Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Obama: Enough of "Black Enough"

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, takes questions from Byron Pitts of CBS News. (Credit: Jason Miccolo Johnson courtesy NABJ.)

"An Easy Story to Write and a Lazy Story to Write"

Now that the 3,130 people who attended the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas last week have returned home, Sen. Barack Obama will have one test of how effective he was:

Will journalists keep raising the question, "Is he black enough?"

The first African American presidential candidate with a serious chance of winning made it clear at the convention on Friday that he is irritated by the question, thinks journalists who raise it are going after an "easy story to write and a lazy story to write," and that journalists should investigate how the phrase became a campaign issue in the first place.

Moreover, he offered views on a number of issues of concern to black people globally that demonstrated that, as an African American, he sees things differently from his white competitors.

As one example, both the junior senator from Illinois and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., were asked whether the "dialogue on race" undertaken during the Bill Clinton administration should be revisited.

Barack Obama, left, at Trotter Group meeting with Tonyaa Weathersbee of the FlorThe former first lady told the Trotter Group of African American columnists that her husband's effort had been unfairly derided, and added that "race is still a very significant issue, for our own role in the world and where we are as a people. Perhaps the people are willing to have that conversation now," maybe at a grass-roots, community level.

Answering a question from Betty Bayé of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Clinton linked the need for racial dialogue to what she called American society's dulled nerve endings over coarsened language, exemplified by ousted radio host Don Imus's April slur against the Rutgers women's basketball team.

Clinton also called an apology for slavery a good idea, saying "we're living with the residue," but said she did not favor reparations.

By contrast, Obama said, "I'm more interested in taking action as opposed to talking about talking. Generally, there is hand-wringing and breast beating and not much follow-through" after such conversations, Obama said.

His very inauguration would change the discourse on race, he told questioner Vanessa Williams of the Washington Post, when all Americans see his wife, Michelle, as first lady, and their children, Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6, running around the South Lawn.

He jokingly referred to his wife as "Jackie O. from the 'hood," a reference to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was known for her elegance.

Obama said he'd rather have a conversation about the inequities in the criminal justice system, although he "could see the need for an expanded conversation about slavery, because I don't think we've fully acknowledged the cost.

"America is an ahistoric country" that does not see the connection between the violence that had been perpetrated on black people in the South and the violence today among blacks on the South Side of Chicago. "Violence passes down from generation to generation," he said.

The senator also wondered whether an apology for slavery coming from an African American president would "transform the country," the way it would if it were generated elsewhere.

The "black enough" question at first provided the springboard for a joke. Obama began his convention talk by saying, "I want to apologize for being a little late, but you guys keep asking whether I am black enough."

After an impish grin and a pause, he added to applause and laughter, "I figured I'd stroll in."

Later, he tried to analyze the question. "What it really does lay bare," he said, is a mentality that "if you appeal to white folks, there must be something wrong. And some of that is, 'is he keeping it real because he went to Harvard?' Part of it has to do with fear. We don't want to get too excited about the prospect" of an African American president "because we don't want to be let down in the end. My attitude is let's try it. Let's take a chance and see what happens.

"I expect to have to earn the votes of African Americans," he continued, but if people vote otherwise, "it certainly shouldn't be because we're confused about our real identities. That time is past."

At a session with the Trotter Group after the speech, Eugene Kane of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked Obama where he thought the "black enough" question came from and how much it bothered him.

It is a concern he does not hear from ordinary black people, Obama replied. "There's an aspect of it that's cynical. This issue has been stirred up and perpetuated by . . . I can't say by who, I'll let you guys investigate it.

"Think about it. Nobody asked if I was black enough when I was running for U.S. senator. They were happy to claim me. What happened? Did I change? What happened was, people said 'where did this guy come from and why is he breaking up the party?'

"It is an easy thing to write and a lazy story to write, and plays into the notion of black identity that I think is old. It's not something I spend a lot of time worrying about," or that his wife does. "We know who we are. They question is, does everyone else know who they are?"

The "black enough?" story line gained currency last February after a "60 Minutes" interview with Obama that followed opinion pieces by such contrarian black writers as Stanley Crouch and Debra J. Dickerson, and in 2004, comments by his Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Alan Keyes.

They argued that because Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother was a white woman from Kansas, that because he spent much time in his youth with his white grandparents and because had no slave ancestors, he is different from other African Americans.

However one responds to that argument, Obama's biological ties to Africa, claimed by no other presidential candidate, are evident in his comments about the continent. Asked in the Trotter meeting by Chicago columnist Monroe Anderson about China's expanding ties there, Obama referred to his own trip to his ancestral home a year ago.

"I recall having dinner with an African bishop in South Africa," the candidate told the group. "He said the pervasive presence of the Chinese is only matched by the complete absence of America."

The senator proposed a doubling of foreign aid as part of broader U.S. foreign policy.

He said that while China might be making gains in Africa at American expense, all is not lost there. "Personal diplomacy makes a difference," he said. "When I went to Kenya, tens of thousands of people lined the streets." After he and his wife took an AIDS test, it was estimated that half a million people there would follow suit, he said.

Obama made another global analogy when asked about economic development in inner cities: "If we have a World Bank to deal with world poverty, we can have an urban bank."

A question about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, became an occasion to discuss the rest of the continent. "We've got places like this all through sub-Sahara Africa. We've got to have an African policy" that doesn't "just wait until all hell breaks loose" to act; one that includes health care, expanding trade and holding African leaders accountable, he said.

"Millions of people have died in the Congo over the last six years. If you ask millions of Americans about it, they wouldn't know a thing about it." He added that he viewed Africa's condition as a security issue.

After Clinton spoke the previous day, columnist Stan Simpson of the Hartford Courant told Journal-isms, "For me, the Obama campaign is so mundane. He tries to play it safe."

After hearing Obama, Simpson concluded that, like Hillary Clinton, Obama had "a great grasp of the issues. His intellect was very clear. . . . He was glad to be among us. You kind of sensed that."

Obama and Clinton were the only candidates in the Democratic and Republican fields to accept NABJ's invitation to speak, NABJ officials said, except for John Edwards, who was available only at a time that conflicted with another NABJ event.

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Obama Hoping for Change in "Rock Star" Story Line

Barack Obama as rock star? It's only the latest media story line about him, Obama told a meeting of African American columnists.

"When the press starts paying attention to the substance of these arguments, the rock star label will fade and we'll be back to where we should have been in the first place," he said.

In a Friday speech before the National Association of Black Journalists and a follow-up meeting with members of the Trotter Group, the Democratic presidential candidate pledged to continue to provide access to the black press, gave examples of the kinds of stories he would like to see, flattered black journalists as producing the stories that help define his politics, and mourned slain Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey.

His aides said he had not yet developed a position on providing people of color with greater ownership of media outlets.

"The media develops a narrative and once the narrative develops, it's hard to break out of," the senator from Illinois said in response to a question at the Trotter session from Tonyaa Weathersbee of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. She asked what Obama thought of the "rock star" label.

"Initially it was, 'he can talk good . . . and has a pretty wife, but there's no substance,'" Obama said, even though he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, was at the top of his class at Harvard, and posted one of the more detailed health-care plans of the campaign on his Web site.

Now it's "shifted to, 'he's inexperienced' and he's short on foreign policy," he said.

Obama then defended his much-debated statement that he would meet with foreign leaders the United States finds repugnant, such as those in Iran. "We have refused to talk to Iran until they meet preconditions, which is what you talk about with Iran." With such a posture, "the world sees us as intransigent," he said.

The senator noted that the Washington Post on Thursday editorially defended another of his positions that met with criticism, that the United States should act to root out terrorists on Pakistani soil if Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president, does not.

Obama began his speech by saying he had been in Oakland, Calif., the day before and helped a home health-care worker, Pauline Beck, serve her elderly charge as part of the Service Employees International Union's "Walk a Day in My Shoes" program.

"It was the best three hours I've spent on this campaign," Obama said, telling the journalists, "You help to lift up the stories of people like Mrs. Beck."

Reporters should tell "specific stories" about the lack of affordable housing, of ex-convicts who can't find jobs and other social problems. He said he was present "not only as a candidate for president, not only as an African American . . . " but one who has a chance to "speak to people whose writing helps inform my politics."

Cheryl Smith, editor of the Dallas Weekly, asked Obama why he had reached out to the black press, with whom the candidate held a conference call early in the year, and whether he would continue to reach out if elected.

Naming three Chicago black newspapers —the Defender, the Crusader and the Citizen — Obama said that when he served in the Illinois legislature, those papers would cover issues he was working on that the mainstream press would not.

"My attitude is that if you were covering me when nobody wanted to cover me, then they should cover me when everybody wants to cover me. That attitude will continue when I'm in the White House," he said.

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Sandra Long Named Co-No. 2 at Philly Inquirer

Sandra Long, a deputy managing editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the highest ranking African American in the Inquirer newsroom, on Monday was named a co-managing editor at the newspaper.



"Long and Mike Leary, an assistant managing editor at the Baltimore Sun, "will jointly rank as the No. 2 editors in the Inquirer newsroom, with Leary overseeing news-gathering operations and Long responsible for production-related activities. She will be the newsroom liaison with business operations," Bob Fernandez wrote in a story on the Inquirer Web site.

"Inquirer editor Bill Marimow made the announcement to the newsroom outside his office at mid-afternoon. Leary and Long replace Anne Gordon, who announced her resignation in late April as managing editor to join a private-investment firm," the story continued.

"'Both of them know a good story when they see one, and they both know a story that needs attention when they see one,' Marimow said when introducing Leary and Long to the staff."

Long, a former editorial writer at the old Philadelphia Bulletin who joined the Inquirer as a correspondent in 1983, is author of "In Sandra's Shoes," a blog on the Inquirer Web site in which she describes her fight with breast cancer, the story noted. "Following surgery and radiation treatment, Long said she beat the cancer. She is taking tamoxifen to prevent a recurrence. Long, 55, is a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists."

NABJ lodged a protest in January when the paper undertook layoffs and black journalists were twice as likely to be laid off as their white counterparts.

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Decision to Honor Don King Proves Controversial

A decision by the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists to honor boxing promoter Don King last week has prompted dissents from some sportswriters and a fierce defense from others.

"As chair I signed off on the selection of Don King as one of our Sam Lacy Pioneer Awards as nominated by our awards committee," Gregory Lee of the Boston Globe, chair of the task force, told Journal-isms. "Anything that has to do with Mr. King will always be surrounded by controversy. We in our own task force are having a lively debate on our listserve on King's selection. Regardless of what you may think of Mr. King, when you think of the sport of boxing and the city of Las Vegas you think Don King.

"We, the task force, select people in the host city of the NABJ Convention who have made a significant impact in that community. Don King, along with the likes of Richard Steele, Greg Anthony and Reggie Theus, were honored for their work in the Las Vegas community." The references are to the boxing referee; the ESPN NBA analyst and former UNLV standout; and the Sacramento Kings head coach and former UNLV star.

Commentator Kevin Blackistone, formerly a columnist at the Dallas Morning News, was one of the naysayers on the Sports Task Force e-mail list.

"This is right up there with the NAACP nominating R Kelly for an Image Award or the SCLC considering awarding Michael Vick. An embarrassingly poor choice. I think it strains credulity to suggest Don King is emblematic of Sam Lacy," the legendary sportswriter who played a key role in the integration of baseball, Blackistone wrote. "A better selection from the boxing world, if that was a must being in Vegas, would've been Eddie Futch," the renowned boxing trainer, "as much a gentleman as a giant, posthumously."

A well-known commentator agreed. "This is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard, us giving Don King any kind of award. It's embarrassing. Seriously . . . and one named after Sam Lacy! It's inappropriate beyond words."

Chuck Johnson of USA Today took King's side. He told his colleagues, "In the two years that I've been covering boxing for USA TODAY, Don King has proven to be no different than any other boxing promoter I've encountered. What I'm hearing seems to be more of an indictment on boxing and based on a perception that the sport is filled with sharks and shenanigans. I'm not [here] to debate whether boxing has an underbelly. The sport is regulated state to state and when you don't have an omnipotent governing body, it's every man (or in this case, promoter) for himself.

"Don King is one of the sport's preeminent promoters and has been a powerful boxing figure since the Thrilla in Manila in the 70s. To dismiss his impact as a successful African-American businessman and a boxing pioneer is to totally dismiss boxing as a relevant sport."

King also owns the Cleveland Call and Post, a black press stalwart that recently has been hammering black city council members "on poverty, crime and other problems facing black residents," the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote in April.

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AP, Columnist Team to Create "Boot Camp"

"The Associated Press and the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies at North Carolina A&T State University have announced a partnership that merges two programs that will pair professionals and students in a series of boot camps," Gia Parker wrote Saturday in the NABJ Monitor, the student newspaper of the National Association of Black Journalists convention.

"For nearly 12 years, the AP ran a program called "Diverse Visions/Diverse Voices," which brought together a group of college journalists with professional journalists. The five-day program focused on teaching leadership and helping young journalists build skills they could take into newsrooms.

"But the AP, like many media outlets, faced financial challenges that forced them to cut the program.

"DeWayne Wickham, director of the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies, and Robert Naylor, director for career development at the AP, decided to expand the institute's program and preserve the AP's program.

Wickham is a columnist for USA Today and Gannett News Service.

"The boot camp is similar to a program run by the New York Times and Dillard University. Both programs are hosted at historically black colleges, and both are recruiting from pools of journalists who are NABJ members or HBCU students," the story said.

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Detroit Services Thursday for Chauncey Bailey

A memorial service and funeral Mass are scheduled in Detroit on Thursday for slain journalist Chauncey Bailey, who worked at the Detroit News as a staff writer and columnist from 1979 to 1992.

The service is planned for 6 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, 9844 Woodward (near Boston). A memorial fund to benefit Bailey's son has been established. Contributions may be sent to: Chauncey Bailey Memorial Fund, c/o Bank of America, Creekside Branch, 1188 Galeria Blvd., Roseville, CA 95678

In a separate development, the 19-year-old handyman from Oakland, Calif.'s Your Black Muslim Bakery accused of assassinating Bailey denied Thursday that he confessed and claimed he was innocent in an interview with KTVU-TV in San Francisco.

However, Homicide Commander Lt. Ersie Joyner III of the Oakland Police Department vehemently denied suspect Devaughndre Broussard's allegations, saying the tactic was not unexpected and that suspects in other cases have tried to do similar things.

The Bay Area Black Journalists Association announced it is adding a $2,500 scholarship to honor Bailey. "I'm inviting NABJ chapters and anyone who knew Chauncey to make a donation to help fund the scholarship. Whatever money we raise will be matched here in the Bay Area by BABJA and anyone else who wishes to make a contribution," said Bob Butler, the association president, referring to the National Association of Black Journalists.

Donations may be sent to: BABJA, 1714 Franklin St. #100-260, Oakland, CA 94612, attn: Chauncey Bailey Scholarship. The organization's annual scholarship luncheon fundraiser is scheduled for Oct. 18.

More media outlets began to cover the story with editorials and pieces that discussed the significance of the killing in the contexts of journalism, recent violence and the history of black nationalism in Oakland.

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Irene Morgan, Who Preceded Rosa Parks, Dies at 90

"Irene Morgan was feeling poorly the muggy July morning when her refusal to bow to bigotry would alter history," Carol Morello wrote in 2000 on the front page of a Sunday Washington Post.

"Still recovering from a miscarriage, she boarded a crowded Greyhound bus at a crossroads stop in Gloucester, Va., bound for Baltimore. She walked back to the fourth row from the rear, well within the section where segregation laws required black passengers to sit. She picked an aisle seat beside a young mother holding an infant. A few miles up the road, the driver ordered the two black women to stand so a young white couple could take their seats.

"But Irene Morgan said no, a bold and dangerous act of defiance and dignity in rural Virginia or anywhere in the South of 1944.

"Eleven years before Rosa Parks refused to cede her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus and sparked a new chapter in the civil rights movement, Irene Morgan's spirited and unflinching 'No' was a stick of dynamite in a cornerstone of institutionalized segregation.

"Her arrest and $10 fine were appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court by a young NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall, resulting in a landmark 1946 decision striking down Jim Crow segregation in interstate transportation. She inspired the first Freedom Ride in 1947, when 16 civil rights activists rode buses and trains through the South to test the law enunciated in Morgan v. Virginia."

Irene Morgan Kirkaldy died at 90 of Alzheimer's disease Friday at her Virginia home, as Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb reported in the Washington Post and Richard Goldstein wrote in the New York Times.

Her death competed with that of entertainer and entrepreneur Merv Griffin, who died at 82 of prostate cancer, it was announced on Sunday. How many news organizations made room for both? Or returned this historic figure to the front page?

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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