To Be young, Gifted And Black

Wynton with Michelle Obama 

Wynton Marsalis And The First Lady


A Jazz Meister Visits the White House

 Recently I came across a picture of Wynton Marsalis and the First Lady, the fabulous Michel Obama, standing with another young black man of imposing stature and the deepest dye in a drawing room within the White House.  As of this writing I have been unable to talk to Wynton and ask who the young man is – Which will be the first question I put to him when next we meet – But we can assume the mystery man would easily qualify for any who’s who among young American men. Wynton Marsalis, for anyone who may not know, is the greatest trumpeter alive, a master of every style from Bach to the Blues on that extremely difficult brass instrument.  It is an unprecedented achievement! 

 This is not to say that there are not other versatile trumpeters, but none can perform the classical European trumpet literature, swing the blues with soul, and navigate the complex rhythmic and harmonic language of Bop and post Bop jazz as brilliantly as Wynton.  He can even take it out and play free style if he has a mind to, but mostly he prefers the demanding discipline and technical challenges presented by conventional trumpet performance.  Wynton is also the leader of what is arguably the best Orchestra in the world performing modern African American complex instrumental music: The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. 


The Best Ever!

Furthermore, Wynton is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer – and is presently writing a symphony on commission from two major symphonic Orchestras – plus an eight time Grammy winner for instrumental performance: Four for European classical music and four for Jazz.  This is an achievement tantamount to an actor winning four Oscars for performances in English and four Oscars for performance in Russian!  No actor, regardless of how great, has even approached such an achievement.  And as anyone who has seen the video of Wynton reciting “The Wild Old Man” by William Butler Yates, will recognize that he reads literary texts with the same brilliance as he interprets musical scores.



Michel Obama is easily one of the most impressive women in the world in her own right, plus she is married to the President of the United States.  Both are Harvard trained lawyers and she once mentored Barack, one of the most intellectually accomplished men to ever hold the office.  She literally stands head and shoulders above her peers among the world’s first ladies.  Yet aside from her academic brilliance and executive skills, she is also drop dead gorgeous and an exemplar of that sense of high style typical of middle class black Chicago women.  The kind of women Joe Williams made world famous in his classic recording of “Going To Chicago” with the Count Basie Orchestra.  It was amusing to watch the meeting between Michel and the first lady of France, Madam Sarkozy, who is a former “super model;”  white wags in the press made much of it, carrying on for days with wild speculations about what the moment portended.  It is no exaggeration to say that the First Lady Of France, a Mecca of high fashion, literally paled beside ours!

Michelle and Carli Bruni 

 Even Madam Sarkozy can’t take her Eyes off Michel

Added to her beauty and brilliance she is a great mom who is setting a high standard in the art of parenting for all women everywhere to emulate.  Michel is the ultimate role model for women and girls.  She is a hands on mom who has elevated parenting to a fine art, enriching the lives of her girls beyond measure.  Her interest in organic gardening and the preparation of nutritious foods is teaching the mothers of the nation how important fruits and vegetables are in their children’s diets.  And in a nation addicted to junk foods devoid of serious nutritional value this no picayune achievement. The first Ladies commitment to physical fitness is just what the doctors ordered in a country where obesity is epidemic, even among children.   And her personal academic achievements, which makes her as qualified to run the country as her husband, are an inspiration for young women and girls all over the world.

 By comparison, the Republican ideal of womanhood, Silly Sarah Palin, is exposed as just an ignorant, crude, Alaskan barbarian, who could only have risen to political prominence in a state that is mostly wilderness and frozen tundra.  It is a safe bet that the Obama girls will not wind up as unmarried teenage mothers with empty headed thugs airing their family’s dirty laundry on television, stoking the voracious public appetite for scandal.   That’s because they have a great mom who has set higher standards for them, and will have equipped them with the tools from whence real self-esteem is created: Family love and attention and personal achievement.   I am certain that the Obama girls will be among the great American women of the future and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them became President of the United states!

 A Wife and Mom

 pG-6-Michelle-Obama-_and daughters


 Nobody Does It Better!


As I studied the expressions on the smiling faces in the striking picture, the personification of the dreams of many thousands gone, they reflected an inner confidence born of great personal accomplishments.  You can tell that they know they are not inferior in any way to anybody, and that the claim of white superiority is nothing more than a bogus self-serving ideology with no basis in fact; they know this because they have competed with the best and brightest that white folks can muster and trounced them.  They, and the class of brilliant accomplished Afro-Americans they represent, are increasingly taking their place at the very top of American society, and are actually running things. 

 As one who spent my youth struggling to destroy the system of white privilege an black oppression, persevering even when the wisest among my elders had declared our goal and impossible dream, a prize beyond our grasp for as far as the mind could see, it makes my spirit dance to witness these beautiful and brilliant young Afro-Americans striding miles ahead.  I look at them and smile to myself while shouting under my breath: “Git on with yo bad self!”  I just love it!   I’m glad I lived to see it!  After all, advancing African Americans to the pinnacle of power has been the moving force of my entire adult life. 

 Hence it is a true labor of love when I celebrate their achievements.  I especially rejoice when I reflect upon the fact that prescient women like Elizabeth Cady, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who literally authored what would become the 19th Amendment a half century later, did not live to see women finally win the right to vote, and black uberwomen like Ida B. Wells, Dr. Anna Julia Cooper – who was born a slave an earned a PhD in French civilization from the Sorbonne at 66 years old! – and Dr. Mary McCloud Bethune, an ex-slave who founded a university and advised Presidents – never got to see one of their sisters reign as The first Lady Of the United States Of America.




However it also occurs to me that everybody is not rejoicing over the miraculous ascendancy of Afro-Americans like I am.  For millions of my fellow Euro-Americans, white nationalists made mad by the malicious malady of racism, or Black American Nationalists who so damaged by white racism they are hopelessly deluded,  the developments in race relations about which I rejoice and our nation can be justly proud is either anathema or a development to be regarded with deep suspicion and disdain.  The evidence for this conclusion is in their bizarre behavior.  Among white nationalists it is  the vulgar racist insults, constant attempts to paint our President as a disloyal alien, the hyper-criticism of every move he makes, calls for his murder –which began during the election when that airhead Alaskan shrew Sarah Palin egged them on – and the attempts of Republican big wigs to portray the racist as just a group of citizens who have been pushed into action by their outrage over the President’s policies is also a sign of pathological thinking on the right.  

 Among black nationalists there is the paranoid belief that Barack Obama is nothing more than a tool of the Zionists and other sinister forces of white power.  A prominent example of this species of collective madness can be found in the video “The Obama Deception” produced by the rapper KRS1.   It is further evidence that the lunatic fringes on the left and right, and reactionary nationalist black and white, converge at a certain point.  Both groups operate in fact free zones where the passions conjured up by paranoia and racist hysteria regularly trumps science and reason.   However since the black paranoids are all talk, being completely powerless to do anything except mislead black youths and deprive them of their right to even dream of a better world, they represent as much of a danger to the progress of black people in America as the white racists with real power and influence like the spokesman and elected representative of the Republican party. 


Simple Simon: A Modern Day Minstrle

indiana jones harlem 210508


This guy Is As Cluless As Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck!

 The fact that the brutality of their lives coming up poor and black in the richest country in the world – where images of white power, privilege and affluence are everywhere – has convinced them deep in their souls that they, or any black people, can really have a positive effect on this country that will enrich the lives of all their citizens and greatly expand the life’s chances of African Americans, is the ultimate tragedy because it is the most virulent strain of self-hatred. Alas, this is also reflected in the non-stop celebration of self-destructive that dominates the poetry of this class on records and videos. Listening to the hysterical rhetoric of the white and black racial nationalist, thoughtful people from both groups can arrive at no other honest conclusion but these are the mutterings of madmen and charlatans!

 But be that as it may – since we appear to be cursed as a people to have racist demogouges among us – we shall have to keep on keeping on in spite of them.  Of course, this is the way I, and virtually all African Americans who have succeed in this society built on the ideal of white supremacy, have always lived our lives.  This attitude, along with the  belief that I have held since I was a child that I could accomplish anything I wanted if I really put my mind to it – my mom convinced me of it by five years old – has constantly caused me trouble with my white countrymen.  Even among the educated middle class – although I have enjoyed more than my share of brilliant charming white friends and comrades – I have found my attitude to present a problem.

 But it is an old problem that certainly did not start with me.  I heard it from talented people in my family, and among their friends.  And having studied and written extensively about Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, I know what a drag it was for him trying to play down the fact that he was always the smartest guy in every room he was in with his white fellow Americans.  Hence the thing that brings me the greatest joy as I study the picture of Wynton, Michel and the young mystery man with the Mona Lisa smile is that they don’t even seem to be aware that some white folks may be offended by their elegance, beauty and brilliance.  And if they did, I suspect, they wouldn’t give a shit!  And that, gentle reader, is real progress.







Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries On The Times

Harlem, New York

September 5, 2009



















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