Is Andrew Sullivan right that Harry Belafonte's a bigot? Readers weigh in.

By Salon Staff

Published October 28, 2002 11:35PM (EST)

[Read "The Bigotry of Belafonte."]

Thank you for finally making sense of this political hypocrisy. I've long been a centrist tending more to the left, but in recent years have become less and less tolerant of the race-baiting, gay-baiting and different-from-the-unrealistic-us-baiting that liberals seem to rampage on with. Viewed mostly as a leftist, I'm tired of those attachments and have found myself leaning more and more to the right in disgust. Why can't this be about issues? Instead, it's about arrogant rich people and their anger that Billy isn't in the white house anymore.

Barbra, Belafonte and the rest of them can go to hell. They are eroding their base.

-- Brett Calzada

I can't believe it has come to this: Andrew Sullivan is giving liberal lessons -- and in Salon, no less.

Guess what, Andrew? In your politically correct zeal, you forgot one essential point. To be a liberal is to respect our constitutional right to free expression. This applies to everyone, even "extremely empowered" singers of banana counting songs.

If you don't care for Mr. Belafonte's views, don't buy his records. Don't eat bananas, for that matter. But, don't indict an entire ideology because its adherents refuse to support your efforts to label, categorize and ostracize all that violates your gestalt.

I would expect an avid student of Orwell, such as yourself, to be more sensitive to the perils of persecuting those who hold contrary views.

To answer your rhetorical, albeit incongruous question of whether George Will, Pat Buchanan and Trent Lott would be invited to appear on Larry King after making insensitive, insulting comments -- are you kidding? Buchanan wrote a book favorable to Hitler and got his own show!

-- James Sitek

While I uncharacteristically agree with almost all of Andrew Sullivan's points in this current column, I would disagree with it being a liberal problem. There seems to be a complete deterioration of public discourse today where debate of the issues is eschewed in favor of simply demonizing the opponent to devalue their argument. It is the prevalent mode of discourse today on both sides, as evidenced by all the people mentioned in Sullivan's column, as well as virtually anything by Ann Coulter, and frequently Mr. Sullivan himself. I enjoy Salon because, even with the liberal slant, you seem to try to describe and analyze the issues rather than the messenger. Keep it up, and bring in some more "real" conservatives. As long as they're presenting a viewpoint and not just attacking someone else's, I enjoy reading them.

-- Chris Joffe

Belafonte was right. Bush was elected by the systemic and illegal suppression of the black vote in Florida by his brother and his cohorts. For a black person (or any person with a sense of justice and democracy) to serve in his administration is an open insult to the people who have fought for civil rights in this country.

-- Tim Gregorek

Sullivan's comments are clearly grounded in the American notion of noble individualism held, until relatively recently, almost exclusively by white people in this country. Black people, especially of Belafonte's generation, have generally held the view that community is the most important institution and that our politics should reflect this.

It isn't that black Americans don't believe in the right of individual expression, it's more that we demand a level of community accountability that white people, being the dominant power class, have the luxury of ignoring. Belafonte's comments encompass the pain and betrayal that most of us feel when we see powerful representations of ourselves that seem intent on not only destroying everything decent and good the civil rights movement attempted to establish but also our credibility as a friend and supporter to the disenfranchised and oppressed of the world.

-- Christa Bell

I just read the article by Andrew Sullivan titled "The Bigotry of Belafonte" and I want to applaud his candor and willingness to look at this action fairly. I would consider myself a conservative and would probably disagree with Mr. Sullivan on a variety of issues, but I believe that we could both disagree with the other without stooping to name calling. I appreciate Mr. Sullivan taking to task liberals who use race-baiting, bigotry and class warfare to further their agenda. I do the same with conservatives.

We have a wonderful country that affords us the right to different political views, but we need to use restraint in the expression of those views and remember that liberal or conservative, white or black, male or female, we are first of all American.

-- Richard Chesney

I'll type this slowly so Andrew Sullivan can understand. Belafonte is a musician. Not a politician, or a political commentator. Do conservatives rush to condemn, say, Ted Nugent, every time he says something asinine?

-- Richard Smith

What the hell does Andrew Sullivan know about racism? Very little, from his article, obviously. He's desperately trying to find another means to attack liberals in his twisted campaign to champion all conservatives.

Allusions to slavery and racism tinge the relationship of every black person in the country. It is the reason we have this perturbing inferior/superior relationship of blacks and whites in this country in the first place. Mr. Belafonte was correct in saying that both Ms. Rice and Mr. Powell are in a position to do things to make life better for all black people and instead, they chose to make life easier for the Bush crowd. That's their choice. Doesn't mean the rest of us have to like it. And we don't. There haven't been too many incidents of conservatives doing anything much for black people and surely no reason for us to trust them. In fact, I can't think of any. Just because they choose a few tokens in a misguided attempt to fool us all doesn't mean we all bit for it. Face it, conservative politics at best are hostile to African-Americans and those who fail to see that are just fooling themselves. And you can include Clarence Thomas in that group.

-- Brenda Brody

I've read a few columns regarding Harry Belafonte's comment. Although it wasn't a kind remark, it certainly got his point across. Powell and Rice are both tokens who are there solely because they toe the line. I think Belafonte could have broadened the statement to include many white senators and others in the administration, Giving up freedom of thought is not only a matter of race.

-- Mary Rickard

If articles by Andrew Sullivan -- meaning common-sense and truthful -- appeared more often in Salon, I would become one of your ardent readers. He's a rare jewel.

Just can't read the skewed liberal diatribe any longer -- and I have been a lifelong Democrat. Even voted for Clinton -- what a jerk!

-- Judy Hanauer

Belafonte isn't a liberal spokesman. I think his statements are regrettable, but are only representative of himself. Mr. Sullivan feels that liberals are courting racism for not condemning Belafonte en masse? We didn't elect him.

What a ridiculous stretch of argumentative logic. Please, address racism, address Belafonte. Address yourself. But why is it "the liberals" who should condemn him as a group? He's making a fool of himself without anyone's help.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to say that Barbra Streisand also does not speak for me.

I'd like to think some conservatives would say the same of Sullivan.

-- Andrew Trebing

I was pleasantly surprised to read Andrew Sullivan's piece on the blatantly racist slur on Colin Powell. Contrary to popular belief, blacks can be racist too. The Democratic Party used to be a party of ideas, but increasingly it has evolved into the "we are not them party." Please stop talking about what your opponents want to do. The DNC would be better served spending their time on what they want to do. Complaining is not leadership. Like Granny used to say, stand for something or fall for anything.

-- Greg Merle

The discussion of Colin Powell and his role in the Bush administration goes to the heart of the condition of African-Americans in this 21st century and it has, in fact, been vigorously debated within the black community, a group not always included in critiques of "liberals." It begins with the fact there are precious few institutions in this country controlled and owned by black folk. The vast majority of African-Americans end up working in large white-dominated institutions where we negotiate with, accommodate to, and sometimes, confront the priorities and values of the organization. If you rise to a position of power in a major institution, should you be expected to behave differently because of your race? There is no simple answer, of course. This touches on issues of power; on the choices an individual makes, and the level of responsibility he or she takes for the entire group or race in acquiring power.

These are issues that affect not just Colin Powell, but Ken Chenault, the CEO at American Express, or Stanley O'Neal, the COO at Merrill Lynch, and any other person of color who achieves authority within a larger institution. We don't doubt that these men overcame tremendous obstacles and hostility to get where they are. We know they are supremely competent to have succeeded. But what is their responsibility to the group, race, community?

If I were to ask Chenault to make a list of his priorities, my guess is that looking out for black people or reflecting their views (presuming there is a consensus) are not at the top of his list. His first duty to the stockholders of his company is to make Amex as profitable as he can and to deal effectively with the threat from Visa and MasterCard and frequent flyer mileage cards. I would hope that somewhere on his list is a commitment to address cultural and structural obstacles that may limit opportunities for minorities and women in his company. His choice of priorities will depend on his conscience and his sense of obligation to the African-American community.

Powell's task is complicated by the fact that black folks are far more skeptical of war against Iraq than whites. Just look at the list of Black Caucus members who voted against giving Bush unlimited war powers. More enthusiastic support of Powell, the man, in our community, would give him a base that he could use as leverage. Unfortunately, many black folks have been uncomfortable with his rise in the military and in the two Bush regimes. It's true that -- ultimately -- Powell's job is to carry out the policies set by his boss, the president. We can take comfort in the fact that he will not hesitate to state his views and that he is apparently a very good inside fighter who sometimes wins. But we can't expect him to be a rebel or public dissident; that's not the job, no matter what color you are.

-- Joel Dreyfuss

Salon Staff

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