LETTER OF THE WEEK
Cristina Verán's "Rap, Rage, REDvolution" [April 21-27] was long overdue. Despite what one might think of OutKast's music, and taking into consideration their right to present themselves however they see fit, they seem "retro" in the worst possible sense of the word. Apolitical is one thing, Native American bashing is another.
OutKast's video image is a mix of Morris Day-meets-couture cued from the all-too-familiar lawn jockey statues that people still keep on their lawns.
Why do their videos look like outtakes from the bold Spike Lee film Bamboozled? Dead Prez, Spearhead, and Jay-Z know what time it is. Why are we embracing OutKast? I say cast 'em out.
When Harry met Tarek
In "Ralph Nader, Suicide Bomber" [May 5-11], Harry G. Levine relies heavily on his imagination. The Voice should have checked the words he attributed to me in quotation marks before publishing them: I never uttered the words "we want to punish the Democrats, we want to hurt them, wound them." Levine and I had a conversation about the "safe states" strategy that he espoused. Since Ralph Nader's campaign was one based on principle, rather than political games, I knew that he would never undermine his own convictions on the issues by semi-endorsing Al Gore, and I expressed that to Levine. I told Mr. Levine what I had repeated many times during the 2000 campaign: "The Democrats should not be allowed to take progressive voters for granted anymore. Democratic politicians should pay for their betrayals in votes." This was a rather banal statement of the most basic of political truths.
Although some commented, during the 2000 campaign, that environmentalists and others would have an easier time raising money under Bush, I never took that view to justify potential benefits to a Bush presidency, as Levine implies. What I did repeatedly say in 2000 was that I thought that the same damage to the environment that occurred under Clinton would receive much more attention under Bush because of his awful record in Texas.
Levine claims that I "acknowledged" that a Bush presidency would be worse for poor, working-class, and black Americans. Nonsense. I acknowledged no such thing, having seen, in one area after another, the plight of poor and working-class Americans worsen or stagnate under Clinton. Furthermore, I had recently met a black Justice Department lawyer who characterized civil rights enforcementthat is, actions, not wordsunder Clinton as being "as bad, or worse, than [under] Reagan and Bush." Levine has invented this "acknowledgment" on my part to bolster his baseless contention that Ralph Nader's campaign was an act of destructive revenge.
In fact, Nader and many of us working on his campaign were quite certain, as soon as Bush had the Republican nomination locked up, that Gore would win the election. Butfar from Levine's absurd characterization that dozens of people on the Nader campaign worked their hearts out for a personal vendettathat was beside the point for us. Our every effort went toward competing for votes on the issues and the record.
Finally, if I were indeed "piercingly intelligent," as Levine claims, it would be obvious to Voice readers that I would not have discussed anything with Levine.
Harry G. Levine replies: In 2000, Ralph Nader claimed that he was running to win 5 percent of the vote and build the Green Party by getting it federal funding. But this was a deception, a lie. Nader's chief campaign goal was actually to punish the Democrats by taking enough votes in some swing states like Florida to defeat Al Gore. In effect, Nader tried to "Kill Bill and Al." Now, in 2004, Nader has nothing to do with the Green Party and is running as an independent claiming to be the anti-war and anti-Bush candidate. But this too is a deception, a lie. Nader's chief goal this time is to punish the Democrats by taking enough votes in some swing states to "Kill Kerry."
Tarek Milleron indeed said the things I reported. And despite his protestations, Mr. Milleron just about admits this. He writes: "Democratic politicians should pay for their betrayals in votes." This doesn't mean Kerry should win by a smaller marginit means Kerry should lose and Bush should win. Mr. Milleron's own words show us that Nader truly views his presidential campaigns as weapons of vengeance aimed to defeat the Democrats.
Re Douglas Wolk's "Indecent Exposure" [The Essay, April 21-27]: Well, it took you long enough. Every week I would open the Voice in the hope I finally would see an article about what the FCC is doing to free speech, and I was growing increasingly frustrated at finding nothing.
Unfortunately, Wolk's essay focused too much on simply reporting the problem and was too short on indignation and outrage. Has the Voice fallen in step with all of the rest of the media who are too afraid to stand up to Michael Powell? And where is Nat Hentoff on this issue? He continues to champion the free-expression rights of librarians in Cuba in his column (and rightfully so), yet ignores the FCC's censoring crusade.
Yes, we still can write fuck in the Voice. We can only hope someone will defend this newspaper if it's decided one day that shouldn't be allowed anymore.
Hooked on phonics
Re "Lam Excuses" by Yael Goldenberg [Letters, April 21-27]:
What are "Phonics Fascists"? People who won't brook opposing opinion, such as those who would dismiss someone as a phonics fascist instead of engaging in debate? Why does the left hate phonics? Thirty years of research have shown that some students can learn to read in the absence of phonics and some cannot. Of those who cannot, children from middle- and upper-class families learn to read by getting supplementary reading education at home (phonics); children from lower-income families do not. Once again, the left is hurting most the people it claims to represent and simply indulging its own ideological fantasies.
Gary S. Popkin
Former member, Community School Board 15
The love down under
Thanks for Cristina Verán's article "Rap, Rage, REDvolution" [April 21-27].
I work for a bilingual (Maori and English) youth music show on mainstream television. I was of two minds about OutKast's "Hey Ya!" Grammy performance until I read other indigenous people's responses in Verán's article. When I brought them to my producer's attention, he thought that I was overreacting, and said the kids love Out- Kast. But I see our responsibility to the public as extending beyond keeping booty-shaking videos and performances that offend indigenous peoples off our program. In short, I applaud Verán's story. It was informative and well balanced.
Piha, New Zealand
Wild wild west
Re "Rap, Rage, REDvolution":
What about the long history of Native American/African American affiliations and musical borrowings? P-Funk? Wild West circus acts in the 1800s?
OutKast are not operating in a vacuum here, and the musicians are likely Native American in some of their ancestry, as many African Americans are. Could your author have looked at performance precedents for African/Native American slippage and convergence, rather than only focusing on the outrage that Native American rappers have over the OutKast performance?
Upper West Side
Calling John Ford
Re "Rap, Rage, REDvolution":
Though some points in this article were enlightening, the overall argument is disappointing. First off, no matter how distasteful OutKast's performance was, they owe absolutely no apology to anyone. They are artists expressing themselves as they see fit. They are not activists, spokesmen, or elected officials. I also found Litefoot's argument that more people reacted in disgust to Sinéad O'Connor than to OutKast very narrow. No one should have censored O'Connornor should they censor OutKast.
OutKast are acting the way I did when I watched cowboy and Indian movies as a kid. Are they naive and ignorant of Native American culture? Yes. Are they mindless bigots? Absolutely not!
San Antonio, Texas
Cristina Verán replies: Nothing in my article advocates censorship. Far from advocating limitations on the free-speech rights of others, I hope readers will consider that free speech, as a concept, means little if this country's indigenous peoples remain categorically excluded from access to the means by which Americans routinely exercise that right. For young people in the U.S. and abroad, hip-hop is one preferred means. The idea that it's somehow all right for others to dress up like Indians, to represent and speak about Indians in a manner Indians find patently offensivewhile Indian artists are routinely denied opportunities to speak for themselvesshows me that it is in fact Native voices that are most "censored" in mainstream media and entertainment.
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