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Utrice moderates "Black Athena / Not Out of Africa" debate 

May 27, 1996

Utrice Leid
WBAI Radio
New York, NY

Dear Utrice,

I have been listening and supporting BAI on and off for over 30 years, mostly because I believe that it is, by far, a much more open and honest forum than any other radio outlet in this area. At its worst, as far as I am concerned, BAI is still better than any other game in town. At its best, the station and its producers have served to enlighten and inspire me, and occasionally offer hope. I like it best when I am offered information (which proably is not available elsewhere) that is then covered in detail and presented in a manner respectful of the audience. I like it when we are not talked down to, taken for granted, or manipulated in any way.

Busy as any New Yorker, of late I seem to be in a letter writing mode, sending off notes to on-air folks at the station. My letters typically go: "I really appreciate everything you guys are doing there but I didn't like what you said today and here's why." I usually try to emphasize that the reason I write (to criticize) is because I love BAI so much. Having been on the recieving end of criticism from time to time, I know that such a qualifier might be small consolation, but it is none the less true. I assume by now you have figured out that I am going to say that I objected to something you may have said recently. I am. My response is to the airing of the recent "Out of Africa" debate which you moderated.

Most of my BAI listening takes place in the morning. I was aware that there was a controversy about this subject, having heard some of an interview Bernard White did with Professor Leftkowitz. I am not very well versed in the debate around Afrocentrism, only vaguely aware of the various concerns. I am, however, interested in history, how history is written, and how the control of information (history, advertising, Hollywood, news, media, etc.) is used by power groups to influence the little dorks like me out here in Couchland.

From what little I have heard about Afrocentrism, it is easy to pick up that it is an emotion-charged area of controversy within the academic community. I know zilch about the Greek/Egyptian Roots of Civilization debate and it sounds, to me, like a pretty esoteric subject. When Bernard interviewed Professor Leftkowitz it seemed... well, pretty "airy," with some very specialized knowledge needed to come to an informed evaluation. Actually, with no offense meant to Bernard, he appeared out of his depth and not really able to challenge some of the assertions that rest their authority on various arcane studies. When I heard that a debate between the "experts" was going to be broadcast I looked forward to it. I didn't think that a subject this remote and complex could be adequately examined during one radio program but, what the hey, nothing like watching some heavyweights duke it out. And I did think that I might learn something if I, as Bernard is fond of saying, "paid close attention."

To be truthful, I'm not a great student, and my attention can easily be diverted from a difficult subject if someone is making a lot of extraneous noise during a presentation or if some of the participants seem not to be playing by the rules (whether intentionally or otherwise). I don't know if I got to hear all of the tape that has been broadcast. I listened for two hours one morning as Bernard played it (alternating with pitching). About 45 minutes were broadcast at that time. I also heard some more of the debate broadcast on Samori Marksman's most recent Saturday program. 

At some point Bernard commentating on your role as moderator, said, "Utrice occasionally put on the gloves, but who cares? It was good." Well, of course, that's the reason I am writing: I care, and I think boadcasters should care, and I think the audience should care. From early on it seemed to me you dealt with Leftkowitz and Rogers with a sledgehammer and Clark and Bernal with velvet gloves. I doubt if you would deny this. I have the feeling you believed they (Leftkowitz and Rogers) deserved it and that you are standing up for truth and that they are not.

The problem is, I didn't know who was closer to the truth about the issue when the debate began and because of the way the thing was conducted, I still don't know. What I do know is that, at least in this instance, you were not looking for truth, you appeared not to have a clue as to what objectivity or intellectual honesty is, and you had not an iota of respect for your audience. Mind you, I'm not saying that you weren't pleasing your audience. Clearly, you had them eating out of your hand. It was a little bit like working an audience of an action movie: get them to whoop it up when the stupid, ugly, evil ones get blown away.

A good part of what I objected to was the very clearly condescening, disdainful and sneering tone that you often resorted to when addressing Leftkowitz and Rogers. With Rogers, who at the time appeared to me to be answering a question you had put to him, you let him know that you weren't satisfied with his response. You came across like a parent scolding a child. His response I took to be a gentlemanly attempt to understand what the problem was. As I recall, he said, I"m sorry, I must not have understood the question." To which you responded that if there was a communications problem, "... it is entirely your own, not mine. My question was quite clear." I would have thought if you believed it was your duty to get the right answer you would have simply restated the question. 

When you nail Leftkowitz with a question that unearths the fact that the prof has been to neither Greece nor Egypt, you respond with the crowd pleaser, "I thought so." Yet later, when Rogers asked if you speak Greek, you said you do. He then asked you for the meaning of some Greek phrase and you deigned not to respond, saying something about, "... it's for an expert." I was looking around for hard-boiled Detective Leid to jump in there and demand an answer from the moderator (and the right answer, by golly), but the gumshoe was nowhere in sight. Fortunately, for the giddy audience, Schoolmarm Leid was around at another point and, trying to get to the bottom of things, goads Leftkowitz, telling her, "I'm just trying to elicit a cogent response from you." The search for truth! I must admit I don't remember that you ever actually claimed that you would be objective.

This might not have been quite so bad if it had been even-handed, but your treatment of Professor Clark seemed quite the opposite. If sholarship rests on the shoulders of this guy I think we and our children are in deep doo-doo. It didn't seem to me that he responded to a single question with a straight answer. What we did learn from Clark was that we should all consider ourselves priviledged to have been allowed to incarnate in the same epoch as this great mind and that at some point we might be fortunate enough to witness him actually debate, but SORRY, not tonight because the man only debates "... with his equals" and, obviously, the two facing him are not his equals. I found it embarassing that no one pointed out to him how stupid, rude and self-incriminating this remark was. I felt that if Bernal had an ounce of intellectual integrity he should have disassociated himself from this kind of attack. But the crowd LOVED it and, after all, that is what was really important here: to gore the evil ones, to stand up bravely and spit in the eye of the villain and then thump ones chest. It was additionally saddening to hear Amy Goodman later celebrate this remark during her pitching. I have a great deal of respect for Amy. I think she's a good and brave individual. I guess, however, it must be very difficult not to be a partisan when your mind is already made up.

Clark was allowed to ramble incessantly. He was asked by Rogers about some disparity in Clark's dating of when the Iliad (or some such tale) first appeared in print. It seemed a straightforward question. I don't believe he ever addressed the question and Detective or Schoolmarm Leid was not there to demand "a cogent response." I could be wrong. Maybe I missed it. What I did hear Professor Clark say was that Rogers "... could not have read with any understanding ..." certain books, and "... your questions demonstrate your ignorance." Clark did inform us during the non-debate that, among other things, when he was 10 he was a Baptist preacher who decided to learn to read (Does this have something to do with the roots of Egyptian/Greek culture?), Europeans invented racism (Wasn't it the Arabs who were selling the Africans as slaves?) (And does it really matter who was first?), and that blacks are not pork eaters.

There is no doubt in my mind that Clark has read a kazillion books on the Middle East. ('Scuse me, I meant to say .... Well, now exactly what am I supposed to call that area? Clark instructed that "Middle East" is a bad expression now. Please advise.) He might even have quite a bit to share with us ON THE SUBJECT! Too bad you didn't ask him to stick to the point. By the way, has Professor Clark been to Egypt and Greece? Does he read ancient Greek? I wouldn't be surprised if the answers were "yes" but it would have been helpful to have that question asked. Perhaps it was asked but was not aired. On the other hand, perhaps they weren't asked, and this because it is apparent to everyone but me that Professor Clark knows everything and that asking him any questions demonstrates ignorance.

Also, it would have been nice if someone had gotten a bit more specific about the Evil Professors taking money from the wrong people to write their heresy. Bernard introduced his airing of the tape saying that they were "... leading a right-wing attack on Afrocentrism." During the debate you charged Leftkowitz took funding from foundations having "... reportedly rightest leanings." Aside from this being one of the wimpiest accusations I can remember hearing in a long while, doesn't this appear to ANYONE to be just the kind of bullshit nonsense that Joe McCarthy used to toss around to scare everyone without having to really come up with anything substantial? Come on please, this is after all a BAI audience! We are supposed to be able to do SOME thinking out here, aren't we? What the hell kind of FACTS are we discussing, Ms Leid, mam? On Samori's program he repeated the accusation that Professor Leftkowitz is all innocence and scholarliness in public but she's not like that in her writings. Samori is another person I have the utmost respect for. Would that, if he is going to make such a statement, he give his audience one or two pieces of EVIDENCE so that maybe us folks out here could have something REAL to chew on.

I have usually found in BAI an institution that encourages open debate. I turn it on to find information. I turn it off when it is clear that someone is controlling discussion to exclude something they are afraid to hear. It makes for extremely BORING radio when this happens. I can turn on the tv at any hour of the day to see the good guys smack the crap out of the bad guys, but it is BORING. Look, I understand that blacks and Africans and many other groups have had their history relegated to footnotes to the Big Story of Western Culture, but lynching a couple of Eurocentric professors hardly seems the way to address the problem. The trouble is that anyone listening to this debacle-debate who did not agree 100% with your point of view to begin with, must have learned one thing: Leftkowitz and Rogers appeared lucid and scholarly, and they bent over backwards to be civil in the face of a hostile and poorly mounted attack that seemed to indicate that the Afrocentrics could not rely on evidence to prove their case. 

Perhaps a white American who has not experienced first-hand a repeated message that my background or culture doesn't count for much shouldn't be emphasizing the need for the nicities of a polite debate. I can't really get a handle on the pain and outrage that this must lead to, so maybe I shouldn't say anything further. But I do wonder if all the fuss about who is responsible for CIVILIZATION isn't playing into the racists' hands. This may be kind of simplistic, but: Are we trying to prove that Western culture is impressive but, in many ways, crazy and corrupt, and was taken from the Greeks who took it from the Egyptians (without thanking them) and that Egypt was a GREAT African culture which built many of its GREAT monuments with the blood and sweat of enslaved workers so that some lucky potentates and Supervisors of the Grainaries could have a swell afterlife? Why is this important? I'm not sure why what my greatgranfather did accrues any honor on me. Why isn't a dude living in the bush in Zambia or an apartment in Nairobi or Harlem as GREAT as some sonofabitch in Paris who owns 16 Rembrandts or who can split atoms in the South Pacific or spit out ten-sylable words on a radio program? Why are we playing by their rules? Why are we quantifying and codifying human beings by lashing them to these icons of ABSTRACT VALUE?
Perhaps we should pay close attention to what is of true value. Maybe it is a lot closer to home than a fragment buried in some tomb in a long-dead civilization.

Best wishes for a better dialogue,
Frank Fitzgerald

PS: If you want to know something about me, and have access to the Internet, you could visit my website. It is called A. Adnob's Unusual Portraits, Unlikely Places and Questionable Objects and can be found at

cc: Bernard White, Samori Marksman, Amy Goodman 

Addendum 6/01

I recieved no reply from Utrice Leid, Bernard White, Samori Marksman or Amy Goodman.

The Prof. "Clark" mentioned is Dr. John Henrik Clarke. 

Martin Bernal wrote "Black Athena," a controversial interpretation of classical culture. 

Prof. Mary Lefkowitz wrote "Not Out of Africa : How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth As History" and, along with Guy MacLean Rogers, edited "Black Athena Revisited," which is a collection of 20 articles critiquing Bernal's book.

The spacelab.net/~adnob website mentioned is long gone. Remnants of it can be found at http://ffitz.com.

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