Sunday, October 31, 2010

Opting Out of the Noise Machine

Oh, we had a grand time Restoring Sanity yesterday in Washington, D.C.!

Even if we couldn't see the main stage or hear very well from our perch on the sun-drenched steps of the National Gallery of Art....

It was swell simply to be in the crowd of so many people who apparently agree with Jon Stewart's concern that our political discourse has gotten way out of hand. Actually, what Stewart said at the end of the Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear is that Americans might want to turn off the Noise Machines (that would be your cable TV political programs, and by extension, the blogs and talk radio programming too), as the invective and whatnot in these venues tends to poison your soul.

Or, as Stewart put it, the Conflictinator is not our friend.

Well, that is not exactly a revolutionary idea (although I do relish Stewart's new word, "Conflictinator:" it perfectly encapsulates the endless stream of hot air and manufactured conflict that swirls around us at a stronger and faster pace by the second.) Yet, frankly, I detected skosh of hypocropiety in Stewart's closing speech, if I may say so.

I mean, think of it: Stewart, Colbert and the rest of the merry band of Comedy Central Political Satirists create as much heat as any political pundit currently befouling our TV machines nationwide. Same time, though, Stewart and Colbert deserve props for at least attempting to bring a measure of LIGHT along with the heat. And that is valuable indeed during these tense, dark times.

All in all, it was a good day; I am glad that I was there.

Now, how long will this warm glow last?

Photos: Amy Alexander

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Ginni-Gate: How Did The Call Happen?

My, my, my, so many questions around this Virginia Thomas Calls Anita Hill situation.

First, the most obvious -- How did Virginia Lamp Thomas decide to call Anita Hill and ask for an apology? Why was October 9, 2010 -- a Saturday morning, at approximately one hour past sunrise -- the right moment to place the call?

More disturbingly, What did Clarence (the Wronged Husband, in Ginni's mind) know, and when did he know it?

Ah, the mind reels.

Over at The Black Snob, Danielle Belton asks questions in a context that is even more pertinent -- the daily give and take between Clarence and Ginni, and what peculiar aspects of their.....relationship might have led up to the moment when Ginny grabbed that phone in her daintly "little" hand, and dialed Professor Anita Hill's line at Brandeis.

The Snob asked:

What brought this up? Do [Clarence and Ginni] just re-enact the hearings once a week to get...all riled up all over again? Does he give the high tech lynching speech before blessing dinner?

This line of questioning creates Domestic Scenarios that are too terrible to contemplate.

But contemplate them we must.

I surmise that it went a little something like this:

The night before The Call, Clarence and Ginni return from their usual Friday night Spot, the "VIP" dining room at Bennigan's in McLean, Virginia. As usual, a rip-roaring time was had by all -- they'd dined with Dick and Lynne
Cheney. They enjoy these Friday get-togethers at this Spot because that is Cattleman's Buffet Night.

So the Menfolk polished off a rack o' Southern Smoked Ribs, four pitchers of Miller (Lite), a half-dozen baked potatoes. (Dick passed on the butter and sour cream owing to that heart situation -- Danged arteries just won't stay unclogged!) The Wimminfolk had enjoyed their Endless Shrimp Special and broccoli, washed down with the best of AmRhein Wineries new Chardonneys -- none of that sissified California wines for Ginni and Lynne, oh no oh-oh! They drank only labels from Virginia wineries, the more Teutonic-sounding the better.

Lynne had cut herself off after that second bottle but Ginni -- ah Ginni was on a roll! Regaling them with stories from her recent whiste-stop tour on the Tea Party trail, and before anyone knew it, there were FOUR empty bottles of AmRhein on the table!

They parted company just after the Witching Hour: the Bennigan's manager usually let them stay as long as they wanted, but Dick was lookin' a bit peaked, and Ginni had wobbled a bit when she made her last trip to the Ladies' room. As Dick and Lynne ducked into the backseat of their stealth-sedan (driven by Twin Towering SS men in dark shades and ear-pieces. Yes, the shades stayed on, even at night) Ginni hugged Lynne and whispered sloshily, "Next time I visit the Tea Parties up in New England, you should come with me! They really do it up over there in Massa-SHOOT-ches.... though you'd never guess from how the Lamestream media fawns all over that prissy little Governor Patrick."

The two women cackled, and bid each other adieu.

In their Ford Expedition on the way home, Clarence asked what she and Lynne had been giggling about there at the Cheney's invisible car.

Ginni: "Oh, I was just trying to entice her to come with me next time I visit the Tea Partiers in New England. I swan, everytime I go up there, I feel like I have to watch my back....all those Eggheads and over-entitled bloggers running around, it can be exhausting....."

Clarence: "Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck, now there there Sugarfoot. No one in their right mind would try to roll on you....not anyone with any sense, I should say. I mean, I can think of ONE person in New England who probably would give you face full of buckshot, if she got the chance....."

Ginni, slumping against the passenger-side door: "Oh crap, not again with this....!"

Clarence: "Hey, you know what I'm saying, and you know its true! Bitch set me up! And you always act like it was 'OK," her lying like that on me. Gettin up in front of the Confirmation Committee and LYING ON ME."

Ginni: "Whoa, keep your eyes on the road, you nearly took out the Ridge's mailbox again!"

Clarence: "Well, all I'm saying is -- if you really, really, truly and one hundred thousand percent LOVED ME, you would not stand for it. You would not let her continue to exist in comfort and security, minding her own business as if she had not nearly torpedoed my DREAM JOB....the job I WORKED MY WHOLE LIFE FOR! The job I EARNED, the best job EVER IN THE WHOLE WORLD, WHICH NOBODY BETTA NOT EVER TRY TO TAKE FROM ME, EVER AGAIN!"

The Expedition veered dangerously toward the center line on the dark, back-road leading up to their sequestered estate, and Ginni grabbed the wheel just in the nick of time.

Together, they steered the lumbering vehicle into their own mile-long "driveway." Clarence's hands gripped the wheel tightly, but his breathing was returning to normal.

Ginni: "Clarence...I'm so sorry. Its okay, I got it. Baby, it is OK. Don't you worry, my Big Man. You are right. I get it I get it I get it....."

Clarence: "Not the first time I've heard that, Ginni......"

Ginni: "Well then hear this -- I GET IT, Clarence. And you best believe me when I say this right now: Mama's GOT THIS."

The next morning, Ginni tip-toed out of their bedroom at sunrise.

She had cotton mouth -- effing Chardonnay did it every time! -- but it was nothing a big tumbler of water and even bigger cup of bitter black coffee couldn't fix.

She padded downstairs, paSSED the portraits of John Birch and Strom Thurman hanging in the foyer.

She went to her office next to the kitchen, fired up the Carly Fiorina Type-and-Search-Machine, and got busy.........

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Populations, New Challenges = A Call for New Language

Did I mention that I admire The Nation?

Not just because I am affiliated with it, but also because Cooler Heads tend to prevail at the Nation, a venerable publication. Yes, Cooler Heads, even within the context of partisan political coverage. And when I say "venerable," I mean an American mass-market journal of political news and information that has published continually since 1864...all the while on the side of the angels.

I have never met Isabel Macdonald, the Nation Institute-funded writer who delivered the story that unmasks our most recent high profile Hypocrite -- oh, there have been so many in recent years, on the left and right of the political spectrum -- but she has captured an important thread that has been floating around in the zeitgeist lately, just beyond reach: The human failings that can exist in anyone, and which too many alleged "leaders" try to hide, even as they condemn in public anyone else who shows the same failings.

And so, given Isabel's trenchant story in the current issue of the weekly Nation, and considering other related developments during the past few weeks in the realm of American cultural politics, I have been inspired to come up with a new word:


Noun, describes one who vociferously invokes religion or national affiliation to criticize in public a movement, idea, or development while privately engaging in the behavior being criticized.

Pronunciation: Hy-poc-ro-pah-i-ety.

Origin: Me, October 7, 2010.

Related Forms:

Hyp·o·crit·i·cal, (adj.), from Greek, hypocrisis, "one who acts on the stage, pretense."

hyp·o·crit·i·cal·ly, (adv.)

su·per·hyp·o·crite, (n.)

un·hyp·o·crit·i·cal, (adj.)


Pious: from Latin, pietas, one who respected his responsibilities to other people, gods and entities (such as the state), and understood his place in society with respect to others. In the Roman, "the love a son should have for the father."

Hypocropiety, related definitions:

1) Reverence for God or nation, devout fulfillment of religious or nativastic obligations: a prayer, admonishment or pledge full of piety, masking deceit.

2) The quality or state of being pious: saintly or patriotic piety as facade.

3) Dutiful respect or regard for parents, homeland, etc., stated: filial, terrestrial, religious piety as facade.

4) A pious act, remark, belief, action, or the like, furthering the external perception of the devotion and sacrifices of an austere life.


"Former CNN news anchor Lou Dobbs hired undocumented immigrant workers at his multi-million dollar estates, even as he regularly appeared on a national television program denouncing as 'unpatriotic" undocumented illegal workers and those who employed them."

Synonym, n., Bishop Eddie Long.

Monday, August 16, 2010

BrownTwitterBird Speaks....Er,.... Tweets!

Oh, it was tempting to nest all weekend, snuggled in, enjoying the blessedly cool and tornado free weather. Hasn't this summer been some kinda hot mess? I will tweet you what: BrownTwitterBird and my two BabyBrownTwitterBirds are about through with PEEPCO. I mean seriously. How is a body supposed to keep it together when the lights and A/C are crapping out every five seconds? The Biblical rainstorms and gale force winds we can handle -- BTB has personally clocked mad miles over the years, migrating from the West Coast to the Southeast to the Northeast to the Midwest....Chile, my little wings go all a'trembly at the thought of all that flying....

So we do enjoy a quiet, drama-free weekend now and again. But the sanctity of our humble Silver Spring branch was nearly shattered yesterday morning, after one the BabyBrownTwitters plopped the Sunday New York Times into the nest. Usually I do enjoy the Sunday Times, oh how we greedily pore over the wedding listings and twitter delightedly at all the rich folks from Harvard, and Yale, and Brandeis getting hitched by their Uncle Jasper who went and got ordained by the Universalists through the mail just so he could be the one to sanctify little Madison Brockton's and Kim Yoon's holy matrimony!

We love, abso-tweetly-LUV young love, especially when it is made legal at the Penobscot Bay-side retreat that was bought by the great-great-great-great-great-great GrandPa of little Miss Establishment!

Anytweet, after I made the rounds of the A-section, the Style section, and Book Review -- BTB cannot live without a good poring over the Letters section of Book Review, where tout le monde effete NY literary types meet to scratch and claw at each other like peregrine falcolns perched atop the Dakota -- I moved on to the shredding phase of my Sunday Times ritual. (BTB is all about the recycling, and, lucky me, those thoughtful, forward-thinking Timesfolk really do provide the best acid-free, no-ink-on-your-feathers paper evah, most excellent for reinforcing our humble nest.

But as I tore through the Week in Review section, carefully shredding each page into the quarter-inch wide strips that BTB prefers, what do these pinprick black eyes catch sight of?

Maureen Dowd, telling that cute, pudgy Robert Gibbs that he needs to resign. I mean, really? Hold the feed -- Seriously, Maureen?

BTB would like to know when newspaper Columnists got so thin-skinned? Or, for that matter, while we are at it, why Maureen and her ilk in the blogosphere and on the TV machine are so vigorously pooping in the punchbowl of the POTUS over his supposed lack of "progressive" policies?

Around here, we keep a clean nest, Honey.

And let me tweet you what: Unless you are hatching some kind of brilliantly diabolical plan to clip the wings of the POTUS so cleanly and mercilessly that he cannot possibly win another term, so that Sarah Palin can take over 1600 Pennsylvania that you and your ilk can again return to the High Dudgeon of complaining about the bird-brain Republicans who next time around will most assuredly succeed in their evil mission to ruin this country, well, I respectfully suggest you chill out. We know from bird-brains and the POTUS is not among them.

As is? At this point? The finger- and tongue-wagging is most unbecoming, and tiresome. BTB doesn't have fingers to wag and puffed-up feathers don't actually wag with emphasis, so alright you've got me, there was a tiny bit of Green-eyed Monster in that comment, I have to admit.

But I say this with affection, Maureen. Most times, I do enjoy your scratchings. Why, I even agreed with you a few weeks ago, when you said the POTUS might want to dump some of those smug white guy advisers and those La-Di-Dah Brattle Street blacks who fill up his aide ranks, and go hire some salt-of-the-earth Regular Folk (black or white, truth be told), who know their way around a Crow's Nest, and I do mean that gamey dive up in Gloucester, Mass., where all those hearty Lobsta-People used to hang out. Really, it would be so tweet indeed for the POTUS to get some hard-headed advice from a smart, grounded adviser who hasn't yet been puffed up by The Importance of Being a Political Insider. BTB found it amusing, then, that you caught so much hell for writing that, but personally? I think it was gutsy and spot on -- even if you did cadge the idea from the sage of the Lower House, Jimmy "Wise Owl" Clyburn.

That cute little Robert Gibbs called out the "Professional Left" -- to which I tweet, And, what? He was as right as rain, and honestly, Maureen, it might help if you flapped over to the real world once in while, to see how most folks are faring these days. Not just to Northern California, where BTB has noticed you spend a suspiciously large amount of time and seem to take particular glee in flitting around with the likes of Phil Bronstein and Gavin Newsom, aka, the Oily Twins of San Francisco. Really, there are so many more interesting birds to flock with in that corner of our fair land, and in many other cities and towns, too. I mean, your outfit, bless its shrinking heart, does still have a travel budget, right?

And you do know that folks are as varied, mysterious and surprising as a Peacock's jacket under a microscope, yes?

Put on your tough bird panties, and take a spin out of the Beltway perch, why don't you. The "Progressive Left" really needs to get out more, and I mean out where job losses and gun violence and food pantries are not just tweeting-points, they are where folks live....or are trying to, anyway. (Speaking of weddings and gun violence -- BTB pert near dropped her seed when she read about the shoot-out at that wedding in Buffalo, NY, over the weekend. Sure did. And you know -- now THAT is something to fight about, the Gun Lovers who keep insisting it is OK for everyone to be able to go out and buy a gun. Everyone should not be allowed to have a gun, for Tweet's sake, haven't we all seen the former Mrs. Don Draper waving that bb-shotgun around with a cigarette dangling form her lips while she draws down on my cousins? And know what else Maureen and the Progressive Left? If you want to carp at the POTUS over a boutique issue, that is my pick, thank you very much, not your gay marriage or your climate change.)

Off you go now. Time to rustle breakfast for the BBTBs. I'll be looking for an update soon, in my Times, so don't make a BrownTwitterBird have to take off her earrings......

Friday, July 23, 2010

And Don't Call Me Shirley....Though I Do Sport a Nice Set of NAACP-Ben Jealous Tire Marks on My Back

Surely you don't think that Mrs. Shirley Sherrod is the first black woman to be thrown under the Escalade by NAACP President and CEO Ben Todd Jealous?

As Princeton professor Melissa Harris Lacewell quite succinctly put it, "the villification of black women for sport and political gain" is as old as our republic. But the most upsetting aspect of L'Affair Sherrod, Harris-Lacewell said during an interview on MSNBC last week, is that it exposed the NAACP as being a part of this historic mistreatment of black women. Moreover, "To say [Sherrod's] last name alone should have prompted, for the head of the NAACP, an immediate moment of pausing," Harris-Lacewell said, referring to Jealous' quick decision to "denounce" Sherrod for a fake-ass "reverse racism" speech that a right-wing blogger put out.

Yes, well.

If this were a motion picture, right here the soundtrack would swell with cascading string instruments, that universal sound of an approaching Flashback.......

I first met Benjamin T. Jealous in early May 2009.

We sat down in a back booth at Chipotle on Ellsworth Drive, in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland.

A mutual friend had connected us, though in Washington D.C. lingo, "friend" can mean a Pro contact, a Source, or an Associate. Got it?


I needed a job. Ideally one that didn't involve writing for dubious Websites or PR firms that flak for guns, booze, or the GOP.

Ben needed a Real Journalist...or so he said.

As he laid it out between the big bites of tortilla something or other and soda pop that he consumed, the NAACP was planning an Investigative Unit. In his description, this was to be a collection of staffers and volunteers throughout the association's 1,200 or so branches and chapters nationwide. The plan was to set up "investigative units" -- folks trained in the fundamentals of good old-fashioned journalism, and armed with cameras, and Internet-access -- to report on developments in their jurisdictions.

The units would be directed by a Communications manager in D.C. or Baltimore, and the "content" delivered by the units would be produced at the NAACP's soon to be redesigned main website. The Communications manager of the unit would report to the association's communications chief, based in D.C. Because I had done award-winning work in "legacy" and digital media -- at big newspapers, magazines; in broadcast journalism, including at NPR, and on the Web -- in addition to having written nonfiction books about Serious Black Stuff, whew, right? -- I was the right person for the Manager of Web Content and Special Investigations job, Jealous said.

I sipped water, and watched him from across the table. (I was too broke to buy a meal; he had offered, but I declined.) We seemed to be simpatico: He grew up in Northern California, in Monterey, a hop skip down the coast from where I grew up, in San Francisco. He had worked in newspapers, the African-American press, as a journeyman reporter and then as head of an association of black newspapers. A decade younger than I am, Ben Jealous seemed familiar to me -- passionate about improving the conditions of black Americans, and about social justice in general. "Light-skinned bourgeoise," is how one friend of mine, a black British journalist who knew Jealous socially, would later refer to Jealous and other members of his inner-circle.

But at our first meeting, I mostly saw a youngish brother who apparently wanted to bring the nation's oldest civil rights organization into the 21st Century. Sure, he seemed a bit green -- he stumbled over words from time to time, with the odd hard consonant getting stuck in his throat -- but I heard a sharp intellect there, too.

"With all this new digital technology, and given our networks across the nation, we have a great opportunity to take civil rights work to a new level," Jealous said, referring to the prospect of activating NAACP members to serve as "eyewitness reporters" in their own communities. I said I believed I could help. (And I meant it.) We also talked about mutual acquaintances in the shrinking world of major media, and our respective families. Jealous has a lovely wife and an adorable toddler daughter; I have two elementary school aged children, a great family in San Francisco....and a problematic former husband in D.C.

Jealous said he would connect me to the Vice President of Communications at the NAACP's office in D.C. (which I learned is called the "Washington Bureau.)

I-Teams? What I-Teams?

That is how I came to be the Voice of Ben Jealous for much of the summer of 2009. Not the head of the "I-unit" -- which, I soon learned, was being "temporarily" tabled -- but the writer of Jealous' op-eds, and of the Official Statements, and Press Releases for the association. But mostly, between June and August of last summer, I masqueraded as Jealous in the pages of The Nation, U.S. News and World Report,, and on several other high-traffic websites. (Check out these enclosed links -- they take you to columns by "Ben Jealous," all reported and written by yours' truly.)

That NAACP Communications chief that Jealous hooked me up with? Oy gevalt. A truly Vampiric black woman in her late 50s. You know the type -- utterly in denial about the fading of their formerly femme fatale physique yet still committed to thigh-high skirts and Tx3s -- Too Tight Tops. In Vampira's case, sometimes on special occasions, she augmented this look with 5-inch high heels.....Lucite, see-through heels. That's right, just like those that some hookers and sex-workers delight in.

On my first day at the "Washington Bureau" of the association, Vampira essentially turned me into Ben's mouthpiece, saying she needed "help" writing. Was Ben aware that I was not, in fact, working on building the I-team that he had described at our first meeting? Good question. Wish I had the answer. Vampira said that my writing skills were needed to "help out, just for now," on a couple of campaigns that the NAACP was ramping up: Save Troy Davis (a black man on Death Row in Georgia), and advancing the big 100th Anniversary Convention of the NAACP, scheduled for the second week of July 2009.

Why not?, was my initial response, not only because I am a Team Player but also because my spider senses told me that Vampira and Jealous had a co-dependent relationship, i.e., she served his insatiable need to be in the national spotlight, and he saw to it that the association pays Vampira a tidy six figure salary. Oh, I almost forgot to mention: In short order, after I arrived to work in the association's D.C. office on NW 15th Street in early June 2009, I realized that Ben Jealous has this....thing about being in the Limelight. Yes, sadly, that is (or at least it WAS at that time) the association's entire Communications Strategy -- Get Ben in the National Press. I was new to this kind of Communications work -- which Vampira referred to as "the Dark Side" -- but the intense focus on getting Ben into the press struck me as.....extreme.

For example, not long after I started work, Ben Jealous appeared as a panelist on HBO's "Real Time, with Bill Maher." He turned up in Maher's Southern Cal studio on June 12, 2009, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan for the NAACP's "Save Troy Davis" campaign, it read "" (Yeah, you want snappy messaging? this ain't.) Troy Davis is a black man convicted several years ago of the shooting death of a white policeman in Georgia, and the NAACP had joined forces with Amnesty International and a few other human rights organizations to try to get a new trial for Davis. I won't go into the complicated and, frankly, ambiguous details of the Davis case here. But I will say that I dug in on writing op-ed after op-ed in support of this effort largely because I do believe America's criminal justice system often unfairly locks up black men.

Is Troy Davis truly innocent? You got me. And, as I sat in on phone calls with Vampira, the association's legal partners, and activists in Georgia, it eventually became clear to me that the NAACP couldn't be entirely positive, either, that Davis was innocent.

But that is the thing about the New Generation NAACP as I witnessed it last summer under Ben Jealous' leadership: Details are for Old Schoolers! Gray-beards who just don't get it! Deep thinking, homework, rigorous study and research takes time, is unglamorous, and usually is not captured by cable and network news cameras. And here is another problem, given the wacked-out Communications Strategy I describe above: Jealous rejected -- according to Vampira -- every opportunity to improve his on-camera performance skills. Yeah, I know -- paradoxically crazy, right?

"What're You Gonna Do?"

Because what I saw during Jealous' turn at Maher's desk in June 2009 was a handsome, passionate, articulate black man.....who has a speech impediment.

Yes, there it is, I said it.

And while it is inherently a minor thing, which millions of people world-wide experience, for Ben Jealous, it is emblematic of a larger issue, i.e., his out-sized ego and the high degree to which he is coddled by Vampira and a retinue of flunkies, sychopants, and hangers-on within and without the association.

More to the point, Jealous' unwillingness to accept expert help to overcome his stuttering is also symbolically resonant of the current state of the NAACP -- so close to the edge of greatness, yet so unable to pull back from the Olde Time Patriarchy that self-destructs on its best intentions every single time. (Remember Ben Chavis as NAACP president during the early '90s? I do, since I covered his downfall for The Miami Herald. Then there was Kweisi Mfume, who..... oh Mercy. Ben Jealous, to my knowledge, has not used association funds to pay off Women Not His Wife to keep them quiet about sexual liaisons. But the cult of President-and-CEO Hero Worship is, sadly, alive and well at the NAACP.

The association's late-breaking forays into social media and "coalition-building" with human rights organizations is mostly window-dressing. The installation several months ago of Roslyn Brock as Chairman of the NAACP may be a glimmer of hope for true progress. Still, that is not a lock. I mean, Ros is relatively young, and yes, she says she is New Jack and wants to bring the association squarely into the 21st Century.

But she is also quite Establishment, which is to say an NAACP Baby, which, in turn, is to say that Brock might be ill-equipped to kick the ass of Ben Jealous -- or at least push him away from the cameras, and pull forward the faithful Worker Bees who toil in the depths of the association. During my time there, I met some of the hardest-working, dedicated and Righteous folks I have ever known. There are a whole bunch of Shirley Sherrods working at the En-Double-A who are probably royally ticked off right about now. Because, you know? They believe in the mission....and they want (and deserve) Brave,Visionary Leadership that doesn't behave as if black women are expendable.

But, returning to how I got some Shirley Sherrod-style tire marks on my back thanks to Ben Jealous: Okay, when I walked into Vampira's office the Monday after Jealous' embarrassing turn on Maher and asked if Jealous had ever had intensive media training, this is what Vampira said:

"You're right, he doesn't do well on live television AT ALL, and I've suggested we get someone in here to help him with it. But he doesn't want to. So what're you gonna do?"

Hand to God, people. "What're you gonna do?" was Vampira's reply.

Also, during my FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB, Vampira told me she believed that Jealous had a certain mental health diagnosis. I won't repeat it here, as I have no way of knowing that what Vampira said is accurate. We were walking back from lunch at Georgia Brown's on 15th Street, when she let it fly. Honestly, I can't remember what precipitated that comment. But when she said it, I stopped walking and looked at her. She began to ramble on about how Jealous' mental health challenges should be considered in the larger context of blacks and mental health care; I assumed she Went There, at least in part, because I am a subject-matter expert on that topic. I didn't ask for details or saying anything except, "Oh. OH."

Over the next several weeks, as the Davis campaign heated up, and the Convention approached, I watched, fascinated, as Vampira and other Communications staffers wrangled Ben Jealous onto national news programs at CNN, PBS, ABC, MSNBC, CBS, and other outlets....where he stumbled and gesticulated his way through interviews about the association's "relevancy," and why this NAACP is not your Grand Pappy's NAACP.

Did the talking points that I wrote for Ben and gave to Vampira ever make it into Jealous' interviews? No. Listen, a key aspect of the enabling/co-dependent relationship between Jealous and Vampira was this: She isolated Jealous from the rest of the Comms team.(Of course, this indicates that he allowed himself to be isolated.) I saw Ben a grand total of three times between when I started work in the DC office and when I left in late summer. (Of course, you saw this coming, right? Vampira pushing me out of the association? T'yeah, sure did, and I still do not get why I didn't see it coming, especially after she inexplicably dropped that "Ben has [mental health diagnosis]" on me in early June....)

Things seriously escalated when I told Vampira that, with the Troy Davis campaign ended -- in July 2009, the US Supreme Court had agreed to consider hearing the case -- and following the close of the 100th Anniversary Convention -- where President Barack Obama had delivered a most excellent speech, and yes, I was glad to have been there -- I fully expected to turn my attention at long last to building the I-units throughout the association's branches and chapters.

You know, silly me -- the job I was hired to do?

But even before that, I knew she was gunning for me -- I'm one of those people who has a hard time making with the Happy Face when I'm in the midst of unethical goings-on and ego-driven, craptastic shenanigans. Later, I learned from other NAACP staff members that Vampira had never intended for me to set up any I-units.

Real Housewives of Atlanta -- NAACP-style

Moreover, with a distinctly COINTELPRO flair, since my first day on the job, Vampira had been methodically bad-mouthing me to other leaders in the NAACP, the Vice Presidents in Baltimore who were closest to Ben Jealous (and likely, she'd bad-mouthed me to Jealous too) even as she assigned me one op-ed after another -- all of which were published. (Did I mention that Vampira cannot write? Well, I should say, she cannot write or think about issues in a way that will truly move the association forward positively. That's where I came in. She was expert, however, at working Ben Jealous.)

And so here it is -- a Real Housewives of Atlanta style set-to that sped my departure from the Nation's Oldest Civil Rights organization. (That is how one of my colleagues, a smart Digital Media guru in California, characterized it when I shared this crazy-assed story with her during a phone talk later that summer: "Girl, that is some 'Real Housewives of Atlanta' bullshit," this colleague said. Which cracked me up, since at the time we were discussing this, I had just watched that program for the first time, agog at its stage-managed depictions of trifling women scrapping over trivial nonsense. Had my scrapes with Vampira looked like that to those who'd been on the scene?

Back to the denouement: On the day before I was scheduled to take the Acela to New York to work at the Convention in mid-July, Vampira phoned me- she was already in NYC -- and said, "Amy, I need you to take a look at the draft of Ben's speech he will give at the Convention -- it really needs work, and this is the sort of thing you're really good at. So please, you know, do your thing....but keep it quiet: Ben will be embarrassed if he finds out that anyone other than ME is helping him with this."

Sure enough, in short order I received Ben's Convention speech as an email attachment from Vampira....followed a couple of hours later by another email from Vampira in which she asked me to bring her business cards to NYC. (She had forgotten to bring them, and they were in her office in D.C.)

I phoned her cell immediately, following her second email asking me to bring her biz cards, to let her know that I had already left the NAACP office in D.C. and that I wouldn't be returning there before I headed up to New York. Therefore, I politely said to her outgoing vmail message, I will not have your biz cards when I arrive at the New York Hilton, but I will do my best to contact the Office Manager, and ask her to send them express.

Okay, apologies for getting into the weeds here, but this is instructive:

Two days into the convention, Vampira rolled up on me in the Press Room at the New York Hilton and actually began loud-talking me .....because I hadn't brought her business cards. Calmly, I reminded her that I had contacted the Office Manager back in DC, and that the cards were on their way. To which she replied, "After this convention, you are DONE. You won't be working for us anymore."

She said this at a near-shout, in a room filled with journalists who had come to the Hilton to cover the 100th Anniversary Convention and President Obama's speech. I told her I was in the midst of helping find press passes for the newcomers, and that I would follow up on finding her business cards as soon as I'd cleared the line of waiting media pros. But I was furious and humiliated -- I am in my mid-40s. I have written books, articles, and produced high-quality journalism for more than two decades, at some of the nation's best outlets, in Old and New Media.

Yet Vampira actually believed that I had taken a job at the NAACP to serve as her op-ed writing minion and business-card carrier. How about that?

When I left the press room at the Hilton following Vampira's freak-out, I immediately found Ben Jealous' personal assistant -- a highly-efficient young black woman, one of two association staffers who mind Jealous' schedule -- and told her that Vampira had, for all intents and purposes, loudly fired me in the middle of the press room. The young assistant sighed, and said, "Why don't you go get lunch, Amy. I will take care of this." Oh, and while I was at it, I also let this assistant know that I had, at Vampira's request, rewritten Jealous' convention speech....and that despite my having turned that assignment around in 24 hours, and returned it to Vampira via email, it had not come up.

Later that afternoon, Vampira phoned my cell and left a message: "I don't know why people are saying that I 'fired you' today in the press room, Amy. But, you know, there is so much going on here now, things are kind of chaotic, I just think everyone needs to do their best to keep things going smoothly, and that we should have a meeting to talk about duties, when we return to D.C. next week." I didn't return that call, and I avoided Vampira for the remainder of the confab.

But on the day, a couple of weeks after the convention closed, when Vampira phoned my cell as I headed home to Montgomery County from the association office on 15th Street in D.C., I had pretty much had enough.

She said, "Come in tomorrow at 9am, we need to have a meeting to talk about your work. "

"Fine," I said, "because, you know, it is time for me to turn my attention to the job I was hired to do...."

Vampira cut me off. "Actually, everyone doesn't always get to DO the same job that maybe they expected to at the time they're hired....given our resources, you should understand that you will do whatever work I feel we need, at any given time. And I AM [your supervisor] here."

Yes, an Al Haig moment. And it pushed me right over the top. "Look, I've been doing ALL of the writing since I came here. I know it, you know it, and everyone else in Comms knows it. Now, I agreed to it initially, because of the Davis campaign and the Convention. But those things are DONE now, and I need to get these reporting units set up....."

The President and CEO Regrets

Well, you can write the rest of this part of the story. Now, of course, at any point during my dealings with Vampira, I could easily have contacted Ben Jealous, in confidence, and shared my concerns about her erratic behavior.

But I did not. I lacked confidence that Jealous would have my back.

So did I have any direct dealings with Ben Jealous after Vampira pushed me out?

He emailed me later in August 2009, after I'd left the association, and said, in essence, Gee Amy, I sure am sorry that things didn't work out. It will be helpful to hear what your experience was like, if you care to share. I'm traveling for the next couple of weeks, but after I return, maybe we can sit down together...

I waited a few days after reading THAT passive-aggressive claptrap, and then wrote back saying, Sure, I'm happy to sit down with you. In the meantime, I will be needing another job really soon, since, you know, I am a divorced mother of two elementary school-aged children. So I will really could use a good reference from you.

And you know what?

I bet you DO know what. Ben Jealous didn't reply to that email.

The Investigative Units were not developed, though the main website did receive a makeover, with a spiffy Ben Jealous blog, and YouTube video snippets from Ben's speeches, and photos of Ben at various events, and links to "Ben's" op-eds......But no real-time content from NAACP "reporters" on the ground.

Fade out. The End.

Except it wasn't, was it?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It is Easy to Casually Fire Black People and Even Easier Not to Hire Them

This is the truth here in post-racial America.

Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report recently delivered a devastating analysis of an urgent topic that pitiably few reporters at big news organizations have bothered to unpack. (Michael Luo at The New York Times is a rare and thankfully well-placed exception.)

In his April 7 piece, Ford looks at the skyrocketing unemployment stats among African-Americans, and lays out a likely trajectory of increasing unemployment. Along the way, he also deftly uncovers some of the soft, difficult to quantify aspects underneath the high black unemployment rate, namely, the probability of whites who are reluctant to hire blacks during this massive contraction of the American workplace. He stops short of saying white gatekeepers and hiring managers are racist....but what else explains it?

At the same time, I don't agree with Ford's rather inelegant Karate chop near the end of the piece -- he accuses President Obama of not caring to address the escalating jobless crisis for blacks.I do worry that President Obama, fresh off the long, grueling battle to pass health care reform, may be a bit reluctant to pivot hard and stride directly into another wrenching economics-related minefield...especially one marked with big ruts of cultural crap. Sure, POTUS could roll out and say, "Black folks are being hit hardest by the economic downturn, so I am going to focus on creating jobs in their communities first."

But not only would such a statement from the President send the Tea Partiers to marching up Pennsylvania Avenue with lit pitchforks and swinging truncheons, it would also push more than a few Democratic elected officials right out of their seats. No, I suspect there is a sub rosa plan taking shape to address the unacceptably high unemployment numbers among blacks....but no one should hold their breath for any Announcement about it any time soon. I do not think that means the President does not care,I think it means he is as pragmatic as he is determined to honor his campaign promises and to serve his own personal values.

Still, I wholeheartedly agree with Ford's call to arms: "We need a movement."

This topic is particularly urgent for me: During the past month, I have had several conversations with black colleagues and friends who are being devastated by the on-going "recession;" they are out of work and stunned by how hard it is to find a new job that is comparable to the job they left. Yes, as the saying has it, White America may have a bad cold (recession) but for us, it is an insidious, lethal case of pneumonia (Depression).

My out-of-work colleagues are doing their best to stay optimistic but it is a tough row to hoe: they are middle-aged, and have worked more than twenty years in their fields; one colleague -- well, you might call him My Former Husband -- is currently seeking work,after being employed continuously for almost 25 years in print media. As much as I am tempted to indulge in a bit of Schadenfreude as he experiences the same shock that I encountered three years ago when I was unexpectedly thrust into the hellishness of seeking work in DC's morphing, shrinking media landscape, I am not going least not whole hog, anyway. It is a scary time for black professionals who have worked hard to become experts at their line of work, only to suddenly face the prospect that all that time in service and knowledge-accumulation is no longer Good Enough. Well, that is some kind of cruel fate. (As it is for anyone in that position, no matter their gender or skin color; I'm simply suggesting that black Americans only began occupying white-collar professions in significant numbers relatively recently, so the losses are more acutely felt.)

For each of my colleagues currently out work in greater DC, the hardest part of the seemingly-endless job searching is this: Once they've cleared all the hurdles to get an interview, including writing tests, phone interviews, questionnaires, should they actually land an interview, they invariably face the amorphous "comfort zone" test. This is a make or break moment, calm on the surface, yet fraught with tension beneath the stiff smiles.

Until recently, I wore those shoes, and I know what it feels like to walk out of the interview knowing that my work experience, my sensibility, my skills at problem-solving, critical thinking, and all that good stuff will not, necessarily, trump any perception that White hiring manager may hold (however incorrectly) of my ability to "fit into the workplace culture." But this "fit in" canard is a big reason why many qualified blacks don't get hired today, especially here in D.C.'s hot-house, white collar workplaces.

So, time after time, qualified black candidates walk away from that interview, only to later receive an email or brief phone message (why are these gatekeepers so cowardly?) indicating that the hiring manager didn't feel they would make "a good fit," or that the hiring manager has decided to "go in another direction." Vague reasons.....but just specific enough to make you hang your head.

It can be soul-crushing. Like Ford at Black Agenda Report observes, the ease with which blacks -- qualified blacks -- are passed over or fired from much-needed jobs is tragic, and maddening.

Until President Obama and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and their respective Jobs Creation czars come up with an effective way to neutralize (if not eliminate) that aspect of the changing economic landscape, I'm afraid the gains that blacks have made during the past three decades will be diminished greatly, perhaps even irrevocably.


David Mills: Now that was a Giant Negro for you.

Today is the home-going for David Mills, the former Washington Post writer who went on to deliver some of the best television scripts of the past decade. I could not make the service, in College Park, Maryland, but I was there in spirit, and will make a donation to David's family's preferred charity. Last night, I watched the premiere of "Treme" on HBO, the series David was working on when he passed away last month. Yep, great writing, as usual. I will eagerly watch the entire series.... even though I dread the inevitable time ahead, when we will come to deeply miss his singular voice and uncanny insight......

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nancy Pelosi and Shirley Chisholm: My Very Own BFFs

When I was a kid, I developed a Girl Crush on Shirley Chisholm.

Something about her eyeglasses, and the overbite, not to mention Chisholm's way with words.

The other day, I dipped again into Say it Plain: A Century of Great African-American Speeches, to revisit the Awesomeness that was Chisholm. (If you don't have this 2005 collection, edited by Catherine Ellis and Stephen Drury Smith, you might consider it: not only does it have all the Greatest Hits you might expect, including from MLK, but it also has more obscure speeches from the likes of John Hope Franklin, Johnetta B. Cole, and Mary McCloud Bethune. Oh, and it comes with a CD of the original audio captures of the speeches! Run, don't walk...)

On June 17, 1974, at The University of Kansas, Chisholm gave a speech titled, "The Black Woman in Contemporary America." Along with many observational gems on the status of black women, it included this:

I hope the day will come in America when this business of male versus female does not become such an overriding issue, that the talents and abilities that the almighty God has given to people can be utilized for the benefit of humanity. ... I would never have been able to make it in America if I had paid attention to all of the doomsday-criers about me. ... Forget traditions! Forget conventionalisms! Forget what the world will say whether you're in your place or out of your place. Stand up and be counted. Do your thing, looking only to God -- whoever your God is -- and to your consciences for approval.

Yeah, she brung it. And apart from the groovey and now dated '70s-speak -- "do your thing" -- Chisholm's toughness and smarts resonates with me.

This is what occurred to me too, recently, about Nancy Pelosi.

Not saying I have a Girl Crush on Pelosi. But honestly? It could come to that.

Lately I have been paying closer attention to her, specifically, to how she manages the wrangling of votes for the health-care reform bill. Seriously: Before now, I have been preoccupied, and not really tuned in to Pelosi's doings, or to all the Nancy Haters on the right. After Pelosi took the Speaker's gavel several years back, I tuned her detractors out: How boring to consider that they are unduly undone by Pelosi's San Francisco affiliation, as much as they are by any particular legislation she is championing.

But now it occurs to me that Chisholm's observations about sexism are really what is driving the Nancy Haters: How dare this gal wield so much power on Capitol Hill?, they seem to be thinking. Why is a woman in a position of power at such a crucial time in the history of our Republic? How come she isn't more deferential to us?

Right: Senator John Boehner and his crew probably use language that is a tad saltier when they talk about Pelosi in private.

But their Hateration is not only antediluvian, it is poisoning their ability to clearly assess a fundamental change that is taking place in the U.S. -- populations coast to coast are becoming younger, browner, and more female. The willful denial and ignorance of the Nancy Haters will be, ultimately, their own undoing. The increasingly frantic and absurd tactics they use to push-back against passage of the health-care bill are the final gasps of a dying empire, like Nero cranking up the violin as the flames of defeat expand around him.

Okay, not really the best metaphor, but I hope you get my meaning: Nancy Pelosi is a San Francisco Liberal (just like me...only with a larger clothing budget). And everything that is implied by that term, as it is typically hurled by Boehner and his crew, is fast becoming the "norm" in America: tolerance for "non-traditional" lifestyles, compassion for those less fortunate, government that provides for the most vulnerable of its citizens, and which smooths a path to stability for those who just need a fair shot.

Yeah, so don't waste too much energy on the Haters. Time is not on their side. I take solace in the best lessons from history, and from what I know about strong, smart American women. Shirley Chisholm's 1970 autobiography was titled Unbought and Unbossed.

That is how I think of Nancy Pelosi, too.

By the way, the best of the literary canon on Pelosi is Madame Speaker, written by Marc Sandalow, former DC bureau chief of The San Francisco Chronicle.

And, what?