ISHMAEL REED: Exclusive Conversation PART 2 OF 3: “FAKING THE HOOD”


Wajahat Ali

Waj, did you see this? Did you get my email? The New York Times story about the fraud – the White woman lying about her life in the ghetto?” asks an excited and passionate Ishmael Reed, Pulitzer prize nominated poet and author, about the explosive revelation concerning Margaret Seltzer’s faked “ghetto memoir” “Love and Consequences.”

Replying that not only had I received it, but also read the piece with great interest, the MacArthur Genius continues, “Look at this. See? This is what I’m talking about. This is what we talk about. But, when I say it, everyone thinks I’m crazy.”

Due to the enormous, international interest generated by part 1 of our originally scheduled, 2 part exclusive interview, the most in depth Reed has given in nearly 15 years, we chatted again for nearly another hour over the past week. As always, Reed, defiantly unique and perennially blunt and opinionated, had things he “needed to get off his chest.” This series has now been extended by another segment (to be released within the week.)

Like before, when conversing with Reed, sometimes one’s role is simply that of a conductor or active listener; by asking the right questions – hitting that pulsating nerve – all one can do is sit back while the the pugilistic writer jabs and hooks. Sometimes the most simple and direct questions (as you’ll see in this piece) yield lengthy and passionate responses, mostly loaded punches aimed squarely at the alleged hucksters, hypocrites, liars, and frauds Reed feels perpetuate and peddle dangerous stereotypes and artificial half-truths for sake of self profit and self adulation. In this episode, Reed takes on Amiri Baraka, Hillary Clinton, Elitist feminist divas, W.E.B Dubois, and the New York Times.

The bell rings: Round 2.

ALI: Most people characterize you as part of the Left; one who is mostly critical of the Right. People couple you, politically, with Amiri Baraka [controversial and influential African American poet and writer], as two figures who came from the ‘60’s movement. How accurate are both these assumptions?

REED: I wasn’t part of any sixties movement. I’m skeptical of movements. I’m part of the times that I’m in. Right now, it’s 2008. As for Baraka, he and I have disagreements. I mean, he becomes a demagogue when there’s an audience. He’s a nice guy in private. I mean I like the guy; he’s a terrific writer. I’ve published two of his books. Baraka is one of these fundamentalists who is prone to idol worship. Once he selects an idol, then you can’t criticize the idol. For example, he said Steven Cannon and I should be murdered because of what we said about Malcolm X. The death threat was printed in a magazine called African American Review, edited by Joe Weixlmann, which has received more foundation support than all of the Black literary magazines combined. And what did we say about Malcolm X?


I said, “You can’t criticize Malcolm X, because now he’s a holiday.” I mean, no sense of irony! I mean, this is what happens with these ideological extremists: there’s no sense of humor or irony; although, he’s a great satirist. But, we were on panel at NYU in Nov., and I reminded him of some of these statements. The New York audience –

ALI: They love him, right?

REED: Oh, yeah, they love him. He’s very charismatic. They think somebody being murdered because they’re critical of Malcolm X – that’s amusing to them. I was challenged to a fistfight before a NYU audience; I don’t know what it is about Manhattan. I was challenged to a fistfight by Margo Jefferson, the Pulitzer Prize winner, New York Times writer, who is part of a feminist clique at the Times, which believes that Black men are the principal threat to the women of the world. The clique is headed by Michiko Kakutani, who is hard on Black guys but is worshipful of misogynists like Saul Bellow and even wrote a tender tribute to him. Bellow’s ex wife said of him, “He who thinks evil, is evil.”

You could understand why Kakutani was duped by this fake gang book written by Margaret Seltzer [Love and Consequences, which was exposed as a complete and total fraud by Ms. Seltzer’s own sister just last week in the NYT.] This middle class White woman who convinced her editor and publisher that she was half Indian and had some connection to a Black family and Black gangs [Seltzer’s fraudulent memoir claimed she was raised in a street gang environment by “Big Mama,” an overweight but loving African American woman. She was, in fact, raised comfortably in the suburbs.]


The cover of this mercenary opportunistic book shows a Black adult and child. Michiko fell for this fake because she is always prepared to believe the worst about Black men. So are other Times feminists, Janet Maslin and Virginia Hefferman and some of the sisters there who are always putting down Black athletes and award a lot of features to black women playwrights and novelists who trash Black men, the big money maker these days.

Any Black woman writer who takes it to the brothers gets lavish coverage there. Movies and novels, which include the ancient stereotypes about Black men are used to launch national discussions about Black misogyny in the pages of the Times. Now if these feminists took on the misogyny of the group to which the Times men belonged to, they’d be fired.

“Bastard Out of Carolina,” [which was a novel and later television movie] about a White man committing incest didn’t begin a nation wide parlor discussion. In fact, Ted Turner, whose network CNN slimes Black men all day, tried to block it. It took Angelica Houston to support the project. The Times held a panel recently about the oppression of women all over the world. It was moderated by a White woman and the panel was composed of three Black women, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Bob Herbert, the token Black male writer at the Times who apparently believes the same thing: That world misogyny is a Black male problem.

I sent an email to him complaining about the composition of the all Black panel. The composition of the panel implied that it was a worldwide problem stemming from the behavior of Black men. I pointed out to Herbert the problems that women have in China, where female infants are murdered, and where millions of women have been infected with HIV – which is being covered up by the government; the millions of women and girls and children forced into sexual slavery in southeast Asia, eastern Europe; the fact that American shelters are full of abused Arab American women.

In some countries, women are stoned to death for committing adultery and honor killings go on even in the United States. Recently an Egyptian American father killed two of his daughters for dating men from an outside group. A two-day story. Had these men killed White girls, the story would still be covered, especially if they were White girls murdered by Black men. You know, the suspects in the Natalie Holloway case were originally Black hotel workers. CNN ran their being arrested around the clock. Even when they were exonerated, CNN kept running the footage. The only difference between Jonathan Klein, CNN president, and Julius Streicher, the Nazi Propagandist, is that Streicher was hanged at Nuremberg.


ALI: Wow –

REED: You have to hand it to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Bharati Mukherjee for writing about misogyny in the Indian community. Apparently, that takes guts. An issue that D’Nesh D’Souza and Sudhir Venkatesh are ignoring. They’re too busy making money by entertaining people like Steven D.Levitt of the Times with ugly portraits of Black project dwellers. Venkatesh also got a big send off by the Times by people who don’t know the difference between the real and the fake.

So oppressive it is among Egyptian American families that women writers from that group, no matter how talented, are afraid to talk about it. A brilliant young Egyptian American writer was about to expose this problem in a novel: it would have been a major success because the writer had a remarkable, special talent. A New York agent flew out here and talked to her. She went to the Provincetown workshop and Squaw Valley writers’ workshops where she was praised. She withdrew the novel because she felt it to be an embarrassment to her community. Many ethnic women writers feel this way, and so they pile on Black men, who become pinch hitters for the male chauvinism of others.

Maybe if this writer had published her book and brought attention to this problem, this tragedy involving these two Egyptian girls would have been avoided. In some communities there is such a thing as arranged marriages. If I told my daughters whom to marry, they’d probably send me to a nursing home.

ALI: (Laughs) Definitely.

REED: I asked Herbert why the Times was placing all of the blame for world misogyny on Black men and not for example addressing abuse of White women in the United States, something we’ll never hear about as long as upper class White males control the media. A SUNY study reports that 90% of American White women interviewed for the study said that they had been abused by their fathers, husbands and boyfriends. The woman who conducted this study expressed surprise that this went on in stable middle class households.

Every Times man that I have written to has replied to my letters and emails. I reminded Sam Roberts, who is thrilled by the information that White middle class families in New York are breeding, that he once wrote that Blacks were “prone to violence.” He’d forgotten. Herbert didn’t answer. He’s rare for the segregated media: a Black columnist. Sort of like an Intellectual Panda; so high and mighty that he doesn’t respond to reader’s questions.

ALI: OK, let’s back up for a moment. Let’s go back to the fistfight story. Why’d they threaten you with fisticuffs in New York?

REED: Now why did Margo Jefferson challenge me to a fistfight to the cheers and encouragement of the women in the audience, the type who are always complaining about men battering women? I was on a panel with light skinned Blacks and a famous gay science fiction writer, who were complaining about how Blacks are against gays and light skinned Blacks and how intolerant Blacks are of different groups. My position was that Blacks were among the most humanistic, tolerant groups in the country and that across the street from my house in Oakland was one inhabited by White gays. They even had the gay liberation flag flying from the house. When I touched on racism among Gays and Lesbians, a phenomenon recorded by the late author Audre Lorde and film maker Marlon Riggs, the gay host of the show on which I made this remark, on KPFA, Berkeley, started screaming and yelling.

The guy became really agitated. He’s Italian American, who takes it to the fellas every chance that he gets. Once, I pointed out to him that I had published an issue of my magazine featuring Italian American women writers, and they were complaining about Italian American misogyny. I asked him was he going to do a show about it? He didn’t answer. Got all agitated.

None of my Black neighbors burned a cross in front of the Gay liberation house. I also pointed out that Kathleen Cleaver was on a NYU panel the night before and that she is so light skinned that she could pass if she wished and none of the panelists that previous night – who were darker than she – gave her any problems.

Kathleen Cleaver, former member of the Black Panthers, what ever you might think of her, is an icon among some Black activists and intellectuals, regardless of her being light skinned. Jefferson was furious because one of her friends, a light skinned woman, was a panelist. Jefferson was one of the first who labeled me a misogynist in Newsweek in the 70s. The majority of Blacks have White ancestors something that’s not discussed because it would make the nouveau Whites people who eighty years ago were referred to as a separate race, less White.

Two of the great leaders of the past – Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass – had White fathers – who deserted them. Now Ms. Jefferson, who is hard on me and the fellas, wrote in the Times that she has nocturnal, erotic fantasies about John Wayne. What’s up with these feminists? Do you see these double standards these feminists have? They dream about John Wayne, but they’re hard on us [Black men.] (Laughs.) So, I reminded her that John Wayne said, “I’m all for women’s liberation as long as they have dinner ready when I get home.”

It’s like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem’s candidate, praising John McCain, an old time, corny, White, belligerent, Alpha male stereotype – kind of like a growling Popeye – over Barack Obama, who pushes the politics of reconciliation and soft diplomacy, a tactic used by the Chinese in Africa, where they have been successful, while the American air force incurs resentment by bombing African civilians. Some of the leaders of the Chinese government are engineers and so they’re aiding in the building of the infrastructure in some African countries. When McCain sings “bomb Iran,” doesn’t Ma Clinton, who is running as an example to young White women, Gloria Steinem’s candidate, realize that many of her brown Iranian sisters will be murdered in such an event? What kind of woman’s solidarity is that?

So, Jefferson challenged me to a fistfight, and the women in the audience loved that! These contradictions are fodder for my fiction and non-fiction. My work holds up the mirror to hypocrisy, which puts me in a tradition of American writing that reaches back to Nathaniel Hawthorne. In Haitian mythology there is the figure Ghede, who in West Africa, is Iku, whose role is to show “each man his devil.” He’s represented by a figure wearing a top hat and smoking a cigar. That’s my gig. Showing movements like this – what fundamentally corrupts exclusive feminist movements – its devil.

ALI: Talk to me about Baraka. The original question (Laughs.)

REED: O.K., let me get back to Baraka.


Howard University holds something called “Heart’s Day,” an all day ceremony in which a writer is honored. I was the recipient of this honor. It’s a wonderful ceremony that Eleanor Traylor chair of English at Howard University organizes for writers. Writers from around the country came to pay tribute to my work. It was very flattering.

Baraka gets up there and rehashes some encounter we had forty four years ago, when I was a young writer and told him that I thought his early work to be weak. It was so elliptical; it was inscrutable. He was influenced by the downtown art scene. Compare his book “ Dead Lecturer” with his breakthrough “ Black Magic,” a brilliant work which came about as a result of his coming in contact with Black nationalists. He said himself that his previous downtown art scene writing was weak. He came into contact with writers like Askia Toure and Charles Patterson. The change in his style was dramatic. He never forgot my remark. At Howard he laced into me about my calling W.E.B DuBois, his idol, a Nazi. I didn’t call him a Nazi.

In an essay I wrote I posed the question, “Was W.E.B DuBois Pro Nazi?” W.E.B DuBois was the guest of the Nazi government under a fellowship arranged by a man who was Pro Nazi and who had dined with Hitler. During the trip there, he was wined and dined by Nazis and said that the Hitler dictatorship was necessary. According to Clarence Lusane, author of Hitler’s Black Victims, Du Bois “spoke highly of Hitler’s private secretary and party leader,” Rudolph Hess.” DuBois said that, “Germany did not yet show any trace of racial hatred,” during a time when a crack down on Blacks living in Nazi Germany had begun. Lusane concludes that, “Du Bois’s love for Germany seems to have clouded his usually sharp reading of racism.” Well, he might not have been a Nazi, but he seems to have admired the Nazi regime at one point.


ALI: What year was this?

REED: It was during the ’30’s. [Dubois] also was into this “Talented Tenth” stuff, where he said he was aligned with Margaret Singer of the Eugenics movement, and believed that lower class Blacks shouldn’t breed.

[Reed gets a book, finds the correct page, and recites this lengthy quotation by Dubois]

The low incomes which Negroes receive make bachelorhood and spinsterhood widespread, with the naturally resultant lowering, in some cases, of sex standards. On the other hand, the mass of ignorant Negroes still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among Whites, is from that part of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.”

“There comes, therefore, the difficult and insistent problem of spreading among Negroes an intelligent and clearly recognized concept of proper birth control, so that the young people can marry, have companionship and natural health, and yet not have children until they are able to take care of them. This, of course, calls for a more liberal attitude among Negro churches. The churches are open for the most part to intelligent propaganda of any sort, and the American Birth Control League and other agencies ought to get their speakers before church congregations and their arguments in the Negro newspapers. As it is, the mass of Negroes know almost nothing about the birth control movement, and even intelligent colored people have a good many misapprehensions and a good deal of fear at openly learning about it. Like most people with middle-class standards of morality, they think that birth control is inherently immoral.”

“Moreover, they [“Negroes”] are quite led away by the fallacy of numbers. They want the Black race to survive. They are cheered by a census return of increasing numbers and a high rate of increase. They must learn that among human races and groups, as among vegetables, quality and not mere quantity really counts.”

DuBois wrote this in “Black Folk and Birth Control.” Birth Control Review, Volume XXII, Number 8 (New Series, May 1938, the “Negro Number”), page 90. If this idea had been carried out, both Jesse Jackson, Ishmael Reed and others born to poor single mothers would have been removed from the gene pool!

Why can’t DuBois’s social Darwinist ideas be brought up? People like Baraka, who think like these holy roller fundamentalists, who are so worshipful of the icon of the moment that they can’t see straight. I have enormous respect for Barak’s writing; he’s unique, but obviously, he gets carried away sometimes. Ralph Ellison was right when he said that Baraka “bores from within.” He calls himself a Communist, yet he’s a member of the American Academy, which is about as establishment as you can get. Wait till they read my new book on Muhammad Ali. They’re really going get mad. Bigger Than Boxing, out later this year by Harmony Books of Random House; it’s the most balanced book written about the boxer, but it contains some surprises.

ALI: Why do you think one can’t criticize these iconic figures?

REED: You can’t criticize them, because once people like Baraka latch on to some one who is bigger than life, an icon, then it becomes very dangerous to do so. I asked Joe Weixlmann why he would print a death threat like that in light of the fact that there are all of these armed ideological nuts wandering around loose. He said that for him, to “ice” someone means to reprimand them. Recall, Baraka said that we should be “iced. This from an editor of a Black magazine. A self appointed caretaker of Black lit – doesn’t know what “iced” meant.

I don’t know why people always compare us [Baraka and I.] I was never part of the Black Arts Repertory Theater or the Black Arts Movement; people who claim that I was are wrong. I was downtown. I was living in Chelsea when they were operating in Harlem. I said they were “goons” at the time, because I knew all of them. I was roommates with 2 of the guys who were influential in forming the Black Arts philosophy. I called them “goons,” and Baraka took offense at that. But if you read his autobiography, the night we went up there for a fundraiser, he talks about how he wished that some violence would happen to us. How do you like Baraka as a gracious host? I participated in two fund raisers for the Black Arts Repertory Theater and then, on the occasion of the second one, we, who had gone up to help out, were threatened.

ALI: But, wait, you guys are also friends, right?

REED: Yeah, we’re friends. Just like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are friends.


ALI: (Laughs.)

REED: The cultural wars of the sixties are over. I’ve reconciled with those who were my critics and opponents years ago. I was at odds with some those who were Black nationalists. Yet when feminists attempted to end my career and leave me as literary road kill, it was the Black nationalists who came to my rescue. Gwendolyn Brooks, the great poet, got me a George Kent Award in the late eighties. Do you think that Ms. Brooks would give an award to someone who hated Black women, the lie that was circulated throughout New York and reached all the way down to Martinique where I was a guest Professor? The lie was circulated by people who don’t read my books. How do I show my hatred for Black women? Most of the recent titles that I have published were written by Black women. All are available at Amazon. Karla Brundrige’s “ Swallowing Watermelons,” 81-year-old Jerri Lange’s award winning, “Jerri, A Black Woman’s Life In The Media,” an award-winning book. “ Under Burning White Sky,” by Haitian poet, Boadiba, “New and Collected Poetr[Poetry]” by Kathryn Takara of Hawaii, “16 Short Stories by Nigerian Women,” edited by Toyin Gabriel Adewale. This book came about as a result of my trip to Nigeria in 1999. This year I’m publishing “Maggie 3” a novel by Alison Mills Newman. Alison’s first book, “Francisco”, which I published in 1974 was our first book. It was praised by Toni Morrison and William Demby. Since then, she’s raised five kids. This is her second novel.

ALI: How about this classification of Ishmael Reed as a “Leftist liberal” and very anti-Right wing?

REED: You know, it depends on the issue. Like these criminal operations on my block, I’m very “Law and Order” about this. These are sort of like neighborhood tyrants and neighborhood fascists. The other neighbors can’t exercise because of their activities. They had a big shootout on the block last year. I wrote about this in Playboy. We closed down one operation by pestering the officials downtown and getting a restraining order against the gang leader who was responsible for armed unsavory elements entering our neighborhood.

But of course, these youngsters get assistance from the outside, something that’s not covered by the media, which covers up White pathology. The illegal guns come in from the suburbs. Some Whites and Asian Americans rent out properties to criminal operations. These absentee landlords really don’t give a rat’s ass about us. Seventy percent of the Johns who come into our city to buy sex are from the suburbs, yet the police crack down on the Black prostitutes, some of whom are children.

The economy for prostitution in Oakland is larger than the drug economy. For the thirty years that I have lived in this ghetto neighborhood, I‘ve seen a steady stream of Whites coming into my neighborhood seeking vice. In fact, Jerry H. Bryant has even mentioned it in his book,Born in a Mighty Bad Land: The Violent Man in African American Folklore and Fiction” that the police have traditionally given tacit approval to Black neighborhoods as centers for vice, while they look the other way. This is something that you won’t see on CNN, Whites contributing to Black pathology.

85% of the Oakland police live outside of the city. At a meeting the other night, I told a bunch of them that they can’t attend to our problems because they spend a lot of time commuting. Police should live within the city, not motor in like some occupying force. The police force should look like America. It’s not that Blacks don’t need police protection; they don’t want Mark Furhman. The media influence the perceptions that the country have of Blacks, Muslims and others and the police are influenced by these perceptions. On a typical CNN day, the Blacks are in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs and the Whites are shown performing altruistic deeds. They have colored mind doubles conveying this news so that it won’t look so obvious. In their tough love speeches to Blacks, Obama and Gates fail to mention White complicity in the miserable state of what they call “the Black underclass” as well. If Gates did, he’d lose money. If Obama did, he’d lose votes.

ALI: Is it an unfair to label you?

REED: Blacks, Yellows, Browns and Reds don’t label me. Many of the writers from those groups view things the way I do. It’s usually some White commentators and critics, who are insulate from the rest of us. Well, I mean they do that to all of us. The thing about White supremacy is that it is so arrogant, that it doesn’t believe it has to investigate anything. It just applies labels. Seems that the educational system would encourage the learning of different languages and the understanding of different world cultures that they must deal with.

These ignorant people are making cruel jokes about Obama’s middle name Hussein. Half the people who are keeping the worthless dollar afloat and the American economy afloat are named Hussein. How do you think that the people named Hussein, who are holding American bank notes, feel about these simpleton’s ridiculing the name Hussein?

Ma Clinton and her husband, two of the worst demagogues to come along in American history – she makes Eva Peron seems benign- told “Sixty Minutes” that she didn’t know whether Obama was a Muslim, joining in on the disparagement of the faith. Her husband probably wouldn’t have his library were it not for people with the name Hussein. Wait until the names of the donors to Clinton’s library. I’ll bet there will be some Husseins on the list. Shameless Ma Clinton challenges Obama on Farrakhan’s endorsement, yet her husband has said some nice things about the NOI leader.


In the old days, they used to send in Marines and all that stuff and shoot up people. But now, other people have missiles, too. Europe began bombing Muslim countries in 1911. So, now they have to get Obama to get out there and negotiate with all them, because he has this Muslim name and everything. Obama is someone who can forestall the collapse of the Empire, yet Ma Clinton someone whom the novelist Carlene Hatcher Polite would call a “brat woman” and her cut and shoot machine, will get the nomination with the help of the segregated media which upholds the markers set by the Clinton campaign. I heard Howard Kurt[z] – so called media critic – on Air America today. He’s so in the tank for Clinton it ain’t even funny. He is one of these guys who were kissing up to Don Imus all the time. Now it’s all about her winning in Pennsylvania. They’ll give the nomination to her because they believe that the Latino vote will make up for whatever Black defections occur in the general election.

Many of these Latinos have African heritage and are passing for White, when the Whites would like to get rid of them. Alejandro Murgia, the great short story writer, author of the brilliant book, “This War Called Love,” says that a lot of them straighten their hair so they won’t look so Black. They’re what people used to call Creoles. When Jack White interviewed me for an article that appeared in Time magazine, I predicted that in twenty years Blacks would view the days when White racism was the only variety they had to deal with as the “good old days.” When I was a director of the Coordinating Council Of Literary Magazines, I nominated some Chicano writers to be directors. The Whites on the board said that there needed to be more Whites.


I told them that the Chicanos considered themselves to be White. The Whites laughed. Of course, these Whites had only received Whiteness within twenty years of that particular meeting as a result of gains made by the civil rights movement. Fortunately, members of the younger Hispanic generation, enrolled in colleges, are moving away from Hispanic racism, but Immigrant Mexican gangs are making a sport out of murdering Los Angeles Blacks. They are a product of a Mexican culture whose representations of Blacks in the media harkens back to the 19th century. People with white lips, etc.

ALI: Let’s try to make peace with your feminist critics. In the end of your novel Reckless Eyeballing, the protagonist holds up a White flag, which I’m assuming, was a truce with your “beef” with the feminists. Can you now let them go? Have they let you go?

REED: This so-called “beef” with the feminists I’m supposed to have is promoted by a handful of media and academic White men and White feminists who don’t criticize their abuses of women. In the African American Review recently a White male critic yammered on and on about my misogyny and made a bizarre comparison. Said that I was like somebody in a Toni Morrison novel who was heading toward a convent full of women with a shotgun only to turn around half way realizing that I had been fooled.

Why does he say this? Because a character in my novel “ Reckeless Eyeballing” is a White feminist who promotes Black male hating theater projects. The character was influenced by an unpublished novel written by Black feminist Michele Wallace in which a White feminist manipulates Black male hating Divas.

In the Village Voice, Michele identified this woman as Gloria Steinem. Toni Morrison also identified Steinem as someone who gets White women to buy Black male hating books. He called me paranoid. Imagine the reception he’d get if he appeared before a women’s studies conference and called Toni and Michele “paranoid.” This piece of trash was published by the new editor of the review, a Black feminist who is aligned with Gates.


There are more feminists who defend me against such attacks, then those who make the attacks. Those who make the attacks, those are handful maybe 3 people who are Black divas, and White feminists have more access to the media than by Black feminist supporters, some of whom I published early in their careers or even discovered them. I was the first to publish segments of Ntozake Shange’s classic “For Colored Girls….”

She defended me before some White SF feminists who were trying to persuade her to attack me. Gwen Carmen a Black feminist magazine editor defended me against two White feminists who successfully kept me off of a National Writers’ Union panel. J.J. Phillips, author of the classic “Mojo Hand” defended me in print against a critic named Jackie Stevens, who said that I was a misogynist because Henry Louis Gates said so. Joyce Ann Joyce the great critic defended me against these charges in her book Warriors, Conjurers and Priests. Thulani Davis, Jill Nelson are my allies. National Book Award winner poet Lucille Clifton was a housewife in Buffalo before I introduced her poetry to Langston Hughes, who published them.

So I get criticized as a misogynist because the Black feminists who defend me don’t have as much access to print as the handful of White men and White feminists who label me that, people who are silent about the misogyny that goes on in their groups. I think Michele Wallace’s comments about my book, “Reckless Eyeballing” is one of the criticisms that they’re always quoting, critics who ignore my Black feminist defenders. Michelle told me that the women at the Village Voice who belonged to another ethnic group were always encouraging her to attack Black men and the hysteria created by White feminists at the Voice contributed to the conviction of the kids in the Central Park case. They were innocent. Michele said that she didn’t mean for her criticism to end the reading of my books by White feminists. She was the Master of Ceremonies when I received the Langston Hughes medal at City College.

Bell Hooks said that White feminists told her that she should write for them in order to become successful. Hooks said in print that White feminists she talked to had a different standard for me than they had for White male writers. Fortunately, I don’t have to write for feminists. Incidentally, one of the events that led me into media criticism occurred when Roger Rosenblatt did a PBS commentary about Black male evil, when the rape of a stockbroker occurred in Central Park. At that time it was thought that the perpetrators were Black kids. He compared the alleged rape with Satanic rites, the atrocities committed by the Nazis and Pol Pot. Now get this. I timed each segment. There was more footage about the kids falsely accused of raping this stockbroker than that devoted to the other atrocities, which led one to believe that their crime was worse. My complaint was printed in my book “Another Day At The Front” and the producer of the MacNeil Lehrer report, Michael Saltz, which carried this editorial, asked my publisher at the time, Addison Wesley, to make me apologize publicly. Fortunately, I had taped the program and sent the tape to my editor at the time, Don Fehr. He sided with me. Now that it has been revealed that a great injustice has happened to these kids, I doubt whether Saltz will do a follow up and a public apology. I also wonder will The Chronicle of Higher Education apologize? They took his side of the argument against me.

ALI: Who were these other ethnic White feminists?

REED: Yeah, ethnic women who were silent about the abuses of women in their background. I mentioned this in a piece in Counterpunch, where I talked about abuses against Jewish women in the United States and in Israel. I discussed Celtic misogyny, African American misogyny, and Jewish American misogyny. I didn’t get a single letter from Irish and Black guys because a lot of them know that as far as women are concerned, they’re wrong. Guess who wrote the letters? Jewish guys wrote angry letters.

They denied that misogyny exists the Jewish ethnic group. They said Jewish women who are battered are those who marry out or who are married to Black men. So, I supplied them with a bibliography the length this floor about abuses against Jewish women in the United States and Israel. When Barbara Lubin tried to discuss the abuse against Israeli women by Israeli soldiers, the KPFA Pacifica host cut her off. The host, a feminist, was more interested in the abuse of Arab women by Arab men. So it’s a topic that is off limits. I mentioned a British Study that reported that one third of the AIDS cases in South Africa were the result of transmission during intercourse, the rest were caused by unsanitary conditions, sharing needles in hospitals, poverty, etc. A KPFA feminist who does the news, went on the air after me, and her voice shaking with rage, said, “ALL CASES ARE CAUSED BY SEXUAL PREDATORS!!”

During my first visit to Israel in 2000, the reported incidences of men murdering their wives was the highest in the West! In fact, when I was there the feminists picketed the Knesset over this issue. And Ehud Barak, the Prime Minister at the time, had to make a statement about it. Over here, what do some of these women do? They attack us.

It’s like the old slave tale where two Black slaves are encouraged to fight each other, and one of them goes among the spectators and slaps the slave master’s wife. And the other slave – his opponent – runs away thinking, “Man, my opponent must be really bad!” They’re like the Black guy who slaps the slave master’s wife instead of dealing with their real opponent.

I mean, see, we’re decoys. That’s my challenge to them: Susan Browmiller, Steinem and all of them who think Black men are the model of misogyny, they should attack some of these abuses that some Jewish feminists say are being covered up. I read Lillith, and I read these Jewish feminist magazines. Betty Friedan was a battered wife. She had to apply makeup on to cover up the bruises, the lumps. Ike Turner didn’t cause that! So, who did it? So, these are the women who substitute the Black men for the men they are really upset with, the patriarchy they are really mad at, because they don’t want to give any ammunition to the Christians.


I tried to take a comic look at the hyped conflict between Blacks and Jews in my novel, Reckless Eyeballing, which was criticized and even boycotted by women, White feminists, who hadn’t even read it. It was led by Emily Toth and took place when I visited Louisiana University at Baton Rouge. The boycott fizzled when someone challenged them if they had read the book, and they hadn’t read it. Michiko Kakutani the New York Times critic, who like I said was just taken in by this fake gang book “Love and Consequences,” said that “Reckless” was a major disservice to my career, because I didn’t go along with the feminist formula for successful fiction which is: all the women are good and all the men are bad.

They concluded that the character Termonisha in the book was based upon their Saint, Alice Walker, when the character was based upon a character in Scott Joplin’s Opera, Treemonisha, an educated woman who is in conflict with the HooDoo men on the forest. Men and women at the Times are Eurocentrics who know little about Black culture. That’s why they can’t distinguish between the real and the fake.

ALI: Many consider Alice Walker a hero here.


REED: That’s because she seen as a writer who takes down Black men for which there’s a big market. Especially among millions of White women who are afraid to criticize men from their groups and who are accused of racism by Black women feminists. Though White feminists who have been appointed to lead the feminist movement by the media patriarchy pretend that all is peaches and cream between Black and White feminists, once in awhile dissent gets through the media Black out – no pun – of Black feminists. Annette John-Hall of the Philly News, just the other day wrote:

Well, well, maybe being in the kitchen is the place to be. By throwing the kitchen sink – and then some – at Barack Obama the other night, solutions-not-speeches candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton rose from the dead in power red.”

“Adoring throngs of women chanting ‘Yes, she will’ cheered their sister on as she vowed to win back the family home. You know, the big White one.”

“My house was quiet. The kids were sleeping safely. And then my phone rang. I picked it up, after the first ring.”

“Every time I look at Hillary, I can’t shake the feeling that she reminds me of all the White women who have ever mistreated me in my life.”

“That would be my 50-something friend, Tina, calling from Dallas.”

“Apparently flashing back to some of the White women bosses and coworkers who held the door open for each other – and slammed it on her.”

“Thirty years later, she is still getting training, working on that make-or-break experience. Like Hillary, 35 years could be her magic number.:

“Tina cut to the heart of why many Black women haven’t overwhelmingly cast their votes in bra-burning solidarity for the ‘Lifetime of Experience’ candidate.”

“I’ve heard that same resentful sentiment expressed by plenty of other older Black women. I guess we’re not the ones they’re talking about when they refer to Hillary’s core base being older women.”

“Women’s liberation didn’t lift up Black women. It helped keep them down.

This view of Clinton is missing when commentators discuss Clinton’s receiving the women’s vote. For the media Black, Latinas, Native American and Asian American and South Asian women are near women, or provisional women or sub women.

Tina Brown, in a Newsweek article, edited by a man who said that Billy Graham looks like God must look like, blue eyes, etc., didn’t have these women in mind when she wrote about “Invisible Women,” meaning White women, supporting Clinton. White women invisible? She must be crazy. You go to the newsstands and most of the magazines have covers featuring White women in various poses. The millions of underclass White women, the kind they try to hide, the ones you see on the Jerry Springer show, haven’t been helped by this elitist feminist movement either. They and minority women are the ones who are invisible.

I mean isn’t it odd that Gloria Steinem and others are backing a woman candidate who voted for a war against a country that led to the death of thousands of Ms.Steinem’s Iraqi sisters? Does Tina Brown agree with Ma Clinton’s decision? (This is the same Tina Brown who assigned Gates,Jr. to do a hit job on Minister Louis Farrakhan, but when approached by FAIR to criticize Marty Peretz of “The New Republic,” for his remark that Black women are “culturally deficient,” refused to take a stand).

Did Ma Clinton cry when she heard that five hundred thousand children died because of her husband’s sanctions against Iraqis? Madeline Albright, with whom she posed recently said that these deaths, which including those of Ms. Clinton’s Brown sisters, were worth it. Maybe Black and Brown feminists are correct when they say that the White led feminist movement is a narcissistic thing, which doesn’t really care about the fate of their brown, Black and yellow sisters. Their sisters in Iraq and Iran. How do they show their sympathy?

Not by supporting a candidate who is going along with the destruction of Mesopotamian Civilization. Supporting a candidate who surrounds herself with Generals to show how tough she can be against Arab and Persian men and women.

Typically, the feminists blames the condition of Muslim men on Muslim men. Not on White men who are committing atrocities in Iraq. Like the recent bombings on the outskirts of Baghdad that left hundreds of people buried beneath rubble. Did CNN report this? No, they’re too busy keeping up with the antics of Paris Hilton and people who, in the old days, we’d call tramps.

The feminist position on Iraq: if they’d only let Muslim women wear makeup that would make them look like circus clowns instead of Burqhas. Do you see how dizzy is this White elitist feminist movement? One that has destroyed the left. Ma Clinton just gave Bush the go ahead to bomb Iran which would cause the death of thousands of their Brown sisters.

Of course, Walker is not responsible for the Times feminists and others who took an individual character from her book and used that character to indict all Black men, the kind of collective blame that is aimed at Palestinians each day and against the Jews for centuries in Europe where pogroms were organized. But when she called Black men evil in the New York Times magazine section, I found that to be a little over the top. A few Black feminists, hand picked Divas have been given space to take down Black men in the Times magazine section, which in the past got into trouble for showing a photo of a Black woman fellating a john with a baby tied to her back. Even a Black Times editorial writer, Brent Staples complained.

This was a book of photographs which exhibited Blacks taking drugs which like “The Wire” suggests that drugs are a problem for Blacks – exclusively. On the other hand, the Times printed a study that shows crack to be a suburban problem as well. The New York Times coverage of Africa is a disgrace. Their idea of Africa coverage was a story printed in the magazine section about cannibalism the Congo. The editors of the magazine section have participated in the cover up about misogyny among White men. They printed Alice Walker’s interview with David Bradley in which she called Black men evil. They printed “a Black feminist manifesto” by Kristol Zook. But no feminist manifesto written by a woman who belongs to a member of the group that edits the magazine section has appeared. The cover up continues.

ALI: What do you think about modern, popular forms of African American entertainment like Tyler Perry and his work?

REED: I don’t know about his stuff, but who knows, maybe he’ll get a lot of people to read? I think the White critics, for now, they call the shots. In fiction, they are trying to push us back to “refried Faulkner” to erase all the experimentation that took place in the 1960’s. In the theater, they are trying to push us back to the ‘30’s. The plays that they praise favor social realist aesthetics.

ALI: Just “dancing darkies?”


REED: That too. Oversized Black women belting out show tunes and jiggling their body parts. I’ve written six plays and all of them have roles that are challenging for Black women actors. Not a single prostitute or crack addict. Right now these people who defame Black men but are silent about the oppression of women in their communities are trying to find a successor to Alice Walker. Make some money. Katori Hall wrote a play where Black men were responsible for pushing Black women to the back of the bus not the Montgomery Bus company. I mean, someone is going to write one saying that a Black man shot Martin Luther King. But her play didn’t get the heft or kind of promotion, so maybe this trend is over. Here again people who are not Black directed the play and her mentor is a White man who views himself as a Black Diva manufacturer. A Diva maker.

(To be concluded in the next segment, where Reed takes on “HBO’s: The Wire,” White writers talking for Blacks, “The Lords of Urban Ghetto,” Assimilation, The movie “Crash,” American Academia, and “The Western Canon.”)

8 thoughts on “ISHMAEL REED: Exclusive Conversation PART 2 OF 3: “FAKING THE HOOD”

  1. THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU! Wajahat Ali!! and Ishmael Reed!!!

    Thay was brilliant!, Marvellous, Outstanding!!


  2. The TV news media obviously has not provided complete and unbiased coverage of the pres candidates. i ask all to contact the them and persuade them to do their job and provide an unbiased analysis of ALL the presidential candidates so the american people can make an informed and responsible voting decision.

    Arguably, the most important privilege American people have is electing our president. I think most people agree it is important that we do not consider race, sex, or the fact that one of the candidates is married to an ex-president when casting a vote and this decision should be base on who will conduct themselves in the most
    honorable manner while in office.

    Those Who Do Not Learn From History Are DOOMED To Repeat It!

  3. nice interview, I would like to link to it on my blog. I also liked the Green Lantern picture (and have used it myself) but I don’t have any idea of how it fits in. lol?

  4. Wajahat,

    Thank you. Last March, I ran into Mr. Reed near the lake in Oakland a rambled like a fool.

    I am in the midst of writing a few essays on feminism, hip hop, and the down low.

    This interview is pure uncut inspiration, from Reed’s statments about Baraka, to his position on Bob Herbert. Intellectual Panda. WHAT!?!?!?!

    In the future, when I can’t write, I will return to this page to unblock the writers block.

  5. I am an astrologer from the 70’s, The Tree of Life Center in Harlem was a major influence and teacher for me until it was shut down. President Obama’s natal chart is rich in transformational and evolutionary energy. Pain and sorrow are no longer the vibrations that should dominate our thoughts. We need a powerful and influential role model for us of all ages.I believe we as a race need to expand our abilities to co-exist with all of humankind all over the planet if we are to survive and thrive in the world market.

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