Sunday, January 15, 2017
The thin line of racism
This exchange began here, so you might want to read some of that first. The following comment and my response (in red) exceeds the space limit of the Comment area, so I have placed it here.
On Jan 15, 2017, at 1:00 PM, Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Mitchel and Marilyn respond to Bates":
"A clueless, cowardly troll." Nice! Have to disagree; I'm not clueless!
I grant that you aren't clueless and apologize for jumping to that conclusion. That said, are you admitting cowardice? I find no fault with people wishing to maintain anonymity, but personal attacks throw a different light on my thinking in that regard. By not knowing when you worked at WBAI or in what capacity, I am, you must admit, somewhat disadvantaged, but I'll try, anyway.
I worked at WBAI and served on the national board. I have a pretty good idea about what went on then and what's going on now.
Not knowing when “then” was, I have no yardstick by which to measure that statement. I think most of us know what is going on now, however.
During my many years in and around Pacifica I met plenty people like you who think their devotion to the mission masks their racism.
Race awareness is not the same as racism. I did not take extraordinary perception for me to note that the WBAI I volunteered at in 1961 had an all white-one-Latina staff. Fortunately, the programming did not reflect that racial divide, nor—as far as I could tell—did the mindset of 25 paid employees. It struck me as wrong (inadvertent racial discrimination, perhaps) so I saw staff integration as a top priority when I was appointed Station Manager. Among my first hires was a black news director, Joanne Grant.
It's not all black people you revile, just the ones you don't agree with at Pacifica.
“Revile” is a misnomer. I do disrespect people who knowingly or through ignorance mislead WBAI’s listeners in order to place their own message before the actual facts. At WBAI, this sort of deception is by no means the exclusive province of any particular ethnic group—acculturation is fairly common. whether it is Mimi Rosenberg in blackface or Felipe Luciano telling “y’all” that growing up in East Harlem made him an African “brother.” He wasn’t talking that way years ago when I met him.
As for my alleged revulsion. To maintain that such strong feelings are prompted by my personal dislikes, is an insult to my intelligence. Yes, I was forced to drop out of school at 14, never had a chance to pass or flunk an exam, grew up speaking a relatively obscure language (Icelandic), and didn’t see a black person until I was in my late teens. That said, I had the curiosity needed to gather knowledge from my environments. I am now 85 and I have spent almost 70 of those years working with and for people who don’t look like me.
I recognized in the WBAI concept a freedom of expression that even the state-owned European broadcast outlets could only approximate. I loved WBAI and people like Lou Schweitzer, who pursued and practiced our country’s fading freedoms. There was no greater advocate of free speech than Lou—he would be dismayed if he heard what has happened to the radio station he saw as a dream realized.
I disagree with much of what I hear expressed on today’s WBAI, whether it comes from blacks, whites or opportunistic teeters. I have always regarded WBAI and, indeed, Pacifica, as a source of truth. Honesty is more important to Lew Hill’s concept than the lack of commercial advertising, although one surely feeds the other. So what you call my revulsion is integrity-based rather than race-based. People who show such disrespect for the listeners upon whom their existence relies have no place on WBAI’s air, nor would they have perennial access to the station’s air if management were doing its job.
Today’s WBAI is rudderless and thus—human nature being what it is—taken advantage of by unscrupulous, self-serving opportunists. You cannot have a radio station so disorganized and ego stroking without ending up with a serious, near-fatal reduction in listenership and income.
But the fact is that the cancer at Pacifica is equal opportunity. Some of the people I worked with many years ago at WBAI are still there; they were venal sociopaths then and they are now. And most of them are white.
Whether they are white, black or in between is immaterial. The problem is that they place personal interests above any real concern for the welfare of WBAI and its listeners. Much of what the station airs is filler, bland music the likes of which can be heard from any number of sources, often presented with authority and genuine respect. Anti-social rhetoric and twisted facts are still spewed on street corners, and book-selling “lectures” are given every day in the big city. It may be more difficult to find bogus “cures” elsewhere, but they should not be pitched on WBAI either. The oft-used phrase, “only on WBAI” does have a ring of truth, but not in any complimentary way.
The fact that some of the people you worked with years ago are still there points to another serious flaw: one that produces stagnancy and hinders the appearance of fresh voices, such as the Pacifica founders envisioned. Sure, we hear new hosts, such as The Blacks, Katie Halpern, Daulton, The Haitian All-Stars, and various imports, but what are they saying? Why are they taking up time slots on WBAI? Nothing appears to be coordinated, management seems oblivious to the fact that New York is an amazing source for new thoughts and artistic innovation. Why should listeners have to listen to people who cannot articulate whatever it wants to say?
The deep racism at Pacifica goes back to its founding, a reflection of the culture in which it developed. Watch "KPFA On the Air" (archive.org/details/linktv_kpfa-on-the-air20100226) for a reasonably good exploration of the roots of the current situation.
Please tell me the basis for your “deep racism” tag. The link you include leads to a singularly uninformative trailer—what was I suppose to learn from watching it?
Pacifica's failed attempt to be everything to everyone leaves led to the current “nothing for anyone” model.
Pacifica was never meant to be “everything to everyone“. It was intended as an intelligent alternative to the pap and commercialism of corporate sponsor-dictated post-WWII radio (AM in those days). The idea was never to indoctrinate, but rather to inspire individual thought and serve as a platform for political ideas and artistic expression not given other outlets.
The late '70s transmitter takeover at WBAI was a white supremacist reaction to an entirely rational effort to survive the end of the Vietnam war years by pivoting to serve an specific underserved audience, the city’s black and Latino population.
Serving the New York area’s black and Latino population is in keeping with the original mission, but serving it at the expense of other ethnic groups is not. With increasing frequency, one hears WBAI’s hosts refer to the station as serving the "community,” but most of them have an alarmingly restrictive concept of what that means. Some have—by design, or not—narrowed the definition down to the city’s black population, others include “brown” people, and we are recently seeing Native Americans thrown in, but anyone else who cannot trace their ancestry to Africa is de facto excluded. I regard that as thinly veiled racism, but—along with the predominance of black-targeted programming—it certainly is a rerouting of purpose. It is only when it comes to raising funds that ancestral discrimination is shelved.
I don’t know enough details to discuss the 1970 transmitter takeover (I purchased and had that transmitter installed, b.t.w.), but the Vietnam war was still raging when Chris Koch and Dale Minor produced the brilliant documentary on the Civil Rights Movement (“This Little Light”). The two historic events overlapped—coverage of one did not replace coverage of the other.
The self-interested refusal of the WBAI staff to support the change set the stage for what we see and hear today. It makes just as much sense today as it did in the late 70s to serve an unserved audience, especially because that audience has not as completely abandoned radio for the Internet.
We did not measure the listener’s right to be served by the color of his or her skin, or ancestral roots. It made eminent sense to serve anybody who wished to be served. The unwritten criterium was intellect and the curiosity that fosters its growth. Unlike today’s WBAI, we strove to be honest and give more than one side to any argument.
This is not to say that WBAI is listenable (it isn’t) or that the staff is competent (they aren’t). But they’re incompetent because they don’t know what they’re doing, not because they’re black.
Absolutely, incompetence and destructive opportunism comes in all hues. It basically boils down to inept management at the station as well as the Foundation level. Without anyone in authority at the helm, we end up with a pot luck system that is tolerated by most occupants, but, obviously not by the listenership. The latter group has the most effective remedy: tune out. That is exactly what we are experiencing, but loud and clear though it is, Management an Board don’t get the message.
I encourage you to review blog posts whenever someone couches their critique in terms of race, and ask whether race is really the issue.
Censorship is abhorrent to me, but such posts do come in and I routinely leave them unpublished, especially if they bear no relationship to the topic at hand. Unfortunately, I cannot respond to them of-blog, because I haven’t their name and/or e-mail, but I think they get the idea.
My tenure at WBAI took place in one of the most racially charged environments I’ve ever experienced. The ugly bigotry I experienced then—so well intentioned, justified by the righteousness of the cause—has made the transition to the Internet and lives on in this blog. Too bad.
By its very nature, this blog cannot but reflect the atmosphere at WBAI. Unless I resort to fiction, I’m afraid that’s how it has to be.