The HNIC Report

Month: March, 2007

Fred Brown Speaks Out Against Big John

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Washington Post 

By Mike Wise

It is almost 25 years to the day that he inexplicably threw that pass to James Worthy, and Fred Brown wants to talk about the hurt. But the pain is unrelated to this week’s anniversary of one of the most ignominious plays in NCAA tournament history.

“I don’t support the program,” he said.

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Sticking up for Starbury

by Dax-Devlon Ross

the HNIC Report 

When exactly did it become cool to hate on Stephon Marbury? When he demanded a lucrative contract from Minnesota and triggered the end of the potential “Dynasty” he and KG could’ve established? When he destroyed Keith Van Horn’s confidence? When Jason Kidd took the Nets to the Finals a season after his departure? When Steve Nash turned the Suns around just one season after he led them to a start? When he claimed he was the best point-guard in the NBA? When he led the U.S. team to its first bronze medal in the Dream Team era? When he bullied Larry Brown out of town?

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Jesse Gives Obama a Push

by Dax-Devlon Ross

 By DEANNA BELLANDICHICAGO Mar 29, 2007 (AP)— Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said Thursday he’s backing Democrat Barack Obama in his presidential bid, giving his support to a new generation of black politicians. “He has my vote,” the Rev. Jackson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

To read the rest click here

Niggas, Homos and White Boys: Lessons from a Weekend in the Woods

by Dax-Devlon Ross

This past weekend I took a group of thirty-five young men upstate for a retreat. We did the standard team-building exercises: wall climbs, low ropes, hiking through the woods. I-Pods were banned outside of the cabins. The television in the common area had a DVD player but no reception. We were there to be amongst each other, to escape the clamor of the city and all of its accompanying characteristics. I had no delusions about the transformative potential of a two-day outdoor adventure – two days barely ruffles the stagnant ocean of ingrained behavior, can hardly be expected to reverse the current of complacency. I knew their conversations with one another would still be steeped in inner-city idioms. The “N” word was going to flow as freely from their tongues Upstate as it does in the hallways at school. “No homo,” the street slang of the minute, was going to bracket practically every remark the boys made to one another that could even remotely be construed as “gay.” Witness an example: “Son, no homo, your sneakers is hot.”

For me it would’ve been enough if they’d gotten a break from the block. If I have an opportunity to talk to them about their future, to share some part of myself that they didn’t know existed, to encourage them to try something they don’t think they can accomplish, then I’m generally satisfied. But something happened Saturday night, something I couldn’t have predicted or orchestrated. First a little background. On Friday night a kitchen knife fell out of the pocket of one of the young men while we were playing a game in the gym. At first he denied ownership but after a phone call home it was discovered that one of the family cutlery was in fact missing. Needless to say the youngster was on the first train back to New York the next morning. The next day — Saturday — saw a fight nearly break out between two close friends during one of the activities. Although no punches were thrown, slurs – including a barrage of “nigga” thises and “nigga” thats were hurled back and forth. Saturday afternoon we – the other adult leaders and I — sat down with a handful of the members and had a talk with them. We made it clear that we were severely disappointed by the entire group’s behavior and that it was up to them to grow up.

Later that evening a message was sent to us by way of one of the young men that we– the adults that is– were to remain in our room until summoned. They were having a meeting, a private meeting, one we weren’t invited to. We looked at each other with wonder and waited. An hour passed, an hour complete with clapping and cheering, and prolonged hushes. We respectfully stayed put, our curiosity building with each gravely wave of “Uh-huhs,” and every reverberating chorus of “yeses” that slipped beneath the cracks of the door. Finally, after nearly ninety minutes, a knock came.

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“No Homo”: Black Boys, Black Churches and The Stigma of Being Gay

by Dax-Devlon Ross

The New York Times has an article about the continued resistance to gays and lesbians by the Black Church that got me thinking of some of the teenage boys I work with.

“No homo.”

If you’ve spent any time around young black boys of late you’ve probably heard the term more times than you care to count. Basically, it’s a blanket, catch-all ‘get out of jail’ free phrase that automatically purges anything the speaker says of its homosexual over or undertones. So, for instance, you say something like, “I threw the ball at his head.” Immediately after (or before) you add “no homo” in order to make it clear to the listeners that you had absolutely no homosexual intentions. I’ve listened to conversations where both speakers literally preface every sentence they utter with the phrase. Making sure anything that might be construed as gay is purged from the record is a tedious undertaking. It requires the speaker to be aware of everything they say and how it could be interpreted by the group no matter how seemingly obtuse. What never even crosses their minds is that one of them may in fact be gay. The irony, of course, is that a good deal of their behavior could be categorized in the same family of “gay behavior” that they so vigilantly guard against in their speech. If anyone was to ever document how much time these boys spend primping their hair to make sure every wave is in place, how much body spray they splash on themselves after showering, how cognizant they are of the latest fashion, and how cliquish they tend to be whenever they’re amongst each other, they’d probably be surprised to discover they aren’t much different than their stereotyped idea of a “homo.”

 Even being suspected of being gay is considered the mother of all marks against a young black male. He would rather appear ignorant, insensitive– whatever is necessary to preserve his untainted heterosexual self-image. But I don’t blame these boys, my boys. They’re acting in accordance with the cultural mores that have been handed down to them through the religious institution known as the Black Church. Their disregard for homosexuals is rooted in the backbone of black American culture so much so that even those who do not go to church, who shun it, are impacted by the Church because of its aggregated authority throughout the community.

Given its enduring influence, the Black Church’s failure to fully embrace gays and lesbians as members of the community compounds the confused mind-sets I see in these young men, and calls into serious question the Church’s  status as moral messenger to all of America. Remember, the Black Church led the struggle for civil rights by championing the Social Gospel– the belief that only by applying Christian principles to social problems could society be redeemed. Also remember that one of Dr. King’s closest allies in this struggle, Bayard Rustin, was both gay and communist. In relying on arguments like the protection of the institution of marriage, today’s Black Church parrots its white evangelical counterpart’s denunciation of homosexuality. In relying on a strict reading of the Bible’s admonishments of homosexuality, these same churches engage in a bad faith rendering of a text that was once used to oppress their ancestors. Instead of forging relationships with gays on common-ground issues that all marginalized people are faced with in America (healthcare, poverty, education) they distrust and disdain the growing prominence of gays and lesbians in the black community. Also, they slip into a politics of most-favored minority, implicitly accepting the role of protector of their turf against all challenges to the throne. Meanwhile, the churches that have embraced gay and lesbian congregants have done so at the expense of a diminished membership. Congregants would rather travel elsewhere than practice their faith in a “sissy church.” It’s a sad, telling story of hypocrisy and fear, the more so because the ones who suffer most – boys still testing the boundaries of their sexuality and nurturing paralyzing stigmas about what it means to be gay – haven’t even scratched the surface of their anguish.

Obama’s “(In)visible” Childhood

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Dreams of My Father: Fact or Fiction?

 

  I remember being blown away when I first read Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father two years ago. Initially, I had approached the book with skepticism in large part because I expected to read a blase, ‘boots-strap’ memoir written without much flair. That wasn’t the case. Dreams struck me as a modern, non-fiction version of Invisible Man. The young, energetic, community organizer Obama bore more than a passing resemblance to Ralph Ellison’s half-century old protagonist, who, after landing in New York, throws himself headlong into organizing the dispossessed masses. From those early sparks of recognition, Obama’s story bloomed into a full-blown re-writing of Ellison’s novel. From its colorfully dramatic prose, to the main character’s transformation from innocent idealist to experienced pragmatist through a series of political awakenings, to the narrative “voice” itself, the story sang to me through a chorus that only Ellison could’ve authored. Indeed, in an interview shortly after the book was published in 1952 Ellison said, “[I]t’s a novel about innocence and human error, a struggle through illusion to reality…Before he could have some voice in his own destiny he had to discard these old identities and illusions; his enlightenment couldn’t come until then.” As a seasoned reader of Invisible Man (I’ve read it probably five or six times) I could easily trace the same pattern playing itself out in Obama’s memoir— the waking up from the “illusions” of his youth to the “realities” of urban American politics. More saliently, the unnamed protagonist in Invisible Man is haunted by and in many respects constructed through his deceased grandfather to whom he feels inextricably bound, while the Obama of Dreams is dogged by a father of mythic proportions who he never truly knew but was always trying to appease. At times it honestly felt as though I was reading a novel and not a memoir, which, because of the story-teller’s skill and truly poised writing, didn’t bother in me in the least.

Now, in the wake of the James Frey and Augustus Burroughs revelations, as well as questions surrounding the authenticity of memoirs in general, The Chicago Tribune has published a story about Obama’s childhood that casts a shadow of doubt on Obama’s version of his childhood, and that might ultimately smear his sparkling image. In particular, The not-so-simple Story of Barack Obama’s Youth draws upon a cacophony of voices from Obama’s time in Hawaii and Indonesia to challenge the Senator’s portrayal of himself as a young man struggling with or even interested in racial issues. In this regard, the sections I’ve attached below were especially striking.

The handful of black students who attended Punahou School in Hawaii, for instance, say they struggled mightily with issues of race and racism there. But absent from those discussions, they say, was another student then known as Barry Obama.In his best-selling autobiography, “Dreams from My Father,” Obama describes having heated conversations about racism with another black student, “Ray.” The real Ray, Keith Kakugawa, is half black and half Japanese. In an interview with the Tribune on Saturday, Kakugawa said he always considered himself mixed race, like so many of his friends in Hawaii, and was not an angry young black man.He said he does recall long, soulful talks with the young Obama and that his friend confided his longing and loneliness. But those talks, Kakugawa said, were not about race. “Not even close,” he said, adding that Obama was dealing with “some inner turmoil” in those days.

“But it wasn’t a race thing,” he said. “Barry’s biggest struggles then were missing his parents. His biggest struggles were his feelings of abandonment. The idea that his biggest struggle was race is [bull].”

And later,

“Punahou [the prep school Obama attended] was an amazing school,” Smith [a former classmate]said. “But it could be a lonely place. … Those of us who were black did feel isolated–there’s no question about that.”As a result, the handful of black students at Punahou informally banded together. “The brothers,” as Lewis Anthony Jr., an African-American in the class of 1977 put it, hung out together, often talking about issues involving race and civil rights. They sought out parties, especially at the military bases on the island, where African-Americans would be in attendance.Obama, however, was not a part of that group, according to Anthony and Smith. Both of them seemed surprised to hear that in “Dreams”–which neither of them had read–Obama writes about routinely going to parties at Schofield Barracks and other military bases in order to hang out with “Ray,” who like Anthony and Smith was two years ahead of him in school.

“We’d all do things together, but Obama was never there,” Smith said, adding that they often brought along the few other black underclassmen. “I went to those parties up at Schofield but never saw him at any of them.”

Given the “questions” regarding Obama’s African-American authenticity these passages give pause to those who already doubt Obama is really “black” enough. Furthermore, a third grade teacher’s recollections of a youthful Obama submitting an essay in which he announced his goal of becoming president paint the picture of a preciously ambitious youngster. “He didn’t say what country he wanted to be president of. But he wanted to make everybody happy.”

Despite the article’s pretensions of objective newsgathering, the conclusions one is left to draw are clear enough: Obama was an outsider who wanted to be an insider, a fatherless boy looking for validation. The conclusion one can all-too easily draw is that only when it became a useful dramatic device did he conveniently “become” black. What’s interesting about the article as a whole is that it privileges the memories and opinions of the real-life characters from the book and people from Obama’s past, some of whom clearly did not like their portrayals, while seeming to unequivocally suspect Obama’s side of the story.

Whether the exposure of James Frey and Augustus Burroughs will hurt Obama or not remains to be seen. Has the recent spate of pseudo-memoirs blunted the public’s capacity for outrage? Or will the Obama phenomenon, which is based largely on his unimpeachable image, suffer for his transgressions of truth? One thing is for sure, if Obama’s political career ends before it really begins, he can always fall back on his literary gifts.

the HNIC Report

I Stand Corrected…Maybe

by Dax-Devlon Ross

I found this on a phenomenal blog, Skeptical Brotha.

It was hard to do, but I’ve saved my thoughts on the letter until the end

Dear Jodi:

Thank you for engaging in one of the biggest misrepresentations of the truth I have ever seen in sixty-five years. You sat and shared with me for two hours. You told me you were doing a “Spiritual Biography” of Senator Barack Obama. For two hours, I shared with you how I thought he was the most principled individual in public service that I have ever met.

For two hours, I talked with you about how idealistic he was. For two hours I shared with you what a genuine human being he was. I told you how incredible he was as a man who was an African American in public service, and as a man who refused to announce his candidacy for President until Carol Moseley Braun indicated one way or the other whether or not she was going to run.

I told you what a dreamer he was. I told you how idealistic he was. We talked about how refreshing it would be for someone who knew about Islam to be in the Oval Office. Your own question to me was, Didn’t I think it would be incredible to have somebody in the Oval Office who not only knew about Muslims, but had living and breathing Muslims in his own family? I told you how important it would be to have a man who not only knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis prior to 9/11/01 in the Oval Office, but also how important it would be to have a man who knew what Sufism was; a man who understood that there were different branches of Judaism; a man who knew the difference between Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews and Reformed Jews; and a man who was a devout Christian, but who did not prejudge others because they believed something other than what he believed.

I talked about how rare it was to meet a man whose Christianity was not just “in word only.”  I talked about Barack being a person who lived his faith and did not argue his faith. I talked about Barack as a person who did not draw doctrinal lines in the sand nor consign other people to hell if they did not believe what he believed.

Out of a two-hour conversation with you about Barack’s spiritual journey and my protesting to you that I had not shaped him nor formed him, that I had not mentored him or made him the man he was, even though I would love to take that credit, you did not print any of that. When I told you, using one of your own Jewish stories from the Hebrew Bible as to how God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?,” that Barack was like that when I met him. Barack had it “in his hand.” Barack had in his grasp a uniqueness in terms of his spiritual development that one is hard put to find in the 21st century, and you did not print that.

As I was just starting to say a moment ago, Jodi, out of two hours of conversation I spent approximately five to seven minutes on Barack’s taking advice from one of his trusted campaign people and deeming it unwise to make me the media spotlight on the day of his announcing his candidacy for the Presidency and what do you print? You and your editor proceeded to present to the general public a snippet, a printed “sound byte” and a titillating and tantalizing article about his disinviting me to the Invocation on the day of his announcing his candidacy.

I have never been exposed to that kind of duplicitous behavior before, and I want to write you publicly to let you know that I do not approve of it and will not be party to any further smearing of the name, the reputation, the integrity or the character of perhaps this nation’s first (and maybe even only) honest candidate offering himself for public service as the person to occupy the Oval Office.

Your editor is a sensationalist. For you to even mention that makes me doubt your credibility, and I am looking forward to see how you are going to butcher what else I had to say concerning Senator Obama’s “Spiritual Biography.” Our Conference Minister, the Reverend Jane Fisler Hoffman, a white woman who belongs to a Black church that Hannity of “Hannity and Colmes” is trying to trash, set the record straight for you in terms of who I am and in terms of who we are as the church to which Barack has belonged for over twenty years.

The president of our denomination, the Reverend John Thomas, has offered to try to help you clarify in your confused head what Trinity Church is even though you spent the entire weekend with us setting me up to interview me for what turned out to be a smear of the Senator; and yet The New York Times continues to roll on making the truth what it wants to be the truth. I do not remember reading in your article that Barack had apologized for listening to that bad information and bad advice. Did I miss it? Or did your editor cut it out? Either way, you do not have to worry about hearing anything else from me for you to edit or “spin” because you are more interested in journalism than in truth.

Forgive me for having a momentary lapse. I forgot that The New York Times was leading the bandwagon in trumpeting why it is we should have gone into an illegal war. The New York Times became George Bush and the Republican Party’s national “blog.”  The New York Times played a role in the outing of Valerie Plame. I do not know why I thought The New York Times had actually repented and was going to exhibit a different kind of behavior.

Maybe it was my faith in the Jewish Holy Day of Roshashana.  Maybe it was my being caught up in the euphoria of the Season of Lent; but whatever it is or was, I was sadly mistaken. There is no repentance on the part of The New York Times. There is no integrity when it comes to The Times. You should do well with that paper, Jodi. You looked me straight in my face and told me a lie!

Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. ,
Senior Pastor
Trinity United Church of Christ

the Hnic’s take:

Now, I wrote about this very NYTimes article a week ago I was skeptical about it, troubled by it. Bothered by it. Clearly, Reverend Wright had a stronger reaction than I did. I’m glad that he wrote this letter even though it flies off the handle towards the end. He made his point and his point spoke for itself: he was misrepresented in his mind. Nevertheless, he’s chosen to see his side of the story as the only side of the story. Underlying the entire tenor of the letter is Rev. Wright’s assumption that he is completely and entirely aware of everything he said and how it was interpreted. His truth, the letter resoundingly announces, is the only truth.

 I want to believe Reverend Wright was duped and I do believe he sincerely feels deceived, But I don’t feel sorry for him. If he knew the NY Times was little more than a “Bush ‘blog,’” he should’ve never returned the paper’s calls from the very outset. He could’ve just issued a statement and left it alone. Reverend Wright chose to run his mouth (yes, I said it) for two hours with a journalist from the world’s most vaunted paper. If he wanted to have his truth spoken and he already distrusted the mainstream press, then maybe he should’ve considered giving an exclusive interview to the independent press. Instead  he’s resorted to pulling the race card— a white church member! My goodness, has it come to this: black pastors using white congregants to vouch for the church’s absence of racism? How is that any better than trotting out a token “negro” to attest to the progress on the racial front? Certainly Wright remembers watching Jackie Robinson be called to testify against Paul Robeson by the HUAC? Using the opinion of one white woman – who we know absolutely nothing about otherwise, nor have any reason to trust as a reliable source – is a hypocritical move and if anything, shows us why Obama had to reel the good reverend in. Like all of us, his greatest strength –courage– is tied to his greatest weakness– pride.  

 On some level the reverend seems to be seeking this attention. It’s not just coming out of thin air. He welcomes the interviews, the opportunities to be on television, and he does so a little too unhesitatingly to be totally absolved of all responsibility here. From his use of the race card, to the letter’s underlying anti-semetic tone, to the rhetorical phrasing of the letter itself, I just don’t know if I can buy what the reverend is selling– a picture of himself as the victim and the Times as the ‘duplicitous’ bloodsucker. His uncritical praise of Obama sounds a little to unreal. It may even be dangerous to Obama at this point. At a time when we’re trying to understand not only who Obama is but what he might become (and this is crucial), painting him the virtuous, sinless saint is not helping his cause. The reverend’s praise has the ring of a man protecting one of his own from the rigorous scrutiny that comes with the territory. It’s honorable, admirable, but ultimately untenable. Senator Obama wants to be President of the United States not the rotary club. They say all is fair in love and war. Well, this is all the more true in a nation built off war. As long as there are people with agendas to push, no one will ever waltz right into the White House without being wounded by the daggers of doubt along the way. It’s time the good reverend doctor learns this lesson, and time he recognizes that he’s done all he can at this point. Now he needs to recede into the background, which, after all, was exactly Obama’s intent when he “disinvited” him to speak at his announcement address in the first place.

Media Matters Report: Myths and Falsehoods About Barack Obama

by Dax-Devlon Ross

From Media Matters

In recent months, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has been the target of attacks, smears, and innuendo throughout the media. He has been called a Muslim who attended a madrassa and has heard his Christian church in Chicago accused of having a “separatist” doctrine that “contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity”; he has been accused of lying about issues he first addressed in 1995; the media have misrepresented or ignored his past statements to accuse him of dishonesty; he has fended off baseless accusations of scandals; and he has heard playground insults mocking his name and has even listened to media figures question his racial identity.

To read the rest click here

Fenty Shows Signs of Life After All

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Young Mayor Stands up for His City, But How Long Will It Last?

In his first State of the District address Wednesday D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty had a strong message for the White House: “The United States government has brought democracy to Baghdad before bringing it home to the District,” he told hundreds of  residents at a public gathering. “We are the only capital of a democracy in the world that has no vote in the national legislature.” Putting subtance behind these strong words, Fenty has gone so far as to urge residents to engage in active protest to win their right to representation by marching on April 16th.

Although the latest bill is a shard of what D.C.– a major city with a half-million plus population, not counting commuters– ultimately merits, it is clearly a step in the right direction. If D.C. Voting Rights Act (H.R. 1433) is passed in both the House and the Senate, the District will be awarded a single, voting representative in Congress to replace the non-voting Delegate, a position held by Eleanor Holmes Norton has held since 1991. Unlike past Capitol Hill maneuverings for statehood and representation in both the House and the Senate, it is believed that this bill actually stands a chance of passing when it is voted on this Friday.  In addition to granting the overwhelmingly Democratic District (90% voted for Kerry in ’04) a single congressional seat, predominantly Republican Utah will also be given a new seat. Democrats in Congress have already pledged to use their majority status to ensure passage of the bill and the Senate appears to be on board as well. Needless to say, the ever out of sync Bush White House is prepared to veto the bill should it be passed. If Bush follows through on his recent promise to do so, a Congressional override in both houses will need to be issued in order to push the bill through.

President Bush’s rationale for standing in the way of what amounts to a drop in the political bucket is legitimate but weak. Pointing to the Constitution itself (Article 1, Section 2 limits representation in the House to state reps.), Bush contends that the bill would only be deemed unconstitutional. Considering the long list of “illegal” and unconstitutional acts his administration has engaged in – from the 2000 election to wiretapping, to Guantanamo Bay, to most recently the firing of Justice Department lawyers – Bush’s rationale reeks of, among other things, racism. Despite its massive lightening over the last few years, the city is still 60% black. The thought of eventually having add a predominantly black state to the union can not sit well with the GOP.

Putting the race questions aside, though, the arguments in favor of representation should dwarf  any knee-jerk reliance on the ‘framers’ intentions’ when the Constitution was originally drawn up, something many a Supreme Court Justice will attest to. D.C. is a city that functions as a state. It has its own National Guard; it own Department of Transportation; its own Department of Housing; its own prison system. The city issues its own license plates, and collects state-like taxes. Meanwhile, the city’s neck is stuck under the officious foot of the penny-pinching Federal Council, and residents are required to pay federal taxes, unlike other unrepresented territories like the Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Even worse, unlike cities like New York in which statewide tolls are enforced at bridges, tunnels and major thoroughfares, D.C. is unable to capitalize in any way on the commuter population flowing in and out of the city.

Mayor Fenty has taken a bold step in the right direction by challenging D.C. residents to oppose the White House. Even though Bush and his cronies are lame ducks, his willingness to stand up to the administration so early in his career shows political courage, if not shrewdness. However, we should be keep in mind that this is only the first step. The bill is both safe and popular. The real fight will come after the bill becomes law, which I imagine is at the heart of the Bush administration’s resistance in the first place. The GOP sees the slippery slope on the horizon and are attempting to hedge toward flat ground lest the wind up backed into a corner. Indeed, chipping away at the institutional edifice was the chief means by which African-Americans achieved their civil rights in this country: one case at a time, one boycott at a time— always with the bigger picture in mind.

But I digress.

In order for D.C. to achieve true and equitable representation commensurate with its obligations to the federal government, the city must have statehood, and its leaders must lead the fight. Whether and to what extend Fenty is willing to make an issue of the city’s right to representation a priority will ultimately play a determining role in how far the movement goes. Will he put force behind his words or will he be cajoled into calming the chorus of discontent in exchange for political leverage– a cabinet position or cushy job perhaps. In fact, whatever happens next we should be careful not to exclude Fenty’s own self-interest in this struggle. After all, where does a 36 year-old Mayor of  D.C. go after he’s tired of being the Mayor. There are no terms limits in the District, but someone with ambitions like Fenty’s is unlikely to want to remain the Mayor of D.C. for the rest of his political career. The thing is, there is currently no “higher” office in D.C., Holmes’ notwithstanding. However, there very well would be if the city earns a seat in Congress or, later down the road, two in the Senate. Something to think about…. 

A really interesting question, of course, is what happens if Barack Obama wins in ‘08. With the power to amend the Constitution and to grant statehood, does a “black, democratic” President elect to grant D.C. statehood? Does D.C. get two Senate seats to go along with its House seats? Is that even an expectation we should have?

the HNIC Report

How to PimpYour Friends, Sell Your Culture and Get Rich Doing it: The Steve Stoute Story

by Dax-Devlon Ross

 I worry sometimes, that the Joshua generation in its success forgets where it came from. Thinks it doesn’t have to make as many sacrifices. Thinks that the very height of ambition is to make as much money as you can, to drive the biggest car and have the biggest house and wear a Rolex watch and get your own private jet, get some of that Oprah money. And I think that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but if you know your history, then you know that there is a certain poverty of ambition involved in simply striving just for money. Materialism alone will not fulfill the possibilities of your existence.

Barack Obama,

March 4, 2007

Selma, Ga

 Steve Stoute

Back in 1995 then nascent rapper Nas hired Steve Stoute as his manager. Stoute subsequently guided Nas’s unsteady transmutation from prodigal thug poet with mediocre Soundscans to multi-platinum mafioso-black nationalist who many felt (and still feel) is a perennial underachiever compared to what he could’ve been had he never linked up with Stoute. More than a decade later the two are still industry heavy-weights, but their respective relationships to hip-hop seem to be at odds. Nas’s latest album, Hip Hop Is Dead, is an inspired elegy to a commercially saturated culture that “went from turntables to mp3s/From “Beat Street” to commercials on Mickey D’s,” while Mr. Stoute is making a sizeable living showing that same “Mickey D’s” (and other corporate dinosaurs completely out of touch with urban culture) how to use hip-hop to market themselves to a younger generation. According to the Greater Talent Networks Speaker’s Bureau, Stoute is “respected by corporate America for his unique access into the heart of the trend-setting urban youth market.” In the last few years he has become a corporate “hit-maker” for brands” like Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger and McDonald’s by showing exactly what they need to do in order to get kids to buy stuff they don’t need.

Now, I don’t begrudge Mr. Stoute for making a living, but it does trouble me that we’re quick to blame rappers for watering down hip-hop, but we rarely call to task “hip-hop” executives who use their industry capital (their connections and presumed “authenticity,” that is) to sell hip-hop to corporate America. As it stands, the Steve Stoutes of the world– the behind the scenes culture brokers– are unconditionally applauded and acclaimed for helping to enrich corporations with dreadful third-world labor practices. They’re labeled geniuses for showing stodgy companies – whose only interest in inner-city youth is making millions off of them – how to slickify a product with a “hip-hop” edge so they’ll crave it.

Just as Michael Eric Dyson, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, John McWorther, Cornel West and others perform as unelected HNICs in the political and intellectual sphere, the Steve Stoutes perform a similar role as paid spokerspersons in the commercial sphere these days. It’s crucial, therefore, that just as we critique those leaders when warranted, we do the same to those who claim to represent and speak for young black and brown America in billion-dollar boardrooms.

That being said, the current issue of Businessweek Online features a cover story on Stoute. He discusses his  marketing partnership with GM, which has spawned the company’s line of commercials starring T.I. and Mary J. Blige, and a new limited edition Yukon Denali, the Jay-Z Blue.

Check the article out and let us know what you think.

 the HNIC Report