Friday, March 30, 2007

The coolest bad commercial for a dubious product since HeadOn…

… is for something called “the Hawaii Chair.” Have you ever wished that you could get a “heart-pumping aerobic workout” while sitting on your ass?

What blogger hasn’t?

Then say hello to the Hawaii Chair… the fitness breakthrough that “combines the ancient art of the hula with patented health science technology.”

I’m intrigued. Tell me more!

The secret is the Hawaii Chair’s motor-driven rotating seat. It “shapes and tones your core abdominal muscles” while you sit!

Can it really be that easy?

Absolutely, you fat lazy load. The Hawaii Chair “takes the work… out of your workout!”

But how much will it cost me? Probably a fortune.

That’s where you’re wrong, friend. You can have the Hawaii Chair in your home or office for “six easy payments of $69.99.”

Could I possibly get it for five easy payments and one fucking complicated payment?

Just see the Hawaii Chair in action for yourself. Go to You’ll see a small video embed on the right side of the screen. Click the play button, and watch the Hawaii Chair commercial… As Seen on Cable TV!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Q&A: Oprah Winfrey (pt. 1)

I interviewed Oprah Winfrey in the summer of 1986, when her morning show in Chicago was just about to go national. I couldn’t have imagined then that Ms. Winfrey would be, two decades later, a billionaire... the richest black person on Earth and, some say, the world’s most influential woman.

Instead, I had the nerve to ask her whether her controversial subject matter – child abuse, suicide, transsexuals, etc. – would be well-received in Middle America.

Yeah, right. I didn’t think crack cocaine would catch on either. (I invested all my money in Frankie Goes to Hollywood paraphernalia.)

Anyway, I knew by 1986 that Oprah was a talented broadcaster. Only vaguely do I remember her as the co-host of a Baltimore morning show called “People Are Talking.” But I lived in Chicago in late ’84 and early ’85, when her popularity consumed that town like a wildfire.

From our present-day vantage, we may need reminding that Oprah Winfrey was Oscar-nominated for her acting in “The Color Purple” – and had already filmed her supporting role in “Native Son” – before most Americans ever saw her as a talk-show host. Johnny Carson even had her on as a guest. That’s how hot she was burning.

Looking over this ’86 interview, conducted for the Washington Times, it’s interesting to note how much of Ms. Winfrey’s success theology was already in place. She was full-blown Oprah from jump street.

So step into my time machine and return to a day when Oprah Winfrey was a mere millionaire. A newly minted one at that. I sat in her office in Chicago, having just watched her do a show about women who abuse their own kids. Before our interview began, Oprah happened to read a piece of viewer mail…
DAVID MILLS: That letter you just got seemed to touch you.

OPRAH WINFREY: Oh yeah. It’s about a girl who was abused. A child was brought into their home; they find out the child was abused. Nobody would help them. So it’s interesting. This show touches so many people’s lives.

MILLS: It’s almost scary. I mean, this is more than a show. It’s more than TV. Especially when you’re dealing with such emotional things as what was happening today. You’re asking to get into people’s lives –

WINFREY: It is more than a show. I’m glad you realize. One of the reasons why I enjoy doing shows like the one we did today is it lets people know that they’re not alone. And for every mother who has felt this sense of rage inside, recognizes herself by seeing these other women and will hopefully get help. And that’s what we do.

I think that’s what television should do. It should uplift, encourage, enlighten, inform, entertain. And too often television doesn’t do that. It falls short of doing that. I’m excited that I’m in a position to affect change in people’s lives.

MILLS: Isn’t that scary for you, though? It’s hard enough to do TV well. And to have the burden of people writing such personal letters and confiding in you because you come across so –

WINFREY: Oh, but I get them every day. Every day. And every one’s more personal than the next. I mean, all of them are just incredibly you’re-the-last-person-I-have-to-turn-to kind of letters.

Yeah, I suppose it’s a responsibility if you look at it that way. But we just look at it as another adjunct to the show. The show doesn’t end when the show ends. We don’t do a show without providing some alternatives to people.

You can’t do a show like this and say, “Oh yeah, so we’ve exposed it,” without having information and follow-up where people can go to get help. So it’s a major social-service agency is what we do. …

MILLS: Professionally for you, are you just riding the wave now? When do you start to worry about longevity and making it last? Or is it now just the experience of the ascent?

WINFREY: See, I’m one of those people who lives the moment. So that for this time, I enjoy the ascent. And if you only concern yourself with whatever is going on in that moment, you can have a more fulfilling moment. You can give that moment all that it’s due, all that it’s worth.

If you concern yourself with what’s going to happen a year from now or two years from now or five years from now, then you defuse the moment. I live this, and this is glorious. I mean, Bruce Springsteen and I could duet, ’cause these are the glory days. Whatever comes comes.

MILLS: Because it seems to me that the whole celebrity machine nowadays is about finding somebody new, burning them out quickly, then moving on to somebody else. Do you have managers? Is your career carefully plotted, or are you –

WINFREY: It’s not plotted at all. I base my career – as I base my life – on feeling. I do what feels good and what feels right to me at any given moment. So it hasn’t been strategized or plotted or marketed at all.

Every article that you see written about me has been because someone asked me to do it. It wasn’t because we hired a publicist. We hired a publicist just to arrange them in order.

When I heard that someone from another agency hired by King World was approaching people to do stories on me – I mean, I absolutely refuse to do stories that have been set up.

MILLS: Really?

WINFREY: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

But I live a publicist’s dream. When you already have “60 Minutes” calling you and Time magazine calling you about doing a story, what do you need a publicist to set up stories for you for? What do you need to call around and [tell] people, you know, “This is a great idea, do this story on Oprah Winfrey”? I think it’s phony. It’s all a part of the celebrity façade. Planting pieces of information about a given celebrity. Either people are interested or they’re not.

MILLS: I’m glad to clear that up, because I lived here in Chicago for about a year, working for the Wall Street Journal. And there was talk in 1984 of, “When is the Journal going to do its Oprah Winfrey piece?” Things had just started happening, you had done “The Tonight Show.” And already the jaded journalists were thinking, “Oh, she’s just a hype.” So it’s good to see that it’s not being plotted on a graph.

WINFREY: Are you kidding? We don’t plan anything. We don’t know what we’re doing tomorrow.

It’s interesting, because my career has done very well in spite of the way I have handled it.

MILLS: In spite of?

WINFREY: Yeah. Because, according to what I was told – I have a lawyer who was my lawyer when I came here; I found him when I first came to Chicago. He’s the only person I’ve hired. And when I was nominated for an Academy Award, everyone said: “You have to get a Hollywood agent or you’ll never get another picture.” And I had 10, 20 agents calling me…

Well, I’ve already done this movie, so people know that I can act. If there’s something interesting that I want to do, I don’t need an agent to go and tell someone I’m interested in doing it. I can do that myself. I don’t need to pay an agent 10 percent to say, “She wants to do this.” So I didn’t hire an agent, against everybody’s advice. And to this day still haven’t hired one. And may or may not at some point, because what I’m interested in doing is good work…

And because I have this television job, which is very lucrative for me, I don’t have to act to pay my bills. I don’t have to act to be known, I don’t have to act to be famous.

MILLS: The flip side of that is, has anybody suggested to you, “You don’t need TV anymore. You’re a film star. We can make you a movie star.”

WINFREY: Sure, everyone says that. But how many black film stars are there?

See, I am very concerned about not deluding myself [about] what is real and what is not. So I don’t believe my press clippings at all. I know that I am still the same person. [Journalists] write and they say, “She’s sassy, she’s brassy, she’s funny, she’s wild.” But I know that I am the same thing. People’s perception of me may change, but I’m the same.

And people say, “Oh, now you should go and do the movies.” And I think: Everything in its own time. I will continue to do this show for as long as this show is meaningful to me. And will do some acting in my spare time. I mean, to quit this job and go and just try to be an actress would be ridiculous…

MILLS: Let’s talk about the new show and launching it. Alice [McGee, a producer] says you’re going to be careful in the first few months to not get too controversial, or to avoid a sensationalistic label. This show today, how would this have played in Podunk?

WINFREY: It would’ve played very well. See, this is what I know about this show: It speaks to the universality of the human spirit. People are no different in Podunk than they are in Chicago. They may dress differently and they may live in high-rises here and not in Podunk. But when it comes to human nature and human needs, human desires and human hopes, we are all the same.

It’s one of the reasons why I know this show will work, why I have no fears about it working. I have fears about the first day, I have fears about “What am I gonna wear?” But that’s as deep as it gets. Simply because I know that people are no different. We all want, need, desire the same things. All of us do.

I know parents abuse their children in Chicago, in New York, in Birmingham, Spokane, Seattle, all over.

MILLS: But maybe TV programmers – the guy who has a little station out in the Southwest or in the South – isn’t used to these kinds of topics being discussed frankly on TV.

WINFREY: I know that. But this is what’s incredible about what I do. And because we do it so honestly, and because it is so real, even TV programmers who heretofore have said, “I don’t know if that’s our market,” will change. They will change.

Because I know whatever you do, if you do it with the right spirit – Whatever you put out into the world is what is received and what comes back to you. So if you do something with a kind spirit, with a loving spirit, with a spirit of honesty, that’s how people will receive it.

If you just step on TV being sensational, talking about sex just because you want to see how risqué you can become, then that is how it will be received. But if you do a show – the same show – with the intention to inform and enlighten and expose what is wrong, then that is how it will be received.

One of the reasons this show does so well is because I do it with a loving spirit. My only intention is for people to see that, to see that light in me, to see that in the show. I don’t do anything with malice or antagonism. Even if it’s the Ku Klux Klan, I can do that with a loving spirit. I can. And so that’s what people see.

MILLS: But do you want to start out softer when it goes national?

WINFREY: I think we probably won’t have transsexuals and their parents on the first week. That may be a little hard to take in Salt Lake City. … Until people are accustomed to my style and my approach, it would be wise for us to not be too risqué. Just because people aren’t familiar with me.

We program this show, book our guests, based upon our feelings. It is a show done exclusively on feelings, which is really what’s wonderful about it, why it works. We don’t consult with major TV firms and ask them what do people want to hear, what do they want to see? We don’t do focus groups to find out what people are thinking, because we are people, and we know what we’re thinking, and we know that we are no different than anybody else who’s watching.

I see myself as a surrogate viewer. There’s nothing that I have done or will do that’s too embarrassing, or that someone else hasn’t already done. I mean, if I come out and my bra strap’s showing, I say “So what?” There’s a million people out there who’ve been places and their slip was hanging and their bra strap was showing. So you say, “Whoops, bra strap was showing. ’Scuse me, girls!” And that’s the end of it.

And I also know that the more I am able to be myself, it helps other people feel more comfortable with being themselves. So the way you get people to break down and tell you everything you want to know is that you let them know how open you are. You start out being open, and that’s exactly what comes back to you, is the sense of openness.

MILLS: Demonstrated today in exemplary fashion. I mean, an hour talking to child abusers could be very hard to stomach. But there, you just cut through the tension with that “Leave It to Beaver” –

WINFREY: Comment about the Beav? Oh yes. I did want June and Ward for my mom and dad.

MILLS: (laughs) But if it’s the wrong person doing that, the wrong host, that just wouldn’t work. Do you analyze your style?

WINFREY: Not only do I not analyze myself, I don’t even watch the show. I do it and it’s gone, it’s out there. I haven’t seen this show in a year.

I used to watch. But then when you watch, that’s what you do, you sit and you try to analyze it – what I did right, what I didn’t do. I just do it.

My way of describing what I do is that it is real television. It is as natural to me to go out there and be on the air as it is to sit here and breathe. I have no difference in my elevation of blood pressure or excitement or adrenaline from the time the camera goes on to the time the camera goes off, in terms of being nervous or wondering what to say.

Because there are times when you don’t know what to say. So the thing to do is either say nothing or say “I don’t know what to say.” And that’s okay. The problem with so many television personalities, I think, is that they feel that you have to fill every moment. Because if there’s like four seconds of silence, oh my God – it does seem like an eternity. But in life there are pauses, and climaxes, and exclamation points.

And so whatever is happening is what happens.

I don’t set myself up as an authority on it at all. I just know that this is what works for me. This may not work for other people. For some people, they live by shtick. And would be totally, totally uncomfortable being comfortable on the air. I’ve seen hosts like that, where it’s a joke a minute.

MILLS: How do you feel about yourself as a host as compared to when you were doing “People Are Talking”? Do you think, “God, I’m good now”? Or do you –

WINFREY: I’ll tell you when I realized I was good. I was in Baltimore doing “People Are Talking,” I was hosting the show by myself one day. It was the day I decided I’m gonna leave. I was interviewing a woman with multiple personalities. And all of these personalities started to come out while we were on the air.

See, I didn’t believe it before. I thought, “Okay, multiple personalities, sure, mm-hmm. What else is new?” And I started to ask her about the first time it happened, and she started to tell me that when she was 2 she (baby voice) got thrown into a well, and she started to talk like this. She went into this little teeny baby voice.

And I thought, “Whoa!” Then another voice comes, another personality, and says, “Why are you asking her this?” I say, “Whooa!

What happened was, I sat there and I interviewed this woman who has, the doctors think, about 50 different people living insider her. I talked to 12 that day. And I kept them all in order, kept them separate, one from the other. And interviewed all of them. Most amazing thing. Most amazing thing.

And I said to myself then, “You’re okay. You’re okay, girl. You can leave now.” Really. One of the toughest interviews I’ve ever done.

It’s rare when that happens, too, on the air. Everyone had said, “It will never happen on the air, it will never happen on the air.” It’s interesting, because I had two of them. It was her and another girl, who I believe was faking it.

MILLS: To this day?

WINFREY: Oh, to this day I believe the other girl was faking it. I think that when she saw these other personalities coming out in this other girl, it was like, “Well, I’m gonna show her,” kind of thing. It was like competition between the multiple personalities.

So I’m not very gullible at all. Because having done every disease of the week, every problem, every notion of a problem, you become very suspicious of people and their motives for being on television. So when I don’t believe someone, I say, “I don’t believe you.” And I’ll turn to the audience and say, “Do you believe her?”

MILLS: Now that you’re going national, are you going to change the context mix of the show? More celebs, more of this, less of that?

WINFREY: Celebs? We only try to do them when they’re interesting, because for the most part they’re not.

MILLS: An hour is a lot of time to fill.

WINFREY: Hard to talk to a celebrity for an hour, unless they’re doing something that’s really interesting. Unless they’ve had an incredibly interesting life. But, you know, this week’s new television star – how interesting is that?


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Elvis interviews Tarantino

Elvis Mitchell did a real cool interview today with Quentin Tarantino on his radio show, “The Treatment.”

You can click here to hear it on the KCRW website. Or you can download it for free via iTunes (along with Elvis’s separate interview with Robert Rodriguez). Just click “KCRW” on the “featured providers” list in the iTunes podcast section, and find “The Treatment.”

I love what Tarantino has to say about the lost art of storytelling in American movies. He uses the ’70s drive-in classic “Macon County Line” as an example – a flick I never saw, but want to now.

Name this comedian, win a prize.

Since I’m on this comedy kick lately, let’s have another contest. Click here and listen to one minute of nightclub standup, streaming on my Vox music stash. The first person to post the comedian’s name in the comments section will win a prize.

The prize is a Clowntime Comics baseball jersey from Impress friends and strangers alike with your hip taste in cartoons.

UPDATE (03/29/07): No winner as of yet. I really want to give away a shirt, so here’s a hint: “You can start by licking my balls.”

UPDATE (03/30/07): We have a winner. S.O.L. correctly guessed that the comedian is Terry Sweeney, from the 1985-’86 cast of “Saturday Night Live.” (Most notable for his Nancy Reagan impersonation.)

My hint helped S.O.L. It alludes to the Tom Shales book about “SNL,” “Live from New York,” according to which Chevy Chase was a raging asshole during one of his guest-hosting visits. He said to Sweeney, “You’re gay, right?” Sweeney said something like, “Yes. What would you like me to do for you?” And Chevy reportedly replied: “Well, you can start by licking my balls.”

The one-minute clip that I streamed is from a 1996 CD titled “Freak Weather Feels Different.” It’s now out-of-print, but its contents can be downloaded here, at

“Freak Weather” was the first of several CDs released under the banner of Un-Cabaret, an L.A. alternative-comedy “scene” organized by Beth Lapides and Greg Miller. Comedians affiliated with Un-Cabaret (and heard on its CDs) include such women as Julia Sweeney, Kathy Griffin, Merrill Markoe and Laura Kightlinger; out gay men such as Scott Thompson, Mike McDonald and Michael Patrick King; and hip straight guys such as Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Dana Gould and Andy Kindler.

I used to check out a lot of Un-Cabaret shows. The premise was intriguing: performers weren’t supposed to say anything that they’d ever uttered onstage before. In other words, it wasn’t about doing “material.” This was very funny people talking about their real lives, often in real time.

I remember seeing Kathy Griffin at Un-Cab soon after a post-liposuction disaster in which she was rushed to the hospital because of kidney failure. She ended her hilarious, mind-blowing monologue by dropping her pants and showing off her lipo bruises.

That’s the sort of thing you could only see at an Un-Cabaret show.

To further illustrate the confessional nature of Un-Cab, here’s Scott Thompson (“Kids in the Hall”) from the 2002 CD “The Un & Only.” The track is titled “Mixed-Race Child.” Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

‘And then there’s Maude…’

Just when I decided to talk a little shit about Seth MacFarlane, “Family Guy” went and executed a real funny gag the other night… an extended joke to tickle the memory of any TV geek over the age of, say, 42. Which begs the question: How many “Family Guy” fans are even familiar with the original theme song?

Certainly not all. Like for instance the person who just commented on YouTube claiming to “get it” regardless: “[W]e may not know the song itself, but we still get the idea that it was some song that pissed ppl off cause it was so long before the chorus.”

Uhhh… no. But anyway, thank you, Mr. MacFarlane, for giving us old-timers a chuckle. (I still mean it about Shawn Belschwender's pubic hair, though.)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

MBP of the Week: New York Times (again)

The so-called “greatest newspaper in the world,” the New York Times, published several embarrassing corrections today. One deals with a fabricating source, another with a quasi-plagiarizing book essayist. And one deals with a Misidentified Black Person.

Other media critics will surely spank the Times over the made-up shit and the intellectual theft. But I guess it’s up to me to administer some ass-reddening discipline on the matter of the MBP.

On March 11, the esteemed film critic Terrence Rafferty waxed esoteric about the French New Wave and director Eric Rohmer, whose 1972 movie “Chloe in the Afternoon” was just remade by Chris Rock as “I Think I Love My Wife.”

While displaying his acute knowledge of the works of Truffaut, Godard and Claude Chabrol, Mr. Rafferty seems nevertheless unable to tell two black women apart.

After describing the free-spirited character of “Chloe” from Eric Rohmer’s film – a woman who tempts a married man to cheat on his wife – Rafferty wrote this:

“There’s a hint of that existential semi-malaise in the intense attraction of Mr. Rock’s character, Richard, to his Chloe figure, Nikki (Gina Torres). But mostly he’s really randy.”

Uhh… nice observation, Terrence. Except that Gina Torres plays Rock’s wife; it’s Kerry Washington who portrays the tempting “Chloe figure.”

Now, I can’t blame Rafferty for never having watched “Cleopatra 2525” on TV, and thus not knowing who the hell Gina Torres is. But good Lord… this man reviews movies for a living. He doesn’t know that Kerry Washington is one of the best young actresses out there? He hasn’t seen “Ray”? “The Last King of Scotland”? Or her breakout indie performances in “Our Song” and “Lift”?

Strange thing is, the New York Times ran this photo with Rafferty’s piece:

The caption correctly identifies the woman as Gina Torres. Now study that picture: Does Ms. Torres’s character look like Chris Rock’s temptress? Or his wife?

Here’s the correction the Times ran today:

“An article on March 11 about Chris Rock’s ‘I Think I Love My Wife’ and other remakes of French New Wave films misidentified to the actress who tempts Mr. Rock’s character. She is Kerry Washington, not Gina Torres.”

Oh, and another thing: Why did it take two weeks to fix this mistake? Yo, bitches… I’m still waitin’ for that Satchmo correction! Don’t think I forgot.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

While I’m on the subject of comics...

… I’d also like to point y’all to Clowntime Comics, the work of a twisted, brilliant mind belonging to Shawn Belschwender… perhaps the most talented guy about whom nothing, absolutely nothing, has been posted on Wikipedia. (Even though he has a few admirers in the blogosphere.)

I’ve been a Shawn Belschwender fan since the 1980s, when he did a weekly comic for the Washington City Paper. (Hitpoints Charlie, we hardly knew ye.)

Unlike Natalie Dee’s utterly random one-panels, Clowntime Comics is a narrative strip with a cast of recurring characters. The main one is Refrigerator Johnny. Others have names like Calamity Bangs, 100% Anton and Schwee Porpoi. The main themes are sex, relationships, drinking and art.

Here’s a litmus test for whether or not you’ll dig Shawn’s ribald sense of humor… a 2004 strip in which Johnny has a conversation with his sleeping girlfriend’s anus. If that sounds like something Seth MacFarlane wishes he could get away with on “Family Guy,” believe you me… Shawn Belschwender has more genuine wit in his pubic hair than Seth MacFarlane has in his whole body!

Friday, March 23, 2007

I dig Natalie Dee’s comics.

They’re cute, they’re funny, they’re sometimes naughty, often just plain weird. And they have cute and funny titles, and she posts a new one every day at

She’s got, like, four years worth of archives too!

The above comic is from December 2006, and it’s titled: “this fish is freaking ready to blog.”

You rock, Natalie Dee!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

MBP update: The Trib responds

Richard Prince, an online columnist for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, got a response from the Chicago Tribune’s sports editor, Dan McGrath, regarding two Misidentified Black People highlighted on this blog.

(To remind you: The Tribune last month published a feature story on former NBA guard Kevin Gamble, and then, soon after, a feature story on college basketball player Marcus Heard. In each case – as I described here and here – the Trib printed a wrong photo, showing a different black ballplayer. The Tribune ran corrections, but never explained how these mistakes happened.)

The Tribune’s Dan McGrath told Dick Prince last week: “Our department is taking a hard and probably overdue look at our process for identifying photos in the hope of making it more reliable and eliminating such errors in the future. The staffers responsible for the [Heard] error were dealt with appropriately. [Reporter Lew] Freedman and I both apologized to Mr. Heard and his family. The [Gamble] photo was misidentified by the wire service that circulated it, but we did not catch the error in the office.”

The first step in overcoming MBP is admitting there is a problem, so good for you, Mr. McGrath. By all means, look at your process, make it more reliable. It’s up to each and every one of us to combat MBP.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Carlos Mencia strikes again...

As I mentioned in a previous comment thread, Carlos Mencia has stolen shamelessly from major black comedians for years. But even I can’t believe him ripping off Bill Cosby in his 2006 Comedy Central special, “No Strings Attached.” But the proof is right there on YouTube.

Mencia must be called to account. Fuck those fired U.S. Attorneys, let’s get some answers to this shit!

Hat-tip to Philip Arthur Moore, who wrote about this today at his blog, The Think.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Artifact: Frank Zappa on the birth of rock ’n’ roll

I’m a collector of old magazines, old college textbooks, weird old record albums, stuff like that. Cultural artifacts… windows into the American past. I intend to share some of the tastier artifacts here on the blog.

For instance, on June 28, 1968, Life magazine did a cover story on “The New Rock,” wherein America’s most popular news magazine acknowledged the existence of Janis Joplin, Cream, the Who, the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane, even Frank Zappa.

Zappa, in fact, contributed an essay on the socioanthropology of early rock ’n’ roll. It is, as you’d imagine, intelligent and funny and full of insight. (He is on my list of folks I wish I had interviewed.)

I came across Zappa’s essay not in an old Life magazine (though plenty of those are available online, like here); I found it reprinted in a college textbook called “America and Its Discontents.”

A Zappa fan has re-typed and posted the complete article here. But in accord with the legal principle of “fair use,” I’ll give you only a few paragraphs:
FRANK ZAPPA: In my days of flaming youth I was extremely suspect of any rock music played by white people. The sincerity and emotional intensity of their performances, when they sang about boyfriends and girl friends and breaking up, etc., was nowhere when I compared it to my high school Negro R&B heroes like Johnny Otis, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Mae Thornton.

But then I remember going to see “Blackboard Jungle.” When the titles flashed up there on the screen Bill Haley and his Comets started blurching “One Two Three O’Clock, Four O’Clock Rock…” It was the loudest rock sound kids had ever heard at that time. I remember being inspired with awe.

In cruddy little teen-age rooms across America, kids had been huddling around old radios and cheap record players listening to the “dirty music” of their life style. (“Go in your room if you wanna listen to that crap… and turn the volume all the way down.”)

But in the theater, watching “Blackboard Jungle,” they couldn’t tell you to turn it down. I didn’t care if Bill Haley was white or sincere… he was playing the Teen-Age National Anthem and it was so LOUD I was jumping up and down. “Blackboard Jungle,” not even considering the story line (which had the old people winning in the end) represented a strange sort of “endorsement” of the teen-age cause: “They have made a movie about us, therefore, we exist… .”

Responding like dogs, some of the kids began to go for the throat. Open rebellion. The early public dances and shows which featured rock were frowned upon by the respectable parents of the community. They did everything they could do to make it impossible for these events to take place. They did everything they could to shield their impressionable young ones from the ravages of this vulgar new craze. …

From the very beginning, the real reason Mr. & Mrs. Clean White America objected to this music was the fact that it was performed by black people. There was always the danger that one night – maybe in the middle of the summer, in a little pink party dress – Janey or Suzy might be overwhelmed by the lewd, pulsating jungle rhythms and do something to make their parents ashamed. …

Monday, March 19, 2007

Equal time for ‘honky’

I learned something interesting about the epithet “honky,” which, according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, didn’t gain currency among black folks until the 1960s. (It was a Black Power thing. As when H. Rap Brown said: “We should take lessons in violence from the honkies.”)

The word is actually derived from “Hunky” or “Hunkie,” a slur which dates back to the early 1900s. A slur directed at Eastern European immigrants by white Americans.

For instance, in Upton Sinclair’s 1917 novel “King Coal,” there’s a character named Alec Stone, a pit-boss known for addressing his laborers by nationality (“Hey, Jap…” “You, Polack…”). He threatens one worker with a crosscut saw, saying: “Load them timbers, Hunkie, or I'll carve you into bits!"

Likewise, in Sgt. Ed Halyburton’s 1932 magazine story “Shoot and Be Damned!,” a character is quoted thusly: “You G*d-damned dirty Hunky!”

John A. Fitch, in his non-fiction book “The Steel Workers” (1910), reports: “A ‘Hunky’ is not necessarily a Hungarian. He may belong to any of the Slavic races.”

And John O’Hara, in his short story “The Doctor’s Son” (1935), writes: “You couldn’t be in business… without learning Hunkie names.”

Then there’s this, from Sinclair Lewis’ satirical novel “It Can’t Happen Here” (1935): “My dad was French and my mother a Hunkie from Serbia.”

What’s interesting to me is, this wasn’t entirely about ethnic name-calling. Some white Americans back then considered Slavs to be non-white.

In 1935, a Washington state legislator named Dorian Todd drafted a bill to prohibit marriages between whites and non-whites. Specifically, he wanted to outlaw marriages between Caucasians and “Negroes, Orientals, Malays, and persons of Eastern European extraction.”

That’s right, in this example of anti-miscegenationism, the non-white category included “those of Eastern and southeastern Europe embracing the Balkan peninsula or states, and Russia as now delineated.”

This bill didn’t become law. But it indicates that the definition of “whiteness” (which white supremacists seem to believe was etched in stone by God) actually shifts and slides over time.

Especially when it’s time to crack down on immigration.

Serbian-American historian Carl K. Savich writes: “[T]he U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 placed restrictions and quotas on the level of immigration from Eastern Europe. … Orthodox Slavs in particular were seen as subhuman and alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition of mainstream American immigrants.”

Such “anti-Slavism” was reflected by a commenter last year on a white nationalist website, regarding the influx of Slavic immigrants to the U.K.:

“The real British people are strongly against Eastern European immigration. It’s destroying the lives of millions of working class people who are losing their jobs and destroying the culture of the country. Britain is British, not everyone with white skin is welcome to settle there.”

Yes, this complaint is largely about labor competition. But based on what I’ve read about anti-Asian riots in the American West, it’s hard to tell where economic resentments end and good old-fashioned racism begins. It all gets mixed up in the stew pot of group consciousness.

Which means that “hunkies” and “niggers” are brothers under the skin.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Name this singer, win a prize.

To cleanse the palate after a week’s worth of “N-word” talk, here’s another quick contest…

Click here to listen to this week’s mystery song. (No “N-words” in it. Quite the opposite, in fact.)

The first person to post the singer’s correct name in the comments section will win a prize. That prize is the new eighth edition of the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. It’s fun to read and is indispensable for those who want to beef up their jazz collections.

But I warn you, this is a tough one.

UPDATE (03/17/07): We have a winner. Dougfp correctly identified the singer as Elaine Brown. She also wrote the song, titled “Very Black Man.” It appears on her 1969 LP “Seize the Time,” made while she was a junior officer of the Black Panther Party. She eventually became its chairman.

“Seize the Time” is a fascinating artifact of the Black Power movement. It’s as much propaganda as art. With music arranged by L.A. bandleader and activist Horace Tapscott, the album is worth listening to for its jazz/blues/gospel flavors alone. But there’s a quality to Brown’s voice and delivery that intrigues me.

“Seize the Time” has been reissued on CD. Brown also wrote a Black Panther memoir in 1992.

Elaine Brown is still active in far-left politics. She plans to seek the Green Party’s nomination for president of the United States. (Her website is here.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

MBP of the Week: New York Times

Not a photographic misidentification this week, but a textual one. And my favorite kind, too: musical.

In the New York Times “Food Calendar” feature yesterday, Florence Fabricant wrote:

“Satchmo sang that ‘a kiss is still a kiss.’ But on the cocktail circuit, a kir is not just a kir.”

Sorry, Florence. Wrong black man.

The song to which she refers is, of course, “As Time Goes By.” And Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong never sang it.

Well, maybe in the shower he did. But he certainly never recorded it. A search of the database confirms this.

The song was sung most famously in the movie “Casablanca” by Dooley Wilson. I don’t get why people so often misattribute it to Armstrong.

The New York Times is scrupulous about correcting its errors. I notified the paper about this one. Let’s see if it gets fixed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Roundtable: The 'N' Top 10 (pt. 3)

[UPDATE (03/18/07): Elvis Mitchell emailed to say: “The discussion on the blog reminds me that when ‘Nigger Charley’ ran on the African Heritage Movie Network – remember that syndicated package hosted by Ossie Davis? – it was called ‘The Legend of Charley.’ Which means, first of all, that the ‘nigger’ was silent, like the ‘k’ in knife, I guess. But the pasteurized refitting made it sound like a ’50s sitcom.”]

Here’s the last of the discussion between me, Larry Alexander, Lorenzo Heard and Thomas Stanley regarding the word “nigger.” I hope it hasn’t been too much. (Like when Paul Mooney used to mock white people’s reaction to his comedy: “Make that nigger stop saying ‘nigger’… I’m getting a nigger headache!”)

But as far as I’m concerned, the best occasion to use the word is when trying to understand the word, and thus understand ourselves and American society.

This chunk of conversation dwells on the 1970s, the decade in which the four of us came of age. Naturally we dealt with Pryor and how he should be represented on our “Nigger” Top 10 list…
LARRY ALEXANDER: I still think that “That Nigger’s Crazy” gets the edge. Because what white people meant when they said “That nigger’s crazy” is different than what black people meant when they said “That nigger’s crazy.”

LORENZO HEARD: I remember when that won the Grammy. Roberta Flack and some white guy up there with her – he wouldn’t say the title. He said, “The winner is – Richard Pryor.” And Roberta Flack said, “ ‘That Nigger’s Crazy’!”

DAVID MILLS: I have a memory of a talk show that Richard Pryor was on – I want to say “Dinah Shore,” but it couldn’t have been “Dinah Shore” –

HEARD: Could’ve been. He was on “Dinah Shore” twice.

MILLS: But they were talking about that title –

HEARD: “Dinah Shore.” John Byner was on it. And she kept asking [Pryor] – He kept saying, “Look, it means something different when we say it.” Dinah Shore said, “Well, what if I called you a nigger?” He goes, “I’d punch you out.”

John Byner said, “Richard, you have a phone call. It’s some nigger.”

ALEXANDER: I remember that!

MILLS: John Byner said what?

HEARD: John Byner ran off stage, he came back, “Richard, you have a phone call. It’s some nigger.” Everybody starts laughing, and Richard Pryor’s laughing. Then he started choking on him. Then they went to a commercial.

MILLS: Good Lord. On “The Dinah Shore Show.”

HEARD: It shows the difference in the ’70s, the different way people perceived the word. Well, the different way black people perceived it. Because there was an episode of “The Jeffersons,” and Tom [Willis] –

ALEXANDER: The argument?

HEARD: Yeah.

ALEXANDER: “You know y’all can’t argue –”

HEARD: [George] said, “Of course y’all don’t fight. Y’all afraid to fight.” And Tom says, “I don’t understand.” He said, “’Cause you know that the moment you guys start really going at it –” [Helen] went, “Watch out.”

“– when y’all get to really arguing –” She said, “Don’t you say it.”

“– the first word out your mouth gonna be ‘nigger.’ ” And she goes, “He said it.”

And it just tripped Tom out ’cause he never thought about that. [George] said, “Y’all scared to fight ’cause you know you’re gonna be throwing ‘niggers’ all over the place.”

THOMAS STANLEY: We showed in class the episode of “The Jeffersons” where the blackout occurs and they rob his store –

ALEXANDER: Oh yeah. That was great.

STANLEY: We had an agenda for why we were showing it, about the blackout and how all this looting happened. But I couldn’t believe, during this 30-minute episode, man, they were throwing “nigger” back and forth like it was nothing. It was just in the mix.

ALEXANDER: Remember [on “Sanford and Son”], Big Money Grip said that Lamont was his son? It’s edited out now if you catch it on TV Land, but Aunt Esther said, “Nigger, are you crazy?”

HEARD: Back then, especially on the black shows, that wasn’t a problem. “That’s My Mama” – you heard it a lot on “That’s My Mama.” It wasn’t the big deal it is now.

MILLS: And there were those blaxploitation movies in the ’70s that defined “nigger” in a heroic way. Even had it in the title – “The Legend of Nigger Charley,” “Boss Nigger” – the nigger-as-hero because he lived by his own rules. Were any of those movies any good?

HEARD: I thought “Legend of Nigger Charley” was a great film. I’ve always loved it. I’m still looking for it. I never saw “Boss Nigger.”

But “The Legend of Nigger Charley” – he never called himself Nigger Charley in the movie. He called himself Charley. It was the white folks that called him Nigger Charley, the people tracking him that called him Nigger Charley.

There was a scene in the movie where they made it a point to let us know that these people didn’t view us as people. We were animals and/or property. There was a scene where he was making love to his lady and these white guys burst in, said, “Look at that. They do it just like humans.” First thing out the guy’s mouth.

When I think about it now, I’m amazed they got away with that title.

MILLS: Was it advertised in the paper like that?

HEARD: Yeah. “The Legend of Nigger Charley.” On the marquee. I remember wanting to steal the word “nigger” and take it home.

We had a [neighborhood] football team. Each street put together a football team; this was organized by the recreation center. We called ourselves the Niggers, because I kept saying, “The intimidation factor. ‘Ooh, we’re playing the Niggers. We forfeit!’ ”


STANLEY: “We’re up against the Niggers, man…”

HEARD: “Damn, we got a tough schedule.”


STANLEY: Niggers are fearless, niggers are cutthroat, niggers will do anything to win the fight. They’ll throw dirt in your eyes, they’ll steal you, you know?

HEARD: Yeah.

MILLS: And they’ll survive.

STANLEY: And survive.

ALEXANDER: Actually, when the Knicks were all-black in ’79 – when they had the first all-black one-through-12 – they were being called the “Niggerbockers.”

HEARD: Yep. “New York Niggerbockers.” I remember that. Only the white folks. White folks would call menthol cigarettes “niggerettes.” You never heard that?

STANLEY: (laughs) I like that.

HEARD: Had a white boy tell me that. I looked at him, said, “You know, you are a very brave man to say that.” “Oh, I never say it. I just want you to know this is what they call ’em.”

STANLEY: You talk about Sly Stone, “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.” There is no comparable term that hurts white people the way “nigger” hurts black people.


STANLEY: Nothing. You can call ’em “honky” all day and they’re like, “What does that mean?”

MILLS: “Honky” wasn’t a word I ever heard in D.C.

HEARD: I used to hear it all the time. They was honkies.

ALEXANDER: I heard “cracker.”

MILLS: I heard “cracker.”

STANLEY: I heard “cracker.”

MILLS: Thomas, you got called “nigger” in school. I got called a “white cracker” one time in elementary school by another kid, and he was yellow. He called me a white cracker, and I remember the teacher stepping up to correct him, pointing to somebody’s shirt and saying, “This is white. And a cracker is something you eat.”

That’s my thing: The whitest guy in a room full of black people, the blackest guy in a room full of white people.

Larry, when I was looking for songs on iTunes, I typed “nigger” in the search engine, and the results come up “n****r.” Do you appreciate that? Do you resent that? Do you think it’s silly?

ALEXANDER: All those are sort of emotional terms. I say: “Set all that shit aside. It is what it is. All of this shit will happen.” That’s what “nigger” is. It’s the most unique word in the English language. I’m not surprised. This has to happen.

STANLEY: To me, the whole “N-word” – that stuff explains why we’re in Iraq.

ALEXANDER: Of course!

STANLEY: It’s like, if you can buy that – if the country can buy that – we’ll buy absolutely anything. It’s that fucking stupid.

MILLS: Where should we rank the impact of “nigger” at the end of “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” – that on-screen message?

STANLEY: My question would be the film. It left such a – I was ready for something, and it almost took me where I was ready to go, which would’ve been this very, you know, progressive –

And it didn’t hit me like that. I hit me just as a bunch of distasteful stuff. There was something distasteful about it.

HEARD: Well, when did you see it? Did you see it in a theater?

STANLEY: I was grown. I watched it on TV.

HEARD: You saw it much later. You saw it after the impact of this film had died down. But it was a very, very bold thing to do. It was bold for [Melvin Van Peebles] to distribute this himself. Everything about this movie said: “I’m just gonna do this. I don’t care what the white man say.”

This is what folks at the time liked about it. Even white critics actually got it. It was a statement. I still love this film.

ALEXANDER: I will say this for “Sweetback” also. If you consider the film industry and its role in shaping images, it really was a turning on its head of 60 years, going back to D.W. Griffith.

Here’s my problem with “Sweetback”: For all those things I think the film itself represents, I’m wondering about that specific usage, as a lingering moment on a Top 10 of all time.

MILLS: How high should Richard Pryor’s epiphany in Africa be? What was the impact of that, when he rejected the use of the word?

ALEXANDER: To me, the whole idea is that here’s the guy who’s more responsible than anyone for the proliferation of this word through the culture, the broad proliferation. He’s an incomplete person anyway, so he’s trying to become a little bit more whole.

STANLEY: I don’t know necessarily that Richard’s conversion in Africa argues for or against the use of the word. It’s just a beautiful expression of him dealing with the consequences of language and looking at words deeper, looking at his own origins deeper –

HEARD: My problem with it is that it had no effect on the black community whatsoever.

MILLS: That’s what I was getting at by asking. What was the impact of it?

ALEXANDER: I agree with that. I think given his position in the culture relative to that word, it is significant. But I don’t think that his conversion has made anyone else drop it.

HEARD: Amongst the black intellectuals, it was a big deal. Amongst the common folks, it wasn’t. By this time, folks were considering Richard a sellout in the neighborhood. Folks weren’t talking about Richard Pryor anymore. They were talking about Eddie Murphy. Eddie Murphy and “Saturday Night Live.”

STANLEY: These things all stand as documents in their time and speak as their time. And what’s neat about Richard’s thing is it does add some perspective.

He was like, “I was in Africa. And I saw people that looked a whole lot more in charge of their own destiny than we look back in L.A. and New York and D.C. They’re running shit. So maybe they’re not niggers. Maybe we’re niggers and they’re not niggers, but the word isn’t fitting this context.”

And it’s not that his conversion has to be adopted by anybody else. It’s just that that perspective is valuable.

HEARD: But his reasons never rang true to me, because nobody I know ever referred to Africans as niggers.

STANLEY: Oh, I disagree. I used to hear that all the time.

HEARD: I never did. Nobody I know called Africans niggers. I never thought Africans were niggers.

MILLS: Well, that wasn’t what he was talking about anyway. He said, “I see them and I realize I’m not a nigger.”

HEARD: Why did he have to go to Africa to realize that?

ALEXANDER: Because he’s dealing with the bullshit here all his life coming out of black Peoria. I mean, he never got to be whole as a person all along. I think it’s a closing of the circle.

HEARD: If you’re talking about the completeness of Richard Pryor, I understand it. In the context of the word, I still don’t get it.

ALEXANDER: His conversion is almost like an extension of his life as performance art. It doesn’t matter whether everyone else agreed with it. He was bleeding for us professionally.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Roundtable: The 'N' Top 10 (pt. 2)

Here’s more of me and my associates and our discourse on the cultural life of the word “nigger.” Much of this segment deals with white artists’ use of the word. (For example, John Lennon’s “Woman Is the Nigger of the World.”)

When we sat down, we had the notion of doing a companion list to our “Nigger” Top 10 – a Worst 10, a place to put Michael Richards and Mark Fuhrman and the like. We never got around to that. But I had it in mind when I played the Patti Smith tune “Rock ’n’ Roll Nigger” (1978) for the fellas. (Click here to hear it on my Vox music stash.)

UPDATE (03/13/07): Monday night was a big night for the “N-word.” Patti Smith performed the song after she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And I’m told Chris Rock kicked some advanced niggerology on “Inside the Actors Studio.” Damn... time for me to change the name of this blog or what?
THOMAS STANLEY: Did [Patti Smith] say Jackson Pollock is a nigger?

DAVID MILLS: Yeah. Now, I don’t like that use of the word. To just say, “I want to be a social outsider so I identify myself as a nigger” –

STANLEY: You can’t make yourself a nigger.

LORENZO HEARD: I thought she was commenting on how punk was looked down on as this inferior music form. I could be wrong. That’s the way I always took it, so I was never offended by it.

LARRY ALEXANDER: (to David) You said you don’t like the word being used that way. Again, is there another word in the English language that rises to that level of scrutiny? The word is completely unique. It’s a live grenade. And if you understand that context, you’ll never have a problem.

MILLS: Does that mean you’re not bothered by any use of the word?

ALEXANDER: I think it’s a waste of time, just for me personally. I’ve come to the point of thinking it’s a waste of time to be bothered, because it’s so unique, if you don’t understand that it’s a loaded grenade, someone’s always gonna be offended.

It just doesn’t fit with the rest of language. It can do things no other word can do. So it has to be understood uniquely.

MILLS: Is it worth scrutinizing Patti Smith’s use of it in this song?

ALEXANDER: To a point. Only to a point. Because when you make it a term of endearment, and then you broadcast it and it gets commodified, when it comes back and bites you in the ass, you’re a fool if you go, “I didn’t know you were gonna bite me!”

MILLS: Here’s another thing about ramifications. She makes this song, she becomes an icon. That gives a license to the next generation. Marilyn Manson covered it. Did he cover it just because it’s an excuse to yell “nigger nigger nigger” because he’s a shock artist?

HEARD: But check this out. When this song came out, there wasn’t a big uproar about this.

MILLS: Dave Marsh slammed her for it in Rolling Stone when he reviewed the album.

HEARD: I remember that. But that’s as far as it went.

STANLEY: I’ll tell you a musical one that may not rise into our Top 10, but it always meant something to me. Public Enemy’s “Anti-Nigger Machine” – I like that. I think it had a certain edge to it. Especially for that message to hit this generation.

HEARD: The wild thing about it is, [with] that generation, it had no impact.

STANLEY: They didn’t get it.

HEARD: No. They didn’t get it at all.

ALEXANDER: That’s sort of my point about the word. I mean, you can get bent out of shape based on what you know because you experienced something else. But every generation [doesn’t] have actual cultural education on the word. You know, Jews and Japanese have cultural education.

This word – you let it take its own shape, you ain’t gonna like what it turns into.

HEARD: We don’t have the cultural education because too many of our people want to forget that it ever happened. It’s like the slavery thing –

ALEXANDER: Jewish and Japanese kids have cultural education on Saturdays. We ain’t going to school on Saturday.


HEARD: When I was in the fifth grade, my history teacher and my math teacher got together and combined our two classes to teach us black history. Now, we had to swear that once we left the class, we couldn’t tell anybody what they were teaching us.

And because we had this forbidden knowledge, man, we thought we knew something. We’d be in the street, “Frederick Douglass was a black abolitionist!” You know, just out of nowhere. And the other kid was, “What?” “That’s right, you don’t know. Read a book some time!” This is me being the smart-ass kid I was.

ALEXANDER: This one probably can’t get Honorable Mention, but this is worth mentioning in the conversation. The black history documentary that Bill Cosby did? When he had the leather jacket on –

HEARD: I saw it.

ALEXANDER: – and he said, “See, white folks wasn’t worried about niggers back then.” Bill Cosby saying that line. I was like, “Ohhh shit!” This was 1968.

Then he takes you to a school for black kids run by black educators in Philadelphia. This was pre-first-grade. It stuck with me.

HEARD: I think [Dick Gregory’s autobiography “Nigger”] is significant because it is a book. But isn’t there another book on the word? Didn’t someone else do a book about the word?

MILLS: Yeah, a few years ago. Randall Kennedy at Harvard. [“Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.”] That book gave David E. Kelley an excuse to use the word in “Boston Public.” And that’s another thing I hate is when they say: “A very special episode of ‘Boston Public.’ We’re going to talk about the N-word.”

HEARD: I think the “Boston Public” episode is significant, because it was about the word.

MILLS: But it was such a shallow understanding of the nuance of –

ALEXANDER: That is the point. How overblown this “very-special-episode” shit is goes hand-in-hand with the phrase “the N-word,” with “Let’s forget about it, let’s not talk about it.” It is that superficial understanding of the word that’s the problem.

HEARD: It might’ve been shallow and superficial, but [Kelley] did it.

MILLS: So what?

HEARD: It took nerve to do it. I mean, come on, Dave –

MILLS: No no no. What was the downside? He knows he’s gonna get every critic in the country writing about it, and he knows he’ll be saluted for his candor or whatever. What price was there to pay?

HEARD: My point is, this is something no one was doing. I got to at least give him props for that.

MILLS: No. It was only because Randall Kennedy had written the book. The discussion on the show was literally about that book. Michael Rapaport assigned it in class.

HEARD: But see, being a TV show, you actually reach more people than that book did. I know a lot of people who saw that episode [and] wanted to talk about it afterwards.

ALEXANDER: Let me mention one negative, just to see what comments there are. I personally thought that, among the Michael Richardses and the Mark Fuhrmans, I was ready to put Damon Wayans at No. 1 [among the worst].

STANLEY: Really?

ALEXANDER: Number fucking one. I don’t mind him turning that into a children’s clothing line, as long as you don’t complain every time some white kid runs up on TV, “This is my nigga over here.”

MILLS: What did Damon Wayons do?

ALEXANDER: He wanted to have a children’s clothing line, and he wanted to call it Nigga.

STANLEY: No he didn’t!

ALEXANDER: You heard about this, right? Here’s the article right here. (reads) “Patent offense: Wayans’s hip-hop line. Officials reject actor’s bid to trademark racial slur.”

STANLEY: (laughs) That’s slick, though. Guy tried to trademark the word.

ALEXANDER: I’m not asking black folks to come up with one concept. But goddamn, we keep asking to have it both ways, and complain when we get it both ways.


ALEXANDER: If you ask to have it both ways, then take it both ways and shut the fuck up. Or – you don’t have to have it both ways.

HEARD: I actually thought it was funny myself.

ALEXANDER: Which is fine. ’Cause you ain’t complaining when white boys run around calling each other niggers.

By the way, there’s one documented case, supposedly, of Eminem having used the word, and he had to do this profuse apology. He doesn’t use that word at all. Which I think is a significant non-use, given his place in the culture.

STANLEY: If we need a token white boy, I’d go with Lenny Bruce over John Lennon. But the problem with the Lenny Bruce thing is that it’s fundamentally a flawed premise. Speaking the word doesn’t make the power of the word go away. It just moves it around or something.

MILLS: Let’s plug in another word. How would he have sounded saying, “How many cunts are in the audience tonight? Oh, there’s a cunt… We need to use the word ‘cunt’ more to weaken its impact.” It’s idiotic.

ALEXANDER: The Lenny Bruce [routine] turned out to be a flawed premise, but it’s not completely insignificant for the time, in terms of what people thought could happen.

STANLEY: If we’re going by good intentions, I think that maybe Lennon’s whole thing was a little better-formed than Bruce’s thing.

HEARD: Lenny Bruce caused a dialogue with that routine. I remember this.

STANLEY: You ain’t that old, Lorenzo. Shit.

HEARD: I’m 48.

STANLEY: But he remembers everything since when he was 3. That’s the difference. (laughs)

HEARD: Yes I do. I’ve never smoked weed, I’ve never had a serious head injury. So I remember it all. I remember the dialogue about this, which is how I got into Lenny Bruce.

Frankly, I thought he had insight much earlier than most folks, even a lot of black folks. But that’s ’cause I understood where he was coming from.

ALEXANDER: I like Lenny more than Lennon because, even though it didn’t hold water, it kind of shaped the idea of a solution to this whole fear-of-words thing. It also ultimately pointed out how unique this word is.

STANLEY: And also, his whole career is defined by problematic words. So, yeah, there’s a lot to Bruce.

HEARD: It was a beautiful failure.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Roundtable: The 'N' Top 10 (pt. 1)

This is us: (from left to right) me, Larry Alexander, Thomas Stanley and Lorenzo Heard.

When we gathered a week ago to compile our “Nigger” Top 10, the discussion got good and deep. And it was hard to limit the list to 10. So here are a few “Honorable Mentions”:

TV producer Norman Lear deserves special commendation (the Golden Nigger Award for Lifetime Achievement?). When he put black American life at the center of his sitcoms “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times,” he was bold enough to realize that he couldn’t ignore the existence of this word in the black vernacular.

You didn’t hear “nigger” often on these shows, but when you did, it made an impact. As it did whenever the word was uttered on “All in the Family” (once from the lips of Archie Bunker himself, in the classic “shoebootie” episode).

Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles gets a nod for his triumphant on-screen text message at the end of “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971), when his black hero evades pursuing cops and crosses the border into Mexico: “Watch out! A baad assss nigger is coming to collect some dues.” Lorenzo Heard recalls the theater audience cheering those words.

Thomas Stanley hails H. Rap Brown’s autobiography/Black Power manifesto “Die Nigger Die!” (1969).

I tip my hat to comedian Paul Mooney for his early-’90s routine “Dial-a-Nigger.”

And Larry Alexander emailed me a couple of days ago to salute “South Park” for last week’s Michael-Richards-inspired niggerthon episode. “Trey Parker and Matt Stone served up a typically hilarious spoof on the whole word-banning issue, once again flashing their first-rate satirical credentials.”

Now, to the roundtable discussion, which began with our listening to “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution” by the Last Poets
DAVID MILLS: Thomas, what’s the value of this piece?

THOMAS STANLEY: It’s complex. It’s real complex. The whole rant is about what’s fucked-up about niggers, and at the end, we’re taking ownership of that. That’s who we are. You gotta love who you are.

If I use the word, I always try to stipulate what I mean by the word “nigger.” For me, a nigger can be anybody, black or white, any race that has been extracted out of their own historical line and thrust into someone else’s historical line.

So you got Palestinian niggers, you got Armenian niggers, Native American niggers, you got all sorts of people that aren’t wearing their own history, and we’re all niggers. That [poem] is a way of dealing with the duality of that identity in a way that’s revolutionary.

LORENZO HEARD: It’s funny, because as a kid I didn’t know “nigger” was a negative word. I had no idea. Because where I grew up, it either meant the male of the species or it was a term of endearment.

It wasn’t until “All in the Family” that I found out that white folks used this in a negative connotation.

STANLEY: I went to Leland Junior High School… Montgomery County. Back then – this is like 1972, ’73 – the average mean income could’ve been, I don’t know, whatever would’ve established upper-middle-class. This was Chevy Chase, right? This wasn’t Olney or someplace out in the sticks.

I was one of three students of color in the whole [school]. The other one was Megumi, the Japanese kid, and somebody else, the Indian kid.

I got called “nigger” every day for, like, months. Months. And fought daily. “Call him ‘nigger,’ see what happens.”

Finally, it was David S----, David S---- was maybe like 19 in the eighth grade. Dude had a beard. And we were sitting at the top of this long flight of stairs, right in front of the school. David snuck up behind me, couldn’t even say that shit to my face – “Nigger!” – and he kicked me down this long flight of concrete stairs. One of those things that happens where, because you don’t expect it, you can just get up and [say], “Oh, I’m not all busted up. That’s cool.”

So by the time I had thought about “How am I gonna get back at this motherfucker?” they had already expelled him. He wound up someplace else for some other reason.

But these kids didn’t know – Their whole thing was: Here’s a word and it has this powerful effect when you use this word. They didn’t know what they were saying. (laughs) It just got this effect out of me consistently.

LARRY ALEXANDER: It’s an incantation.

HEARD: Where I grew up, there were no white folks [so] I never got that.

Now, as a teenager, when we moved into a neighborhood that actually had some white kids, these white kids thought they were black. These white kids said “nigger” all the time. But to us it wasn’t no problem ’cause we looked at them as being black. It wasn’t a skin thing. It was a nigger thing.

I’ll never forget, James S------. It was James and Greg, father was black, mother was white. First day in junior high school, we’re all together and James [said], “Hey, man, what y’all niggers up to?”

And one of the guys that went to Sousa – which we had to be bussed to – one of the guys from that neighborhood heard him, and he jumped on James. So we had to jump on him.

Teacher [said], “Why were you fighting?” “That white boy called me a nigger.”

I said, “First of all, he wasn’t talking to you, he was talking to us. Second of all, he ain’t no white boy.” Then I thought about what I had just said, and I looked at him [and thought], “Damn, I guess he is a white boy.” But he always been cool with us. I had never thought about that in a different context.

Now, he was blond, blue-eyed. His brother Greg looked like David, to be honest. So you never thought they were brothers unless you were from the neighborhood. [James] had to transfer; Greg had no problem. It was the wildest thing.

MILLS: Let’s talk about the Chris Rock routine, “Black People vs. Niggers.”

HEARD: I’ve always had problems with that routine. I always thought it was Chris Rock relating his self-loathing. Because, to me, Chris was placing black people in classes.

ALEXANDER: But it wasn’t purely economic. It was behavioral.

HEARD: His whole routine, to me, might belong in the Hall of Shame. I’ve never liked it, I’ve always thought it was offensive, I never thought it was funny.

To me, what I got out of it: if you’re black and you’re poor, he’s calling you a nigger.

MILLS: No. If you’re black and you’re a criminal

HEARD: But what he said [was] that everybody who’s black and poor is a criminal. See, I got no differentation from his routine. I never did.

STANLEY: “Niggers’ll put rims on a toaster.” That’s funny shit.

HEARD: That’s funny. But that has nothing to do with socioeconomic state.

STANLEY: It’s a mental state.

MILLS: Let me speak in defense of the routine. A great piece of comedy can act like a pressure valve and release some steam. Chris Rock did not invent the class tension in black America. It’s the eternal schizophrenia of being black in America; whose standard of behavior is in play? There’s this judging of one another.

And beyond that, there’s just the day-in and day-out of black people fucking up, and everyone feeling ashamed for the black people who fuck up. [Chris Rock’s routine] was the truth, and it acted as a pressure valve for someone to acknowledge this truth.

HEARD: This is the reason why it’s not the truth: Where I come from, you never had that thought. There was never, “Oh, black people always fuckin’ up.” Folks in my neighborhood didn’t say that, ’cause everybody fucked up. There was never this separation. Never.

Where I come from, Chris Rock was a nigger. There’s nothing that separates him from these guys who are quote-unquote criminals except the fact that he calls ’em criminals. Or maybe Chris never got caught. But that don’t make him any better than those guys.

STANLEY: There’s a paradox in that word. And I think the post-civil-rights, hip-hop use of the word has sort of accepted the half of the paradox that we ran from.

A nigger is somebody that’s not free. A nigger is not the president of the United States; a nigger is not, you know, Alan Greenspan; a nigger is not someone who is in charge of history in a way that non-niggers are.

But a nigger is free. Nigger fucks when he wants to fuck; nigger eats when he wants to eat. “High cholesterol? Gimme more of that shit.” Nigger smoke a Kool when he wants to, smoke some pot when wants to, and some crack if he needs to. There’s a freedom to being so outside of society that society’s rules don’t apply to you.

And Clinton was all about that. Clinton, his coarseness had a lot to do with seizing the power of that half of the nigger equation.

So when these guys talk about, “Yeah, I’m a real nigga,” that’s part of what they’re celebrating. “Yeah, I’m gonna take this version of what freedom is. That other version – the one that requires having a halfway decent education and some other stuff that I never had? I’ve defaulted back over to this one. I’ll be this nigger over here, and I’ll be free in a sense. Until I get locked up or shot.”

HEARD: Now that’s got to be the most unique point of view I ever heard, mixing Bill Clinton in the whole nigger equation.

MILLS: I wondered whether you meant Bill or George.

STANLEY: I meant George.


MILLS: I went to Bill too.

STANLEY: Now that I think about it, you know –

HEARD: I’m digging this Bill Clinton thing. “He’s got a point there.”


MILLS: So where does the Chris Rock routine belong on this list?

ALEXANDER: I vote it near the top. ’Cause I still think the piece was about behavior, not money.

HEARD: I don’t think it was about money, I think it was about class – class differentation – which I think is wrong.

ALEXANDER: Behavioral, though. Not how much money you have.

HEARD: It’s still a separation. It’s still a commentary and a judgment on a group of people.

ALEXANDER: Based on what they do.

HEARD: No matter what you do, I don’t think anybody has a right to judge another person. I don’t think Chris Rock has the right to judge.

MILLS: Judge who, though?

HEARD: Judge the people he’s judging – niggers. He’s judging niggers, this is what he says.

ALEXANDER: He’s defining niggers as the ones who robbed him at the ATM.

STANLEY: It’s more than that, though. It’s not just criminality. It’s all of those things that are maladaptive habits of culture that, because they’re our identity, we can’t let ’em go.

We gotta have the big hat. We gotta have the big hat when there’s no bread in the cabinet. “Bitch” and “ho,” whatever it is, we gotta do these things because that’s our identity, and, God, you can’t stop being black. So be a real nigger.

ALEXANDER: You just said the magic word. One of the biggest problems in all this is the idea of identity. The point I’m making is, if you get devalued by the world for being who the fuck you are, but if you become Clarence Thomas, oh, you’re a good colored guy – that’s the whole idea of the black context of double-consciousness.

MILLS: (to Lorenzo) The one thing where I see what you’re saying about that routine is, going beyond behavior and maladaptive mindsets, some of it just slides into style. Where you feel contemptuous of someone because of the way they talk –

ALEXANDER: That’s folks who embrace an assimilated sense of style, correct?

MILLS: Right.

ALEXANDER: So that’s identity. Versus the “acceptable Negro” identity which gives you your humanity in the views of the masses. Double-consciousness. African and American, never completely both.

But you’re right, it slides into style issues. The NBA, the dress code, Allen Iverson’s tattoos, braids, all of that shit. And white kids couldn’t love that shit more.

[NBA Commissioner] David Stern is catering to the middle-aged white dudes from American Express that he wants to come to his board room and sign off on a fucking commercial. And they both want to target white kids talkin’ about, “What’s up, my nigga?” It’s ridiculous.

That’s why I separate myself from the emotion of this word. Because I understand how circuitous the bullshit is. It’s not going anywhere. Use the word at your own risk. But understand the risk before you use it.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

MBP of the Week: New Orleans Times-Picayune

Well how about this? This week’s Misidentified Black Person is not a basketball player! He’s a big-city police chief.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune published the following correction yesterday:

Riley not in photograph: A photo caption in some Thursday editions incorrectly identified New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley as one of three people pictured in a wooded area of Algiers where skeletal remains were found.”

But hey, it still happens to basketball players too... even now that it’s tournament time. I thank the reader who pointed out that the Associated Press yesterday misidentified Arkansas Razorback guard Patrick Beverley in this photo caption, labeling him Sonny Weems (a Razorback forward).

The AP hasn’t yet run a correction.

Thanks also to Irin Carmon, who pointed out that New York magazine’s website yesterday posted the wrong picture alongside a brief interview with rapper Juelz Santana. The correction reads:

“The item was initially accompanied by a photo of the rapper Fabolous.... We regret the error.”

Good looking out, people.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Name this tune, win a prize.

Keeping with the theme of the previous post, here’s a little contest for y’all:

I’ve got a mystery “N-word” song streaming on my Vox music stash. The first person to post the song’s correct title AND the artist’s name in the comments section will win a prize.

The prize is a copy of the brand new book by Jabari Asim, “The N-Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why.”

Just click this link, listen to the tune, and see if you can win!

UPDATE (03/10/07): We have a winner. SJ correctly identified the track as “Hi Nigger” by Lord Melody.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The ‘Nigger’ Top 10

So some gentle-hearted souls want to ban the word “nigger,” to abolish it, kick it out of the English language, which they can’t do, of course. No one can outlaw a word.

Nevertheless, the New York City Council last week went to the trouble of passing a “symbolic” resolution banning the use of “the N-word” in the city.

A small-town Texas mayor wanted to raise the stakes by criminalizing the word and slapping a fine of up to $500 on anybody who uttered it in public. After a backlash, the mayor (a white man) abandoned this notion.

Rather than construct a logic-based argument against the prohibitionists, I thought it’d be fun to assemble a list of the all-time most socially redeeming usages of the word “nigger.” This would show by example that the word itself is neither good nor evil. It’s an instrument with which to convey ideas – as all words are – and thus has a right to exist.

To compile this list – The “Nigger” Top 10, if you will – I brought together a brain trust of good friends, each one a sharp-eyed observer of the culture: Larry Alexander, Lorenzo Heard and Thomas Stanley. (We’ve collaborated on various funk-related documentation projects since the early ’90s.)

We spent last Sunday afternoon in a suburban-D.C. apartment, speaking freely and pausing occasionally to listen to recordings such as Patti Smith’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Nigger” and the Last Poets’ “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution.”

Our mandate: to reach consensus on the most culturally significant and/or artistically valuable utterances of the word, and to rank these according to their historical impact.

Our conversation was so rich and juicy, I’ll be posting extended transcripts in the coming days. I hope you readers will join this discussion by commenting, whether you be black, Negro, colored or African-American. Everybody’s welcome in my house!

Ahhh, just playin’, just playin’. I want to hear from you crackers too.

So here is our list:

10. Richard Pryor’s epiphany in Africa, from the movie “Live on the Sunset Strip.” (1982)

No contemporary artist has done more with the word “nigger” than Richard Pryor. His 1974 LP “That Nigger’s Crazy” even won a Grammy.

But after traveling to Africa in 1979, Pryor quit using the word in his standup comedy. Here’s how he explained it in “Live on the Sunset Strip”:

“When I was in Africa, this voice came to me and said, ‘Richard, what do you see?’ I said, ‘I see all types of people.’ The voice said, ‘But do you see any niggers?’ I said, ‘No.’ It said, ‘Do you know why? ’Cause there aren't any.’ ”

Pryor’s abandonment of the word didn’t have a lasting cultural impact; “nigger” gets tossed around today more than ever in the popular culture. (Reference “The Boondocks” on the Cartoon Network.)

But the epiphany in Africa is a beautiful punctuation of Pryor’s own personal and creative evolution.

9. Sly and the Family Stone, “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.” (1969)

In its context – a mixed-race band addressing a mixed-race audience, at a time when trans-racial brotherhood was the dream of a generation – this song is a perfect example of how to use the word’s power against itself.

Sly wanted to shame both sides of the racial divide. Hence the rejoinder, “Don’t call me whitey, nigger.” (Lorenzo Heard recalls that this track from the LP “Stand!” would get radio airplay in Washington, D.C. Could a radio station broadcast the song today without catching hell?)

8. Lenny Bruce, “Are There Any Niggers Here Tonight?” (early 1960s)

For token white representation on this list, it was either this or John Lennon’s “Woman Is the Nigger of the World.” Lenny Bruce wins, because he confronts directly the toxicity of the word, which was unprecedented for a white entertainer of his era.

The notorious nightclub routine (available on the CD box set “Let the Buyer Beware”) went like this:

“Are there any niggers here tonight? I know that one nigger works here, I see him back there. Oh, there’s two niggers… Between those two niggers sits one kike – man, thank God for the kike. Uh, two kikes. That’s two kikes and three niggers and one spic. One spic – two, three spics. One mick. One mick, one spic, one hick thick funky spunky boogey. …”

Eventually, Bruce got around to this:

“The point? That the word’s suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. If President Kennedy got on television and said, ‘Tonight I’d like to introduce the niggers in my cabinet,’ and he yelled ‘niggerniggerniggerniggernigger’ at every nigger he saw, ‘boogeyboogeyboogeyboogeyboogey niggerniggerniggernigger’ till nigger didn’t mean anything any more, till nigger lost its meaning – you'd never make any four-year-old nigger cry when he came home from school.”

Lenny Bruce’s reasoning may be dubious, but at least he was wrestling full-tilt with the American monster of race.

7. Dick Gregory’s autobiography, “Nigger.” (1964)

On one level, a slick marketing move. On another level, a bold provocation. On yet another level, a twisted joke. On all levels, probably the earliest attempt by a black artist to tame the word. This was Dick Gregory putting his head into the lion’s mouth.

Here’s what he wrote as a preamble to his memoir: “Dear Momma – Wherever you are, if ever you hear the word ‘nigger’ again, remember they are advertising my book.”

Now that’s funny.

6. The “Word Association” sketch, “Saturday Night Live.” (1975)

One of the funniest sketches in the history of “Saturday Night Live,” and the funniest use of the word “nigger” ever of American network television.

Richard Pryor plays a job applicant, and Chevy Chase is a potential employer. The final step in the hiring process is a psychological test, a bit of “word association.” Chase says a word, Pryor says the first word to pop into his head.

“Dog.” “Tree.”

“Fast.” “Slow.”

“Rain.” “Snow.”

Soon comes this: “Negro.” “Whitey.”

“Tar baby.”

Pryor looks puzzled, not quite sure he heard right. “What’d you say?”

Chase repeats, casually: “Tar baby.”

Pryor says: “Ofay.”

“Colored.” “Redneck.”

The tension and aggression escalate… “Spearchucker.” “White trash!”

“Jungle bunny!” “Honky!”

“Spade!” “Honky honky!”

“Nigger!” “Dead honky!”

This sketch was written by Paul Mooney, a writing partner of Pryor’s. Mooney once told me the story behind the sketch. He said Chevy Chase was considered the “golden boy” of “SNL” in its earliest days, the standout star. In the week of preparation for this show, Chase got the feeling Richard Pryor didn’t like him. And Pryor didn’t like him… because he was the golden boy.

So Chase asked Paul Mooney to write a sketch that he and Pryor could perform together. The rest is TV history.

5. The Pino/Mookie scene, “Do the Right Thing,” written and directed by Spike Lee. (1989)

In a tenderly staged scene, Spike Lee as “Mookie” questions John Turturro’s character “Pino,” who is filled with rage towards black people. (Earlier, Pino says, “How come niggers are so stupid?” To which Mookie replies, “If you see a nigger, kick his ass.”)

“Pino, who’s your favorite basketball player?”

“Magic Johnson.”

“Who’s your favorite movie star?”

“Eddie Murphy.”

“And who’s your favorite rock star? Prince. … Pino, all you ever say is ‘nigger this’ and ‘nigger that,’ and all your favorite people are so-called niggers.”

“Magic, Eddie, Prince, they’re not niggers,” Pino says. “I mean, they’re not black. I mean… let me explain myself…”

Here we have a black artist confronting the schizophrenia of whites who idolize black athletes and entertainers while classifying all other blacks as “niggers.” Lee also comments on the peculiar push-pull of admiration and envy. (“Pino, deep down inside I think you wish you were black.”)

As timely in 1989 as it would’ve been in the era of Willie Mays and Sammy Davis, Jr. (not to mention the era of LeBron James and Dave Chappelle).

4. Chris Rock, “Black People vs. Niggers.” (1996)

From Rock’s breakthrough HBO special, “Bring the Pain,” a brutally frank, devastatingly funny examination of the class division in black America. “There’s like a civil war going on with black people,” he began. “And there’s two sides: there’s black people and there’s niggers. The niggers have got to go.” The audience went bananas, and he was just getting warmed up.

“Books are like kryptonite to a nigger.”

“(sings) ‘It’s the first of the month…’ Niggers are singing welfare carols!”

Ten years later, we’re still having the conversation that Rock brought out of the closet with this routine. (Reference John Ridley’s Esquire essay.)

Five and a half minutes that shook the comedy world, and proved Chris Rock to be the Richard Pryor of his generation.

3. The Last Poets, “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution.” (1970)

The Last Poets were a huge influence on funk, hip-hop and today’s spoken-word scene. This particular piece, by Umar Bin Hassan, is a classic deconstruction of African-American complacency.

“Niggers fuck Sally, Linda and Sue. And if you don’t watch out, niggers will fuck you. Niggers would fuck fuck if it could be fucked. But when it comes to fucking for revolutionary causes, niggers say ‘Fuck revolution.’”

Bin Hassan says the word 89 times in about five minutes, as if this were some magickal ritual to transmute self-hatred into self-love.

(To listen to this track, click here.)

2. “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger,” anonymous. (1960s)

Last Sunday, when me and the fellas believed (like most people) that Muhammad Ali uttered these words, we put this quote at No. 1. Come to find out, Ali never said it, according to his biographer Thomas Hauser. (Big-time hat-tip to Ralph Keyes, author of “Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations.”)

So I did some quick Internet archive-searching. Indeed, “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger” was a popular protest slogan of the day. It was reported in 1966 and 1967… without reference to Ali. As in this New York Times story (June 21, 1966) about a Mississippi civil rights march:

“[S]ome marchers carried signs of their own design. ‘No Viet Cong Ever Called Me Nigger,’ said a placard carried by Vince Young, a 41-year-old Negro, who is a member of the Brooklyn branch of the Congress of Racial Equality…”

And this UPI report, printed in the Washington Post (August 18, 1966), concerning a small-scale black protest at an Army base:

“One of their picket signs read: ‘No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.’ The same slogan appeared recently in the riot-torn Hough district of Cleveland, Ohio.”

And this Time magazine coverage (April 21, 1967) of a large anti-war protest in New York City:

“Angry-looking young Negroes from CORE and S.N.C.C. paced through the meadow carrying signs that read ‘I Don’t Give a Damn for Uncle Sam’ and ‘No Viet Cong Ever Called Me Nigger.’ ”

What Muhammad Ali did say, in February of ’66, after the draft board classified him fit for duty, was this: “I ain’t got nothing against them Viet Cong.”

Over time, due to our collective need to attach this free-floating slogan to a specific defiant individual, the “nigger” line got grafted onto Ali’s quote in our memory. It is now such an accepted piece of American folklore, Michael Mann shows Will Smith saying the words in his movie “Ali.”

Still, even as a generic sentiment, “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger” is the most potent and effective use of the word ever as an instrument of protest.

1. Richard Pryor, “Bicentennial Nigger.” (1976)

The word “nigger” was to Richard Pryor what the saxophone was to Coltrane. He could make it do almost anything.

Juxtaposing the words “bicentennial” and “nigger” was, in itself, audaciously brilliant. Remember the Bicentennial, y’all? The tall ships and all? America threw itself the grandest birthday party imaginable, and along came Pryor to piss in the punch bowl.

“They’re having a Bicentennial. Two hundred years. Gonna have a Bicentennial Nigger. They will, they’ll have some nigger 200 years old in blackface… stars and stripes on his forehead…”

That’s from the last track on his 1976 LP, “Bicentennial Nigger,” a two-and-a-half-minute monologue of the same title. Pryor portrays the stereotype of an old chuckling, semi-literate, subservient but nonetheless contented darky. As he catalogs the degradations of slavery, he keeps on a-chucklin’, talkin’ ’ bout how glad he be to have spent 200 years in Amer’ca. It’s a bleak bit that ends with an angry twist.

Keep in mind, Pryor unleashed this lacerating satire at a time when he was a popular guest on TV talk shows. He was on the verge of major Hollywood stardom. He had something to lose. But he did it anyway. And in the process made himself a hero to white folks as well as black.

Only a bad-ass nigger could’ve pulled off that trick.

(To listen to the routine, click here.)

Coming next: a few Honorable Mentions, plus the first of several chunks of the discussion between me, Larry Alexander, Lorenzo Heard and Thomas Stanley.