Conversations w/ Hip Hop Journalists
Kevin Powell & Charlie Braxton on 9-11 [pt 4]

by Kevin Powell & Charlie Braxton 3/24/02

Charlie Braxton:
What do you make of the Anthrax scare that has been happening since September 11th?

Kevin Powell:
First of all, this whole notion of bioterrorism is not new to this country. Ask the Native Americans who still exist in this country how many of their ancestors were killed off by the smallpox virus wrapped in blankets, given to them by some of the kind White settlers. As you said, Charlie, ask all those Black men in Alabama or their surviving relatives, who were intentionally given syphilis what they know and think about bioterrorism. And certainly ask anyone in this country who is HIV-positive or who has full-blown AIDS what it feels like, day to day, to suffer from a virus that eats your body away inch by inch while tons of money is thrown into reseach, conferences, and the drug industry, with no cure in sight.

So, it is interesting to me that as sophisticated a country as America claims to be, the powers-that-be can't find out who is doing this Anthrax scare. Is it some terrorist group from overseas, or is it homegrown terrorists better known as right-wing white militia groups trying to capitalize on the hysteria of these times?

It is also interesting to me that in the midst of a national scare around Anthrax, the American government, in spite of pleas from folks like New York Senator Charles Schumer, would hold fast to a patent agreement held with Cipro manufacturer Bayer AG, out of Germany. Why? Especially when it has already been estimated that it will take 20 months, working 24 hours per day, to produce the amount of Cipro needed should this Anthrax thing become a national epidemic. Sounds to me like generic brands of Cipro should be made available, at cheaper costs, and by more than one company so we can be prepared sooner than two years from now. So, again, why hold fast to a patent? Is it, once again, about making money at the expense of the American people? Are we putting profit ahead of humanity? Do we care that a number of Americans are taking Cipro who have not been affected by Anthrax, because they are terrified? Does anyone care about the long-term side effects of taking these pills if you are not actually infected? Has this even been explained in a mass way?

Charlie Braxton:
True indeed. I always thought that it did seem rather odd that this Anthrax scare would pop up at this particular time. While the media and the government has never really outright said that they know for a fact bin Laden was behind the Anthrax scare, the vagueness makes me believe that it is someone here in the United States that is behind it. A lot of times we tend to think of terrorists as Arabs only, but it was Timothy McVeigh, a White male, who was convicted of blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma.

Kevin Powell:
Well, yes, we have been conditioned by films like The Seige to believe that only Arab people are capable of these sort of acts. There is not a single group of people on the planet who has not committed an act that can be considered terrorist, including Americans. People need to look in, say, The American Heritage Dictionary and see that terrorism is defined as the systematic use of terror, violence, and intimidation to achieve an end.

Given that definition, I think of Lumumba, one of the best films of 2001. Lumumba, of course, will not be receiving any major awards because it was too good and too real, and it revealed how both the Belgian and American governments, in the early 1960s, routinely undermined the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, divided people in the Congo (Zaire) against each other, and how Patrice Lumumba was eventually brutally murdered. In fact, Lumumba was not just shot to death, his body was cut into pieces and burned. If that is not terrorism, then I don't know what is.

Charlie Braxton:
Word. The same way the CIA used black ops tactics (black operations tactics) to destabilize Chile's economy so it could topple Salvadore Allende's government. Speaking of which, the current economic situation in Argentina reminds me somewhat of what happened to Chile.

Kevin Powell:
Please elaborate.

Charlie Braxton:
Well as you well know the CIA helped to destabilize the economy which made Allende and his socialist policies very unpopular. As a result oppositional forces were able to manipulate the people's misery to force Allende out of office. The economy of Argentina is in shambles and they have gotten rid of two presidents thus far. Now, I don't know if the CIA has anything to do with that, but the situation sure reminds me of Chile and Allende.

Kevin Powell:
And here we are, in January, celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King amidst all of the stuff we've been talking about, Charlie. Some of the same people who have been screaming for the dropping of bombs in Afghanistan, will be singing We Shall Overcome.

Charlie Braxton:
Yeah, it's ironic isn't it? I believe that if Dr. King were here today he would be opposed to the war. He would be appalled at the level of violence that is taking place. Naturally he would be opposed to the Taliban as well as the terrorists who flew into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers, but, at the same time Dr. King would be opposed to the spirit of let's go to war and bomb the Taliban into the dust. A lot of people seem to have this very limited view of Dr. King and his philosophies, which the media and ad agencies have more or less reduced to his four famous words: I have a dream. But Dr. King was very progressive. He was one of the few prominent American leaders who had the courage to speak out against the Vietnam War. He was one of the few who had the foresight to see that issues of race were directly tied to issues of class. And that is what made King dangerous to the powers that be. It is the reason why J. Edger Hoover, head of the FBI during that time, harassed King so much. And it is ultimately the reason why King was assassinated, I feel.

This month, a lot of people will claim that they love Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They are quick to proclaim what a great man he was. We need to do more than sing We Shall Overcome. We need to celebrate King's legacy by following his examples of leadership and courage and truth.

Kevin Powell:
Yes, yes, yes. Dr. King has been reduced to a soundbyte, to one newsreel clip. Just as we only learned peripheral things about, say, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (no one ever bothered to tell us that both founding fathers were slaveowners, for example), Dr. King, too, has been reduced to a manageable icon. Why you would think he led the whole Civil Rights Movement by himself, conceived it, dreamed it, and that it ended when he was killed. What about the roles of people like Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker? Forgotten, not important to the mythmakers. I think Dr. King himself would be appalled by how his memory has been misused, including by his own family, for money and by some in power to make it look as if they really dug him when he was alive. Absolutely not true.

The Dr. King I have become most interested in is the one AFTER the I Have A Dream speech given on August 28, 1963. The Dr. King who talked about the Vietnam War, for example, who was the first national leader of note, as you said, Charlie, to do so. The fact that he had the courage to stand out there by himself and say it is wrong to send poor people, be they Black or White, to fight poor Yellow people in Vietnam.

I was thinking about Dr. King and his stance on the Vietnam War while watching an MTV-USO special that featured Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule, and Kid Rock, and I was struck by the baby faces and basic working-class backgrounds of the soldiers interviewed, be they White, Black, or Latino. The naivete they had about the world. I was thinking to myself Some of these young people are going to die unnecessarily. It has always been ironic to me that the folks who are the loudest about going to war are never the ones to do the fighting themselves. It is always the young and usually the young and not so well off financially.

People need to read and listen to Dr. King's speech in opposition to the Vietnam War, given one year to his assassination, on April 4, 1967. There are some lessons there about our world today. Dr. King was very prophetic, nahmean?

In that speech he very carefully details the history of foreign intervention in Vietnam, be it the French or the Americans, the military build-up, and why he could no longer remain silent. He said, actually, My conscience leaves me no other choice. In other words, Dr. King was a man who, in spite of his personal contradictions, and he had many, believed deeply in God. And he felt he could not be silent if he really believed in what he said he believed in.

Today we have people twisting this around, saying that God aims to protect America and they use that warped logic to justify blowing people away. As I have asked before, when does it become even, or that we have won? When does it end? What will be the long-term costs to our spirits, here, and to the people of Afghanistan? What if another generation of young Americans are destroyed, physically, mentally, and spiritually by this war, as was the case with Vietnam? Or do we care?

Charlie Braxton is a poet, playwright, and journalist currently residing in Jackson, Mississippi. He was born in McComb, Mississippi. Charlie's family was engaged in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly since a good portion of it took place in the Deep South. At Jackson State University Charlie was active in campus and community politics, working with several organizations: He was president of JSU's Student Government, a participant in the Free Eddie Carthan Committee, a supporter of the Black and Proud School as well as the anti-apartheid movement.

Charlie worked closely with the now defunct Mississippi Institute for Economic and Technological Resources. He is also the former publisher and editor of The Hattiesburg Informer. Today, Charlie mentors young people around social issues and the music industry. In fact, Charlie either consults or manages a handful of Jackson-based hiphop artists and entrepreneurs.

As a writer, Charlie Braxton's work has appeared in numerous publications including The Source, Vibe, Murder Dog, and Doula. He has written cover stories on various figures in hiphop like Outkast, Master P, the Notorious B.I.G. and the Fugees. His poetry has appeared in literary publications such as African American Review, Cutbanks, the Minnesota Review, Drum Voices Review, the Black Nation, The San Fernando Poetry Journal and Sepia Poetry Review. Additionally, Charlie's poems have been anthologized in Word Up: Black Poetry from the Deep South, In the Tradition, Soul Fires, Step Into A World, Bum Rush the Page, and Role Call. Charlie's Ascension from the Ashes, a volume of verse, was published in 1990 by Blackwood Press. Charlie is presently co-producing a documentary on the history of Southern hiphop, entitled Southern Explosion, and penning a book on the roots and evolution of hiphop culture.

Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, essayist, editor, art curator, hiphop historian, public speaker, political consultant and fundraiser, and human rights activist born and raised in Jersey City. Like Charlie, Kevin was a student leader while in college at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, and he was deeply affected by the South African struggle against apartheid, Reverend Jesse Jackson's two presidential bids, the rise of Louis Farrakhan as a national figure, and his studies of various social struggles and activist figures like Gandhi, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells. As a result Kevin has been a part of many many political groups, or helped to create them, and he regularly mentors young people in New York City and across the country.

A professional journalist for the past fifteen years, Kevin has contributed articles, essays, and reviews to publications such as Newsweek, The Washington Post, Essence, Rolling Stone, and Code. Kevin was also a founding staff member at Vibe Magazine, where he wrote a number of cover stories, including several on the late Tupac Shakur.

Just prior to his work with Vibe, Kevin was a cast member on the first season of MTV's The Real World. As a result of that exposure, Kevin has done much television work in front of the cameras and behind the scenes. A highly sought after lecturer and commentator, Kevin Powell has offered his insights on politics and pop culture to TV, radio, newspaper, magazine, and internet outlets in America, and abroad, and he has lectured at many many colleges and universities, as well as at community centers, religious institutions, and prisons.

Now a resident of Brooklyn, New York, Kevin is the author of four books. His fifth book, Who Shot Ya? An Illustrated History of HipHop, gathers the celebrated work of legendary rap photographer Ernie Paniccioli and will be published in November 2002. Another book, Who's Gonna Take The Weight, a collection of essays, will be available in the Spring of 2003. And Kevin is the founder and chairperson of HipHop Speaks, a series of community forums and MC Battles held four times per year (March, June, September, and December) in New York City. HipHop Speaks is also being developed into a community-based organization and a 10-city national tour of the forum and MC Battle is slated for the Spring of 2003.

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