Letters to the Editor 

Week of January 16, 2002

Relevance On The March

At the end of Chris Thompson's story about the KPFA-Pacifica battle ("War and Peace," January 9), he says, "the battle for KPFA ... was the sad spectacle of a community in search of its lost relevance." It wasn't "lost relevance" that motivated thousands of people to support KPFA for so long, so that there is now the potential, not to just return to what existed in 1998, but to become an even stronger voice for the very relevant issues that the progressive KPFA staff has put on the airwaves for years. Suffering (and in this case, surviving) losses is not at all the same as losing relevance.

Nancy Polin, Oakland

Dispatch From The Real World

Do you really think your little tempest in your little teapot ("War and Peace," January 9) has any significance in the real world? This is just one more example of arrested development. The people involved in your "story" stopped all intellectual growth in the '80s and cannot come to grips with the fact that they are confined to dialogue between themselves, and no one in the real world of the 2000s is listening.

Harry W. Sandberg, Linden, CA

No More Sweet Talk

Good to see two revealing stories on low-wage labor issues (January 2).

Back when slavery was legal in this country, it was not uncommon for slaveholders, politicians, clergy (and Booker T. Washington, even) to argue that the institution of slavery benefited the slave.

Today, we hear similarly baseless arguments about how low wages benefit low-wage laborers. "Waiting for Good Dough," your article on temp-job firm Labor Ready -- which pays its workers about $7.65 an hour with no benefits, and has been sued throughout the country for its labor abuses -- quotes a Labor Ready representative claiming her firm provides "enormous social value" by "[putting] people to work." Remember the double-speak inscription over the main gate at Auschwitz? "Work sets you free."

In "The Politics of Chocolate," your informative article about the slave-like treatment of chocolate farm laborers in Western Africa, a US chocolate industry spokesperson (a bona fide sweet talker?) rationalizes teenage farm laborers in Western Africa by claiming that "kids over fourteen have to work. ... That's something that's legal." Slavery was legal, too. But that didn't make it right. Not even a little bit.

People throughout the world can spin the words many ways, but no fancy phrasings are ever going to alter the fact that it is the height of inhumanity not to pay any person a wage that ensures a minimally healthy diet, adequate housing, and access to simple, appropriate healthcare.

Christopher Cherney, Berkeley

What's Wrong With A Slump?

After reading the article "Broken Promises," (December 26) by Melissa Hung, I feel I need to clear up a few things that I feel were misrepresented greatly. My name is Letitia Ntofon, I represent the cultural arts collective BlackDot, based in Oakland, and was interviewed one Friday with a friend of mine Elena Serrano (Eastside Arts) by your staff writer Melissa Hung. As any journalist knows, representing accurately the words of those interviewed is one of the defining markers that draws the line between "objective journalism" and (for lack of a better word) "personal journalism."

Considering the fact that Ms. Hung made it a point to give the many reasons why she could not write a disclaimer regarding the fact that she had just moved to Oakland and had only been here for six weeks (mind you, six weeks) and was writing an article on the state of arts in Oakland (a complex topic that truly should have been dealt with by someone who has an experienced understanding of Oakland demographics, economics, politics, culture, etc.), I find it ironic how after her objective journalistic interview, my language has been replaced with her words.

As a cultural worker who has been doing the work since 1997, I have come to represent not only myself -- but a community. Thus, this letter has not been written solely for my own need for clarity -- but for the people I represent. The first point I need to clarify is I never referred to Black art as African-American art. Ms. Hung literally replaced my language with hers. To make it plain, there is no comparison of the two terms. Black folk understand this. Black represents the entire African diaspora. Besides, I don't even consider myself African-American -- I consider myself Black. Second, I have never used the word "slump." And last, but definitely not least, I have never ever referred to the communities I work in as "minority communities" and I have never said that we need "minority-owned art space." As Marcel Diallo says, "There's nothing minor about it." And a side note, when I asked Ms. Hung, "Is that shorthand you're doing?" in regard to her note-taking of the interview, she clearly said, "It's my own form of shorthand. I figure if I can't read what I've wrote, it must not be all that important." In true fashion, Ms. Hung has managed to not only write an article that drips with her own personal bias, she has also misrepresented an integral part of the Oakland art scene and demonstrated what Oakland gentrification is all about.

Letitia Ntofon, via the Internet

Melissa Hung responds:

Although Associated Press style says the words "African-American" and "black" are interchangeable, Letitia Ntofon makes a valid and well-taken point about the distinct difference between the two terms. Given, though, her assertion that "black folk understand this" (itself a rather sweeping and questionable statement) and that I am obviously not black, she might have taken the time to explain such nuances to me.

As to her other complaints, these have more to do with semantic quibbles than with accuracy. Though I may have offended her sensibilities, I have rendered her sentiments correctly. Ntofon talked at length about the commercialization of art as well as the ownership of performance spaces and the problems that arise when white people own the spaces. As to my comment on note-taking: that is a joke I often tell whenever someone marvels at how fast I write. I use my own shorthand, which is legible to me, and Ntofon did indeed use the word "slump" at the beginning of our conversation. The entire text of her answer, when I asked what she thought of the art scene in Oakland, is as follows, "For me it depends on which group of people you're talking about. I don't deal with art with white folks. For me personally, it's been in a slump. Stuff is popping off, going on, but I feel there's a lack of accountability."

Correction

Last week, we reported that Robert Baum, the husband of Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission member Marie Bowman, spoke against a low-income housing project at a commission meeting on December 13. According to city records, Baum did not attend the meeeting.

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