"A MENACE TO SOCIETY: OR HOW AN UPPITY BLACK MAN GOT BANNED FROM CODY'S BOOKSTORE IN BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA"
– by Joseph Anderson
Readers of Konch may recall that I have been very critical of what I think is egregious Black male-bashing by feminist icon, literary lovvve guru, and pretentious non-user of the shift key in her egotistical feigned humbleness, bell hooks. (Please reference my earlier Konch article, “Right Hook at the Bell: Bell Hooks’ Black Male-Bashing,” with supporting audiofile record.)
Now, my willingness to stand up civilly and offer the briefest, but incisive, intellectual and moral criticism of Hooks’ eccentric anti-Black male theories has gotten me stamped "BANNED" – from that literary bastion and ‘champion’ of "free expression," Cody’s Bookstore: Berkeley’s foremost white literary landmark.
Cody’s certainly champions people’s right – white, or non-white (all the better!) – to bash people of color and further make whites feel smugly superior. This was famously done so with India-Orientalizing Salman Rushdie, years ago, even against bomb threats.
Unfortunately, nowadays, anti-intellectualism and hypocrisy are so pervasive, and almost cherished, in America that it even pervades the liberal literary atmosphere of Cody’s. Even there, celebrity fawning and liberal style over critical substance often reign among many in its book lecture audiences. I’ve come to realize that, especially, major author events at Cody’s are often just commercial exercises in relative superficiality with no inherent responsibility other than for the store to promote and defend its transient promoter (the author).
Cody’s is not a forum to necessarily provide any responsible true critical dialogue between the author and “the people” (at least those who are intellectually serious), as is the pretense. There’s something about Cody’s that seems to make it worse than the other Bay Area white-owned independents. It seems to – but not always – attract a more superficial crowd, in general. I think that’s because Cody’s hosts more big-name celebrities and thus people there engage in, well, celebrityism (actually, a widespread mental contagion in this country).
It’s often a forum where the celebrity “oracle” orates and, afterwards, audience members who wish are consented about a 60-seconds (or so) – and thus intellectually delimited – token soundbite question; this, so that, hopefully, no minimally developed, serious, contextual questions are actually posed. (I’m surprised that they just don’t pass out small notepad slips for questions.) Ask a critically serious question longer than about 60 seconds and the celebrity fawners slowly start to rumble, then grumble – personally offended – in behalf of the star.
Generally, no incisive, real intellectual work is actually meant to be even broached at a Cody’s celebrity author event, by author or audience. Many, respectively, have come to resent any interloper who thought otherwise – particularly from a, deeper, authentic, nonwhite perspective, and especially on any issue of racism. (‘Oh, my God, aren’t we all past that!?: it’s ssso unseemly! He’d actually try to make us think [in more than one color]’: eyes roll.) And liberals keep wondering why, in general, they have been politically sliding behind. There are authors who are politically conscious exceptions to this now-acceptable ruse, but they’re increasingly rare.
Below follows my ordeal with white liberal pretensions at Cody’s Bookstore. And let this be a lesson to any other socioculturally self-respecting “Uppity Black Male”: white liberals – even in Berkeley – don't like you contesting their white-lauded author heroes and certainly don’t like you making whites uncomfortable with all that “Black shit.”
Here We Go: In the Center of White Liberal Berkeley
Case in point: Back in February (’04), I attended a book reading at Cody’s by the predominantly white liberals’ feminist hero, Bell Hooks. During Q&A, I morally and intellectually challenged her, civilly, about her grossly stereotypical, anti-Black male statements and eccentric behavioral theories. Her basic idea (confirmed by her in response to my very specific question) is that, indeed, Black men are particularly, virulently, and pathologically misogynist – exceptionally so, above any other men.
Furthermore, this is all due, she categorically asserts, to rampant childhood sexual abuse of boys in the Black community. Yet another psychosexual theory – typically invented by racist white pundits – to exclusively explain and pathologize Black male behavior. Hooks further lashed out, with great indignation, that any Black male who disagrees with her (of course, especially moi) is “a prime example” of a totally unreconstructed, patriarchal Black male misogynist.
I pointed out to Hooks and the predominantly white liberal Berkeley audience the sheer blanket stereotyping of her statement: a blanket kind of pathological ethnic theory which, I posited, would never be tolerated by the same white liberal audience against any white ethnic group, and especially against – yes – Jewish males. This had not the slightest moderating effect on her or her large, adoring audience, including, the dozen or so “sorry and conditioned neegroes” (as we would say in the ’hood). (‘You know,’ some Blacks are ‘white-supremacists’ too!) In fact, my point had the opposite effect: Hooks diatribed even more about how awful Black men are, and her audience applauded even louder, lapping it up!
Ahhh, if only “to just be treated as a human being,” as James Baldwin would say; not as a miscreant. But from “Birth of a Nation” to Bell Hooks, we Black men are always ultimately labeled – ‘born from birth’ – by what rapper Ice Cube simply named one of his albums: “Predator.”
This is from Hooks, who even sharply attacked – as, in effect, an oblivious, if not sexist, patriarchal male – the prominent and incisive African American, prolific sociocultural author, commentator, and public lecturer Michael Eric Dyson. Go read any of his books and judge for yourself. This occurred in a joint interview on a white “liberal” San Francisco PBS radio station, with the glib, pseudo-liberal racist-in-his-own-right, but most of all, white-beloved host Michael Krasny of KQED-FM’s “Forum” show. To borrow a quote from the great Louis Armstrong about a similar case, “Most white [Bay Arean, (pun intended)] folks love his dirty drawers,” and seem to have all the cultural blinders and racial double standards that he has. And most Black progressives around the Bay are glad I told you; the others are secretly glad. I can also tell you that Dyson has been a lot more verbally gracious to Hooks, than she was to him.
I morally objected to Hooks’ wholesale, negative stereotyping of Black males (even children!), but would obviously never be given the opportunity by her to, even briefly, support my argument in a forum she aggressively controlled. To let herself be accountable to “the people” (and here I’m speaking of conscious grassroots Black folks) and subject her theory to public intellectual examination?: Not Hooks! So, finally, I simply turned my back to her as a silent, public protest, near the back of the room where I was standing. I made no disruptions and did not interfere with her punditry (and continued pillorying of me throughout the rest of her lecture) or anyone else’s ability to participate in the Q&A session. But my protest was pointed and I hoped effective.
This feminist guru of lovvve sharply attacked and tactically accused me – as my being a quintessential patriarchal male – of “repeatedly interrupting” her aggressive, purposely-designed, filibuster reply (with undoubtedly frustratingly unavoidable pauses to avoid suffocation, where someone could get a corrective word in edgewise) – sealed with her plan to abruptly proceed to the next questioner.
Amazingly enough, Hooks then repeatedly and aggressively interrupted the questioner immediately after me, a white woman, who was timidly trying to express some tepid misgivings about something else Hooks said, until Hooks herself persistently interrupted the woman into submission. No luvvving patience there! (I was hoping that someday a wider audience would hear the event tape and discuss it.) I would have thought that white women were representative of Hooks’ primary audience, not any for her to abuse: the ones she really wants to sell books too, thus, providing a substitute white feminist target, Black men instead of white men, and gaining general white accolades for herself!
A couple of the audience members approached me after the Hooks lecture and conceded that I was correct with regard to my concerns. (Why such people are always too afraid to support the legitimacy of my questions publicly, when and where it counts, rather than safely afterwards, in private, is a mystery to me.) Further afterwards, a white woman, all secure in her white domain, nastily sniped at me, as I, slipping by her, said, “Excuse me,” as I was downstairs browsing books. “Oh, now he’s polite!,” she sneered. (I know Black women who would have smacked the taste from her mouth if she had made a crack like that to them.) I surprised her by tersely, abruptly snapping right back that, ‘if she had any intellectual aptitude she could read my Konch essay (referenced in my comment about Hooks’ theory during Q&A); otherwise, I didn’t need her nasty little white arrogance.’ She shut up. Quite evidently, anything other than the adulation of white-lauded feminist heroes, like Bell Hooks, who trash Black men, is by definition “rude.”
Did I Mention Alice? (A Brief Digression)
Hooks is reminiscent to me of another Black feminist, Alice Walker: yet another lovvve guru with a major ego. Walker once lashed out at me in a different place and time for my literary panel sociological question to her, white lesbian author Susan Griffin, and Chinese-American author Maxine Hong Kingston, about how people of color are usually only accepted by white liberals to the extent that those people of color – myself included – at least appear to act and think (Euro-Amerocentrically) “white.”
But, as one rather professionally successful “model minority” (why can’t they ever be called “model American”?) Asian friend told me, “You still generally can only be accepted as among them [whites], not really as one ‘of’ them.” And even Kingston once warned that some whites were wrongly taking smug, racist interpretations from aspects of her Chinese folktale novels. Alice waited until long after she made millions off her movie to finally say anything like that.
Anyway, the late, prominent UC Berkeley professor and feminist writer, and casual friend, Barbara Christian, who had (thank God!) witnessed this exchange, told me frankly, afterwards, that, “Alice probably doesn’t even really know how to talk with today’s Black men because she has become so socioculturally isolated way up in the [Marin?] woods; she needs to come back down to the real world.”
What Happened After That? The Usual Double Standards.
I attended at least a couple of Cody’s events after that without any incident. Then, however, I went to another Cody’s event, this time held at a nearby church. To my surprise (well, nothing really surprises me anymore about a lot of white “liberals”), the white female Cody’s "Events Coordinator" refused to allow me entry, and brusquely informed me that I was not allowed to attend Cody’s "off-site" events. I was not even told why [high-pitched, snooty voice]: “You’re just not allowed to.” Actually, I didn’t even bother to ask ‘Miss Snoot,’ a.k.a. Melissa Mytinger, and surmised it must have something to do with my silent protest at the Hooks book lecture.
Realizing that this white woman had a grudge bug up her butt (according to an Asian friend of mine, in her teaching experience, “White girls never let go”), I went later that evening to see Andy Ross, the owner of Cody’s, at his store. I explained what had happened, and surmised that it proximately stemmed from the Hooks book lecture. I pointed out to him that I was neither rude nor boisterous at that event, and that he could listen to Cody’s event recording for himself, since he was not there.
He first gave me a little roundabout ‘song and dance’ (such whites always do), but I asked him, given Hooks’ anti-Black male racist theories, “You mean a Black man can’t even just stand in one spot, interfering with no one, and even silently protest such racist garbage?” Otherwise, I said, even a white liberal audience could comfortably use Hooks as cover to perpetuate such gross anti-Black male gender and sexual stereotypes, actually dangerous to Black men. People like racist white cops and various officials in different settings seriously act on that kind of psychosexual stereotyping!
I also pointed out to Ross that if Hooks had pathologically theorized (double entendre intended) about males of any white ethnic group – especially Jews – Cody’s would have rightly had an event overrun with loud, angry white protesters – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – and that my silent, symbolic "back-turning" protest was, in fact, quite innocuous by comparison. Ross (I was later informed, Jewish himself) did not dispute this; he didn’t even so much as suggest I was anti-Semitic for saying so.
After some amicable dialogue about these topics, Ross agreed that it was not inappropriate to engage in a silent, visible, but nondisruptive protest. In fact, he informed me that he has advised authors on the national book circuit that, ‘This is Berkeley and, thus, they have to expect the possibility of being challenged from the audience here. Furthermore, that Cody’s respects an audience member’s right to do so if he/she is not being disruptive,’ which Ross then agreed I had not been. We parted on rather friendly terms, and I thought that was that.
The real question would be, why are even white liberals so receptive to such theories against Black men?
Liberal white women friendly acquaintances with no real Black personal friends at all have had the nerve to ask me before, their making me “the exception”: “Why are Black men so misogynist?” You know, like: ‘Your being Black, you would know!’ This, even as so many white women or girls get the emotional or physical hell beaten out of them – or worse – every day by either white boyfriends, husbands, or even fathers. This is reported almost daily on one or another TV newsmagazine or talk show.
Recently, flipping channels, I saw a part of an episode of a cable TV fictional white gangster drama (fictional, so the scriptwriters can conceive the lines they want, right?): indeed, a “critically-acclaimed,” white-celebrated, gangster “family film,” ‘humanized’ (if you can believe that), with all the ‘middle-class’ problems of any working family, right? (‘Doo wese wack Vinny to-day or toomorrrow?’) This was “The Sopranos,” where, in one scene, a fictional white male character shouts, “Fucking c---!!,” just before he shoots a terrified woman in the head. Now whites watch this show for vicarious entertainment! Did you hear of any white (especially feminist) protests about that line? You would have, if it had been Black gangsta rapper Scarface’s verse: ‘Fuckin’ c---!! Here’s a cap I’m gonna pump!’
Then What Happened - With Michael Eric Dyson. Or, You Step Outta Ya Place…, A Cracka’s All Up in Yo' Face!
Then in May (’04), I arrived at Cody’s to attend a book lecture by my friend Michael Eric Dyson, who has publicly expressed great respect for my incisive comments and analyses. On my way through the bookstore, I passed by two female Cody’s employees, one white woman (the Events Coordinator) and one Black (her defending lackey). The white woman gave me a sarcastic “Hi, Joseph,” which I ignored.
I went upstairs to sit down, peacefully minding my own business, when, later, another Cody’s employee – a relatively tall, moderately big white male (whom I casually knew), boldly dressed in his usual all-black, symbolically ‘independent-thinking,’ wanna-be anarchist garb – approached me and said in a highly officious manner, “I am the agent of Andy Ross.” He demanded that I leave the events area. Ross’s “agent” told me – contrary to the assurances I had received from Ross himself - that I was not allowed to attend any Cody’s book reading events – at all. Now, not even at the "in-store" events. He then claimed, falsely, that I had been specifically informed of this by Andy Ross himself. I told him that Ross definitely had not, and that Michael was a friend of mine. “It doesn’t matter,” he said.
Annoyed by the conflicting statements by Ross, on the one hand, and his events employees, on the other, I went outside to wait for Michael at the nearby corner. Somehow missing Michael when he entered, I went back inside and approached him at the upstairs lecture area as he was just beginning – as Ross’s “agent” was frantically running and stomping to literally chase me down like a white Southern sheriff. I announced to Michael and the audience what was going on. I said that the Cody’s events staff had evidently issued against me what racist white bosses and officials in the Jim Crow South used to circulate and call a “KEEP THAT NIGGER RUNNING!” notice.
Michael intervened and made it clear that I could stay. He also alluded to me (as “Brotha Anderson”) respectfully, both intellectually and sociologically, more than once during his book lecture. He said that as a guest book lecturer he didn’t want to disrespect Cody’s as his inviter, but that he also didn’t want Cody’s to disrespect me, single me out, and paint me as ‘some crazy Negro’ – because this, Michael said, was what Black males who stand up for their intellectual integrity commonly have to put up with from certain white people.
This is a manifestation of why I have such great respect for Dyson: it would have been all too easy for him to bite his tongue, roll over for the local white Bossman (and even the intellectually nobody underlings) and “go along to get along.” I dare say, regretfully, that most Black book lecturers – even of Dyson’s national status – would have. (Y’all grassroots Black folks know what I mean.)
So, I attended Dyson’s always socioculturally incisive and enlivening book lecture and spoke for a time with him afterwards. (What he privately shared with me from his own similar experiences with some white people I will not publicly repeat.) Ross, undoubtedly then called at home, ‘snuck’ into the Dyson event, ‘hiding out’ in back, without even being man enough to come right up and talk to Dyson and myself after he finished signing books.
Then, after Michael had gone off to collect a few books that Cody’s pro forma offers book lecturers from the stacks, Andy Ross came up to me and told me, squawking with his nasally little voice, just like the white grown-up characters in the “Charlie Brown” TV cartoon shows: “Ohhhh, youuu've done it noww, Joseph! Youuu've really, really, really done it nowww! From nowww on, you're compleeetely BANNED from the entire store!”
On "The Bad Nigger" List. An Uppity Nigger, You See: “A Menace to Society”
I’ve long endured the lilliputian intellects of: liberal racist white bosses (ironically, insecure white women) in the most ‘cultured/intellectual’ of workplaces, liberal racist white administrators, liberal racist white teachers, liberal racist white co-workers, liberal racist white schoolmates, crazy liberal racist white girls/women, homicidally racist white cops, and even dealt with potentially homicidal racist white guys (on several occasions in the Midwest and South). Every day in the lion’s den. Nothing any different from most Blacks. And all the stakes get progressively higher from Black childhood throughout Black adulthood, where whites wanna play for keeps! (Certainly NOT that all whites are racist.)
But, now, I’m not going to be allowed into Cody’s corner bookstore! BANNED from all 12,000 square feet (and the quarter that I actually might use) of Cody’s retail space by this two-faced, liberal racist white storeowner!? Now I’m crushed! Can you imagine that!?: I can more safely travel throughout the entire world of some 52 million square miles of land (not including Antarctica) than Andy Ross can as a white-American man, and yet he pronounced his banishment of me from Cody’s as though my not being able to go in to his corner store would, indeed, be like being banished from the earth! This so, instead of just some simply petty behavior by some white storeowner whose ego has gotten the better of him. So what!: I’m headed to Barnes & Noble with my Christmas list of books next season – and so are my housemates.
Of course, it doesn’t matter, otherwise, how well-educated, how intellectual, how well-read, how well-spoken, how civil, how internationally-traveled one might be; and, most importantly, it doesn’t matter what the intellectual or moral merits of one’s critiques are: as Brotha Malcolm (or rapper Ice T in his song “Straight-Up Nigga”) said, if you’re Black – and don’t know ‘your place’ – you’re still just a “Nigger.”
Well, too bad. I'm not going to "make nice" and not disturb any hypocritical sensibilities of such liberal whites in my even civilly addressing racism when it’s a logically demonstrable and thus valid criticism. And if it gets me banned from liberal white intellectual masturbation and celebrity-fawning sessions like certain major Cody’s events often are – especially where people of color are egregiously slurred by whites or their ‘colored’ stand-ins without any challenges permitted – then so be it.
Among white conservatives, Blacks aren’t really wanted at all, and among many white liberals/progressives, Blacks are often only accepted within the parameters of how the latter whites themselves want to view and articulate the world: either way, white privilege still triumphs. In fact, one “liberal” white male UC Berkeley journalism lecturer (and even author of the book, “Me and Hank”) once lashed out at me, “We’re tired of all your black shit!!” That pretty much says it all.
Denouement: White Weasels and Black Bootlickers
I think that I can somehow go on living, being banned from Cody’s. In fact, I won’t support an establishment where the owner, Andy Ross, behaves in such a racially two-faced, weaselly way: playing nice and reaching friendly personal understandings on the one hand, but alternately allowing/instructing his self-important events coordinator to be spiteful in his absence.
Nor am I very surprised by the fact that there were two black Cody’s events staffers who more than willingly reinforced these whites’ behavior. (You know, as Ice Cube rapped and as James Baldwin wrote, “Black po-lice showin’ out for the white cops!”) We Black folks know that there are always going to be one or two ingratiating, quick-steppin’, ever-loyal house negroes willing to snort 'n 'tort, in effect, “Don’t be sassin’!! Massa done tollldjas ta ggit now, ya heayah!?”
Ironically, I’ve always had very good store relations with other Cody’s employees who were not part of the events staff. This particularly included the big, ‘bad’, black-clad, ‘politically iconoclastic,’ ‘anti-establishment,’ anarchist-wannabe store supervisor – apparently just a poser.
But, you see, like a prime example of many such “convenient white liberals” – from Andy Ross on up and down – who don’t really want to be racially discomforted (even they prefer fiction over friction), especially when it’s too close to ‘home,’ he’s no threat to the system at all.
Finally, for America to sustain its racial or national myths, even the myth of liberal white superiority (which often likes to evade legitimate issues of white racism too: “it’s really classism”), America ultimately has to be anti-intellectual and hypocritical – and always tired of any nigger “making trouble.”
Joseph Anderson is a resident of Berkeley, CA, an occasional contributing political columnist/essayist, occasional KPFA-FM radio guest, a local media monitor and grassroots progressive political activist. http://ishmaelreedpub.com/articles/anderson4.htm
[After Andy Ross, of Berkeley, sold Cody's Bookstore, its new Asian owners, as well as new staff, readily invited Anderson back in – as Anderson has always been heartily welcomed at Berkeley's other Asian-owned bookstore, "Eastwind Books", as well as the rest of the Bay Area's bookstores and book lectures.]
Also check out (online) by Anderson:
"PBS Documentary on Hip-Hop Neglects the Role of White Corporate Media and Blame Blacks" - at AfricaResource
"Right Hook at the Bell: Bell Hooks Black Male-Bashing" - at BlackCommentator
"The Selling of Precious" - at CounterPunch - by Ishmael Reed