Wednesday, March 20, 2013



On this date exactly 10 years ago the heinous George W. Bush administration plunged this nation into a vicious and blatantly imperialist war in Iraq via one of the most despicable public campaigns of sheer arrogance, maniacal hubris and relentless demagogic manipulation of Reality ever conceived and executed.  In other words: Endless Lies and venal confidence game bullshit masquerading as 'truth' and 'national patriotism.' The tragic consequences of this nearly decade long governmental  criminality  has resulted in the deaths of well over a hundred thousand human beings from both Iraq and the United States (and an even higher number of seriously injured survivors)  and the insane expenditure of well over three trillion dollars.  That the notorious Bushwhackers:  George W., Dick 'Mob Boss' Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condolezza Rice, and Colin Powell have never been charged and convicted for war crimes by the international court at the Hague is the final insult in this ongoing tragedy and the horrific fallout of the U.S. invasion and the ensuing mass chaos and endless carnage that envelops Iraq to this day.   

In recognition of the madness that these maniacs created the following piece was written in the late evening of March 20, 2003 in a whiteheat fever of disgust and manic-depressive dread following the virtual explosion of media coverage--or rather blatant PROPAGANDA--in the United States at the very beginning of the war in the capital city of Bagdad.  The following day Ishmael Reed published my lament in his online zine KONCH.  On this truly somber occasion ten years later here it is once again:

Baghdad, The Ratings War 
by Kofi Natambu

I've been sitting here tonight (March 20, 2003) watching the endless news reports on the war and becoming increasingly disgusted by the gleeful, smug, and highly arrogant tone of anchors and their field reporters "on the frontlines in Baghdad" describing, as though it was a gigantic cinema event or videogame, U.S. military actions and maneuvers, plans, strategies et al "live" on camera as we watch soldiers, tanks, and highly lethal military equipment roll by on screen as people describe their chemical and biological weapons suits, flak jackets, and other protective apparel that they are wearing as they speak to us "just in case." Listening to the endless, dunderheaded speculations about whether Hussein and two of his sons were killed or not. Watching CIA agents, flacks, "experts", and security analysts talking with bizarrely upbeat precision about Saddam's "psychology" and "probable behavior patterns" ad infinitum, ad nausea. The whole fucking media scenario is beyond surreal--it's in some Mad Hatter's SciFi universe that is far beyond anything we might even THINK of as Real. The news programs and pundit talkinghead shows like Charlie Rose, and even David Letterman and a pre-empted Jay Leno are questioning stupid showbiz guests about "what they think our eventual victory in Iraq will mean" and laughing nervously the whole time they openly speculate about actual murder and chaos as though it was just a sitcom skit and not actual carnage and destruction taking place. It's beyond "sick" or "disturbing." As I write this even Jon Stewart of the "Daily Show" who I always assumed had a real brain and was capable of using it is making insipid, innocuous, asinine, and absurdly feeble "jokes" about Saddam, Islam, infidels, and "heroic American power" as if he had suddenly mutated and actually BECOME his inferiors (e.g. David Letterman, Jay Leno et al) zombie-style. All of this pervasively fearful and public Orwellian bandwagon kiss-ass behavior is truly unsettling. We, as "citizens", are now being imprisoned in a clinically psychotic cultural zone that defies description or even rational analysis. The critical commentary and endless protests that have been occuring around-the-clock here and throughout the country (and the rest of the world) are being reported on as though they were documentary reruns from some strange alternative Universe TV LAND. No matter what anyone says or does it's being reported as if it were merely a mildly entertaining adjunct to the "real fighting" (read: narrative) going on elsewhere. People are being openly censored and intimidated everywhere and it's actually being reported and commented upon all over the news on TV, radio, the Internet, and in the streets but it's paradoxically all being met by a collective fatalistic shrug as though NONE of it "means anything." I've never seen the country so obviously braindead, stupidly cynical, aggressively indifferent, and moving mechanically around in a banalized state of such paralyzed FEAR & DREAD as it is now. Not even at the height/nadir of the Vietnam War and the violent rightwing opposition to the endless mass protests, demonstrations, and intense, even frenzied political activity of my high school and college days when radical Civil Rights, Black Power, Feminist, and Anti-War activity were at their peak and literally MILLIONS of Americans were fighting (or supporting) the government FOR REAL (circa 1963-1973) have I seen anything like the almost stupefyingly casual callousness and lockstep thought/ behavior that I'm witnessing today. While walking down Telegraph Avenue tonight watching students getting arrested and brutally routed by hundreds of heavily armed cops in Sproul Plaza, I also hear and see many young white panhandlers across the street loudly asking for money for Iraqui refugees as a JOKE while scores of other Cal students (again all white and predominately male) are laughing and cheering very loudly and calling for Iraq to be bombed into hell by the good ole USA and yelling FUCK THE CAMEL JOCKEYS and KILL THE SAND NIGGERS. I swear the effect was like a hyperactive drug scene out of a highly stylized Baudrillard text circa 1988, only slowed WAY down with, and accompanied by, an ominous laughtrack underneath that was one part hysterical, and one part RESIGNED as though some scary apocalyptic end was actually near and no one really gave a fuck. Then later tonight I watched Charlie Rose and listened to Senator Gary Hart.  Hart was laying out some truly horrifying, and in his view, highly probable scenarios about the grave military and terrorist consequences of U.S. war in Iraq as it affects Americans here "at home." Everything he talked about were direct echoes of the many worse-case scenarios I've been pondering and talking your ear off about since the Bushwhacker stole the Presidency in 2000. I won't go into the ugly details of his remarks here, but what he said and how he said it really disturbed me because I know deep in my heart and gut that he is absolutely right because I and of course many others have been thinking exactly what he was talking about tonight, and because we know how the Bushwhacker and his psychotic administration have not "prepared" us to know and understand the full range and scope of retaliatory measures that are almost certain to take place under the present circumstances...

Well I'll end on that disturbing note. I feel exhausted by what has already transpired and I fully realize as if in a waking dream of my own how far over the line of "No Return" this insane country has finally crossed.  No good of any kind can or will come of this war--whatever happens to the current Iraqui regime. Pandora's box has really been opened wide this time and I know the U.S. will not escape. The worst, I truly regret to say, is yet to come... One last quote from the late James Baldwin is appropriate here: "In the end all the facades, lies, and delusions will be stripped away and America will have nothing left but raw, naked power and it won't be able to save us."

Peace & Justice,



Herb Boyd Reviews Barbara Ransby's New Biography of Eslanda Robeson


Book Review 

Eslanda Robeson—Her Own Woman
By Herb Boyd

Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson. Yale University Press, 2013

What Barbara Ransby achieved so rewardingly in her landmark 2003 biography of Ella Baker  (Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement:  A Radical Democratic Vision,  University of North Carolina Press)  is repeated with verve and astonishing insight in  her new book Eslanda:  The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson,  Yale University Press, 2013.

Ransby, a professor in the department of African American Studies, Gender, and Women Studies Program, University of Illinois, Chicago, extricates Eslanda Goode Robeson from the enormous shadow cast by her indomitable husband and provides her a platform to express her own considerable bona fides.
And Eslanda’s attributes, with or without Paul’s notoriety and companionship, warrant all the sensitivity and sensibility Ransby can muster to capture a woman who was a devoted wife, a trained scientist, an unheralded anthropologist, a tireless journalist, and a global trekker equal to her famous husband.
Citing her as Mrs. Paul Robeson in the subtitle is the first indication that readers’ may not be aware of her singular accomplishments, and to some degree the mention of “unconventional” prepares them for the extra-marital affairs between the notable couple.
But what resonates most consistently from Ransby’s study is the fortitude, the unflinching determination of Eslanda to make her own mark in the world.  And the word “world” has special resonance for the intrepid Eslanda whose global reach was as profound as her gritty resolve to speak truth to power, whether it was the McCarthy witch hunts, the CIA, or the Ku Klux Klan.

At the conclusion of the book’s introduction Ransby offers the summary of Eslanda’s remarkable social and political life.  Eslanda she writes “lived a life that was complicated and vibrant, rich and full, privileged but often difficult.  Along the way she made some hard choices about the path she was going to follow, and about the kind of woman she was going to be.  Tough and determined, Essie fought long and hard for the ideas she believed in and on behalf of the people she loved and admired.  She won some battles and lost others, but she was a fighter to the end.”

In this book, Essie the fighter emerges with forthright conviction  as Ransby tastefully unravels the complexity of her days with Paul, days that might have totally dismayed a partner of lesser strength and commitment.   Even the most informed readers will be surprised to discover Eslanda’s academic prowess.   There’s every reason to believe that under other circumstances, freed from Paul’s need for comfort and support, she would have been a first rate anthropologist.  In effect, her diaries and certainly her book African Journey are equivalent to some field studies and commentaries in a discipline that was just beginning to gain traction under the tutelage of Bronislaw Malinowski, her teacher.

It is simply amazing, particularly for a woman, to travel with such fearlessness to Africa at a time when the winds of change had yet to sweep across the continent, when the accommodations were often far less than ideal.   With her son, Paul, Jr., in tow,  she was undaunted by the absence of the necessities she was accustomed to, consistently brushed aside cultural shock, and faced without blinking the menace of apartheid in South Africa.

Keeping a daily diary as she did on her journey to Africa and other places was a habit she cultivated throughout life and Ransby used them to great advantage, to say nothing of Eslanda’s countless articles on a variety of subjects.

Born in the nation’s capital on December 15, 1895, the same year the great Frederick Douglass died, Eslanda, as Ransby notes, was a child of privilege—and struggle.  Her maternal grandfather was Francis Lewis Cardozo, a Reconstruction politician, and she was a distant relative of Benjamin Cardozo, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.  But an illustrious pedigree did not guarantee an easy walk in life and when her father died suddenly at 39, the family’s fortunes changed for the worst. 

Eslanda, with her two brothers, moved to Chicago with her mother where she finished high school, enrolled at University of Illinois, and then transferred in her third year to Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City.  Geography is often fate, and it was certainly true for Eslanda because by 1919 she met Paul Robeson. They courted and married almost immediately.

There is no need here to discuss Paul’s monumental accomplishments; others have done that quite capably, even Paul himself in his memoir Here I Stand.  Clearly, it’s hard to talk about Eslanda’s life without touching on large portions of Paul’s momentous escapades.   And this may be the time to deal with Ransby’s notion of unconventionality.

Mainly, the implication of unconventional is sexual dalliances and infidelities by Eslanda and Paul, though Eslanda’s may have mostly been in reaction to Paul’s affairs.   None of this comes as news since Martin Duberman in his lengthy and laudable biography of Paul Robeson more than broached this turf and Paul, Jr. did not avoid this sensitive zone in his two volumes on his father.

Apparently this lifestyle suited them, and, at least, Eslanda reluctantly accepted it because they managed to stay married for more than forty years with only short periods of real separation.

Toward the end of their lives, both were exhausted and troubled with an assortment of ailments, with Eslanda receiving the most devastating setbacks as she battled breast, cervix, and uterine cancer.  Nevertheless, she remained loyal to Paul as he struggled with a severe form of depression that often left him difficult to live with and comfort.

Ransby handles these final days with the same tender and respectful delicacy as in the early years of their resourceful relationship, and we can only wait with great anticipation for Ransby’s next woman of merit to be skillfully revealed.  

Herb Boyd is a journalist, historian,  activist, scholar and educator as well as the author and editor of 22 books, including his most recent one, Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today. His book Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin  (Atria Books, 2008) was a finalist for a 2009 NAACP Image Award.