Ishmael Reed’s Letter to The New Yorker

Since the 1970s, politicians, publishers, theater and film producers, scriptwriters and academics ( at U.C.Berkeley there is a course called “Black Masculinity” taught by a white man) have made hundreds of millions dollars portrayingblack men in the old confederate model. Sexual predators and types who are, in the words of Caitlin Flannagan “cruel to women.” Ms.Caitlin Flannagan is one of those women who is silent about the misogyny practiced in her ethnic group - she’s Irish-American- and uses black men as scapegoats. Jewish, Irish American and other ethnic feminists, who cover up child abuse and cruelty to women occurring in their communities have chosen black men as the villian, presumably because they’re on the payrolls of white men. When Eve Engler located all of the abuse of women in Congo, Haiti and New Orleans, I figured that she got all of her grants from white men. White men manufacture many of the black bogeyman products. One of those is a play by playwright Katori Hall who was the subject of lavish attention from the white male owned media (which includes Ms.Magazine). Just as a black minstrel troupe,McCabe& Young’s Operatic Minstrels gained favor of a white audience by presenting Frederick Douglass as a buffoon in sketch called “The Senator’s Flirtation,” Ms.Hall did the same for Martin Luther King, Jr., who ,in her play, is presented as a lech who gets into pillow fights with a maid on the eve of his assassination. The play was so silly that even the white men and women who gave it a big build up couldn’t support the wretched thing. A couple of years ago, reading that Ms.Hall had written a play about how black men were responsible for pushing black women to the rear of the bus, I made a comment in Wajahat Ali’s blog, “Goatmilk,” that the next thing you know, someone will write a play about how a black man responsible for assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr. I didn’t know that Ms.Katori was writing a play about King. One of her friends read the quote and told her that she’d “made it” because “Ishmael Reed” was “mad” at her. Ms.Hall wrote me and called me a misogynist. I replied to her. Next thing I know I’m being quoted in The New Yorker. While I was in New York last Sept. as a guest attending a performance of Wajahat Ali’s “The Domestic Crusaders,” which was directed by my partner, Carla Blank, I was in the Holiday Inn when I got a call from The New Yorker. I was interviewed about the quote. About an hour later, they called to fact check some of my remarks. I then received a call from the interviewer, who said that the interview wouldn’t run because he thought that the interview deadline was the following Monday instead of on Friday the day that the interview was conducted. He suggested that I write a letter that would put my remarks in context. I wrote a letter.It wasn’t published. Here it is.

Sept.13,2011 Hello,New Yorker,

A lighthearted remark made on playwright Wajahat Ali's blog, Goatmilk, about an article I read, describing a play by Katori Hall means that I'm "mad" at Katori Hall? In response to the remark, Ms.Hall wrote a note to me in which she called me a" misogynist," which is like calling you a communist in the old days or claiming that you hated abstract art. In my reply, I asked Ms.Hall whether she thought that the theaters that produce her work would produce a play about the attitudes toward women held by the ethnic groups to which her male mentors and producers belong. Feminists belonging to some of these ethnic groups report that these attitudes remain a secret. Ms.Hall never answered. Does Ms.Hall believe that reports of Dr.King's affairs are new? I heard rumors when I lived in New York in the mid sixties. John A.Williams, the greatest black novelist of the 20th Century, wrote a book about these affairs entitled, “The King God Could Not Save.”Seeking to silence the minister, J.Edgar Hoover played the tapes all over Washington of King’s bedroom encounters to presidents and other officials who were conducting their own affairs. If Ms.Hall and her male backers think that Dr.King's affairs are of interest, fine. But the timing is kind of tacky don't you think. Exploitative even, seeing that the play occurs about the time that Martin Luther King's statue is about to be celebrated at The Washington Mall.But hey. Even bad taste can be art. Maybe one of Ms.Hall's producers will commission a play about George Washington's relationship with a slave girl named Venus. Statues and paintings of the first president cover Washington. In the late eighties, the esteemed writer Diane Johnson predicted that what one critic called "black boogeyman"art would interest "largely white audiences." Novelist J.J. Phillips calls such work,pathology porn. I suggest that those who've made money from the genre had better put some money away because Kathryn Stockett has studied the genre and is making more money, driving a number of writers out of business. A famous African American writer told me that so much money was made from a theater and literature in which saintly women have to endure cruel black men that some of the writers who milked the theme are In trouble with the IRS. Ms.Stockett will probably drive them into bankruptcy. They’re dealing with “mainstream” consumers who only appreciate the cultures of others when it’s interpreted by one of their own. Thus, the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Elvis, Eminem, Bill Evans, Al Jolson, the writers of “The Wire,”Harriet Beecher Stowe and now Kathryn Stockett. I'm really flattered that my few words about a writer makes that writer famous. For an aging “ cranky, “disagreeable and even “paranoid person” like me, this is really a treat. Sapphire creator of “Precious,” produced by a studio whose executive staff does not include a single black woman,man,white woman,latina,etc.,even called me "mentally ill".My answer.Her comparing them with me is an insult to all of the 40 million Americans who suffer bi-polar disorders.

Ishmael Reed author of “Juice!”