Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Two chains, no brains

26th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

The world got more proof over the course of the past two weeks that you don’t have to be smart to be filthy rich. In fact, if you make a living in certain professions, it actually behooves you to be as dumb as a bag of volcanic rocks.

Take billionaire businesswoman Oprah Winfrey and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who happen to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Both of these entrepreneurs come across as self-absorbed and out of touch with reality, But both also pat themselves on the back for all of the good deeds they do in the world.

Oprah will tell anyone who will listen about her many philanthropic activities, which include establishing a school for girls in South Africa, making a sizable donation to the Obama presidential campaign and giving away cars and other gifts to people who come to her shows. This past Monday night, she told late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel how she grows food on several farms she owns and gives it to either her neighbors or others who are hungry.

But there’s another side to Oprah, the one who seems to be obsessed with Tina Turner, hopelessly in love with Tom Cruise and a scared little girl who wants everyone to like her. The one who once bragged about the expensive fixtures in her lavish home’s bathrooms, is in love with the sound of her own voice and once told singer Toni Braxton “I don’t even have that” when she learned of some expensive dinnerware purchased by Braxton. The one who no longer has rhythm and sounds more like the Queen of England than she does like a Black woman who used education to lift herself out of poverty and a troubled adolescence.

She ought to know better.

Nevertheless, Oprah appears to crave the love, acceptance and attention of the larger society above everything else.

Russell Simmons has been a major figure in hip-hop music and culture for decades and is the older brother of Rev. Run, a member of seminal hip-hop group Run DMC who once recorded an anthem titled “Proud to Be Black.” Apparently, Russell Simmons ain’t.

If he were, he would not be out here bugging out and acting like America is really enjoying some kind of post-racial wonderland.

Russell Simmons found himself in hot water after thinking it was cool, hip or clever to post a video called the “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” on his All Def Digital YouTube channel. It’s mind-boggling to think he thought it was appropriate to let this video see the light of day.

When he received a hail of criticism, he decided it was time to apologize. We may never know if he actually felt any remorse or was simply trying to avoid having the misstep affect of his monetary intake.

Most of the time when Simmons appears on TV he comes off as childlike or loopy. Not even his spiritual activities and yoga were enough to convince him that it was wrong to promote a video that pokes fun at the sexual exploitation of women, particularly a woman revered as much as Harriet Tubman. Tubman is credited with being a Union spy and leading several hundred enslaved Africans to freedom. None of that mattered to Simmons in 2013 as America observes the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the second inauguration of the nation’s first Black president and the 50th anniversary of the Historic March on Washington.

Instead of apologizing for putting filth on his YouTube site about Harriet Tubman, Simmons should have been apologizing for allowing hip hop to stray so far away from its original mission and for not speaking out about the way hip-hop music and culture are being pimped by the larger society and corporate America.

After all she had to say about how insulted she was by the Swiss sales associate’s treatment of her, Oprah had the nerve to apologize to the woman and the store last week for all the trouble she caused them by talking to the media about the sales associate’s mistreatment of her.

There was a line in the comedy film Kingdom Come that still resonates with me today. During a scene in which her character bemoans the fact that she had a chance to become the wife of a very successful attorney, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith (Cherise) tells her sister-in-law, “I could have been rich and stupid — I would have been good at it.”

As much as I have enjoyed a number of films by rapper-turned-actor Will Smith, I was profoundly disappointed when actress Vivica Fox told a reporter that the best advice Will Smith ever gave her was to “become colorless.”

In other words, do everything in your power to distance yourself from Black people. Stay above the fray and away from any topics that might cause you to lose favor with White America. Be nonthreatening and do everything you can to make the larger society forget that you are Black.

That’s what makes a Stevie Wonder so beloved in Black America. In some cases, it has been white celebrities who have spoken out more about the oppression of people of color in other parts of the world as we saw in the case of the coalition of artists who recorded the song “Sun City” to protest apartheid rule in South Africa.

We should thank Oprah and Russell for hosting various fundraisers and events for President Barack Obama and other political candidates, but we cannot choose to overlook the mixed messages sent by these media moguls when they do things like apologize to racist store employees for treating them poorly because of the color of their skin or supporting twisted videos that find humor in demeaning women like Mama Harriet Tubman, a critical figure in the history of this nation and one of the reasons the Union defeated the Confederacy in the Civil War

We can’t afford to allow ourselves to be hoodwinked or mesmerized into following self-appointed leaders or trendsetters with very little understanding of the critical issues confronting Black America or the changes it will take to rectify those situations. As much as some of us might admire or revel in the success of Oprah and Russell, we can’t let that admiration make us stray from the road to true liberation. We don’t have time to waste trying to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous or talking or writing incessantly about ourselves.

That is not part of our historical legacy, nor should it be part of our post-millennial reality.

When it comes to the struggle to liberate ourselves not only from white supremacy but also from imperialism, militarism, mass incarceration and mental slavery, we need courageous, uncompromised spokespersons and leaders who know that what affects one or more of us affects all of us and are committed to doing whatever it takes to be free. We need no-nonsense, make-it-plain warriors who have a sense of purpose and an understanding of the history and dynamics that have led us to this point.

In the immortal words of the Hon. Marcus Garvey, “Forward ever, backward never.”

This article originally published in the August 26, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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