On a night late in 1969, Felicia Bernstein stood up beside the baby grand in her apartment overlooking Central Park and introduced some Black Panthers charged with conspiring to blow up five New York department stores, the New Haven Railroad facilities, a police station, and the Bronx Botanical Gardens to a gathering of her closest society friends – Barbara Walters, Otto Preminger, Peter Duchin, Julie Belafonte, and the New York Times’ society page editor, Charlotte Curtis. Imagine if you can the mood of 1969, when the glitterati of New York were trying to be so earnestly politically correct that they held fundraiser parties for the criminal defense of permanently aggrieved American Black Panthers who were so oppressed that the only way out was to blow up the city. As Tom Wolfe put it:
Radical Chic was already in full swing by the time the Black Panther party began a national fundraising campaign late in 1969. The Panthers’ organizers, like the grape workers’, counted on the” cause party” – to use a term for it that was current thirty-five years ago – not merely in order to raise money. The Panthers’ status was confused in the minds of many liberals, and to have the Panthers feted in the homes of a series of social and cultural leaders could make an important difference. Ideally, it would work out well for the socialites and culturati, too, for if there was ever a group that embodied the romance and excitement of which Radical Chic is made, it was the Panthers.
Barbara Walters explained to Panthers at the party that she was there as a concerned individual trying to find out if there was any possibility of peace and harmony between her children and theirs. She told them she had asked that question last year in an interview of Panther wife Kathleen Cleaver: “How do you feel, as a mother, about the prospect of your child being in that kind of confrontation, a nation in flames?” “Let it burn!” Mrs. Cleaver responded. “And what about your own child?” asked Walters. “May he light the first match!” replied Cleaver.
Walters asked similar questions to the Panthers and Panther wives that night at the Bernsteins’ apartment: “I’m .talking as a white woman who has a white husband, who is a capitalist, or an agent of capitalists, and I am too, and I want to know if you have your freedom, does that mean we have to go? All I’m asking is if we can work together to
create justice without violence and destruction!”
“We don’t believe that. it will happen within the present system. Power to the people!” replied Panther lawyer Leon Quat.
The story of the Bernsteins’ cause party that began as a radical chic story in Charlotte Curtis’ society column quickly wound its way to the editorial page of the New York Times, where the party was denounced as having put “Black Panthers on a Park Avenue Pedestal,” and as “elegant slumming that degrades patrons and patronized alike.” Columnists from all over chimed in and piled on, condemn- ing what they saw as the trend in liberal and intellectual circles to lionize the Panthers. William Buckley called the whole affair a lesson in the weird masochism of the white liberal who bids the Panther to come devour him in his “luxurious lair.” New York Sen. Patrick Moynihan wrote his famous “benign neglect” note to President Nixon, informing the president that the party at the Bernsteins’ was “Exhibit A” of how black outlaws like the Panthers had become the”culture heroes” of the Beautiful People.
It became obvious early to perceptive social commentators like Tom Wolfe, and much later to most of us, sometime around the time of the Los Angeles riots, and underscored by the O.J. Simpson trial, that as the United States advanced through progressive stages of the civil rights movement, there was a point at which what had begun as an honorable and justifiable struggle turned into a con game by the permanently aggrieved, a race hustle whose aim it was to extort, hoodwink, and intimidate white Americans.
The history of the world has been one of victims turning into oppressors, and the American civil rights movement was no exception. Shortly after the L.A. riots, I wrote an Op-Ed titled “Guerrillas in Our Midst” about my growing disillusionment and disgust with the American civil rights movement, comparing its later-stage activities to those of the Arab terrorists who, because they had been oppressed, felt justified in throwing Leon Klinghoffer, a helpless and wheelchair-bound American Jew, who was no threat to them, off the Achille Lauro cruise ship into the Mediterranean Sea. This
What had begun as an honorable and justifiable struggle turned into a con game by the permanently aggrieved, a race hustle whose aim it was to extort, hoodwink and intimidate white Americans.
was no worthy crusade by the Third World dispossessed. It is a bunch of punks with a blame-America-first complex and an adolescent appetite for destruction.
In her book Meridian black author Alice Walker tells a story of the poor-little-black-boy hustle and of the white masochism that enables it: Lynne, a white woman who has gone South in the’60s to work for civil rights, marries a black man, Truman. Lynne and Truman have a black friend, Tommy Odds, who had his lower arm shot off in a demonstration. Because he was angry, and people owed him, and because Lynne was white, he wanted to make love to her. He was entitled. But Lynne was married to Truman and considered Tommy Odds only a friend. Walker writes:
For of course it was Tommy Odds who raped her. As he said, it wasn’t really rape. She had not screamed once, or even struggled very much. To her, it was worse than rape because she felt that circumstances had not permitted her to scream. As Tommy Odds said, he was just a lonely one-arm Nigger down on his luck that nobody had time for anymore. But she would have time – wouldn’t she? Because she was not like those rough black women who refused to be sympathetic and sleep with him – was she? She would be kind and not like those women who turned him down because they were repulsed and prejudiced and the maroon stump of his arm made them sick. She would be a true woman and save him – wouldn’t she? “But Tommy Odds,” she pleaded, pushing against his chest, “I’m married to your friend. You can’t do this.” Water stung in her eyes as she felt her hair being tugged out by the roots. “Please don’t do this,” she whimpered softly.
“You know I can’t hep myself,” he said in loose-lipped mockery. His hand came out of her hair and was quickly inside her blouse. He pinched her nipples until they stung. “Please,” she begged.
There was a moment when she knew she could force him from her. But it was a flash. She lay instead thinking of his feelings, his hardships, of the way he was black and belonged to people who lived without hope; she thought about the loss of his arm. She felt her own guilt. And he entered her and she did not any longer resist but tried instead to think of Tommy Odds as he was when he was her friend – and near the end her arms stole around his neck, and before he left she told him she forgave him and she kissed his round slick stump that was the color of baked liver, and he smiled at her from far away, and she did not know him. ‘Be seein’ you,’ he said.
The next day Tommy Odds appeared with Raymond, Altuna, and Hedge.
Con games, shakedowns, terroristic threats, and being indulged by white masochism rooted in guilt are not the only similarities between the behavior of radical black-power groups and Islamic terrorists. The Black Panthers and groups such as Stokely Carmichael’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) lined up early in support of Arabs against Israel. Sometimes this was a matter of black nationalism, since Egypt was a part of Africa and black nationalist literature identifies Arabs as blacks fighting the white Israelis. At other times, it was about world socialism, with the Soviets and Chinese supporting the Arabs against Israel. “But many Jewish leaders,” writes Wolfe, “regarded the anti-Zionist stances of groups like the Panthers as a
I veiled American-brand anti-Semitism, tied up with such less theoretical matters as extortion, robbery, and mayhem by blacks against Jews in ghetto areas.”
The burning and trashing of stores in their own neighborhoods, especially Jewish stores, and then Korean grocers, is a baffling fact of black cultural life in America. Though Spike Lee’s award-winning movie Do the Right Thing purported to enlighten us about such destructive behavior, the film was essentially a sneer at uncool, workaholic white owners who slaved away at their pizza shop in a black ghetto while cool, black homeys were definitely not stupid enough to be wor- kin’ for no chump change. The dudes just hung out smellin’ flowers, playing basketball, pickin’ up their welfare checks on “mother’s day,” and rippin’ off food from Korean grocery stores. Fittingly, the movie ended with the burning of the pizza shop.
Shortly after the L.A. riots, Spike Lee, making the movH~ promo rounds, appeared on the “Today Show” and talked about the riots and the blacks who pulled white truck driver Reginald Denny from his truck, hitting him on the head with a concrete block and nearly killing him. “If the police officers who beat Rodney King are free, why should the brothers that beat the driver not be free too?” asked Lee. “It’s the same videotape.” Lee made no mention, of course, of the fact that Rodney King, who was often portrayed as a hapless motorist, had been careening through the streets of Los Angeles at 100 mph, endangering the lives of everyone in his path, particularly of his black neighbors; Lee·also neglected to mention the beginning of the infamous videotape, which shows the very large and muscular Mr. King repeatedly making gorilla-like lunges at police before he was knocked to the ground and beaten. Spike Lee also neglects to mention that the officers in this case actually served more time than the thugs who nearly killed Denny, himself an innocent motorist who did done nothing to incite the rioters’ rage except be at the wrong place at the wrong time with white skin. Those excitable boys were released early for having been /I caught up in a riot.”
The indulgence of the permanently aggrieved by American liberals is primarily a by-product of the widespread academic view that value judgments, especially negative ones, about other cultures are merely symptoms of racism, elitism, or American arrogance. The multiculturalism fashionable at America’s universities promotes the belief that cultural domination supplants outright exploitation as the fundamental injustice. “Cultural recognition displaces socio-economic redistribution as the remedy for injustice,” writes Nancy Fraser, author of Theorizing Multiculturalism.
In his 1995 book The Revolt of the Elites, the late social critic Christopher Lasch wrote that the new bicoastal elites were seceding from the common life of America. He said the elites “have lost faith in the values, or what remains of them, of the West” and now tend to think of Western civilization as a system of domination and oppression. “This attitude helps explain why so many in the elite seem offended by a war of self-defense – and why their intellectual confusion won’t fade as the war goes on,” writes columnist John Leo.
Helle Bering Dale, editor of the Washington Times’ editorial page comments on the shocking reactions of some American academics to the Sept. 11 attacks contained in a recent report, “How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It,” by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni – reactions like the one from an unnamed professor at a major American university who said
Do the Right Thing was essentially a sneer at uncool, workaholic white owners who slaved away at their pizza shop in a black ghetto while cool, black homeys were definitely not stupid enough to be workin’ for no chump change.
the Sept. 11 attacks were “no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism that the United States has committed during my lifetime.”
“Given the awful losses Americans had just sustained in the worst terrorist attack the United States had ever seen,” writes Dale, “such sentiments may come as a surprise. Then again, given the rampant suspicion bordering on hatred of everything American that has been nurtured by the academy for decades, such reactions are as predictable as they remain shocking.”
Dale reminds us that “The unwholesome atmosphere surrounding Western intellectuals is not a new phenomenon, of course. The report contains an appropriate reminder of the famous debate at the Oxford Union in 1933 over whether or not Britons would fight for their country. After a no doubt sparkling debate, leading intellectuals ended up unable to distinguish between British colonialism and world fascism. The Union consequently voted that the English would ‘in no circumstances fight for king and country.’ One person who was much cheered by this news was Adolf Hitler’s foreign policy adviser, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who reported back to Berlin, ‘The West will not fight for its own survival.’ Somehow Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and other Islamic extremists had the same impression. Fortunately, in both cases, the leaders of Britain and the United States got it right.”
.Shelby Steele wrote an article on Sept. 17 for The Wall Street Journal saying that “It has always astounded me how much white Americans take for granted the rich and utterly decisive heritage of Western culture,” and warned that “White guilt morally and culturally disarms the West and only inflames the narcissism of the ineffectual [Third World].
The multiculturalism fashionable at America’s universiti~s promotes the belief that cultural domination supplants outright exploitation as the fundamental injustice.
In the December, 2001, Atlantic Monthly Robert D. Kaplan writes about Harvard professor Samuel Phillips Huntington, who has written extensively about the relationship between the military and the state, and of the “clash of civilizations” that is occurring as Western, Islamic, and Asian systems of thought and government collide. Author of the academic classic The Soldier and the State, Huntington concludes that the Western belief that democracy and free markets are suitable for everyone will bring the West into conflict with other civilizations, and in a multi-polar world based loosely on civilizations rather than ideologies, Americans must reaffirm their Western identity.
Huntington has written tHat liberalism thrives only when security can be taken for granted – and that in the future America may not have that luxury. A liberal military, he writes, would lack the lethal effectiveness required to defend a liberal society threatened by technologically empowered illiberal adversaries. He argues that only conservatism recognizes the primacy of power in international affairs.
Since Sept. 11, America has changed. Nearly 90% of us are feeling warlike: there are no more red and blue states. Since Sept. 11 masochism and liberal self-abnegation has been withering and dying on the vine. The indulgence, of radical sheiks is no longer radical chic; defining all cultures as morally acceptable, or kissing the stump, is no longer seen as doing the right thing.