****( THE FINAL PART OF AN UNEDITED INTERVIEW WITH ISHMAEL REED EXCLUSIVELY WITH “GOATMILK.” PARTS 1 AND 2 CAN BE FOUND ON “GOATMILK.WORDPRESS.COM”)****
AFTER 14 BRUTAL, RELENTLESS ROUNDS, ISHMAEL REED, WITH STAMINA AND ENERGY TO SPARE, STANDS FROM THE STOOL. THE BELL RINGS. REED ADVANCES. FINAL ROUND: FIGHT!
ALI: Geradline Ferraro just resigned from the Clinton campaign. She’s been passionate and vocal in her belief that Obama has played the “Race card,” and his “Race” is the main factor for his success. Comment?
REED: As I told Jay Marvin,while being interviewed by Air America yesterday morning, Geraldine Ferraro said that if Obama were a black woman – echoing Gloria Steinem,who began this line of thought, or a White man he would not have advanced as far as he has. My answer is that if Ferraro and her husband were black, they might be in jail. Her husband lied about his association with the Gambino crime family, and Mrs.Ferraro has also been accuse of involvement in shady dealings over the years.
“Black men being ‘lucky’ as she said,is one of the most ancient of stereotypes. Surfaces from time to time in vapid movies like ‘The Green Mile.’ Rub on a black man and you get lucky in love. Black men have been viewed as fetishes. Southerners sent their slaves to gold mine for them in California because they were considered lucky. Finally, after all the smears aimed at Italian- Americans, ‘white’ Mrs. Ferraro should be the last one to push mean spirited stereotypes against Blacks.
ALI: There’s this book a lot of my White, progressive friends like talking about. The Black slaves owners –
REED: Oh, yeah. They love that. It’s Ernest Jones’s book. It’s very well written. He’s got a Black man who buys his family from a slave master. Then, his son chooses the slave master as a mentor. This is the image that is popular. Not Whites as amphetamine addicts or living in trailer cities, which are hidden in states like Nevada ,Texas and Alaska, but as mentors, missionaries, people helping Blacks improve their grade scores in a country where even if Blacks weren’t present would be backward, academically.
Sure, they’re re-writing the plantation history, they’re re-writing the Civil War to glorify losers like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Their defenders argue that they fought for states’ rights not slavery, but after the war, deprived of their human assets, both men had to live in relative poverty. Lee was saved by his fans appointing him to the presidency of a university. Jefferson Davis became an insurance salesman. Now, they’re re-writing the slave trade. So, now, the version is that Blacks hi-jacked the slave ships that [were] stranded off the Coast of Africa, helplessly, and demanded by gunpoint to be brought here, because they heard the slave masters were lonely. Not only did Blacks sell, themselves into slavery, according to this revision, but were the slave masters who greeted the ships when they arrived. But the few Black slave owners, mostly those who had “bought” members of their family, didn’t commit the kind of atrocities committed by White slave owners.
Thirty five thousand males were used in medical experiments and cruel and painful gynecological experiments were performed on slave women to make them more satisfying sexual partners for their masters. I doubt whether any of these Black slave masters sold their children for a profit, which was the practice of White masters who sired children by Black women, such children “swarmed” The Virginia countryside according to Joel Williamson in his book, “New People.” It’s all there in “Medical Apartheid” by Harriet Washington, which just won the National Critics Circle Award – I was shocked! An examination of those corpses found in New York City, which was a big slave port, in the African burial ground, shows that the slaves were treated like pack animals.
Your White progressive friends want to buy guilt free post race products. They want to avoid intellectual challenge. And, so, they like “blame the victim” books. But what do they have to be guilty about? Most of their relatives came here after Emancipation and didn’t participate in the “pernicious institution.” As Romain Gary said, they’d rather identify with the Scarlet O’Hara’s wanabee aristocracy than with their first generation immigrant forbearers about whom they are ashamed. One study holds that of all of the racial groups, Whites are those who have the least information about their ancestors.
ALI: Is this a means to not confront the horrors of one’s own history?
REED: Well, they’ve got people from other groups in on it now also. There’s always been Dinesh D’Souza who grew up in India, where there’s a rampant problem about child sexual slavery. He and William Simon jumped on the late President James O. Freedman, when he accused the far right campus Dartmouth Review and its brown shirted punks who were caught in an evil stunt. The Review carried the passage from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s political autobiography, on its masthead on the first day of Yom Kippur, the most solemn Jewish holy day. The passage read in part, “By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”
The Anti-Defamation league, [after] a three-month investigation, concluded that this “was unquestionably an anti-Semitic act.” Dinesh D’Souza charged President James O. Freedman of seizing on the incident to try to destroy the paper. He called it “a criminal act of sabotage.” Turns out that President Freedman was right and that it was an inside job performed by one of the right wing punk editors. Dinesh also outed gays at Dartmouth. Every time somebody pisses in the hallway of the projects, D’ Souza earns a dollar. AOL has given D’Souza a blog where he can rant against Blacks every day. AOL should provide someone like George Curry or Dick Gregory or Herb Boyd with equal space: tough minded black intellectuals. Not these namby pamby mind doubles. I’m considering canceling my AOL account as a protest.
ALI: D’souza also never tackles the caste system.
REED: Yeah. You’re not going to get him to talk about that. And you’re not going to get him to talk about his role in defaming the former president of Dartmouth.
ALI: Let’s talk about the media. Here are some popular examples of media content and personalities that have gone mainstream and are successful: Oprah. Will Smith. Jamie Foxx. Tyra Bank. Tyler Perry. The Wire. Barbershop. American Gangster. So, why complain now? You guys have made it.
REED: The Wire – you know, [ David Simon and I] have a running controversy for years. It all stems from a telephone call I made to KPFA [Pacifica radio] when he was a guest there in the 90s. [Chris Welche’s show]. He was going around the country with a Black kid from the Ghetto to promote something called The Corner – it was all about Blacks as degenerates selling drugs, etc.
ALI: Was that HBO?
REED: Yes. HBO does all this kind of stuff. I called in and told Simon, “You’re using this kid.” Later I said it [was] like Buffalo Bill going around the country exhibiting Indians. He got really pissed off and went to the New York Times, where he has a supporter there named Virginia Heffernan, another Times feminist who, when it comes to Black Urban Fiction, can’t tell the difference between the real and the fake; she’s his supporter. She said that George Pelecanos, David Simon, and Richard Price are the “Lords of Urban Fiction,” when the Black Holloway authors like Iceberg Slim can write circles around these guys when it comes to Urban fiction.
Simon, Price and Pelecanos’ Black characters speak like the cartoon crows in those old racist cartoons [“Heckle and Jeckle.”] Henry Louis Gates knows this about “The Wire,” yet his right wing blog, The Root, carries an ad for “The Wire” today and a glowing article about this piece of crap. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an intellectual entrepreneur all right. He condemns my work as misogynist yet supports Simon’s Neo-Nazi portrait of Black people. “The Wire” and novels by Price, Pelecanos, should be submitted to the Jim Crow museum at Ferris State University – this is the website: www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/, where they can have a honored place alongside of some of Robert Crumb’s Nazi cartoons.
When I was researching my novel Reckless Eyeballing, I attended a lecture sponsored by the San Francisco Holocaust Museum, March 26,1984. The program said that the stereotypes about Jewish men in the Nazi media was similar to that about Black men in the United States. I thought, what on earth are they talking about? And then I went out and examined some of this junk, especially the cartoons in the newspaper
Der Sturmer – see Julius Streicher Nazi Editor of the Notorious Anti-Semite Newspaper Der Sturmer by Randall l. Bytwerk. I was shocked. Jewish men were depicted as sexual predators, raping Aryan women. They were exhibited as flashers. Both Bellow and Phillip Roth’s books include Black flashers. Jewish men especially those immigrants from Russia were depicted as criminals. Jewish children were seen as disruptive, a threat to German school children and so on. If any one looks at this stuff for example, you’ll find a perfect match for the way that David Mamet, David Simon, George Pelecanos, Stephen Spielberg and Richard Price portray Blacks. They are very critical in their projects about the way Black men treat women, yet none of them has produced a project critical of the way that men of their background treat women.
ALI: Ok, so you’ve mentioned Simon, Pelecanos and Price for fake “Urban fiction.” Spielberg, I’m assuming is for the “The Color Purple” and perhaps “Amistad.” But why Mamet?
Mamet is another hypocrite. His idea of Black man is a pimp who abuses women [Edmond,2005], yet his play Oleanna (1994) ends with a White professor slapping an uppity feminist, at least the version I saw at San Francisco’s ACT. Of course, there’s an old tradition of this. Joel Chandler Harris, who created a multi billion dollar industry, everything from his books, to Disney’s “Song of the South” based upon the Uncle Remus stories. He got his start by transcribing the stories of slave Informants. I’m sure that none them got a dime. Richard Price, who has made a fortune writing fake ghetto books, says he takes a cab into the ghetto, transcribes Black speech for a brief time and returns home. His fake ghetto books have bought him a townhouse in Gramercy Park and home on Staten Island while P. Lewis, author of Nate, one of the best African American writers since Richard Wright, had to self publish his book and sell his books in subways.
Price got a million dollar advance on one fake film book based on a paragraph outline and is able to seduce gullible White reviewers who know less about ghetto life than he. The New York Times has devoted more space to Price’s tourist, ghetto writing than to any Black writer in history. Even Morrison. I’m sure that his ghetto sources like Chandler’s slave informants didn’t get a dime either. Why are they so hard on Margaret Seltzer for her fake ghetto book for which she received a one hundred thousand dollar advance and yet have Virginia Heffernan and Michiko praise Richard Price for his fake ghetto books?
Constance L. Rice, co-director of the Los Angeles of the Advancement Project, told the Times that Seltzer might have been influenced by David Simon’s fake ghetto series, “The Wire.” It figures. Isn’t this sexism? Isn’t this a double standard? They’re hard on this young woman for her fake ghetto book, yet praise these White guys for theirs. So there’s a big market in downing Black men.
In 1899, Joel Chandler Harris even took on a persona of a fictional, Black woman, Aunt Minervy Ann, to scold Black men, a genre that’s been recycled for money in recent times. Phillip Roth uses his Black women characters to make anti intellectual remarks about Black history month, begun by a man who reached intellectual heights that Roth will never attain. [Reeds reads the following]
“Carter Godwin Woodson began his education at the age of 20. Finished high school in two years. He graduated from Berea College in 1903, a year before Kentucky passed a law prohibiting interracial education. He taught at Frederick Douglass High School in West Virginia. He taught in the Philippines from 1903 to 1907. He received a master’s degree in European History. He submitted a thesis on French diplomatic policy toward Germany in the 18th Century. He studied at Harvard University with Edward Channing, Albert Bushnell Hart, and Frederick Jackson Turner. In 1912,Woodson earned his PhD in history, completing a dissertation on the events leading to the creation of the state of West Virginia after the Civil War broke out. After teaching at Howard University and West Virginia Collegiate Institute, in 1922 he returned to Washington to direct the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History full time. In this role, he founded the Journal of Negro History. In 1926 he launched the annual celebration of Negro History Week.”
ALI: What’s your beef with Phillip Roth? The establishment and critics love him, and he is quite successful and thoroughly celebrated.
REED: Roth is a petty bigot and his ignorant remarks about black culture expose him as a buffoon to scholars the world over.] Feminists swoon all over him. When Esquire asked him what feminists would say about one of his books, he answered, “Fuck the feminists.” His wife Clarie Bloom said that he has an “irrepressible rage toward women.” I guess when it comes to this privileged White racist feminist movement they respect someone who treats them rough: John Wayne. Frank Sinatra. Phillip Roth.
Like the feminists at NPR who are so hard on the brothers. When Frank Sinatra died they were crying on the air. According to his biographer, the fearless Kitty Kelly, he once shoved a woman through a plate glass window.
ALI: It’s amazing how all the best selling Urban Ghetto writers – they’re all White.
REED: Right. “The Lords of Urban Fiction.” What I can’t understand why Blacks can’t achieve royal status when it comes to forms that they have largely created? I mean there’s a White King of Rock n’ Roll, there’s a White King of Jazz, how come we can never achieve titles of royalty in these fields we are supposed to prevail in? They held a so called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the other night, where White judges credit people who resemble them with the invention of Rock and Roll. I didn’t even see blacks in the audience. There would be no Rock and Roll without Ike Turner, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint,etc. Fake ghetto books and fake ghetto music. Elvis Presley, whom they idol, is merely a karaoke makeover of James Brown and Chuck Berry. Anyway, David Simon goes to the Jewish Weekly and said he’s made all this money, but he can’t enjoy it because of criticism by people like Ishmael Reed. He told Virginia Heffernan, I think that’s who it was, she said he said I was against him because he was a White man writing about Black people.
We’ve given awards to White writers over the years, many years, who’ve written about Black life .
ALI: White writers writing about the Black experience is OK then? So, that wasn’t the problem?
REED: Of course not! He’s the one who is against White writers writing about the ghetto. Amy Alexander, who worked with Simon at The Baltimore Sun said that he got all pushed out because another White reporter was assigned to cover the ghetto. He feels it’s sort of like his gold mine where he has staked a claim and that all ghetto stories and humans are his property.
I’m not against White writers writing about Blacks as long as they are as objective as say James McPherson writing about an Irish American janitor in his brilliant short story “Gold Coast.” I use non-fiction work written by Whites in my research. It’s indispensable. That wasn’t the problem. I said that “The Wire” was a cliché! It’s like my writing a series about Jewish life and casting all of the characters as inside traders.
They never printed this discussion in the NYT, so I wrote a response to The Jewish Weekly where Simon said that he couldn’t enjoy the loot he’s made for showing Black as depraved individuals because of criticism by people like Ishmael Reed. To their credit, The Jewish Weekly published it. So I said he ought to do something new like write a new series about the family of a suburban, illegal arms dealer who’s bringing guns into my neighborhood.
So, the Times had a story about Simon’s ghetto informants, who, like Chandler’s slaves, provided Simon with his material, but, who, I doubt, will get a share of his royalties which must amount to millions. One was a recovering heroin addict and the other did some wretched thing like armed robbery. Their problems made the front page of the NY Times(Aug.9,2007), of course, in what must have been one of the longest stories in the Times history! Then, they made the society page later [Aug.19, 2007] because they got married and Simon was their best man.
How does the Times treat White pathology? They reported an epidemic of heroin addiction in the Philadelphia suburbs [March, 20,1995], which included emergency admissions and overdoses; these White people in the suburbs were doing heroin like it was going out of style. I counted the words: the article consisted of 200 words. “Heroin Epidemic” in the back section. Out here in California, the typical drug addict is a housewife or suburban White woman.” [Reed reads a newspaper]
Few experts would have suspected that the biggest contributors to California’s drug abuse, death and injury toll are educated, middle-aged women living in the Central Valley and rural areas, while the fastest-declining, lowest-risk populations are urban black and Latino teenagers. Yet the index found exactly that. These are the sorts of trends we need to understand if we are to design effective policies,” wrote Mike Males on Jan.3, 2007 in The New York Times.
Think that HBO will do a series about this? Like a “White Wire?” Richard Price, who creates projects which cast blacks as junkies and dealers is a former cocaine addict himself. They could hire him to write it. Write about something he knows about.
ALI: I’ve read White addicts are unfortunately succumbing to Meth and prescription pills at extraordinary rates.
REED: That’s right. Another California study counted 30,000 substance abusers who are pregnant are White woman. So, The Wire paints the picture of drug addiction, drug dealing, and drug abuse as being a specifically a Black issue.
Now, I hate to say this, but I know somebody has got to say it and somebody has got to do it. I confronted Richard Price about his role in The Wire on a panel held at Ax En Provence, and his friend, I won’t mention his name – a very famous writer – and members of this New York delegation, Price’s buddies, jumped on me for pointing this out. My friend, whom I have known since the 70s, said that I was bringing up a local issue before international audience. The International Herald Tribune, which was on sale at the conference, had a full-page display ad for “The Wire.” This hateful material travels the globe. A few years ago, CNN, America’s Der Sturmer, ran a story about Black parents being so low down that they abandoned their children and the children had to eat rats. I was at a University in Wisconsin at the time and the mother of a student from South Africa called to see whether the story was true. She had seen it all the way over there. The story was untrue. The children lied. CNN never corrected the story.
Now at this French conference, I was thought of as an angry Black nationalist, when my questions to Price were polite. When Price began his career, writing terrific books like “The Wanderers,” I was one of his supporters and he has acknowledged this. But some where along the way he decided to go for the money. I said to Price why are you dealing with these people: Pelecanos and Simon? You’re a great writer. Why are you hanging out with George Pelecanos? You read Pelecanos’ Soul Circus: it’s got Black people talking like what you hear on Klan website: Nigger Watch. I heard Pelecanos on a radio show out here and he went into all of these stereotypes about Black men that have been around for a few hundred years. So his writing about Black life is a real fox guarding the chicken coop situation.
ALI: And Pelecanos is a White guy?
REED: Yes. I recorded a episode of “The Wire,” all about Black kids selling drugs Here’s the typical line that Simon puts into the mouths of his Black characters: “Hey, I’m gonna put some whup ass on you!”
So, I told Price’s defender, famous novelist, why don’t’ you look at the first episode [of The Wire] – I have a recording. He came back and said, “Yes, these are White guys trying to be White Negroes who are putting Amos and Andy lines in the mouths of Black people.” He said that Price had to do it because he’s in debt. Here is Price helping Simon to diss Black people, while he has admitted to cocaine addiction himself. He could have been a great novelist. He went to Hollywood instead.
ALI: You know, you’ll get a lot of heat for this, right?
REED: Well, you know, this is something that should be brought up: why are they promoting the same images of us that were promoted against minorities in Nazi Germany and set them up for the camps?
ALI: You think there’s no self-reflection there?
REED: They don’t know their history. They’re a generation that doesn’t know their own history. I’m sure that a previous generation of Jews who published radical newspapers and journals would be critical of Simon’s projects. These were left wingers who suffered casualties in some of bloodiest strikes in American history. They were red baited Black balled and lost their jobs. They helped to create a safety net that helped millions. They supported the drive for the emancipation of Black people. They were lawyers who went South risking their lives to defend Blacks who were victims of Jim Crow justice. They were among the first to publish great Black writers. They were writers who were Black balled in Hollywood. The Rosenbergs were executed by the government. This generation of Jews would be ashamed of people like Simon and Price. They would turn over in their graves and be disgusted at these people who are cheapening people who can’t fight back, who can’t tell their story, for money.
ALI: What are some of the other stereotypes of Jewish men in the Nazi press?
REED: It was all about Jewish men [accosting German women]: that was the favorite theme of the Nazi newspaper. That the only reason Jewish guys went to the medical profession was so they could be gynecologists to examine German women. Der Sturmer printed cartoons of Jewish men lunging at half naked German women while grinning, lecherously.
ALI: What about Gates charge that Blacks are the last of the anti Semites?
REED: They have a funny way of showing it. When Joesph Lieberman ran for president, he was the first choice among African American voters, and when Sharpton entered the race, Lieberman was the second choice So, a comet must’ve passed the Earth and all the Blacks suddenly changed their minds! The Times promised to follow Gate’s op-ed with one about the racist attitudes of some Jews against Black people; it never appeared. If one ever appeared I’d suggest that it challenge some scriptwriters, novelists, producers and directors who are peddling Der Sturmer type portraits of Black people. I walked out on American Gangster this evil piece of dreck. Defenders of this junk say that these movies give Black actors jobs. So did “Birth of a Nation.”
ALI: You couldn’t take it?
REED: First movie I ever walked out in my life. Remember, when they did this Fallujah type attack on the projects? When, they ran in there and blew all these Black people away in the projects? Like Fallujah or something. And, they always get a Black guy on the side of the White invaders so the scene wouldn’t appear to be so racist. This movie like “The Color Purple” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” were written directed and produced by White men.
ALI: However, to be fair, I read both Alice Walker and Tina Turner protested certain depictions in those movies.
REED: Both Alice Walker and Tina Turner objected to the way the Black guy in Purple and the way Ike Turner were portrayed. Tina Turner said that the film was unfair to Ike. The Times called Turner an Ogre in their obituary of him and Yahoo News said that his name was synonymous with domestic violence, yet Paul McCartney’s ex says that he beat her even when she was pregnant. Turner is condemned. McCartney gets a knighthood and Starbucks.
Think that White feminists in New York will picket Starbucks like they wrote letters objecting to a dying Ike Turner’s receiving an award? I doubt it. As for “American Gangsters” about the life of a man, a despicable drug dealer, who conned Denzil Washington into believing that he was close to Bumpy Johnson, the Harlem gangster, Bumpy’s widow recently published a book saying that this character made it up and Bumpy thought of him as a jerk. The guy who wrote the script also wrote “Schindler’s List.” Think that he would [know] better than to participate in such a vile product. The producer, Ridley Scott, I think also was involved with Training Day another evil piece with which Washington cooperated.
ALI: We’ve talked about White writers speaking for Black culture. The movie Crash, which you and I have discussed in private, won Best Picture as you know. They said this movie shows how “we have moved and can move beyond race.” When I saw that movie, I thought to myself, “I’ve never met a Persian guy like this crazy, gun wielding Persian in this movie. I’ve never met Black people who talk like this in real life.”
REED: Yeah, well, I mean they have some kind of fixed picture assigned in their mind about whom we all are, where we’re like cartoonish figures – they can label us that way. I objected to Crash – I thought it was terrible. I think Black intellectuals see too deeply. That’s the problem. It’s a cause of anxiety, because we see things differently.
My generation of writers has been prone to premature illness and death, especially the women. When Black male writers meet it’s like a session of the American Diabetic Association. Given all of the anti-Muslim propaganda that’s being disseminated by the American Nazi media, you have to be careful. It can stress you out.
As a pioneer you might feel alone. But already your example has inspired a new generation of Pakistani American writers so you won’t feel isolated. And your artistic career is supported by your parents, which is rare.
ALI: Well, we’re writers. We do what we do, and we just try our best.
REED: Your play “Domestic Crusaders” [www.domesticcrusaders.com] should be ranked with family dramas written by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neil, but given the present anti Muslim hysteria aided and abetted by the Clintons, there are obstacles between you and Broadway.
You just have to be patient, because Americans are fickle. And what constitutes the enemy is always changing. Believe it or not, at one time Blacks were the favored model minority over Asian Americans. You’ll be joined by some who feel the way you do. Frank Chin, the yellow Malcolm X, never got this support. He calls Chinese Americans the Uncle Toms of American ethnic groups. He’s paid for his defiance of assimilation and the “go along to get along” policy of some ethnic groups with his health.
My problems with mostly White feminists are minor in comparison to his. They tried to destroy Frank in a controversy over a film that was written by a White man, who bashes Chinese American males, the same White script writer who wrote the screenplay for a Black male bashing movie.
I can’t understand why minority feminists who produce these products don’t hire feminist writers, directors and producers. This John Wayne syndrome is something that should be looked into.
I reached the age of 70, because I have cultivated an association of multicultural intellectuals who are informed and alert to whatever “tricknology” that’s laid on us by the powers that be. These include White ethnic intellectuals- people who know their roots- as well as Native American, Asian American, Hispanic and Black intellectuals. These are thirty, forty-year associations with some of the best minds around. Minds that are ignored by the media. And so, while the Black Middle class fails to see the insidious propaganda that’s coming down – they give films like Crash awards – my friends and I are so in tune that we might call each other and comment on an event at the same time. Cross wires. When this most recent fake book came out where the writer said she was half Indian, my friend Gerald Vizenor, a Native American short story writer novelist and critic, said that he recognized the fraud right away.
Like on Oscar night, which has become a White supremacist pageant, and where Tina Brown’s “Invisible” White women soak up the 3 or so hours, and where they give awards to films like Crash or Monster’s Ball or Training Day – all films that denigrate Blacks, my phone is ringing off the hook from my friends who see this thing the same way as I.
In the Crash, you’ve got a pathological cop who at the end justifies police brutality. He tells the naïve, young cop that you’re going to end up the same as him. He’s the most sympathetic character in the movie. So, the naïve cop ends up murdering this Black kid and tries to cover up the evidence. It sort of justifies police brutality and the planting of evidence which is what happened in the O.J. case. You had that psychotic cop [played by Matt Dillon] molesting this Black woman – you know, fondling her. The feminists should’ve been outraged by this movie, but they don’t care about Brown women. They don’t give a damn about them. I read these articles by some Black and Brown feminists pleading, just begging (in whining, begging voice), “Oh, please don’t exclude us, oh White women feminists from your movement.” Some years ago, White and Black feminists clashed so at a convention in Akron Ohio that the Governor’s wife had to intervene.
ALI: You have 35 years of academia experience at U.C. Berkeley, which for better or worse, is seen as a bastion of radicalism, progressive thought, and flaming liberals. Is it truly a P.C.U? Is it a politically correct university bursting with progressive thought? What’s the reality of academia regarding the professors and students it produces in terms of “enlightened” thought?
REED: I think if you look at the curriculum its emphasis is on something American intellectuals call “Western Civilization.” Which is a term I never hear when I go to Europe. I’ve visited Heidelberg, one of the oldest universities in Europe, and they teach African American literature. You go to the University of Bologna and they teach American films. I attended a conference in Paris in the 1990s at the Sorbonne where the late scholar Michel Fabre introduced African American literature. Scholars fromall over the world attended such is the interest in African American literature outside of the United States. Unlike the reviewers at the daily Times, these scholars know the difference between the real and the fake.
I ‘ve studied Japanese and visited Japan several times. In 2004, I traveled with a group of musicians called Conjure, a group that’s been performing my songs and poetry [Conjure Cds are available at Amazon.com.] and premiered a song that I wrote in Japanese “Azabu Kissaten De,” [at the Blue Note in Tokyo.] Before that I visited an academic group in Kyoto, which is devoted to African American literature. When you travel abroad you come to the conclusion that American education’s aim is to keep citizens ignorant about the world; it’s based upon a White settler fantasy that superficial knowledge of the traditions of a few European countries- for them, the mainland- makes you smart, a theory that even the European intellectuals don’t share. So am I opposed to something these people refer to as “Western Culture?
Not hardly. The Jazz Diva, Cassandra Wilson, just recorded my song, “The Prophet of Doom” about the Greek myth of Cassandra. Tom Hull of the Village Voice voted the CD “ Sacred Ground,” produced by Justin Time records and featuring David Murray’s Black Saint Quartet, as one of the top Jazz CDs of 2007. For me Greek myths are among many cultural resources that I draw upon.
For my anthology of short fiction, Pow Wow, out later this year from De Capo, I examined the tradition of magic realism in the Southwest United States. New York critics didn’t have to go across the border to find magic realism. I’m waiting for some scholar to tell me why Chango, a Yoruba God, shows up in Mexican American literature. Explain that to me. Stop playing it safe with yet another paper about Joyce, Faulkner, and the one or two token blacks in the canon. Explain west African Yoruba figures appearing in Southwest, Carribean and South American literature. And if they’re going to do another paper on Zora Neal Hurston, do Tell My Horse, a book that they won’t touch with a ten foot pole.
In terms of students, I’ve been very pleased with some of the students. I think 98% of my students were White for some reason. Our class introduced them to a different perspective of American writing culture, American history and the arts. I think that’s been very beneficial. Some of my students said the classes they took from me were their best experience in college. It’s because it opened them up to a global experience instead of just a restricted view where if you are acquainted with twenty or so books by White males you have depth. Not that I excluded works by White men. But I used works by authors of other backgrounds as well. Some of my former students have become well known novelists, poets, editors, journalists, members of the foreign service who are experts on the local cultures and whose work is hampered by these dumb campaign contributors who get ambassadorships.
ALI: I recall during our class back in the day, none of them knew what the Crusades were.
REED: Well, in one of my last semesters, the only student who could identify John The Baptist was a Chinese student. When I taught a class in 1974, I did a lecture on the Japanese incarceration and other books having to do with an American history that was hidden from students in grade and high school. And a lot of my White students at that time dropped out –a lot of them dropped out, because they had never heard of the Japanese incarceration or some of the other works. They were hurt. I was among the first to teach John Okada’s “No No Boy,” and Rudy Anaya’s “Bless Me Ultima,” in an American classroom. What we did was to open up these hidden corners of American history and culture. Like, you’ve done this – writing is the only instrument we have to compete with this multi-billion dollar propaganda aimed at your groups, aimed at us. It’s the only way we can talk back. That’s why I say, “Writing is Fighting.”
ALI: Why do we always keep hearing about the Western Canon? Harold Bloom always talks about it, for example, and he even mentions one of your books as one of the top 500 books in the Canon. Why is the Canon so resistant, according to us ethnic writers – and some disagree with us on this point – to acknowledge multicultural authors?
REED: They’ve always been afraid of an uprising from below. That’s deep in the American psyche. In the 19th century, it was the Native Americans: they were going to take over. Then, it was Blacks for a while. The groups that threaten them change and usually vary. There’s this book out now about how they use “fear” to win support, and it’s usually about protecting White women. That’s why the Clinton ad was so successful.
Though the commentators, who are unfamiliar with American history saw the ad as clever, this kind a political attack has been used for over one hundred years. Ex confederate agitators used the oldest of dirty tricks suggesting that if you have Black men enfranchised, no White woman would be safe. It was the theme of D.W.Griffth’s “Birth of a Nation.”
Roger Ailes dug this thing up from the old confederate cemetery of political campaigns and used it against Dukakis. And so there’s a link between Mrs. Clinton’s use of the image of the vulnerable White woman to win votes and the campaigns waged by ex confederate officers. You examine that ad. First we see a White girl. This scene is lit up like the manger scene in the Christmas pageant. Then we get darker children whose are cast in shadows. This was Mrs. Clinton’s kitchen sink second Willie Horton moment but instead of Black men who are the threat, it was dark Islamofacists and people with middle names like Hussein.
Of course many White women voters in Texas and Ohio, who want to be liberated but at the same time protected, fell for it. They always do. Her thing about Obama and Islam which she tried to connect. Is she going to be like Isabella if she takes office, a real possibility since she and her husband are using thuggish tactics against Obama like the gangsters they are. Is she like Isabella going to expel all of the Muslims from the country? Susan Faludi in her excellent book The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America claims that some frontier White women were less than deferential toward men. That they were not fragile beings having to be constantly protected from dark men. She mentions the case of Rebecca Bryan Boone, who was the “primary supporter” of the Daniel Boone family. “ She was a skilled markswoman-she was said to have once shot seven deer in a row while perched on a tree-and fended for herself and her family while her husband was out on his extensive hunting expeditions, which, fabled as they became, yielded little income.” It was male writers like John Filson, who demoted women like Rebbeca Boone to “dependent” helpmates, according to Faludi.
ALI: White men protecting White women from dark men?
REED: Yeah. I mean read the American Nazi Bible, The Turner Diaries: the one that inspired McVeigh to bomb the Federal building. They said they need their guns because there will be an uprising where Black men will take their women, and the Jewish men will pimp them. That’s as honest as you can get. These guys put it right out there! Ma Clinton is subtler.
ALI: You think this plays out within academia?
REED: Oh, absolutely. I think the fear of the uprising from the bottom. But, I think they might be trying to accommodate that. When I think about Obama, I think about the Roman Empire, how the Romans, when the empire was on the decline, chose some of the assimilated bright ones from amongst the barbarians to help save it. People who had been formerly cast as barbarians: Germans.
So, there might be an accommodation. They might want to enlist the bright ones from among what they consider to be the American barbarian population- people like Gates and Obama to save the empire. But the racist attitudes of some elements in the White working class, and these White trash gangsters Ma and Pa Clinton are getting in the way. Because they can’t fight ‘em all. They can’t fight all Blacks in this country, they can’t fight Mexican Americans – they’re more worried about them then they are worried about us because their birth rates are going through the roof and about to overtake both the Black and White populations. They can’t fight what they call Islamo-fascists. So, there has to be an accommodation, some kind of deal made. Obama is the ticket, but these ignorant fools led by people like Rush Limbaugh can’t see a good thing when it’s right there in front of their eyes.
If they want to keep up this fantasy of a triumphant European civilization going they might elect him president. Of course, when you go to Europe and travel – I’ve been there many times – it’s more complex than that. I have my students write a poem about a myth that is neither Roman nor Greek. There are a lot of European cultures they know nothing about: Finland, Iceland, Northern Europe and Eastern Europe and you get different myths and oral traditions. I was in Hungary a few years ago and visited the parliament.
They had a picture of Hungary’s founder. He was dressed like Bin Laden. The Hungarians like many so called Europeans entered Europe from Asia. In fact, it would be accurate to call Europe, West Asia.
They recently tried to construct a European museum that would have a central myth. And they couldn’t agree on Ulysses. The Greeks, I mean, didn’t consider themselves part of Europe, they consider Europeans barbarians. You go to Luxor, Egypt, where the Greeks were, and you see obviously there was some race mixing. They were closer to Africa than to Europe.
ALI: Last question: You’ve been writing now nearly 50 years. You look back on your body of work. You must think to yourself, “I came out of the era of the ‘60’s, where we wanted progress. Trying to push things forward.” So, you look back on it and ask, “Did anything I do with my work – did it push things forward?” Can you look back and say, concretely, “This! This piece – this made a difference?”
REED: Some people say I’ve influenced people’s work, their style. I think I influenced a lot of the African American males, experimental male writers, the younger generation. Like Colson Whitehead, and others, he said I influenced his work. And my “Neo-Hoodoo Manifesto,” published in 1969, in the Los Angeles Free Press, which was the idea of turning away copying establishment models and trying to find something indigenous, well, they’re launching an exhibit that will travel around the country my Manifesto: the De Menil Foundation in Houston. Also, I’ve tried to find new forms of narrative: like playing the piano. We’ve got our CD out and planning to make more. It’s called “For All We Know.” Guest artist is David Murray. With theatre, I think, and I mean you know this yourself, you see a more immediate response, since the audience is there.
ALI: It’s more visceral.
REED: Yeah, right. That’s different from writing poems or novels.
ALI: Is your poetry or your novels the form that has really changed things, you think?
REED: I think the novels. The novels probably. The non-fiction.The plays raise issues that are ignored in other forums. Look, I have Black guys who tell me they put my books on their bed stands to read at night like something for guidance or information. That really pleases me a lot. I think my work has changed some things. It’s changed me.
Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and recent Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at email@example.com