Letters for the week of February 18-24, 2004 

Chris Thompson: "yellow journalist." Roosevelt Mosby: "pain in the ass." Beto Lopez: "Mooncricket." Will Harper: "scummy" agendaist.

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7. And yet Roosevelt has a silent support base within the black community because he says the things, and makes the accusations, that many black advocates cannot or will not say. He provides a convenient mouthpiece -- until he turns to bite them in the ass. In 2001, Roosevelt effectively bamboozled the black leadership at the Alameda County Office of AIDS, halting funding to numerous black HIV service agencies, in order to make sure he got his before they got theirs (see "Racing for Funding, Fuming About Race," Cityside, August 28, 2002).

Roosevelt: The winds of justice are swift. I, and many others, will bear witness against you at every turn, and we are everywhere. We will sweep you into the light.
Philip Huang, Berkeley

"Breakin' 3: Outta $$$," 12/10, Music

Don't call me Roberto!
Hello, my name is Beto Lopez, "Mooncricket." I just want to say thank you for posting the story about me and my film in the paper. I was surprised that it got into my personal business how I been living. The story about the bling-bling kids was not so important and confusing to readers that asked me about that. I had to explain.

Also, I was upset when you print my name as Moon Cricket as separate words. It is one word: Mooncricket. On search engines, people say they look for this article and type my name as Mooncricket and Beto Lopez. I told Darren that I go by Beto Lopez. I never use Roberto, only at the DMV or job interviews. Beto is short for Roberto, and most folks know me by Beto or Mooncricket. Just thought you should know. Thank you for the article.
Beto Lopez, aka Mooncricket, Stockton

Editor's Note
The article also reported that breaker Crazy Legs would be executive producer of another breakdancing doc. He is actually a coproducer, providing insight and arranging interviews, but not controlling the film's overall content.

"Class Struggle," Bottom Feeder, 1/21 and "American Spin," Books, 1/28

Harper was the offender
Will Harper's attack piece on the School of Social Justice and Kali Akuno-Williams is a low blow. As a white journalist with four years of work in the Express -- in other words, another "card-carrying Caucasian," as Harper puts it -- I'm not offended by the school's mission statement saying [they're] not looking for culture vultures, and I certainly don't think it's racist, unlike Harper.

I first heard the phrase "culture vulture" in the early '90s. Criticizing white, privileged people who appropriate the cultures and identities of oppressed peoples -- to paraphrase the school's statement -- has a long history; furthermore, it means exactly what it says. What's truly funny is that Harper reads "oppressed" as "nonwhite." When it comes to critical discussion of race and ethnicity, how European ethnic immigrants became white in America, and how Europe underdeveloped Africa, I have more confidence in Akuno-Williams, his background in education, and his grasp of history, than I do in Harper.

To my mind, the point about "culture vultures" is little different from Edward Said's critique of Orientalism; it's a recurring debate in literary and music criticism that will last as long as white supremacy does. For proof of that, we need only look at the recent debate over Jeff Chang's piece "Return of the White Noise Supremacists" (SF Bay Guardian, 1/7/04), which Matt King opens with in his Express review of rock criticism ("American Spin," 1/28). Writing about music journalism, Chang makes a valid point that I would expand to Bay Area weekly journalism: In my experience, the staff and decision-makers of local papers are disproportionately white and usually distant from the communities they claim to cover.

A century after the birth of jazz, there's a reason a responsible critic like Eric Porter writes a book in 2002 called What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African-American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. One reason is the mess white critics have made of it -- from those who conflated jazz with immorality, to many liberal defenders, to radicals like Frank Kofsky who sought to revolutionize the music in the late 1960s -- and their tendency to impose their own agendas over the words and ideas of the practitioners. As Porter puts it, "Unfortunately, African-American intellectualism is still often seen as oxymoronic," and Harper might as well call Akuno-Williams a moron: Harper follows his quote with obvious disdain and disrespect, writing, "Or something like that. It's kinda hard to understand lefty-speak sometimes."

If we're going to talk about "agendaism that ruins music writing," as King puts it -- or news writing, for that matter -- let's start here. But now we're having a serious discussion, which is different from an eight-hundred-word smear piece that misrepresents the school and could materially damage its operation.

Racial discrimination is a serious charge, and Harper shouldn't play games with it. Near the end, after he infers that no changes are forthcoming to the phrase he found offensive, he adds, "The offending phrase appears to violate the district's boilerplate nondiscrimination policy." This reads like an extra twist of the knife by someone who was out to get the school and did. That's a polite way of putting it.

When Bottom Feeder debuted, didn't it have something to do with muckraking? The scandal in Oakland is not the mission statement of one school attempting to serve about one hundred students with an innovative and necessary pedagogy and curriculum. The scandal is the district trying to close many schools.

The scandal is also the number of "press-card-carrying Caucasians" who recently arrived in the East Bay, and the power they wield to define it. And that's not hating on all Caucasians; Harper could check Chris Thompson on contentious topics such as the Oakland Education Association and the Black Repertory Theater, and Linnea Due's article last year on the School for Social Justice and Life Academy. And then he should check himself.

In the second part of his story, Harper reports news of a fight at the school not as a story with two sides but as an opportunity to be seized to further smear the school and Akuno-Williams. That's scummy. The 'burbs may love reading about hip-hop in the Express music pages and allegedly racist black men who allegedly won't work with white people in the news section, but that has little to do with what's really going on in Oakland, and all Harper did here is reproduce his own biases. The scandal is the politics of education and incarceration that defunds schools, leaves principled, hardworking, caring individuals like Akuno-Williams high and dry, and force young people in Oakland to pay the ultimate penalty. And if Will Harper had problems with Akuno-Williams, I think that's Harper's trip.
Aaron Shuman, Oakland

A sidebar ("Color Coding") to our February 4 cover story "Magic Man" made reference to a "Tinkerbell" deck. Editor's bad: That should have been a "Tinker" deck.


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