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The Idol Smasher

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Posted on Dec 30, 2012
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

Ishmael Reed has spent the last five decades smashing idols—idols of race, idols of capitalism, celebrity idols and the idols of national virtue and greatness. His essays, novels, poems, plays, songs and cartoons routinely shatter the delusions and myths of a nation stubbornly unwilling to confront its past or understand its present. He rips open a history that saw white Europeans exterminate one race and enslave another to create the nation’s prosperity, a past that includes the violent plundering of nations around the globe—Cuba, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan among them—to show us who we have become. He names the corrosive disease of empire. He excoriates what Alexis de Tocqueville called our “perpetual practice of self-applause.” He battles back against the sophisticated forms of propaganda—especially from Hollywood—that perpetuate patriotic fantasies and pander to the dark streams of paranoia, racism and fear that run like electric currents through white society.

Reed’s righteous fury is a heartening antidote to the squeamishness of liberals and the lunacy of the right wing. He says the editors of The New York Times and most other major media outlets “sound like they get their instructions from Julius Streicher [the Nazi propagandist] when it comes to blacks.” He calls the HBO series “The Wire” “a Neo-Nazi portrait of black people” and dismisses the movie “Precious” as a film that “makes D.W. Griffith look like a progressive.” 

“Lazy, no-good black people, who are welfare cheats, sitting around eating chicken, and having sex with their children, right out of the Lee Atwater-Paul Ryan playbook,” he said of the portrayals in “Precious” when I reached him by phone at his home in Oakland, Calif. “The wonderful novelist Diane Johnson was right when she said that ‘largely white’ audiences are thrilled by images of black people as dysfunctional. This has become a billion-dollar market which led critics to assert that Black Bogeyman movies sell better than sex, according to the critic C. Liegh McInnis. You even have a critic at The Root website, a post-racial ‘Talented Tenth’ hangout for ‘exceptional blacks,’ praising Quentin Tarantino’s latest sick exercise into racial porn, called ‘Django Unchained,’ ” which I critique at the Wall Street Journal site Speakeasy. This movie is being praised by the same critics who loved ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Precious,’ probably because it revives Stanley Elkins’ discredited ‘Sambo Thesis.’ ”

Reed has no time for Black Bloc anarchists, whom he calls “alienated, spoiled middle-class white kids from the suburbs” as well as “vandals and thugs.” He calls the Oscar presentation “a white supremacist pageant.” He detests the Clintons, who he reminds us sold out the poor and the working class. Hillary, he says, makes “Eva Peron seem benign.” He predicts more tragedies like the recent Connecticut massacre, noting that many white Americans stockpile assault rifles because they are terrified of black people and that mass shootings in the United States almost always are carried out by estranged white men.

“ ‘The Turner Diaries,’ the book that inspired Timothy McVeigh to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma, and assaults by gunmen including one against the North Valley Jewish Community Center [in Granada Hills, Calif.,] in 1999, are very explicit,” he said not long after we were on a panel together at the Miami Book Festival. “The [novel] tells whites they need guns because if they give up their assault weapons blacks will kidnap white women and Jewish men will be their pimps. This fantasy, however absurd, at least addresses the deepest, unspoken fears of whites. The white power structure looks around at what is happening. It sees we are going down. It is terrified of an uprising by a coalition of whites, blacks, Asian-Americans and Hispanics that elected Obama—even though Obama with his pretty, multicultural face and elegant style and his spouse, who is more militant than he and who for that reason has been silenced, serve the empire. The only problem is that white crazies like [Michele] Bachmann and the others are so blinded by white supremacy that they won’t go along with the script. She [Rep. Bachmann] said that Obama was costing the taxpayers $250 million per day on his trip to India, a lie, when Obama’s taking over 100 CEOs along with him brought back billions in contracts.”

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“The other part of the white public, the underclass and working class, has proven that they will go to any lengths to uphold white supremacy,” he said. “Even when they had no fight in the Civil War, owning no slave assets like the planters, they caused the deaths of 640,000 Americans in order to uphold white supremacy. Then, as now, parts of the white working class, who are anti-union and get drunk on the cheap moonshine of racism, are willing to exercise self-extinction in order to uphold white supremacy.”

“One part of the slavery deal was the patriarchal planter’s ownership of black women’s wombs,” he went on. “Now they [the powerful] are mandating this demand of all women. Yet, white women favored Romney by 14 points. They’re intimidated I think by their husbands, brothers, fathers and employers, which is why they scapegoat the [black] brothers for worldwide misogyny. ...


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