Tags: Come | Mister | Tally | Man | Tally | Bananas

Come, Mister Tally Man, Tally Me Bananas

Friday, 01 November 2002 12:00 AM

The big day in Harry Belafonte's life was Oct. 20, 1955, the day he recorded "Day-0, The Banana Boat Song" at Webster Hall in New York City. Fifteen months later, January 1957, the song hit the pop charts and RCA came calling with a $1 million contract, big money in the days when a dime would buy two plays on a juke box and new Corvettes had a base sticker price of $3,176.

It was that same year, 1957, that the Russians pulled ahead of America in the space race, launching Sputnik; Mickey and Sylvia hit it big with "Love Is Strange"; Chairman Mao was talking nice, i.e., "Let a thousand flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend": federal troops integrated schools in Little Rock; and Elvis made his third and final appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, seen only from the waist up.

And now, a half century later, just prior to Election Day and amid reports that blacks are drifting off the Democrats' reservation, Mr. Belafonte has declared that Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice are nothing more than "house slaves" for a Republican master.

Commenting on Secretary Powell's position on the possible use of military force against Iraq, Belafonte said: "There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master."

Continued Belafonte: "Colin Powell's permitted to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture."

Nothing personal was intended in the smear, said Belafonte; it's just that Powell, no matter how high he goes, is just such a sad flop: "This was not a personal attack on Colin Powell; however, speaking on behalf of so many African-American citizens, I have found Colin Powell to be a tragic failure."

And with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Belafonte was recently successful in getting her removed as the keynote speaker for the annual Africare Awards Dinner. "When it showed up that Condoleezza Rice was to be the keynote speaker, I protested that fact," explained Belafonte. "I told Africare I would not come."

What's tragic here is that Mr. Belafonte won't sit in the same room with the most powerful African-American woman in the history of the American government, and won't acknowledge the hard-won achievements of the man who has become the nation's first African-American secretary of state.

Writes Andrew Sullivan: "This attempt to reduce Colin Powell, an accomplished soldier and respected diplomat who wields more influence than any African-American in history, to a crude caricature of a racial stereotype should be called what it is. It's racism."

Sullivan explains: "The essence of bigotry is to reduce the complex, varied, human individuality of a human being into a racial cipher. It is to smelt the irreducible complexity of a person into a racial caricature. It is to deny individuality; it is to give someone no space to think for him or herself, to be free to be a person, and not a mere member of the group."

The real issue in all this is that the most powerful blacks in government positions in the United States have been appointed by Republicans, and younger black adults are becoming increasingly more politically independent. In a poll taken this year, for instance, by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which conducts research on issues of importance to minority voters, 63 percent of blacks identified themselves as Democrats, down from 74 percent who said they were Democrats in 2000.

More specifically, a recent poll by the Washington-based Black America's Political Action Committee shows President Bush's approval rating among African-Americans at 41 percent, up from 19 percent last year – and up from the 8 percent vote in the presidential election. Similarly, approval among African-Americans for Powell and Rice stand at 82 percent and 40 percent, respectively, up from 73 percent and 17 percent at this time last year.

A voting analysis by Dr. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, executive director of the Black Leadership Forum, points to the significance of these shifts:

"In Illinois, white voters nearly tied Bush [49 percent] and Gore [48 percent], only to have a Gore victory determined by a 14 percent black vote, 92 percent of which went to candidate Gore. In California, white voters gave Bush 48 percent to Gore's 47 percent, while the 7 percent black vote joined with a 14 percent Hispanic vote to provide Gore with a statewide victory. Other states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Georgia and Missouri, show a similar pattern, with Bush defeating Gore by margins of 1 percent to a high of 9 percent among white voters, only to have these margins reversed when the black vote is factored in."

And that, precisely, is why an old Calypso singer is calling the secretary of state a slave.

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University and a Pittsburgh restaurateur. E-mail: rrreiland@aol.com.

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The big day in Harry Belafonte's life was Oct. 20, 1955, the day he recorded Day-0, The Banana Boat Song at Webster Hall in New York City. Fifteen months later, January 1957, the song hit the pop charts and RCA came calling with a $1 million contract, big money in the...
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Friday, 01 November 2002 12:00 AM
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