban masses would join them and overthrow the Castro government.  What they failed to understand is that it is impossible to overthrow a military strongman like Batista by revolutionary action without broad popular support.

The Cubans had voted by their actions, since the reason that Fidel turned to revolution in the first place was because the democratic process had been subverted and rendered impotent by right-wing military dictators like Machado and Batista, who were little more than Marionettes whose strings were pulled from Washington.  Hence when the CIA sponsored counter-revolutionaries landed at the Bay of Pigs they were met by an armed Cuban people who crushed them!

Captured Cuban Exiles at Bay of Pigs
Bay of Pigs
A CIA Covert Action Gone Awry

When news of the invasion was reported in the American press it set off a firestorm of protests and acrimonious debates. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a group of American activists who expressed solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, organized demonstrations from coast to coast.  Leading American intellectuals spoke out against the Bay of Pigs invasion and chapters of the Fair Play Committee spread like wildfire across college campuses.

Dr. C. Wright Mills, long time Columbia University Professor and one of America’s most distinguished social scientist, was then 80 years old and too ill to attend the demonstrations but he sent a telegram to that was read at one of the largest rallies. “If I were able I would be fighting alongside Fidel Castro” he declared.  However opinion polls taken after news broke of the disastrous American sponsored invasion, even as the Kennedy Administration attempted to deny it at the United Nations, opinion polls revealed that 82% of the American people supported the invasion.

Kennedy was perplexed but pleasantly surprised by the positive public response to his embarrassing diplomatic debacle.  However Robert Williams was outraged by the hypocrisy of so many white Americans favoring supplying arms to help so-called “oppressed” white Cubans regain their “freedom,” but remained silent about the barbaric racist police state tactics that he was living under in the American South.  Hence he wrote a letter to UN Ambassador Stevenson that was read by the Cuban Foreign Minister before the UN General Assembly while Stevenson was sitting there.  The text of William’s letter read:

“Please convey to Mr. Adele Stevenson: Now that the United States has proclaimed support for people willing to rebel against oppression, oppressed Negroes of the south urgently request tanks, artillery, bombs, money and the use of American airfields and white mercenaries to crush the racist tyrants who have betrayed the American Revolution and the Civil War.  We also request prayers for this undertaking.”

Robert F. Williams

The letter was embarrassment enough, but to make matters even worse for the American Ambassador the Cuban Foreign Minister turned to him and said derisively: “I would like to ask Mr. Stevenson what would happen if the government of the United States, which claims to be the champion of democracy, dared to arm not only the Negros in the cotton fields of the South, or right here in Harlem?” Scholars have uncovered a Top Secret cable from Stevenson to Secretary of State Dean Rusk that reveals his ignorance of the Bay of Pigs invasion, as he laments the fact that he was not provided talking points by the State Department beforehand, so that he would not look like a stumble bum trying to respond to these issues.

A Puzzled Steveson Unsure of what to Say

Adlai Stevenson

An object of ridicule, trying to defend the indefensible

Robert William’s response foreshadowed a statement of unequivocal support for the Cuban Revolution and denunciation of the invasion by a wide range of distinguished Afro-American intellectuals, lawyers, artists, activist, preachers, et al.  Titled “Cuba: A Declaration of Conscience by Afro-Americans,” and published in the Baltimore Afro-American, a nationally distributed black owned and edited newspaper, it declared:

Because we have known oppression, because we have suffered more than other Americans, because we are still fighting for our own liberation from tyranny, we Afro-Americans have the right and the duty to raise our voices against the forces of oppression that now seek to crush a free people linked to us by the bonds of blood and common heritage.” The document went on to boldly warn: “Afro-Americans, don’t be fooled – the enemies of Cuba are our enemies, the Jim Crow bosses of this land where we are still denied our rights.”

 This document was signed by black American intellectuals and activists ranging from Robert Williams,  to  Leroi Jones – who became Amiri Baraka – to Dr. WEB DuBois, and its undeniable truth posed a dilemma for the US in its “Cold War” struggle with Communist Russia to win the hearts and minds of the non-white peoples in the emerging nations of Africa and Asia – whose UN delegates had ridiculed the American Ambassador with laughter when the Cuban Foreign minister put the questions to him regarding arming oppressed Afro-Americans and it was telecast around the world.  The Russians made sure everybody in the Third saw it.

Although it is little understood by most Americans, black or white, the US government’s struggle with the communist bloc to win the allegiance of the emergent Third World nations was a major factor in the victories of the Civil Rights Movement in the US.  (See: Civil Rights and Foreign Policy) Hence the Robert Williams story was a nightmare for US diplomacy, especially after he fled into exile in Cuba, where he conducted regular broadcasts into the American South on a program he dubbed “Radio Free Dixie,” named after the American government’s subversive broadcasts into communist countries called “Radio Free Europe.”

These broadcasts could be heard around the world and his pamphlet “The Crusader,” was widely distributed.  I was one of the people who distributed it in the US, as I travelled around the country making speeches under the auspices of the Opportunities Industrialization Center – a manpower training program that began in Philadelphia but spread to 105 cities, and was always located in the heart of black communities.

As a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement, a quasi-underground movement that was the first to advocate and organize for armed struggle during the 1960’s, I had ready access to the Crusader because the Chairman, Max Stanford aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, received regular shipments from Cuba, by way of Canada.

I supported Robert Williams from the moment that I learned the details of the Monroe North Carolina struggle in the explosive book “Negros With Guns,” which was based on a series of interviews given on WBAI radio in New York City while Rob was underground on the run from the FBI, who were seeking to arrest him on a trumped up kidnapping charge.  Since it was clear that his only offense was organizing his community to defend themselves against racist white terrorists, all fair minded Americans who understood the facts rallied to Rob’s defense.

Robert and Mable Williams


They Shot it out with the Klan and fled to Cuba
The NAACP in Monroe: Ready to Rumble!
Blacks with guns in Monroe
Too hot for the National Office to Handle

Having been expelled from his office as President of the Monroe chapter then abandoned by the NAACP, Williams had relied on the organized left – whom he had met through his activities with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee – to get him first into Canada and then into Cuba.  The aid, comfort, security and communications platform provided to Williams by the revolutionary Cuban government was deeply appreciated by Afro-Americans.

That feeling did not change even after Williams quit Cuba five years later and relocated in the “The People’s Republic of China, where he was treated as a revolutionary hero and hung out with the top levels of the Chinese government, including chairman Mao, at a time when China was largely a mystery to the US State Department.

Radio Free Dixie!


Robert and Mable Williams broadcasting from Cuba

Rob and Chairman Mao


Two Revolutionaries Talkin Revolution

There are various versions of why Rob left Cuba, some say it was the result of a conspiracy by the Russian Communist Party and their American surrogates who for some muddled ideological reasons created suspicions regarding Robert Williams on the part of the Cuban government.  But I find the explanation offered by Dr. Carlos Moore, a black Cuban who had supported the Revolution in an interview conducted on WBAI by this writer.

According to Dr. Moore, it was the great following that Rob enjoyed among Afro-Cubans that began to worry white Cuban Officials, who had made discussions of the race problem a counter-revolutionary act.  And all Rob talked about was the race in America, which began to awaken the racial consciousness of Afro-Cubans.  Dr. Moore went on to become the foremost critic of the Castro government’s policy on race relations, producing many important treatises of varying lengths – including the revelatory books “Castro, The Blacks and Africa” and “Pichun.”

As early as 1960’s, when Afro-American leftist intellectual /activist were completely enamored with the Cuban revolution, Carlos Moore was writing about the persistence of racism in Cuba and the prohibition against honest discussion of the issue.  His persistence in raising the issue got him in trouble with the government and he soon went into exile.  Over the last half century Dr. Moore has lived all over the world, but he has continued to speak out about the unresolved race issues in Cuba, something not only the Cubans don’t want to discuss, Afro-American leftist intellectuals don’t want to talk about either.

As President Obama began to relax the rules regarding travel and investment in Cuba 1n 2009, and the Cuban government embarked on a new economic policy that allowed for the development of private enterprise.  This policy is designed to garner hard currency for foreign exchange in the wake of the devastating economic problems that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union, who had been their main benefactor.   As many white Cubans residing in Miami returned home to visit for the first time in decades, Dr. Moore was watching.

He recorded his views of the new policy in a long article published in the McClatchy papers.  It was published on April 21, 2009 under the titled “From Myth to Reality: Putting Context to Cuba’s Racial Divide,” and he observes:

Images of the first batch of Cuban-Americans arriving at Havana’s international airport, since the United States’ lifting of restrictions on travel and remittance-sending to the island, were clear: teary-eyed, Spanish-speaking cousins, laden with gifts and money, for their relatives in Cuba, were all white! … The spectacle of the white Cuban returnees, however, reveals even more by highlighting what or rather who is missing: dark-skinned Cuban faces.”

Dr. Carlos Moore

Dr. Carlos Moore

A Dissident Black Cuban Scholar

Dr. Moore goes on to raise some critical questions.  Among the most telling is:  “How does one explain such a dramatically white homecoming in a country where 62-70% of the population is estimated to be non-white…” After explaining the dramatic difference in wealth between black and white Cuban families he asks:

 “What do these two differing racial realities largely unacknowledged inside and outside Cuba portend for the United States’ emerging Open Door policy? In purely human terms, the warming relations between “cousins” on both sides of the Florida straights may be laudable, but certainly not devoid of long-term political implications inside Cuba. To understand why, a new map of Cuba the real Cuba will have to be drawn.”

Here Dr.  Moore is alluding to the persistent claim by Afro-Cubans that they are drastically undercounted in the government census.  Again, his critiques of race relations in Cuba were denounced by the Cuban Government, and commentators on the American left.  Moore has been smeared as a right-wing Cuban in league with the reactionary white Cubans in Miami, a CIA agent, everything but a child of God!

However his claims that white racism persists in Cuba; that it is covered up by the government and it is dangerous to discuss it publicly; that white Cubans from Miami are pouring money into the pockets of their relatives in Cuba, and black Cubans are losing ground – the arguments that got him run out of post-revolutionary Cuba, has recently been echoed by a prominent Afro-Cuban intellectual in an article published in the Sunday edition of the March 24 New York Times, over three years after Dr. Moore’s report in the McClatchy papers.

Titled “For Blacks In Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” Roberto Zurbano tells us:

“Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn’t talked about.  The government hasn’t allowed racial prejudice to be debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending instead that it didn’t exist.  Before 1990 Black Cubans suffered a paralysis of economic mobility while, paradoxically, the government decreed the end of racism in speeches and publications.  To question the extent of racial progress was tantamount to a counter-revolutionary act.  This made it almost impossible to point out the obvious: racism is alive and well.”

On the question of the economic position of Afro-Cubans, Mr. Zurbano reports:

“If the 1960’s, the first decade after the revolution, signified opportunity for all, the decades that followed demonstrated that not everyone was able to have access to and benefitted from those opportunities.  It’s true that the 1980’s produced a generation of black professionals, like doctors and teachers, but these gains were demolished in the 1990’s, as blacks were excluded from lucrative sectors like hospitality.  Now in the 21st century, it has become all too apparent that the black population is underrepresented at universities, and in spheres of economic and political power, and overrepresented in the underground economy, in the criminal sphere, and in marginal neighborhoods.”

Mr. Zurbano explains the role of the exile community in the US – those smiling alabaster faces at the airport – in the rising prosperity of White Cubans, even as black Cubans sink deeper into poverty.  “Most remittances from abroad – the Miami area, the nerve center of the mostly white exile community – go to white Cubans.  They tend to live in upscale houses which can easily be converted into Restaurants – the most common kind of private business in Cuba.”

In formulating a solution to Cuba’s problem of racial inequity, Mr. Zurbano argues:

“An important first step would be to finally get an accurate count of Afro-Cubans.  The black population is far larger than the spurious numbers of the most recent censuses.  The number of blacks on the street undermines, in the most obvious way, the numerical fraud that puts us at less than one fifth of the population.  Many people forget that in Cuba, a drop of white blood can – if only on paper – make a Mestizo or white person, out of someone who in social reality falls in neither of these categories.  Here, the nuances of skin color are a tragicomedy that hides longstanding racial conflicts.”

A content analysis of the major themes and conclusions in this analytical essay by Mr. Zurbano will reveal that they are virtually identical to those that Dr. Moore has been arguing for decades, and mirror his take on the Cuban scene in the 2009 essay cited above.  For telling this unvarnished tale of race relations in Cuba, Mr. Zurbano has been removed from his influential post as Editor at Casa d La Americas.

Like Carlos, for telling the truth about racism in post-revolutionary Cuba…he has been sentenced to silence.  That’s one of the main reasons why more Afro-American scholars and journalists should follow Jay Z and Byonce’s example and go see for themselves!   Incidentally, Jigga has already responded to Rubio and his fellow GOP haters with a rap, which reduced to its essence is just an elaborate way of saying “Kiss my rich black ass”….to which I say OLE!!!

Checkin Out the Scene in Cuba

images Iv

Down to Earth Superstars



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 12, 2013


A South African Judges Catholicism

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on March 16, 2013 by playthell
At the Alter
Conducting the Liturgy in Cape Town

Conjuring Up Bitter Memories

The White i.e. European world is still hung up on pigmentation, and the cobwebs of racism have not been cut off and dislodged from their collective psyche. Thus the choosing of a Pope from Africa is not about to happen, soon. I see them here of the Roman Catholic faith immersed into its symbolism and culture. There is this one Roman church here in Orlando. It has been there, and I found it there when I was born. It was only active in the community in as far as it can recruit its pious members.  As a child I was taken there by my aunt along with my cousins.

We could not help but observe how the members after receiving sacrament had liquor smell on their breaths. Or how they would walk in ‘holy solemnity’ after ingesting the dry and round morsel of bread(I think), and their lips moistened with the wine, that then you could see that these holy parishioners had just returned from heaven, the way they looked, hands clasped on their chest, walking ramrod-straight-like, and their eyes ogling at the White Mary and small Jesus, and Jesus statues with an open palm showing blood, and others, hoisted on the wall above in the cathedral-like church, that we were always left wondering what is happening.

A Catholic Mass In Soweto

safrica-catholic service in soweto

Indoctrinating the Children in Catholic Dogma

I do not belong to any church, but have my Mtundu (an alter we make for the ancestors), with its candle, snuff and specific cloths for the main ancestors in the pantheon of the ancestors according to our family lineage/tradition. We light a candle, spill some mixture of water and mealy meal, and sprinkle snuff for them to eat and some snuff to smoke.

Afterwards, having called them according to their seniority to last one who died most recently, we talk and tell them of our problems and plight and intone them to help us get ahead. This is what my grandma has taught me, and I have learnt even much more than the basic practice I am just describing over the years.

Now, the thing about it is that the very transformed members who ate the sacrament, when they get home, they take out their drums and jump into their traditional ancestral dress and call on the spirits and interact with them, in order to get instruction who to do about some cultural sacred rites to appease and satisfy and communicate with their ancestors for whatever outcome these acts will bring them – hopefully success and the like..

Venerating the Ancestors
xhosa0004 Xhosa women in South African performing ritual Dance

What I am saying is that the appointment of a Pope from South America is going to have a damaging effect on the membership that is now dwindling and then this is helping foist rising force that is the Islamic religion here in South Africa. People are poor and they complain that these Churches, Anglican, Lutheran, Roman, Methodist and the rest of them are fleecing them penniless, and so people are going with the Religion of Islam, because they provide grocery and comfort and support, instead of asking for ‘tithes’ as is done in the aforementioned Churches.

Islam is Growing among Black South Africans!


A Harbinger of more Muslim/Christian Conflict?

The appointment of the Pope is coinciding with the Churches I have mentioned (the Roman Church in Particular, is going down in membership and relevance. The youth are worse. But, having said that, they will follow the Pope, whatever shape of form the doctrine will be decided by the parish, I think that making Africa irrelevant was a big mistake, because, as I am onto this piece here, one can see and witness the cracks and splits that are occurring, and my take is that Africans will continue to evolve and revolve the church until, like the Anglican Church of Africa, had to break with the Church of England at one point.

The Anglican Church in Africa is now run by Africans, and is called The Anglican Church of Africa.  It is divided into several different African countries, and most are named-according to the name of the country where they are based.  They are also called Anglican Church, African Episcopal Church, of Africa- very close to and reminiscent of the naming of the churches in America by African Americans in the late 18th century, as in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Or Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

My take of all this is that the African people here in Mzantsi, having left and leaving the churches.  They are headed to traditional healers, some fly-by-night churches and others in African Traditional churches; which are receiving many African peoples into their ranks and are burgeoning with in-coming recruits from the “traditional” Christian Churches mentioned above. As you say, the Catholic Bishops settled for a descendant of their former enslavers and colonialists of Argentina (Falkland War comes to mind), that the Papal’ocracy is a farce for me.

It will not change anything with the appointment of this new Pope, because what is happening to their Roman Church base in Africa may be beyond their power to reverse. I still talk and do the sacred practices and rites to and for my ancestors the way I was taught by my Grandma. I know many more people are now practicing this part of our culture and spirituality from the way families are now doing things – which may vary from family to family – but they retain the same protocol and form.

This is the religious double vision they will have to reckon with. The Roman church and other such-like religious institutions have introduced gambling, and is in cahoots with the gambling dens and their Moguls, that are sprouting all over the South African landscape. They bussed and are still bussing thousands of their members to these gamble caverns, start by giving them some paltry money to gamble when they reach the fleecing dens; the rest they will have to cough-out of their own cash in order to continue gambling.

  A South African Gambling Palace

A South African Casino

The Catholic Church is Good for Business!

People have now become addicted and are loosing huge sums of money/houses and jobs; yet there is still no one addressing this insidious odious affair. What the church is doing, is to constantly rebuild and renovate established buildings and their old church buildings over the years. The folks around them are poor, and the children who go to their schools are made to pay exorbitant fees.

So that, honestly looking at the arrival of the new Pope, I do not see any changes for the better in the African Roman churches here in South Africa, except those in the White Suburbs-well, that’s another long story. This is what we see happening and then some, here in Mzantsi… I do not see an African Pope coming in the next distant horizon, and the Roman Church here in South Africa, is not doing that very well, and this has been going on now for many decades.

Basilica of Our Lady Of Peace:  An African Vatican?

African Basilica

Yes! If African Catholics Follow the Example of Anglicans

And they Won’t Have to Look Far for a Pope!

African Prelate III

Take you Choice: Cardinals Frances Arinde and Peter Appiah Turkson


 SkhoKho SaTlou

South Africa

March 15, 2012 


An African Pope as Act of Penitence

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , on March 14, 2013 by playthell

 African Cardinal Turkson

     Cardinals Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Peter Turkson of Ghana
 After Five Centuries Not one African Pope?

The eyes of the world were focused on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican where the Cardinals, the princes of the Catholic Church, had assembled to pick the next Pope.  When the white smoke belched from the chimney on Wednesday, announcing the selection of the successor to Benedict XIV, the first Pope in 600 years to retire in office, many people in the Third world hoped that the color of the smoke would not be a precursor of the color of the New Pope.  Please God not another old pale, stale, white male they prayed.

As the massive crowd roared in anticipation of the announcement, many observers prayed the Cardinals would select a Pope from sub-Sahara Africa,  and the name of the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson has banded about as a possible choice.  Cardinal Turkson is no ordinary Prince of the Church; his stature among his peers is such that he has been dubbed “The Social conscience of the Church.” And a case could be made that the Cardinal should have been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize by virtue of the critical role he played in preventing the outbreak of armed conflict after a contested national election in Ghana – a situation that has led to armed conflict and mass murder in other African countries.

At 64 years old Cardinal Turkson looks resplendent in his clerical costume; he is described by those who know him as an active man who jogs, plays the guitar and sings.  He is also a respected intellectual who holds several degrees – one from a New York Seminary – and speaks English, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew and Greek.  He lives in Rome and heads a Vatican Commission.  And he is also a favorite of Pope Benedict, whose retirement opened the opportunity for Turkson to become Pope.  The hope for a black Pope was ginned up by the fact that ABC NEWS, who covered the entire proceeding, featured an Afro-America Archbishop as commentator on the proceedings.

However despite his outstanding qualifications, as a candidate for the Papacy Cardinal Turkson have pros and cons.  For instance, while he is an advocate for the poor he also upholds the backward and silly position the Catholic Church takes on condom use; which is banned.  This ban contributes to the population explosion, with all its attendant ills, and also promotes Aids infection in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.

In the advance countries Catholics just ignore these kinds of absurd positions their church is taking, which is why church membership is shrinking in those countries.  And it is reflected in lower population growth rates and a decline in HIV infection.  The most dramatic areas of growth in the church are taking place in the developing countries.

That’s why if the Catholic Church is going to continue to grow they must concentrate their evangelical efforts in the Third World. And it stands to reason that those efforts will be greatly abetted if they chose a Pope from this region of the world, the Southern Hemisphere, as they define that section of the church.  Since 40% of church members reside in Latin America, there is talk of a Brazilian Pope, Cardinal Sherer, but since he is of German background he is not a suitable candidate if the church really wants to repent for its centuries of racist sins that resulted in genocide against peoples of color.

This is no less true of the choice they made, an Italian from Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglia, a Jesuit Priest, who was roundly applauded by the massive crowd standing in the rain, shall henceforth be known as Pope Francis.  He is said to be a modest man from humble origins.  But given the bloody history of the European settlers in Argentina, especially their systematic extermination of the African population and genocidal dispossession of the indigenous peoples, an Argentinian of European lineage, does not address the sins of this European church against the peoples of color in the Americas.  That he may be a good, even saintly,  man does not nullify this fact.

To address this criminal stain on the history of the Catholic Church a Pope from Latin America must be of Native American stock, a survivor of the mass murders and massive land theft that have resulted in the extinction of many indigenous peoples in the Americas.  And because these historic crimes were led by Iberian Catholics under the banner of the cross, with the blessings of priests who traveled with the Conquistadors under the direction of the Popes, the contemporary Catholic Church must bear the burden of that blood stained history.  Hence appointing a Latin American Pope of European origin – a descendant of the invaders – is yet another slap in the face to the indigenes.

Those who attempt to argue that these crimes were committed by European Kings, hence the church cannot be held responsible are abysmally ignorant of history.  This whole gruesome chapter in human history was initiated by the Catholic Popes.  It begins at the dawn of the Age of Discovery, the period spanning which Europeans, led by Spain and Portugal, began to explore the world beyond Europe.

In a series of decrees issued by Popes known as “Papal Bulls” the catholic papacy called for the enslavement of non-European peoples and the confiscation of the lands and wealth.  The first of these was the Papal Bull of 1452, Dum Diversas, issued by Pope Nicholas V, which granted the Portuguese King Alphonse V the papal authority to reduce “Saracens, pagans and any other unbelievers” to slavery. This included Arabs, Africans, Asians and Native Americans.

Pope Nicholas went even further in the Papal Bull of 1455, Romanus Pontifex, which gave the “Right to Conquest” to Affonso V and clearly spells out what was implied in the Bull of 1452.  This decree gave the Portuguese king the following rights:

‘’to invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions and all movable and immovable goods whatever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons  to perpetual slavery.”

The Papal Bull of 1493, sought to address the growing rivalry between the two major Catholic powers, Spain and Portugal, for possession of the new lands they were discovering.  Issued the year after Columbus’ successful voyage to the America’s, when a new world had suddenly come into the picture, the Pope decided to mediate between the two Catholic seafaring nations by dividing the new lands between them.

Known to history as “The Line of Demarcation,” Pope Alexander VI drew a line through a map of the known world and gave the King of Portugal Brazil, the East and West coast of Africa, and the eastern and southern coasts of Asia and India.  That’s why Brazilians speak Portuguese and there are East Indians with Portuguese surnames like Denish De Sousa.

In recognition of Christopher Columbus’s  voyage the Pope awarded all of the lands west of the line to Spain, that’s why Spanish is spoken everywhere in Latin America except Brazil.  As a result of agreements with the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies –the Padroado for Portugal and the Patronato for Spain – the catholic clergy was under the direction of the Portuguese and Spanish crown in the New world colonies and served the needs of the conquistadors who raped, murdered and pillaged the native peoples of color all over the world with the blessings of the Pope.

Thus the destruction of the cultures and societies of the Americas and Africa,  the pillaging of their wealth, and the slaughter of millions of innocent souls  commenced with papal blessings.  The cruelty of the Spaniards resulted in such a high death rate all over the Americas – from pestilence and murder – among the Indigenous populations that it became clear if things continued unabated they would soon die out.

It was this fear that motivated Bartholomew de la Casas, a Spanish priest of the Dominican order, to take action.  From his first visit to the New World on Columbus’ third voyage in 1498, Las Casas was appalled by the Spanish treatment of the Native Americans.  He had imagined himself coming to a paradise where the Spanish and “Indians” were working together to build a new Christian community.  What he witnessed was horrifying and he was certain it was anti-Christian and evil.

He returned to Spain and began a long campaign for humane Christian treatment of the Native Americans.  By 1510 he had been ordained a Priest and he began to plead with the Spanish kings to turn to African for slave labor because the Indians were dying out from the rigors of the Spanish slave system. Many were committing suicide to escape it.

On the other hand Las Casas believed the African was strong enough to survive the arduous labors of slavery.  Hence it as De Las Casas, who became the Dominican Bishop of Cuba in 1541, was the mid-wife to the African Slave trade; a crime against the African people that financed the industrial revolution in Europe, laid the basis for the great wealth of the USA, and devastated vast areas of Africa.  It is a crime against humanity of such a magnitude that African peoples on both sides of the Atlantic are still suffering from the results five centuries later.

Bishop La Casas in his Study

Bartharlemew de la Casas

Midwife to the Slave Trade

Hence the Catholic Church could have made a real gesture of penitence for its myriad crimes against African peoples by electing a Pope from black Africa, one of the fastest growing segments of the Catholic Church.  Nigerian Church leaders are hardcore conservatives on church doctrine,  and they think they are right.   In fact, with 20 million believers and growing, they brag about the fact that while western countries have empty churches and struggle to find young priest, Nigerian churches are overflowing and they are producing so many priests they are exporting them to other countries.

Then there is the fact that the biggest church in the world is the Basilica of Our Lady Of Peace, in the Ivory Coast. This stunning architectural marvel rising out of the African bush is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  It is a testimony to the passion African Catholics feel for the church.  All of these factors provide a compelling case for the election of an African Pope.

Basilica of Our Lady of Peace

African Basilica

 The World’s Largest Cathedral

There are two African Cardinals that are eligible and qualified to become Pope: Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Peter Appiah Turkson of Ghana.   By elevating one of them to the papacy the church would begin to pay long overdue penitence Catholics owe African peoples for the  role their church played in launching the Slave Trade and the establishment of slavery in the Americas.

Entire Catholic orders owned slaves and priest kept harems of African and Indian woman, often producing bastard off spring who inherited the status of their enslaved mothers.  With the selection of Pope Francis – whose Italian ancestors were recruited to Argentina in a racist eugenicist inspired scheme to “Europeanize” the Argentinian populace, bleaching out the Afro-Indio stain – chances are that neither of the African Cardinals will ever be elected Pope; which would be a tragedy for a church preaching righteousness.  It all depends on how long the 76 year old Pope Francis lives.



Playthell G, Benjamin
Harlem, New York
March 14, 2013

On Dov Hikind, Black Face and Jews

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on February 27, 2013 by playthell
Dov Hikind
Assemblyman Hikind and Family

Is this Guy Really that Stupid?

I bet Dov Hikind is pissed with his son for putting this picture on the internet so the whole world can see it; otherwise it would have remained and inside joke between Hikind – a Brooklyn  Democrat who is New York State Assemblyman – and his constituents.  Did he learn nothing about the perils of the web from the fall of Congressman Andy Weiner, a brilliant politician who was forced to resign his office when he got busted flashing his weenie in cyberspace.  Did he not warn his son about the consequences of putting the wrong stuff out there?  Evidently he did not.

But to dress up in black face, put on a basketball jersey and say that he was just choosing a costume to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, is dumber .  And Hikind’s response to complaints that his actions are offensive is dumber still.  For a smart Jew this guy does some really dumb things. Consider his initial reaction.

“I was just, I think, I was trying to emulate, you know, maybe some of these basketball players. Someone gave me a uniform, someone gave me the hair of the actual, you know, sort of a black basketball player…I can’t imagine anyone getting offended. You know, anyone who knows anything about Purim knows that if you walk throughout the community, whether it’s Williamsburg, Boro Park, Flatbush, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, people get dressed up in, you name it, you know, in every kind of dress-up imaginable. Purim, you know, everything goes and it’s all done with respect. No one is laughing, no one is mocking. It’s all just in good fun with respect always, whatever anyone does it’s done with tremendous amounts of respect and with dignity, of course.”

Really Dovie?  Are you really that clueless?  For a guy who is a super Jewish Nationalist who was once a follower of the rabid racist Rabbi Mier Khane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, a militant Zionist organization here in the US, then immigrated to Israel.  After settling in Israel Kahane advocated openly racist policies.  The late great Jewish investigative reporter with the Village Voice, Robert I. Freedman, pulled the covers off the Hikind-Kahane relationship in penetrating articles a couple of decades ago.  But Hikind’s tawdry past has now been forgotten in a country with a short memory that disdains the study of history.

For a Jewish Nationalist of Hikind’s vintage to claim that he does not understand why black people are offended by his black face get up exposes him as a duplicitous fraud.  And he has been called to task on this by thoughtful honest Jewish critics – he even offended the Anti-Defamation League, who rarely criticizes Jews about anything.  But given the experience of the Jews and their tradition of criticism and debate, as well as their long tradition of speaking out for social justice, it is not surprising.  One of the most penetrating critiques comes from Ehav Ever, an Israeli who lives in Jerusalem.  Writing on the comment thread of the Politicker, Ehav observes:


There are a lot of Jews who are offended by non-Jews doing things, as a joke against Jews. Especially, when said joke has a long history of use by Anti-Semites. There are Jews who get offended by xian missionaries who started pretending to be Jewish in order to get Jews to convert.
Blackface jokes have a long and racist history behind them and for a Jew to claim to be connected to Torah and first take part in a tradition derived from Avodah Zara and then to take on a custom, blackface, started by those who used it as a part of systematic social degradation is anti-Torah to begin with. It is what the Torah warned against about taking on the practices of the nations.  
The choice is simple a Jew can either cast his/her lot with the Ovdei Avodah Zara who created the blackface fad or a Jew can cast her/her lot with Hashem, Torah, and Halakha.”

Isn’t it incredible that a Jew living in faraway Israel can see the issue so clearly, who is aware of the pernicious racist history of whites “blacking up,” as it was called during the era in American history when black faced minstrel shows parodying black American life and culture was the most popular form of mass entertainment in the nation, but a politician representing a borough with hundreds of thousands of black people does not?  What does it say about the educational system in this country?

It tells us that the system has failed in teaching Americans their true history. This of course comes as no revelation to those of us who have been fighting for decades to get the complete story of American race relations properly taught in our public schools.  The problem lies in the fact that the history of Afro-Americans and Native Americans contradict the great American myth of “the home of the brave and land of the free,” which is the central theme in the master narrative of American civilization upon which the American Exceptionalists based their claims that Americans are morally superior to all the other nations.

Hence this is a willful ignorance designed to avoid unpleasant truths; psychologists call it “living in denial.”  This is the most generous explanation for Assemblyman Hikind’s behavior.  But given his history one cannot truly know what motivates him, so I won’t venture further into an attempt at psychoanalysis, a task for which I am unqualified.  Rather I shall remind Mr. Hikind that there is a long history of his racist role playing by whites in black face who defamed Black Americans for the entertainment of fellow whites.  And although this tradition was started by white Christians Jews, would play a major role in projecting it around the world.

In 1991 I was invited to present a lecture at Harvard on the relationship between blacks and Jews.  The lecture was sponsored by the WEB DuBois Institute, which was headed by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., who extended the invitation.  At the time there is a big uproar over a skit held at the exclusive Friar’s Club in which a Roast was held for the black comedienne who goes by the stage name Whoopi Goldberg.  It is customary for the honoree to become the object of derisive but good natured jokes told by friends and colleagues.  It’s a showbiz thing.

However there is an understanding that the jokes told are designed for the audience to laugh with the object of the roast not at them, which is the difference between good humor and ridicule.  It is a thin line that all comedians who use personal insult as a subject of jokes must be aware of; crossing it can result in real offense.  This is what happened when Whoopi’s Jewish boyfriend Ted Danson appeared in black face and Afro-wig then proceeded to call her a bunch of “niggers.”  The black people in the room were shocked and outraged; television host and former Naval Intelligence Officer Montel Williams said he felt like he was at a Ku Klux Klan meeting and New York Mayor David Dinkins said it was way over the top.

I wrote a column about it in the Daily News and I began my Harvard speech, “Strange Bedfellows: On blacks and Jews in America,” by reading it.  The point was to show how Jews, enjoying the racial privilege bequeathed by white skin in America, were given license  to exploit the Afro-American image in public venues that Afro-Americans were not allowed to do with the Jewish image without being labeled “anti-Semitic” and paying a big price.  Yet the Sambo image represented by burnt cork faces and Afro-wigs is an offensive a symbol to Afro-Americans as the Swastika is to Jews.

Titled “Dear Whoppi & Ted: Sambo is Still Not Funny,” I offered the following observations.   “Like Jim Crow Sambo has had a strange career.  He was last seen in black tux and tails, high hat, burnt cork face and grotesquely large lips professing his love for his Whoopi at the Friars Club.  Not everyone at the party was amused….This incident raises serious issues and poses fundamental questions about how the Afro-American image is exploited in the public arena.”

Danson had offered an apology, just as Dov Hikind has now done, only much faster.  “Words by themselves are not racist; racism is a matter of intent” he said.  My response was “No matter how well intended, Danson’s apologia is sophistry.  Negative images of African Americans are deeply embedded in the national culture, collective memory and imagination of Euro-Americans.”

I went on to review the history of the Sambo figure, quoting Professor Joseph Botkin’s authoritative study, Sambo: the Rise and Demise of an American Jester.  ‘The life of Sambo began with the early colonization efforts of the 17th century…Sambo’s existence gradually evolved as western Europeans directed the energies of blacks on the Sugar plantations in the West Indies and the Tobacco fields of Virginia and Maryland.  Sambo was born during the infancy of the American Republic and over a period of time, Sambo became an integral part of the colonial family…Sambo was the first truly indigenous American humor character throughout the culture.”

By the middle of the 19th century the Sambo figure reached the height of popularity in the Blackface Minstrle show, when it was first Anglo-Saxon performers like Thomas “Daddy Dan” Rice who “blacked up,” then the role was dominated by Irishman, and by the early twentieth century the major black face stars were the Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, both Jews.   And their acts were a big hit; Jolson was the biggest act of his time after he made the first “Talkie” movie with sound: “The Jazz Singer.”  It was a complete rip off of Afro-American culture that the world witnessed first as a parody of the real thing.

The movie was a big hit, grossing almost four million and almost two million in profits.  With the great success of Al Jolson the Jewish movie Moguls who built Hollywood made many movies with the Sambo figure, even when they began to employ real black  actors  – like Stepin  Fetchin, Willie Best, Mantan Moreland, Eddie Rochester Anderson, etc. – which froze the black actor in that role for decades.

Hence Jews in Blackface is no joke, it is a tawdry tale that cost the black community dearly.  When the sensational song/dance/comedy team Bert Williams and George Walker formed their act in San Francisco during 1893, there were so many white acts performing in blackface the billed themselves as “Two Real Coons.”  George Walker, a handsome dark skinned man who sometimes billed himself as “Mr. Chocolate Drop,” refused to black up, but Bert Williams was forced to paint his face with burnt cork in order to work in the Ziegfeld Follies – which was then the greatest show in the country…if not the world!

This is the painful history that Dov Hikind has conjured up.  And if he doesn’t know it, then he should study the history of this country more carefully instead of just the Jewish experience.  But I don’t think he really wanted to know.  If he did he need only reference the  big blow-up in this city after former Mayor “Crazy Eddie” Kotch performed a blackface routine with Afro-wig while he was serving as the Mayor.  And that’s unacceptable for an elected official in a city with a large Afro-American population.  And we won’t stand for it!

Like Crazy Eddie, “Dumb Dovie” is an ultra-nationalist Jew, and they guard the Jewish image very carefully; ever ready to do battle with anyone who insults the Jewish community.  Hence he should understand that Afro-Americans are as jealous of our image as American Jews are of theirs.  Furthermore this is the 21st century, not the 19th or 20th, and we will not stand for racist insults by public officials.

That’s why Hikind ended up apologizing profusely after first doubling down. His “wrong and strong” routine sparked a fury from the Black community who were joined by anti-racist from all communities including the Jewish community, and he was roundly rebuked. A bit of free advice Dovie: You better Check yo self before yo wreck yoself!  ”


 Al Jolson

Al Jolson

This Jew Became the Biggest Star in Show business Blacking Up

Eddie Cantor


A Major Jewish Star All Blacked Up

Bert Williams


Forced to Black Up to work in the Ziegfeld Follies


Stepin Fetchit and will Rogers 


Jewish Movie Moguls ferred the Sambo Image to real Black Actors!


(Double click to view)

Al Jolson In “The Jazz Singer”

Eddie Cantor On Stage

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 27, 2913

Now’s The Time to Talk about Guns!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on December 18, 2012 by playthell
           obamamain1(2)_580_x_380         President Obama Speaks to the Mourners

 “The Constitution is Not a Suicide Pact”

Abraham Lincoln

Once more President Obama was called upon to eulogize the slaughtered innocents who were murdered in cold blood by a mad gunman.  It is the fourth time in his four year tenure in office that he has been called to soothe the pain of the nation after a mindless mass murder.

This time it was the coldblooded murder of 20 little children in the tranquil, affluent, village of Newtown Connecticut. With expressions that ranged from solemnity to disgust to anger, the President asked with an air of barely concealed outrage if anyone believed the murder of children was the price of freedom.

It was a shocking thought and an unacceptable bargain odious to all Americans.  Some thought it a rhetorical question, but it was carefully targeted at the Second Amendment gun nuts – like the Gun Owners Association and the National Rifle Association  who argue that the right to own guns of whatever caliber and quantity is a constitutional right identical to freedom of assembly, religion and the press.

However I have long believed this is a bogus argument, as do the best and the brightest legal scholars.  Including President Obama, who was a Professor of Constitutional Law, trained by brilliant constitutional scholars at Harvard such as Lawrence Tribe and Charles Ogeltree. My feeling on the matter derives from my understanding of the historical milieu in which the Second Amendment was drafted.

There is grand irony in the position of those who argue for “Originalist” interpretations of the Constitution, but now choose to ignore “original intent” in regard to the Second Amendment. The kind of muddled twisted legal arguments advanced by the right on the question of the original intent of the drafters of the US Constitution regarding the right to own guns, is on dramatic display in Justice Clarence Thomas’ written Opinion in the Otis McDonald Vs. Oak Park case regarding a challenge to the gun control laws of the city of Chicago.

On the face of it to argue that the architects of our constitution intended for American citizens to walk around with assault rifles, as does Larry Pratt, the President of the Gun Owners of America, is ludicrous. Especially when the fool argues that we need such weapons to protect ourselves against the US government…whom we can just vote out of power!

It is the argument of a charlatan or a fool, especially after the experience of the 1960’s when white and black “revolutionaries” on the left actually tried it and  were easily crushed by the local police departments actting on intelligence from the FBI.  They are far better armed now with intelligence and weaponary!

The argument that the Founding Fathers would bless these deadly weapons is a retreat into fantasy that borders on collective madness among the gun freaks. First of all they couldn’t even conceive of killing machines like modern weapons, and would surely have been appalled by them.   I haven’t the slightest doubt that they would have hastened to ban such ghastly weapons, just like the best and brightest Americans wish to do now.

Aside from the fact that it is absurd to argue that we don’t have the power to ban something that is a menace to society today because it was once a good idea, the reasons why the Second Amendment was crafted in the first place no longer exist; after all this is an 18th century document and it is now the dawning of the 21st century!

When the framers of the Constitution formulated the Second Amendment they had just concluded a war with England at felt threatened by other great European powers interested in overseas expansion.  Hence the citizen/soldier was a critical component of the nation’s defense.  But foreign invaders are no longer an issue, given the vast power of our nuclear armed military, which can project devastating force anywhere in the world with blinding speed.  We are more likely to be invaded by men from Mars as another sovereign country.

The sad truth is that the greatest danger to Americans comes from the guns on the home front.  And, irony of ironies, Americans wouldn’t accept prolonged involvement in a foreign war where the casualty rate was equal to the domestic rates – which stands at 30 gun casualties a day!  What does that tell us about the state of our union…it is in a state of emergency, and many Americans are on life support as I write trying to recover from gunshot wounds.

Dr. WEB DuBois’ description of white racist violence against Afro-Americans in the early twentieth century – the hey-day of lynching when a black person was hung, shot or burned alive for the amusement of morally depraved white spectators every two and a half days – is an apt description of the predicament of all Americans today.  “Not all the time but anytime,” wrote DuBois…Not everywhere but anywhere.”

The well-financed gun lobby has scared the shit out of opportunistic politicians who fear that the lobbyist will marshal their organizational and financial clout against them in the next election if they support gun control legislation.  Hence the rest of us are forced to live in danger of becoming a random casualty of some crazed gunman or a criminal with a bad aim.

The situation is such as I write that just going out of the house is like playing Russian Roulette.  Although right-wing charlatans like Mike Huckabee blame the shootings on banning prayer in schools,  I believe that most Americans are getting tired of living in terror, as the slaughter of children in the idyllic village of Newtown Connecticut underlines the fact that nowhere is safe…because the danger zone is everywhere!

By virtue of the public outrages over this latest massacre President Obama should move boldly and swiftly to change the gun laws and outlaw assault weapons. And he should double dare the Grand Obstructionist Party to block its passage.  If they remain intransigent about gun control they will dig their own graves.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has set forth a challenge to the Congress, calling the National Rifle Asociation paper tigers, and President Obama should follow his lead.

What we are witnessing in these mass murders is barbarism…and the lapse of the ban on assault weapons signed into law by President Clinton is yet another plague visited upon the American people by the Bush Administration.  As for those who cry that gun control infringes on their constitutional rights, Barack should once again consult his fellow Illinois politician “Honest Abe” and tell the Second Amendment zealots “The Constitution is not a suicide pact!”

 Not Everywhere …But Anywhere


 Not all the time…But anytime!


Yo Poot-Butt Poets: Step Off!

Posted in Cultural Matters, My Struggle On the Left! with tags , , , on November 24, 2012 by playthell
At Dr. J’s Country Club: The “Step Off Poot Butt!” Stare

Playin the Dozens with Leroi and Marvin

Although, like Pontius Pilate, I publicly washed my hands of one Marvin X of Oakland, a recovering left coast crack head and shameless sophist with an alter-ego bearing the curious name of “Plato Negro;” a pompous wag who confuses mindless mumbo jumbo with profound wisdom, alas I have been dragged back into an ethnic kerfuffle of the sort they love to wallow in but I eschew.  As those who read me regularly well know, I write about all the great issues of our time, and I’m interested in the whole world.

Yet I have spent a half century chronicling the triumphs and studying the problems of the black world.  Indeed I was a co-founder of the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in history – the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Mass, Amherst.  I also spent quite a few years as an activist trying to solve those problems, beginning with the explosion of the black student movement in the south during the spring of 1960.  Since then my life story would make a spectacular read even by the standards of a romance novel.

Hence when an obnoxious churl steps to me and challenges my story, accusing me of fabricating my personal narrative, the small part of it that he pretends to know, I am forced to respond at least once more.    Curiously, I hardly knew who Marvin X was a few weeks ago; I know him mainly through mutual friends in the Bay Area.

However we had a clash over President Obama, when he wrote some dumbass shit on my wall dissing the Pres.  So I yoked the chump and challenged him to debate me on the issues he had with Barack.   But he punked out!!!   When he started talking shit out of school I stepped to him and publicly chastised his silly ass!

The reader can follow the progress of the discussion because they are all in my Facebook Notes, and the last essay is posted here on the Commentaries.  And I shall soon publish them in my forthcoming book “The Crisis of Black Leftist and Nationalist Intellectuals.” After reading his response to my questions about his specific policy differences with President Obama, and his suggestions for politically achievable policy options, I decided that Marvin’s brain is so fried from a decade of sucking the crack pipe he is incapable of formulating an intellectually rigorous argument.  Hence I just wanted to be rid of this nuisance.

But Marin X seems to have become obsessed with proving that my story is untrue….well, good luck with that dog.  Frankly I find it amusing, because I don’t give a fuck about his story….not even his bizarre adventures wandering around the Bay area whacked out on crack!  I just don’t find him interesting or relevant to anything I care about. And the only reason I am talking about him is because the chup keeps getting up in my face.

I stumbled into this protracted dust-up with Malevolent Marv because he took issue with some things I said in defense of President Obama while smacking around one of his intellectual heroes, Glenn Ford. Then he got huffy about some of the science I dropped on his silly ass about the founding of the Black Panther Party of Oakland.  He didn’t know shit about it and yet he fancies himself an authority on the history of the Black Panther Party.

So he has been running around telling lies on me, saying I am claiming to have founded the BPP of Oakland, when I have claimed no such thing.  What I said was that the Oakland Party was founded by a cadre of the Revolutionary Action Movement / RAM named Kenny Freeman – whom I knew as Mamadou Dia. Freeman was a sociology teacher at Merritt Jr. College, and recruited Bobby Seales and Huey Newton who were students there.

Marvin #10
A Glutton for Punishment?

I interviewed Bobby for an award winning cover story in Emerge Magazine titled “Radical Changes: Sixties Militants, Where are they Now?” in which bobby verifies my version of events.  I think I have a copy of the magazine in my files so I shall scan the article and post it on my Facebook page within the week. I also said that I was a co-founder of RAM with Max Stanford/Dr. Muhammad Ahmed in Philly.  AND I STAND BY THAT!!!!!!!

Now the hapless Marvin has interrogated his bosom buddy, the venerable Newark poet Leroi Jones/aka Amiri Baraka about me, and the over-the-hill fabulator bad mouthed me alas.  I am not surprised by this, and yhall won’t be either…once you read what I have written about him over the years.  Marvin said that Little Leroy told him that I was a self-confessed army intelligence agent, and our intrepid Oakland investigator and self-confessed crack head wants to know if I was in military intelligence before or after the founding of RAM.

Well first of all, little Leroi got it wrong.  I was never in the army at all.  I was in the Strategic Air Command, where Leroi was a bombardier, trained to drop nuclear bombs on innocent populations. I was in combat defense with the 91st Strato-Bomber Wing stationed on the DEW (Distance Early Warning) Line stretching from the Canadian border to Tule Greenland.  My unit’s job was to protect America’s nuclear arsenal – including the B-52 bombers that Leroi was flying on, programmed to commit a monstrous crime against innocent civilians – from Russian saboteurs or their American agents.

Since I went in the service to get away from the brewing race war in my home town of St. Augustine Florida, upon my grandfather’s advice, I chose the air-force because I figured I would have no chance of ending up in a combat situation.  But, alas, I ended up in the only unit in the Command that was trained for ground fighting.  It was an intense experience for a teenager who came of age during the cold war and had participated in atomic attack drills in school.

I didn’t question anything my military teachers told us about the evils and dangers of Communism, and I was committed to our mission.  We were called “SAC Trained Killers,” and I was trained in the use of a variety of weapons, as well as how to kill people quickly and efficiently with my bare hands. And I am more dangerous with a knife than most thugs are with a gun!  Although I am seventy now, I’m still a rock and “once a SAC Trained Killer…always a SAC Trained Killer!

However once I attended classes on the destructive capacity of the weapons we were protecting, and considered the implications of my base’s mission, I was troubled by it and began to openly question our mission.  I once even asked the chaplain how he could teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ yet bless our mission.  These kinds of questions got me in trouble and eventually a Convenience of The Government Discharge under Honorable Conditions.

It is interesting that Little Leroi, who was charged with dropping these bombs on helpless civilians, did his whole stint…didn’t seem to bother him none.  This probably explains his ruthlessness and lack of a conscience in some of the things he has done since. Ironically, I actually became a radical while serving in the military.

Stationed out in the Great Plains, I witnessed the plight of Native Americans, and I saw first-hand the horrors of their condition.  And when I put that together with my experience in Florida, and the mission of my SAC base, I saw  just how evil the white man could be.  That’s what set me on the road to participating in the founding of RAM, when Max Stanford presented me with his blueprint for building a revolutionary movement!    And by the way, I was the one with actual military training.

So the answer to your question Marvin is yes I was a SAC Trained Killer before the founding of RAM.  Now since we are talking about things people said, I have a question for you Marvin.  Somebody told me that during the decade that you were on your “long journey into night” as you describe it, when you were strung out on crack, you used to hang out in the all  night porn theaters in San Francisco sucking dicks to get money for crack!

Everybody who knows anything about the subject knows that crack heads will do anything to get it. And I wondered how you financed a crack habit for a decade.  Conventional wisdom has it that if you will suck on the glass pipe you will suck on the skin pipe.  So my question for you Marvin is was you sucking dicks before or after you got strung out: Was you a dick head before you became a crack head?  Jes askin….ain’t no skin off my teeth.


As for our Newark poet, Little Leroi,  he was a beatnik poet, living with his white wife in the milky white prescints of Greenwich Village – where the great militant writer Richard Wright had been constantly insulted and driven out of the country just a few years earlier – so he don’t know shit about the founding of RAM…he hadn’t been “blackified” yet.

Since I have decided to dismiss Marvin X, and waste no more time intellectually sparring with him because he is a dullard and a bore, I must resist the temptation to engage him in his foolish rantings and waste even more time that I am squandering now.  But to those who read Barakas’ comments to him,  I ask that you consider the source.  You see Amiri Baraka and I have a history.  I have flogged his ass repeatedly in print over the years for his myriad follies and foibles.

Baraka and I were once on the same side, black revolutionary nationalist/Marxist.  But over the years we have had a parting of the ways. We even had some of the same fiends, like the brilliant Philadelphia poet/critic/essayist/dramatist Larry Neal,and Max Stanford aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, with whom I co-founded the first branch of the Revolutionary Action Movement /RAM in Philly.

Larry was one of my best friends in Philly before he ever met Baraka, and although Little Leroi piggybacked off of Larry’s broad knowlege of literature and critical gravitas as co-editor of the seminal anthology of the literary component of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s, he is taking the bows and Larry is practically forgotten

Leroi has shamelessy hogged the spotlight.  He even came to Larry’s memorial service and talked mostly about his own importance.  That’s not just my opinion; it was a subject of much derisive comment from those in attendance.  But Larry was every bit as good a poet as Leroi, and came to a revolutionary position on black culture before him.

Larry was teaching Literature at Drexel University in Philly before he moved to New York and hoked up with Leroi, and he died of a massive heart attack while lecturing to his class at Yale.  His importanc in the development of the Black Arts Movement was second to no one – except perhaps the Braithwaite brothers and Max Roach, who set a lot of the forces in motion that became the Black Arts Movement. (See, On Amiri Baraka: Thought Policeman.)

However Larry and Leroy had become estranged and were barely speaking when Larry danced and joined the ancestors.  I know this because we remained good friends until the end and lived around the corner from each other.  And we talked all the time.  He had become turned off by Leroi’s egotism, dogmatism, and refusal to admit that he had led a lot of people astray with wrong headed ideas that he had abandoned.

Baraka and I had a dramatic parting of the ways for similar reasons.  Our first dustup came when I published a complex essay on the proper relationship between politics and art, inspired by Baraka’s petty and vicious attacks on Spike Lee when he was making his great bio-pic of Malcolm X.  Although he tried to camouflage his true intentions in the high flown rhetoric of leftist “revolutionaries,” it was readily apparent to me that the mad poet was fueled by the basest of motives: egomania and envy!

In his fevered megalomaniacal mind he felt that somehow he was the one who should be chronicling Malcolm’s story.  He, the great Imamu, should spin this narrative for posterity.  And thus he called Spike Lee everything but a child of God – impugning his motives and traducing his character!  When I could bear no more of his abominable bullying – opportunistically flaunting his history in the movement to try and discredit Spike, although nobody had prevented him from writing his own book or play in tribute to Malcolm –  I took up my pen and chastised the pompous scoundrel!

The title of the essay is “Bearing the Cross: Spike Lee and the Malcolm X. Movie Mess,” It was first published as a cover story in Emerge, a nationally distributed hard news magazine published by Afro-Americans.  The features editor at the New York Daily News liked the essay so much they bought the reprint rights and published it on the cover of their Sunday Magazine.  So this was a widely read piece…and I whipped little Leroy like a runaway slave!

A couple of years later we ended up on a panel at a writer’s workshop during the International Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, which I chaired.  Baraka made such a complete ass of himself at the conference that I thought Ishmael Reed was gonna smack him. Avery Brooks had to make a special speech defending the purpose of the conference from Baraka’s incendiary attacks on everybody as “compradore intellectuals,” while declaring that only he was a true “revolutionary artist.”

As Chairman of the Panel

I had to put Little Leroi in check!

 I had to fire his ass up from my position as chairman of the panel and put him in check.  Little Leroi was such a pain in the ass that his wife felt the need to apologize to the conference for his behavior.  I was an Editorial Page columnist at the New York Daily News at the time and upon my return to the Big Apple I wrote a column about the conference in which I whipped his head again in print for millions to read!  The column was titled “Artist Should Obey Inner Voices…Not Politics.”  It is posted on this blog.

The position I took in this essay was what Little Leroi was referring to in his speech at the Georgetown Conference, where he misrepresented my position on the relationship between art and politics.  And it inspired the essay “On Amiri Baraka: Thought Policeman,” on this blog.  The Daily News column is directly below this essay, just scroll down.  After you read them you will know why Little Leroy will jump at any chance to throw stink on my name.

Finally, let me say without fear of contradiction, that in truth I have led a remarkably honorable life in a nation that rewards thieves, hustlers and whores – just look at Mitt Romney and his crowd – and it has cost me dearly in terms of wealth and status.  I have repeatedly spoken truth to power, and only beat up on those who deserve it.  I have defended the defenseless and gave a powerful voice to the voiceless.  I did what I wanted to do and I have no regrets.

I have made many wonderful friends…and some enemies too.  But no matter…as my uncle Jimmy said: “A man who never makes any enemies is a man who don’t stand for nothing!”  Well I have stood for many things…and I have made some enemies.  But like we use to say down south: “My name is Buck and I don’t give a fuck!!!!”

However I make no claim to perfection…only the Lord is perfect, but I declare without hesitation: The worse that can be honestly said of me is that I beguiled and enjoyed the favors of women who were forbidden to me by the laws and strictures of church and state. And that this roguish behavior has driven wounded cuckolds to wish me harm, a couple shot at me and others refuse no opportunity to throw mud upon my good name.

Alas, their hostility is justified because I was guilty.  All I can say in my behalf is that the women thought I was fine, and I found them irresistible….and I could not prove stronger than David Samson and Solomon! But beyond these transgressions, weaknesses of the flesh, I have been like Caesers wife: pure as the driven snow.

Unless you want to hold the fact that I used to piss in the lemonade when I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant that served “whites only” as a teenager in apartheid Florida. But if you think it would have been appropriate for Jews to put poison in the food of Nazi’s then you are subjecting me to a double standard.  Nazi’s got their ideas about race from the US, and based their discriminatory laws against Jews on the Jim Crow legal system of the American South that I was living under at the time.  Beyond these transgressions any charges brought against my character and conduct is baseless lies!

Since I don’t remember ever taking a girl from Little Leroy, I can only speculate that his hostility derives from the fact that I have repeatedly whipped his head and ass in print…and he has never had the balls to respond to my substantive critiques of his silly wrong-headed ideas, so he resorts to misrepresentations of my views and personal attacks.

Alas, that marvelous man of letters and peerless wit Ishmael Reed warned me that these leftist ideologues can’t defend their positions against my intellectual assaults, so they will resort to character assassination. More prophetic words have rarely been spoken.  In the present case the antagonists are two poot-butt poets – Fatty Jackmon aka Marvin X, and Little Leroi aka Imamu Amiri Baraka.

Fatty J is a recovering Crack head who is in constant danger of slipping back on the pipe – as they say “once a crack head always a crack head” – and his arguments show definite symptoms of scrambled brain syndrome.  Like the old folks down home used to say “Dat boys understandin is bad.”  While I have no knowledge that Little Leroi has abused drugs, he suffers from handicaps that are just as debilitating in terms of being able to see the world clearly and think straight: A Napoleonic Complex and a Messiah Complex.  The former is fueled by the fact that he is a runt, and the latter by a tragic overestimation of his importance as a political thinker.

 Not content to be A good poet…

 Leroi Jones insist on being a bad political Theorist

 As poets their verse runs from mediocre to great.  While I have never read anything by Marvin #10 that made me go “Wow!” Amiri Baraka has written some great poetry, he is an original and important voice among American poets.  And in the first essay the reader will see that I have given this mad poet his due, as is my habit.   I especially like his Jazz poems.  Not that long ago I was on a program with him at the Iridium, a famous Jazz club in Manhattan.

We had both been invited to participate in a tribute to the great saxophonist Jackie McClean, who had lately danced and joined the ancestors, by his son, Renee Mclean, a virtuoso saxophonist in his own right.  I told him about the latest spanking I had laid on him in the essay “Amiri Baraka: Thought Policeman” and challenged him to come on WBAI and debate me, or otherwise respond in writing about my views on politics and art.  He has never said a mumbling word.  And although his non-response was cowardly…it was wise.  Being brain damaged Marvin #10 is obviously not smart enough to just go away and shut the fuck up!

As far as I can see, both of these poot-butt poets are completely out of their element when they dabble in political analysis – a complex science for which versifiers are ill suited – or historical reconstruction, a task for which they are perhaps even less suited given their tendency to fabulate.  Hence for their own safety they should stick to writing poetry and leave these other matters to those of us who have paid their dues by laboring in the archives of ancient prudence.

And most of all, unless they get off on being publicly flagellated by being exposed as fools and charlatans before a candid public, they should leave me tha fuck alone!   Read my two essays on Leroi Jones – if he doesn’t like that name blame his parents not me – and you will see why he has no kind words for me….BUT HE HAS NEVER HAD THE BALLS TO RESPOND MY ASSAULTS INTELLECTUALLY!!!!!!

There is something about me Marvin that you obviously don’t understand.  In trying to figure out just how to explain it to you succinctly, I decided I would just quote Ralph Ellison’s remark to the critic Addison Gayle, who was all up in Ellison’s face talkin smack: “I’m a street boy, I’m mean, and I’ve got a very dirty mouth!”

Yo Poot-Butt Poets!

Get tha fuck outta my face yo!!!!


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
November 23, 2o12

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