May 12, 2007
Kingfish Al Sharpton and Senator Foghorn ByrdBy James Lewis
One of the high ironies of the last several months was the brief news flash that the Rev. Al Sharpton is a distant cousin of the late and unlamented Senator Strom Thurmond, formerly of South Carolina. Even Al Sharpton seemed to be struck dumb by the news, at least for a long minute. It reminded everybody that Southern Blacks and Whites are often cousins.
Well, Mr. Sharpton is back in the news, having chased Don Imus off the air, and making an obnoxious remark about Mormons like Mitt Romney. So --- close your eyes for half a minute, and imagine the Rev. Al talking --- don't you hear echoes of the old Dixiecrats, like Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd? I do. Maybe it really does run in the family.
Among the many sacrificial victims of the Cult of PC was the Amos 'n' Andy Show, one of the high points of American comedy --- but now Streng Verboten. Because of course A 'n' A showed black people being funny. Yet the ability to laugh at ourselves is also a great blessing, a sign of sanity and self-acceptance. And while A 'n' A played to some negative stereotypes, the characters were warm and endearing as well.
Rap singers project a much more negative public image than Amos 'n' Andy could have imagined in their wildest nightmares. Historically, African-Americans discovered their style of humor in good part to stay sane under the oppressions of slavery and Jim Crow, and it's all the more paradoxical that the civil rights movement has tried to erase a great and healthy tradition of black American laughter.
So the Commissars of PC censored the genius of Amos 'n' Andy. Well, we really don't want to hurt people's feelings, and many blacks have a very traumatic history, which does take a long time to heal. And yet forced niceness is the enemy of common sense. Once we allow our thoughts to be policed by politically correct zealots, the door is wide open for con artists and demagogues.
Amos 'n' Andy was based on sharp-eyed observation of Mississippi Delta culture, which shaped much of African-American feeling and thought after the Civil War. It was a culture of pain and suffering, but also of real laughter. It produced the mournful Blues, but also the delights of New Orleans jazz and Fats Waller; musical expressions of joy as catchy and infectious as any in the world. And it created wonderful fictional characters --- like "Kingfish" in Amos 'n Andy, who always tries to cheat poor Andy out of his money. But Kingfish gets his comeuppance in every episode when his wife Safah (Sapphire) catches him in the act, and drags him home for supper.
Yes, there is a racial aspect of the laughter; laughter is an equal-opportunity exposer. We can laugh at white con-artists and their marks, like Mark Twain's two con artists, the "Duke" and the "King" in The Advenetures of Huckleberry Finn.
The whites who are regularly cheated by this pair of fakers are stereotyped small-town suckers. Fortunately, the reign of PC still allows us to laugh at them.
Life imitates comedy. Senator Robert Byrd is a classic Southern Foghorn Leghorn, the pompous cartoon rooster from Warner Brothers, who also comes out of the tradition of Anglo-Irish-Black-American folklore.
Unfortunately, Senator Robert Byrd is real. It would be much better if he were only a cartoon chicken. Because Senator Foghorn Byrd hasn't really changed since he was seggin' the white folks back home, just like all the Dixiecrats of his youth. He's switched sides, but his script still sounds the same.
Which brings me to the Reverend Al Sharpton.
To any fan of Amos 'n Andy it's obvious who Al Sharpton really is: He's Kingfish as civil rights leader. The Rev doesn't own anything, including his expensive suits, his James Brown hairdos, and his throw-away cellphone to the media. But by some miracle he manages to live very high on the hog. The Rev rose to fame through sleazy manipulation of the Tawana Brawley case, pulling the white suckers of the New York Times by their sensitive parts as surely as a powerful ferromagnet draws iron filings. Al Sharpton pushing the mighty New York Times around is classic comic role reversal, with the pompous Times playing Step 'n Fetchit.
You can take the dialogue straight out of Hamlet. Imagine the Rev. Al playing the Prince of Denmark and some gullible NYT reporter playing Polonius, the fawning courtier:
So the next morning we get scare headlines all over the country: Cloud shaped like whale seen over Harlem!
Holy Mackerel! The Rev. has struck again.
A lot of blacks know very well that Sharpton is a con artist, just as they know that Jesse Jackson is a slightly more upscale version of the same thing. But such is the rage of black people (constantly stirred by demagogues) that seeing the mighty white establishment fall for Sharpton's line still feels like satisfying revenge. Kingfish lives.
Sharpton is a trickster, but he is more than that. He is an embodiment of black rage, as was the OJ Simpson trial. The defense lawyers got OJ off scot-free because they knew that blacks on the jury would want to believe that he was framed. After the trial, pollsters claimed to be shocked that most white Americans believed that OJ Simpson was guilty, while most blacks believed he was innocent. I don't know if anybody else was surprised.
A decade later, in the all-black breakthrough movie Barbershop, the revelatory character "Eddie" disses Jesse Jackson, shouts out that OJ was guilty, and breaks the news that white racism can't be blamed any more for holding black people back in America. It is a liberating moment --- but it infuriated Sharpton and Jackson, who tried to start a boycott of the movie. The boycott flopped; apparently blacks didn't think Jesse Jackson was Holier than Thou. But even today, when the media need a "spokesperson" for all the African-Americans in the country, they call up S&J. Thus the black "community" is still defined by the white media --- for the political convenience of the Democrat establishment.
We are governed by a Politically Correct mythology that is just as exploitive as any other scam. American have to somehow learn to understand hurt racial feelings without opening the door to race vultures, who only end up pecking away at the wounds to support their own high lifestyles. Blacks and whites will not be free until they can shrug off all the race-baiting nonsense. And perhaps we won't really be free until we can watch Amos 'n Andy again and enjoy laughing, just as we do at the rest of the human comedy. Unfortunately, as long as we have a race exploitation industry working diligently to keep outrage on the boil, we will not come to that promised land.
James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com