HU Prof speaks out + Tavis Sellin' Out?
04-27-2006, 12:14 PM
HU Prof speaks out + Tavis Sellin' Out?
this is from blackcommentator this week. check them out at http://www.blackcommentator.com
Howard University's Dr. Paula Matabane was kind enough to share with BC a letter she wrote to the Washington Post's Robin Givhan in response to an April 7 fluff story on Rep. McKinney, which seemed to reduce the discussion around the Georgia congresswoman and her career to trivializing speculations about her hairdo:
After reading your caustic if not toxic essay today on Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, I thought about a line from the film "Brother Future" when enslaved Isaac says to Zeke, the black overseer slave, "You like being massa's darkey."
Your complaint that McKinney has made her hairstyle part of her politics is juvenile journalism especially for a fashion editor. All fashion is politics especially in race divided, racist driven commercial America. Have you not noticed that white women's hair has been the standard of femininity and female beauty for the past four centuries – at least since the first slave ship arrived to these shores? Hair in America is not just a hairstyle but a path to defining black women out of the female gender and into the animal kingdom.
If fashion were not part of your politics, then why didn't you rag out Susan Taylor for her braids, sophisticated or not, that have apparently eaten her hairline a mile back from normalcy? No, you wouldn't because you freelance for Essence and you're not about to bite the hand that feeds and coddles you. Plus, Taylor's achievements earn her more respect than such a cheap shot.
I found a 2002 interview on-line in which you proudly proclaim that you were not surprised when you got your present position because "I think highly of myself." And yes, maybe you ought to. But you also have a responsibility to think critically even as a fashion editor. You would not have license from the Post to reduce McKinney to the black mammy of fashion if her politics were popular and mainstream. Your article could easily be a companion to “Birth of a Nation” ridiculing and judging black politicians for a personal appearance that deviates from the white norm.
In the same way that you ought to be respected for your substance and achievement, McKinney is due not less but more as a clear trailblazer of substance not trivia. Clearly, you are open to a stinging critique as the editor of fluff by any culturally conscious and intelligent black person. Your clinging to and advocating white standards of beauty even in your own appearance condemn you, too, as a time dated (pre-civil rights) symbol sporting an expired white woman hairstyle.
Finally, while I think McKinney can push the envelop politically at times, I fully understand her reaction to the white police grabbing her. I asked several Ph.D. black women colleagues (all over 50, i.e. daughters of segregation) at Howard University what they would do at the building entrance if a white cop grabbed them versus a black one. They all said they would do what McKinney did – recoil, protect themselves including jabbing with a cell phone. Their response to a black officer would be different. This speaks to history not hairstyle.
Ms Givhan, maybe you ought to do an article on what hairstyle the black woman raped by the Duke lacrosse team was wearing. I wonder was she "fashionable," "professional" or wearing the crown of a "washerwoman" who, by the way, sent many a Negro child to college including the ivy league and also deserve respect for what they achieved on their knees.
Fluff and trivia may be your arena, but when you step into politics and history, please try to write critically and respectful of those who have blazed a path for you.
Like Drs. Williams and Matabane, we support Rep. McKinney without reservations. So does BC reader Ed Rynearson:
Rep. McKinney is a courageous American who asks the questions I want asked on the behalf of myself and millions of other loyal tax paying citizens about the high price of oil, the 9-11 attacks, the muscle flexing at Iran, and related matters. My only recommendation to Ms. McKinney is that she get a Taser so that next time she can put one of those SOB's on the ground where they belong.
While we endorse the spirit of Mr. Rynearson's accessorizing suggestion, it is doubtful that the congresswoman will adopt such a measure any time soon.
On the other hand, the reaction of the relentlessly self-promoting and self-involved Tavis Smiley to the noxious cloud of calumny directed at black womanhood, and any black woman criticizing the powers that be, according to one source, was to pronounce Congresswoman McKinney – not the attacks against her, but the congresswoman herself – "a distraction." After an "...oh no he didn't..." moment here at BC we pondered the issues of Brother Tavis and who was being distracted from what. We were rescued by this illuminating letter from reader Jeff Richardson regarding Tavis's most recent State of the Black Union.
If Tavis really wants to achieve something lasting and positive with his annual SOBU he really should make the community feel included, rather than to give all the best lines to honored guests. If we the People are going to really take on the institutional barriers to our peoples' progress, we definitely have to pierce some of this artificial boundary between folks who've "made it" and those of us who haven't.
Why wasn't NYC Transport Workers Union leader Roger Toussaint or one of his coworkers there? Why don't the interests of workers get much play on Tavis's panel? If it weren't for Cornel West and Belafonte, the needs of working families might have been totally overlooked.
Richardson has a serious point. It's easy to understand why corporate media want to direct us away from what we can gain by collective action and keep us exclusively focused on individual real estate, bond and stock market manipulations as the sole responsible road to ensuring economic security for our families. It's not nearly as easy to explain why much of our so-called black leadership class has the same fixation, unless these leaders owe greater allegiance to corporate America than they do to us.
The title of Tavis's 2006 morning SOBU panel was “Economic Empowerment: Building and Leveraging Wealth in the African American Community.” Arguably, the December 2005 NYC transit strike exerted greater leverage and did more to maintain “wealth building” and economic security for a larger number of black families than any three or four of Tavis's bankers, entrepreneurs and investment advice columnists have done in their entire careers. Again, it's appropriate to wonder just who is distracting who, and from what.
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