"Uncle Tom" is one of the milder names Michael Meyers, Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, was called after saying that President Obama “has ghetto behavior” ( Hannity, 9/5/11). While his remark elicited epithets such as “house negro” and “handkerchief-head” from disgusted African-Americans posting on Facebook, Meyers’ fellow Hannity guests, Republican strategist Noelle Nikpour and Dr.Junk-Food-Is-good-For-You- but-Obamacare-Will-Kill-You Marc Siegal, never even blinked at Meyers’ incongruous insult to the President. With video.
The context for Meyers’ remarks was yet another Faux-outrage discussion of the so-called “violent rhetoric” used by Teamster president James Hoffa in his speech on Monday. In case you’ve only just awoken from your Labor Day beer-and-barbecue coma, Hoffa’s exhortation to get out and vote – “Everybody here’s got to vote. If we go back & keep the eye on the prize, let’s take these sons of bitches out” – was edited by Fox News and other rightwing outlets to omit the voting reference and make it seem like a call for physical violence. The fact that Fox News was called on it, and even broadcast the offending phrase in context at the start of their discussion (transcript), made no difference to Hannity’s hang-‘em-high panel. They were out for blood.
Of course, the blood they were really after was President Obama’s - this time, for not rushing out to condemn Hoffa's remarks - and what better way to "legitimize" their Republican/Tea Party anti-Obama propaganda than to trot out a Real Live Black Person to criticize our dark-skinned President?
“This President has ghetto behavior, it is crass,” said Meyers. “He lacks grace, he lacks gravitas, and he lacks class. And it’s so ironic that a person that lacks such class would engage in class warfare rhetoric.” Is it really appropriate for a civil rights advocate to use “ghetto” as a slur under any circumstances – let alone when referring to the President of the Unites States?
It’s not unheard of for one black person to call another “ghetto”, and the word isn’t limited to black targets. While there’s a lot of disagreement about exactly what it means, we can assume from the context that Meyers was identifying “ghetto” with, as he said, lacking grace, gravitas, and class, and being crass.
Meyers is well qualified to talk about the ghetto. According to his bio, he was born in Harlem and “knows first-hand the ghetto experience which, as he puts it, ‘contributes to the defeat of the human spirit; the only way to end the ghetto is to get out of it.’ Fair enough. But people with high standards and values also live in ghettos, and not always by choice but by birth and/or socioeconomic factors beyond their immediate control. Coming from the director of a civil rights group, who grew up in Harlem during one of its worst periods, he ought to know better than to use that word as an insult. It comes across as a slur on some of the people on whose behalf he is, presumably, working.
Or is he? Meyers’ attitudes are confusing. On the one hand his bio and his work shows that he has both formal and street cred as a civil rights advocate; but a closer reading reveals a history of alliances with forces who have an interest in disenfranchising the very people he is supposed to represent, such as the right-wing Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which battles supposed liberal bias on-campus, and the ironically named, anti- affirmative action (and anti- Obama) Center for Equal Opportunity.
The board of Meyers’ NYCRC includes regular Fox contributor Juan Williams - and one Tamar Jacoby, who, according to this article, is “a director of the uber-conservative, racial psuedo-science, neo-conservative, Manhattan Institute which is linked to the righting corporate lobby group, American Legislative Exchange Council.
But ALEC isn't just any old lobby group. According to Sourcewatch’s ALEC Exposed,
Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called "model bills" reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations. Through ALEC, corporations have "a VOICE and a VOTE" on specific changes to the law that are then proposed in your state.These associations might go some way towards explaining why Meyers allows Hannity, who pals around with racists, to use him to launch attacks on black people and play the race card by accusing others of playing the race card.
Is Michael Myers' New York Civil Rights Coalition a genuine agent for social justice - or is it actually a front through which Meyers does the dirty work for his corporate Massas in the guise of "helping" victims of civil rights violations? This a possibility that deserves closer scrutiny (a starting point might be to investigate what motivated, and resulted, from the 1991 and 1995 "restructuring" of the NYCRC at Meyers' hands, taking it from a coalition of groups to an association of individuals). It would certainly explain why Meyers seems so eager to throw traditional civil rights groups and leaders, to say nothing of President Obama, under the bus.
Civil rights advocate, or house negro? We’ll let a famous resident of Harlem, the late, great Malcolm X, help you decide: