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Harry Belafonte: Good liberal “house negro”

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According to history books [the only way either Harry Belafonte or I would know of such things], in the days of chattel slavery in America, there were basically two kinds of slaves. Most slaves did the grunt work of the plantation, and lived in run down shacks. Some few, however, won favor by serving the master with particularly adamant chauvinism, and got to be house Negroes. They got to stay in the house, and got more favorable assignments.

The white masters especially liked to have their “good” negroes dispense the punishment to their uncooperative brethren. In order to minimize resentment and retaliation toward themselves, white owners often preferred to let other blacks wield the whip hand. That way, the black man who got beat would be mad at the other black man who was doing the beating, rather than the white owner who was calling the shots.

In the context of modern American politics, black folks are largely a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic party by dint of some serious internalized mental chains. Black Americans typically vote 90+% for the Democratic party. Democrats have lost a lot of ground among white folks. Being free Americans, they get to vote for candidates of whatever party seems to be doing a better job, or for whichever candidate has the prettiest face, or whatever.

But whoa be unto the black man who presumes to break from the orthodox liberal Democratic plantation mentality. The Democratic party OWNS the black vote. They will send out the hounds for any black person who breaks rank. By classic Freudian psychological projection, the plantation mentality black folk will be whipped into a frenzy denouncing any non-Democratic black as a subservient Uncle Tom. They will likely be shouted down for the mere act of trying to speak in public. They sometimes need body guards.

Colin Powell represents a grave danger to the Democratic party. He has established himself as a stalwart Republican, a power player. Worse yet, he has made himself known as a particularly independent minded Republican, free to disagree with the majority of his own party on affirmative action and abortion issues, for example. This heartily gives the lie to any possible charges of being Uncle Tom. Whatever you may think of his policy ideas, Colin Powell is nowhere near anybody’s plantation but his own.

This cannot be tolerated by the Democratic party. If black folks look at Powell’s example and start voting independently, the Democrats are totally screwed. Yet Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle dare not denounce the most admired black man in America. He’s a war hero and Secretary of State. If they start whipping him, they risk a slave revolt.

This brings us to Harry Belafonte. He had a hit novelty record fiftyish years ago. There’s not much reason that anyone would care about him now, except that he spews good orthodox partisan liberal rants that most establishment politicians and media wouldn’t dare. He’s black, somewhat famous, and says what the big boys want to hear, so he gets attention. No doubt he truly believes the things he says, though; he sincerely loves the master.

He recently turned his whip hand against Colin Powell. During an interview on Tuesday, 10-8-2002, Belafonte attacked the whole Bush administration, especially Powell. [CLICK HERE for streaming audio] In an interview with San Diego radio KFMB, he turned in a particularly vicious and slanderous rant against the Secretary of State, accusing him at length and in detail of being nothing more than a house negro doing the bidding of his white masters. “Colin Powell is permitted to come into the house of the master, as long as he will serve the master according to the master’s plans.”

Thing is though, slavery has been long abolished in reality, and all Belafonte can do is rant harmlessly. Powell took the abuse with some humor, and gave a measured diplomatic response worthy of the Secretary of State. Other black folks were slightly harsher in their dismissiveness.

Belafonte, meanwhile, was back down at the docks singing his watered down Caribbean music just the way the master likes it while the field negroes load them banana boats.

Day, he say day, he say day, he say day,
He say day, he say day-o

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  • Sekimori

    Yet more evidence that celebrity does not equal intelligence.

  • Eric Olsen

    Al, There is a fair amount of truth to your political analysis although being a black Republican is hardly unique to Powell – Jackie Robinson was a Republican.

    But Belafonte was hardly a one-hit wonder 50ish years ago. He was a hugely popular recording artist and performer who charted albums from the 50s in to the 70s. He is ranked as the 41st best-selling album artist of all time by Billboard. He was also an actor and film producer. That’s why people still listen to him.

    In general, the Powell/Belafonte dynamic is far more complex than you imply.

  • Bill Sherman

    Yeah, I reacted badly to the one-hit-wonder slam, too. Granted, Belafonte’s early calypso albums were promoted at the time as an alternative to that nasty ol’ rock ‘n’ roll (so was folk music, in general), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they also included some damn fine singing. Me, I also enjoyed Belafonte’s comic acting (doing a black Brando) in the underrated Uptown Saturday Night.

    I tend to ignore celebrity political comments: it’s more than enough work keeping up with folks who actually know what they’re talking about. . .

  • Mark Jeffries

    Of course, you right-wing wackos wouldn’t be making all those snide remarks about celebrities if it was Big Chuck Heston or AHHN-old speaking out.

    And by the way, it’s the *Democratic* party. Call it by the right name, right-wing moron.

  • Bill Sherman

    Actually, I have commented on Chuck Heston and celeb politics in the past – right here.

  • Al Barger

    Chuck Heston or Ah-nold would never make anything like the vicious personal slurs that Belafonte and other left-wing types routinely do. They wouldn’t be allowed to get away with it- nor should they.

    I would pile right on, but I wouldn’t have to. Think of the grief poor silly Fuzzy Zoeller got for one mild stupid joke about Tiger Woods and fried chicken.

    As to Belafonte’s music, I may have been unfair to him- not that it’s relevant to my point. Bending over backwards for the sake of fairness, I’ll admit to not having listened to much Belafonte to make a substantive critical judgment of his singing. However, I’d be just as crappy even if it were Ray Charles Himself talking in such an evil and hateful manner.

  • Eric Olsen

    Good answer Al, although I wasn’t under the impression that any of us are right-wing morons. I happen to love Belafonte’s Caribbean-derived stuff – think of all the great songs in Beetlejuice, those are all Harry – but that has nothing to do with what he has to say, as you correctly mentioned.

  • Bill Sherman

    Nope sorry, don’t buy it, Al: you say that Belafonte’s musical/creativity is not a part of the point you’re trying to make, but you reference it more than once, using the supposed “irrelevance” of his music to bolster your point. (See, nobody’d pay any attention to this has-been if he didn’t say something that fed into the hidden wishes of the Democratic leadership.) But you’ve gotta expect that a site like Blogcritics would have more than a few writers who knew more about the man and his art than a CNN journalist.

    I won’t argue with your basic construct (don’t really have the wherewithal to do so), though I will note that a lot of Dem-leaning commentators that I’ve read (Josh Michael, for instance) have generally looked to Colin Powell as one of the few measured professionals to step forth from this administration. In the end, I prefer to believe Belafonte was speaking from his own heart and mind – however unfortunate his metaphors may be – an independent thinker, not a “house Negro.”

  • Robert A. Garcia

    The fact is, Mr. Belafonte really doesn’t believe even a word of what he says. Rather, he is trying to punish the Secretary of State for not adhering to his own narrow view of the world.

  • Lloyd Chase

    Belafonte’s comments regarding Colin Powell are disgusting. He is one dumb son of a bitch. That is far more disgusting to his race than an Uncle Tom any day in my book. Air head singers and actors like him should keep their mouths shut. They are too damned stupid to comment on anything of substance.