FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
Our Bloggers' Roundtable takes a look at black military enrolment, and a Homeland Security Department employee winning a most original costume award for dressing up in blackface.
For more, we have Monroe Anderson. He's a columnist for ebonyjet.com; Kim Tempest Bradford, she writes the blog, Angry Black Woman; Anthony Bradley, creator of the blog, The Institute.
Ms. KIM TEMPEST BRADFORD (Blogger, Angry Black Woman): Thank you, Farai.
Mr. ANTHONY BRADLEY (Blogger, The Institute): Thank you.
Mr. MONROE ANDERSON (Columnist; Ebonyjet.com): Hello.
CHIDEYA: So Monroe, in your most recently column for Ebonyjet.com, you make a connection between the decline in black military enrolment and our government's increased dependence on private security contractors like the embattled Blackwater firm. What do you mean by that?
Mr. ANDERSON: Basically, we have a situation where we don't have enough volunteers for the all-volunteer Army. And the Bush administration and its love for outsourcing things and privatizing things, has gone the route of privatizing our military. So we have mercenaries doing the job that in other wars our troops would be doing.
CHIDEYA: How does that affect, though, specifically the African-American military declines to enrolment?
Mr. ANDERSON: Two different things. The Blackwater has been brought in because you don't have it nearly as many volunteers among black - young black people. Traditionally, black recruits and draftees are made of about 25 percent of the armed forces troops - group. With this war, which is very unpopular - consider unjust and unjustified - black volunteers have dropped in the past six years by almost 60 percent.
CHIDEYA: Now, Kim…
Mr. ANDERSON: You have to make up some sort of way.
CHIDEYA: Kim, it sounds like Monroe was saying that the military is essentially backfilling these positions, which might have been filled with African-American recruits with private firms. Does that resonate for you?
Ms. BRADFORD: Oh, it definitely does. You know, just talking to the people in my family, you know, I've had uncles who served in Vietnam and, you know, people going back to World War II, in my family who has served. But, you know, the people of my generation just seemed really disinclined, said, want to have anything to do with the military regardless of what benefits it might bring because this accession of unpopular war. They don't feel like they would be fighting for anything they believe in.
CHIDEYA: Now, Anthony, there has been a bit of a rise in Latino and Asian soldiers as there's been this drop in African-American soldiers. Does that throw off - some people have made the argument, look, this was a long-term path to economic security for the black working class to enter the black middle class. How does that all play out in your mind?
Mr. BRADLEY: Well, one of the things that we see is that there are many men and women of various ethnic groups that joined the military as a means of social and economic mobility. And what's been a bit spurious is that the military has sold this to them as a way to do that. And what they don't talk about often in recruiting, the fact that you join the military because you may be sent to die for your country, and that we have to ask questions whether or not the military may be taking advantage of people who are seeking a fast track to economic mobility.
Mr. ANDERSON: Oh, they definitely are. That's been a practice of the military for many, many years. I had a brother back in the '70s who joined, thinking he's going to be a photographer. And he ended up with a gun and in the infantry. So, I mean, that's just one of their tactics they use.
CHIDEYA: What about - go ahead, Kim.
Ms. BRADFORD: It also, in some ways, works. I mean, my uncle, who served in Vietnam, is now, you know, living a very comfortable retired life because of his military service. So on the one hand…
Mr. ANDERSON: Of course.
Ms. BRADFORD: …it is a way for blacks to become part of the middle class. But, you know, when you have so many soldiers dying in this war, it seems like for nothing coming back and not getting a lot of support.
CHIDEYA: There seems to be a clear amount of controversy in and among African-American families over whether or not this is a just war. And there has been some research by people in the military, asking whether those perceptions in black families are actually keeping people from enlisting or reenlisting.
Monroe, what's your perspective on that?
Mr. ANDERSON: Katrina. People, black people watched how the Bush administration dealt with Katrina. And as Kanye West said, Bush doesn't care for black people. If he doesn't care for us, why should we go fight his war? That's the simplest answer to all this.
CHIDEYA: I want to move us on to another topic. Halloween has come and gone, but the reverberations are still being felt at the Department of Homeland Security. A white Homeland Security employee went to the government agency's Halloween party as an escaped convict. He wore a dreadlock wig, dark makeup and prison stripes and he was awarded most original costume by the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and two other managers. The director, whose name is Julie Myers, also posed in pictures with the costumed employee. She apologized last week, and she's had to face a Senate hearing. Some lawmakers want to hear more.
Angry Black Woman, if I can call you that - that's the title of your blog -what do you think about all these?
Ms. BRADFORD: Well, it does make me angry. I mean, this, you know, goes right under the header of things that make me an angry black woman. That is right up there. It shouldn't surprise me because there has been this strange resurgence of blackface as acceptable costume. You know, you see pictures on Facebook of students going to parties where it's all about, you know, dressing up in blackface. But from, you know, a government employee being given a most original costume, it seems like the kind of thing that should be ridiculous in 2007 and yet, I'm not wholly surprised.
Mr. ANDERSON: You know, and some of our entertainers play into this thing. For example, with Katt Williams showing up with a noose around his neck in…
CHIDEYA: At the BET Awards…
Mr. ANDERSON: At the BET Awards, what it does is it says that none of this stuff is to be taken seriously, and a lot of young white people and some older think that certain aspects of black culture are really hip and they're trying to be hip. And so instead of taking it as the racist stake where they could be taken as, they think it's part of being cool.
CHIDEYA: Monroe, Ms. Myers apparently is in more hot water than perhaps she thought she could get into. The nomination for her job is still pending with the Senate. And one senator, who's placed a temporary hold on the nomination until she answers more questions about the party, one thing that she did say was, quote, "technically, the employee was not wearing blackface but rather only a skin bronzer." What do you think about that?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ANDERSON: I think that spin machine is working quite well. You know, it's doesn't - I mean, bronzing is now a more modern, updated version of blackface. But it's the same purpose and you get the same visual effect.
CHIDEYA: I don't know if that will fly with a lot of celebutantes who were going out to beach parties. Kim, is it - can you even justify something like this? And I don't mean on factual basis, but does that get her into deeper, hotter water?
Ms. BRADFORD: I think it definitely does because, you know, just starting to try to justify someone else's bad action is not a good place to go to begin with. But if such a bad justification, you know, oh, it's only bronzer, it's not necessarily, you know, whether they use shoe polish or stage makeup or bronzer, it was a fact that he came in costume, you know, in a racist way, in a way that was meant to be denigrating and but funny. And that's not cool. That's not going to save her.
CHIDEYA: Let me reintroduce us. This is the Bloggers' Roundtable for NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
We were just hearing from Kim Tempest Bradford, creator of the angryblackwoman.com. We've also got Monroe Anderson, columnist for ebonyjet.com; and Anthony Bradley, who writes the blog, The Institute.
Anthony, I'm going to turn to you with another bit of technology. Oprah is now a YouTube star. She's launched her own YouTube channel. She's got exclusive video from her own show, videos that she makes herself. Is this the next logical step for a company like YouTube, which is now involved in debates and has such a high profile, not just for pirated content, which people throw up there, but also for original content?
Mr. BRADLEY: Well, if you're a company, one of the things that you want to do is diversify. And YouTube, if it's going to gain any market share, continue to lead its industries, it's going to have to create new products. And so with this Oprah thing, we're just seeing a new product.
It's probably going to be the beginning of a new trend for people to multitask and take advantage of all sorts of ancillary markets - television, radio, clothing, et cetera. Now the Internet - with YouTube, it gives instant international access to people all over the world. So it's probably one of the fastest ways to market internationally.
Mr. ANDERSON: And it is good for Oprah also. It shows what a visionary she is that she's now going onto - into the Internet. I think of the Internet - this is why - I've been in mainstream media for 30 years and this is one reason I went to EbonyJet.com is because the cyberspace is television in 1950s, no rules yet, not quite sure where it's going and what it's going to do, but if you're there at the beginning, you get to help shape and form it.
CHIDEYA: She was also an investor in the Oxygen Network, which with full disclosure, I used to work for, but that had a big Internet component, so she's someone who's definitely been staying on top of technology also in XM Radio. Kim, she's got so many fans, so many billions of dollars that she can move around to different projects. Is this something that specifically is going to appeal to existing fans, do you think, or bring in new people who might be, say, younger?
Ms. BRADFORD: I think it can definitely do both. When I heard about Oprah's move to YouTube, my first reaction was, oh, well, finally. Because while other people, you know, consider YouTube and the Internet and having media on the Internet to be sort of a newer thing, I guess because I'm younger and I, you know, have been on the Internet for quite a long time now, it's old hat to me.
So for people who aren't Oprah fans, you know, that might make them sit up and say, oh, maybe I have to pay attention to Oprah now, now that's joining the rest of us in, you know, cyberspace. But she's going to bring a lot of people on the Internet I think that don't, you know, do much more than check their e-mail and may be visit, you know, one or two favorite Web sites. So I think it could definitely be a good move for her. It could, you know, increase her already massive audience which can only be good for, you know, her advertisers.
CHIDEYA: Kim, stay with me, another topic, latest news on the Jena 6. Now, there's questions over the accounting and dispersing of at least half a million dollars that civil rights organizations collected to pay for the teenagers' legal defense. Parents of the Jena 6 teens say they have half that money in private accounts. They refuse to say how they're spending it. A photo circulating on the Internet features Robert Bailey, one of the teens, posing with $100 bills stuffed in his mouth. Another picture shows two of the defendants modeling their bling at the BET Hip Hop Awards last month. Robert's mom says his son is posing with money he earned. As for BET Awards, some of that clothing was donated.
So what kind of kerfuffle is this? And it's bringing really together also the talk show host Michael Baisden and the ColorOfChange in some conflict over, you know, he said it - he said, you know, who's spending what money.
Ms. BRADFORD: I think that the kind of kerfuffle it is is basically something for people who already have something against the Jena 6 to use this yet another reason to say, oh, these young men don't deserve our attention. They don't deserve our help. I'm of mixed feelings about it, you know. On the one hand, when I saw them modeling their bling at the BET Awards, I'm well aware that people at award shows are wearing things that they have been given and not things that they necessarily bought. I don't feel that, you know, somehow all these money that has been donated to the legal fund is going into, you know, buying them cars and fancy clothes and things like that. But on the other hand, in a situation like that, when you have so much media attention on you and that media attention is focused on the fact that you need help, it's probably best to keep a lower profile on these kinds of things.
Mr. ANDERSON: It was the wrong image, just the wrong image to send out there.
Ms. BRADFORD: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: Monroe, do you think that at this point, the conversation - this will cause the conversation to shift from civil rights over to counting the money, accounting for the money, putting blame on people for possibly being greedy? Does it shift the entire conversation?
Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, yes, it does. I mean, it was beginning to shift anyway. Craig Franklin, who is the managing editor at The Jena Times, wrote a piece that ran in The Christian Science Monitor declaring that all these myths had been put out there by the outside forces, the outside media, and this just continues the whole situation in that direction where it's the victims that you blame.
CHIDEYA: There's actually, if you go to the Web site of ColorOfChange.org, you will see a whole section - Jena update response to Baisden and Jones. Is this kind of debate, Anthony, healthy or unhealthy - these critiques from one side to the other?
Mr. BRADLEY: This is actually, I think, a really healthy debate because it raises the issue of accountability. We need to have complete transparency which relate to how private charities operate. It's not the case that all charities are functioning in a moral way. And so what constituents need to do when they give money is also demand for some transparency. Now ColorOfChange has done a great job of doing that, but just because someone opens a charity for victims that doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to actually deliver the product that they are seeking to deliver with moral aptitude. And so, I would say that this is a very important discussion and it raises, I think, good questions that we need to ask regarding accountability and assessment.
CHIDEYA: Now, when you say that they've done a good job, there's - on their Web site, there are images of deposited checks, is this a reaction to people perhaps just really being concerned that there will be fraud when you're talking about this much money?
Mr. BRADLEY: Well, it most certainly - it's likely that that's the case, but it's also the responsibility of donors to demand that the institutions like this are transparent and can demonstrate that they're actually using their donor's money effectively and efficiently. So this is a conversation that needs to happen. I mean, we saw people take advantage of charity with Katrina and it's not necessarily - it didn't surprise us that people might be doing it now. And so, raising that question is actually a good thing.
CHIDEYA: All right. Anthony, Monroe, Kim, thanks so much.
Ms. BRADFORD: Thank you, Farai.
Mr. BRADLEY: Thank you.
Mr. ANDERSON: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: We've been speaking with Kim Tempest Bradford, author of the blog, The Angry Black Woman. She joined us from our New York studios. Monroe Anderson, a columnist for EbonyJet.com and creator of his own blog. He spoke to us from our Chicago bureau. And we've also been speaking with Anthony Bradley, creator of The Institute blog and he spoke with us from member station KWMU in St. Louis.
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