By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
With President Clinton's yearlong race initiative rapidly approaching its promised conclusion this summer, a black antipoverty activist wants to screen a vicious parody of black-on-black racism before Clinton's advisory commission on race. Tara Butler's The Good Negro Awards portrays Ku Klux Klan members handing out Oscar-type trophies to successful blacks who refuse to give anything back to their struggling people.
A football player, a drug-dealing gangbanger, and a middle-level corporate executive are three of the more gaudy characters in Butler's fictional but brutally honest "shockumentary," in which the grand wizard of the KKK bestows "White Pony Awards" on blacks who mirror, advocate, or perpetuate racist philosophy.
According to Butler, the film, which she wrote and produced on a $700 budget using professional and amateur actors, was rejected for inclusion by the Harlem Week Black Film Festival because of what she views as its provocative approach to the thorny subject of black-on-black racism. (A Festival spokesman refused to comment.)
The president's first town hall meeting on race, in Akron last December, covered a wide range of topics. Last month, Clinton met with an all-star panel of black sports figures in Houston, narrowing the focus in hopes of engaging Americans who might not otherwise want to discuss race issues. At that meeting, former and current athletes urged colleagues to do more to help blacks in and out of sports.
Six months before Clinton backed such a call, Butler had conjured up, as part of her 21-minute film, an "offensive scenario" of an ingrate football star who refuses to give anything back. Imagine this bald-faced ingratitude coming from your favorite black athlete:
"I've been a football player for the past six years, and I've made almost $150 million, and you're goddamn right, I don't give to black people either. Can you imagine if I gave money to blacks to open up stores or start a magazine or radio station? They just might do well. Then I won't be the big Negro in charge for these black people to look up to. I give money, but only to white organizations because there is no competition from other blacks, and that is how I remain the big Negro in charge."
Said the thirtysomething Butler, who also hopes to screen the film at the last of three still-to-be-announced town hall meetings on race relations: "I hope it sensitizes my successful African American brothers and sisters to the horrible reality of ghetto poverty, or embarrasses them into giving something back. It's a way to provoke them to act. Filthy rich blacks have a responsibility to help pull the downtrodden out of hopelessness and poverty."
Butler said her aim is to shame not only the athletes but "those millionaire blacks" who kowtow to right-wing views on how blacks should lift themselves out of poverty. She hopes her bid to sharpen the dialogue on race might unnerve anti--affirmative action activists like Ward Connerly, the controversial black ultra-conservative University of California regent who spearheaded a 1996 state ballot initiative that banned affirmative action in public employment, contracting, and admissions to public colleges and universities.
Almost three weeks after Clinton's meeting with black athletes, Connerly and a group of prominent conservatives announced the formation of their own race-relations commission. The group will hold public forums with scholars and ordinary citizens on issues such as crime, the deterioration of black families, and the academic performance of black students.
But like historian John Hope Franklin, the head of Clinton's race-relations forum, Butler believes that conservatives "have nothing but pain and misery" to contribute to the debate.
"People like Ward Connerly show so much hostility toward blacks; they put more pressure on blacks to make it out of poverty than they do on whites," Butler argued. (Connerly responded: "I don't harbor hostility toward any group. And yes, I want to put pressure on black people and every other group to work their way out of poverty.")
"I get extremely angry whenever people like Ward Connerly evoke Dr. King in the defense of a color-blind society," Dawson said in an interview on National Public Radio. "Dr. King, in 1967, was talking about the need for affirmative action...before most [of] the rest of us even knew what the term meant, because he knew that without affirmative action and similar programs and policies, this country was gonna be unable to meet its commitment that individual citizens could compete equally."
Butler excels at emulating the hardcore black conservative's response to Dawson's argument, which is captured in the words of the film's gridiron star: "Yes, my mother also lives in the projects, and my brother and sister are homeless, but they have to make it on their own just like I did."
In refusing to give anything back, the black football player remains subservient to white interests. "I got this fine white woman on my arm and she doesn't even have a high school diploma. She's a crackhead and she sleeps with anybody and anything, but she is accepted in the white world...When I look in the mirror...I see a nigger looking at me and it scares the shit out of me 'cause I want to be white. I hate my black mother and my black kids from my previous marriage, and I never give, nor will I ever give them, dick shit..."