Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Power (and sometimes the Poison) of the Pen

The Power (and sometimes the Poison) of the Pen
By Henry Ford

It is reported that in the year 1712, along the banks of the James River, a man by the name of Willie Lynch gave a speech to Slave Owners telling them how to control their slaves. The speech promoted creating and expanding divisions with the slave community. Today, nearly 300 years later, the Willie Lynch syndrome has been given yet another breath of life and truth in the form of a caricature published in a most surprising place, Cleveland’s black owned newspaper.

A recent issue of the Cleveland Call & Post contained a caricature depicting State Senator Nina Turner as Aunt Jemima. For those unfamiliar with the image of Aunt Jemima, she is a painful reminder of America’s preoccupation with the systematic degrading of Black Americans. It is bad enough that racists used the image to degrade black people, but it is even more tragic when the image is reincarnated and used by the victim, against the victim.

Senator Turner’s “crime” was being on the side of a political issue opposite from the area’s powerful black politicians and the Call & Post newspaper. Imagine the “nerve” of the Senator to not agree with what is, the “nerve” to have a dissenting opinion. I am reminded of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being “out of touch” with local leadership in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. I am reminded of his unpopular stance against the Vietnam War, a war that eventually became unpopular with the majority. Imagine the results had Dr. King joined the crowd simply because it was comfortable and convenient. This conjecture could lead to debating the right and wrong of an issue that has already been decided by the voters. That however is not the issue this article addresses. Common decently and respect are the issues before us.

I believe the newspaper has every right to editorialize, but also the responsibility to do so in good taste. Had the same depiction appeared in a white owned newspaper, the telephone lines would be ablaze with protests. What gives those in the position to educate and inform, the right to degrade and dehumanize? What entitles them to perpetuate images that for so long have plagued the black community. This is the year we elected a president based in large part on his vision of building bridges and mending fences, yet some choose to continue on the path of division.

My concern includes the young people of this city and this nation. What we do and say impacts the minds and hearts of the young and the not-so-young among us. What lesson did they learn from seeing a State Senator depicted as Aunt Jemima? Isn’t one of the issues we have with young people the lack of respect they have for themselves, their parents, and in the end the entire society? Do we want them to apply caricatures of Aunt Jemima and other images of disrespect to those who might not agree with them? Do we want them to become less tolerant of others? Do we want them to be afraid to have an independent thought, for fear of being “labeled?” Before considering those questions as irrelevant, reflect for a moment on some of the “reasons” you’ve heard for the senseless gang violence that is killing our young people and destroying our families. Many of these tragedies are rooted in intolerance.

Also for the larger community and the world, the level of respect others have for African-Americans is directly related to the level of respect we have for ourselves and our brothers and sisters. If we think it is permissible to degrade our own brothers and sisters, what treatment then do we expect from others?

This article is not about politics, it is about common decency and mutual respect. I have a great deal of respect for many of the political leaders who were in opposition to Senator Turner’s views on Issue 6. In fact, I too was in opposition to the Senator’s position. Whether that was right or wrong is not the issue. The issue is now that the battle is over, do we continue the war or do we sit down at the table?

I quote the last part of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s words “we are all in the same boat now?” What do we do going forward? Do we seek to destroy Senator Turner’s career, and if so, what will be accomplished? I would suggest that if anyone wants to “get even” with the Senator, that they emulate her talent, her passion and her determination, and challenge her on a level that calls each of us to the greatness that we have within.

My prayer is that the Call & Post will rise toward its potential greatness and print a retraction and apology to Senator Turner. My request to the Call & Post Readers in my audience is that you let me know if that does occur, because after following the newspaper since childhood, I find the need for something less objectionable and more inspiring to the human spirit.

Those who possess the “Power of the Pen” and the blessing of an audience need to insure that they use that power in a way that educates, inspires and empowers. While a picture is often worth a thousand words, some of those pictures along with their insinuations belong in the distance past.

You may reply to Henry Ford at successisyou@yahoo.com and please, no caricatures!

5 comments:

  1. Thanks Henry for your very appropriate and unfortunately necessary points. I would have hoped the Call & Post newspaper had reached lots of its potential by this time but alas NOT.

    If the C&P editorial staff is monitoring its readership, how many young leaders are readers?

    Isn't the future growth of the paper dependent on the number of readers?

    How can a African American newspaper be citadel of free speech if they continue to partake in such racist's symbols of long past times? Or are they long gone?

    Beverly J. Peterson

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  2. George Williams9:48 PM

    I was at a social event prior to the recent election, playing bid whist with some great folks, talking stuff and having a good old time...when the conversation turned to the pending vote on Issue 3. The majority of the folks were in agreement on this one after being polled on how they would vote. I decided to go out on the proverbial limb and sheepishly announced I was in favor of Issue 6. You could have heard a pin drop until I was challenged to answer why....which I attempted to do. After that we went back to playing cards.

    It felt good to debate with friends face to face..even when my rationale was challenged on the grounds of racial loyalty.

    Long story short: I commend Senator Turner. I respect those that disagree with her. However, questioning her character and attacking her from behind the poison of the pen was very petty and childish.

    A big part of my decision to vote for Issue 6 came after I heard Mr. Forbes on NPR before the vote --- his comments put me over the top. I thought he was confused and was talking about something in the sixties.

    George Williams

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  3. I had not seen the cartoon until the advocates for "We Demand An Apology Now for Call and Post's Aunt Jemima Editorial" threw it up on FaceBook. Gee, let's circulate it some more! Brilliant.

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  4. Powerful commentary Henry. I've added link to this blog post over at the Electronic Village.

    peace, Villager

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  5. Thanks Henry for your eloquent reminder that respect and tolerance are not just expected from any one group, but it is expected from ALL people. There is truly no reason to denigrate someone for a difference of opinion: that is often how we grow.

    Without differing opinions, we would be as blind and ignorant as those who embrace the status quo, using abhorrent comments, such as,"A negro is only 3/5ths of a man and should never be taught to read." "Women are second-class citizens, so why do we have to let them vote?" Obviously, if there had been no dissenting voices, slavery could still exist and the idea of women voting would be ludicrous.

    It's a pity that we have to deal with the ignorance of bigotry both within and without our people. I am shocked, angry, and disappointed in the Call & Post newspaper editorial staff for allowing this charicature to be printed. And, whoever offered the racist charicature in the first place should consider how he would feel if this had been used to represent his own mother or sister!

    Thanks again Henry for your powerful post! And congratulations to Senator Turner for expressing her side of the issue as she saw it! Thanks for letting me see courage and integrity in action.

    Dolores in AZ

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