Jewish World Review Oct. 21, 2004 / 6 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Gregory Clay

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Imagine that — Political stereotyping in the black community | This is the tale of two cabdrivers, a big "D,'' a little "r'' and a bushel of something else — stereotyping.

In 2001, when just-elected President Bush was appointing his Cabinet, an American-born black cabdriver jetting up 15th Street one night in Northwest Washington told me, "But they aren't going to do anything for us.''

Translation: The "they'' he was referring to were Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice — two history-making appointments.

The "us'' he mentioned are black folk.

And the message from cabdriver "A'': If Bush wanted to name a black person to his Cabinet, a black person who would help other black people, then he should have taken the usual, traditional route for black appointees — that is naming a black person to, say, the patronizing Cabinet position of Secretary of Health and Human Services.

But secretary of state? That seems out of the question. Imagine that, Colin Powell out of the question. Imagine him relegated to a "traditional'' black Cabinet position. Same for Rice.

Never mind that Bush broke a deeply entrenched presidential mold when naming black Cabinet members.

To cabdriver "A,'' the historical significance of Powell's ascension into such a powerful position as secretary of state does nothing for the black community in the grand scheme of things.

Cabdriver "A'' essentially engaged in intra-racial stereotyping. Imagine that: black people often don't need other racial groups to stereotype them because they can just as easily do it to themselves.

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Because of that, many black people have been disenfranchised politically in a different sort of way because of these exclusionary principles related to voting allegiances — perhaps because of perceived peer pressure or the fear factor or a pack mentality or, simply, because of a lack of individualism or independent, self-thinking capability.

Now, let's move to cabdriver "B.''

This time, an American-born black cabdriver cruising up 16th Street stops for me. The door opens, the radio is playing. It's tuned in to Sean Hannity's radio show (Hannity, of course, is the well-known conservative Republican who also co-hosts "Hannity & Colmes'' on Fox News Channel).

Cabdriver "B'' is bursting at the steering wheel, though. During our conversation, he reveals that he's deeply perturbed at the media. He believes that outside of Powell and Rice, there is no attention given to black Republicans such as himself.

What about the common black Republican, he says. The regular person who holds a regular job, living a regular life.

Cabdriver "B'' blasts the media incessantly. "What about the rest of us,'' he blurts.

He also says he listens to Rush Limbaugh's show.

You can learn much from philosophizing with cabdrivers.

Which takes us to Williams Sanders, 67. He is in rarefied air in American society. Sanders is the proud black parent of a superstar athlete who happens to be a Heisman Trophy winner in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that being former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders (inducted Aug. 8, 2004).

The elder Sanders, who lives in Wichita, Kan., is a hard-working, blue-collar man with a passel of versatile manual skills, ranging from carpentry to landscaping. Yet, he finds time to philosophize. Like cabdriver "B,'' Sanders also is a fan of Limbaugh.

"I agree with a lot of his views,'' Sanders says unabashedly. "Such as welfare reform. Welfare has hurt black people. Welfare was meant to help people get on their feet, not a generation-to-generation thing. Not an everyday thing.

"Democrats used it to their advantage. They have kept people poor and on welfare so they will vote for Democrats.''

Those Democrats to which Sanders referred - that's the big "D.''

What if popular black icons, such as actor Denzel Washington or actress Angela Bassett, voiced Sanders' opinion publicly? The backlash could be so harsh that it would create welts on their bare skin.

Sanders is in a different stratosphere from many black citizens because of his views. He knows some of his views run fundamentally counter to many in the black community. He knows it, but he doesn't care — mainly because of an epiphanic moment. "When my mother died, something happened to me,'' Sanders says. "I learned at 17 that some people are going to love me and some people are going to hate me just by being a human being. Some people still haven't learned that. Some people in D.C. haven't learned that. They tell everybody what they want to hear. These politicians think everybody should love them. I will offend some people, but I don't care.

"I'm offended when politicians tell me lies, tell me what they think I want to hear - instead of being honest. I'm outspoken and I know that angers many black people.

"I know I am offended when people call me an African-American. I have nothing to do with Africa, so why call me an African-American. Call me a black man. And I am an American.''

Suppose Academy Award winner Halle Berry announced that she were voting Republican (that's the little "r'' in the black community) for President Bush — and not John Kerry.

There would be an uproar — to put it mildly — in many segments of the black community. She probably would be accused of treason. Her movies may even be subject to a massive boycott.

All because she would have defied the political-correctness standard indigenous in many areas of the black community. The standard that cabdriver "B'' and Sanders vehemently ignore.

Comedian and political humorist Dennis Miller once said political correctness is nothing more than "inverted McCarthyism.''

Remember when world-renowned "Rat Pack'' entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. hugged Richard Nixon at the Republican convention in Miami in 1972 — for the world to see. Remember the ridicule that Davis received from much of the black community, how many referred to him as an "Uncle Tom.''

Davis went against the grain. He lopped off the big "D'' in favor of the little "r'' in '72 and paid dearly in some respects.

Now, in 2004, other black people who disdain that "D'' may be in the same political boat of ridicule.

Imagine that.

Gregory Clay is an assistant sports editor at Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.