Archive for February, 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

On Django UnChained

Posted in Film Criticism, Movie Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 25, 2013 by playthell


Jamie Fox, Leonardo Dicaprio and

A Wagnarian Saga about Slavery and a  Good Movie!

As is to be expected of a film that chooses a controversial subject – in this case the enslavement of Africans in America – Django Unchained has sparked an emotional debate. The loudest voices in the debate naturally belongs to intellectuals, who are most likely to dissect the film with weighty critiques.  Hence for one who is given to penning weighty polemics on important issues about politics and culture, it is with the greatest reluctance that I have decided not to jump body and soul into the critical debate and spar with my fellow polemicists.   However I cannot resist pointing out that much of the critical commentary is not about the movie at all.

For instance, after reading the critique by Ishmael Reed, a great novelist and brilliant essayist, it seemed to me that he decided to use the movie to not only whip Quentin Tarrantino for all the sins of the movie industry ad infinitum, but also to use the film as a weapon to bludgeon a wide range of adversaries with whom he has been waging interminable culture wars.  I mean what the fuck are doing talking about Dr. DuBois’ “Talented Tenth” in a review of a movie about a gun slinging ex-slave on a quest to free his enslaved wife?

It is bad enough that he does not understand the concept in historical context – in spite of my futile efforts to educate him, and I remain ever ready to debate the subject with him in writing – but to burden this movie with that antiquated debate is prime faice absurd!  While I find Ish’s cleaver floggings of intellectual adversaries in his innovative novels – “Yellow Back Radio Broke Down, “Reckless Eyeballing,” “Mumbo Jumbo” “Japanese By Spring,” etc. –   entertaining and has written as much – see my essays on Ishmael on this blog – his critique of this movie published in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, is a colossal bore and more than a bit silly.

In spite of myriad facts, Ishmael’s essay obscures far more than it enlightens.  For instance, at the beginning of the review he says he was turned off before he ever read the script or saw the movie because the studio that was producing it was evidence that it was being produced for a mainstream audience…say what?  This comment reflects a widespread misunderstanding of the movie business, and making movies is a business.

Movies are a commercial product and if they don’t make money the director won’t be making movies and the studio won’t be in business for long, because making money is an imperative for survival in the market place.  The Jewish movie moguls who created Hollywood understood this well, that’s why they were so successful.  One of the main reasons why black movie makers have not succeeded on that scale is because they are operating from a different premise.

The Jews were businessmen whose principle objective was to make money, so they produced movies for the mass i.e. “mainstream” market.  Since that market was white and Christian they made movies about white Christians.  They even created the blond sex goddesses such as May West, Gloria Swanson, Marylyn Monroe, et al.  They hardly ever made movies about Jews, and even required Jewish actors like Bennie Swartz to take Anglicized names like “Tony Curtis.”  And they were roundly criticized for it by Jewish organizations, as the astute Jewish film historian Neal Gabler has adroitly pointed out.

Jack Warner, head of the enormously successful Warner Brothers studio, once remarked that he was in the business of producing popular entertainment, and declared: “It I want to send a message I’ll call Western Union.”  On the other hand black film makers are expected to be messengers for black causes, or to make films for a black audience populated with black characters and concerns.  It is a formula that will generally insure that you don’t make much money.  And if the movie is also burdened with a weighty message at the expense of entertainment values, you will be lucky to break even!

In Django Quinten Tarrantino has found a formula that allowed him to make money and send a weighty message.  What is that message you ask?  Slavery was an evil, decadent, inhumane system of labor.  The slave holding class was not the noble cavalier Knights Margret Mitchell painted in her best-selling novel that became a blockbuster movie “Gone with the Wind” that won multiple Academy Awards.  Rather they were the “front porch Puritans and backyard lechers” who routinely raped black women, that that other southern woman writer Lillian Smith called them in her extraordinary text “Killers of the Dream.”

It also confirmed Dr. Franz Fanon’s thesis that it is therapeutic for the oppressed to kill their oppressors.  It is   a powerful counter-statement to the American Exceptionalists crowd who insist that America is so morally superior to the rest of the world that it justifies an evangelical foreign policy in which Americans can invade other countries in order to impose our values on them! In my view these multiple messages more than compensates for any shortcomings of the movie.

Hence impassioned denunciations of the movie written by black critics like Jessie Williams, a television actor, which was highly praised by Ryan Adams on Awards, strikes me as little more than persnickety nitpicking diatribes that produce more heat than light.  No movie can be all things to all people.  But I am especially annoyed by those white writers who are perturbed that black people like the movie.  It smacks of the worse kind of paternalism, and it reminds me of the old Ibo proverb: “Beware of the stranger who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the bereaved family.”

I have met very few black people who don’t like this movie.  More typical is the reaction of my highly educated 31 year old daughter Makeda and her boyfriend Odogu, a former boxer:  They loved it!  When I was dragging my feet about seeing it she continued to bug me.  She says that Django reminds her of me.  She told me about the scene in the movie where someone said they had never seen a black man on a horse and she thought: “I have seen my daddy riding horses with big hats on all my life…and she knows that I feel just like Django about racist crackers!  And then there is my friend Samaad, who paid to see the movie five times, or a female Filipino who loved seeing Django kill those crackers while rescuing his woman.

The point that intellectuals who hate the movie miss is that for most black Americans, who have always seen black slaves cowering in fear as they are humiliated and victimized by whites, this movie is a personal catharsis.  They are just ecstatic about witnessing a black man kill some whites on the big screen, and the more the merrier- Which. I confess, was also a great part of the movies appeal to me.  But beyond all that, it’s a damn good action/adventure movie, with sharply drawn characters played by actors of star quality, and the difference between good and evil, virtue and vice is as clear as day and night.  It has none of the tortured complexity and ambiguity that intellectuals glory in.

 A Stone Cold Killer on a Mission!


And black viewers loved ever drop of blood he spilled!

Ironically, Ishmael has a black avenging cowboy in his novel “Yellow Back Radio Broke Down, which I found fascinating but a friend of mine who is a novelist and professor of literature dismisses as “a parody of a parody that has nothing to do with the history of blacks in the old west.”  Hence much of art criticism, including the commentary on this film, is a matter of personal perspective and values – a question of personal taste.  And they are certainly entitled to their opinion.

However if this movie is evaluated from the perspective of historical accuracy and the art of making movies for a mass audience, which is how it ought to be evaluated, as commercial melodrama that reflects on a serious subject, it gets a passing grade from me. Critics of the movie have said that the story is not credible, that there is no historical evidence that suggests such a story could have happened.  I say they should hurry up and read Dr. Gerald Horne’s recent book “Negro Comrades of the Crown.”

Not only does he document the many Europeans who visited the US, observed the practice of slavery and responded with a passionate hatred for the slavers in scores of books, but the text is also rife with incidents of ex-slaves slaughtering whites, some rendered in gruesome detail.  He even has a story of an armed ex-slave on a mission to rescue his wife who was still enslaved!  So it is certainly a tale that could have been true.  And that is quite enough to justify the telling.  But lest we forget: This is a feature film, an act of the imagination that can claim artistic license, not a documentary to be viewed as a statement of historical fact.

However this rule can apply even when a feature film treats a specific historical event; as the heated debate around the Chilean film” No,” which depicts the 1988 plebiscite in that country that brought down the murderous military dictator Augusto Pinochet demonstrates.  Directed by Pablo Larrian, the film is based on a play “The Plebiscite,” by Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta, who also wrote the novel “II Postino,” which was made into an Oscar winning movie.

The film has been roundly criticized by some Chileans who participated in the struggle to defeat Pinochet, Jose Miguel Vivanco, a Chilean who witnessed it all and now serves as the director of Human Rights Watch Americas,  gave the New York Times 2/10/ 13  a different assessment.  He said the film was “a good effort to show a pretty accurate picture of Chile in the 80’s.”  He conceded that there were important events in that struggle that was “not a part of the film at all…but I went to see a movie not a PBS piece.”

This is exactly how Django should be viewed; it gives us a great felling for the cruel inhumanity of slavery and leaves no doubt that it was a crime against humanity.  And thus more than justifies the bloody carnage visited on white slavers by Django.  I do have some criticisms however.  For instance I would have chosen different music for many of the scenes.  In the opening scene I would have used the deeply moving and hauntingly beautiful Afro-American spiritual “Oh Freedom” and engaged the Fisk Jubilee singers to perform it.

And in the scene where the masked nightriders were chasing Django and his German partner, I would have used Wagner’s Ride of the Valkeries, which is great for an action scene featuring galloping horses, and the movie is working with the same German myths about Brunhilde and Siegfried that Richard Wagner built his “music/festival/drama” The Ring around.   Hence when the beautiful talented Kerry Washington says she saw the movie as a quest of a man to rescue his woman while slaying a few dragons in the process, she is right on the money.

Kerry Washington: The face that launched a bloodbath


She gave a moving performance

Indeed Django’s wife, played by Kerry Washington – who was easily the most beautiful woman at the Academy Awards ceremony – spoke German and was named “Broomhilde” – which some black commentators thought was ridiculous – duh?   It was supposed to be, since everything about slavery was ridiculous!  However when the German Doctor /Bounty Hunter explained the story of Siegfried and Brunhilde to Django he was also explaining the main plot of the movie.  It was a clever way of telling the story.

The proof is the reception it has recieved.  The way Austrian actor  Christophe Watz played the character with great wit and charm conjured up the Nazi officer he played in Tarrantino’s last blockbuster movie Inglorious Bastards, which I loved, and reminds us that in Django he created the same cathartic experience for Afro-Americans that he provided for Jews in Inglorious Bastards. And Christophe played the role so well he just won an Oscar for his performance!

The Charming but Deadly Doctor


Christophe Watz and Jamie Fox

However the main criticism I have of the movie is the portrayal of Sam Jackson’s character.  It is a stereotype that is based on a misunderstanding of history and the nature of “Uncle Tom.”  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character, introduced in the first bestselling American novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an accommodationist who loved his people but in his powerless state was force to play the role of obsequious slave while manipulating the all-powerful white folks.  This was a survival strategy that the great Afro-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar describes in his poem “While We Wear the Mask.”  It was represented in slave culture as “putting on ol massa,” which is to say play the white folks for fools.

This practice was expressed in a slave ditty that has been found all over the slave south :”Got one mind for white folks to see/got another mind I know was really me.  And they don’t know my mind” The character played by Samuel L. Jackson had a bit of this guile bh he more closely resembles Malcolm X’s “House Negro,” in his famous House Negro vs. Field Negro dichotomy.  The problem is that this is an ahistorical analysis because it was the “House Negros” who led the revolts.  That was true then and now.

I am continuously amused when I hear middle class black intellectuals repeat Malcolm’s ahistorical foolishness, because most of the sixties revolutionary leaders ended up as professors or some other middle class professions – and to the lumpen ghetto dwellers  gangsta rappers are the real rebels and they are the “house niggaz.”  It is an irony that somehow escapes them.   Django Unchained perpetuates the myth, because Sam Jackson’s house nigger really does love his master and believes that he is a God-like figure.  This interpretation flies in the face of the conventional wisdom…… but then it’s only a movie.   And when the gorgeous cinemetography is added to its other virtues its a damned good movie at that!

Sam Jackson as House Nigger

Samuel L Jackson

 Sam gave a great performance of a stereotyped character



Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Fenruary 24th, 2013


Posted in Film Criticism, Guest Commentators, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on February 24, 2013 by playthell
     Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens                 Tommie Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

 Lincoln Resurrects “The Great Commoner”

I’m rooting for Tommy Lee Jones to win an Oscar for his riveting performance as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln. Full disclosure: as an historian my hope is this might focus important attention on Stevens. This flamboyant Congressman (and his lashing tongue) had gained enormous name recognition in his time, but it was not the kind a mother wants for her famous son.

Until the modern civil rights movement those who wrote US history took a stick to Stevens.  He didn’t care. By the time he died in 1868 he had earned the appreciation of millions of slaves he helped free, and further admiration as “the father of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.” But until Tommy Lee Jones donned the man’s grim look, sharp wit, bulky swagger and advanced racial views, Stevens faced a thrashing in classrooms, textbooks and movies.

In 1915 Hollywood’s first blockbuster, Birth of A Nation, sought to humiliate Stevens — barely disguised as “Congressman Austin Stoneman.” Never has the media so venomously portrayed a US elected official. The film has Stevens ruining the South by elevating ignorant former slaves to high office.

A Poster Valorizing the Ku Klux Klan
A Birth of Nation imagesCARPE2T6 The Precursor to Nazi film “Triumph of the Will”

This in turn, the script continues, encourages African American officials [played by white actors in black face], to rape white women. In the final scenes the Ku Klux Klan rides in to save white womanhood and Christian civilization. Half a century after his death, this movie was still kicking the man for a good deal of its three hours and ten minutes. Its scenes also bury the fact that the south’s real rapists during and after slavery were planters who held whips and guns as well as public office.

To make its tale believable Birth of A Nation was given a documentary look, a stamp of historical truth and the endorsement of President Woodrow Wilson who called it “history written in lightening.” Wilson was quoted in the film prasing “a great Ku Klux Klan, a venerable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.”

For decades as the movie made a staggering $50,000,000, millions of men, women and children learned to hate Black people and cheer the KKK. Its debut in Atlanta Georgia jump-started the huge KKK of the 1920s which grew to 4,000,000 members. It took an NAACP national protest to remove a scene showing Klansmen castrating a Black man.

Stevens fared marginally better in Tennessee Johnson where the famous Lionel Barrymore portrayed a malicious politician plotting to destroy the South and white supremacy. Then a heroic President Andrew Johnson [Van Heflin] restores “home rule.” [Note: this was during the war against Nazi racism.]

As the 1915 silent epic and the 1942 feature film captivated audiences, our leading scholars road the same bandwagon. Echoing his profession’s view, Pulitzer Prize historian James Truslow Adams called Stevens “perhaps the most despicable, malevolent, and morally deformed character who has risen to high power in America.”

It is true that Thaddeus Stevens unleashed nasty, hateful invective on slaveholders, ridiculed incompetents, and relentlessly elbowed a cautious Lincoln toward emancipation. However, in 1861 the new President was not “The Great Emancipator.” His First Inaugural announced he would sign an Amendment [the original “13th”] that would make slavery permanent.

In office he steadfastly refused to propose emancipation for his first 17 months. When he first announced his Proclamation, it was a statement he planned to issue a formal declaration on January 1, 1863, and only as a war measure. Given the President’s sorry record and fondness for compromise, Stevens, other abolitionists and people of color had every reason to worry there might be a slip from the cup to the lip.

Thaddeus Stevens: Radical Republican


The Great Commoner

 Stevens fast walked a different path: “There can be no fanatics in defense of genuine liberty.” He did not shrink from hazardous combat against the Fugitive Slave Law and defiantly turned his law office into an Underground Railroad station. When a band of armed slave runaways in nearby Christiana opened fire on a slaveholder posse led by a US Marshall, Pennsylvania’s most famous attorney volunteered for their defense and won acquittal for the arrested.

Even Stevens’s fiery attacks on slaveholders came with some risk. Twice on the House floor he had to fend off Bowie knife wielding southern colleagues. As abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner sat at his Senate desk South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks beat him senseless with his heavy cane. Sumner never completely recovered and slaveholders praised Brooks.

From his birth in 1792 in Vermont Thaddeus Stevens lived with adversity. His father Joshua was an alcoholic shoemaker unable to hold a job so the family struggled. Then when Joshua disappeared never to return his mother Sally had to pick up the pieces. Resourceful, energetic and determined to see her four boys educated, she paid family bills through long, grueling work as a maid and housekeeper.

Thaddeus also stepped into life with a clubfoot when society saw this as a Devil’s curse, a sign of mental depravity. From an early age he learned how to battle people who derided him, think for himself and stick to his guns. His own fight with irrational hate may have opened his heart to others society classified as lesser humans.

Stevens graduated with a law degree from Dartmouth College, and opened a law office in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His fortunes changed when he bought a Pennsylvania iron works and a Forge, and invested in farmland. He was elected to the state senate just as the legislature voted down an education bill because it raised taxes to aid poor families.

Stevens stormed into the fight with this argument: “the blessing of education shall be conferred on every son of Pennsylvania, shall be carried home to the poorest child of the poorest inhabitant of the meanest hut of your mountains, so that even he may be prepared to act well his part in this land of freedom, and lay on earth a broad and solid foundation for that enduring knowledge which goes on increasing through increasing eternity.”

His speech led to passage of the state’s education law and made him “the father of public education in Pennsylvania.”

In 1848 Thaddeus was elected to Congress raring to fight the “slaveocracy.” He was also drawn to issues of economic injustice. In 1852 he opposed employers who sought to “get cheap labor” by lowering American workers’ wages to European levels, and by using under paid women laborers. Such efforts, he insisted, keep “the laboring classes [with] scarcely enough to feed and clothe them . . . [and] nothing to bestow on the education of their children.”

In 1853 Stevens had to return to his law office in Lancaster to pay business debts of over a quarter million dollars. But in 1859 he returned as a Republican Congressman. When it was far from popular he denounced bigotry, spoke in defense of Native Americans, Jews, Mormons, Chinese, and women’s rights.  And he intensified his crusade against the slaveholder aristocracy.

Lydia Hamilton Smith

Lydia Hamliton Smith -

Thaddeus Steven’s Common Law Wife

Stevens had never married and since 1848 shared his large Lancaster home with Lydia Hamilton Smith, an African American, and her two sons from a previous marriage. While he and Mrs. Smith considered their relationship a common law marriage, his foes saw coarse degeneracy. He refused to publicly explain what he considered a private matter. His will left Mrs. Smith enough money to purchase the family home and live in comfort. Birth of A Nation has Mrs. Smith, played by a pudgy white actor who greets news of Lincoln’s assassination with a dance and shout: “You are now the most powerful in the United States.”

Despite his differences with the President, Stevens forged a respectful alliance with the politician he came to call “the purest man in America.” As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee his control of the war’s finances made him the most powerful member of the House. Lincoln held the power to make emancipation permanent.

The two needed each other. In the 2012 movie Lincoln Stevens is cast as the radical whom Lincoln must tame to insure passage of the 13thAmendment. This is Hollywood drama. The ardent abolitionist was as shrewd a politician as Lincoln, and needed no persuasion to support his life’s goal.

Fawn Brodie, Stevens admiring biographer, calls him “the scourge of the South.” But Stevens’ harsh, lacerating tongue speared Congressional incompetents as well as pro-slavery southerners and northerners. He could reduce political foes to gibbering self-doubt.

During the pivotal Gettysburg campaign in 1863, a Confederate Army rode out to kill him. Confederate Major General Jubal Early detoured his Army of Northern Virginia from Gettysburg to Stevens’ iron works at today’s Caledonia State Park. Unable to find him, “hang him on the spot and divide his bones,” Early ordered his men to burn everything, and steal his horses, mules, grain and iron bars. Stevens had to borrow money to rebuild.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation brought the two men together. Stevens called it “a page in the history of the world whose brightness shall eclipse all the records of heroes and of sages.”Now “this Republic . . . [could] become immortal.” The two now marched down the same road, Stevens, as always, at a quicker pace.

As the war’s casualties passed half a million and its cost soared to four billion dollars, Stevens’ concern turned to those who bore the greatest burdens — “the poor widow, the suffering soldier, the wounded martyr to his country’s good.” He denounced the new draft law that allowed a rich man to hire a substitute for $300 – and which led to four days of rioting among the poor in New York City. As real wages fell and business profits rose, he denounced bankers [whom he never liked] and “war profiteers.”

Tommy Lee Jones Gave a Riveting Performance



In vain Stevens and his Committee tried to prevent northern manufacturers from selling the government useless rifles and damaged goods at inflated prices. He wished “no injury to any, but if any must lose, let it not be the soldier, the mechanic, the laborer and the farmer.”

Stevens explored new directions. He welcomed the liberation of Russia’s serfs as a step toward world freedom. He encouraged a women’s delegation to hasten their drive for the suffrage. When Napoleon III of France made Emperor Maximilian his puppet ruler of Mexico, Stevens urged Congress to aid and provide loans to Mexico’s Indian President Benito Juarez.

As he grew older friends called Stevens “The Great Commoner.” He asked to be remembered as one who tried “to ameliorate the condition of the poor, the lowly, the downtrodden of every race and language and color.” He said, “I have done what I deemed best for humanity. It is easy to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. But it is a great labor to protect the interests of the poor and downtrodden.” His enemies said he betrayed his country and his race, and often his class.

For Stevens and the United States everything changed when the assassination of President Lincoln brought Andrew Johnson to the White House. A poor white scornful of African Americans, he envied and worked to restore the power of the South’s planter class.  Stevens plan for “a radical reorganization in southern institutions, habits and manners” led to repeated clashes. Stevens also faced a Republican party increasingly dominated by northern business interests who valued trade relations with former slaveholders not the new Constitutional Amendments.

Stevens failed to bring justice, equality and a fair distribution of land and power to the South. But Stevens knew his and other abolitionist prodding led to Lincoln voicing his support for voting rights for Black soldiers and educated Black males.

Yes, Stevens can be faulted for his truculent manner, for believing he could defeat his foes’ economic and political influence, and for seriously underestimating racism’s grip nationwide. He fought to have the black and white poor own land, attend school, vote and enjoy equal rights. Though this proved to be an unfulfilled dream, he could not be faulted for his effort. It would require another century, other, younger dreamers both African American and white.

In death Stevens affirmed his goals. His coffin was carried to the Capitol by an honor guard of five African American and three white soldiers. He had asked to be buried in the one Lancaster cemetery open to all races. His grave stone bore his own epitaph: ”I repose in this quiet and secluded spot not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race by charter rules, I chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life: equality of man before his Creator.”

Yes, Tommy Lee Jones deserves an Academy Award!

And Thaddeus Stevens deserves a full hearing!



William Loren Katz

New York City

February 24, 2013

**William Loren Katz is the author of Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, and forty other books on African American history. His website is:

A Note to Republicans in Congress!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on February 20, 2013 by playthell
Portman and Ryan
Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Rob Portman

Do your Damned Job!

Of all the criticisms leveled at President Obama the one that strikes me as the silliest and most unfair is the complaint that the reason Republicans refuse to work with him on critical legislation is because he doesn’t hang out with them and court them as if he were wooing a teenage girl.

We are expected to believe that on issues as important as the impending budget “Sequester,” a fiscal time bomb that was never supposed to go off and if it does will be a devastating blow to the US economy that could throw us back into depression, the Republicans in Congress are refusing to act because the president hasen’t been swilling “keggers” with them.  It is hard to imagine a more patently ridiculous argument!

Aside from the fact that the President faces myriad issues daily that only he can deal with, and this consumes the lion’s share of his day, he is also a husband and father of two teenage daughters.  One would think that this would be applauded by Republicans; since they never tire of preaching the virtues of family life. The people who are upset that he is not a schmoozer appear to overlook the fact that he has a right to a private life, and that this is important to his personal well-being and state of mind.

Hence one need not languish in deep contemplation on this issue because it is prima facie absurd. The Republican Congress is presumably composed of mature, thoughtful adults, people who were elected by their constituents to conduct the business of the nation by passing legislation designed to solve the problems that constantly arise in the life of a great nation. While the drafters of the Constitution intended for it to be difficult to pass laws that will affect the course of the nation and the well-being of the citizenry, they certainly didn’t intend to make it impossible to govern.

There is a school of thought that believes the three fold division of power – with the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government checking and balancing each other – is a good idea in theory but contains the seeds for disaster.  There was always the possibility that it could result in gridlock that makes it impossible to govern; yet the fact that 200 years later we have emerged as the most powerful nation in the world provides impressive evidence that it was a good idea.

For most of our history this system has served the American people well.  It has achieved its main objectives admirably: preventing the rise of a tyrant and offering an alternative to armed insurrections in order to transfer power. After all, these were men who witnessed the tyrannies of the Old World and wanted to create a system that would prevent the rise of tyranny in the nation they were forming.

There is grand irony in all of this, because one could argue that the Founders’ fear of tyranny was fueled by hypocrisy in that they were enslaving Africans and dispossessing indigenous Americans of their lands by force of arms: there were no greater tyrannies anywhere in the world. It was a glaring contradiction that most of the Founding fathers chose not to deal with when they were drafting the Constitution –which is why the word slavery is never mentioned in this exalted document – but the great abolitionist and moral clarion Frederick Douglass never tired of pointing out.

And recent historical scholarship such as Dr. Gerald Horne’s book “Negro Comrades of the Crown, and Slave Nation, by the law professors Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen, convincingly argue that preserving African slavery, not the freedom of white colonists, was the motive force that propelled the war for independence against England and was a powerful influence in shaping the US Constitution.

Hence one could argue that the Founders fear of tyranny was magnified by their practices toward black people.  After all, preaching one thing and practicing another is at best base hypocrisy and Schizophrenia at worse.  All of these fears and contradictions no doubt played a role in shaping the Founders views about checks and balances on government actors and the power they wield.

It also explains why the military was placed under a civilian Commander-In-Chief, and why they included an impeachment process for Presidents or Federal Judges with lifelong appointments. This is also the reason why power is diffused into state and municipal governments, and the resulting ambiguity around exactly who has jurisdiction over what is the reason why we are still arguing about these questions over two centuries later.

When all things are considered, the Founders believed that all parties would act in the best interests of the nation.  Never in their wildest imagination did they dream that contending political parties would elevate the interests of their party over the vital interests of the nation, and that compromise, which is built into system they created, would be viewed as betrayal!

Obviously when this happens the system breaks down and becomes dysfunctional.   In the worst case scenario the country degenerated into civil war…and today the triumph of ideology over pragmatism among Republicans has turned the Grand Old Party into the “Grand Obstructionist Party” and it has crippled our government’s ability to govern.  Hence there are critical issues that cannot be addressed; the result of which is a continuous series of self-induced crises

If anybody thinks that the hard left is innocent of these vices: think again.  The far left is as irrational as the far right when it comes to the imperative of comprise as a vital part of the America political process.  Leftist ideologues have called the President as many nasty names as the so-called Tea Party Patriots – Check out  the essays compiled under “My Struggles on the Left” on this blog – and would be every bit as dangerous if they wielded the political power exercised by the right.

The result is an increasingly dysfunctional government unable to address the pressing problems facing our country; it is a situation that portends disaster!  That’s why the President is taking his case to the electorate in a series of public speeches designed to educate them on what is at stake in the looming sequester.  As I write he is holding a press conference with First Responders, the people we all depend upon when disaster strikes – whether man made or from natural causes i.e. Katrina, Sandy or the 9/11 terrorist attack by Islamic Jihadists.

The picture the President is painting of the consequences if the sequester goes into effect are dire and frightening.  And he is skillfully posing this scenario as the result of a choice by Republicans to inflict pain on the American people, and shoot craps with the fate of the nation, just to save the filthy rich a few dollars in taxes.

This is an especially odious choice since the rich wouldn’t even miss the money, but the fate of many Americans will become imperiled.  And by flashing the numbers of Americans who will lose their homes, jobs and other vital assets, along with those who will lose vital government assets, his message takes on great power.

Taking it to the Streets

barack-obama-2011-with first responders

The President with First Responders

And the President is scaring the hell out of Republicans, who fear that they will be blamed should the disastrous sequester actually kick in.  You can hear it in the mealy mouthed whining of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; he who pledged to throttle the Obama Presidency through non-cooperation, making the failure of the Obama presidency not the welfare of the nation the Republican goal.  And it is echoed in the increasing panic of John Boehner, “The Weeper of the House.”

What we have here is a deep ideological divide, contending and irreconcilable views of the role of government. And although some of these Republicans know this is self-destructive folly, the far right racist constituency they must appeal to in order to avoid having to face an opponent who is further to the right in the next primary election, will brook no compromise with the Democrats…especially this president: a bumptious, uppity nigger who thinks he’s smarter than everybody else

This problem runs so deep it’s in the DNA of the contemporary GOP, and it cannot be solved by the President having a few beers and shootin the shit with these guys! Not when it’s a political liability to even be seen with the President – it cost Charlie Crist his Job as Governor of Florida!  That’s why all of them snubbed the President’s invitation to come up and view the bio pic of Abraham Lincoln, the greatest President of in their Party’s history, along with less dramatic snubs.

Hence it is nauseating to hear pompous sophists and intellectual poseurs like Joe Scarborough – a failed politician who now pretends to the role of political wise guy – and his chattering cronies, promoting the bogus argument that the reason the Republicans refuse to participate in responsibly conducting the nation’s business is because Barack doesn’t hob nob with them after hours.  I would like them a simple solution that appears to have evaded the talking heads: JUST DO YOUR DAMNED JOB!!!


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

A Gun Crazy Nation!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on February 14, 2013 by playthell

Camden+Violence+Gun+Buyback - illegal guns confiscated on the streets of Camded

            Illegal Guns taken from the Streets of Camden New Jersey

 It’s Time to Repeal the Second Amendment

It was great to hear President Obama address the gun plague in the most passionate language ever spoken on the subject by a President in a State of the Union address, according to the presidential historians.  Yet given the escalating slaughter of innocents by gun wielding madmen and criminals: It was too little too late.  Although the gun freaks and their lobbyist in the NRA and the American Gun Owners Association portray the President’s call for gun controls as government tyranny that violates the Second Amendment, I think the Second Amendment itself is the problem.

It is a dangerous anachronism that should be repealed!  The reason I think repeal is the only way out of this nightmare of random mass murders by demented gunman seeking a place in history, is because so long as it remains intact its meaning will be subject to interpretation by the Courts, which vacillates according to their political orientation – despite its pious claim to be above politics.  Hence it will be impossible to control the flow of guns, so long as it is left up to the states to pass gun control laws, and some do while some don’t.

The course we must take to end the gun scourge is therefore clear. We must repeal the Second amendment!  Without repealing this amendment our government cannot fulfill its most fundamental obligation to the nation’s citizens: To maintain law and order and protect them from violence which can take their lives or ruin what is left of it, robbing them of any chance at the “pursuit of happiness.”

For instance, I have a friend who had a luminous smile, that’s what I would always think of when I thought of him; that smile which could light up the dark corners of life.   But now the light has abandoned that smile: It went out when his four year old grandson was shot through the head while playing in his front yard, and two thugs started shooting like it was the gunfight at OK Corral.

This was in Camden New Jersey. Homicide has become a part of the rhythm of life in the black neighborhoods of Camden.  Another buddy of mine, a hip savvy guy who led a fabulous life before retirement and is the great Nephew of Dr. WEB DuBois, grew up in Camden and remembers when it was a wonderful place to live.  Now he doesn’t go out at night, because although gun violence does not break out “everywhere it can happen anywhere…not all the time but anytime,” as his distinguished ancestor once said of white American violence against Afro-Americans a century ago.

And yet Camden is not even the most dangerous city in America; Philadelphia, just across the Delaware River, is more dangerous than Baghdad!  I chose Camden because I came across this picture above while listening to a debate about gun control on CNN; the guns in the picture were taken from the streets of Camden, and they had been illegally acquired by their previous owners.  These guns were not found due to detective work, their acquisition is the result of a city sponsored program to buy them from their illegal owners.

The nature of the program tells us that they come from the lower class, more than likely from the Lumpen-Proletariat – that class who are forced to engage in a Darwinian struggle for bread with no formal connection to the legitimate economy.  Young men with no prospects of gainful employment at a living wage; no family who can support them; few educational opportunities; unmarried because they cannot support a family; so they father babies with several women and are plagued with ‘baby mama” dramas.  Hence taking up a gun often becomes the only way they can feel like men besides seducing females, which is hard to do with no green in yo jeans.  It is from this class that the majority of gun violence is committed.

The term of art for this social strata among contemporary sociologists is “the underclass,” and they are the ones who are mainly responsible for turning Chicago into a free fire zone, where whole families get wiped out by gun violence.  Five hundred were slaughtered with guns last year, and forty people have been murdered this month, including the murder of Hadiya Pendleton – a beautiful, bright young lady who had recently performed at President Obama’s inauguration.  In order to place the Chicago murder rate in perspective, consider the following facts.  The murder rate by gunfire in Chicago averages out to better than one a day.

During the height of the race war waged against black America by white racist 1880 -1915, when lynching was at its peak – a black person was killed by white Americans at the rate of one every two and a half days for the entire country.  Tragically, the murder rate for Afro-Americans by the guns of black criminals in the city of Chicago alone more than doubles that.  The murder rates of black citizens – as well as shootouts between criminals – exceed the death rates from Iraq or Afghanistan during the most intense periods of combat!

Yet all attempts by the City of Chicago – as in Philadelphia and myriad other cities – to control the flow of illegal guns on the streets of their cities has been defeated.  Their main enemies have been the state legislatures and the Supreme Court.  Both of these bodies maintain that their opposition to gun control laws is simply a defense of the Second Amendment.

In the case of Chicago, the Supreme Court ruled that their anti-handgun laws were unconstitutional.  The Court’s decision came in the case of Otis Macdonald et al v the City of Oak Park, which was brought by a 76 year old Afro-American, who argued that the gun laws rendered him defenseless in a neighborhood overrun by violent criminals.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Clarence Thomas and was hailed as a masterpiece of “Originalist scholarship.”  The term refers to a school of legal thought advocated by Justice Antonin Scalia, which argues that the Constitution should be strictly interpreted based on the “original intent” of the framers.   Based upon this interpretation the entire matter should be left for historians to decide.  But then Scalia qualified his position and said he was going to follow the meaning in the text whatever the Framers may have been thinking at the time.  Needless to say, this is an arbitrary, even dangerous, approach to the law.

Legal argument already contains enough ambiguities. That’s why the fate of a litigant or defender rest upon how a particular judge reads the law.  And when it is the Supreme Court the Constitution means whatever the sitting majority at the time says it means.  In the case of the Second Amendment the most recent cases have been decided on a 5-4 basis.

This has led to panic in the Republican Party.  For instance, at the confirmation hearings on the nomination of Justice Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions – whose own nomination to the high court was rejected because of his racist history – complained: “Our Second Amendment rights are hanging by a thread.”

 Clarence Thomas: Originalist Constitutional Scholar…
Clarence Thomas II 
….Or shameless Sophist

Since the close votes demonstrate that the Court is sharply divided on the meaning of the Second Amendment, as well as other vital constitutional issues, what could lead Justice Scalia, a so-called strict constructionist, to such a questionable stance on the law?  Could it be that some of his positions are constructed on shaky historical grounds?  Well, in the case of the Second Amendment the right wing has based its argument on invented history; which is to say that the historical evidence does not support their conclusion that the architects of the Constitution intended for every American citizen to possesses a personal arsenal.

In a desperate effort to find some evidence that the Founding Fathers intended for the Second Amendment to arm American citizens to defend themselves against a tyrannical Federal government, right wing ideologues have manufactured a quote and attributed it to three different people, depending whose telling the tale.  “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government,” goes the quote, which they have attributed at various times to Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, and The Federalist

However there is no evidence that any of them said this.  Yet this idea has become a staple on the far right and is echoed in the rhetoric of right-wing kooks and ignoramuses like Congressman Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman and rejected senatorial candidate Sharon Engle of Nevada.  Anyone who understands anything about the history of revolutions understands that the first thing revolutionists do when they seize power is restore order by any means necessary, including establishing martial law and often a dictatorship until the new order is firmly established.

To believe that the 55 delegates – mostly lawyers, businessmen and big landowners and slaveholders – who drafted the US Constitution would produce a documented that invited their overthrow by armed citizens who disagreed with their policies flies in the face of history and denies all that we know about human nature and the priorities of businessmen.

It is axiomatic that businessmen everywhere prefer a tranquil environment – nobody wants to invest in a war zone where the outcome is uncertain and thus the fate of their investment.  Furthermore, the framers of the Constitution had recently witnessed the chaos that could ensue when armed citizens rose up against the government of the colony of Massachusetts in Shays Rebellion.  Enraged by the foreclosure of farms over unpaid debts and high taxes imposed from faraway Boston, and the arrest of delinquent landowners, armed farmers in Western Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays, a former army officer during the Revolutionary war against England, seized the courthouse in Southampton during the fall of 1786.

It took until winter of 1787 before the rebellion was suppressed by government forces; just a few months before the Constitutional Convention convened during the steamy dog days of August.  To believe that these cautious men – who didn’t even include a bill of rights in the original document, which is why they comprise the first ten amendments to the Constitution – defies reason.

At the time the newly independent North American colonies was governed under the Articles of Confederation.  It would greatly profit Americans who think weakening the federal government is a good idea to study the experience of trying to govern under that system.   It was such a nightmare the framers of the constitution were determined to scarp it for something better; a more effective way of governing.

Hence it is no accident of history that the Preamble to the US Constitution, which establishes its intent and purpose reads: We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  Anyone with knowledge of the history of this period cannot fail to see that the emphasis on forming “a more perfect Union” and “insuring domestic tranquility” is a direct response to the dangers of a dysfunctional union where the central government depended on the whims of thirteen sovereign colonies.

For instance, under the Articles of Confederation the central government’s inability to establish a uniform system of weights and measures, or determine the rate of tariffs in conducting trade among the colonies, or even defend the Congress against disgruntled veterans of the Continental Army – which forced them to flee from Philadelphia and hasten across the Delaware to seek refuge Camden New Jersey.  All of these were critical reasons that prompted the Founding Fathers to design a compact that would strengthen the Federal government in 1787, the compact they worked out emerged as the US Constitution, which provides for the removal of any public official who does not carry out the will of the majority of the people: The vote and the impeachment process.  Hence there is no need for armed citizens to defend themselvs against their government.

And there is abundant evidence that this was also the understanding, indeed the preference, of the governors of the colonies, who were horrified at the idea that some citizens thought they had license to take up guns to resolve differences with the government.  They all viewed such action as an invitation to disaster. And it was discussed among those in attendance at the Constitutional convention.

Speaking to the delegates at the convention in Philadelphia, Gouverneur Morrison of Pennsylvania warned the delegates that failure would precipitate new outbreaks of rebellion. “The scenes of horror attending civil commotion cannot be described, and the conclusion of them will be worse than the term of their continuance,” he said. “The stronger party will then make traitors of the weaker; and the gallows & halter will finish the work of the sword.”

And George Washington, who was elected President of the newly formed United States of America – the same year that Louis XVI and Marie Antionette, the King and Queen of France, were beheaded in the Place de la Concorde in Paris – made it clear what he thought of the “insurrectionist interpretation” of the Second Amendment.  He personally led troops to suppress a group of Pennsylvania farmers who took up arms against the newly formed federal government that had imposed a tax on “distilled spirits” in 1791.

The incident is remembered as the “Whisky Rebellion,” and is the only instance in American history when a sitting president led troops in the field. George Washington’s position was clear on the issue of the right of disgruntled citizens to take up arms against the government over unpopular policies.

To yield to the treasonable fury of so small a portion of the United States, would be to violate the fundamental principle of our constitution, which enjoins that the will of the majority shall prevail. . . . Succeeding intelligence has tended to manifest the necessity of what has been done; it being now confessed by those who were not inclined to exaggerate the ill-conduct of the insurgents, that their malevolence was not pointed merely to a particular law; but that a spirit, inimical to all order, has actuated many of the offenders.”

The mere fact that the original intent of the drafters of the US Constitution can be so distorted by contemporary politicians, journalists and pro-gun pressure groups like the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America, plus given legal credibility by right wing jurist, provides a compelling reasons to repeal the Second Amendment, and end the gun plague that imperils the “domestic tranquility” of the nation that is cited in the preamble to the Constitution as a fundamental reason for its creation.

It is a promise to the citizens of this nation that transcends the obsessions of the gun nuts!   Now that the course of events has demonstrated that this cannot be achieved while the nation is awash in guns…it’s a no brainer what course we should take: Repeal the god dammed Second amendment!

 The Insurrectionists are Stockpiling Military Weapons
        U.S. Gun Sales Reach Record Levels In 2012
Preparing to fight the Federal Government
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Februrary 13, 2013

More Dangerous than Django!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on February 11, 2013 by playthell

Christian Jordon Doner - black avenger

The Happy Bush Whacker


And he’s All the Way Live

“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”   William Shakespeare


Political officials in southern California have just announced that they are placing a million dollar bounty on the head of Christopher Dorner the 270 pound angry black man who is an ex-cop, naval officer and military sharp shooter that is terrorizing members of the Los Angeles police department.  Described by his former “brothers in blue” as “a trained assassin,” Dorner is accused of having gunned down the daughter and future son-in law of his former superior in the LAPD, and opened fire on a squad car killing one officer.

Yet in listening to the statements from politicians and police officials, one finds no plausible explanation for this murderous outburst from a man who has dedicated his life to the defense of this nation and its citizens, at home and abroad.  And the press is not doing a much better job at it.   The gaps in reportage was noted by that indefatigable media watchdog and great American writer Ishmael Reed, who did a content analysis of a CNN report on the shooter, but he pointed out that it never mentioned the charges of racism, anti-Semitism and abuse of police powers made by Dorner.

According to Christopher Dorner it was his attempt to expose these practices by blowing the whistle on offending officers, who appear to be white that led to a conspiracy by fellow officers, in cahoots with police brass, to drive him out of the LAPD.   According to Dorner his problems with the LAPD began with the following incident:

In 8/07 I reported an officer (Ofcr. Teresa Evans/now a Sergeant), for kicking a suspect (excessive force) during a Use of Force while I was assigned as a patrol officer at LAPD’s Harbor Division. While cuffing the suspect, (Christopher Gettler), Evans kicked the suspect twice in the chest and once in the face. The kick to the face left a visible injury on the left cheek below the eye. Unfortunately after reporting it to supervisors and investigated by PSB (internal affairs investigator Det. Villanueva/Gallegos), nothing was done. I had broken their supposed “Blue Line”. Unfortunately, It’s not JUST US, it’s JUSTICE!!! “

Mr. Dorner goes on to tell an incredible tale about what followed.

“In fact, 10 months later on 6/25/08, after already successfully completing probation, acquiring a basic Post Certificate, and Intermediate Post Certificate, I was relieved of duty by the LAPD while assigned to patrol at Southwest division. It is clear as day that the department retaliated toward me for reporting Evans for kicking Mr. Christopher Gettler. The department stated that I had lied and made up the report that Evans had kicked the suspect. I later went to a Board of Rights (department hearing for decision of continued employment) from 10/08 to 1/09. During this BOR hearing a video was played for the BOR panel where Christopher Gettler stated that he was indeed kicked by Officer Evans (video sent to multiple news agencies). In addition to Christopher Gettler stating he was kicked, his father Richard Gettler, also stated that his son had stated he was kicked by an officer when he was arrested after being released from custody.”

Then Dorner describes what must have seemed like a surreal experience, and it destroyed his faith in the integrity of the LAPD, as he describes all of the cronyism, chicanery and double dealing in the process that led to his demise:

“This was all presented for the department at the BOR hearing. They still found me guilty and terminated me. What they didn’t mention was that the BOR panel made up of Capt. Phil Tingirides, Capt. Justin Eisenberg, and City Attorney Martella had a signigicant problem from the time the board was assembled. Capt. Phil Tingirides was a personal friend of Teresa Evans from when he was her supervisor at Harbor station. That is a clear conflict of interest and I made my argument for his removal early and was denied. The advocate for the LAPD BOR was Sgt. Anderson. Anderson also had a conflict of interest as she was Evans friend and former partner from Harbor division where they both worked patrol together. I made my argument for her removal when I discovered her relation to Evans and it was denied.”

From all that I have heard from those who worked with him, most of whom don’t want to appear on camera for security reasons, Dorner loved his job as a cop; he was what we used to call in the military “gung ho.” And I have seen no compelling evidence of wrongdoing that would justify the LAPD kicking him to the curb.  Alas until the police department addresses this question in a convincing manner, I shall be forced to rely on Mr. Dorner’s version of the story.

Dorner says he has resorted to violence because the LAPD has besmirched his good name and smeared his reputation with invented lies.  He has demanded only two things: an apology from the LA Chief of Police, and that the press investigates his charges of racism and corruption in the LAPD.  Thus far neither request has been met.  The Police Chief Beck, responded to questions about Dorner’s complaints at his press conference with this arrogant comment: “This is a homicide suspect who has committed atrocious crimes. If you want to give any attribution to his ramblings on the Internet, go ahead, but I do not!”

Hence it is reasonable to conclude that the killings will go on until they catch him. He tells us in an eleven page manifesto that he posted online the importance he places on his good name…which he claims the LAPD callously destroyed to conceal its crimes against citizens of that that city.

“The question is, what would you do to clear your name?   Name; A word or set of words by which a person, animal, place, or thing is referred to. Synonyms: reputation, title, appellation, denomination, repute.  A name is more than just a noun, verb, or adjective. It’s your life, your legacy, your journey, sacrifices, and everything you’ve worked hard for every day of your life as an adolescent, young adult and adult. Don’t let anybody tarnish it when you know you’ve live up to your own set of ethics and personal ethos.” 

After telling a round unvarnished tale of whole sale violation of the rights of citizens, especially non-whites, whom the white officers regularly called “niggers” while inflicting physical abuse, Dorner goes on to observe in his manifesto:

Terminating me for telling the truth of a Caucasian officer kicking a mentally ill man is disgusting. Don’t ever call me a fucking bully. I want all journalists to utilize every source you have that specializes in collections for your reports. With the discovery and evidence available you will see the truth. Unfortunately, I will not be alive to see my name cleared. That’s what this is about, my name. A man is nothing without his name. Below is a list of locations where I resided from childhood to adulthood.”

To describe this man as a common criminal is obviously a misnomer, although one can readily see why it is convenient to do so. That way they don’t have to investigate his charges; they can simply dismiss them.  However if Christopher Dorner were a common criminal he would probably be conducting a clandestine robbing spree and living it up in anonymity; knocking off a cop whenever he wanted and getting away with it. Instead he chose to commit acts of public violence against the police force…a decision that he clearly believes will end in his destruction…in fact he predicts it in his Manifesto.

This is not the behavior of a criminal; these are the acts of a man who wishes to make a political statement that will be impossible to ignore.  And he has lost all faith in the American justice system, which he had dedicated his life to defending, to grant him justice.  Hence he has declared war on those who enforce the system, and he has his former colleagues wetting their pants when they take a leak, because they are holding their Johnson in one hand and their Roscoe in the other, and both hands are shaking.

If any substantial part of Mr. Dorner’s story is true it is clear that the LAPDs racist behavior has pushed him to the point that revenge.  He insists that he is the victim of a racist plot that no self-respecting Black man could silently endure.

“I have exhausted all available means at obtaining my name back. I have attempted all legal court efforts within appeals at the Superior Courts and California Appellate courts. This is my last resort… The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now lead to deadly consequences. The LAPD’s actions have cost me my law enforcement career that began on 2/7/05 and ended on 1/2/09.

They cost me my Naval career which started on 4/02 and ends on 2/13. I had a TS/SCI clearance (Top Secret Sensitive Compartmentalized Information clearance) up until shortly after my termination with LAPD. This is the highest clearance a service member can attain other than a Yankee White TS/SCI which is only granted for those working with and around the President/Vice President of the United States. I lost my position as a Commanding Officer of a Naval Security Forces reserve unit at NAS Fallon because of the LAPD.

I’ve lost a relationship with my mother and sister because of the LAPD. I’ve lost a relationship with close friends because of the LAPD. In essence, I’ve lost everything because the LAPD took my name and new I was INNOCENT!!! Capt Phil Tingirides, Justin Eisenberg, Martella, Randy Quan, and Sgt. Anderson all new I was innocent but decided to terminate me so they could continue Ofcr. Teresa Evans career. I know about the meeting between all of you where Evans attorney, Rico, confessed that she kicked Christopher Gettler (excessive force.” 

Then Dorner announced with the deadly finality of judge and executioner: “Your day has come.”  After detailing what had been unjustly taken from him, Dorner once more reminds us of his real character; emphasizing that he does not fit the racist stereotypes that his white colleagues hold of young black men.

I’m not an aspiring rapper, I’m not a gang member, I’m not a dope dealer, I don’t have multiple babies momma’s. I am an American by choice, I am a son, I am a brother, I am a military service member, I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed, slandered, and libeled me. I lived a good life and though not a religious man I always stuck to my own personal code of ethics, ethos and always stuck to my shoreline and true North. I didn’t need the US Navy to instill Honor, Courage, and Commitment in me but I thank them for re-enforcing it. It’s in my DNA.

His fellow cops may claim not to understand Dorner’s motives, which is what whites always do when they are called out on their institutionalized racist practices – they know that they have created a formidable killing machine, and their lives and those of their family and friends are in danger every minute he remains at large.  For Dorner is clear in his purpose, which he clearly spells out in his declaration of war.

I will conduct DA operations to destroy, exploit and seize designated targets. If unsuccessful or unable to meet objectives in these initial small-scale offensive actions, I will reassess my BDA and re-attack until objectives are met. I have nothing to lose. My personal casualty means nothing. Just alike AAF’s, ACM’s, and AIF’s, you can not prevail against an enemy combatant who has no fear of death. An enemy who embraces death is a lose, lose situation for their enemy combatants.  Hopefully you analyst have done your homework. You are aware that I have always been the top shot, highest score, an expert in rifle qualifications in every unit I’ve been in. I will utilize every bit of small arms training, demolition, ordnance, and survival training I’ve been given.

Do you know why we are unsuccessful in asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare in CENTCOM theatre of operations? I’ll tell you. It’s not the inefficiency of our combatant commanders, planning, readiness or training of troops. Much like the Vietnam war, ACM, AAF, foreign fighters, Jihadist, and JAM have nothing to lose. They embrace death as it is a way of life. I simply don’t fear it. I am the walking exigent circumstance you created.

The Violence of action will be HIGH. I am the reason TAC alert was established. I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty. ISR is my strength and your weakness. You will now live the life of the prey. Your RD’s and homes away from work will be my AO and battle space. I will utilize every tool within INT collections that I learned from NMITC in Dam Neck. You have misjudged a sleeping giant. There is no conventional threat assessment for me. JAM, New Ba’ath party, 1920 rev BGE, ACM, AAF, AQAP, AQIM and AQIZ have nothing on me. Do not deploy airships or gunships. SA-7 Manpads will be waiting. As you know I also own Barrett .50′s so your APC are defunct and futile.”

It is no wonder that the officers named in this manifesto are cringing in their hiding places under armed guards.  This guy is their worst nightmare.  He is akin to a killer Robot who has rejected the orders of its programmers then disappeared, and is now stalking them with all of the death dealing capacity the programmers have given it.  Dorner, a 270 pound bruiser, conjures up images of the “bad nigger” that has haunted the consciousness of many whites since Thomas Jefferson observed his slaves working in the fields one day and said: “I shudder when I reflect upon the fact that God is just.” Dorner is the kind of dude described in the old Afro-American folk ditty about Stagolee:”He got a tombstone disposition/ and a graveyard mind / He’s a mean motherfucker /and don’t give a fuck about dying!”

While the end of this story is already written, it’s anybody’s guess what kind of drama we will witness until they finally kill him.  We will follow the case closely here, and all of us should demand that his very specific charges of racism, brutality and corruption in the LAPD be seriously investigated by the national press…I, for one, am not interested in police reports on this matter because I believe they will all be self-serving.  I would welcome an investigation of the US Department of Justice!

Already there are Facebook pages and Web sites going up that present Mr. Dorner as an avenging hero who is giving the LAPD just what they deserve…one booster is even touting him for President!  And there are a lot of young black and Hispanic males in LA who view Dorner as a real life Django, as they are smoking blunts and pouring spirits in his honor.  Given his growing folk hero status Dorner might prove very hard to find because many are willing to give him aid and comfort as he scrambles to escape the widening police dragnet, which ironically was the location of the famous 1950’s  radio and television cop series Dragnet – which tempts one to wonder if life is imitating art.

Ready to Rumble

Christian Gorner

The LAPD done created a Monster!



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 11, 1013

“Ice the Motherfuckers!”

Posted in Film Criticism, Guest Commentators, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2013 by playthell
Jamie Fox as Django

 Tarrantino tells a Round Unvarnished Tale

My wife and I, after several days of serious debate, decided we’d venture out and check out “Django Unchained.” Our curiosity had been thoroughly whetted and there was enough controversy to lure even the most reluctant public intellectual.  We also decided that we’d see it at the Magic Johnson Theater in the heart of Harlem, where we knew the audience would be almost exclusively African American.

 We arrived late and had to settle for seats toward the front of the theater but not exactly where you have to look up at the screen and leave the show with a crook in your neck.  Even before the film began the chatter was underway, and you know how Black patrons, particularly the young and restless ones, like to talk back to the screen.

 As a kind of preview of the rap to come, two women who arrived even later than we did carried on a conversation across the theater as they struggled to find seats near each other. “Come on ovah here,” one of them called.  “Dere two seats and maybe this gentleman will move ovah and let us sit together.”  The gentleman did and the woman, armed with the biggest container of popcorn imaginable, a huge drink, and heaven only knows what else, excused herself down the aisle and clumped down next to her friend.

“Ain’t we kinda close?” I thought I heard her ask her friend.

“Yeah, but dese was the only seats left, plus we up close to the action,” she answered.

It didn’t take long for the action to unfurl from Quentin Tarantino’s script and under his direction.  The first scenes and the music cued the Spaghetti Western motif we’d heard about and my mind went hurtling back to the Sergio’s of the past—both Corbucci and Leone—and that was a good sign because I totally enjoyed those films, particularly “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” and it was hard to think anyone could get any uglier than Eli Wallach, yellow teeth and all.

A coffle of shuffling slaves immediately grabbed your attention, the whelps the size of ropes on their back; like those scarring the back of Caesar who is depicted in so many history books about slavery.  Later, we will see them tattooed on the back of Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  One of the slaves chained together is Django (Jamie Foxx) and it’s a set piece that introduces Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who comes out of the wilderness like a snake oil salesman on his buckboard concoction that reminded me of the first scene of Marlene Dietrich as the gypsy woman in “Golden Earrings,” which should give you an unmistakable clue to my age since I saw it long before it got to TCM.

I’ve heard that Tarantino is a real film buff but I doubt if he knew anything about that old movie, though I wouldn’t be surprised given the similarity to the haunting love story his film and the old movie have in common.  Right away you knew this was not going to be a friendly encounter since Schultz is singularly concerned in purchasing one of the slaves.  Most disconcertingly amusing about the exchange between Schultz and the white slave traders is Schultz’s language,“Among your company, I’m led to believe,” Schultz begins, “there is a specimen I hope to acquire.”

His words would not have been any more astonishing had he uttered: “Whither thou goest with those disheveled souls?”  The tone and terminology of the request is as funny as it is deadly earnest and at its conclusion we have the first spilling of the buckets of blood that will make this one of the goriest flicks since, well, Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards.”

Having properly exterminated the traders, the slaves are left to their own devices and Django, like a bewildered Tonto, rides off with Schultz. After they kill the sheriff in a town they are passing through, viewers get a gander at the narrative theme and you wonder how the two of them will possibly wiggle out of a very desperate situation in a town without pity.

 To mollify an angry posse of marauders with lynching on their minds, Schultz approaches them and unsheathes a paper indicating that the sheriff was really wanted for murder and that he had every right to capture him dead or alive.   It was an incredible ruse but effective and it would be their modus operandi as they traveled from dry gulches to the snow-laden, freezing terrain of Wyoming, or somewhere in the chilly West.  They were bounty hunters unchained and as they rode across the prairie I was expecting Count Basie’s band to pop up as it did in “Blazing Saddles.”

    The Basie Band in Blazing Saddles


  A Surreal Scene

The first half of the film is Schultz and Django as serial killers; mainly Django seems to be along for the ride until he drops his quest on Schultz that in exchange for continuing service they take time out to rescue his wife from a Simon Legree-like plantation owner.  Aha! Now we have the subplot presented and it resembles one of the oldest of Western clichés—rescuing the damsel in distress, only this time it’s not the Durango Kid its Django the man!  (Remember John Wayne in “The Sundowners”?)

 Bad Men doing the Lawd’s Work
Django-Unchained-10 Their Murder and Mayhem is Therapeutic to the Audience

 But another thing occurs when Django tags along with Schultz.  Foxx is far less a traveling companion than he was with Tom Cruise in Michael Mann’s 2004 film “Collateral.”  While the carnage in Mann’s film is vintage Tarantino, Foxx the taxi driver is held hostage by Cruise the hit man, who takes him along on his rampage.

 When they arrive at Candie Land, named for its master Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), its reminiscent of those panoramic, long shot scenes from “Gone With the Wind,” with slaves scattered about in forced labor in cotton fields and other duties.  But it was their confrontation with Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) the HNIC and the beloved house Negro, the proverbial Uncle Tom in all his nastiness that is most commanding.  Jackson has said of the portrayal as one of “the most despicable characters in cinematic history.”  And he takes the fawning, sycophantic groveling right down to the last “yassuh.”  It brought to mind that famous passage from one of Malcolm X’s speeches about the master and his house Negro.

    Samuel L. Jackson as
Samuel L Jackson
 The Stereotypical “House Negro”

 “If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put out the blaze than the master would,” Malcolm said from his “Message to the Grass Roots.” “If the master got sick, the house Negro would say ‘What’s the matter, boss, we sick?’ We sick!  He identified himself with his master, more than the master identified with himself.” Now the audience in the theater had another enemy, someone to hiss at and deride.

Much of the remaining action happens in the Big House where we meet such extras as Franco Nero, the original Django who has a brief conversation with the other Django over a drink at the bar, though the subtleties of their exchange probably meant little to the average movie-goer.  It was a nice little touch much in the same way that Richard Roundtree has a cameo role in John Singleton’s redux of Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson.

But after some rather tame chit-chat the gratuitous violence approaches its apex, with a fight between slaves as a preface.  With a possible nod to today’s ultimate fight events, two muscular Black men tear into each other in a battle royal.  Aha!  Is this Tarantino’s “Mandingo” moment?  Again, I was transported back to the novels and subsequent films based on the books by Kyle Onstott, especially “Drum,” and “Mandingo.”

 World Heavy-Weight Champion Kenny Norton
mandingo1_thumbnail A Scene from Mandingo

Historians will certainly have a field day on the veracity of this fight, much in the same way they debated whether there were actually slave-breeding plantations.  If the scene had taken place outdoors it could have come straight from Cecil Brown’s novel The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger. In this book the fight is cast in a folkloristic manner, conjuring the Trickster trope.

When the less than formidable Efan, faced with a gigantic opponent named Kocomo, walks over to the carriage and slaps Miss Ann, his opponent takes off running down the road; believing that any Black man who slaps a white woman in the state of Georgia in front of her husband and his master is more than he wants to deal with.  It’s a hilarious moment without the bloodshed that results from Tarantino’s combatants.

Intrigue enters the film when Stephen begins to suspect that Broomhilda and Django know each other.  He’s absolutely right and the marks of the branding on their cheeks is a dead give-away, though Stephen doesn’t seem to be aware of it.  This is perhaps his way of toying with her or Tarantino’s idea of creating a dynamic interplay between contending elements of Black culture.

The shootout at O.K. Corral pales in comparison to the slaughter in the Big House, and the carnage soon reaches a point of inane excessiveness.  But vengeance is mine sayeth Tarantino and “Reservoir Dogs,” “Kill Bill,” and “Pulp Fiction,” are merely dry runs for the blood and gore at Candie Land.  Even so, there’s a quick instance of laughter when Candie’s sister is killed.

She is blown from the scene like something out of “Poltergeist,” suddenly as if snatched from the room.  The audience almost laughed as loud as when Stephen got his comeuppance or when Django took the whip from an overseer or slave driver and administered his own vicious lashes.  “Whup the motherfucker!” someone cried in the theater setting off a chain reaction of the phrase.

In this moment of retribution I recalled the passage from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography when he was no longer going to take any more abuse from Covey the slave-breaker.  For nearly two hours Douglass and Covey fought each other and finally Covey had to concede he was defeated.  Douglass wrote:  “The battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood.”  This, among hundreds of others, is the film we’re waiting for.

With bodies strewn all over the place (and the only thing more excessive is the N-word), Django’s revenge is partially fulfilled; however, there’s still the man who threatened to relieve him of his private parts as he was suspended upside down in a barn; there was still the quest to rescue Broomhilda, who, for the most part was little more than a Pauline tied to the railroad tracks waiting for her prince to come.

Okay, the ending was predictable but at least it was a Black hero riding off into the sunset with his wife, and you’ll notice she is armed with a rifle as if now ready to be an agent of her own liberation.  There is a moonwalk from Django’s horse and the two lovers are off to the sequel, huh?

Well, we don’t need another Tarantino film to remind us of what needs to be done cinematically.  “Django Unchained” is, overall, a mixture of Spaghetti Western, blaxploitation, satire, slave narrative, lampoon, send-up, and fairy tale, as my wife concluded.  No, it wasn’t a history lesson, just pure entertainment.  But the question is: have we, as a people, reached a level of progress and tolerance to laugh at the horrific moments of our past?

The Beautiful Kerry Washington


 Django’s Wife…The face that launched a slaughter

 Probably not, despite the hilarity from the audience, because so much of the past is still with us.  There’s too much mass incarceration of Blacks and the author Michelle Alexander has noted that we have more Black men and women in correctional control than were in bondage in 1850, about the time period of the film’s depiction.

Too many Black men stopped and frisked, harking back to the slave codes and Jim Crow laws; too much police brutality almost equal to the beatings administered by overseers patrolling the plantations.   Other ethnic groups may be able to enjoy their troubled past, but there is not enough variety of our experiences in popular culture, too few films of merit or worthy television shows for us to relax and laugh at our torture and oppression.

There is no way we can stop the Tarantino and others from mining the richness or the grotesque aspects of our culture, particularly when he is aided and abetted by Foxx, Jackson, Washington, and producer Reggie Hudlin.  So, what’s to be done?  The only real answer is for us to make our own films; films that begin to depict and articulate the glorious struggle we’ve waged for total freedom and liberation.  We have the resources and the talent, but the will doesn’t seem to be there.

It may take another generation or two before we’re completely “unchained” and ready to tell our own magnificent story where Douglass, Tubman, Robeson, Truth, and others can recount what they endured and overcome without interference from those with the wherewithal but a different agenda.

Meanwhile, “Whup, the motherfucker!!!”

 Leonardo di Capprio as the Sadistic Slave Master


 He projects the decadence and pure evil of American Slavery


By Herb Boyd

Special to Commentaries on the Times

Is Colin Kaepernick Trans-Racial?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , , on February 7, 2013 by playthell


Colin Kapernick

On Football,  Race and American Culture

After witnessing the performance of African-American  quarterbacks like Mike Vick, Cam Newton, RG III, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kapernick, who started in the Super Bowl for the San Francisco Forty Niners, it is fair to ask: Is the age of the dominant “double threat” black quarterback upon us?

I have seen this country evolve on so many racial fronts in my lifetime that it is almost impossible to convey the magnitude of that change to someone who was born after the passage of the great Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s.  The present celebration and pursuit of black quarterbacks is a dramatic part of that change.

Today the fact that a black family lives in the White house and an African American man is beginning his second term as the President of the USA and Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces, and his beautiful brilliant wife and daughters are the first ladies of this nation, is greeted with a yawn, shows how the unimaginable has become routine.

This is also their response to what is happening at the quarterback position in football, which on the symbolic level is a comparable advancement in the way the leadership abilities of black men are perceived. Given the central position of football in American culture, who plays quarterback is a very serious business.  For instance, it has been estimated that a Heisman Trophy elicits more money from Alumni of Texas universities than a faculty member winning a Nobel Prize!

I know this sounds crazy to those who are not football fans, and have no interest in the game, but even after Afro-American Air Force General Daniel “Chappie” James became the commander of NORAD – North American Air Defense Command – with the power to launch a nuclear attack without consulting the President, at the height of the Cold War with Soviet Russia – a decision that could destroy the earth – football fans, sports commentators and team owners were still debating whether a black man could lead a damn football team!!

And by the way, a black Admiral had commanded the Atlantic fleet from pole to pole; a force capable of destroying the world just like a nuclear air attack, and a black man had commanded a space shuttle flight, before a black man was hired to coach an NFL team.  Even now, with an African American President presiding over the nation’s affairs, a bunch of head coaches were recently hired in the NFL and not one of them was black!

It is such a scandal, given the proven black talent around, that Dr. Melissa Harris Perry – a professor of political science and MSNBC host – did an investigative report on the situation of black coaches in the NFL. Hence it is not surprising that despite the dominance of the sport by males of African heritage – especially at the glamorous “skills” positions – there has been only one black coach to win the Super Bowl – albeit in a rare and glorious historic moment when both coaches were black!   There has been no comparable moment since.  Nor is there likely to be unless the selection system changes.

As historians of sports know, sports reflect deeply held societal values.  And football mirrors the most fundamental aspects of the American character. Like football, Americans are highly territorial and aggressive.  And football teams mirror the organizational models of corporations and military units, and the Quarterback routinely functions like a CEO or commanding general officer – they are routinely referred to as “Field Generals,” the sports equivalent of a “Field Marshall.”

The game even expropriates military battle terms like “advancing into enemy territory,” “Lobbing the bomb,” “battling in the trenches,” fierce players are referred to as “warriors,” and the arms of quarterbacks who are great passers are referred to as “rifles” or even “Howitzers.” Football is a war game that expresses the martial spirit symbolized by the Bald Eagle, a vicious bird of Prey that is our national mascot.

With the entry of black athletes into the NFL new terms were borrowed from the military lexicon, such as “turning on the afterburners,” a term associated with jets and rocketry.  This metaphorical imagery is employed to describe the superior speed of black athletes.  The terms associated with throwing the ball – a high art when performed on the level of pro-quarterbacks – were used to describe white quarterbacks, and the terms regarding speed i.e. running were used to describe black quarterbacks.  Indeed these terms have been substituted for any reference to race.

Some observers view this as a sign of progress.  Could be, depending upon how you look at it.  If you think it is fine to be color blind when it comes to celebrating the positive qualities that black men possesses, while their vices are everywhere advertised by race is a good thing   However the most amusing thing about Colin is the way so many whites are quick to say his black ancestry does not count.  That he is as much white as black, and in any case it doesn’t really matter because he is colorless to them.  Some have even accused Afro-Americans want to claim Colin and Obama because it make us “look cool.”  They forget that Barack chose us and we invented cool!

This blown call cost San Francisco a Super Bowl
Held reciever in suoerbowl 
 Colin threw the ball to exactly the right spot

The truth is that Afro-Americans accepted bi-racial children and white Americans rejected them – and whites are the majority in the US and thus determined the definition of race and defined racial status in law and custom.  It is is a testament to the superior humanity of black people.  After all, no less an American icon than Thomas Jefferson enslaved his seven children by his slave concubine Sally Hemmings because they were “tainted” by African blood.

Yet visitors to Monticello, his slave plantation in Virginia, say his son Madison looked just like him.  Bi-racial Americans have never been given the choice of being “white” in America, and the white males who ran the country refused to acknowledge them because they would have been admitting they were hypocrites, and criminals too, since they would be violating their stated beliefs about white racial superiority and the laws against racial miscegenation that they had enacted.  That’s why the great southern writer Lillian Smith, observed in her extraordinary book “Killers of the Dream,” that the Founding Fathers were “Front porch puritans and backyard lechers!”

So the complaints by white males, who now want to claim Colin Kapernick, reflect both a profound ignorance of American history and the present realities about race.   It is whites who defined bi-racial children as “black” not us.  As far as I am concerned if Colin Kapernick wants to identify as white I say good luck with that.  Barack Obama chose to be Black, and his love for Afro-American culture is palpable – it is clearly visible in his choice of music, dance, language, basketball over bowling, his church and beautiful black wife.  Barack chose us and we love him…and accepting him as an Afro-American is no big deal because almost every Afro-American has somebody in their family who favors him.  He is darker than a lot of people in my family.

Obviously the definition of race in America is sociological rather than biological.  Hence it is a group consciousness born of the peculiar experience of Afro-Americans that forms the basis of our group culture and cohesiveness, which is the basis of our group identity.  Dr. WEB DuBois, the most important American humanist intellectual of the 20th century, explained it best “The Negro is a seventh son, born with a veil and gifted with a second sight in this American world.”

Hence when Dr. Dubois talks about life behind the veil of color creating a special consciousness, he is also speaking to Barack’s experience.  I would love to know more about Colin’s experience since race relations are constantly evolving in America…it has now reached the point where it is hardly mentioned…whereas for most of the history of this country it would have defined him above all his virtues or vices.   And that must be viewed as progress.

However statements such as that of Michael Patmas, posted on the San Francisco Forty Niners web site strikes me as wishful thinking:  “He is beyond race.” Patmas says of Colin,” he is above race. He is a post-racial person. Calling him black is racist. Calling him white is racist. Just call him Colin, the best QB in the NFL. In a few hours we will be calling him MVP. That’s what he cares about. That’s what I care about. folks in Nevada never thought of him in racial terms at all. It never crossed our minds. We just love the kid.”   

I would rather hear this from Colin, the fact that this white guy thinks he has the right to define him strikes me as just another instance of white male privilege, and his assurance that white Nevadans never thought about his race strikes me as delusional.  And if it be true it is really something new under the American sun.

Now that Colin’s birth mother – Hedi Russo not Janet Kaepernick, who adopted him –has emerged and made it clear that she would like to meet her son, we can see the resemblance between them because he has her beak.   But she won’t discuss his father, although he is rumored to be an African. The basic outline to their story seems pretty obvious from the little we know. It is not hard to imagine that an 18 year old uneducated white girl in Milwaukee, stuck with a black baby 25 years ago, concluded that the best solution was to put him up for adoption:  She could have aborted him.

Hedi Russo: Colin’s Mom

Heidi-Russo- Colin's Mom

Colin has her Beak

While we are assured by Mr. Patmas and his like that whites neither notice or care about Colin’s race today, he was surely black back then and the racist attitude toward black Americans harbored by whites was a major reason why his mother put him up for adoption.  But being rich and famous can make it possible to avoid the inconvenience of racism; it can even make it meaningless in one’s own life.

However he was not always rich or famous, and we don’t know what his experience with racism has been; but there is a video taped interview online with his white adoptive parentsKaepernicks, explaining all the measures they took to  him feel good about being “different.”  They also talk about their attempts to connect him with Afro-American culture by trying to braid his hair in cornrows.

 And Colin tells us that they gave him the nickname “Bo,” after bo Jackson – who was also a star in football and baseball like Colin.  However if it were just a matter of finding a sports role model John Elway would have been a better choice since he was an accomplished baseball ball player but also an athletic quarterback.  Do it asurd for so many media wags and football fans to try and evade the issue of his race as though it were taboo.

As for myself, I could care less about Colin’s race beyond my interests in what it says about race relations in America today, and especially his performance on the football field.  In this regard I definitely consider him a black quarterback, because he possess a style and prowess that only black athletes have, the mislabeled “new style” quarterbacks are all African American….including Colin Kaepernick.

The former star African-American quarterback Donavon McNabb, who was great running and throwing, rotinely refers to Colin as “African American.”  I believe that along with Michael Vick, RG III, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, the way Colin Kaepernick’s plays the game represents the triumph of black style at the quarterback position.

I am especially referring to their speed, quickness, and elegance of movement. My daughter – who is a sports scientists and former Division I sprinter in the 100 and 200 meters – tells me that this is due to the distribution of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers in black and white athletes, which explains why on average black athletes run faster and jump higher than other athletes.  It’s not an accident that all of the Olympic sprints, where the best athletes in the world compete, black athletes whose roots lie in West Africa hold the world records.

Since I have already written extensively about this question I don’t want to re-litigate it here; if you are interested in a deeper discussion of this issue see “On Race, Culture and Sports” on this blog.  Then you will get a better understanding of the points I am making here.  My daughter tells me that the ability of black athletes to run faster and jump higher than whites on average is not in question among sports scientists, but everybody avoids the subject because they don’t want to be involved in the rancorous controversy it is sure to inspire.   She said that when she was competing in track and a white girl would show up in the sprints or high hurdles, they would wonder if she was a masochist.  Hence the movie “White Men Can’t Jump is not just a joke.

What is without question is that black quarterbacks have brought a different style to playing the position, and while the speed and jumping abilities are biological their grace of movement is cultural…the great writer and blues philosopher Albert Murray says it results from the “tendency of African people to turn all movement into dancelike elegance.”  This also explains Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordon.  In the tendency to improvisation that characterise the black athletes style represents the impulse to innovation that reaches its apotheosis in the art of Jazz.

The question that now titillates Football fans is whether this new black style will become the dominant style in the NFL.  It is worth noting that not all black quarterbacks play in this style, some have remained true to the traditional pocket passing style, including Hall of Fame passer Warren Moon, and Doug Williams, the only black quarterback to win the Super Bowl.  When asked what he thinks of the new black running quarterbacks on the eve of the Super Bowl, Doug replied: “I don’t believe in the quarterback running.”

On the other hand Johnny “Football” Manzell, who won the much coveted 2012 Heisman Trophy, is a white quarterback that plays in the black style; he also has a black coach at Texas A&M – the only team to beat Alabama, the national champions.   “Johnny Football” leaves no doubt that he has adopted the dynamic athletic black style when he tells us that his role models were Cam Newton and RG III.  And by the way, all the emphasis about Colin Kaepernick being a good student, in an apparent attempt to distinguish him from other black athletes, is misguided BS, because RG III got his Masters in four years while winning the Heisman.

It is clear that there are people whispering in his ear, and they are telling him to identify with his white side.  We’ll see how that goes for him, but despite the fact that he is quoted saying Brett Favre was his role model…he does not play like Favre, but like Randall Cunningham – who also went to college in Nevada, at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.   And Randall is the paterfamilias of all the in the “double threat” quarterbacks in the NFL!  So whether he knows it or not – and if he doesn’t he’s not half as smart as people say he is –Colin Kapernick is the spawn of Randall the Great. 

Yet the most interesting aspect of the Colin Kapernick story remains the way his racial identity has been handled.  For most of this country’s history, I’d argue right up to present moment, his black father would have been all the talk and he would have been labeled a “colored man,” or a “Negro” by enlightened whites and a “dirty black nigger” by the others.

For the first 250 years of this country’s history his brown skin, the mark of African ancestry, meant that he would have been described a 3/5 of a man during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.   Told he had “no rights a white man was bound to respect” by Roger B. Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the Dread Scott Decision of 1857, which means that he could be enslaved.  And for a hundred years after that he would have been legally discriminated against in all aspects of life due to the Separate but Equal decision in the Plessey V. Ferguson case of 1896.

That’s why bi-racial Americans like him were in the forefront of the fight against white supremacy – Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington first among them.  Interestingly Homer Plessey, who brought the discrimination against the train company that yielded the decision that established legal segregation, was a New Orleans Creole who argued that the racial segregation laws should not apply to him because he was an octoroon, which means that he was only 1/8 black, and therefore much whiter than Colin! So was Walter White, the militant leader of the NAACP during the racially troubled years of the early 20th century when white supremacy was enshrined in the laws of the land.

And until the great Doug Williams won the Super Bowl in 1986, Colin would have been routinely converted to a defensive back or a wide receiver given his athletic skills and the prevailing belief that only white boys had the intelligence to make the kind of quick decisions a quarterback had to make on a routine basis under heavy pressure from the opposition.  I am convinced that this kind of thinking is the reason that he only got one offer to play quarterback at a Division I college, and the coach at Nevada says he considered switching him to one of those positions.

I wonder how much of this history either Colin or his family knows.  Given how surprised he was by it all I doubt that they understood much.  That’s the major problem with Euro- Americans raising African American children, most do not have the kind of knowledge about the realities of “life behind the veil” to adequately prepare them for the slings and arrows the will suffer from whites once they leave their parent’s house…and even if they were accepted in their neighborhood it becomes a different world once they venture away from their safe harbor.

Corban Fennell


Colin’s College Girlfriend


Colin chillin with is Afro-American cutie

It is worth noting that he had a beautiful black girlfriend in college, but rumor has it that he has kicked her to the curb.  Perhaps it was just a college romance, or maybe its part of the attempt to whiten him up that appears to be underway.  However it seems that this whitening process may require him to remove the myriad tattoos that virtual cover his upper body and many people consider a symbol of the black “thug life” style promoted by the late Tupac Shekur…and he looks hip hop to the max in those caps that he wears at a rakish angle – if not a black thug certainly a Chicano thug!

Colin’s Thugged Out Look


This is the look offends some whites

Thus far it seems that the worst thing that has happened to young Colin thus far is that a ref stole a super bowl title from him with the whole world watching.  Although he is too much of a sporting gentleman to say so: He was robbed!   But older black men, who have seen just how down and dirty white Americans can be when asserting racial privilege – which I am convinced millions still feel is their birthright – see a racist conspiracy.

One of them told it to me this way: “Well we got a great President who is the product of a black man breeding a white woman, and this cracker referee decided the country don’t need another half bred nigger with a black daddy and white momma being idolized…why, his daughters might decide they want to make one of these magnificent mulattos!   That’s what a lot of the white guys said when they complained about a sexy ad with Terrell Owens and Nicolette Sheridan that was aired on Monday Night Football.

As far-fetched as this sounds to me…far stranger things have happened in the history of race relations in the USA.  So good luck to Colin on his journey through this strange new world where all the white folks claim to be color blind while millions continue to discriminate against people of color….particularly African Americans.  And no matter what he considers himself to be racially, his approach to playing quarterback is part of the triumph of black style in the National Football League.

 Real black Magic!

 Doug Williams: Super Bowl Champion

Doug - Most valuble player

The Most Valuable Player

A Rifle Man who rarely ran the Ball


He set 9 records in his Super Bowl Victory!
 Warren Moon: The Best Passer Ever?


He Gets My Vote!

His Laser Arm took him into Hall of Fame!

Warren moon in Hall of Fame II

Standing tall in Canton

Colin’s Got A Laser Passing Arm Too


He can pick you apart from the pocket Like Doug

Or he can bust a move…..

Colin at work

……and run around

Like Randall The Great!

Randall Cunningham

I believed he could fly!

Randall was also a Great Passer!


The Pater-Familias of contemporary black quarterbacks

 Donovan McNabb

donovan-mcnab II

Graceful and deadly as an Eagle

Mike Vick!

Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles

Deadly with his Arms and Legs!

The Magician!

New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles preseason game

Going with the flow

Cam Newton! 

New York Giants v Carolina Panthers

The quintessential Double Threat

It’s a Bird!  It’s a Plane!

Cam Newton II

It’s Superman!

Russell Wilson

Russell_Wilson_vs_Vikings,_November_4,_2012 II

An Overnight Sensation!

An elusive runner …..and a great passer!


R. G. III: Rookie of the Year!


He can do it all!

African American Quarterbacks are changing the Game

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Redskins

Their Speed and illusiveness is befuddling defenses!

(Double click to see documentary on black quaterbacks)

(Double Click for highlights of Mike Vick and Randall Cunningham)

(Double Click to see Highlights of Cam Newton)

(Click Here to see Highlights of Colin Laepernick)


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 6, 2013