Peter Noel's important article " Mumia's Last Stand" [November 16], on fair trial advocacy for Mumia Abu-Jamal, misstated key facts concerning the case of Angela Davis.
Having edited The Angela Y. Davis Reader, referred to by Noel, I would like to point out, first, that Professor Davis was never a key member or leader in the Black Panther Party. Secondly, the guns registered in her name and taken by 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson (younger brother of prison intellectual and Soledad Brother leader George Jackson) were never used to kill or injure anyone in the tragic August 1970 attempt to free black prisoners targeted for their work against guard brutality and racism. Firing on the van in which Jonathan Jackson and Ruchell Magee (who is still in prison) held their hostages, guards killed Judge Harold Haley, who was being held hostage; Jackson; and William Christmas, another inmate attempting to escape.
Setting the historical record straight helps to clarify why it is so important to link Davis's case with the struggle for a new and fair trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. As Noel suggests, many who rallied around Davis fail to consider the police and judicial misconduct surrounding Abu-Jamal's case. There are, of course, notable differences in the two cases: Davis was not at the scene of the crime (although she was charged with conspiracy and murder); she was acquitted of all charges (for some Americans, a conviction, even if accomplished through perjured testimony and incompetent defense counsel, erases all possibility of innocence). The insightfulness of Abu-Jamal's request, as Noel recounts it, is to encourage those who see Davis's freedom as a victory against injustice to also identify with Abu-Jamal's struggle.
Hopefully, more people will make connections between the FBI's illegal counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) and judicial bias and police misconduct in the '60s and state tactics that try to destroy radical individuals and groups today. Remember that Angela Davis went underground because she truly believed that state officials would try to kill her because of her politics. Captured, she was imprisoned, tried, and exonerated. Thirty years later, Mumia Abu-Jamal faces a similar threatand the possibility, through a new trial, for justice.
Joy James, Visiting Professor
Institute for Research in African American Studies
Todaro and Todaro
Re Lenora Todaro's " World Trade War [November 30] and " Life or Debt" [December 14]: I am so grateful that Todaro made no attempts to "tell both sides" of this story. With the exception of the WTO site address in the first piece, she kept this story where it belongsin the mouths of the activists. Though I doubt the WTO, which apparently operates more like a Masonic lodge than a multinational policymaking group, would have granted her an interview. As the police rioted in Seattle and CNN characterized a pile of trash on fire as violent provocation, it was good to know the Voice was where it should beon the hard left. Makes me proud.
Although Slushy [Slushy the Snow Brutha," Ward Sutton, December 7] is a snowman and is therefore colored white, the overall tone of the cartoon, its use of the word "honky," and definitely its title, reek of racism, particularly when the "brutha" (Black man) lands in jail for theft. I found no humor whatsoever in this cartoon. Let's please move on to a society devoid of stereotypes. The Voice's recent and plenteous coverage of AIDS and Black Africa is quite enough.
Jennifer Tate, Black Child
Ward Sutton replies: "Slushy" was intended to be a play on the stereotypic "blaxploitation" films of the 1970s, and I'm sorry if that didn't come across to you. But let's face it, Frosty is a honky.
As Fela's manager and friend of more than 15 years, I take exception to the scurrilous and disrespectful manner in which he was portrayed in Mark Schoofs's article " AIDS: The Agony of Africa" [November 16]. There is little doubt that Fela was in denial with regard to AIDS. However, to simply write off his life's work is to do this extraordinary individual a grave injustice.
Fela was imprisoned more than 60 times during his life and was beaten savagely and mercilessly on numerous occasions. He had the sheer guts to confront head-on an authority that summarily beats its population into submission. Schoofs dismissed this as sloganism, yet millions of people in Nigeria and around the world were moved by Fela's eloquent diatribes and his courageous stance.
Fela was not, as Schoofs repeatedly suggested, "antiwhite." He certainly was opposed to Western governmental support of repressive regimes. In my view, this did not make him a racistand I never once saw any indication of that trait. Schoofs also accused him of misogyny. Again, a false assertion. There is no denying that Fela had an appetite for women. He claimed sexual union as the source of his inspiration. That women of all races and backgrounds were drawn to him is also undeniable.
What I really take exception to is the glib manner in which the article reduced Fela's entire life's work to his "self-deceptive" stand on the issue of AIDS. For example, Schoofs never mentioned the fact that Fela is considered by many of the world's most distinguished artists to be one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
In addition, the article paraphrased Fela's son Femi's words to imply that Femi had contempt for his father, when the opposite is the case. Though Femi may not agree with everything his father did and thought, he was heavily influenced by Fela, not just musically but to the point of commencing his own movement for social reform, The Movement Against Second Slavery. He is also an avid supporter of the campaign against AIDS and an advocate for AIDS education.
Mark Schoofs replies: The article states clearly that Fela "fearlessly excoriated" Nigeria's military dictators, notes that they jailed and beat him, and points out that Fela was one person ordinary Nigerians could rely on. As for Femi, no fair reader could possibly come away with the notion that he held his father in "contempt." Femi is, however, a less than "avid" AIDS fighter; he told me that he hasn't initiated any concerts or advertisements against the disease and that he "won't push" people about HIV prevention. Stein seems to think that Fela's denial of AIDSa textbook case of self-deceptionwas incidental. In fact, it was symptomatic of a much deeper blindness, a wholesale dismissal of white culture, including biomedicine. As for Fela's attitude toward women, the piece quotes Fela himself: "Woman got no other role than making the man happy." And, of course, Fela endangered women by refusing to wear condoms. With about one in every 20 Nigerian adults infected, AIDS is on track to kill more of Fela's people than all the military dictators he so brilliantly fought.
While I appreciated your inclusion of an article about female-to-male transsexuals [" A Real Man," Nora Vincent, November 23], I found the use of a sutured Barbie doll to represent the FTM on your cover completely offensive. As a female-to-male transsexual, I can attest that the image is our worst nightmare. It is exactly what we pray not to become when we begin the process of transition: a feminine woman with male body parts sewn on, haphazard and incongruous. Much more goes into transitioning than mastectomy and phalloplasty (penile construction). As Drew Seidman said to Nora Vincent, it's not the penis that makes the man. "It's much more than the skin I'm wearing." Sadly, your cover art did nothing to evoke the complexity that exists beneath the skin of the transsexual but instead reduced the transsexual, and all people, to mere body parts, to meat.
I would also like to address Vincent's reply to two letters in the December 7 issue. Vincent wrote, "As an androgynous woman and a drag king, I resent deeply the implication that I in any way misled, mistreated, or disrespected Drew." While drag kings and FTMs might both reside beneath the transgender umbrella, the two are hardly the same thing. A drag king explicitly performs gender, whether on stage or the street; he is parodying masculinity. When the performance is done, the drag king goes home and removes his costume, his spirit-gummed mustache, and resumes life as a woman (androgynous or otherwise). The FTM lives the life 24/7. To even imply that a drag king should speak for FTMs is like saying that Al Jolson, because he put on blackface and sang "Mammy," spoke for African Americans.
So please, Nora, don't try to put on the mantle of transsexual oppression, because it just doesn't fit on a drag king's shoulders. And as far as being an "androgynous woman" goes, I was one myself for a number of years and it is nothing like living day-to-day as a transsexual man.
Re Michael Musto's "blind item" column in your December 7 issue:
"Come See Journalist and Social Commentator Michael Musto 'Out' Celebrities in the Voice!" read the sign pointing to the arena.
Oh boy. Everybody loves a good outing. It's blood sport; but not like bullfighting, where the bull at least has a chance of goring its tormentor. In the "sport" called outing, frail people who have done interesting things with their lives are herded into the columned arena where the journalist picks them off. Most survive, though wounded or crippled, and the crowd delights in hearing the wails of anguish and seeing the spattered blood.
The key performer in this bloody freak show is the shrieking queen bitch Michael Musto. But she's nowhere near as interesting as the people huddled in the ring. After the celebrities are carted away on gurneys, and the queen bitch preens and congratulates herself, the score will still be the same: The celebrities will still be celebrities and Michael Musto will still be nobody. And the Voice will still be collecting for the next spectacle.
How fucking pathetic.
Morristown, New Jersey
Although I enjoy reading La Dolce Musto, I was appalled by Musto's December 7 column. His silly guessing game about the private lives of celebrities is shameless. I am an out gay man, but I respect public figures who choose to remain in the closet. This was trash.
Netcong, New Jersey
Michael Musto replies: For such a nobody, I've certainly gotten some people excited. I report the truth about sexuality as a way of saying, "There's nothing wrong with being gay, so the celebrities and the media shouldn't act as if there is." If I were exposing public figures who were hiding their Jewishness or blackness, there would be no argument, but homosexuality pushes special buttons. In any case, the poor, "wounded" icons can continue making millions, winning Oscars, and fueling bigotry by pretending they're straightand whoever wants to can rush to protect them.
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