Pakistan’s “American Dream”

Posted by: Simon Cameron Moore

Pakistan cropped up with uncomfortable regularity during the U.S. presidential campaign, but listening to Barack Obama and John McCain it was difficult to discern how different their approach would be in dealing with one of America’s most complicated and conflicted allies.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari met leaders of both the Democrat and Republican camps just weeks after his own election in September, but unfortunately the controversy stirred by his unguarded compliment for Sarah Palin earned more comment than the substance of those meetings.

Continue reading

Is Obama the End of Black Politics?

The New York Times

August 10, 2008
Magazine Preview

Is Obama the End of Black Politics?

This article will appear in this Sunday’s Times Magazine.

Forty-seven years after he last looked out from behind the bars of a South Carolina jail cell, locked away for leading a march against segregation in Columbia, James Clyburn occupies a coveted suite of offices on the second and third floors of the United States Capitol, alongside the speaker and the House majority leader. Above his couch hangs a black-and-white photograph of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Charleston, with the boyish Clyburn and a group of other men standing behind him onstage. When I visited Clyburn recently, he told me that the photo was taken in 1967, nine months before King’s assassination, when rumors of violence were swirling, and somewhere on the side of the room a photographer’s floodlight had just come crashing down unexpectedly. At the moment the photo was taken, everyone pictured has reflexively jerked their heads in the direction of the sound, with the notable exception of King himself, who remains in profile, staring straight ahead at his audience. Clyburn prizes that photo. It tells the story, he says, of a man who knew his fate but who, quite literally, refused to flinch. Continue reading


July 30, 2008
The Long Run

Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart

CHICAGO — The young law professor stood apart in too many ways to count. At a school where economic analysis was all the rage, he taught rights, race and gender. Other faculty members dreamed of tenured positions; he turned them down. While most colleagues published by the pound, he never completed a single work of legal scholarship.

Continue reading

THE DARK KNIGHT: The Rise of “The Real” Obama


The Rise of “The Real” Obama

Wajahat Ali

Like Superman, flying in the sky, Obama swept into the hearts and minds of White America as a redeeming savior capable of single handedly battling the old guard, prehistoric, Republican foes of progress and enlightenment. For several months, the media pundits and corporate news channels adulated Obama to the point of beatific eminence as a near infallible superhero who could walk on water and feed the multitudes with a simplistic slogan of “hope” and “change.” And then last week the freight train known as reality hit harder than a speeding locomotive, and the masses, spurred by the media, political adversaries, interest groups and pundits, finally opened their eyes and cried, “Look up there in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No – It’s a Black man!”

Superman’s alias is Clark Kent, a square jawed, all American, intellectual, non threatening, Kansas farm boy raised by Ma and Pa Kent; however, Clark, despite his American values, was always an “alien” Kal-El from the planet Krypton, the last surviving son of Jor-El gifted with fantastic powers. Any fan of superhero mythology knows that the alien hero’s supernatural qualities – the same ones that make him unique, beloved and endearing – also eventually serve to alienate him from the masses due to a pervasive, silent whisper of fear – usually perpetuated by a nemesis such as Lex Luthor– instilling perennial doubt and apprehension regarding the alien superhero’s true loyalties and sincerity.

Like Superman, those characteristics that make Obama unique and powerful, such as his biracial, multicultural upbringing, his intellectual eloquence, and his African Muslim name, also alienate him with certain mainstream demographics. However, unlike Clark Kent, Barack Obama cannot comfortably hide and assimilate under an “All-American” European name and skin tone. With his Arabic birth name, his middle name reminding the voting population of a recently executed Iraqi dictator, twenty percent of the nation still believing Obama is a closet Muslim, and his “dark” skin color that could possibly ignite a 50 shot police barrage in New York ending in an acquittal, Obama’s critics superficially suggest he represents White America’s “worst nightmare”: an angry, eloquent, opinionated, divisive, secretly Anti-American, Black [potentially Muslim] nationalist.

Recently, McCain shamelessly insinuated Obama supports “terrorism” and the democratically elected Palestinian government of Hamas – referred to as a terrorist group by most American Congressman – with this gem of a sound bite: “I think it’s very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas’s worst nightmare … If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly.”

Furthermore, Hilary Clinton still trumpets her dominating, crushing and monumental win by all of 9.5 points in Pennsylvania thanks to rural demographics, less educated workers and seniors – all of them White. In addition, her non-stop, energizer bunny smear campaign of Obama as an “elitist” – the blackest pot calling the kettle black – suddenly transformed Obama, the Clark Kent/Superman superhero, into a charismatic yet fallible mortal, a Bruce Wayne/ Batman Dark Knight. The corporate media, once so enamored by this magical, United Colors of Benetton poster boy, jumped ship after finally realizing that a “Dark” man could actually win the highest Office in the land. With a renewed zeal and passion, the self appointed info-tainment media circus on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, talk radio, and European Press, consisting mostly of White men and peroxide Blonde women repeatedly parroted Clinton’s mantra reminding Americans that Obama “just can’t cross over with working class Whites.”

If corporate media and politicians were actually interested in fair, reasoned and intelligent discourse instead of the latest polls and knee jerk histrionic sensationalism, they would realize the “elitist” Obama received the majority of votes among low-income voters in 14 different primaries and caucuses, many of those whom were “White.” The truth of the matter is none of these candidates, including Obama, represents White, Middle Class America. Granted, Obama has a problem crossing over to some seniors and White workers, however what is not reported is that Hillary, last year’s sure-fire lock for the Democratic nomination, once held a near 20 point lead in Pennsylvania which eroded to a 9.5 point win. Furthermore, unlike Obama, Clinton’s campaign budget is in the hole, recently rebounding due to a desperate $5 million dollar “loan” by Hillary to her own campaign. Surely, there’s nothing “elitist” about an “Average Joan” funding her own ambitious bid for a public office with millions from her own wealth while many Americans are either currently jobless, working two jobs just to stay broke or thirty days away from a foreclosure. McCain’s shameless attempts to empathize with the “Middle Class” should be ridiculed after examining his marriage to Beer heiress, Cindy McCain, whose net worth exceeds $100 million dollars, with most of it tied to her father’s stake in Hensley & Co., and the rest injected into the McCains’ faces.

Oh, and before we forget, last but not least there’s also Obama’s kryptonite: Reverend Wright, whose fiery and impassioned rhetoric and recent speeches are an answer to Clinton and McCain’s Presidential prayers. After Obama attempted to slay the PR debacle of March with – what some called – a “historic” race speech, Wright re-emerged like “Night of the Living Dead” to remind America that opinionated, passionate, angry and controversial Black men still exist. His appearance on Bill Moyers’ Show, and incendiary speeches at an NAACP event and The National Press Club have led to a week long, non stop headline “guilt by association” trial prosecuting Obama, Reverend Wright, and the Church of “uppity Blackness.”

Wright theatrically, and many say arrogantly, blasted the media’s double standard when portraying Black churches and the African American Christian tradition. He reminded America of the sadistic Tuskegee experiments and the use and abuse of African Americans as medical guinea pigs [Read Harriet Washington’s award winning Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on African Americans.] Furthermore, like most policy experts, both Republican and Democrat, he suggested American imperialism and interference in the Middle East is responsible for our terrorism blowback. However, he made his most controversial statement in claiming the government is capable of disseminating AIDS and Crack to the African American community. Ishmael Reed, in a recent essay entitled The Crazy Reverend Wright, writes about the latter:

“Rev. Wright proposes that crack was deliberately brought into the inner city by the government. The CIA admitted to having knowledge that US allies brought drugs into the urban areas. The late Gary Webb was ridiculed by the American press for his “Dark Alliance,” yet as Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair disclose in their book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press, two years after Webb’s series ran, the CIA’s inspector general confirmed that the agency had in fact been aiding those very same Contra drug-runners (and many more).”

One need not agree, endorse nor support most of Wright’s opinions, and according to the recent polls most Americans do not. Granted, Wright’s appearances and comments are not only ill timed but also cancerous to Obama’s candidacy, however they reflect a very real, sincere frustration and anger that many, not only African Americans, share in regards to the government’s hypocritical and self serving domestic and foreign policies, such as “The War on Drugs” and “The War on Terror” respectively, whose subsequent victims are usually the most poor, powerless, and disenfranchised members of American society.

Furthermore, Reverend Wright’s “incendiary” and “divisive” comments are hardly new, as America’s relationship with rabble rousing, controversial Baptist polemicists has been long and fruitful. Regrettably, due to socio-political reality of America, we can only uncomfortably tolerate White pastors, such as the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who spewed vitriolic anger and bombastic rhetoric damning America for its vices and sins. Lest we forget, Falwell and Robertson tag teamed like the Christian version of “The Justice League” to issue this enlightened post 9-11 commentary:

Falwell: I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this [The 9-11 attacks] happen.”

Robertson: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government.

Both pastors enjoyed and continue to enjoy veneration and respect by several ranking members of the Republican Party and the Bush Administration undoubtedly due to their influence over the Evangelical Christian vote. However, neither Bush Sr. nor President G.W. Bush were demonized, lambasted or endlessly hounded for explanations regarding their affiliations with these “incendiary”, White pastors.

Furthermore, the holy Billy Graham, second only to Mother Theresa or Shirley Temple as icons of virtue, cultivated personal friendships and acquaintanceships with nearly all the sitting Presidents dating back to Nixon, many times serving as their spiritual advisor. Despite a highly successful and charismatic career “building bridges” undoubtedly fueled by a sincere devotion and belief in his religion, Graham secretly harbored deeply anti-Semitic sentiments as evidenced by the recorded Nixon tapes of 1972 that were released by the US National Archives. In the tapes, Mr. Graham complained of a Jewish “stranglehold” on Hollywood and the media, which he urged “has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain.” Graham continues:

“A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth, but they don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.”

The Reverend apologized in 2002 for these comments and publicly stated he regretted harboring such views. Applying the Obama-Wright standard of today, if indeed a Pastor’s inflammatory rhetoric and opinions can be readily transferable to his parishioners, then surely Regan, George Bush, George W. Bush and Clinton should be thoroughly vetted for potential strains of virulent anti-Semitism. [Carter, due to calls for “conversation” with Hamas and his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, has already been branded an anti-Semite.]

Even Hillary Clinton, who routinely smears Obama with feigned elegance by suggesting had she hypothetically been in Obama’s shoes she “would have left [Wright’s] church”, confided she turned to Rev. Graham during the Monica Lewinsky scandal:

“He was someone who could understand both Bill and me, and there aren’t many people who can,” and he gave her confidence “that what I was doing, no matter what the rest of the world thought, was right. Right for me, right for my family and right for my country. And I will never forget that.”

Applying the Obama-Wright standard perhaps Clinton’s Jewish supporters and lobbyists should not forget Graham’s anti-Semitism and critically re-examine, question and repeatedly test Clinton’s views regarding the Jewish people.

After analyzing this Reverend Wright spectacle in light of Obama’s entire campaign, the real kryptonite to Obama’s presidential aspirations was never Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, “elitism” or questions of his political inexperience. It has been, is, and always will be race. A “Reverend Wright-esque Spectacle” concerning race and/or religion [Obama’s Arabic/Muslim name], if not now, then surely later would have erupted during the Presidential campaign. No matter what Obama does, says, doesn’t say, or doesn’t do, the racial parameters set by Whiteness have determined and will continue to determine his viability and success as a leader and a candidate.

When Obama refused to passionately and angrily distance himself from Wright, CNN commentators labeled him soft, passive, and unassertive. During the Pennsylvania primaries, when Obama took the offensive and ignited the critical, and many say “negative,” campaigning against Clinton, he was accused of losing his “Cool Hand Luke” aura and Zen calm and was instead “lashing out” under the strain of critical inquiry after failing to deliver the decisive “knockout blow” during the crucial final stretch. When Obama talked about “transcendence” and “moving forward” as a means of bridging the racial divide, his authentic Blackness came under review by doubting spectators because he sounded too conciliatory. However, as of this week, due to Wright’s most recent comments, Obama was urged to abandon reconciliation, and instead “passionately denounce” his former Pastor as to not appear both too soft or too radical.

Like Bagger Vance, the mystical and magical African American caddie played by Will Smith who inspires Matt Damon’s golf game, Obama is tolerable as long as he infuses the Democratic Party and the debased, scatological, two party election system with a superficial veneer of hope, optimism, vibrancy and youthful funk. After giving the elections his “funk” injection, he is expected, like Bagger Vance, to jig away into the sunset never to be heard from again as the White golfers resume their game. For those voters and pundits unable to look beyond their Whiteness, Obama’s greatest mistake was to actually pick up a club and start playing.

In playing this political game, Obama says he wants to stay clean and fair and not hit below the belt, even though many rightly label such rhetoric as hypocritical especially after observing some of his anti-Clinton television advertisements. However, Obama promised to no longer “throw elbows” and to instead elevate his game: “I told this to my team, that we are starting to sound like other folks. We’re starting to run the same negative stuff and it shows that none of us are immune from this kind of politics.”

If indeed Obama follows this strategy, his advisors should quickly remind him that the winning Presidential Gladiators of the American Political Arena are those who play in the sewers, shamelessly and recklessly slinging mud with a focused, single minded objective of out-smearing their opponents as to emerge the “cleaner” one amongst the “darkened” candidates. Nothing smears more permanently in the psyche of American voters than “Blackness.”

Aside from this Reverend Wright spectacle, one need only remember “Willie Horton,” the vile 1988 Bush vs. Dukakis benchmark of smear campaigning, and President George W. Bush’s camp cold calling voters during the 2000 Republican primaries and suggesting McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually his “illegitimate black child.” It should surprise no student of American history and politics that in each three cases the candidate willing to stoop to the lowest common denominator in blatantly manipulating racial hysteria as an offensive weapon – George Bush Sr., Geroge Bush Jr., and now Hillary Clinton – gained significantly in the polls and eventually won their respective contests.

Following the cue given to him by the media and a polling populace born to think, reflect and vote in reaction to fear and panic, Obama caved and expressed “outrage” at Reverend Wright’s remarks and essentially severed his twenty year relationship with his former pastor. This is the same pastor, mind you, who officiated Obama’s marriage, baptized his children, inspired Obama’s spiritual Christian rebirth and provided the title for Obama’s best selling memoir The Audacity of Hope, and most likely in some way encouraged Obama’s vision of remedying the egregious inequities still present in modern day America. One of the tragedies of this situation is that Obama, the “dark” knight, had to choose between severing his twenty year friendship with a man he just last week considered a “family member” or keep his hopes for a presidential candidacy alive. As he severed the tie with Reverend Wright, who undoubtedly became political poison due to his ill-advised and self-serving speeches, Obama also eschewed any “real” dialogue about confronting America’s long festering racial and economic inequalities, which cannot easily be remedied with placating sound bites and digestible, comfort food polemics.

In this regards, Obama emerges a conflicted candidate, a man who desperately yearns to move “beyond race” but whose “transcendence” is anchored in stasis by his Blackness; a man who knows first hand the devastating and stymieing effects of a racist, imperialistic system of Whiteness, but must stay quiet as to appease and not terrify middle class Whites; a man expected to be both calm and peaceful, and is celebrated as such, yet admonished for a perceived passivity and lack of fiery aggression, whose rare emergence leads to denunciations of him being “angry,” “divisive,” and “uppity.”

I agree with many who state Reverend Wright’s appearances were politically foolish, selfish and detrimental to Obama’s campaign, and did next to nothing to quell White apprehension about Wright’s controversial sound bites. However, the “spectacle” of “Wright-gate” speaks volumes about a divided nation still unwilling to objectively confront the fundamental divides on race and class that plague every segment and institution of our society. Tragically, it illuminates the unrealistic character traits and the unfair double standards that mainstream Whiteness not only expects but demands from its “darker” citizens, especially those running for President. Finally, it reveals to all, for better or worse, that Obama is not the magical Bagger Vance; he is not the “Second Coming”; he does not walk on water, nor is he the infallible hero.

He is not Superman.

He is a politician.

And The Dark Knight rises.

Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” ( is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at He can be reached at


Ishmael Reedp22574wbhar.jpg

The First of an Exclusive 2-Part Conversation with WAJAHAT ALI

“Hey, Waj. Come on in. Did you bring your mom’s Biryani?” asks an eager and excited Ishmael Reed, the MacArthur Genius recipient, Pulitzer Prize nominated author and all around, all-star, controversial rabble-rouser.

Sorry, mom couldn’t make it this time. She asked for a rain check,” I reply and see Reed’s anticipation and grin fall for a moment.

“Well, it’s ok, no problem. Next time. Hey, does that Pakistani joint on San Pablo in Berkeley still serve goat? I think we’ll go get the goat special. Here, come on in to the kitchen, let’s do this.”

Entering the Reed household is like stepping foot into a delicate and vast Archival section of a genius-madman’s library. A wondrous display of books – running the gamut of diversity from novels to poetry to politics to sociology – somehow elegantly juxtaposed to African, European, and American art sculptures and paintings. Then, there’s the papers, including newspapers, reports, journals, and essays, piled on top of one another like a carefully constructed Jenga puzzle ready to blow over at the threat of a loud, inappropriate violent sneeze or negligent and thoughtless sway of a reckless hand gesture. Boxes of books and decades old papers, no doubt a culmination of research Reed uses for his novels and polemical essays, line the stairwells and hallways. This is a house is where documents come to retire: a senior citizens home and Valhalla for pugilistic evidence.

An open laptop sits on Reed’s kitchen table which is currently sharing space with nearly a dozen books and short stories Reed is reviewing and editing for an epic short story Anthology he is publishing in the Summer: Pow Wow: A Century of Short Fiction from Then To Now. The television is on; it’s CNN covering the Democratic Primaries.

“Ok, Waj. I’ll give you 1 hour. Let’s go.”

And so, we sit for nearly 2 hours, where I quickly realized my role in this conversation was to simply sit back and let Reed do what he does best: rhetorically combat, as he does with his writings, all the intellectual con men, self serving politicians, racist academics, poisonous prejudices and stereotypical misconceptions, in his highly unorthodox, extremely controversial, but always entertaining voice.

This is the first part of a two part exclusive: the most in-depth interview Reed has given in nearly ten years. The bell rings: Round 1.

ALI: People say Toni Morrison referred to Bill Clinton as the first “Black President” –

REED: I was the first one. April – wait, I have it here.

ALI: In the Baltimore Sun, right?

REED: Right. Mine was in April 19th 1998. Toni Morrison’s remarks, which were similar to mine, incidentally appeared in the New Yorker in October, 1998. I think that’s just coincidence. But, I was the first. However, Jack White of Time magazine says he was the first, but nowhere in his article does he specifically refer to Clinton as the “black president.” He says Blacks treat him as one of their own, but he doesn’t specifically refer to him as a “black president.”

ALI: What about his personality made you characterize him as such?

The Black President

REED: In my article on Counterpunch, I said he comes from a tradition of Southern demagogues. He’s got this Anglo, Yale background. He went to England to study. So, most don’t recognize him as a Southern demagogue. I belong to something called the Calhoun House at Yale; I’m a Calhoun Fellow. John Calhoun was a Southerner. They named a House after him. I mean, you can’t get any more Southern than Calhoun; he was for nullification. Harvard, where I’m a Signet Fellow, even contemplated casting aMemorial for Confederate soldiers who attended Harvard.The black students countered that if they were going to do that they should also cast a memorial for the Japanese Admiral who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. He also attended Harvard. So Southerners have graduated from both Yale and Harvard: Clinton, and Calhoun.

ALI: Calhoun was a secessionist, right?



REED: Right, a secessionist. They are another type of Southern demagogues. I mention them as those who hang out with Blacks and are friendly with Blacks like Huey Long. But, basically, they are segregationists. They pal around with African Americans – just like Jefferson Davis did. His biographers say Davis pal’d around with his Black help, but when the Union troops invaded his property, a black slave told them where (Laughs.) where his papers were. There was a Union spy, a black woman, who stayed in the Jefferson Davis household throughout the war. In fact, she’s been cited in the Museum of Military Intelligence. Unfortunately, her relatives destroyed her diary.

So, the idea was that Clinton hangs out with Blacks, is familiar with Blacks, and picks up some of their style. Sort of like an Elvis Presley figure. But, who uses race as a wedge issue when he campaigns for whites.

ALI: Don’t you think that was a foreshadowing comment in 1998? Because, now we see the polls suggest Clinton’s presence is a major reason for Hilary’s downturn and Obama’s upswing especially in the Southern states with Black voters.

REED: When he first ran, I appeared on a radio program, and my fellow guests Playthell Benjamin, an African American intellectual who wrote a book on W.E.B Dubois, and Paul Robeson Jr., son of the famous singer, said I should stick to creative writing only and writing novels; because, they were all backing Clinton.

I said Clinton had character problems. This was on the basis of the Sister Souljah incident [Clinton criticized rapper Sister Souljah for her “racially charged” rap lyrics] where he again used a Black audience to send a signal to Whites. Obama does the same thing. Obama goes to Black churches and preaches “personal responsibility.”

Now, Whites have been the most subsidized group in the history of the United States and maybe the history of the world, while Blacks were enslaved and were the assets of Whites. Slavery, [we were] like property. Native Americans were driven off their land. Lincoln even took part in the Black Hawk campaign against the Native Americans in Illinois. While they were being exterminated and driven off their land, Whites were collecting assets. The Great Society programs were for Whites. Two thirds of those who gained from the War on Poverty were White. I mean Marlon Fitzwater, former Reagan aide- when he talked about the Los Angeles riots, where the typical rioter was Latino, and the Whites burned down Korea Town but they blamed on Blacks . He said the riots were a result of the Great Society programs, pushing the myth of Black dependency, when 80% of the people getting Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security are White.

Also, the mortgage tax write-off is benefiting Whites to the tune of trillions since the FHA has discriminated against Blacks for many years. They have come around, half-heartedly, only recently. My mortgage was just sold to Wells Fargo; they will not give up records about their lending to African Americans as well as Whites. So, African Americans who have the same credit or better credit are charged higher interest rates than Whites. That’s been documented: the Center for Responsible Lending, another place people can go to. Contray to newspaper myths, two thirds of those homeowners who have been caught in this sub prime mess had good credit. They went to the sub prime predators because they were denied loans by red lining banks.

So, I’m in the position of backing White businesses and homeowners because of my mortgage is at Wells Fargo. So, they use my money to finance White businesses and White mortgages. So, we’re out trillions of dollars over the years for financing White industries. In other words, why doesn’t Obama and Henry Louis Gates and other “post race” intellectuals and politicians preach “personal responsibility” to Whites?

ALI: Is Obama’s decision to move “beyond race” a convenient form of skirting the race issue? Is he an icon of a modernized society that has evolved in its racial consciousness, or is all this dirty laundry being hidden under the bed?


REED: My friend Gerald Vizenor, a hip, you know, Native American writer; we were hanging out yesterday. He was emphasizing that Obama has a White, Irish mother and a Black, Kenyan father; Obama isn’t what you call “traditional African American.” So, part of Obama’s appeal is that he’s not one of us, not to say he’s not “Black” enough, I mean that’s a ridiculous argument.

I mean anyone who is dark skinned in this country who speaks English is a nigger. (Laughs) That’s it! Period! You know the “Average White person” doesn’t parse things, they lump things; they’re lumpers. If you’re dark skinned, then you’re Black. My friend Emil Guillermo, Asian Week, said that on the basis of yellows and browns voting for Clinton in California that yellows and browns should form an alliance. I advised him that if China shot down another American spy plane, Whites on the west coast might agitate for yellows to be incarcerated, which was the talk show gab after China brought one down a few years ago.

Many Whites can’t tell the different yellow groups a part. As for what the ignorant press calls “ Latinos,” millions of them have Black ancestry, a fact that’s being ignored by the stupid cable talk about the Latino – Black divide. I had dinner with a famous Puerto Rican poet and two Puerto Rican scholars on the lower East Side in Nov. I had them in stitches as I told them a joke that comedian Paul Mooney tells. He said that Cubans and Puerto Ricans are Negroes who can swim! He didn’t say Negroes. While the “Latino” journalists argue that Latinos support Black candidates, the all White cable panels ignore this. MSNBC’s expert on race relations is Pat Buchanan, a guy who defended a concentration camp guard and brought Charles Murray’s Neo-Nazi tract about Black inferiority to the attention of Richard Nixon. A couple of days ago in a rant where he was joined by Tucker Carlson about how White men are the victims, he implied that no Blacks fought in the Civil War. I sent a correction to MSNBC pointing out that 186,000 Blacks fought on the Union side alone. I get called a crank for writing such corrections that are for the most part ignored, but until Blacks get something like the Anti-Defamation League, the media have to deal with me. <!–[endif]–>

I think a lot of Obama’s support emphasizes the fact he is European and African, but he’s not really what one would call a “traditional” African American.

ALI: Is he an exotic?

REED: I don’t know if he’s exotic. I like the guy. I think he’s a real inspiration. For once, African American kids, especially the boys, are able to see someone handle intellectual combat. Like Jesse Jackson or Sharpton. Instead of the way they restrict us to athletes, or entertainers, or criminals.

ALI: Here’s a recurring criticism of you: Why is Ishmael Reed always so angry? Why does he hate White people? Why does he always play the “blame game”? Why can’t he move beyond the past?

REED: They’ve been calling African American male writers “angry” for over one hundred years. I mean I get most my information about what’s happening in the United States from reports and studies, which are often in conflict with what you read on the editorial pages, or handouts from right wing institutions like the American Enterprise Institute. When USA Today issued a report about single parents contributing to the lack of assets among Blacks, they sought Robert Rector’s opinion. He’s from Heritage or American Enterprise. He once advocated that strychnine be place in the narcotics supply so that addicts might be identified. The Right Wing pretty much runs the editorial pages. The Black spokesperson they choose are sort of like, what I call “mind-alikes” or “colored mind doubles.” They reflect the reality that the editorial board approves of.

ALI: Can we name names?

REED: The Washington Post just set up a blog for Henry Louis Gates, who calls himself an intellectual entrepreneur. Gates [An African American critic and intellectual] is someone who spends a lot of time preaching “tough love” to 35-year-old grandmothers living in the projects when studies I’ve read suggest that multi generational welfare families are rare. There are so many people making money off of projects in Chicago. I’ve suggested that the project dwellers do what Indians do for tourists on reservations; like set up food stands and souvenir shops and things, for all these invaders from PBS and HBO, who are all coming there and making money from entertaining White audiences with the misery that goes on there. Like the television show The Wire, and writers like Richard Price, who has made millions from what he calls “ forays into the ghetto.” They even have hired an Indian to do it: Sudhir Venkatesh wrote “Gang Leader For A Day,” a book that resulted from him hanging out with a project gang. He and Scott Simon were laughing it up a few weeks ago on NPR about the antics of some deadly stupid gang that was terrorizing project dwellers. I’d like to get Venkatesh’s views on the oppression of Indian women in India in Indian households, or how some Indian women are imported for the purpose of sexual slavery. I’d like to get D’Nesh D’ Souza, who has made millions performing circus acts like mocking Black English, to comment about the thousands of Indian children in India who are sold into sexual bondage. These guys know where the money is. Putting down Blacks, so hard to do.

But, Gates takes after these 35- year-old grandmothers in the projects, but from what I’ve read, multigenerational welfare recipients are rare. It’s like Reagan coming to power with the “Welfare Queen,” but Lou Cannon, his biographer, says no one has ever been able to locate this woman. Reagan, of course, had Alzheimers I think in perhaps his first term or second term. So, he probably saw it in a movie or something, because he often mixed up movies with reality. Ok, so he takes after those people instead of the predatory laws.

Gates thing is the “underclass.” All the social problems are derived from the behavior of the underclass. I’m sure Obama feels the same way: their personal behavior is a cause of their plight. Why don’t they take on the medical profession that is still experimenting on African Americans? There is a book called Medical Apartheid, which was nominated for a National Book Award, that talks about these experiments. The Tuskegee experiments were the tip of the iceberg.


Or, the so-called psychiatric profession testing dangerous anti-psychotic drugs on poor, Black patients, Hispanic patients, and indigents. Or, why doesn’t he take on these predator lenders like Wells Fargo that have put Africans Americans out of $90 billion dollars due to these foreclosures and lending? But, they go after people who can’t fight back and the kind of people their sponsors go after.

ALI: Who are their sponsors?

REED: Washington Post is the blog’s sponsor. Gates is the leader. McWhorther – John McWhorther is there too [African American linguist and intellectual.] He works for an outfit which sort of flirts with Nazi science –the Eugenics movement: The Manhattan Institute. They sponsored Charles Murray.

ALI: Author of The Bell Curve?

REED: Right, The Bell Curve.

ALI: He’s a Harvard guy.

REED: If you read William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, one of Hitler’s big advisors was a Harvard man. Richard J. Herrstein was the co-author of Bell Curve, worked with Charles Murray. Herrnstein was also at Harvard. Charles Murray is Scots-Irish. I was reading Ralph Ellison’s biography and he was writing about White immigrants trying to “get over” at the expense of Blacks. For generations comedians have made jokes about Scots-Irish in the South inter-breeding. “I am my own grandpa” and all that stuff; you know, because they all were marrying their first cousins. I think Jerry Lee Lewis married his first cousin, too. I think there’s a book by Kevin Phillips, American Cousins where he mentioned the Scots-Irish were apparently people who liked loose women and were, you know, “backward.” These are stereotypes of course, but here we have a Scots –Irish intellectual perpetuating stereotypes. Manhattan Institute is the kind of organization that sponsors Eugenics.

They thought John McWhorther was so good they brought him from California to Manhattan, and they brag about being able to give their fellows enormous publicity, you understand? McWhorter is on C-Span everyday it seems and has a show on NPR where he blasted me and a number of black intellectuals without our receiving equal time. He said I was jealous of his being on All Things Considered. I once had a commentary on All Things Considered during Bush 1’s term. I was fired after I did a commentary predicting that the Willie Horton campaign would come back to haunt Lee Atwater and Bush. Maybe they find someone from the Manhattan Institute more to their liking. So, here I am on 53rd street. In the ghetto of Oakland with no foundation support and spending my own dime. I go up against John McWhorther, one of whose sponsors is Chase Manhattan Bank. They set up a debate between the two of us after I called him “the Black front man for the Eugenics movement.” During the debate, he expressed ignorance of the Institute’s history. He never heard of William Casey, the CIA Director, who founded the Manhattan Institute. Casey might have been indicted for Iran-Contra had he not died. Do you think he was interested in welfare for African Americans? No. So, these guys are interested in this quack Neo-Nazi, Eugenics science.

When I debated McWhorther, he said the Institute severed their ties with Charles Murray. Not so. Recently, the Manhattan Institute sponsored Charles Murray in one of these IQ debates at the Harvard Club in Manhattan . So, I guess McWhorther doesn’t know what’s going in this organization that is pushing him out there to say African Americans are their own worst enemy.

The Washington Post blog called The Root or something has Malcolm Gladwell, this guy who wrote “The Tipping Point.” He’s on there with Gates and McWhorter. This guy, now this guy, has a really great con game going in the “post race” hustle; one of the best con games going. He was telling White audiences on C-SPAN that the cops who beat up Rodney King and those who shot Diallo in New York didn’t do it out of racism or racist motives. They did it due to an “autistic moment.”

ALI: What’s an autistic moment?

REED: I guess their senses were scrambled, or they were confused, whatever. So, I wrote him a letter saying, “You know the guys that beat up Rodney king, those cops? They made a lot of racist comments on their way to the beating. Referring to King as a “Gorilla In the Mist.” He wrote me an email saying, “Yeah, I knew that. But, I didn’t have time to go into it, because I was on television.”

So, these are mind doubles. These are intellectual entrepreneurs. So, if you’re on the left wing and you gave them money, then they are your mouth piece. But, the right wing has more money, I mean, they’ve got billions. They’ve got William Scaife, a billionaire. The right wing has enormous resources and so they are able to control the so called National Dialogue on Race so that it reflects their ideas.

ALI: Right, the Scaife Foundation.

REED: Yeah, Scaife Foundation is the one that almost destroyed Clinton. Scaife is the guy who put money behind Proposition 209, the anti Affirmative Action bill. They do the same thing with you guys [Muslims], I mean what you’re up against Irshad Manji [self proclaimed Muslim Refusenik and author of “Trouble with Islam Today”] and others like that, right? The American Enterprise Institute brought this woman from the Netherlands to slime Islam, but I guess she didn’t work out [Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the disgraced Dutch politician turned author who found monetary and academic shelter with the AEI.] She returned to the Netherlands where she has some link to far right politics. She received enormous publicity because of the American Enterprise Institute.

ALI: Yeah, I called them “the Info-tainment Circus.”

REED: Exactly.

ALI: We both have a lot of “European” friends, “White” friends, and many times when we talk about race, naturally, they get offended and say, “We’re not racists. You’re making assumptions about us, just like we make assumptions about you.” So, let’s discuss this concept of “Whiteness.” Why does the “ticket” to mainstream “Whiteness” entail turning around and beating up other minority groups. For example the Scots-Irish you mentioned, Catholics, Jews, now even some mainstream gay and lesbians do this. Why is this part of the bargain?

REED: That’s to win over the mainstream. You know, Barbara Smith, one of my critics, she is a Black, professional lesbian, she went to Washington D.C. gay pride parade, and they told her to “Get lost” because they were trying to mainstream. They weren’t interested in “Black” issues. These aren’t the first ones to use the underdogs or unpopular groups to “get over” and “cross over.” The American labor movement has done that, the feminist movement had done that, a whole bunch of movements who have to scapegoat African Americans and unpopular groups like immigrants, White immigrants in the 19th century, to “get over to mainstream.” Gloria Steinem tried to win points for Hillary Clinton, a millionaire, wife of a former president whose feminist supporters say has run up against a glass ceiling. She said that being a woman is more of a barrier to success than being Black. I went into a health foods store the other day and couldn’t shop without this Asian American clerk hovering over me. I complained to the storeowner about being treated like a shop lifter. She didn’t deny the racial profiling. She told the over eager clerk that I was a regular customer and that he didn’t have to do it to me. I wonder does Ms. Steinem or Mrs. Clinton receive this kind of reception when they shop?

This is a problem that Obama faces. Wall Street wants him, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, J.P.Morgan are his contributors, and these wealthy people are beyond countries. Some of them don’t even live here anymore. These multinationals, some of them, they’ve been around, they are more sophisticated than the average American, they’ve seen diversity. So, they’re saying, “We need this guy to represent our interests.” Because, this whole 1950’s Country Club, Bush type image is not going to work anymore. I mean, those types of guys can’t go anywhere, I mean they can’t even travel places anymore. Bush, I mean, he can’t go to Spain or he might get arrested. (Laughs.) So, what they need is this really pretty, dark face. When Bush traveled through Africa he was confronted with questions about Barack. It must have got to him because he started attacking Barack when he returned. An Obama election would be an enormous boost to the capitalist system, which seems on the verge of collapse. I could see enormous crowds turning out to greet him as he fronts for the system. If he went to Baghdad he’d receive a ticker tape parade and even the Taliban would turn out to get a glimpse of him.

ALI: As long as he’s not too dark though.

REED: (Laughs.) Yes, that’s right. Not too dark, not too this, not too that. But this sort of pastiche or assemblage, or like how the world looks now, right? It’s a dark skinned world. European population is being decimated, and you see all these people going to Europe. I was in Vienna and I said, “Europe is becoming a dark continent.” (Laughs.) Because in Europe, you see dark skinned people: Arabs, North Africans, Africans. I mean if you go to the Champs-Elycees, man, you think you’re in Lagos or something.



Wall Street has to get the white working class to go along with Obama.

ALI: Are they, you think?

REED: I saw some shifts going on in the last Primaries where some were coming around to Obama. It might happen. And, you know, about this “angry” thing they label me. The White critics I mean. I’m writing a piece about my friend the late Bob Callahan, who unlike so called “Whites,” knew where he came from, you know. He didn’t dismiss us as angry or “politically incorrect.” He read our history, and he explored African American culture; he published Zora Neal Hurston. He had a different point of view than some of these people just dismiss us as being politically correct, or angry, or in a rage and all this kind of stuff. They’ve been saying for over 200 years that African American male writers are angry or have a chip on their shoulders.

ALI: Let’s talk about writing. You’ve said before, “Writing is Fighting.” As you know, Miles Davis compared his musical exercise to the discipline of boxing. In fact, he said he respects good boxers so much, because they require and possess an intelligence; that, there’s a “higher sense of theory” going on in their heads. He compared it to his solitary exercise of performing.

REED: Miles was also a boxer.

Miles Sparring

ALI: Right. So, we have this whole concept of boxing, writing, fighting. Why this philosophy of “boxing” as writing?

REED: I think I have a pugnacious style. My style is not pretty. I don’t use words like “amber” or “opaque.” (Laughs.)

ALI: Or Chrysanthemums? (Laughs.)

REED: (Laughs.) Yeah, yeah. My stuff is direct. Critics have compared my writing style with boxing all the way back to 1978 when my first book of essays appeared: it was compared to Muhammad Ali’s style. Others have compared my style to Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson.


As a writer, you explore all kinds of different emotions. My latest poem is about a tree in my backyard, which is from the Tropics. I’m trying to explain how it got there. I had a meditative poem about watching out over the Golden Gate Bridge from a mountain.

It was published in The New Yorker. I think when I write essays I’m out to do on the page what we can’t do in the media. We don’t have billions of dollars that are available to these people who do what amounts to a propaganda attack on us. We’re being out propagandized. When I look at the newspapers, I’m furious. Because I can see where the interpretation of who we are and how people from the outside define us.

My friend Cecil Brown is very upset because the SF Chronicle is doing a Black History Month series and it’s all White male writers! I mean they assign Black History Month to all White writers with all these African American writers in the Bay Area and in California? I mean I’m here and I’ve written for them. And of course, they wrote about the kind of black image that appeals to them: Athletes and Entertainers. Not a single scientist, or inventor. I was down at Lockheed Martin, addressing the Black employees: Engineers and Scientists. I told them that a lot of the space equipment used by NASA was invented by Black scientists, yet when Mailer wrote that dumb book about the moonshot he said that Blacks were jealous of this White achievement.

The formula for sending a shuttle into space and bringing it back was devised by a Black woman scientist.

Cecil also said he was pleased that there was a Hollywood writer’s strike so all these demeaning images of us would at least disappear for a while, for at least 3 weeks. Because, I mean the Writer’s Guild is only like 2% African American. I think there’s probably, what, no Pakistani American writers?

ALI: I think there is 1.

REED: Well, probably, he’s the one saying, “We all ought to assimilate.”

ALI: Or, he might try to hide it.

REED: Yeah, hides it. Right. So, that’s all we have. All we have is writing. Sometimes it’s very effective. I mean I’m organizing my neighborhood block with emails, because we have criminal activity on our block. Instead of the old days, where we had to confront these people, now we can do it through emails and cyberspace.

I did a book called “Another Day at the Front” which was my first critical book about the media, and I got on Nightline. I was able to challenge some of these assumptions of African Americans and their culture.

Another Day at the Front

ALI: Is writing a solitary experience? Is it shadowboxing in a sense?

REED: Not for me. I have T.V. on all the time when I’m writing. I have music on. I’m engaged with the world. If the phone rings, I answer it. I’m not the kind of writer who sits around 8 hours a day writing. I’ll write in the morning, and sometimes I’ll get up 4 in the morning sometimes and do this Anthology I’m working on. (PowWow releasing this Summer by De Capo Press). I’m learning a lot. I wasn’t really a short story person, but now I’m reading about 140 short stories and there are a lot of good ones out there. I’m reading stories from different groups – like from the 19th century immigrant perspective which is really overlooked. In this country, it’s not good to be “ethnic.” Although, T.S. Eliot said, “Not all ethnic writers are great, but all great writers are ethnic.” I mean Eliot was the head of the modernist movement!

I don’t know about this solitary stuff. I mean I do plays and they are collaborative. My last play was called “angry” by the New York Times. Even though every line could be footnoted. I got a great review in the Backstage which is a theatre trade magazine, but the Times guy said I was “angry” about a lot of things. But, I mean, what was I angry about? I took on 2 issues. One was the pharmaceutical industry using African Americans as guinea pigs and colluding with psychiatrists, who get $40,000 kickbacks, and how they use these drugs in Africa for testing. They are fully aware of the bad side effects when they produce these drugs. The other issue is how think-thanks front these people like McWhorter to push this line that “all of African American’s problems are self inflicted.”

Shelby Steele, for example. You see Shelby Steele? Nobody knows about Shelby Steele, African Americans don’t know anything about Shelby Steele. They put him up there, the right wing does. He just got $200,000 last year in May from the Bradley Foundation, who funded Charles Murray too, and they had a ceremony at the Kennedy Center. I bet there were many mink coats and limousines pulling up there, because they’ve got a lot of money.

This is what we’re up against. See, our intellectuals don’t know what we’re up against. They think this is all about getting on the Bill Maher show. There is an orchestrated campaign that is tied to the Eugenics campaign. I just had a dialogue with John Rockwell from the New York Times, because we’re in the same anthology together. I said, “Look, the Eugenics movement came out of the United States.” “Where? Where? Where?” he said. So, I had to send him a book on this.

Ward Connerly, I mean, all these people. Connerly got money from Pioneer Fund, whose founders praised Hitler. So, there is something going on behind the scenes.

It kind of explains [Hurricane] Katrina. Where people think, to put it bluntly, “These people are sub-human. So, let ‘em drown.” Or, as Hitler did – he burned them up. Here, we let them drown.

ALI: Let’s talk about Mumbo Jumbo your most famous novel. Many say this novel was about the forces of “rationalism and militarism” versus the forces of “the magical and the spontaneous.” Today, we find extremist groups rooting themselves in piety, religion, spirituality and faith. In the 1972 version of the novel, Abdul Hamid, a Black Muslim fundamentalist, burns the “Book” which contains the “key” to these ancient traditions of magic, dance, and creativity. If Mumbo Jumbo took place in the 21st century, who would burn the “Book”?


REED: I think there are fundamentalists all over the world. I think all religions have fundamentalists who have different interpretations of scriptures that are very vague. These books are written in metaphor, they are written with symbolism. A lot of it is outdated and tied to the times in which the text was written. So, you can do anything you want to with religion. Unfortunately, in the world today, we have dogmatic people entering into politics. I don’t think the two mix. But, we always believed in separation of church and state. But, I predicted there would be a theocracy in the 80’s in my book The Terrible Twos, where I had a preacher running the White House in 1982.

You see, I think when you’re an independent intellectual you’re going to get it from all sides. I get it from the Left, the Right, the Middle. When I proposed that people said it was silly, but now we have Huckabee and Bush, and others. I mean they’re all still players. But, when I said it, they thought it was silly.

(To be continued next week, where Reed discusses his volatile friendship with Amiri Baraka, his issues with HBO’s The Wire, his ongoing feud with his feminist critics, and White academia’s resistance to multicultural voices.)