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Nina Simone breaks down in tears during interview: ‘I’m not very happy’
07:59 am



Nina Simone
Nina Simone and her daughter, who recently caused a stir by criticizing the casting of Zoe Saldana as Simone in a bio-pic. Noting that a large part of her mother’s impact stemmed from her dark skin, wide nose, and full lips, Simone’s daughter asserted that casting another fine-featured, light-skinned woman simply reinforced the anti-black beauty standards Nina stood in defiance of.
A few seconds into this interview, I heard Nina Simone defend conservative Republican pervert and all-around dirtbag Clarence Thomas. Honestly, after that, I didn’t think there was anything else she could say that would shock me. But I was quickly taken aback by her response to the final question. The interviewer asks Simone (in French) if she sometimes has regrets of not pursuing a career in classical piano. Nina, who attended Juilliard, and was normally so confident and poised, breaks down. Her voice cracking, she admits quite frankly that she wishes she had become the first black classic pianist, and that she believes her unhappiness stems from the lack of that achievement.

It’s an incredibly vulnerable moment. Simone openly longs for a life that, in all honesty, would have reached far fewer people than the one she actually lived. She was notoriously dismissive of pop music, and openly maintained that classical music was a higher art form- a claim that ironically lead many to accuse her of adopting white artistic standards. It’s both heartbreaking and unfathomable to think that one of the most dynamic voices of black liberation, the woman who wrote “Mississippi Goddam” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” could yearn for any other legacy.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Herb Jeffries: Totally fake black cowboy, jazz vocalist, centenarian
01:07 pm



bronze buckaroo
I couldn’t tell you what year it was when I bought Herb Jeffries’ Devil Is A Woman, but it had to be in the mid to late ‘90s, when I was neck deep in ironic acquisitions—mass-produced thrift store kitsch paintings, boxes of ‘50s vacation slides, vanity pressed gospel and lounge organist albums purchased for their endearingly cheap cover art but almost never listened to. I’m sure a fair many DM readers know that whole drill.
devil is a woman
One night back then, a friend was over for company and cans of cheap beer, and he played DJ with one of my crates of weirdo records. Most of it was boring dross, as was to be expected, but soon enough, lo, a gem didst shine out for us. It was, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the aforesaid Jeffries LP, sporting a K-Mart price tag of 77¢, probably purchased for more like a quarter.
As soon as the needle settled into that thick old slab of Golden Tone Hi-Fidelity vinyl, a potent, red-blooded, exotic rhythm underpinned a horn section’s dramatic spy-movie stabs, and then the delightful vocalist entered the fray, crooning in a huge, unlikely wail and a surely fake, vaguely Mediterranean/Caribbean/somethingorother accent,


I’ve searched for a freakin’ hour, dear reader, and unless my Google Fu is just totally garbage today, the entire song is nowhere to be found online. The 30 second sample on Last FM is crystal clear and representative. Also there’s this:

The rest of the album is similarly filled with eye-widening delights, so there my friend and I sat, two newly minted fans of - who? Jeffries’s name is set in uncommonly tiny type on the cover, which may be just as well, as it’s misspelled. But off I went to find more, and so I did. Not only more recordings under his own name, but I learned that this odd pop singer was also pedigreed as the golden Jazz voice atop Duke Ellington’s very large hit “Flamingo.”

And it gets weirder - Jeffries initially became known in the ‘30s singing for the Earl “Fatha” Hines orchestra (he’s the lone surviving member of both Hines’ and Ellington’s bands), and improbably parlayed that into a career as a singing cowboy in low-budget western films with all African-American casts. Well, all African-American save for Jeffries himself, whose background, in reality Irish/Sicilian unless he’s still bullshitting even now, was a matter of some chicanery throughout his career, and even now, it seems like no two bios are in exact agreement on the matter of his ethnicity. His astonishing passing himself off as black in everyday life during the segregation era - how that might sit in relation to blackface performance is a discussion I’d love to hear from people better informed on such matters than I - earned him the nickname “The Bronze Buckaroo,” from the title of one of the films. This film, in fact.

Per his Wikipedia biography, Jeffries discovered his birth certificate in 2007, learning then that his birthdate is September 24, 1913, making this performer with a crazy back story a centenarian as of today. And so we salute and congratulate Herb Jeffries on his 100th birthday. Here’s a short documentary celebrating his career, showing him spry as a damn kitten and in full possession of his faculties even in his nineties.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Yes, White Can!’: Creepy, racist chocolate commercial causes controversy in Germany
07:24 am



Ferrero's racist chocolate commercial
In just a few days all of Germany will decide between the Christian Democratic incumbent chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Social Democratic challenger, Peer Steinbrück. (Germans sensibly schedule their elections for the weekends, when people don’t have to deal with workday commutes and so forth.) Merkel is overwhelmingly likely to win, the polls tell us.

Last month the Italian chocolate company Ferrero decided to capitalize on election fever by releasing a politics-themed commercial in order to promote their white chocolate kisses (called Küsschen) that has irritated more than a few observers. I’m not entirely sure, but I think the concept is a little bit like McDonald’s McRib sandwich; the point of the commercial seems to be that the little white chocolate kisses—emphasis on “white” here—will stick around for good, i.e. they’ll stop being a seasonal product. Something like that, anyway. The ad was created by M&C Saatchi.

In the commercial, a package of white chocolate Ferrero Küsschen is giving a political address in a large hall packed with lily-white and faintly Aryan Bürger (citizens). I scoured the commercial for a nonwhite face, but I failed to find any. I say “faintly Aryan” but in fairness most of the people I saw have brown hair—perhaps M&C Saatchi was anticipating the outrage the commercial would cause? It’s pretty creepy either way, it’s just so many smiling white faces.

“Dear friends!” cries the cute little box. “We all have one common wish, to make the country more delicious! We want white Ferrero kisses for ever! And because friendship is no minor matter (kein kurzer Trend ist), we demand—white nut stay! and now everybody: White nut stay!” The crowd chants: “White nut stay!” (In the original German, the phrase is not quite grammatical, and it sounds virtually identical to the sentence “White must stay”) The voiceover intones: “Germany votes white! White Ferrero kisses, now available forever!” As the commercial ends, a poster unfurls reading “Germany Votes White.”

Cue one gigantic facepalm.

Where to begin? For reasons I needn’t detail here, racial purity is quite obviously an extremely touchy subject in Germany—indeed, perhaps it’s a touchier subject in Germany than any other place in the world. Germany since World War II has behaved much better on tolerance issues, but xenophobia is a persistent problem in Europe generally. The depiction of a political rally full of enthusiastic Germans emphasizing the virtues of whiteness—I mean, you don’t have to be Dr. Siegfried Kracauer to detect the uncomfortable symbolism lurking within.

One irritated person wrote on the Facebook page dedicated to the ad campaign, “I hope the advertisers behind this dumb campaign get a chocolate kiss stuck in their throats, and there aren’t any Nazis around to dislodge it.” Ouch. Tahir Della, Chairman of the Initiative for Black Germans, notes that the very fact that this commercial made it as far as the airwaves “shows how subtle racism can be in Germany. It’s recognizable to people who are affected by it but the majority doesn’t catch on so quickly.” He points out that Germany is becoming more diverse but still largely regards itself as a homogeneous country, a dynamic that we also see playing out in the United States, if only in the minds of some of our less evolved citizenry.

Ferrero has pulled the commercial. In an email statement, Ferrero offered the following CYA blather: “It is important for us to clearly stress that we are strictly against any form of xenophobia, right-extremism or racism. . . . All of our assertions were purely about white chocolate—and without xenophobic intent. We regret that the commercial was misunderstood and the product messaging was otherwise construed.”

“Misunderstood,” right . . . it’s really the fault of everyone else who isn’t willing to cut the Ferrero company a break. Ah, how about making a commercial that doesn’t obviously brush up against such sensitive issues?

In an odd twist, the commercial appropriates (not very cleverly, in my opinion) the best-known slogan of the most famous multicultural candidate in the world. In the commercial some of the audience members are holding signs saying “Yes Weiss Can” (Yes, White Can), which is an obvious nod to President Obama’s 2008 slogan “Yes We Can”—but it doesn’t even rhyme or anything, and weirdly mixes German and English. (It should be noted that President Obama is wildly popular in Germany, as he is in most of Europe.)

via Spiegel Online

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Communist auto worker beautifully explains capitalism & racism in the Detroit auto plants, 1970
07:45 am

Class War


League of Revolutionary Black Workers
The League of Revolutionary Black Workers
The video below is an excerpt from the 1970 documentary, Finally Got the News. The film tells the story of the League of Black Revolutionary Workers, a radical organization of black auto workers from Detroit. Throughout the 60s, many working class black youth of Detroit began to radicalize in response to unemployment, police brutality and underfunded schools and housing. Culminating in the violent 1967 Detroit Riot, the growing civil unrest of black Detroit was quickly repressed by authorities (Mitt Romney’s father, Governor George W. Romney, sent in the Michigan National Guard, while LBJ sent in the US Army). The League was formed to fight back.

In his book, A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor: Black Workers Power in Detroit, Michael Hamlin recounts his first-hand experiences as one of the leaders of the movement. Hamlin was one of the prime movers behind both the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

“As the League was organized, we realized that to organize people in the community we would need many communication tools.  Two major goals of the “Black Manifesto” were to raise money to establish black printing and film operations.  We had started a newspaper and Black Star Publishing was working on two books.  We were speaking in the community, writing articles and giving interviews to radical magazines but our audience was small.  John Watson was interested in making films that could be widely distributed.  We established Black Star Productions.

Obviously the group was media savvy. Like the Black Panthers, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers were primarily informed by Marx and Lenin. Unlike the Panthers, the LRBW actually focused their militancy on labor, and seizing the means of production in the workplace. Their concerns were largely ignored by the United Auto Workers and its largely white leadership, in 1968 the LRBW organized a wildcat strike (a strike that doesn’t go through official union channels) alongside Polish women workers, to protest a speed increase on the assembly line. Most subsequent firings targeted black workers, though many were rehired.

The organization followed the trajectory of most radical groups on the American left—splits, splinters, rebirths, disbands, reformations, etc—and no longer exists, but with Detroit in perpetual free-fall, it’s damn near impossible to organize labor when there are no jobs. Regardless, they remain an inspiring moment in radical history and an insightful voice of radical ideology.

You can see Finally Got the News in its entirety here.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘The Bus’: Haskell Wexler’s ground-breaking documentary of the March on Washington, 1963
03:17 pm



This month marks the 50th anniversary of “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” when up-to 300,000 people took part in one of America’s largest rallies for human rights, showing their support for President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights legislation.

The event took place on August 28th, 1963, and the participants ended their march in front on the Lincoln Memorial, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech.

Delegations traveled from all over the United States, to show their support. Haskell Wexler, one of cinema’s most important and influential cinematographers (American Graffiti, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest)  traveled with the San Francisco delegation, filming, interviewing, and documenting the political and historical significance of this event.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Sacred Love’: The Bad Brains song that was recorded over the phone from prison
07:23 am



Bad Brains t-shirt from The Rudy

Washington, D.C. hardcore punk-reggae legends Bad Brains have had a tumultuous career since forming in 1977. The band started out playing jazz fusion along the lines of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin until they were introduced to punk via The Dead Boys and The Sex Pistols. They remain one of the very few all-black punk bands. The band members became devout Rastafarians after seeing Bob Marley perform in 1979 and singer H.R. (Human Rights, real name Paul D. Hudson) wanted to steer the band into more reggae rather than punk and heavy metal. Songs like “I Luv I Jah” and “Jah is Calling” were open professions of their faith. However, H.R. left the band a few times, along with his brother, drummer Earl Hudson, and concentrated on reggae with his band Human Rights. But for the past 15 years both men have remained in Bad Brains consistently.

One of the best stories about Bad Brains has to do with the recording of their third album, I Against I for Greg Ginn’s SST Records.

In 1986 H.R. was arrested and convicted on marijuana distributions charges. Rather than scrap the album or wait until H.R.’s release from prison, the band kept the recording sessions in Massachusetts going at the encouragement of producer Ron Saint Germain. H.R. provided the vocals for the song “Sacred Love” over the phone from Lorton Reformatory in Laurel Hill, Virginia. H.R. unscrewed the mouthpiece of the telephone so that there could be no background noise and sang into it.  Saint Germain still describes “Sacred Love” as “the best makeout song ever written.” 

The studio/jail version of “Sacred Love”
Bad Brains performing “Sacred Love” at The Ritz, New York, December 27, 1986, below:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Paid informant plants crack on innocent man: Maybe it’s time to stop paying people to ‘find’ drugs?
05:34 am



Scotia informant
As if US drug laws weren’t already bafflingly punitive, here we have a prime example of another terrible method of enforcement.  A few months ago, the owner of a head shop in Scotia, New York was arrested for possession of crack cocaine after being apprehended by an informant.

Except what actually happened is that the “informant,” (who was being paid for his services), just threw a baggie of crack on the counter and took a picture of it as “evidence.” Yeah, remember that Dave Chappelle bit about the cops sprinkling crack on black people? Totally a real thing!

Luckily, store owner Donald Andrews had security video of the entire thing. Despite having no prior record, Andrews faced up to 25 years on felony drug charges and spent three weeks in county jail before his lawyer got through to the grand jury with the exonerating footage. The incident didn’t really make waves until recently, as community groups and activist organizations are citing the case as evidence against the use of paid informants.

This particular paid informant has been used in seven other operations, two of which lead to convictions. The police were quick to assure reporters that no other cases were compromised, at least, “to the best of [his] knowledge,” but they can’t exactly conduct a full investigation, since the informant skipped town, and has yet to be apprehended. Way to go, Scotia, PD! Serve and protect!

Via AlterNet

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Republican village idiot is not very good at hiding his racism
03:28 pm

Stupid or Evil?


Steve King
“I said, ‘calves the size of cantaloupes’! Are you feelin’ me, CPAC?”
For those unfamiliar, the DREAM Act’s titular acronym stands for “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.” It’s a bi-partisan piece of legislation pioneered by a Republican with the express intent of providing a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who have already done most of their growing up in the US. However, Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King (who is chairman of the House’s immigration subcommittee) is very much against the proposal and recently decided to make that point crystal clear with some crazy, explicit racism. Like, old-school racism.

The kind that makes mere casual racists go, “Woah dude! Not cool!

It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians, they weren’t all brought in by their parents. For every one that’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

What’s baffling is that Republicans have an entire glossary of terms they use to say racist things so that it doesn’t sound like they have a white hood in their closet, and King just went, “Nah, let’s kick it old school.” In case you thought the Congressman might have had some sort of mini-stroke or early-onset dementia that made him forget how to hide white supremacy in coded political dog whistles that only registered Republicans can hear, last night he decided to defend his comments on talk radio, saying:

It’s not something that I’m making up. This is real. We have people that are mules, that are drug mules, that are hauling drugs across the border and you can tell by their physical characteristics what they’ve been doing for months, going through the desert with 75 pounds of drugs on their back.

If those who advocate for the DREAM Act, if they choose to characterize this about valedictorians, I gave them a different image that we need to be thinking about because we just simply can’t be passing legislation looking only at one component of what would be millions of people.

What a relief Steve King’s here to show us that different image! Thank The White Baby Jesus that he’s here to illuminate the other component of immigrants, by describing Mexicans like a pitiful race he invented for his poorly written Middle Earth fan fiction!

Via Fox News Latino

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Stevie Wonder boycotts Florida: Could the Sunshine State become the new Sun City?
10:42 am



Stevie Wonder and Nelson Mandela
Stevie Wonder and Nelson Mandela

During his concert Sunday in Quebec City, Stevie Wonder declared he would not be playing Florida again until the abolition of “Stand Your Ground,” the law that allowed George Zimmerman to go free after murdering Trayvon Martin. His impassioned speech to the crowd:

The truth is that—for those of you who’ve lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world—we can’t bring them back. What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do.

And I know I’m not everybody, I’m just one person. I’m a human being. And for the gift that God has given me, and from whatever I mean, I decided today that until the “Stand Your Ground” law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.

Because what I do know is that people know that my heart is of love for everyone. When I say everyone I mean everyone. As I said earlier, you can’t just talk about it, you have to be about it. We can make change by coming together for the spirit of unity. Not in destruction, but in the perpetuation of life itself.

Wonder is no stranger to artistic boycotts. He was a part of a wave of musicians who refused to play South Africa’s Sun City resort to protest apartheid, even penning a song, “It’s Wrong (Apartheid)” to raise awareness. It’s possible Wonder’s declaration could spark a trend of boycotts to shame Florida into overturning its draconian laws.

Of course, boycotts today don’t really have the same cultural context they once did for Apartheid. Last November, Wonder himself played a concert for Israeli Defense Forces, in spite of emphatic demands from activists for artists to boycott Israel in protest of the Palestinian occupation. Overwhelming international public sentiment opposed Apartheid, which was easily identified as cut and dry racial segregation, but for the west, the topic of Israel is mired in Islamophobia, and is much more difficult to organize around. Likewise, we have a lot of paranoid, reactionary gun nuts in this country, and artists might argue that playing Florida isn’t an endorsement of a single law. Regardless, I do think famous spokespeople (for better or worse) help steer the national dialogue, and we need to do everything we can to keep focus on the abolition of the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Via Vulture

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes: Jane Elliott’s controversial classroom experiment on racism, 1968
08:39 am



This is a guest post by Melissa Sweat from the DM archives. It seems timely again so we’re re-posting it

“It might be interesting to judge people today by the color of their eyes. Would you like to try this? Sounds like fun doesn’t it?” –Jane Elliott

The class of third graders are told that blue-eyed people are smarter and better than brown-eyed people. Blue-eyed people get an extra five minutes of recess, and the two groups aren’t allowed to play with one another on the playground. The brown-eyed children wear fabric collars so they can be identified from a distance. When, during recess, one of the children calls the other “brown-eyed” as an epithet and the child retaliates by slugging the taunter, Jane Elliott does what any good teacher would do: the child is reprimanded, but the overall exercise continues.

It was the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968 that Elliott ran her first “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise in her Riceville, Iowa classroom. In 1970, Elliott would come to national attention when ABC broadcast their Eye of the Storm documentary which filmed the experiment in action. Below, is a portion from the 1985 PBS Frontline documentary A Class Divided which features the ABC footage as well as clips of a class reunion.

Elliott would earn further renown appearing on The Tonight Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show and speaking at over 300 colleges and universities throughout her career. Her landmark exercise helped pioneer the field of diversity training and anti-racism education in which she still works to this day.

Watching Elliott perform her social experiment on her class of young children, it’s easy to notice her determined reserve—and also just how psychologically deep she’s treading as she instigates the discrimination amongst her students. One can’t help but wonder if an exercise this controversial would even fly in today’s classrooms, and how many parents back then might have complained that this lesson was too forward and inappropriate for their children. Perhaps they didn’t want their kids being taught outside the “three Rs” curriculum, or about the difficult subject of racism in such a fervent time. Maybe some thought it didn’t pertain to their small, all-white towns.

Certainly Elliott garnered criticism for teaching and treading against the grain, though her impact reached well beyond her Iowa classroom because of it.

This is a guest post by Melissa Sweat

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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