Archive for April, 2013

No War with Syria or Arms to Rebels!!!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on April 28, 2013 by playthell


Who are the good guys here?

 Barack Must resist Israeli and  Republican War Hawks

If ever there was an opportunity for the USA to reassess its role in the world it is now!  Listening to Republican Senators talk on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday Morning it is clear that if they had their druthers we would be bombing the Syrian air force right now and declaring a “no fly” zone over their country.  These guys are itching to start another war in the Islamic world.  And,  as the thoughtful reader might suspect,  they are casting themselves as liberators of the Syrian people; just like before they invaded Iraq.

Well, we all know how that turned out and there is every reason to believe that a military intervention in Syria will result in an even bigger disaster.  Despite the increasingly hysterical exhortations of the war hawks such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham for the president to take military action, it is imperative that our government decide what our policy goals are in the Mid-East region and shape our foreign policy accordingly.

Frankly I am at a lost to understand just what the objectives of the interventionist are.  It is my understanding that our paramount objectives in the region is to keep the oil flowing as cheaply as possible, defeat the Jihadist and defend the state of Israel against their Islamic adversaries…who seem to be everywhere.  Whether or not one agrees with all of these objectives, it is clear that they are quite enough for any nation to achieve.  We could even be “biting off more than we can chew” as my Grandmother Claudia would say.  But adding the grandiose agenda of bringing democracy to the Islamic world may well be inviting disaster.

The example of Iraq should serve as a cautionary tale.  After three trillion dollars, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, tens of thousands of Americans who are deeply wounded in body and mind, thousands of young Americans killed, and a wrecked American economy, we should have abandoned this impossible dream of planting an American style democracy in the Arab world.  But democratizing the Islamic world is a fairly recent ideal.

The most persistent American posture in the Islamic world is one of duplicity and Hypocrisy; our allegiances have been dictated by expediencies. The best example of this is Iran.  When the US calls for a secular democratic society in Iran the words should stick in the exhorter’s throat!

Iran had achieved exactly that sixty years ago, when they were governed by a western educated secular democrat who was elected by the Iranian people.  But since the Iranian President, Muhammad Mossedek, demanded a fair price for Iranian oil the CIA went in engineered his overthrow in 1953, replacing him with a militaristic tyrant who ruled with police state tactics.  The Islamic revolution in Iran was a direct result of that historic crime against the Iranian people.

The fact of the matter is that  US policy in the Middle East in the post-World War II era has been one disaster after another; hence we find ourselves in the mess we are in today.  American Mid-East policy at present resembles nothing so much as a game of whackamole.  Every time a crisis flares up one place and we rush to suppress it, another crisis pops up somewhere else.  That’s because the sad truth is the Middle East is a powder keg, filled to the brim with explosive antagonisms and unfathomable contradictions that we barely understand.

Based on the comments coming from the State Department, American intelligence agencies can’t tell friend from foe among the opposition; which tells me that the US should not rush into this confusing and murderous civil war in Syria.  At best we should lead an effort in the UN for the international community to take concerted action to find a solution to this catastrophe.

Although I am not a part of the crowd of Nervous Nellies who say we should never intervene in any situation, and I have warned against a paralysis from over analysis when taking action is the obvious course to address a problem.  As a member of a historically oppressed minority group in a nation where the majority group has demonstrated its willingness to resort to genocide in order to achieve its objectives – just consider the plight of indigenous Americans – I have repeatedly rejected the argument that governments should be free to treat their populations as they please without outside interference – to commit massive crimes against humanity behind the shield of “national soverignty.”

We have seen what that can lead to with the German Nazis, and most recently in Rwanda, despite the ignorant and racist statements of Republican Senators that the US has never stood by while as many as seventy thousand people were killed.  But chilling out and calling for the world community to act seems to be the wisest course of action in the present crisis.

The mere  claim that chemical weapons have been deployed by the Assad government is certainly no reason to rush into this conflict.  There are too many questions that remain unanswered.  And beyond the lack of clarity as to who done what, the last thing the US needs to do is initiate a military conflict in yet another Arab country spending billions that we desperately need to deal with the protracted economic crisis here on the home front….where we may yet face the moral equivilent of food riots.

No matter what the Israeli government, the Israel Lobby, or their Republican neo-con shills in the Congress say,  President Obama must not allow them to push us into a war with Syria, nor convince him to arm a mysterious opposition which appear to be riddled with Al Quaeda operatives.  Alas, in this case an ill informed American intervention could well prove to be a cure that’s worse than the disease!

Who are these Guys?


Is it really a good idea to give them advanced US weapons?


 Will Arming the Syrian Opposition End the Destruction?


Or will it just make it worse?




Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 28, 2013

Some Reflections on Forty Two

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

Jackie Robinson: An Officer and Gentleman

The Heroic Story of Jackie Robinson Comes to the Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boseman and Beharie
As Jackie and Rachel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Original Red Tails!

Red-tails-original - originally

Brave Bronze Warriors who Never Lost a Plane

Red Tails: The Movie


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,-

This debt we pay to human guile

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile

And mouth with myriad subtleties

Why should the world be otherwise

In counting all our tears and sighs

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

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

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

  Jackie and Dr. King

jackie_robinson & Martin King

Comrades in Struggle
Jackie in the St. Augustine Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

Jackie Robinson Givin Some Skin to his Peeps

Jackie and the folks

The Pride of Afro-America!

Two Lovely, Elegant, Brilliant, First Ladies!


Michelle showers accolades on Rachel


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

On Terrorism and Civil Liberties

Posted in On Domestic Terrorism with tags , on April 16, 2013 by playthell
A runner and race officials react to an explosion during the Boston MarathonBombs Exploding at Boston Marathon

 Is Freedom and Domestic Tranquility Incompatible?

As we witnessed the carnage from the Boston Marathon in living color on CNN – a sporting event which has been held without incident, except for an unruly drunk here and there, for 117 years – an old friend of mine who has lived in New York City for over 70 years turned to me and asked: “Is this what the future of American society looks like?  Will we ever return to the feelings of peace and security that I have known most of my life?”

I was tempted to say that his was the view of a black man that has always lived in the North, because Afro-Americans of his generation who grew up in the South lived under the constant threat of terrorism from our white neighbors, a fact I can personally attest to, but I understood what he meant.

What he was really asking is whether incidents of random carnage wrought by bombs or mass shootings, whether from foreign or domestic sources, is the “new normal” in America?  In view of the frequency of these events it is a reasonable question.  The massacre of innocents are now occurring so often that the public is becoming emotionally detached, desensitized.   It is a means of retaining one’s sanity and maintaining one’s cool, because the alternative is to become paranoid and paralyzed with fear.  Some people are becoming afraid to go out of the house.

A Massive Intelligence Failure


Reaping What We Sowed

It is easy for anyone with an active imagination to conjure up terrorist attacks that have not happened yet, but would be so easy to pull off you wonder whi it hasn’t happened.  What is most frightening about this fact is that if it is possible for ordinary citizens to imagine these catastrophic scenarios…it is certain that the pros have thought of it.  The only mystery is why they have not done it.  When we think of such horrors as derailing high speed passenger trains, placing bombs in the New York subway system at rush hour, igniting a tanker truck filled with highly flammable gas in a tunnel at drive time, or downing passenger jets with shoulder held surface to air missiles – which were given to the Jihadists by the US Reagan Administration and trained in their use by the CIA, when they were the “heoric” Mujahidin fighting the Russians in Afghanistan – it is enough to make one paranoid and scared to go anywhere.

An Afghan/Arab Mujahidin firing a Stinger Missile


They can take down a plane and Reagan considered them Heroes!

The alternative to this is to go about your business with an optimism that is based more on faith that everything will be alright than a sober assessment of contemporary American realities.  Of course statisticians  will pull out their calculators and insure us that there is a small probability that any one of us will become a victim of terrorist attacks – but it is unconvincing to the people from the sleepy bedroom community of New Town Connecticut, who just months ago witnessed the mass slaughter of their children in their school, and then barley missed being blown to bits as the ran in the Boston marathon in remembrance of their slain children.

It is also unconvincing to the lady who survived a mass shooting only to end up in another mass slaughter by a mad gunman in a dark movie theater in Aurora Illinois.  And the staticians are also unconvinving to those of us witnessing these tragedies on television.  The frequency of mass murderers and the diversity of their targets – whether by home grown or foreign terrorist, and assorted mad men with military assault weapons looking for an easy path to newspaper headlines and the history books – is creating an increasing sense of insecurity and borderline panic in the American people.  What Dr. DuBois said about the murderous violence directed against black Americans by whites in the early 20th century, has become true for random violence directed against all Americans: “Not all the time but anytime…not everywhere but anywhere.”

As Congressman Bennie Thompson, of the Homeland Security Committee is pointing out on MSNBC as I write, there are a 1000 organizations in the US identified in Homeland Security reports as having terrorist affiliations or objectives.  This is a sobering fact that right-wing Republicans were quick to deny as a liberal attack against “conservatives.”  It gives us some idea of the complexity of the job that those tasked with maintaining “domestic tranquility,” a fundamental role of government as defined in the US Constitution, are faced with.

With the recent assassinations of law enforcement officials – prosecutors in Texas and a Commissioner of prisons in Colorado – police agencies are confronted with an unprecedented threat to maintaining law and order.  There can be no greater evidence of this than the fact that a federal prosecuter quit the investigation of the Aryan brotherhoodin Texas for reasons of “personal security.”  The emergence of foreign and domestic terrorists willing to commit mass murder and assassinations of those whom we have elected to maintain the peace, requires the American government to adopt unprecedented measures to arrest their efforts at creating chaos in America.

This requires us to think the previously unthinkable, to ask questions that would have made one a Pariah in polite company not so long ago. Yet despite its odiousness to virtually every American, the question must be asked: In order to insure domestic tranquility must Americans be willing to abridge or even surrender some of our constitutional rights?

For instance, I believe that the only way to solve the growing carnage from gun violence is to repeal the Second Amendment, and make the penalty for illegal possession of a gun so Draconian that most people won’t even fantasize  about it.  And we would rely on the police for protection from criminals the way other advanced civilized nations do.

And should we become convinced that the American proclivity for slaughtering each other with guns – routinely producing far more casualties on the “peaceful” home front than on foreign battle fields – is a cultural problem, then we must not hesitate to ban certain kinds of violence in television, movies, and print media.  We must do this even if it means abridging the First Amendment.

I say this as a left-wing libertarian, one who believes the role of government should be to  maintain domestic tranquility, defend the nation against foreign enemies, and “give people stuff,” as Mitt Romney inelegantly put it – taxing the rich at whatever rate necissary to pay for it.  I have long been suspect of the government having the power to control free expression whether in politics, entertainment or serious literature.  And of course I consider academic discourse sacrosanct; yet in the absence of domestic tranquility the quality of life, such as it is, will be greatly degraded.

Thus the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness – which the Founders thought was divinely ordained – will surely slip our grasp.  Hence the fundamental question that confronts American civilization at this juncture in our history is: Can American society successfully fight the forces of terrorism – which  will eventually destroy our peace of mind, imperil our personal security and diminish  the quality of our lives – while simultaneously preserving our civil liberties as we have previously enjoyed them.

To be, or not to be, totally free: that is the question.  In seeking an answer to this troublesome riddle, considering the fact that their are home grown lunatics running around with assault rifiles wreaking havoc everywhere, and legions of fanatical Islamic Jihadists who have dedicated their lives to killing as many Americans as possible by whatever means they can,  inshallah, I would remind the reader to consider Abraham Lincoln’s response when he was called a tyrant for suspending the writ of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

A Day at the Races….

…..ain’t what it used to be!


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New york


Viva Afro-Americanos!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on April 13, 2013 by playthell
Beyonce-and-Jay-Z-in-Cuba-6 (1)
Jay and Beyoncé Surrounded by Cuban Fans

On  Race, Class and US Policy on Afro- Cubans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Dr. Johnetta Cole
Anthropologist and Defender of Cuban Revolution

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

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

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Dressd to the height of fashion!
Chillin with the Youths


And they are lovin it! 
 And so did the Children


The time of their lives! 


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

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

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

 Harold Cruse
OBIT Harold Cruse
Skeptical of White Cuban Communist

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

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

 George Padmore


Father of the African Independence Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert F. Williams

The letter was embarrassment enough, but to make matters even worse for the American Ambassador the Cuban Foreign Minister turned to him and said derisively: “I would like to ask Mr. Stevenson what would happen if the government of the United States, which claims to be the champion of democracy, dared to arm not only the Negros in the cotton fields of the South, or right here in Harlem?”

Scholars have uncovered a Top Secret cable from Stevenson to Secretary of State Dean Rusk that reveals his ignorance of the Bay of Pigs invasion, as he laments the fact that he was not provided talking points by the State Department beforehand, so that he would not look like a stumble bum trying to respond to these issues.

A Puzzled Steveson Unsure of what to Say

Adlai Stevenson

An object of ridicule, trying to defend the indefensible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert and Mable Williams


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

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

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

Radio Free Dixie!


Robert and Mable Williams broadcasting from Cuba

Rob and Chairman Mao


Two Revolutionaries Talkin bout Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Carlos Moore

Dr. Carlos Moore

A Dissident Black Cuban Scholar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checkin Out the Scene in Cuba

images Iv

Down to Earth Superstars!

A Note to the Reader
There has been a long history of cultural exchange between Afro-Cuban and American musical artists, and each has been influenced by the other.  The  paramount achievement of this exchange was the creation of “Cu-Bop,” which was a combination of Afro-Cuban Rhythms and Afro-American Jazz horn innovations and arrangements that grew out of a collaboration between the great Jazz Trumpeter/composer/bandleader John Berks Dizzy Gillespie, who along with the virtuoso saxophonist and musical genius Charles “Yardbird” Parker invented the complex school of Jazz called “Be-bop.”  And the Afro-Cuban multi-instrumentalist/composer/ arranger/bandleader Mario Bauza and master of the Afro-Cuban Son Montuno.   This new genre of music  emerged in New York during the 1940’s.   The two seminal orchestras that in this musical idioms are: Machito and his Afro-Cubans, and the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. (Search: ‘Jazz Meets Clave”on this site)

 Machito and His Afro-Cubans
The Classic Recording “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite” featuring Charlie “Bird” Parker
Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band  
Featuring Afro-Cuban Congero Chano Pozo
An excellent video on the history of Afro-Cuban music in Havana

In Spanish with English Subtitles


A rare documentary on the great touring shows featuring Afro-Cuban and Afro-American musical acts  acts during the mid 20th century, that influence the music of the world!

This Afro-Cuban Life

A Photo-Essay Compiled by NBC News

Juan De Marcos and the Afro-Cuban Allstars!


El Maestro Chucho Valdez

Arguable the Greatest Pianist in the World!

Chucho and His Orchestra



Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 12, 2013

The Wild Wild West!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on April 4, 2013 by playthell
A Texas Sherrif Vowing to Capture Outlaws

On Hate Media, Gun Worship, and Domestic Terrorism

If one gives only a causal listening to the hateful rhetoric emanating from the media shills of the Republican right, accompanied by the unending panegyric to the virtues of guns, which has become a fetish and a rite of passage into manhood for a large section of American males – mostly white – the murders of multiple high ranking law enforcement officials seems a logical outcome.  As the bible says: “Ye shall reap what ye sow!”

Although they will all run for cover and attempt to wash their hands of this growing menace to our justice system – which has resulted in the murder of the Director of Prisons in Colorado and two prosecutors and a wife in Texas _ the systematic slaughter of government officials seems to me a logical outcome of the hatred of government and worship of guns that has become the mantra of the Republican infotainment complex.

Although recently denounced by long time GOP strategist David Frum, one of a dwindling number of Republicans who are trying to take political reality into account and move the party away from self-destructive rhetoric and policies, the “Republican entertainment complex” is still a driving force in the Grand Obstructionist Party.

However the GOP is not content to let the right-wing media bloviators – Rush, Sean, Glenn, Laura, Michelle Milkin, et al – launch crazy charges against the Democrats; Republican members of Congress as well as candidates for office talk just as crazy.  Michelle Bachman has gone on record saying she wants her constituents “locked and loaded!”

The Alaskan Barbarian, Sarah Palin, put a bull’s eye around a picture of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford – a democrat from Arizona – and the congresswoman was shot through the head by a crazed gunman.   Nevada Senate candidate Cheryl Engle talked about resorting to “Second Amendment solutions” if the Tea Party could not get its way at the polls during the last election campaign. Then there is defeated former Republican Congressman from Florida Alan West, who was mustered out of the military after being accused of committing war crimes – that has claimed  there are 78 democrats in Congress who he knows are members of the Communist Party!

When these irrational claims are coupled with the constant questions about President Obama’s birth place and speculation about him being a secret agent for the Muslim Jihadists, the contradictory accusations that the president is a secret Communist and also closet fascist who is a new Hitler out to enslave white Americans, because he is really an uncover black racist intent upon destroying “white civilization,” and so on in a never ending drone, it is no wonder that a growing number of racist numbskulls on the right who can’t tell shit from shineola, feel that the country is being destroyed by the President that saved it.

Wrapped in a mass of lies recited ad infinitum, the Republican propaganda spreads confusion and incites hostilities as a matter of political strategy.  We know that other gunmen like Richard Popolovsky of Pittsburg was driven to attack law enforcement officers and murder three of them with an assault rifle because he was incited by propaganda from the rightwing hysterics who blather on night and day about the sinister intentions of their government.

These blabbermouths in the rightwing media, Led by FOX News and WABC AM – White Apartheid Broadcast Company – radio are abusing their rights under the First Amendment and helping to destabilize the social order by increasing racial, ethnic and gender antagonisms; they are playing the same role in contemporary American society as Dr. Joseph Goebbels played when he incited the Christian Germans to murder the Jews in the millions during the holocaust: And they should be called out and denounced, the way I have done.  (See: “Is Rush Limbaugh an American Goebbels?” on this blog)


The group suspected of carrying out the present assassinations of top law enforcement officials in Colorado and Texas, is the Aryan Brotherhood, a loose confederation of racist fascist minded criminals that originated in the notorious San Quentin prison in California during the 1960’s and has spread throughout the Federal Prison system like a malignant cancer.  Like many Americans, I first heard of these murderous maniacs from the prison writings of politically conscious black inmates like Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” and George Jackson’s “Soledad Brother.”  It was a horrendous picture they painted and left one to wonder what would become of these racist homicidal cretins once they were back on the street.   Now, a half century later we know.

A Tattooed Aryan Warrior


A Billboard for the Police

At present the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas has been the subject of an ongoing joint year-long task force composed of local and federal police forces. This investigation has resulted in the arrest of 34 of their members, many in important leadership positions.  And they have been hit with an array of very serious charges.  Among these are: three murders, many attempted murders, kidnappings, assaults and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine.  They are also accused of the sweeping charge of exerting control over prison populations and neighborhoods in Texas through intimidation and violence.

The two murdered DA’s, Mark Hasse and Mike McLlelland, participated in this investigation that has “devastated” the Texas Brotherhood in the words of one law enforcement official.  It has been reported that the Brotherhood vowed revenge against law enforcement agencies; that’s  why they are the prime suspects in these murders.  It also explains why the US Assistant Federal Attorney, Jay Hileman, in an unprecedented move, quite the case…citing unspecified “security” concerns.

This is some serious shit. The Justice Department is sending in a new Federal Attorney, Tim Braley, a deputy chief of the Justice Department’s organized crime and gangs division, who will lead the investigation that will coordinate the efforts of several agencies. Mr. Braley will have the full force of the police powers of the American government at his command.  And they are going to crush the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

As white men with no formal education to speak of and thus going nowhere in life, dead end dudes, genuine American failures who can claim neither racial nor gender discrimination for their failure to advance in affluent America – they chose to support themselves through criminal activities.  And since they justified their criminal activities by investing them with political meaning, they are all the more dangerous because they have convinced themselves that they are white warriors redeeming an effete and dying white race; whose existence is threatened by the dark and foreign hordes invading America.  This is the crowd that is inspired to act on the desire to “take our country back.”

In order to understand the danger posed by this organization – which, ironically, will be considerably lessened now that these assholes have actually attacked the law enforcement apparatus of the American state – we have to examine what they believe…the twisted way in which they see the world.  However unraveling their beliefs is no easy matter because this is not an organization run by intellectuals capable of developing a coherent ideology.

From my research on them based on reportage and the analysis of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Aryan Brotherhood began as a prison gang to afford protection for white inmates against the black and Mexican gangs in the California prison system.  In the beginning they were closely identified with Nazi ideology, but being more criminal than political at the outset they have become mostly a criminal organization run from prison with branches on the street headed by former inmates.

According to the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the premiere government and non-government agencies who track these groups, the Aryan Brotherhood believes that only straight white males should run the important institutions of this country, and they see their role as defending what is left of “white power” and “white civilization.”  To achieve this vague goal they are willing to resort to murder; in fact the requirement for membership is that the prospective member kills a black or other non-white person.  Hence we can assume that all of the thousands of members have gotten away with the murder of some person of color.

However the Aryan Brotherhood movement is not one organization with a centralized leadership, rather it is composed of several organizations with different leaders.  And some are more racist than others.  For instance in the California prisons the Aryans formed alliances with the Mexican Mafia, Asians and even Native Americans against the notorious Black Gorilla Family, even though in the parlance of the racist right-wing white supremacists  they are all “mud men.”

One of the most interesting first-hand accounts regarding the Aryan’s and the race question comes from an Afro-American man who encountered them in the federal prison system.  Titled “Why I Fear the Aryan Brotherhood – and You Should Too,” published on the Daily Beast website, a reliable news source edited by longtime British journalist/editor Tina Brown, under the byline “Anonymous,” the informant tells us:

I got up close and personal with members of the Brotherhood more than 20 years ago in Nevada… There were 13 white guys, and seven of them, I could tell by the tattoos, were members of the Brotherhood. But by then I was a seasoned convict (having served four previous sentences, this wasn’t my first rodeo), so I’d been around prison gangs before and knew the ropes. I kept my head down, my eyes averted, and ate my meals alone at the far end of the table…at least for the first few weeks.”

But that would soon change, partially as the result of an event over which he had no control, and partly due to his superior education and writing skills.  The writer tells us:

Then two things happened in fairly rapid succession. First, a small article about my case made it into a local paper in which the feds accused me and my crew of absconding with millions of dollars with our nefarious credit-card activities in the casinos in and around Nevada. The amount made me out to be a serious professional, worthy of respect even in the Brotherhood’s eyes, albeit only grudgingly given. The second thing that happened was the leader of the group, a huge guy with reddish hair and beard appropriately named “Big Red,” had a legal problem I helped him to solve.

Helping Big Red with his problem turned out to be a revelation. “The one thing I learned relatively quickly was that while the members of this tight-knit group might have been long on brawn and violence, they were short on brains” he recalls.”  Big Red needed some documents from the military that could help him in his upcoming murder trial, “But none of them could fill out the stack of forms, so I volunteered to help.”

This offer of assistance radically transformed his relationship with the Aryans    “When the documents I requested came back about a month later, I was considered a legal whiz on the order of F. Lee Bailey.  I was, to a degree, “in.” They considered me a harmless black mascot, I considered them fools to be played. As the saying goes, I was “stuck like Chuck.”

After Big Red decided the writer looked like the running back Earl Campbell, his favorite football star, he was in like Flynn.  Although he tells us “It’s amazing to me how gridiron prowess can overcome even the deep-seated antipathy of a dyed-in-the-wool bigot. Of course, other than having black skin, I looked nothing at all like Campbell.”  It even got to the place where Big Red forbade any of the Aryans from using the word “nigger,” and they spoke freely around him.

They identified with 19th century outlaws like Jesse James and Confederates who opposed the federal government, some claim direct descent.  The writer tells us:

These were men steeped in strong oral traditions and past heroic acts. They were still mentally fighting the Civil War (like so many other whites) and traced their roots back to men like Confederate guerrilla William Clarke Quantrill, whose Quantrill’s Raiders sacked the pro-abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, at the beginning of the Civil War. One guy, Luke, claimed to be a direct descendant of one of the men who rode with Quantrill. He alleged that his great-grandfather was Cole Younger, the outlaw who robbed banks with Jesse James’s gang after the end of the Civil War.”

While all of his testimony provides us a unique look into the character and world view of these men – and how these racist anti-government, criminal gangs operate, it is the writer’s observations about what these long sentences in prison, often with extended periods isolated in Super-Max facilities, does to their personalities and the consequences for society when they are eventually released.

Recounting the day that the news flash came on TV showing the horrible bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma  City, by the home grown terrorist Kevin Macvey, he describes the response of an  Aryan leader. This ain’t shit,” he said,  “just wait until we get started. They done took me from my family for over 30 years because of some of punk-assed drug-conspiracy bullshit, and eventually they’re going to have to pay … We’re going to make them pay.”

We should pay particular attention to the writer’s conclusions:

“If these recent killings represent the Brotherhood’s twisted form of retribution, the fact that it has taken so long to begin is all the more chilling. To me this would demonstrate a hard-nosed determination that all citizens should find frightening. We shouldn’t be whistling past the graveyard on these killings… While the U.S. population grew 2.8 times since 1920, the U.S. prison population grew more than 20 times, and most dramatically since 1980. The fear among law enforcement is (or at least should be) is that now we have dozens upon dozens—if not hundreds (who knows, maybe even thousands)—of murderous chickens finally coming home to roost.

If our informant is right, it does much to explain the mysterious assassinations of law enforcement officials in Colorado and Texas.   This is a frightening development; something we expect to see in Latin American countries like El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico; not the USA.  But given the ready access to military assault weapons in this country, a group like the Aryan Brotherhood operating in secret can wreak havoc: which is their objective.

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas is one of the most violent in the nation.  In a June 11, 2012 article in the Houston Chronicle, Malcolm Bales, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, pointed out that a lot of their violence occurs between rival factions of the Brotherhood, “What we noticed  is that they tend to beat up on each other a lot,” he said…“We continue to get information about people who have been disappeared, and the level of violence associated with their organization is something that we cannot tolerate.” The tattoo that each member wears on their body says it all: “God forgives, Brothers don’t.”

An Imprisoned  “General” in the Texas Brotherhood


A Really Violent Criminal with Military Weapons

However as an ongoing criminal enterprise the Aryan Brotherhood could learn a lot from the Italian Mafia.  The reason the Mafia has survived so long is because they observe the rules of the game they are playing; the object of which is to outsmart the police and be very selective about who you kill.  Under no circumstances would the Cosa Nostra order hits on prosecuters, their wives or the Director of prisons.

When they get caught doing the crime either they do the time or the squeal…they have far better sense that to assault the law enforcement agencies of the state.  That’s why they have survived so long.  Unlike the “Celtic Warriors” in the Aryan Brotherhood who are trying to restore the white race to its former supremacy, the made Mafia soldiers do not regard themselves as latter day Centurions trying to restore the glories of ancient Rome; they are just trying to run a successful illegal enterprise and make all the money they can.  They confine their celebration of the glories of Italian culture to pigging out on pasta, listening to Operas, wearing finely tailored Italian silk suits, and choosing Italian names like La Cosa Nostra.

For the most part they are sober businessmen who frown on drug addiction and value marriage and family.  Hence they don’t get whacked out on drugs and pose for pictures brandishing their guns on the internet! They keep a low public profile and most of all…they are careful about who the shoot!  This is why Federal Attorney Bales says “I don’t compare them to the Mafia.  They are too weird and dysfunctional in how they handle their lives – heavy drug use and sociopathic personalities.”

Although the facts in the present assassination spree points to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas as the likely perps – they have both motive and opportunity- in the USA one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Hence we shall have to await the results of the investigation to know what really happened, and the FBI will surely find out.

But with lawmen and outlaws shooting at each other all over the place, this tragic drama sounds like a tale from the wild wild west set in the 21st century.  And one would have to be deaf, dumb and blind, unable to see or hear evil, not to recognize the role played by the verbal arsonists like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, and their co-conspirators, in creating the racial hatred and anti- government paranoia that inspires angry, ignorant, powerless, straight white males to the ranks of racist nativist, white nationalist organizations like the Aryan Brotherhood….After all, it is the same method employed by the original Aryan brotherhood in Germany!


Playthell G. Benjamin

March 3, 2013

Harlem, New York