[Excerpt from Chairman’s speech given in February 1985, in Berkeley, California, a forum on “Does the Media Tell the Truth?” Featured in the pamphlet “The Road to Socialism is Painted Black”]
What do we mean, then, when we talk about social responsibility of the media? There’s an attempt all the time, particularly by media such as The Oakland Tribune—I like to pick on The Oakland Tribune, it picks on us a lot—to put forward this notion that we’re all just one happy family if just these loud occasionally would shut up.
After all “Oakland is the most integrated city in this country.”
They put out that garbage all the time, but they don’t give you the data which helps people to understand how this integration works out in the real world.
In the real world, this integration is a police department whose vast majority is white, 85 percent of whom live outside of the city of Oakland.
They are like the Contras in Honduras who come across the border to kill Nicaraguans. They down press the masses of the black population in East and West Oakland in the so-called “Flatlands.”
The vast majority of them are white and live outside of Oakland. The vast majority of the victims is black and live in the Flatlands in Oakland.
That’s your integration, a white police chief. The integration that we are talking about is one that has resulted in, at one juncture, a figure of around 10,000 homeless people.
It’s come down to “3,000” now since the Uhuru House became involved in the question. At least 60 percent of the homeless people are black. We don’t know who the others are because the others, I guess, are not yelling loudly enough.
That’s your integration.
Your integration is such that in black Oakland, the infant mortality rate is four and a half times higher than what it is for white Piedmont. That’s your integration.
Your integration is such that in black Oakland, in East Oakland alone, we have a situation where more than 54 percent of all the residential rental property is owned by white people who live outside of Oakland, and more than 80 percent of all the commercial property is owned by white people who live outside of Oakland.
We have integration in Oakland. That integration is such that in a 5-year period, more than $300 million leaves the black community of East Oakland alone in the form of rent.
And somebody wants to know why there’s a drug economy, an illegal capitalist economy—because the legal capitalists have withdrawn the ability of the people to live.
They know that’s what it is and the drug economy could not be there without the assistance of the people who operate the Port of Oakland where the vast majority of the workers are white and not black. They know this.
But it’s The Oakland Tribune, where we read about the so-called “drug kingpins.” What drug kingpins in the black community?
There is no place where we process the poppy in Oakland, in the black community.
The social responsibility of the media
I read a newspaper article the other day—in The Oakland Tribune, probably where someone from Milpitas got caught crossing the Mexican border with $25 million of heroin.
If there is a need for a special task force, which is nothing but martial law, it’s in Milpitas, not in the black community of Oakland.
So what are we talking about when we talk about the social responsibility of the media? We must first realize that we are talking about oppressed peoples.
We must first recognize that we are talking about class differences. It is in the interest and it is the social responsibility of the slumlord to get as much as he can for the joint that the people are living in while doing as little as necessary for the place.
It is the social responsibility of the tenant to pay as little for the joint that he’s living in while getting his landlord to do as much as he can for the joint. That’s the social responsibility.
There are different social responsibilities. It is the social responsibility of the undertaker to get as many dead bodies as he can in East Oakland.
He likes the fact that black people live seven years less than white people. I don’t care what color he is, because the fact of the matter is that his reality is tied to black people dying. It is my responsibility to live as long as I can.
Someone wants to tell me that we have a common social responsibility. This media would have me believe that it is my responsibility to make my determinations not on my interests, my objective material interests, but on the question of whether someone made a good speech or they’re nice or whether they believe in integration.
They would have me believe that because the slumlord is a nice person, because he loves his mother and perhaps even got married in a situation where his wife wore white, that I should give him all my money.
They would have me believe that because the undertaker makes good speeches, I should accommodate him by dying early.
We say no, there are different objective material interests at play. The people in this room, the people in this city, the people in the Bay area and the people in this country had best begin to understand what our interest are, what our interests are.
In the 1960’s, the Black Panther Party, at its peak, published a quarter of a million newspapers every week.
The social responsibility at that time of The Oakland Tribune, which did not have on its masthead Mr. Maynard’s name, was to hold up the interests of those forces who would destroy the Black Panther Party.
In the ‘60s, at its peak, Muhammad Speaks, the publication of an organization that many call the Black Muslims, had a distribution of a half-million newspapers every week. You couldn’t go to a city in this country where someone was not reading either Muhammad Speaks of The Black Panther newspaper. Nowhere could you find that.
Whose “truth” does the media tell?
We had two social interests at work. We had several different social forces being responsible: the Black Panther Party being responsible to the oppressed and colonized Africans within the United States, and The Oakland Tribune even then being responsible to the same forces that it is responsible to now.
We can call those forces by name. They’re named Cornell Maier. They’re named Robert Shetterly. They’re the people who own and control Kaiser, who own and control Clorox and the Hyatt Hotel and who keep the people down pressed and living in misery.
“When an opportunity is apparent to disrupt or neutralize black nationalist hate-type organizations, through the cooperation of established local news media, local news media contacts, or through contacts with such sources available through the seat of government, in every instance careful attention must be given to the proposal to insure that the targeted group is disrupted, ridiculed or discredited through the publicity and not merely publicized.
“Consideration should be given to techniques to preclude violence-prone rabble-rousing leaders or hate groups from spreading their philosophy publicly or through various mass communication media.” – J. Edgar Hoover, FBI memo of August 25th, 1967.
Does the media tell the truth? Which truth? I want to say that we have similar experiences on this platform.
I am particularly concerned with the experience that Mr. Wong has mentioned. For lack of a better term, I too come from immigrant parents. In this instance, it was a forced immigration.
It was a forced annexation of a whole people who have been dropped in this North American hell and brutalized in the most vicious way, a way that The Oakland Tribune does not even have the ability to recognize.
The Oakland Tribune can recognize a handful of shopkeepers with an integrated lynch mob in a downtown square begging for a war on crime, but with all the hungry people in the city of Oakland, we don’t see anything about a war on hunger.
With all the homeless people in the city of Oakland, we don’t see anything about a war on homelessness. With black people standing in cheese lines, standing in food stamp lines, standing in welfare lines, standing in unemployment lines, standing in bus lines, is it any wonder that we’re also involved in main lining?
Is there any wonder, is there some mystery about this social responsibility of the media?
We come from similar places—immigrants, forced immigrants in this instance, who had no illusions.
It wasn’t that we thought there was a dashiki sale happening on the other side of the water that we thought we ought to catch.
It wasn’t that we thought that a few hundred years later, the United States entrepreneurs, as they are called, would be looking for somebody to run a basketball up and down a court.
It wasn’t that we knew that there was going to be a market for Michael Jackson, a broken-nosed, broken-faced Negro, with so much goo in his hair that he can’t stand next to a light bulb without it catching on fire. We were forced here!
“Negro first” newspaper
I worked on a newspaper too. I didn’t have normal training. It was one of those things that they like to talk about during black history month—“a Negro first.”
And I enjoyed being a “Negro first”. I had read all the media, like the barbershop philosophers do. The most intelligent Negro you can find is someone who reads all the daily newspapers.
My daddy used to call us educated fools, and he was right, because we spout that garbage that Mr. Wong helps them to cover up and Mr. Wong is perfect for it, just like Lionel Wilson and all those people downtown are perfect for the cover for black people in this community.
I was a “Negro first.” I was the first Negro “copy boy” for a newspaper, in St. Petersburg, Florida, an enlightened southern community.
At that time the system was more honest, they called us “copy boys.” I was the first Negro proofreader for that; I was the first Negro apprentice printer.
I was promised to be on the way up to the first Negro editor of the newspaper.
But something happened to change all that. In 1966, James Meredith had the audacity to think, to prove to everybody, that a black man, himself, could walk across Mississippi without any fear. He called it a “March Against Fear,” and he made out on his trek.
He might have made it about 30 yards, and a white man hiding in a ditch shot him down with a shotgun.
And as a consequence of him being shot, black folks from all over the country decided to finish the Meredith March. I was one of them.
I was a young, quick hand-shaking, nice Negro on the way up and I went to the cat I worked for and said, “I’m going to go on that march in Mississippi. It’s an important march. I want you to give me a leave of absence.”
The boss said, “No Joe”—at that time they called me Joe. During that time I thought that’s what my name was.
That’s because the media didn’t help me to understand that my history didn’t start in a cotton patch in the south and that where I come from, people aren’t normally called “Joe.”
He said, “No Joe, you can best serve your people by working hard right here at the St. Petersburg Times.
They can see your example of hard work and progress, and that will do it.” I said, “No man, I’m going on the march. So the best thing you can do is give me the leave of absence so I can split.”
But rather than do that, they fired me from the job. Now, there is another way, Mr. Wong, there is another way. They fired me, and it was probably the best thing for both of us.
The birth of The Burning Spear
As a consequence of having been fired, I worked real hard to be socially responsible and so, consequently we have here, The Burning Spear.
There is, there is another way. We talk about the “pull of the advertisers and the marketplace.” That’s the same marketplace that helps “y’all” to hate the Iranians who take back their oil.
It’s the same marketplace that gets people who look like Mr. Wong killed sometimes, because somebody might mistake him for someone who is Japanese who’s being competitive with the same corporations upon whose advertisements The Oakland Tribune relies.
It’s the same interest that the invasion of Grenada is a consequence of and the poor, poor heroic people of El Salvador and Nicaragua right now are anticipating an invasion from.
There is another way.
We don’t consider ourselves alternative media. We consider ourselves a contending force, a contending force.
We’re not attempting to exist side by side with The Oakland Tribune. One must survive, and the other must be wiped out. Unite with the $90,000 campaign to build The Burning Spear.
Unite with black workers who went on strike against The Oakland Tribune, precisely because it has no place for black working people.
Unite with the black workers who called for a boycott precisely because The Oakland Tribune has no place for black people, except Mr. Maynard, who they say owns The Oakland Tribune.
So, we don’t see ourselves as an alternative media, we see ourselves in fierce contention with the media.
The Oakland Tribune recognizes this and we recognize this. We ask for no quarter, we give no quarter.
We are the most audacious forces that you might find—a handful of us with a 24-page publication that only comes out monthly, but we know how the contradiction that we began speaking about will resolve.
There will be a time when there will no longer be oppressed nations.
The Spear will usher the working class into a liberated nation
There will be a time when there will no longer be exploited classes and it is our responsibility, our social responsibility, to hold up the struggles of the oppressed nations and the exploited classes, to go out into West Oakland and to give real information to the workers in West Oakland; not some garbage about Ann Landers or some nonsense about a horoscope that is designed to keep the masses of the people out there with their minds up in the sky while Mr. Kaiser’s cutting the very ground from underneath their feet!
We are contending forces. We have enough faith in ourselves and the history of an informed people to believe that we will win. As they say in places that The Oakland Tribune does not like to write about favorably, “Magbar Imperialism!” In Farsi, spoken in Iran, this means Death to Imperialism!
Keep The Spear Burning!
One Issue is a Thousand Blows to white power!