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Barry Bonds’ Green Monster

Nov
19
2007

Barry Bonds should be asking himself if a fit of envy or jealousy in 1998 was worth jeopardizing his place in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Bonds may have abused steroids a decade ago because he was, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, annoyed about all adulation heaped on St. Louis slugger Mark McGuire for breaking the single-season home run record with 70 bombs. Three years later Bonds broke McGuire’s season record with 73.

Yet was smashing the record worth it for McGuire? When I think about the Cardinals slugger I don’t recall him circling the bases victoriously after breaking the record. No, I immediately flash to the Senate hearing room where he kept repeating “no comment” in response to lawmakers’ queries about steroid abuse in baseball. Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa, who also zoomed past Roger Maris’ 1961 home run record with 66 homers, finishing second to McGuire, was even more pathetic, professing not to understand the questions he was asked about the allegations against him. “No habla ingles,” were his replies to senators’ questions.

But Bonds indictment for allegedly lying to a grand jury stems from his insistence that he did not take performance-enhancing drugs. Over the years Bonds repeatedly parsed his words, saying he did not “knowingly” take steroids. It was news to him, Bonds claimed, that a magic cream BALCO suppliers instructed him to rub on his body contained illegal and hard-to-trace ingredients.

Bonds’ feigned innocence is suspect considering his swollen head, oversized feet and ability to blast balls out of the park with half swings. He’s not the wiry outfielder who routinely knocked balls out of the park when he was a younger player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I was saddened when Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record last summer. I was disappointed that a superstar like Bonds defiled baseball’s most cherished statistic. Why? Because Bonds did not have to cheat to break Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron’s all-time records. Bonds had the stamina, durability, hand-eye coordination and bat speed to hit loads of home runs. Plus he’s played the last 15 years of his career in home run-friendly parks, most recently at AT&T park, where the Giants have played for the past seven years, and Candlestick Park which favored left hand hitters because of the way the wind circulates inside the stadium. Bonds’ godfather Willie Mays had God knows how many home runs blow back into outfielders’ gloves because of the ‘Stick’s unforgiving winds that cursed righties in left field. Still, Mays hit 660 home runs during his career and chased down fly balls plus ran the bases with childlike exuberance. For me, he remains the greatest baseball player ever. And no one questions whether Mays’ home runs were the result of his using performance-assisting substances.

Can Bonds really look his godfather in the face and say that he didn’t take steroids – without parsing his words? This baseball fan believes Bonds and Mays have been living in denial about the probable steroid abuse.

What might Bonds say to Hank Aaron? Aaron is the epitome of grace and dignity who snuck up on baseball fans as he broke the Bambino’s home run record. Every year he’d show up and hit 35 to 40 home runs. By 1974, he was challenging the record that was never supposed to be broken – Ruth’s 714 career homers. Aaron took a lot abuse – hate mail, even death threats – for having the nerve to be a black man claiming an iconic achievement. But achieve Aaron did, with dignity and class.

Bonds by contrast is not a nice guy; he’s an arrogant SOB truth be told. But a baseball player’s ability is measured by what he does on the field. Bonds’ amazing body of work is tainted by the period he probably abused steroids in hope of producing numbers comparable to another now-disgraced slugger, McGuire.

To add insult to injury, someone’s gaining on Bonds’ record already. If Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez stays healthy and maintains his productivity – in extending his contract 10 years at $275 million, the New York Yankees management clearly believes he can – Bonds’ record will tumble in less than a decade. It took 33 years for Bonds to catch Aaron, and 39 years for Aaron to surpass Ruth. Bonds may not have much time to savor his amazing feat. And there will be the doubters like me who wonder if his workmanship is thoroughly authentic.

Bonds’ baseball legacy will have to take a back seat to more pressing concerns: Will he do prison time if he is convicted of perjuring himself before a grand jury? Was lying and deception worth risking a felony conviction?

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 8:01 AM | Permalink

Carefully Eyeing I-man’s Return

Nov
10
2007

Dick Cavett would not get my Mom.

The former talk show host recently defended Don Imus’ free-speech right to defile black women, who are especially defenseless targets.

My mother, the late Iris C. Dawkins, had this thing about honor, honesty and respect. She would have put Cavett in his place, as she did a teenage boy who once snatched her embroidered handkerchief. This was in the 1930s. Young Iris went home to her Papa and demanded that he defend her honor. Papa went to the boy’s house with Iris. The contrite boy apologized and returned the hankie. Iris then lit a match and incinerated her property.

Cavett, who was witty 30 years ago, now writes like a mean version of Andy Rooney. And he’s wondering why people like me are not welcoming Imus back to the airwaves.

Welcome Imus back for what? To insult more black women? When he caught hell and was ultimately fired by CBS radio for his “nappy-headed ho’s” swipe at the Rutgers University basketball women last spring, the shock jock thought he’d get away with another bald-faced lie. A decade ago he said “it was nice the New York Times has one of its cleaning ladies covering the White House.” The serial race-baiter was then taking a shot at Gwen Ifill.

Ifill’s a big girl, too distinguished a newswoman to have dignified Imus’ venom. So in 1998 she ignored what Imus said and let the insult go until, under fire for the Rutgers comment, Imus tried to deny the Ifill remark. For lying to the public about her, Ifill laid Imus bare in a New York Times op-ed. Media watchers also reminded consumers that Imus broke a promise he made to Pulitzer Prize winner Clarence Page to stop making racist comments about blacks.

The shock jock did not know who he was messing with. Ifill is a child of “’Zonians,” the short-hand used to describe Caribbean people like my mother who grew up in the Panama Canal Zone and who carry a fierce sense of honor, honesty and respect.

But Imus, and supporters like Cavett, the latter annoyed that Imus was sacked and doubly annoyed that many blacks are resisting his return, can’t comprehend the deep well of anger. When Imus took a swipe at those 19-year-old Rutgers women he did so because they were pristine, retired Newsday editor Les Payne told me recently. I agree with Payne.

Insulting the politicians and pundits who suck up in order to get face time on Imus’ show is not the same as kicking student athletes when they’re down. What outraged people’s senses – including many folks of good will, black, white and other – was evidence of another assault on the reputations of black woman. Last April’s attack has parallels to the pre-civil rights days when Southern white men had authority to sexually molest black women, and black men often were powerless to act, a license that is taking a long, long time to revoke.

Black men like me have a duty to protect our mothers, wives, daughters, girlfriends and co-workers from verbal insults and worse, physical assaults. That’s what my Grandpa had to do when my mother said she was dishonored back in that Victorian-like era.

I’m not happy to see Imus’ return to the airwaves in December, however Citadel Broadcasting is going to make his return happen.

Let me be clear: I’m not for permanently banning the shock jock from the airwaves. I don’t believe in eternal damnation. I believe in redemption and second chances, even though I’m skeptical that Imus learned anything from his timeout. Let Imus work, but let’s definitely monitor his behavior. Keep Imus on a short leash. If he pulls another stunt like that over-the-top insult of student athletes, I’m for smiting the shock jock with even greater force than what was exerted in April.

Think of what my late Mom did to that handkerchief.

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 3:20 PM | Permalink

Do They All Sound Alike, Too?

Nov
6
2007

Not just once, but twice in the same debate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney got potential Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama mixed up with terrorist Osama bin Laden.

At worst, Romney was being devious, suggesting that a Democratic presidential candidate is a terrorist. Perhaps he’s carrying on a silly “slip of the tongue” game that Republicans and Democrats tried playing earlier in this campaign, pointing out that Obama’s middle name is Hussein and wrongly tried to associate his candidacy — and religion — with being Muslim and, as a result, anti-American.

Still, even if you give Romney the benefit of the doubt, his slip goes a long way to confirm that he is one of the same-old-white-guys-in-suits that make up the GOP lineup.

This was the gang whose front-runners wimped out of a scheduled GOP debate before a predominantly black audience at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Are Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Fred Thompson scared of spending 90 televised minutes in an auditorium with hundreds of black folk? Are front-runners like Giuliani terrified because they will have utter sentences with more than a “Noun, a verb and 9/11″? And if so, well, what are they going to do if they have to confront real enemies with even more unusual names?

But it’s not just the Republicans giving Obama trouble. Big foot political pundits looking at the Democratic field need remedial help in getting a few facts and theories straight about the junior Senator from Illinois. Obama’s captured the imagination of young, optimistic voters. His blackness is non-threatening to many whites and authentic to most blacks. In fact, last summer’s inane refrains, “is he black enough?” were mostly lazy questions from faux militants and political hacks.

Still, so-called experts try to marginalize the senator. A repeated campaign narrative is that Obama is not experienced, like Democratic competitor and frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. Senator from New York.

Excuse me? Clinton has been a U.S. Senator for six years, since 2001. Obama has been senator two years, since 2005. But he has he has more legislative experience than Clinton; he served seven years from 1997-2004 in the Illinois senate.

Don’t you dare dismiss state experience. Fifteen years ago, political pros said Clinton’s husband, then the governor of a small Southwestern state, did not have the proper credentials to be president. He completed two terms in the White House, right?

Anyway, the cries for experience are overrated. Examined the resume of “the decider,” the U.S. Commander-in-Chief President George W. Bush? As governor of Texas, Bush was a weak executive. That wasn’t his fault; state law made the office soft. The Texas governor is the third most-powerful position, after lieutenant governor and speaker of the house, Roland S. Martin, a former resident of the Lone Star, familiar with its politics, informed me.

There are voters who made a terrible mistake and chose Bush over Gore in 2000 because these voters assumed the “play Texan,” as the late Molly Ivins loved to tag Bush, would hold office under “adult” supervision with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s counsel and the experience of White House hands Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in the respective roles of vice president and defense secretary.

That’s why Obama likes to remind anyone who will listen that Cheney, Rumsfeld and company had experience, but also had bad judgment. When I met the senator last August, he reminded me and two dozen colleagues of all the disasterous foreign policy decisions experienced hands such as Cheney, Rumsfeld and company made.

An Obama flaw could be his campaign style. Last week he promised to go after front-runner Clinton at the debate, but in realty, he mildly scolded her. Democratic contender former Sen. John Edwards was on the attack with a lot more to prove; he’s almost a second-tier Democratic presidential candidate at this point in the race.

Obama has lost a little ground to Hillary Clinton yet he still looks like a viable presidential candidate as we approach the prime-time campaign season.

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 8:43 AM | Permalink

Gettin’ Down With The Philly Sound

Oct
29
2007

Kayne West, the producer-turned-rapper, has brassy, arrogant and winning Muhammad Ali/Miles Davis-like charm. He’s called out President George W. Bush and has a fairly predictable habit of declaring himself the winner at music award shows — even when the prize goes to someone else.

Still, he showed proper humility to the music gods at Philadelphia International Records, home of The Sound of Philadelphia. West had the good sense to deflate his ego and license — not steal — a sample groove from “Cola Bottle Baby,” an obscure 1980s Edwin Birdsong tune from the Philly International catalogue, in order to power up hit single “Stronger.”

Although not as celebrated, the Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP) rounds out the trinity of R&B that also includes the Motown sound of Detroit, and the Stax sound of Memphis.

Motown music, personified by the Supremes, Temptations and Four Tops, crossed over into the American mainstream soon after its creation. Stax music was the anti-Motown, sweaty and Southern compared to Motown’s Northern cool. Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Johnny Taylor and the Staple Singers were Stax artists.

Detroit vs. Memphis R&B is different as oil vs. water, yet both sounds had this in common: Each genre was powered by a small house band of very talented and, to some still unknown, musicians, Motown’s Funk Brothers or Stax’s racially mixed band led by the Booker T. and the MGs rhythm section. Meanwhile, Philly sound arrangements distinguished themselves from Detroit and Memphis with a 10-piece orchestra of string and brass players. This orchestra that rotated up to 70 musicians was way different from how Motown and Stax operated

But all of these record companies share “message” songs, anthems that called black people to action. “Wake up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, was TSOP’s match to Motown’s “What’s Going on” by Marvin Gaye, said Chuck Gamble. I’ll offer Stax’s “Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers.

The Philly sound of Patti LaBelle, the O’Jays, and Teddy Pendergrass had a lot of Stax’s raw emotion, but definitely lots of Motown’s assembly line-like craftsmanship. And in many ways, the Philly Sound brought that bravado and attitude that was the pre-cursor to Kanye West’s success today in music and business.

Still, the Philly Sound is on my mind because this month I toured the recording studios on South Broad Street with colleagues from the Trotter Group, a society of columnists.

We’re writers and hams. Every time Chuck Gamble, nephew of co-founder Kenny Gamble, told an anecdote about one of the recording stars, we sang a few bars of hit songs like Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” or the Intruders’ “Cowboys to Girls.” Gamble appeared amused rather than annoyed by our playful interruptions.

We peeked inside several 10-by-12-foot recording rooms insulated with shag carpet on the floor and additional carpet on the walls. In a slightly bigger room where the orchestra backed the singing groups or solo artists, Gamble told us we were standing in the space where Patti LaBelle once broke a microphone with her voice and rumbled all of the glass in the room.

Inside the control booth, engineer Craig White turned up the O’Jays “For the Love of Money” then isolated the soulful shouts of vocalists Eddie Levert and Walt Williams. Then White added the bass, percussion and brass tracks that flavored the musical broth.

Chuck Gamble’s uncle, singer Kenny Gamble, plus creative partner Leon Huff, the pianist, were the visionaries of TSOP’s golden era in the 1970s. Back then, the label averaged 30 records a year, and during 1971-72, sold 10 million, said the nephew, a company executive.

Today, Gamble and Huff preserves and resells their vintage songs. New-school recording artists like Kanye West benefit from the old-school treasure chest. Philadelphia International published 3,500 songs and in that mix 70 of the tunes were No. 1 Pop and R&B hits.

Like 1960s Motown hits that became ubiquitous in the 1980s in movies like “the Big Chill,” 1970s Philly sounds routinely turn up in the opening of “The Apprentice” (the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money”) or Coors commercials (the O’Jays again crooning “Love Train”).

Philadelphia International executives boast that every 14 minutes somewhere in the world a Gamble and Huff song is playing on the radio. I asked the Gamble nephew if there’s a Philly Sound project in the works along the lines of the various Motown TV specials, and last summer the PBS Stax documentary “Respect Yourself.”

Yes said Gamble, a PBS program is in production for release sometime in 2008-09. It ought to be called, “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” a tribute to McFadden & Whitehead’s signature Gamble & Huff tune.

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 9:29 AM | Permalink

Lost And Found

Oct
22
2007

Simon Deng is one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, yet the Hampton University pharmacy student is resolute about returning home to Africa in order to save lives.

The 23-year-old simply just wants to return a favor many times over.

“When I was 5,” Deng told me, “my grandfather was a farmer and my dad was an accountant in Juba. When the war broke out in the city, my parents took me to my grandfather’s village.

“I was fascinated with the goat and sheep. I chased after them one day and ran right into a cobra. It bit me and I stopped breathing. I was rushed to a doctor and given anti-venom.

“I woke up with all of my family around me. They were weeping. They thought I would die. I want to help people the way I was helped.”

Last March, Deng, 23, became an American citizen. Why? He is determined to return to war-torn Sudan and, ironically, U.S. citizenship will give him easier travel access when he anticipates the need to come back here to update his medical training. That’s commitment.

About 30,000 “Lost Boys” of the Dinka tribe in the southern part of Sudan were driven from their homes by the Muslim-led Sudanese government from the north, and their surrogates, according to Julie Hill, who runs the Lost Boys of Sudan refugee program here in Hampton Roads. The boys hid in the Sahara desert and bush and fought off wild animals. Many were killed, including about 11,000 who drowned in the Nile. About 10,000 “Lost Boys” — and “Lost Girls” – survived. Of that number, some 4,000 of those refugees were admitted to the United States before the 9/11 years.

Deng was one of those refugees embraced by America. He told me that he was picked out of a Kenyan refugee camp where he lived for years: “It was miserable. We got a cup of cornmeal and a cup of cooking oil and we had to live off that for 15 days. There was one book for every 10 students.”

Then Deng, age 17 at the time, was asked if he wanted to try and settle in America, work and go to school. After passing a physical exam, plus orientation classes on America, Deng was sponsored for three months by a Norfolk, Va. church. He was given documents, a Social Security card, and a bicycle.

After 90 days of church care, he was on his own. He supported himself by working multiple jobs and is paying most of his Hampton University tuition out of his earnings. Although he has some financial assistance from the school, Deng and his peers often work so many hours they render themselves ineligible for federal financial needed to cover their college costs – even though most of the money they make doesn’t go into their pockets but rather, it’s sent back to Africa. Deng and dozens of fellow “Lost Boys” in the Hampton Roads area send about 60 percent of their income home to support family members, especially children getting educated in boarding schools.

Hill and other volunteers have been soliciting families to help the “Lost Boys” reduce their work hours so they can focus on college. How? They’re rounding up sponsors for the Sudanese children still in Africa going to boarding schools. The less money the “Lost Boys” have to send overseas, the fewer hours they need to work and the more hours they can invest in their own schooling and education. In this region, 80 schoolchildren were sponsored by 60 church family sponsors as of mid-September, said Julie Hill. She added that 66 children were sponsored before she made a pitch to my Unitarian Universalist fellowship. Quickly, eight sponsors stepped to the plate, and additional sponsors came from other churches.

The work ethic and resolve of the “Lost Boys” is inspiring and their determination is a sharp contrast to the international inaction that’s greeted news from their native land. The slowness of Western nations to intervene in the refugee crisis, the limited action taken by the United Nations and the continuing violence in the region present a number of challenges for the region and for international diplomats. It’s a situation not likely to resolve itself any time soon. In recent months, Beijing has been accused of enabling the slaughter of the Dinkas in Darfur, southern Sudan, because the tribe’s lands sit atop substantial oil reserves. Lately, the Chinese government has been hearing the complaints of human rights watchers like Hill and they have engaged in some image fixing to ease some of the pressure.

For now, I’ll respect Simon Deng’s wishes to spread his message.

“Our aim,” he said of himself and other “Lost Boys” in America, “is to do our best and go back to Africa to rebuild our country.”

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 6:02 AM | Permalink

Let Freedom Ring

Oct
15
2007

For generations, Philadelphia’s Fifth and Market was the site of arguably America’s most powerful symbol of freedom, the Liberty Bell. Yet that symbol mocked those slaves and many African-American citizens. “Five feet from the cradle of liberty,” said Michael Coard, an attorney and activist, “was the hell of slavery.”

Coard told me and two dozen Trotter Group columnist society colleagues that only after 229 years did the federal government acknowledge African slavery in America on this site. The acknowledgement did not come from Congress or the White House. Instead, the National Park Service acknowledgement in 2005 was related to the first president’s house here where George Washington kept eight enslaved Africans.

Although the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act said African slaves who entered the commonwealth and resided here for more than six months had to be freed, Washington circumvented this law by rotating slaves in and out of town. Coard said those slaves were moved to New Jersey or other states in order to avoid spending 180 consecutive days in Pennsylvania. But along the way, two of the eight slaves, Hercules and Moll, nanny for Martha Washington, escaped to freedom.

Washington’s Philadelphia slaves became widely known this decade when the Liberty Bell was moved one city block to Sixth Street and the Africans’ living quarters were revealed. Coard said the Park Service knew about the quarters as far back as 1974, but tried to suppress the fact in much the same way – and for the same reasons – that President Thomas Jefferson’s long-time relationship with Sally Hemmings, a slave in his household, was suppressed and ignored at Monticello: No one in authority wanted to think about it.

In 2002, Coard and colleagues from the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition [ATAC] staged a relentless crusade of letter writing and street demonstrations to pressure the park service to acknowledge and honor the slaves and their history in Philadelphia. Said Coard, “We used cultural ammunition against the National Park Service.”

The good news is that reconciliation is under way. Coard and ATAC members found receptive ears in Mary Bomar, then superintendent of Independence National Park who went on to become director of the Park Service. “Mary Bomar listened to our demands,” explained the activist, “because we found out what she already knew.”

“We pressed the most powerful government in the world to go from denying to designing.”

So with the U.S. government acknowledgement of Washington’s Philadelphia slaves – I emphasize the locale because George and wife Martha had 300 additional slaves in Virginia – historical artifacts that honor those African men and women are to be prominently displayed for visitors who come to the hallowed ground of freedom.

Visitors who want to go see the Liberty Bell, said Coard, will have to pass the slavery exhibit once it opens, possibly next year. That is appropriate because telling the Africans’ story is not about guilt or shame, but context and the struggle for freedom. That should resonate in many ways since even the name of the Bell itself owes a debt to the struggles African-Americans. The Liberty Bell was not originally called by that name, scholar Charles Blockson of Temple University reminded us columnists on our recent visit. Before 1830, it was referred to as the State House Bell, but the cracked symbol was renamed by abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass.

ATAC got the federal acknowledgement of slavery in mid-2005, plus $5.1 million in city and federal funds committed to build an appropriate monument to the slaves. So, the story should be over, right? No, this American story got richer.

The July 4, 2007 opening of the exhibit was delayed, said Coard, because an archeological dig of the site uncovered three major things: The foundation of the kitchen where slaves like lead cook Hercules labored, an underground tunnel slaves used to carry meals to the President House, and, a bow window. This oval-shaped window inspired the design of the Oval Office at the existing president house, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the District of Columbia. In Philadelphia, Kelly/Maiello architects were designing the replica slave quarters. Philadelphia Mayor John Street, said Coard, was to meet soon with the architect to decide which design of three options gets the green light.

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 8:31 AM | Permalink

Supreme Distrust

Oct
8
2007

I’m not one of those “playa haters” but Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should understand why blacks like me dislike him so intensely. We suspect he is dishonest.

Thomas who’s back on TV this week promoting his autobiography, “My Grandfather’s Son” is trying to convince the world that African-Americans vilify him for supposedly not acting “acting black” (whatever that means), for betraying civil rights orthodoxy, and for being intellectually wanting in his powerful job.

But it’s not Thomas’ right-wing ideology that gets under my skin and apparently the skins of many African-Americans. It’s the content of his character. I deeply dislike the Supreme Court justice but not just for what he’s doing on the court. For starters, I resented the way he publicly embarrassed his sister, Emma Mae Martin, a few decades ago in what seemed like nothing more than an attempt to score points with conservative supporters.



My Grandfather’s

Son:

A Memoir

Martin collected welfare in order to support her children. In 1980, Thomas deplored her behavior, complaining to a group of black conservatives that his sister was lazy and felt entitled to live off the government dole. During his contentious Senate confirmation hearings in 1991, investigators reminded Thomas that he had exaggerated. Emma Mae Martin accepted welfare reluctantly. She could not leave home go to a job because she dutifully cared for elderly relatives in addition to her children. Martin was not one of Ronald Reagan’s caricatured “welfare queens.” Thomas had made her into one, however.

Thomas told conservative pundit Armstrong Williams he regretted trashing Martin’s reputation and immediately drove all night in the snow to Georgia to apologize. But Emma Mae Martin remembered no such visit, reported Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher in their meticulously researched 2007 biography “Supreme Discomfort”. Furthermore Martin, said the authors, told numerous interviewers that she was not on welfare when Thomas made his poisonous comments.



Supreme Discomfort:

The Divided Soul

of Clarence Thomas

And I’m still appalled by Thomas’ disgraceful neglect of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when was chairman of that civil rights institution. As head of the EEOC in the 1980s, Thomas allowed 9,000 complaints to lapse. As a Reagan administration appointee, his marching orders were to apply benign neglect at the government civil rights commission. Robust anti-discrimination enforcement wasn’t on the agenda. That’s disgraceful.

And even though he’s broken his 16-year silence and used 40 of CBS’ precious “60 Minutes” on Sunday to make sell books, Thomas remains an enigma, a bundle of contradictions that make me suspect the justice is either delusional, or simply a liar.

He uses the autobiography to snipe at Anita Hill, the former EEOC employee who almost derailed Thomas’ appointment to the high court when 16 years ago this month she testified that Thomas sexually harassed her. Thomas suggests that law professor was a dupe of a left-leaning civil rights cabal determined to get him. Yet Thomas’ friends and associates have said frequently that the former seminarian had a thing for telling bawdy jokes and for watching pornography. Those diversions don’t make Thomas a bad person; they just strain credibility when he cries foul.

Hill wasn’t alone in her claims, however. Another former EEOC employee, Angela Wright wasn’t called to testify before the Senate but her memories of Thomas’ inappropriate workplace chatter mirrored Hill’s. In a 1991 Charlotte Observer newspaper column, Wright recalled Thomas’ unwanted sexual advances, his vow that she would be dating him, and inquires about her breast size.

I struggle – badly – to believe Thomas. I don’t doubt his intellect or his commitment to independent thought. And it’s clear Thomas, 59, was profoundly influenced by the stern grandfather who raised him in the segregated South. But Thomas is an angry man. His late grandfather disapproved of his exit from the seminary, and, as a devout Catholic, scorned Thomas’ decision to divorce and remarry. Clearly Thomas is trying to make some kind of peace with his book, which in its title highlights their close, if tense, bond.

Americans pay a heavy price for these internal struggles. Thomas’ internalized anger and callousness informed his public actions and influence his court opinions. And that’s why I so heartily dislike him.

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 9:29 AM | Permalink

Let’s Talk

Oct
8
2007

Let’s get something out of the way early on: I’m not a blogger.

I’m a columnist with better tools. I associate the “b-word” with hotheads who are long on opinions but short on facts, or with hopelessly self-absorbed writers. Either way, they’re not my kind of people.

I got my first shot at online column writing a few years ago at blackamericaweb. Now I have been offered the opportunity to write on this site.

A column is a piece of real estate that I rent. We can meet here every week – on Monday – and I will tell you what I think about people and issues in the news, and also chat about my passions and peeves. This isn’t an entirely new thing for me. Nine years ago I was offered job at the local newspaper in Newport News, my fourth daily since 1980, and I wrote a weekly op-ed column. My first regular column began in the early 1990s at a New Jersey daily near Philadelphia.

Clarence Thomas secured my spot. That’s right. I was so infuriated with the Supreme Court nominee’s behavior I spit out 750 words of rage in an op-ed. The editor invited me write my opinion regularly. So thanks, Justice Thomas.

I love American history, and my adopted home here in Hampton Roads, Va., is mineral rich: English America began here, with all due respect to the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. English settlers sailed into Hampton Roads harbor and settled Jamestown 400 years ago this year.

Then, 20 Africans from Angola arrived in Jamestown in 1619, 15 months before those New England pilgrims. We’re still trying to verify whether those Africans were enslaved or indentured, the latter category a sort of house arrest – you had to earn your way to freedom and many didn’t. These African’s condition is one of those rich, contradictory American stories I like exploring.

My birthplace is New York City and I grew up in Brooklyn. I left New York in 1984 and work took me Westchester, a New York City suburb, then South Jersey, then Gary, Ind., and now Virginia, where after old-school newspaper work, then a stint as an online newspaper editor, I’m training a new generation of journalists at Hampton University, a top-flight American university and legendary historically black college.

Hampton Institute was the place Booker T. Washington walked 500 miles from West Virginia to get an education, then he moved on and established Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. And Hampton was where Robert S. Abbott learned printing then later published the Chicago Defender, the newspaper that encouraged a mass migration of Southern blacks to Northern cities.

Now Hampton students and distinguished faculty launch satellites with regional neighbor NASA Langley Research Center, make breakthroughs in cancer treatment, or flood the zone with talented media professionals.

As a columnist, I’ll wrestle with African-American duality, that double-consciousness W.E.B. DuBois – Booker T.’s ideological rival – defined in his book The Souls of Black Folks. It’s my double consciousness kicking in; I expand and contract.

My passions include jazz and rhythm & blues, movies that tell good stories like the books that usually inspire them, all kinds of ball and or stick sports, and travel. I’m a big fan of public transportation so my peeves include regions, like mine, that stubbornly resist moving more masses of people, and generally, people with closed minds and stony hearts.

We have a lot to talk about, war – in Iraq, and on urban streets, a presidential election next year, our struggles to live better, our evolving American culture. We’ll talk, listen, maybe fuss and fight, and possibly share some laughs.

I was born near one great deep water harbor – New York – and I now live near another, Hampton Roads, a watery street wide enough to house the world’s largest navy, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. I love my adopted home and look forward to telling you what I see and whatever else is on my mind.

Just don’t call me a blogger, Ok?

Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 8:18 AM | Permalink




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