Archive for Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blacks should speak for themselves

November 13, 2007


Beg pardon, but who died and made Al Sharpton president of the negroes?

Not that Sharpton has ever declared himself as such. But the fact that some regard him as black America's chief executive was driven home for the umpteenth time a few days ago after TV reality show bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman got in trouble for using a certain toxic racial epithet - six letters, starts with "n," rhymes with digger - on the phone with his son.

As you may have heard, Chapman was expressing disapproval of the son's black girlfriend. "It's not because she's black," he said. "It's because we use the word 'n-----' sometimes here. I'm not going to take a chance ever in life of losing everything I've worked for for 30 years because some f------ n----- heard us say 'n-----' and turned us in to the Enquirer magazine."

Naturally, the son sold a tape of the conversation to the National Enquirer. Which leaves me in the awkward position of simultaneously loathing what Chapman said and pitying him for having raised a rat fink son who would sell out his own father for a few pieces of silver. Anyway, with his life and career circling the drain, an apologetic Chapman fell back on what is becoming standard operating procedure for celebrities who defame black folk. He contacted Sharpton.

In so doing, he follows the trail blazed by Don Imus, Washington shock jock Doug "Greaseman" Tracht, and Michael Richards, who sought out Sharpton (or, alternately, Jesse Jackson) after saying what they wished they had not. They were all in turn following the news media, which, whenever a quote on some racial matter is required, turn to the right reverends by reflex. You'd think they knew no other negroes.

I don't begrudge Jackson or Sharpton their fame. Jena, La., might have gone unnoticed had they not used that fame to direct public attention there. Still, I question whether we ought not by now have grown beyond the notion that one or two men can speak for, or offer absolution in the name of, 36 million people.

Certainly, black America has a long and distinguished history of charismatic leadership, from Frederick Douglass to Booker T. Washington to W.E.B. DuBois to Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X to Martin Luther King Jr. It was King to whom the "president of the negroes" honorific was jokingly applied during the civil rights era in recognition of the moral authority that allowed him to rally masses. Since King's murder in 1968, a number of men have jockeyed to position themselves as his heir. They have not been conspicuous by their success.

Louis Farrakhan couldn't do it, handicapped as he is by the fact that he is Louis Farrakhan. Sharpton couldn't do it; one hardly thinks of moral authority when one thinks of the man at the center of the Tawana Brawley debacle. Jesse Jackson seemed to presage a new era of charismatic leadership when he ran for president, but he is dogged by a perception some of us have that he serves no cause higher than himself.

But beyond the strengths and weaknesses of the men who seek to be charismatic leaders, there is a sense that the job itself has grown obsolete. Who, after all, are the nation's white leaders? To what one man or woman do you apologize when you insult white folks? Doesn't the very idea that there could be one person deny the complexity and diversity of the population?

Similarly, black America is served by dozens of magazines, Web sites, television networks and media figures that did not exist when King was killed. So it's about time news media - and those who will insult us in the future - get past this notion that one or two people are anointed to speak for 36 million. That is a simplistic, antiquated and faintly condescending idea.

I speak for myself. Don't you?

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 6 months ago

What? No one has yet accused Pitts of being a racist. Amazing.

Ragingbear 10 years, 6 months ago

~~Beg pardon, but who died and made Al Sharpton president of the negroes?~~

This is highly offensive. The term "negro" hasn't been acceptable since the 60's.

imastinker 10 years, 6 months ago

I don't like pitts, but someone needs to take Jesse and Al to task for selling out blacks over and over. I'm glad to see him do it.

canyon_wren 10 years, 6 months ago

I can't believe the comments by some of you. You seem to miss the point entirely. Ragingbear--Pitts IS a black and uses the term negro with tongue-in-cheek. Dolly-PP--he also is questioning the idea that ANYONE can be appointed a spokesman for ANY group--and certainly doesn't presume to speak for one.

I don't always agree with Pitts' perspective but think this is a great column.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 6 months ago

"Who is the voice for Whites? Who is the voice for Latinos? Who is the voice for Asians? Who is the voice for Arabs?"

Pitts made exactly the same point in his editorial, DPP. Did you even bother to read it?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 6 months ago

"No kidding Quicskdraw."

Perhaps if you'd learn to use quotation marks, your point might be better understood.

Although, even if you had done so in that particular post, you still made no discernibly intelligent point.

Paul R Getto 10 years, 6 months ago

Don't mind Dolly, bozo - she don't know the difference 'tween a watermelon patch and a paw paw patch.

bondmen 10 years, 6 months ago

Another black man who clearly speaks truth to power is brother Jesse Lee Peterson. He doesn't mince his words either. Check him out at

daddax98 10 years, 6 months ago

"This is probably the reason some black leaders have just taken the bull by the horns and are doing what they feel they need to do.

And there's Leonard Pitts (a liberalshocker right?!) telling them essentially to, "SHUT UP". "

RT defending Jessie and Sharpton WOW

daddax98 10 years, 6 months ago

Looking into my crystal ball........RT "not i was talking about pitts telling people like Cosby to shut up"

Only problem he never did that YOU brought it up

Ragingbear 10 years, 6 months ago

I'm offended because others that I do not represent might find this offensive under the right spin.

Godot 10 years, 6 months ago

Pitts could have saved paper by saying, "each individual makes his or her own choices in life."

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years, 6 months ago

Blight_thunker seems somewhat ragecist. He's an angry cuss who will read a sentence or two that you've written, then decide and declare that you are a worthless individual from his vile masterblastory ship's wheel before giving you a condescending pat on your cabin boy head.

All the while he does graciously feed us driveling lines of inane/insane/limp blame posits, like loopy, looping softballs to home run kings. Unfortunately, he's pretends to be or is so deaf and blind that he believes he's throwing strikes as his mealy meatballs sail out of the park.

He may be playing 'possum subconsciously, in his incitation of ire and anger. He certainly knows not of where he speaks. I suppose it's a good plan for those without knowledge, compassion or rigorous attention to available educative enlightenment, as the challenge of reason and resultant anger is so easily ignored or dismissed from the stuffed chair bliss of ignorance. I should know!~)

jonas 10 years, 6 months ago

This would have had more meat to it if South Park hadn't done basically this article in much more humorous fashion a few months back.

kneejerkreaction 10 years, 6 months ago

Pitts makes some good points that even agree with some of the redneck bloggers on this site, yet they still diss him. Must have left those anal head pulling forcepts at home.

chipped_disk 10 years, 6 months ago

to bowhunter99: Who says the entire race looks up to those two individuals? Jumping to conclusions about a race based on the actions of a few individuals is racist.

to DollyPawPaw: "Welfare gifts"? How about the only income that some are able to receive because of the biased notions of racist America, including hicks and backroad inbreds void of color, such as anyone who would CHOOSE to bear the name 'DollyPawPaw'.

james bush 10 years, 6 months ago

I don't know anything more about Pitts than a quick "googling" yielded but I do agree with what he wrote here. I am surprised at R-T's comments since I generally agree with his observations.

a2thek 10 years, 6 months ago

maybe Pitts can fix the problem down at Last Call....LOL

Loomer 10 years, 6 months ago

All of these comments because "Dog" chooses to use the "n" word in what he thought was a private conversation and also casually throws it around in his private life. The man was exposed by his kid for what he is. Dog, "I thought the word had different meanings," what a joke. The joke is that he solicits Sharpton to try and save his TV career. I feel that this is what Pitts was saying, nothing more. Blacks will make up there own mind on Dog, Sharpton will have no influence.

black_butterfly 10 years, 6 months ago

Some of these posts are really sad. Some are so ignorant that they are humorous. Leonard Pitts does not speak for ALL blacks just as Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton don't speak for ALL blacks either. Many of us do speak for ourselves. How could Pitts possible know that All 36 million of blacks ( as he states) feel represented by Jackson and Sharpton? He is speaking for blacks just like he is accusing them of doing. His colums do more hurt than help to the black community, but he doesn't care. He is just looking for his piece of fame and $$$$ like everyone else, at any cost.

As far as DollyPawPaw......I don't know which is worse, her ignorance or her dumb name. When I read her name and her racist comment I envisioned her being a 350 lb, greasy haired dirty blonde sitting in her trailer typing on her outdated computer with a keyboard soiled by crumbs and sticky residue from her icecream and tacos. Computers are a racists best friend, because the racist can hide behind the computer just like klansmen hide behind white courage; ashamed of themselves and their mission. Dolly probably spews racist comments in public and on line and then secretly sleeps with black men. SMH She needs prayer.

jonas 10 years, 6 months ago

"How could Pitts possible know that All 36 million of blacks ( as he states) feel represented by Jackson and Sharpton?"

He doesn't, and he didn't claim that he did. Unless I missed something in the article. So point it out if you care enough.

"He is speaking for blacks just like he is accusing them of doing."

In no point in this article does he say or imply that he is speaking for blacks. He's saying that he's speaking for himself, more or less. All he's criticizing in this article are the white folk racists like listed in the article who feel that they can go to Sharpton or Jackson and somehow absolve themselves. And, of course, Sharpton and Jackson, who allow them to do it in their own megalomania.

badger 10 years, 6 months ago

black_butterfly, my read on the article wasn't that Pitts was asking why black people acknowledge Sharpton or Jackson as an unelected leader, but more that somehow (probably because they tend to be pretty vocal critics of overt racism) they'd gotten this reputation among white people for being the go-to guys when you screw up and want some prominent black absolution - and that not enough other prominent black people were standing up to say, "Hey, wait a minute, he can't forgive you on all of black America's behalf! He doesn't get to speak for me or my family or my friends, because I don't consider him an acceptable representative." So, as a reasonably prominent black journalist (his column's in just about every paper I read, so he counts as prominent enough for me), he's saying that.

Ragingbear? Getting offended on other people's behalf really works better if, you know, you're not talking out your posterior. You say, "Negro hasn't been acceptable since the 60s." I say, "Tell it to the United Negro College Fund." Frankly, as far as I'm concerned a black man can use pretty much whatever words he wants to describe black people, because he's going to have a better understanding of context than someone who's not, and because then if he does offend someone it's a matter of philosophy, not of bigotry. I can't call someone a 'negro' without it being an inherently racial issue. But given the recent debate in hip-hop about the future of the use of certain racial epithets, it seems to me that among black people, it seems to be a discussion about whether it's better to co-opt racially charged language or to leave it behind, not about whether or not someone actually is one.

You're not black, and neither am I. I figure that when it comes to what word usage regarding black people a black man is 'allowed' to use without offending other black people, that makes us just about qualified to sit back and shut up. If Pitts is offending his own ethnic group with use of the term 'negro', then I have full faith that someone within the offended group will speak right up. I wouldn't presume to speak for them.

meanbean101 10 years, 6 months ago

i'm black and speak for myself to anyone who will listen.Just because corporate controlled media doesn't give us airtime or print space doesn't mean we're not here standing up for what we believe. To assume that just because he is speaking, we're not is a very strange and unfounded view.

badger 10 years, 6 months ago


Do you find it frustrating, though, that it seems other influential or well-known black figures also seem to be following Sharpton and Jackson's leads when it comes to their spokesman status? I recognize that many individual people have been very vocal about racial issues, but as you explain, they don't command a national podium so they don't get heard. What concerns me sometimes is that I don't see very many blacks who do command the national podium challenging, say, Al Sharpton's place in granting a public absolution to someone who makes racially derogatory statements in the public eye. I appreciate that Pitts is pointing out, using his national podium, that no one or two people can really 'speak for' black people because they are a very diverse group with a pretty wide range of beliefs, economic backgrounds, philosophies, and expectations.

I think, honestly, that his message in this column is less for you than it is for me and people like me. You already know whether or not Al Sharpton speaks for you, but there's a very real perception among even educated and intelligent whites that if Al Sharpton says you're not a racist (or that you're forgiven for being one) then you're 'A-OK by the black folks' and don't need to examine your prejudices any further. It's the public image equivalent of, "My black friend doesn't mind if I call him 'boy'..." He may not, or he may and just not want to start that fight with you, but no matter what it doesn't mean you won't get yourself quite deservedly set straight by someone who does object to your public use of the term.

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