Archive for July, 2010

Carlos Del Pino In Concert!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays on July 30, 2010 by playthell



An Afternoon With the World’s Greatest Conta-Bassist

Before leaving for the concert at St. Phillips Episcopal Church I watched a concert on PBS performed by the great virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. As I listened to his eclectic repertoire – which ranged from Rachmaninoff to George Gershwin to the Beatles, I naturally thought of Carlos Del Pino, whose performance I would be attending within the hour.  Both Bell’s eclectic program and his dazzling virtuosity conjured up comparisons with Carlos, whose concerts are also eclectic and wide ranging, and his virtuosity on the double bass violin is unparalleled.

A Contemplative Moment


The calm before the storm

From the opening selection we were treated to a composition that ranged from European classical music to jazz combined in exquisite proportions and with the greatest care to preserve the idiomatic nuances of each musical genre.  Carlos dazzled the crowd with his blinding pizzicato riffs.  Although the art of pizzicato playing on the double bass violin is the unique contribution of Afro-American jazz men to the art of double bass performance, as an Afro-Cuban Carlos del Pino was naturally drawn to it because the pizzicato converts the bass from a violin which is bowed to a rhythm instrument, a bull fiddle which is plucked and holds the pulse for the rhythm section.   Afro-Cuban music, like jazz, is a poly-rhythmic neo-African music that was wedded to the dance

Making difficult passages look easy

Lost in the Ecstasy Of Making Music

 Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq

Yet Carlos belongs to a tradition of Afro-Cuban musicians who have been extensively trained in European classical music; it is common place for them to play in both idioms without accent.  Hence the music performed by Carlo’s conjuntos requires special musicians who are conversant with both languages.  This becomes obvious early on when Anna Bermudez is featured on the electric cello, then switches easily to the claves and sings Cuban songs with great power and passion.

Anna Bermudez Makes The Electric Cello Sing!

Plus she is a fabulous vocalist too

Although my ears have long been attuned to the warm sound of viols produced by vibrating strings echoing inside a box constructed of carefully selected and varnished woods by master artisans, Carlos and Anna by some special sonic alchemy have managed to produce the same warmth with electrified solid body instruments.  Some of Anna’s passages were so lyrical and moving they felt like sound waves to the soul and made our spirits dance.

From the composition of his ensembles one thing is clear: the only criterion Carlos employs in selecting musicians to work with is their musical talent; neither race, nationality nor gender matters.  In his last band the Conga drummer was French, the violinist was Afro-American and the pianist was Japanese and a woman.  In the present ensemble there are two women and three men, with a male singer featured on select tunes. 

The pianist Chemi Nakhai is the only member of the last band who played this concert and her contribution to the overall sound of the group is indispensable. Like Carlos she is a paragon of versatility who is fluent in three musical languages. She is a product of what is evidently a top notch musical education system.  I am constantly impressed with the young Japanese musicians who pop up in New York; they are universally excellent.

Chimi Nahki: a consummate keyboard artist *


 Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq

Chemi is an impressive player whether she is performing on acoustic or electric piano. Small of stature with an unassuming personality, she becomes a ball of fire once she sits down to the keyboard.  She is a brilliant accompanist and soloist whether she is swinging the blues in the Afro-American tradition or playing sizzling montunos in the Afro-Cuban tradition. And she can interpret Bach or other European composers with authority.  The enormity of her talent can be measured by the extent to which she makes it all look so easy.  If you heard her on a recording and didn’t know who it was you would never suspect that she wasn’t a native player in the tradition she is performing.



True to his Cuban roots Carlos provides a prominent place for the drums in his arrangements.  And on this occasion he had two excellent drummers.  One of them was Afro-Cuban, and he was extraordinary, playing drums in combinations and rhythmic configurations that I had never witnessed before.  But in any case this is par for the course.  Every Carlos Del Pino concert is full of musical surprises, featuring great instrumentalist doing fantastic things. And Carlos, the man behind the sound, a master of three major musical languages – Afro-American complex instrumental art music Jazz, European Classical and the Afro-Cuban Son – is the most fantastic of them all.

A Rare Performance

Playing Congas and Bata in Unison

Or the Trap Drums

Accompanying The Congero


The Bongolero


Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq


The Dancers!


Grooving On the Clave


 More Dancers!


 Going with the flow

 * Photo by: Hakim 

The Bill Of Particulars 




* To see Carlos in Performance click this link:


Text and all other Pictures by: Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 30, 2010

The End of a Delusion

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics on July 27, 2010 by playthell

 Fighting an Invisible Enemy


Wikileaks exposes government fictions about the Afghan War

Alas it is no fun being a prophet when the truth of your predictions is so tragic.  The new revelations about the reality of the war in Afghanistan contained in the 92,000 documents published on the Wikileaks website exposes the war in Afghanistan as a classic case of political folly, a phenomenon which occurs when governments pursue a policy that the objective facts suggests is against the national interests, and it fingers Pakistan as the place to watch in the region.  Both revelations support arguments I have made in previous commentaries.

Wikileaks, a stateless website in cyberspace, is dedicated to exposing the lies and crimes of governments and corporations by publishing incriminating classified or confidential internal documents on the internet.  And this is by far the biggest leak of secret US government documents since the Pentagon Papers forty years ago. Although an embarrassed Obama administration is pursuing a criminal investigation with blood in their eyes, I believe leaking these documents is the highest exercise of the responsibility of citizenship in a free society.  It is the 21st century’s version of the Pentagon Papers. 

The Pentagon Papers were leaked to the New York Times as an act of conscience by Dr. Daniel Ellesberg – a Harvard trained PhD in economics and former Marine Corps officer who was a Top Secret military analyst for the RAND Corporation – and they changed the public perception of the war in Vietnam.  In 1996 R. W. Apple, an editor at the Times, recalled that they decided to publish the Pentagon Papers because they “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.  They revealed that the government had knowledge, early on, that the war would not likely be won, and that continuing the war would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted publicly. Further, the papers showed a deep cynicism towards the public and a disregard for safety of soldiers and civilians.” 

The revelations about the Johnson Administration’s conduct of the protracted conflict gave a big boost to the anti-war movement and signaled the beginning of the end.  The Wickileaks papers have the potential to provoke a similar reaction once we have time to digest their lessons.  From what I have been able to discern thus far by perusing the raw intelligence gathered from combatants on the front lines, and pondering the learned opinions of US intelligence analyst, it is clear that the Bush Administration never gave the war in Afghanistan its full attention because they were distracted by their decision to invade Iraq, an ideologically driven war of choice.  Under the cloak of retaliating against the perps in the 9/11 attack the Bushmen overthrew Iraq’s Sadam Hussein, who played no part in the assault, and let the architect of the attack, Osama bin Laden, who was based in Afghanistan, remain free to create more havoc.

Everything I have been warning about in my writings on the region is verified by these documents.  The killing of innocent civilians, an inevitable consequence of this type of warfare, is fuelling the resistance.  The American backed government does not have the allegiance of the masses; hence we are viewed by many Afghans as the enablers of a corrupt and unpopular regime. The most important revelation is that nuclear armed Pakistan is a divided country in which some parts of the national security apparatus such as the military supports their government’s US policy, and others such as the intelligence service is training and arming Afghan insurgents.   

While evaluating the full importance of these documents is beyond the scope of this commentary, I shall return to this subject again. However some of the benefits are obvious. First, the discourse disclosure of these documents has sparked strengthens our democracy. And the Administration is understandably alarmed because, in spite of massive propaganda designed to convince us otherwise, the Wikileaks papers clearly debunk the illusion that we are winning the war in Afghanistan.  And they strongly suggest that further infusions of US blood and treasure cannot alter this reality.



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 27, 2010

Blues for Jackie Mac: A Remembrance

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on July 25, 2010 by playthell

A basically bad red bone boy!


 Some Reflections on a Jazz Revivalist

  The late anthropologist and long time student of transformative social movements, Dr. Luther P. Gerhlach, a friend and mentor, demonstrated that those movements among human beings which change people’s lives and compel them to action in behalf of a vision or ideal have several things in common which hold true across time, geography, or the specific ideology of the movement.  Whether the activists are feminist, communist, fascist, or Catholic, all of them are propelled along and given a sense of esprit de corps through the actions of charismatic revivalists, those gifted voices who speak truth to power and personify the ideals of the movement.

Hence through some inexplicable alchemy these chosen people manage to embody the ideals of the movement, which is synonymous with the aspirations of the people, in their personalities.  And that personality finds its highest expression in the work of the Charismatic revivalist, whose role is first and foremost to preach the good news with fervor and conviction; thus inspiring the true believers to action while converting others.  That’s what Jackie McClean was to all who love and play the great American art of Jazz.

            We often see this in the religious context where the preacher preaches a message of personal salvation through religious conversion, but it also happens in the secular realm.  In the latter years of his life Jackie McClean was not only a seminal artist on the saxophone, he was also a jazz preacher, a charismatic Revivalists with a horn who was a leader in the movement to keep jazz alive and  miles ahead of any other musical art born since the twentieth century.  A professor of music in the fullest sense of the term, he taught inside and outside the academy. He tutored the students who were fortunate to attend the University of Hartford, and for those who were not so fortunate, whether through age or financial circumstance, he built a cultural center in the community along with the very able assistance of his wife Dolly, without whom, I frankly can’t imagine it happening on the scale that it did.  

            Like the master craftsman in a mediaeval guild, he taught by example. It was always on-the-job training when you were around Jackie Mac.  I learned something of importance about the music every time I was lucky enough to be in his presence.  His natural generosity of spirit and his total dedication to the task of preserving and perpetuating Jazz music was such he became a compulsive pedagogue dropping science 24/7 on all who had the intellectual curiosity and stamina to dig it.   

Fortunately for me, Jackie liked my writings about the music so he presented me in lectures up in Hartford many times. In fact, he once commissioned me to deliver a paper on “Bird” at the prestigious Anatheum Art Museum in Hartford and I damn near got me and him run out of town!   Titled, “Blues and the Abstract Truth: Notes on the art of Charles Yardbird Parker,” this ambitious essay sought to answer the question: “Where do Original Ideas come from?” 

In an attempt to answer this perplexing question I interrogated the nature of innovation – after all I was trying to understand Charlie Parker’s art, the man who did for music what Albert Einstein did for theoretical physics: Change the way his most gifted colleagues conceived of the relationship between time and space forever.  But to make a short story shorter let’s just say I ended up making some unfavorable comparisons between Jazz and Abstract Expressionist art that the staid museum subscribers found unpalatable and they became vocal and demonstrative about it.


            But I’ve gotten too far ahead in the story of my association with the musical seer Jackie Mac.   I’d like to say a word or two about how I first came to know of Jackie McClean, because only then can you understand what a continuous thrill it was for me to get to know him and work with him.   I grew up in a time and place where musicians were heroes.  The racial caste system that ranked the value of human beings on the color of their skins, rather than the content of their character, produced some unexpected consequences. 

One of these was that great black musicians who were denied access to concert stages and recording studios wound up as band masters and music appreciation teachers in the all black public schools and colleges in the American south.  While the formal curriculum in these music programs was heavily weighted toward European classical music, and the great body of Afro-American sacred music Dr. Dubois called “The sorrow songs,” mother to both gospel and the blues, that the learned DuBois declared “the most beautiful expression of human life born this side of seas.”   

            Jazz as such, was largely ignored in our formal musical instruction.  But it was not ever thus.  The pool of talented and well trained Afro-American musicians was so deep and rich – thanks to the musical curriculums developed by the Johnson brothers, James Weldon and J. Rosamond, authors of “Lift Every Voice and Sing, which was called “The Negro National Anthem when me and Jackie were coming up – that there were young, hip, music teachers on the scene who were a lot like Wynton Marsalis, masters of the European classical and Afro-American art music idioms.   It was one such hip young music teacher, Mr. Chuck McClendon, alto-saxophonist par excellence, who introduced me to the versatile and sensuous beauty of the saxophone.   

            Aside from the consummate artistry of Mr. McClendon, the first alto-voice I heard was the funky down home blues lyricism and flawless virtuosity of the Memphis Magician Hank Crawford.  After suffering through the sonic nightmare of the late night practice sessions of my neighbor Maurice Singleton on the alto-sax; with his inept fingering, horrid out of control vibrato and frog like intonation, I was simply astonished that Hank and Mr. Mcclendon were playing the same instrument.

Then Mr. McClendon – who was so sweet on the alto and tenor that Ray Charles came to town to play a dance and stole him from us just before our concert band was to perform at the baccalaureate ceremonies – told us that “Bennie Crawford” as he was known at Tennessee State College, where they had played in the band together – was a musical genius who can play all of of the reeds, even the double reeds like the Oboe and basson.”   He also turned us on to David “Fat head” Newman, whom most think of as a tenor player but is very sweet on the alto too – as he demonstrated on “Hard Times” from the album “Ray Charles Live at Newport.”   


 The Great Hank Crawford


From these two cats I started listening to Cannonball Adderly, whom I heard of because I had five next door neighborhoods who were musicians and all went to Florida A&M University – which had a world famous music department – on music scholarships and three of them played with Julian Adderly in school.  And I heard endless tales about his great ear – he had perfect pitch – and technical facility on his instrument.   

Cannonball!  Miles said “he thought he knew everything about music”

With The Great Tenor ManYusef Lateef


Hence I was listing to a string of lazy lyrical southern blues voices on the alto when I first heard Jackie Mac.   His sound was different; it had a hard edge swagger and raw energy about it that had been fashioned in the fast paced, ultra modern, Darwinian milieu of New York City.   The art that inspired Jackie Mac was born and raised in Minton’s Playhouse, a place where my man Tabby once pointed out to me and said “That’s where Minton’ Playhouse was, real gangstas used to hang out in there, I mean cats would pull their guns on each other!”  

            Since my man Tab was a bonefide gangster – an ex-US Marine, world class pugilist  and former enforcer for Sonny franchesi  before he heard the black power message and took a numbers district from them – I didn’t question his description of the milieu where be-bop was born.  Tab was the kind of cat that Bennie Golson is portraying in “Killer Joe.”  The bass line is a perfect sound portrait of the old school black hipster’s stroll.  

In spite of the gangster vibe Minton’s was an incubator of great art, a neighborhood bar that holds the same importance in the creation of the complex instrumental African American art music popular know as “Be-bop,” as the Café Voltaire was for the creation of Da Da, an irreverent and iconoclastic art movement that expressed the pessimisim and even nihilism European artist felt in the aftermath of the barbarism and mass murder of World War I.    

            The art that developed in Minton’s however, was neither nihilistic nor pessimistic, and it cetainly was not random art of chance; rather it expressed the heroic optimism that is the mother of all invention, an optimism that fueled Jackie’s inventiveness on and off the bandstand til his dying day.   Jackie came of age in the glow of the be-bop revolution and witnessed the music performed at its apotheosis.  He even dwelled in the shadows of the icons, sat at their feet and stood beside them on the bandstand during his apprenticeship.  And yet he emerged a new and better musical self: A virtuoso with an original voice.   

Strangely, all the alto players I liked best were originals, Crawford, Newman and Adderly, but they had all been nurtured on down home blues.  That Jackie Mac, who literally grew up at the feet of Bird, found his own splendid voice on the same instrument shows a strong personality who insisted on being himself; to speak to the world unapologetically in his own voice. 

It may not seem so now, in the fog of history that has dimmed Bird’s radiance, but this was an act of singular determination and self confidence.   But that was Jackie Mac: an American original, great artist, generous spirit, exemplary father, loyal husband, and my main man! 

 A Young Lion












* – To see Jackie Perform click this link:



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New york

July, 2010


Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on July 22, 2010 by playthell


 President Obama Enjoys a Bright Moment With Rev. Al


 Why President Obama Does not Want To Talk About Race

 Listening to the incessant chatter from the nation’s pundits and electronic chattering classes discuss the Shirley Sherrod affair – a shameful incident in which a good woman was wronged by her superiors in the Obama administration – everybody seems in a hurry to place the weight of blame for this fiasco on the Administration; even the President himself.  Not the dangerous machinations of a racist wing media in concert with their Grand Obstructionist Party  allies and enablers.  Whether from the left or the right this is the dominant theme of the conversation.  Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows!

The most persistent questions we hear is why did the administration act so precipitously?  Why didn’t they take their time and properly investigate the authenticity of the report?  And why won’t President Obama initiate a national conversation about race?  My response to these queries is …Duh?  Anyone who is asking these questions seriously, rather than rhetorically, probably  shouldn’t be in the position of clarifying issues for the public – which is what pundits, editorialists and expert witnesses are supposed to do. We need only look at the news/talk programs this morning to recognize the answer to these questions.

President Obama has just shepherded through congress and signed into law the most sweeping regulations governing financial activities on Wall Street and the nation’s banking system since the Great Depression in the early decades of the last century.  At over two thousand four hundred pages, it dwarfs the critical Depression era legislation which was only thirty pages.  This is big news indeed, yet all the talk the morning after is about the race problem in America!

And all this hoopla is over an injustice to a black woman, supposed it had been a white woman?  Imagine if this incident involved a doctored video of a white female official in the Agricultural Department who had been fired for racism – even though the US Agricultural Department has a long and shameful history of institutionalized racism against black farmers white Americans would be up in arms.  If we take the history and present realities of race relations in America as our guide, the difference in the white backlash would be like the new financial regulation Bill  compared to the Depression era legislation!

The simple fact of the matter is that Barack Obama occupies the same position in American politics that Jackie Robinson occupied as the first black player in major league baseball – which was affectionately called “The National pastime.”  Like Robinson he has to play past the race issue and keep his eye on the ball, lest the low life’s in the bleachers will throw him off his game.  In this case the low life’s are the verbal arsonists and racial provocateurs in the right wing media and their Republican enablers, who seem intent on inciting a race war in America.

In most countries what Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are doing would be considered a threat to national security if not treason.  Such is the putrid incendiary bile that flows from their mouths into the ears of psychologically wounded poor whites; I am convinced they are literally trying to forment an insurrection against the government,  and I also  believe they are trying get the President of these United States assassinated!  Yet, as a pugnacious pundit with and acid tongue and poison pen I am glad the government can’t imprison writers for what they say because I would surely be doing life!   But the broadcast corporations who provide these malevolent cretins with a platform ought to restrain them, to demand that what they say can be supported by facts; to put the tranquility of the nation ahead of  their profit margins. 

Instead the behavior of these corporations supply compelling evidence that Karl Marx was right – in their case for sure – when he observed that capitalists are so greedy  they will sell the hangman the rope to hang them with if they can make a profit!   The failure of the media corporations to muzzle these malicious maggots is a most egregious example of placing the private over the public interests.  And there ought to be a price to pay for such a treacherous betrayal of the public interests; alas too much of the electorate is far too ignorant or apathetic to chastise them by boycotting their incendiary product.

Barack Obama is both a serious student of history and a highly perceptive analyst of contemporary events.  His brilliance as a politician has been demonstrated repeatedly – beginning with getting his black self elected president of a white racist country and becoming the most powerful man in the world!  That’s why he well understands that the race issue is both toxic and infectious. And it could prove deadly for his presidency if he allows the racists to embroil him in endless arguments about race.  It is like the tar baby in the Uncle Rhemus stories, the more you attack it the deeper you get stuck.  President Obama is a man of vision who can see the big picture, something this nation has too often been deprived of in our leaders, especially for the last eight years.  And we have witnessed the evidence of the old adage “Where there is no vision the people will perish” in the mess the Bushmen made of  the world.  

 Hence President Obama is right to keep his eyes on the big prize: building a better world than can sustain and enhance life, making manifest William Faulkner’s prediction  that “man will endure,” and Chairman Mao’s axiom that “The Atomic bomb will not destroy man; man will destroy the bomb.”  Viewed from the perspective of these cosmic issues regarding the fate of the earth and the destiny of mankind, the race question is a secondary problem.  Hence he should leave the debate about it to the academics, pundits, preachers, philosophers, talk radio hosts, and even members of Congress.  So if  there are any racist out there who fancy themselves intellectuals and are spoiling for a fight……try me!




Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries On The Times

Harlem, New York 

July 22, 2010

An Open Letter to Joe Scarborough

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on July 21, 2010 by playthell



On The Media and the Shirley Sherrod Affair


Yo Joe!

It is disgraceful the way you and your minions interpreted the events that led to the firing of Shirley Sherrod by the Agriculture Department; it vindicates Ishmael Reed’s indictment of white controlled corporate media for trying to undermine Barack Obama’s presidency in his new book “Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media,” the return of the Nigger Breakers.” 

You unfairly placed the blame for this tragi-comic blunder squarely on the President, who has so many monumental issues to deal with he cannot pay attention to the details of every decision that is made in government.  That’s not his job, and in any case it’s not possible for any human being to be on top of everything in a bureaucracy as large and complex as the federal government!  That’s why the President delegates authority to members of the Cabinet.

Yet the same people – people like you Mr. Scarborough – who are saying this morning that the President should have known that the tape was doctored to mislead the public, had little or nothing to say about the doctored “evidence” the Bush Administration used to dupe Americans into supporting a bogus war of choice – a war that has been estimated will cost taxpayers three trillion dollars by economist Joseph Steiglitz, a Nobel Laureate and Columbia University economics professor. 

The spin that you, and that long time unapologetic racist and shameless hypocrite Pat Buchanan, are putting on this incident is designed to mislead the public to make political points.  That’s why you completely avoided the real issue.  The government’s hasty and unjust decision was driven by their desire to quell the racist hysteria manufactured by the inflammatory rhetoric employed by the verbal arsonists on the far right who dominate the talk show formats on radio and television and appeals to a frustrated, untutored, racist white mob. 

These talk show hosts have fired this demographic up to the point that they disrupted town meetings wearing guns when congressional Democrats tried to explain the president’s program for providing health care to millions of Americans who have none.  This was all driven by the blatant lies promoted by right wing media who endlessly broadcast the Alaskan Barbarian Sarah Palin’s claim that the health care bill would create ‘Death Panels,” and the mainstream press refused to show that all this was driven by a massive disinformation campaign conducted by verbal arsonists in the right wing media in league with Republican members of Congress!  

            This is how the Nazi’s used broadcasting to create the hysteria that led to the holocaust!  If you think this is an exaggeration read: “The Real Neo Nazis,” which I am working on and will be posted on this site later today.  The spin being put on this incident is possible because there is so little Afro-American input on the show.  Jonathan Capeheart is by no means the most astute commentator in black America; in fact he is a milquetoast  intellectual lightweight who offers up banal platitudes and pedestrian observations that seemed designed to never make waves.  Capehart’s philosophy of dealing with white folks was exposed when he recently explained that the reason President Obama is so calm during crisis’s when everybody else is losing their heads – a trait which I regard as a virtue – is because he is afraid of appearing to be “an angry black man.”  

Capeheart made it clear that this is also his modus operandi too – which perhaps explains why he is so presistently dull and grins at Pat Buchanan’s racist fulminations.  However if white Americans knew more about the experience of their black countrymen – a tawdry tale you would rather forget and pretend never happened – then you would know that this amounts to “putting on old massa,” a technique employed by African American slaves to never let the slave masters know what they were thinking if it might piss him off.  The evidence of this is revealed in a folk saying that has been found in slave narratives from all parts of the country: “Got one mind for white folks to see/ got another mind that I know is really me/ and he don’t know my mind!”  To my surprise and dismay, almost a century and a half after the end of slavery young black people are still employing this strategy to get on with their white bosses and colleagues.

The racial atmosphere in American has become so poisoned by the right wing media bloviators that the Obama Administration and the NAACP felt they had to act quickly to nullify this incident before it became an issue the verbal arsonists on the right could use it to plunge the nation into racial conflict.  Already NAACP President Ben Jealous has received over a hundred death threats just for stating the obvious: The Tea Party Movement harbors dangerous right racist elements like The Conservative Citizens Council and the avowed neo-Nazi group “Stormfront.”  Why did you not expose this connection Mr. Scarborough? 

Why don’t you regularly feature updates on the activities of these armed terrorists if you want to really do something helpful, give us some news we can really use.  Frightened by the hysterical charges of the WABC radio and FOX television crowd, white Americans are arming themselves at record numbers and our history tells black people to beware. The administration is trying their best  to prevent another Oklahoma tragedy, what role do you imagine that you are playing in this evolving American disaster Joe? 

Had the Administration not acted quickly to quash this issue you and your phony Irish crony Patrick J. Buchanan would have been leading the pack screaming that our President was coddling a black racist!  Don’t even bother trying to deny it, because your history as the publisher of that scurrilous right wing rag “The Florida Sun” demonstrates that you are fully capable of such demogaguery.   That racist right wing propagandists in mass media could provoke the government into taking such precipitous action against an innocent citizen, and a splendid one at that, is the real tragedy of the Shirley Sherrod affair.


She saved the people she is accused of injuring!



Yours Truly

Playthell Benjamin


Commentaries On the Times

Is The Tea Party Movement Racist?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on July 19, 2010 by playthell


 President Obama Cast as a Pimp

 A typically racist icon of the Tea Party Movement


My grandfather used to say “If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs only the ones who get hit will howl.”  And based upon the response of the Tea Party movement to NAACP president Ben Jealous’ charge that elements of the Tea Party are racist, grand dad was right on the money.  For anybody who has been paying attention to this far right political movement, Mr. Jealous was merely pointing out the obvious. Yet the Tea Party, a coalition of 85 organizations, has been howling all over the place ever since. 

They  have even threatened to expel the Tea Party Express  from the movement if they didn’t rebuke Mark Williams’s – their most popular spokesman – and fire him for posting racist propaganda about Afro-Americans on his website. What could Williams have said that would prompt the coalition to consider expelling one of their most effective organizations that has been organizing successful rallies all over the country? 

Written as a letter to Abraham Lincoln and supposedly signed by the NAACP president, it denounced the Emancipation Proclamation as a tragic mistake because now black Americans would really have to go to work and take care of themselves.  This is tantamount to portraying Jews as nostalgic for Nazi concentration camps because they were too lazy to work in America because it was too high a price to pay for freedom!

Although movement leaders are expressing shock at Williams’ post, it is a vulgar pretense. From the outset the movement was motivated by bogus issues and age old stereotypes that were fundamentally racist.  We all know that no one among the so-called “Tea Party Patriots” would have been willing to believe their inflammatory rhetoric about the President being an illegal alien if he were white and his name was Paul Jones, instead of black and Barack Hussein Obama. 

After all, none of these people worried about profligate government spending and expanding deficits when the Republicans were running the show for the past eight years.  George Bush cavalierly plunged the nation into a war of choice that according to Dr. Joseph Steiglitz, the Nobel Laureate and Columbia University Professor of Economics, has calculated will cost taxpayers three trillion dollars!   And they still support the Republican tax cuts that gave hundreds of billions of dollars to the richest strata of American society – the Plutocrats.  These same charlatans also support the illegal government wire taps conducted by the Bushmen, which drastically expanded government  spying on us all.  What’s going on here?  Is this what right wing white folks mean when they say they are color blind?

 Experts on social movements like Dr. Luther P. Gerlach, an  American anthropologist who was the leading scholar on the subject until he passed on, point out that we can tell what a movement stands for by the slogans and icons they employ to recruit and mobilize followers and direct mass actions.  Among the elements all movements must have in order to grow are a clear and present enemy, and the slogans and icons conveys the movement leadership’s view of that enemy to the masses of their followers and those they are trying to recruit: the true believers and those seeking enlightenment.

The Tea Party Movement’s most effective slogan has been “We want our country back!” Since the slogans that a movement employs are condensed versions of that movement’s ideology, their world view, the logical question for anyone seeking to understand the Tea Party Movement’s vision of America is: Take your country back from whom?  Barack Obama was elected President by the American people in a legal election. 

 Yet the Tea Party crew continues to insist that Barack’s presidency is illegitimate because he is a Kenyan, in spite of the fact that the state of Hawaii has posted his birth certificate on the internet.  And they routinely picture the president as a pimp or a bone through the nose savage, while white militiamen use his picture for target practice. If that ain’t racism, eggs ain’t poultry/grits ain’t groceries/ and Mona Lisa was a man!”





Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 18, 2010


On The Lebron James Affair

Posted in On Sports!, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on July 13, 2010 by playthell


 The King Doing his thing!


 Some Reflections on Race, Class and Sports

 The public outrage over Basketball’s most valuable player Lebron James’s decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat – abandoning the “Mistake by the Lake” for the “Magic City” – transcends the game and exposes the thorny issues of race and class that lie just beneath the surface of the good times, smiley faces and racial bon homie that is the carefully cultivated image of professional sports. The bold headline on the cover of Sunday’s New York Post calling Lebron a “Jackass” verifies the intense interests in this issue beyond the sports pages.  The question is why?

Ever since the great Trinidadian historian and political theorist C.L.R. James published his path breaking study of Cricket, “Beyond a Boundary,” thoughtful people have been compelled to consider the role of sports in society as something more than simple entertainment.  Indeed, James’ axiom: “He knows not cricket who only cricket knows” is equally true of basketball.

The essence of C L R’s observation is that the game of cricket embodied the values and mores of Victorian England. Indeed the distinguished historian of British diplomacy Keith A.P. Sandiford – himself a cricketer from Barbados who has subsequently written several books on the subject – has pointed out that James’ study not only affected the way he interprets British history, but “it changed the way historians of the Victorian period in general interpret the era.”  For historians attempting to assess the state of race relations in America today, the Lebron James affair may prove almost as important an indicator as the election of President Obama.

The central question raised by Barack Obama’s historic election regarding race relations is whether it signaled the onset of a “post racial” American society.  Some observers of the American scene were skeptical – this writer included – of claims that most white Americans had suddenly become color blind after centuries of inflicting genocide, slavery and apartheid on their non-white countrymen. Judging from the racist rhetoric and iconography of the so-called “Tea Party Patriots” and the dramatic increase of armed white militias, our skepticism has proved justified.

Hence it is in the context of a rising tide of racism on the radical right, the swelling contempt for the rights of workers in their struggle to curb corporate power through unionization, and the NAACP’s complaints about discrimination against African American workers cleaning up the gulf oil spill, that the Lebron James Affair must be viewed.  The scurrilous attack on Lebron – who has been affectionately dubbed “Kings James” by his fans – leveled by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, prompted Reverend Jesse Jackson to observe that Gilbert talked like Lebron is “a runaway slave.” My thoughts exactly!   Virtually every black man I know feels this way, except for certain poot butt black pundits like Johnathon Capehart of the Washington Post, who actually defended Gilbert!

Yet Johnathan Seagull  is certainly in step with the weight of white public opinion, which  appears to be overwhelmingly on the side of the owner. But this is a very American thing: The white public has always been on the side of white bosses when challenged by black workers.  For three quarters of American history black men were the property of white men and had “no rights that white men were bound to respect” in the words of the Supreme Court in the Dread Scott Decision of 1857.  And for a hundred years after the abolition of slavery that rule continued to hold true in large sections of this country; it was not changed until the Civil rights bills of the 1960’s.  Hence from the landing of the Mayflower in 1620 until the passage of the voting Rights act in 1965, black men and women have enjoyed the equal protection of the laws for only forty five years in the history of the American republic!  Old habits die hard.

In his self-righteous rage, induced by a sense of entitlement, the owner even had the unmitigated gall to call Lebron a megalomaniac for announcing his decision on a television special.  Ironically, Dan Gilbert evidently does not grasp the fact that a middle aged billionaire business owner attacking a 25 year old worker for seeking a better job is the height of Megalomania!  Sports teams trade players all the time and they learn about it in the press!   The only difference in this case is that the black players are calling the shots by virtue of their marlet value and the powers bequesthed to them by free agency.  This is why the owners fought against it so hard!

Furthermore, Gilbert showed the world his true character by contemptuously ignoring the fact that the ESPN special attracted ten million viewers – one of the highest ratings of all times for a cable show,  and raised 3 million dollars for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, a lifeline for many kids who don’t have billionaire dads.  The two times Academy Award winning actor  Denzell Washington said theses clubs  virtually saved his life!   That most Americans can’t see who the villain is here, especially when it is so obvious, suggests that they remain blinded by their biases on race and class….in spite of the election of Barack Obama.


 The Cover Photo That Shocked The Racists




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 13, 2010