Finally a Voice of Reason
Race-baiters are being neutralized by prominent and widely respected minority leader Joe Hicks
Photo by Wild Don Lewis
Hicks: "Denounce identity politics that say people must be represented by their own color."
I am so accustomed to hearing the guilt-tripping harangue from Los Angeles minority leaders who believe skin color is a morally justifiable basis for deciding everything, from who gets promoted to who gets elected, that I now keep a little file of everything the strange and intriguing Joe Hicks says.
Hicks, a self-described "extreme radical black nationalist" in the 1960s, Marxist-Leninist in the '70s, and community activist in the '80s, surfaced on my radar when quiet rumblings began among city leaders a few years ago that popular Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams was a no-good lying boob.
At the time, the politically correct Los Angeles Times was promoting the alternate idea that Williams was the victim of an "anti-black" crusade by white-bread Mayor Dick Riordan, who, the paper suggested, was forcing out well-regarded blacks, such as Metropolitan Transit Agency head Franklin White.
I could not find a single black leader in L.A. who disagreed with the haranguers, led by state Sen. Diane Watson (who publicly attacked black UC Regent Ward Connerly for having a white wife and then repeatedly refused to apologize for her atrocious views).
It was, after all, post-riot Los Angeles. People who cried "racism!" could do no wrong. Black leaders including Watson and City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, publicly decried what they implied was a race-based plot by white powerbrokers against black public figures. As a direct result, Riordan's popularity among blacks sank.
As we know today, Willie Williams was, in fact, an incompetent, lying boob. And, as it later became apparent, Watson and Ridley-Thomas were not trying to save Williams but were really trying to get freebie press coverage to promote themselves to black voters.
Amid all the pandering back then, there was one black leader who stood alone. As my friend Rick Orlov of the Daily News told me one day, "Joe Hicks gets it."
And he did. When I called Hicks in 1997 -- he had left the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to direct the Multicultural Collaborative -- he unhesitatingly declared, "We have got to get past this race thing every time a black person or a Latino does a bad job and happens to have a white higher-up doing the criticizing. It is racial McCarthyism when people say truth and are punished as racists. And it's hurting blacks and browns in L.A. even more than whites."
I don't know what sort of unique chemical mix has been unleashed in Hicks' brain, but whatever the hell it is, it's worth 10,000 of President Clinton's absurdly throwback, guilt-tripping Commissions on Racial Dialogue.
In recent days, Hicks' inestimable value to Los Angeles has become clear. In the face of erupting racial feuds, Hicks acted as the leading voice of reason in the city, shooting down two wannabe race-baiters before they could gather momentum in the bubble-brained traditional media.
Hicks, now director of the city's Human Relations Commission, first weighed in on the phony "controversy" over black City Treasurer Paul Brownridge's troubled career. Brownridge, a holdover from the Tom Bradley administration, was the subject of a Times story last month that echoed its unforgivable hype on Willie Williams, suggesting that the Riordan Administration is pressuring out Brownridge because it is anti-black.
"Are we back to this tired, old nonsense?" Hicks asks, having told the Times there was not even the merest suggestion of a racial component to Brownridge's job troubles.
Even Brownridge tells me he doesn't believe "Riordan has a racist thought in his head, and I feel it's only the mayor's staff who evaluated me so poorly. I would be the last to cry racism with no evidence. That suggestion has been made by others, I suppose, because that's how the Los Angeles Times sells newspapers." But then, he coyly adds, "If race is a factor, I'm not going to cook the books if the facts are the facts."
Brownridge is a mixed bag. He has gotten awards for his safe investment strategies but has also promised and failed over the past few years to end the city's fossilized practice of allowing a wait of three days before payments made to the city (such as taxes) are cleared by the bank.
The three-day wait causes the city to lose vast amounts in interest earnings. In the real world, California cities use "lockboxes" -- a quaint phrase for hiring a banking firm to handle funds by instantly depositing them to a city account, thus earning said city every possible drop of interest.
Now, Brownridge wants taxpayers to pay him before he'll agree to quit. Late last year, he asked Riordan for a financial buyout molded on the Willie Williams model -- and his request was rightfully rejected in December by the Mayor's office.
"Brownridge has not offered a shred of evidence to support the thinly veiled suggestion that race is a factor," says Hicks. "To claim race when there is no evidence cheapens and weakens the claims of people who do encounter real racism, and it's got to stop."
Then, just last week, Hicks jumped into another racial dustup -- this time over Norman Bernstein, the white principal of a heavily Latino Burton Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley, who was beaten by two Latinos who allegedly used anti-white hate speech.
To the horror of virtually everybody, Bernstein's beating was seemingly legitimized by Los Angeles School Board President Vickie Castro.
Rather than condemn the attack on the popular principal, Castro publicly backed the grumblings of a handful of anti-Prop. 227 parents who, before the attack, were demanding that Bernstein be fired or forced to adopt a virtual schoolwide waiver allowing kids to avoid English-immersion classes. (The school already had placed nearly 70 percent of its children in Spanish classes under waivers from English immersion -- an unusually high figure for any school in L.A. Unified -- but the activists were demanding more waivers and a Latino principal.)
Declared Castro in the wake of Bernstein's beating: "I do not think that is an unreasonable request," for Latino parents to ask for "a Spanish-speaking principal and preferably a Latino."
Hicks, in the strongest statement condemning Castro by a public figure, told the Times last week, "Insisting that people in leadership roles reflect the ethnic makeup of a particular area of school is not tolerable. That road leads to Bosnia."
(Castro, one should recall, also aggressively whipped up poor Latino parents to believe that white politicians opposed the Belmont Learning Complex not because it was so expensive and was to be built on top of toxic earth, but because whites involved were anti-Latino. It was an unforgivable lie that worked: The racially controlled School Board approved Belmont on a four-to-three vote last year. Last week, we all learned that the half-built school may be scrapped because of toxic earth, which could cost millions to clean up.)
Castro's office received scads of angry phone calls last week, "and her staff went into total meltdown," reveals one school official. So Castro belatedly condemned the attack on Principal Bernstein, and tried to put fault for Belmont on school district staff.
In both the Castro and Brownridge cases, Joe Hicks was the strongest minority voice condemning these minority leaders for publicly milking racial divisions -- to the detriment of every one of us.
"Frankly, it is nauseating to see this identity politics some 30 years after Martin Luther King was killed," Hicks told me in assessing the Castro and Brownridge affairs. "The direct end result of the politics practiced by these people is the beating of a man like Principal Norman Bernstein. Race politics is not innocent, it's a horrible virus."
With Hicks lobbing the truth, like stink bombs, into the camps of racially divisive public figures who would have gotten away with such nonsense a year ago, I thought I detected the slightest whiff of courage among Los Angeles political leaders.
The racially timid Riordan, for example, began his interview with me by uttering mild curse words about Castro, and then declaring: "Vicky Castro should have her mouth washed out with soap for her racially divisive statement."
Riordan continued, "It is bullshit that the principal, Norman Bernstein, wasn't in favor of letting children stay in Spanish classes if the parents wanted it. Of the 750 kids, 400 have waivers from Prop. 227, and that is a huge percentage."
Similarly, at City Hall -- where Treasurer Brownridge was trolling about for sympathy and rumored to be seeking a big, fat buyout from the City Council -- the gushing Well of Guilt that paid Willie Williams $350,000 seems to have gone dry.
"We are not paying that sucker one thin dime," says one top council aide.
"That guy has cost the city a small fortune," declares another.
Even Riordan reiterated to me, "It was my judgment that Paul Brownridge did a very poor job running his department. I have to be able to make a judgment like that without reference to race, creed, or color."
So what is the difference between today and three years ago, when Willie Williams was paid to go away and not a single public official would explain (on-the-record) that Williams had deserved to be let go?
The race-baiters are being neutralized because of the outspokenness of a prominent and widely respected minority leader, Joe Hicks. Finally!
"The thing is," Riordan says, "Joe Hicks doesn't have an intellectually dishonest bone in his body. Too many of us are afraid to say what we think, and that has included me."
But let's not celebrate too soon. A new round of disgusting appeals to exclusion based on skin color is under way, as political candidates jump into hotly contested races for the L.A. City Council and School Board.
Worthless school-board member Barbara Boudreaux is the lead race-baiter this season. Boudreaux has accused Riordan of playing "plantation politics" by offering to financially help the respected black leader Genethia Hayes, director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in L.A., in her campaign against Boudreaux.
Translation: White leaders have no business in "black" politics in L.A.
Sickening, isn't it? Hicks, as disgusted by Boudreaux as I, has asked all L.A. political candidates this season to "denounce identity politics that say people must be represented by their own color, financed by their own color, educated by their own color -- Good Lord!"
But politicians will refuse to be courageous as long as we everyday Angelenos fail to call the race-baiters' bluff. And, at least for now, a thinking man like Joe Hicks will remain unique enough to deserve a newspaper column.