Portraits in Prejudice

Straight Talk About 'Big Brother,' White Women, Suspicious Blacks, Unruly Latinos, and Racial Profiling Says How Race Is REALLY Lived in America

The Hiram Ashantee that Khallid Abdul Muhammad and other members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense say they know shuns white women and teaches that the black woman is "goddess of the universe." In fact, according to Muhammad, Ashantee also preaches "that the white woman is the devil—not [just] a devil, but the devil." So imagine national chairman Muhammad's dismay when Ashantee, the Panther's national field marshal, popped up as a guest in the CBS Big Brother house and, as Muhammad put it, "reached to feel on the backside of a white woman."

As hard as it may be for some to accept, the views Muhammad ascribes to Ashantee are typical of Americans, who rarely bite their tongues when they talk about race. "Fuck the N-word!" some whites say. "The blacks are straight-up niggers." Some African Americans retort with an unflattering view of "Barbara Bitch" (that "straight-up-and-down Ms. Six O'Clock"—"no frills, no thrills, white cave bitch with an itch"). And of course there's Columbia "Jew-niversity," where they educate the "bloodsuckers of the black community." Although some critics panned the Big Brother episodes that included Ashantee, others say they gave a rare insight into how race is really lived in America.

Three weeks ago, CBS began airing Big Brother, the voyeuristic series in which 10 strangers are sequestered in a camera-filled house for three months. Gradually, the group is whittled down to a winner, who gets a $500,000 prize. Ashantee, who describes himself in a bio as a 27-year-old youth counselor from Philadelphia, was a provocateur who spent much of his two weeks fighting with fellow residents. On the opening edition, he had a heated debate about prejudice with Brittany and was involved in an expletive-laden, racially tense shouting match with Eddie, a college student.

But some viewers, as well as Ashantee's fellow residents, did not appreciate his outspokenness. On July 14, the Daily News reported that Ashantee, who used the name William Collins on the show, is a follower of Muhammad, the former Nation of Islam minister who was ousted from the black Muslim group for calling Jews "bloodsuckers." The News, which headlined the story "Oh, Brother!" printed a picture of Ashantee holding a rifle during a Texas protest march. Last Thursday, Ashantee became the first contestant kicked out by fellow house members and viewers. He was voted out by a nearly three-to-one margin.

Several hours before Ashantee would be banished from the house on live TV, Muhammad summoned reporters to a mosque in West Philadelphia to air his disgust about his "Li'l Brother's" surprise defection from the New Black Panther Party and condemn on behalf of the black woman—"The Mother of Civilization, the Queen of the Planet Earth"—his alleged cavorting with white women in the Big Brother household.

"They say [referring to black women] that they have heard you tell one white woman how gorgeous she is, and how beautiful she is on the show, and how you would not vote against her because you want her to remain around until the end of the show so that you'll have something beautiful to look at," said Muhammad, who was flanked by about 25 members of the Philadelphia chapter of the Panthers. "They go on to say," added Muhammad with his signature sneer, "that you have not given such compliments, such attention, to the really gorgeous black woman who is the only black woman, [who is] a so-called house guest on the show."

In one bathroom scene, a white female complains to Ashantee about the shape of her buttocks, wishing she was a tad bigger. The muscle-bound Ashantee, wearing a white towel around his waist, appears sympathetic. He massages the woman's ass, asking her what the fuss is all about—her behind might grow to the size she wants.

Muhammad lampooned the sweet talk and suggestive groping: "They say that they have seen you in the bathroom with her—she had all of her clothes on but you were only clad in your towel—and that the two of you engaged in conversation about booty and butt [and that] in the earlier series you had told the other white women to shake their booties for you. . . . All across the country, they speak of you and how you tried to get her to unwrap the lower part of her body and expose herself to you, and when she wouldn't do it how you told her she was cheating you by not unwrapping and exposing herself. Cameras all over the house. Your people hurting all over the country. We love you, young brother Hiram Ashantee. But we hope that you can explain this for us, that you can answer some of these questions. Some of them hurt the black woman—[angry] over seeing you massage the white woman—give her a massage and run your hands all over her body after they have heard you teach and preach that the white woman is the devil—not a devil—but the devil."

Despite his anger at Ashantee, Muhammad spoke like a "Big Brother" in denial, while attempting to mask his disbelief about the betrayal in the outrage of others. "Black brothers and black sisters sit in circles," he cried, "hurt over what they say are your comments in the house about the red, black, and green black liberation flag; how [you said] you're not one to wave the flag or you're not one running around, carrying the red, black, and green black liberation flag as a champion for black causes . . . when we all remember you carrying the red, black, and green flag. Oh, my brother, we just want to hear from you." Muhammad kept the door to the "Black Nation" open, with the "sincere hope and prayer that what we have seen on the television screen . . . is just a good job of acting" by Ashantee, who might be thinking up a plan to "clear all of this up, which appears to be counter-revolutionary conduct."

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