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George Curry

Ostracizing Black Leaders Who Criticize Obama

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(NNPA) The Bible is filled with characters who started out on shaky ground – Paul, David and Solomon, among them – before being transformed into epic figures. But it seems that Black leaders who dare to criticize President Obama don’t get second chances. Instead, they are the object of widespread ridicule and condemnation.

I spent some time last week with two such leaders – Cornel West and Jesse Jackson – at the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) national convention in Chicago. Although their standing among African-Americans has slipped, their analysis of where Blacks have been and need to go is as incisive as ever.

Neither Jackson nor West should be viewed in isolation. The Black community does not want to hear anything bad about Barack Obama, even if it’s true. If a White president had been as dismissive of African-Americans’ interests as Obama has been, Blacks would have been ready to march on the White House. As Michael Eric Dyson says, “This president runs from race like a Black man runs from a cop.”

Even so, Blacks treat him like royalty.

My friend Roland Martin is quick to insist that guests on his television program refer to the man who occupies the White House as President Obama. I refuse to play this game. Obama – yes, I said it – is a president, not head of some monarchy. I have called Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush by their last names. I am not going to say President Obama every time I refer to him. Sometimes he is President Obama, sometimes he is Obama. I refuse to treat him like King Obama.

The problem with West and Jackson is their critiques, however valid, were wrapped in language that was offensive to many African-Americans. To call Obama the Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs – a term most people hadn’t heard since their last high school civics class – is over the edge in this instance. Don’t get me wrong: there are some Black Anglo-Saxons who deserve to be called mascots and worse – and I’ve called them that. But Obama is not in that category.

When I gave Cornel West a chance to soften his description of the president during a discussion I moderated at the NNPA convention between him and Al Sharpton, he declined. He could have said, “I stand by everything I said about the president but not how I said it.” That would have gone a long way toward refocusing the discussion on real issues, not the Al Sharpton-Cornel West sideshow.

In Jesse Jackson’s case, he has been largely excommunicated from the race for a comment that reeked of envy. After an interview on Fox News in 2008, he told a fellow guest that he wanted to cut Obama’s private parts off. He also used the N-word in a conversation that he did not know was being picked up by the microphones.

Jackson later apologized, saying his comments were “hurtful and wrong.” By then, however, the damage had been done. At the time, Obama was making a credible bid to become president of the United States. And Blacks did not want to hear anything disparaging about the man who went on to win the nation’s highest elected office. Many, if not most, Blacks haven’t forgiven Jackson for his crude remarks.

Notwithstanding Jackson’s expressed desire to dismember Obama or West’s deeply personal attack on the president, each made valid critiques of President Obama. Jackson was correct to point out that sometimes Obama speaks down to African-Americans. That is particularly true when he lectures Blacks on moral responsibility but does not make similar speeches to White audiences. Cornel West is correct in stating that the administration does not pay enough attention to the needs of the poor and African-Americans.

Despite overwhelming evidence of disproportionate Black suffering during this recession, Obama refuses to target the specific needs of African-Americans. His response is: “It’s a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think that we are all in this together and we are all going to get out of this together.”

Yet, it was not a mistake to address the specific needs of Wall Street. He can speak to the specific agenda of gays and Lesbians without it being considered a mistake. It was not a mistake in Obama’s mind to speak to the specific needs of the automobile industry. It was not a mistake to speak to the special interests of banks. But when it comes to the needs of African-Americans, we are supposed to wait for progress to trickle down to and upon us.

Yes, he is president of all of America. But all of America includes Black America.

The sad reality is that most civil rights leaders have given Obama a pass. If the unemployment rates and economic gap had widened under a White president, Al Sharpton would have been in the streets chanting, “No Justice, No Peace.” Instead, the ultimate outsider has become the ultimate insider, defending the administration with the vigor of a cabinet member.

As a group, today’s collection of civil rights leaders are ineffectual and out of touch. For example, with all of the problems facing us, the NAACP chose to spend part of its limited national, state and local resources to make sure Black motorcycle riders were not discriminated against on the Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

We have far more serious issues facing Black America. And we need the voices and analysis of all of our national leaders, even after they have put their foot in their mouth.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Blacks and AIDS: 30 Years Later

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(NNPA) Sunday will mark the 30th anniversary of the first public identification of AIDS. On June 5, 1981, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) disclosed that five previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles were diagnosed with an infectious disease normally associated with a deteriorated immune system.

Writing about the initial discovery, last week in the Washington Post, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health, recalled: “One month later, the MMWR wrote about 26 cases in previously healthy gay men from Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, who had developed PCP [pneumocystis carinii pneumonia] as well as an unusual form of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma.

“Their immune systems were severely compromised. This mysterious syndrome was acting like an infectious disease that was probably sexually transmitted. My colleagues and I never had seen anything like it. The idea that we could be dealing with a brand-new infectious microbe seemed like something for science fiction movies.

“Little did we know what lay ahead."

“Soon, cases appeared in many groups: injection- drug users, hemophiliacs and other recipients of blood and blood products, heterosexual men and women, children born to infected mothers. The era of AIDS had begun.”

Actually, AIDS began prior to 1981 – we just didn’t know it.

Since 1981, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.7 million people in the United States have been infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Among the 1.7 million, 600,000 died. More than 1.1 million are living with the disease today. Every 9 ½ minutes, someone is infected with HIV in the United States.

AIDS, initially thought to be the exclusive purview of White gay men, has taken such a large toll on African-Americans that Phill Wilson, of the Black AIDS Institute, describes it as a Black disease. Although Blacks represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, African-Americans account for 45 percent of all HIV infections and 46 percent of all people living with HIV in 2006, according to the CDC.

Over the course of the epidemic, African- Americans have become a larger proportion of those diagnosed with AIDS, jumping from 25 percent in 1985 to almost double – 48 percent – in 2009.

Among certain groups, the numbers are staggering: • Black women account for 61 percent of all new HIV infections among women, a rate nearly 15 times larger than that of White women. Most African-American women were infected through heterosexual activity.

• Black teenagers represent only 17 percent of all U.S. teenagers, but 68 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses among teens.

• According to one five-city sampling, 46 percent of Black gay and bisexual men were infected with HIV, compared to 31 percent of Whites and 17 percent of Latino males.

There are many reasons for such disparities, including limited access to quality health. One national study found that Blacks are more likely to skip medical care because they lacked transportation, were too sick to go to the doctor, or had competing needs, such as expenses for basic essentials.

Citing a national study, an HIV/AIDS fact sheet published by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation observed: “Blacks with HIV/AIDS were more likely to be publicly insured or uninsured than their white counterparts, with over half (59%) relying on Medicaid compared to 32% of whites. One fifth of blacks with HIV/AIDS (22%) were uninsured, compared to 17 percent of whites. Blacks were much less likely to be privately insured than whites (14% compared to 44 %).”

In addition to less access of health care, the death rate is higher among Blacks, in part, because African-Americans are often diagnosed long after they have been infected, reducing the likelihood of successful treatment.

Grassroots community groups have been laboring to heighten awareness. Wilson and his Black AIDS Institute have been particularly impressive mobilizing civil rights leaders, even getting them to undergo testing in public. Similarly, Pernessa C. Seele, of the Balm in Gilead, has mobilized the faith community, both here and in Africa, and C. Virginia Fields has placed a lot of focus on heterosexual women through her leadership of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.

Still, too many people are walking around unaware of their HIV status, posing a threat to themselves and others. That’s why testing needs to be expanded at all levels. In addition, the Blacks AIDS Institute’s 2011 State of AIDS in Black America report outlines a number of steps that need to be taken by health officials to more effectively address the problem:

• Provide people with continuous and coordinated quality care once they learn they have been infected by HIV;

• Increase the number and diversity of clinical care and related services to people living with HIV;

• Support people living with HIV who have other needs, such as affordable housing;

• Narrow HIV-related disparities;

• Reduce the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV; and

• Adopt community-level approaches to reduce HIV infections in high-risk communities.

The 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS is no time for celebration. It is a time to expand our efforts to bring an end to this preventable disease.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge

Demonizing the Poor for being Poor

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(NNPA) In the 1960s, we had the War on Poverty. In 2011, we’re now seeing a War on People Who Live in Poverty.

One of the most callous examples of this occurred on – you guessed it – Fox News. Charles Payne, in a business segment, acknowledged that anti-poverty programs, food stamps, and unemployment insurance were “good programs”, but then went on to attack recipients of those programs.

“I think the real narrative here, though, is that people aren’t embarrassed by it,” Payne said. “People aren’t ashamed by it. In other words, there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on food stamps; there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on unemployment for six months, let alone demanding to be on for more than two years… No longer is the man being told to look in the mirror and cast down a judgment on himself; it’s someone else’s fault. So, food stamps, unemployment, all this stuff is something that they probably earned in some indirect way.”

The host of the business show, Stuart Varney, called food stamps, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit “a form of welfare, income redistribution” benefiting people with an “entitlement mentality.”

Varney and Payne, in effect, dismissed the findings by the National Bureau of Economic Research that showed that such programs keep 1 in 6 Americans out of poverty, mostly the elderly, the disabled, and the working poor. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, without those programs, the poverty rate would double.

As states continue to struggle to balance their budgets, as required by their constitutions, some state lawmakers are directing their anger at the poor.

In Kentucky, a Republican state representative has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require random drug testing for all adults receiving welfare, food stamps or Medicaid.

Rep. Lonnie Napier, of Lancaster, Ky., introduced Kentucky House Bill 208 that would immediately terminate benefits to recipients who fail a drug test. He told the Huffington Post, “This program is gonna save us a lot of money, because there’s gonna be a lot of people showing up on illegal drugs and they will lose their assistance.”

There is no evidence that people benefiting from anti-poverty programs are any more prone to becoming drug addicts than those who do not receive such aid. Professor Harold Pollack, of the University of Chicago, pointed out that Michigan implemented a mandatory drug testing program 10 years ago at three of its welfare offices. Of the 258 welfare applicants tested, only 21 tested positive for illegal drugs. Of the 21 failing, 18 tested positive for marijuana.

Newt Gingrich, who is testing the GOP presidential waters, has tried to indirectly inject race into his campaign. Speaking to a group of Republicans in his home state of Georgia, he said: “President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.”

When asked about the comment on Meet the Press, Gingrich denied his comment contained racial overtones. He asserted, “…I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.”

Perhaps not overtly, but certainly covertly. That point was not lost on Adam Serwer of the Washington Post. “I don’t think Gingrich lacks the sophistication to understand how it sounds when he calls for poll tests and refers to the first black president as ‘the food stamp president,’” Serwer wrote. “…He gets to play the victim of a politically correct world where liberals try to stifle all criticism of Obama by characterizing any such criticism as racism.

His dog whistle is thus amplified by enraged liberals, while conservatives get to play up their own form of racial grievance politics.”

Nearly 12 percent of Americans are beneficiaries of the Food Stamp program – 28 percent of Blacks, 15 percent of Latinos, and eight percent of Whites.

Recipients, who are at or below the poverty line, are given a plastic card to purchase food, seeds, and food plants. The card cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, paper goods or pet food. Despite those restrictions, the users of food stamps are still used as a political football.

“If people buy fresh vegetables or other relatively expensive though nutritious foods, they are considered to be living high on the hog at the taxpayers’ expense,” the New York Times observed in 2009. “But if they buy cheap foods like hot dogs they are criticized for poor health habits.”

Many people who were quick to criticize the Food Stamp program in the past are now embracing it after they have lost their job. More than 36 million people are food stamp recipients, with an additional 15 million eligible for enrollment.

“This is the most urgent time for our feeding program in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression,” Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon told the New York Times. “It’s time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”

And, those hungry people – many of them facing unemployment for the first time in their adult life – should not be stigmatized by candidates for public office seeking to score cheap political points.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.cessfully take us into the future!

The Frivolous Attacks on Obama and Common

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(NNPA) If you thought nothing could be more frivolous than conservatives questioning whether the President was born in the United States, think again. The recent criticism of Obama’s decisions to worship Easter Sunday at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and invite poet/rapper Common to participate in a White House celebration of poetry illustrates how far his critics will stoop to manufacture a controversy.

Fox News was hysterical over the Obamas’ decision to worship at the predominantly Black church founded in the 1800s by former slaves. Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes, aired a clip from the speech Rev. Wallace Smith, the pastor of Shiloh, had given at Eastern University, in Davids, Pa.

“It may not be Jim Crow anymore,” said Rev. Smith. “Now, Jim Crow wears blue pinstripes, goes to law school and carries fancy briefs in cases. And now, Jim Crow has become James Crow, esquire. And, he doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore because now he can wear the protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.”

After the clip aired as part of Hannity’s criticism of the president, Rev. Smith said his church received more than 100 threats via telephone and e-mail.

“We received a fax that had the image of a monkey with a target across its face,” he told the Washington Post. “My secretary has received telephone calls that have been so vulgar until she had to hang up.”

On his show, Fox host Bill O’Reilly tried to dismiss Rev. Smith as a “racial activist” and kept objecting to Smith’s observation on Easter that the original U.S. Constitution was a flawed document that did not count African descendants as full human beings.

O’Reilly made the mistake of inviting Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church, in San Francisco and president of the local NAACP chapter, to discuss the Obama decision to worship at Shiloh. Rev. Brown noted that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had attended the same church as president without being criticized.

When O’Reilly said they attended under different circumstances, Rev. Brown corrected him: “It was the same church with the same pastor with the same views.”

After Rev. Brown refused to back down, O’Reilly quickly ended the interview. But, Fox did not end its assault on President Obama and his wife, Michelle.

The first lady hosted an event at the White House to celebrate American poetry and prose. Among the performers invited was Lonnie Rashid Lynn, the poet/rapper better known as Common.

Various Fox News personalities criticized Common for his work titled, A Song for Assata written in honor of Assata Shakur, the Black Panther Party member who was convicted of the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. The trooper was shot twice in the head with his own gun. Black Panther Party member Zayd Malik Shakur was also killed in the New Jersey Turnpike shootout. Both Assata Shakur and another state trooper, James Harper, were injured in the exchange of gunfire. Assata Shakur escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba in political asylum since 1984.

In his tribute, Common wrote: “Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldna done. Medical evidence shown she couldna shot the gun.” Although Fox led the recent campaign against Common, the network’s Jason Robinson told Common last year: “Your music is very positive. And you’re known as the conscious rapper.”

Fox also sent out birthday greetings to rapper Ice-T whose song, Body Count, celebrated the murder of police officers. And, it never criticized Sarah Palin, who sees nothing wrong with placing shooting targets around photos of liberal Democrats.

On the Aug. 24, 2007 edition of Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity introduced video of Ted Nugent, a musician and right-wing activist, calling President Obama “a piece of s---“ and referring to Hillary Clinton as a “worthless b----.”

When Bob Beckel, a guest on the program, challenged Hannity to disavow Nugent, he declined, saying: “No, I like Ted Nugent. He’s a friend of mine.”

It is unfair to hold Obama responsible for the lyrics of Common and not apply the same standard to other presidents.

Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart drove home that point when he cited the lyrics of Johnny Cash: “Early one mornin’ while makin’ the rounds/I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down.” Cash was invited to the White House by presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush invited rapper Easy-E to the White House. His group, NWA, released a song titled, F--- tha Police. Among its lyrics:

A young nigga on a warpath
And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops, dyin in LA
…Taking out a police would make my day

Where was the outrage from conservatives then?

Again, there was no public outrage.

By today’s standard, Common’s lyrics are mild. So mild that The Gap featured him in an ad for its 2006 fall collection. He has also appeared in such movies as American Gangster, Terminator Salvation, and Date Night, featuring Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

Lost in the controversy over Common was the purpose of the White House event, which was to honor poetry. As President Obama said at the event, “The power of poetry is everybody experiences it differently. There are no rules on what makes a great poem. Instead, a great poem is one that resonates with us and challenges us and teaches us something about ourselves.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, http://www.georgecurry.com/ You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Donald Trump is a Celebrity Racist

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(NNPA) There is one area in which Donald Trump is no celebrity apprentice – racism.

After being exposed as a publicity-loving idiot after he questioned the authenticity of President Obama’s birth records, Trump quickly shifted away from the discredited birther attack and began raising wild and unsubstantiated charges about Obama’s academic achievement, a record that includes the future president finishing in the top 10 percent of his class at Harvard Law School and being elected president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

Although journalistic lapdogs are willing to parrot Trump’s ridiculous and increasingly outlandish charges about President Obama, few have chronicled his racist behavior and comments.

Trump may have escaped scrutiny partly because he donated free office space to Jesse Jackson once upon a time and frequently makes the rounds with Snoop Dogg and P. Diddy. In one of the few times he has been confronted about his racism, Trump told TMZ.com, “I am the last person that such a thing should be said about.”

No, Donald, you should be one of the first. And, I will tell you why.

One would never know that Trump ever hung out with African-Americans, judging by his language.

In a radio interview with Fred Dicker on Talk 1300 in New York, Trump complained about the difficulty Hillary Clinton had winning over Black voters.

“You’ll hear a political reporter go on and say it had nothing to do with race. But how come she had such a tiny piece of the vote? And you know, it’s a very sad thing,” Trump said. “I have a great relationship with the Blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the Blacks. But unfortunately, it seems that, you know, the numbers you cite are very, very frightening numbers.”

The Blacks? Who uses that kind of language? And Trump didn’t just say it once – he said it twice.

Well, let’s see how Trump treated the Blacks that he claims to have such a great relationship with.

In 1973, the United States Justice Department sued Trump Management Corp. for violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to some potential tenants because of their “race or color.” Trump, who had taken over as president of the family business by then, reacted in typical Donald Trump fashion – he sued the government for $100 million, claiming the family business had been defamed. The judge dismissed the suit, saying Trump and his lawyer, Roy Cohn, former chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, were “wasting time and paper.”

Trump signed a settlement requiring that vacancies in the 15,000 apartment complex, which was approximately 95 percent White, must first be offered to people of color. He agreed not to engage in further racial discrimination. In a precursor of what was to come after Obama released his long-form birth certificate, Trump described his defeat as a victory and bragged that he was not required to “accept persons on welfare as tenants unless they qualified as any other tenant.”

Three years later, the Justice Department hauled Trump back into court for violating the settlement by telling the Blacks they had no vacancies when, in fact, there were openings.

After a group of four African-Americans and one Latino, aged 14 to 16 years old, were arrested in 1989 for allegedly raping a White female jogger in Central Park, Trump took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the death penalty. That would have been a terrible mistake – all five teenagers were later exonerated.

John R. O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, cited racist and anti-Semitic remarks made by his former boss. In his book, Trumped, the former company official said Trump disparaged a Black accountant at Trump Plaza by asserting “laziness is a trait in blacks.” According to O’Donnell’s book, Trump also said, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

In an interview with Playboy magazine in 1999, Trump tried to dismiss O’Donnell as a loser, but acknowledged, “The stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”

Evidently not content stereotyping of Blacks and Jews who worked for him, Trump was inclined to reduce the president to being a Black athlete.

“If you look at what he’s doing in Libya, which is a total disaster, nobody even knows what’s going on in Libya,” Trump asserted. “If you look at what’s happening with gasoline prices where he said he has no control over prices, which he does. If he gets on the phone or gets off his basketball court or whatever he is doing at the time.”

It turns out that while Trump was attacking Obama on Libya, for playing basketball, and raising false charges about Obama’s birth certificate, the president was thoroughly engaged in planning a top-secret operation that would lead to the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was Trump who didn’t know what was going on.

In view of Trump’s record, it is difficult to believe him when he says if he could do it all over, he would come back as an African-American.

He told Bryant Gumble as part of a two-hour television special on race: “If I was starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated Black because I really do believe they have the actual advantage today.”

Not as much of the advantage enjoyed by a run-of-the-mill White male who inherited his wealth from his father. By the way, Donald, there is a well-educated African-American in the White House. And, look how you and those of your ilk are treating him.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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