by Cecil Beatty-Yasutake
The Hour of Race and Revolution
Race as an issue is still far from being a non-issue in America, something syndicated columnist Anna Quindlen wrote about so eloquently about in a piece, entitled "We Only Whisper Across Nation's Color Lines," which appeared in the March 7, 2000 editition of the Seattle Times. Why is the discussion of race such a taboo thing? My peers today treat any mention of racial inequality as if they've been poked with a hot iron. They flinch at its mention, simple discussion starts them fidgeting, their faces take on a confused or unbelieving mask. What gives? They don't get pulled over for no reason, like I do, and are asked: "What are you doing on this side of town?" Do they? Broom handles aren't shoved up their rectums for cursing police officers, are they? Hailing a taxicab in New York may seem like a simple task to you, but apparently if you're African American it can be near impossible. So much so that successful and well known actor Danny Glover had to file a formal complaint because it happens so often to him, the validity of which was easy to see. Despite several days of warnings from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of an impending crack down of such behavior, six cabbies were still nabbed in one day for refusing service to minorities. But it occurs to me that if city officials were really interested in the truth, they wouldn't have warned cab drivers in the city in advance of the sting being put into effect. Incidents like these are the inspiration and driving force behind "The Hour of Race and Revolution," a Sixty Minute Soundtrack that helps me through these dark moments where once again I am reminded that I am a black man living in a white Amerikkka--that in the year 2001 The dream of one Martin Luther King, Jr. still seems light years away from becoming a permanent and whole part of our everyday reality.
Judged By The Color Of Their Skin
For 33 days Melissa Coleman was locked away in a Baghdad prison as a Gulf War Prisoner of War--one of two such women to be captured during the war and locked up, and the first since World War II. Upon her release she became an instant American hero, receiving the Purple Heart, Prisoner of War and National Defense Service medals. Coleman recently said in an AP interview that she doesn't like to think of herself as a real hero, she feels the ones who flew the air raids and freed Kuwait are the true American heroes. Nonetheless, for a brief time she was America's darling, a symbol of its undaunted spirit and courage under fire. She later married the man she loved, Micheal Coleman, her fiancé before the war, and immediately afterwards began receiving hate mail. What did she do that was so terrible to go from hero to villain? She married a black man. Apparently, Mrs. Coleman was unaware of the deep-rooted history of racism in this country and how much of it is still a part of its fabric.
Heck, all she had to do was try getting a marriage license in Alabama, where only in their last election a was a 1901 law banning marriage between a "Negro and Caucasian" finally removed from the books. Passing by a 60 percent margin of victory, it should be noted that 526,000 Alabama citizens voted against removal of such a divisive and bigoted law.
WTO protestors had their run of Seattle until law enforcement brought things "under control." Meanwhile, a City of Seattle Councilmember was stopped at two different police checkpoints while trying to get to The World Trade Organization reception being held for the state's congressional delegation at the Westin Hotel. Councilmember Richard McIver tried everything that night to get to the party. He showed officers his business card, even provided the pager number of the Deputy Police Chief Ed Joiner. But that still wasn't enough. Despite being in a suit and having with him a partner of the very law firm responsible for the evening's event in his car, McIver was not permitted to attend the party. At one point he was removed from his car, his business card tossed to the ground, and handcuffed. "An unfortunate incident," you say? Yes, but would you be surprised to know Councilmember McIver is African American and was the only City of Seattle Councilmember not permitted to attend the function by police?
"Everyday I'm Reminded Who I am"
Picture this: you're on the doorstep of your own home. It's late. Out the corner of your eye you notice four suspicious white males headed your way. What would you do? Would you be nervous? Maybe you sense they are cops so you reach for you wallet. Then, for no reason at all, shots ring out. Forty-one total spray the area where you stood, nineteen find their mark. Most would call this murder or, at the very least, accidental homicide. For the parents of Amadou Diallo, a 22-year old African immigrant, it's painful and pointless reality. An American nightmare that ended with all the assailants found not guilty. Amadou is just one of three civilians of African descent to be shot and murdered by undercover officers in New York City in a thirteen month period.
In California a promising black actor, Anthony Lee, is shot dead, the victim of another police "mistake." His crime? Having a prop gun as a part of his costume while attending a private Halloween party. Police officer Tarriel Hopper and his partner were at the house to investigate a noise complaint when they were sent by partygoers at the front door around back to find the home's owner. Once in the backyard, Officer Hopper spied Lee holding a gun through a glass door. The officer claims it was then that Lee pointed the gun at him, causing Hopper to fire nine shots at Lee, taking his life. That he saw a gun and had no time to react rings hollow as an excuse with those familiar with being stereotyped and racially profiled. It was a costume party, after all, and held over the Halloween weekend. No one else inside the house appeared alarmed at Anthony's having a gun, a clue the officer should have picked up on given the circumstances. Furthermore, even if Lee had pointed the prop gun at officers, how was he supposed to know they were real cops? It was, after all, a costume party and guests at the party had said others were dressed as LAPD officers.
Yes, it was an accident, but the part that nags me endlessly is wondering whether or not they would have fired if Lee had been white.
Lenny Kravitz is handcuffed and detained as a possible bank robbery suspect in Miami Beach, despite his being a multi-platinum rock star and having enough money to buy his own bank. How closely did Kravitz match the description of the suspect? How much of this had to do with the color of his skin? Was he spotted in a parking lot putting on a costume and a mask, as was the case for with his white rock brethren Slipknot in 1999 when they were detained by police in Illinois who thought they were preparing to rob a neaby jewelry store? No. In Slipknot's case, their behavior could easily be seen as odd, if not suspicious. However, in Lenny's case such reasonable cause did not exist. He wasn't wearing a mask and or dressing in a parking lot near a jewelry store.
Speaking of which, I still shudder when I think of how Darius Rucker, the African American lead singer of chart topping group Hootie and the Blowfish was grabbed by Secret Service agents backstage at Vice President Al Gore's inaugural party several years ago when he tried to follow his band mates on stage to perform. To add greater insult to injury, it was Al Gore who personally called the band's frontman to ask him if they could perform at the event. Race had everything to do with his being detained. He was the only African American member of the band and the only one stopped from going on stage that night, despite the fact that the entire band dresses like a bunch of ordinary everyday Joe's. What's more, his bandmates say they've learned to live with this type of thing as time and time again they've witnessed his being singled out and treated unfairly because of his skin color.
This list of injustices goes on like a war memorial. African American women in a recent congressional report were found to be strip searched and X-rayed more often when returning from overseas than any other ethnic group of passengers. This despite the fact that they were half as likely to be concealing illegal drugs as white women. Out of the 115 I-A football programs in the country--a sport that is played by predominately African American athletes--there are only four teams currently coached by African Americans. I wonder if this is statistically possible. Out of 115 opportunities, the best man for the job was an African American a mere four times? No, I'm not crying out for any sort of quota system, just fairness. I firmly believe if treated equally we as a people will do just fine, the key word being equally. For now though, it's my belief we are still not viewed as merely Americans but as black Americans and with that comes a long history of second and third class citizenship baggage placed upon us by the racist means which brought us here.
The proof is everywhere, you just have to look. But if you're one of those people out there who believe that racism in this country isn't as big of an issue as I believe it is, past and present, then next time you find yourself cruising the aisle of your local bookstore take a gander at Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. If that doesn't open your eyes, then perhaps you're one of the 526,000 who voted "no" in Alabama. Either way, this soundtrack is as much for you as it is for me so enjoy, and please, listen carefully.
(Intro) Ice Cube "The Birth" Death Certificate
Oh yeah, one more thing: if it wasn't for deadlines, I could give you ten or so more recent examples of how far we still have to go in the struggle against racism in this country. Instead though, I'd like to end this article on a positive note, with a well-deserved salute to the hip-hop community at large.
For the past decade or more hip-hoppers have been trying to draw the public's attention to the injustices that are a part of many minorities everyday lives, all while undergoing intense media scrutiny and criticism. So to Rafael Ramirez of the LAPD and fellow officers all across the nation who behave like the ones he's ratted out thus far, I dedicate the following:
N.W.A. "Fuck tha Police" Straight Outta Compton
Amerikkka needs to wake up and soon, before it has African Americans up in arms screaming from the top of their lungs along with DMX, "Y'all gonna make me loose my mind up in here!"