Breaking Brown


30/11/11 Black Politics # , , , , ,

everything’s not a conspiracy

For the most part, I’m on one accord with this writer’s assessment of Van Jones. I guess given my own criticism of the so called green czar, that’s to be expected. But having said that, I do take issue with this particularly lazy assessment :

When CNN’s  Suzanne Malveaux suggested to Jones last week that he might be a “leader” of the Occupy Movement, Jones demurred saying, “There are a lot of us,” and that the movement is “leader filled.”

All right, Van Jones, you might at least be a spokesperson, you know, maybe not a leader, but certainly a good spokesperson for the group,” Malveaux replied, according to a transcript, thus expressing the desire of the corporate media to appoint our leaders. Like Time magazine, CNN wants to make Jones a spokesperson for the movement. (Conservative commentators also find Jones useful as a straw man/leader whom they can attack.)

It’s lazy because it doesn’t explore other considerations for Malveaux’s appraisal of Jones. Although it is true that black folks don’t give nearly as much thought to “the man” as white folks seem to believe, it’s just as true that we do gauge each other. We notice our own rising stars and offer support where we can. Malveaux was offering a supportive voice to a black man who some believe got a raw deal from the Obama administration. I understand that.

We’re all guilty of vilifying the “corporate media”, but it’s sometimes important to consider that the media is made up of individuals, all of whom have their own set of struggles and ambitions. I doubt very seriously that Malveaux received a note before the broadcast requiring her to speak glowingly of Van Jones, nor did she have some sort of diabolical plan in mind. Malveaux’s assessment of Jones is based on the mainstream interpretation of who he is and what he stands for. And taking that into account, Malveaux was asking a question that many people were thinking; why doesn’t Van Jones replace his now defunct Rebuild the Dream with Occupy Wall Street? The answer is, of course, he can’t.  He’s no longer trusted by the grassroots or the netroots. And it would’ve been helpful if CNN had invited someone from the Occupy movement to make that case during the segment. It certainly would’ve made for good TV.


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31/10/11 Black Media # , , , , , , ,

soledad o’brien responds

There are always two sides to every story. Kudos to CNN’s Soledad O’brien for sharing hers:

As the conversation heated up, Arrington wrote a blog post — titled “Oh sh*t, I’m a racist” — in which he accuses me of bullying him in our 30 minute interview.

But the reality is very different. Our interview was pleasant, not the light-in-the-eyes third degree Arrington is now recounting in his blog. We were at an AOL office with the publicists who negotiated the interview.

Ron Conway, a major investor in startups like Foursquare and Twitter, listened in on the interview. Afterward, Arrington introduced us and encouraged me to interview Conway, which I did. Parts of that interview are featured in the documentary as well. Then Arrington invited me to a party.

In his blog Arrington says CNN “went to great lengths to hide the topic of the interview.” He posts an early e-mail from one of my producers asking him for a general interview about the tech industry.

He omits the second e-mail we sent four days before the interview that spells out that the documentary is about a “group of entrepreneurs we are following who are participating in the NewMe accelerator. The first accelerator of its kind set up specifically for entrepreneurs of color. Their inspiring stories will be the focus of this CNN Black in America documentary.”

Arrington may’ve had a chance of emerging from this controversy unscathed had the interview not been recorded. From where I sit, Soledad wasn’t twising his arm or flashing floodlights in his tender eyes. In fact, O’brien offered Arrington two opportunities to answer the question of whether there were black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Arrington answered, rather offhandedly, that there weren’t any. Then, when it came out that he not only knows them, but has funded at least one black CEO via The Crunch Fund, Arrington sought to shift the blame (and unflattering media attention) to Soledad O’brien. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s best just to say sorry.

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29/10/11 Race & Racism # , , , , , , ,

limiting opportunity in silicon valley; michael arrington’s forgetting problem

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the firestorm set off by Soledad O’Brien’s interview of blogger turned investor Michael Arrington:


The twitterstorm that followed has surely damaged relationships on both sides of the issue.

My initial thought was that this wasn’t about image or proximity (“I don’t know a single black entrepreneur”), but that it was, and is, about competitive advantage. When you parse through the history of the world, especially as it relates to people of color, powerful countries and people have always secured their interests by rationalizing and justifying behavior that locks minorities out of life, liberty, and/ or opportunity. This is their STANDARD for doing business. Whether in King Leopold’s Congo, France’s equatorial territory, Germany’s Nambia, or in America’s newfound land, superiority is always used as an excuse for exclusion.  It’s always about what the privileged class didn’t know and what they will apologize for 100 years later. Saying that you don’t know a black entrepreneur lays the groundwork for a mostly white, mostly male, tech scene. It’s a strategy for limiting access.

That was my initial response. Since then, Arrington has blogged his side of the story, rife with accusations of muckraking and trickery. Here’s Arrington in his own words:

In fact, CNN went to great lengths to hide the truth about the topic of the interview, as you can see from their email above.

So I sit down in the chair, with lights on me from everywhere and Soledad in my face and she starts asking me why there aren’t any black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

It took me a while to catch up.

Very early in the interview she asked me to name my favorite black entrepreneur. I thought about it, and I drew a complete blank. Nothing. So I answered honestly. “I don’t know a single black entrepreneur,” I said.

See, my brain database doesn’t categorize people in terms of skin color. Or hair color. Or sexual orientation. When I queried that database, under stressful circumstances, I got zero results.

The interview went on for 45 minutes or so after that, and I amended my statements. I talked about Clarence Wooten, the CEO of Arrived. Wooten has been my friend since the mid 90?s, and I was his lawyer for his first startup, a wildly successful company that made Wooten rich. I’ve followed his career and I’m now a shareholder in Arrived. And tons of other friends and acquaintances who are black popped into my head as well.

CNN has apparently edited most of that out. Or at least they’re not highlighting it along with the gotcha statement.

My first thought is, what’s with all the shock and awe over  CNN not disclosing their agenda and editing the tape to suit their promotions angle?! Is that news, really? If I’m interviewing you about your clown phobia, I probably wouldn’t approach you from that angle. I’d probably contact you under the pretense of discussing growing up in the south, or some other such nonsense, and then come in through the back door. Why? Because folks have their guard up as it relates to predefined topics.

And let’s be honest here, it took Arrington to the end of the interview to rethink and amend his previous statement. At no point did his brain, as he was saying that he didn’t know a single black entrepreneur, shout, “hey, hey! that can’t be right!” My guess is that Arrington was covering himself because he’d gotten a whiff of what Soledad was cooking.

If Arrington were smarter, and less arrogant, he would already have apologized. He offhandedly, and rather dismissively, said that he knows no black entrepreneurs when in fact, if you believe his amended story, he knows several.

At the end of Arrington’s article, he references the following tweet:

Michael Arrington tweet





Yeah, Arrington not only knows black entrepreneurs but funds them. Damn shame he couldn’t remember that when it mattered.



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21/10/11 Black Politics #

some thoughts on rick perry calling herman cain “brother”

Up at Yourblackpolitics, I have a thing or three to say about Rick Perry’s reference to Herman Cain as “brother”. As always, here’s a peak;

Generally, I steer clear of rhetorical right wing set-ups such as the one Perry staged against Cain during the Republican debate in Nevada on Tuesday night.  But in this case, someone needs to say what Cain, obviously, can’t.

If you weren’t watching, you missed Perry call Cain “brother” twice in an exchange over Cain’s 999 plan. I usually avoid commenting on such perceived slights because intention is nearly impossible to pin down, whereas alternate rationales are easy to cook up.

Case and point, Perry’s spokesman defended his boss by saying of Perry, “he is a friendly fellow. He uses that kind of language. And he views all those folks on stage as colleagues, as fellow Republicans, and he speaks accordingly.” Since intentions are fairly nebulous, and internal, it’s easy for a person whose intentions are being called into to question to just insinuate that the assailer just misunderstood.



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23/08/11 Opinion # , , , ,

82 year old Mary Lee Ward fights illegal eviction, rest of African American community fights for Obama


What 82 year old Mary Lee Ward is doing is what everyone should’ve done once they realized  that lenders were scamming them out of their homes. The fact that everything’s hidden in fine print in a country where most people read at about a fifth grade level is outrageous.  An attorney wrote the fine print, so doesn’t it stand to reason that it would take an attorney to interpret the implications buried in the maze of that fine print?

Juxtapose Mary Lee Ward’s options as she faces impending eviction with that of victims of so-called lottery scams. If a fork tongued liar calls grandma and asks her to hand over her pension based on a fraudulent claim, that’s illegal. She can call the police. But unscrupulous lenders can scam our elderly out of their homes just so long as there is an exchange, in this case around $1,000 for Ms. Ward’s home.

The grandmother who’s about to be scammed out of her home says of the lenders, “they’re trying to take our dignity”. She nailed it.  What’s worse is that they’ve been largely successful at blaming us for a fiasco engineered mostly by Wall Street. If they hadn’t already been successful at robbing us of our dignity, many more of us would’ve admitted our plight and stood in solidarity with one another.  There’s power in numbers. There is no power, however, in shame.

Instead of mounting a challenge against these gangsters, we are scattered and scared, hoping that a generic “someone” does “something” about this mess. Real activism has been replaced by the theoretical airiness of folks like Van Jones, who are far better at exchanging rhetorical barbs with Glenn Beck than helping real people with real problems.

This is why the plutocrats are succeeding in convincing us that we’re the problem. That we’re just too oafish and retarded to understand English. This is exactly what Rick Santelli was driving at when he let off on a tear of orchestrated distortions at the very beginning of this crisis.

He was framing the crisis as something caused by those people over there, those black and brown people with poor credit scores who wanted more than their fair share. Santelli’s rant played into the bigotry of those who believe that black and brown people have been acting outside of their caste for over half a century.

To them, African Americans are the reason that they’ve been robbed of their antebellum-esque idle lives. They could live the life of Riley if only we would do the right thing.  However,  those of us who are grounded firmly on this planet know that the people at the top who are hoarding the cash look more like their white brothers and sisters than our brothers and sisters.

But when designing enemies, it is always easier to cast an antagonist who is aesthetically the opposite of your protagonist. And since Santelli’s rant was nothing if not theatre, it was anything but surprising that he pit classes of people against each other while he stood on the trading floor. It was theatre, but not high drama.

A movement grew from Santelli’s rant.  Those who’d been damaged by Santelli and his ilk, accepted his framing of the issue without question and turned their ire on one another (remember what I said earlier about American’s fifth grade education).

No, the problem is not brown people or poor people, but that we don’t understand contract law or the dastardly intent behind those who concocted these lending  scams, derivative scams, and S & L scams. The problem is that these folks are f*ckin’ thieves. Pariahs.

And black folks are passively sitting by, watching, as these folks rob the wealth that it took years for our grandmothers and grandfathers to create. We don’t have time to help Ms. Ward but we have time to pass around pro-Obama, “Are You In” nonsense. We have time to celebrate symbolic victories but no time to fight real fights. We’re a useless bunch.

There’s much work to be done. But those who would do it have replaced morality with a particularly putrid variant of post racial rationalism.

This is a perfect occasion for holding our own accountable, and by “our own” I mean those Obama wannabees in the vein of Van Jones and Gen44. How can you define yourselves as leaders if you’re not leading anyone to do anything meaningful? And how can you dedicate your law degree to corporate America while not donating one iota of that knowledge to help those who paved the way for you? What kind of value-less, inadequate, exoskeleton are you?

Until we can answer these questions, we’ll continue to celebrate things that don’t matter and turn away from things that do. I don’t have enough space to answer these questions here, but you should ask yourself what you’re doing to help Mary Lee Ward and others like her. If you don’t have an answer, then you have work to do.



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