Identifying the Real Sellouts

By Emanuel McLittle  

A long awaited finger is being pointed at black America’s real sellouts. There are signs that those who typically identified others on the basis of how much “genuine blackness” they possess, are debunking old realities and have begun to point the dreaded “sellout finger” in new and interesting directions.       

Last year when then, grandmother of the year, Vivian Smallwood, AKA “The Rappin Granny,” gave a talk and pointed an accusing finger at gangsta rappers for “selling­ out,” she was unaware that she helped germinate a still blossoming mind-set, where real sellouts are being exposed. Convinced by the most persuasive political and social arguments ever, we erroneously believed we had positively identified the sellouts. They all had an Uncle named Tom, spoke proper English, drove economical cars, and were in bed by 11 p. m. They were usually no stranger to success and tended to identify themselves by their accomplishments and not by the length of their kente cloths, (which they didn’t even wear) or how much melanin they had in their skin.

The sellout badge has been pinned to Charlie Pride forever. “Something was definitely wrong with him,” the old standard bearers would say. “He went off, independent like, and didn’t even try to sing to black audiences, knowing they weren’t going to swallow that country stuff.” Now, it seems, that Pride, who did it his own way singing country music, received a standing ovation from an audience of 40 percent black. If not his music, they applauded his determination to be his own man, and to hell with everyone else’s approval.

Once thought to be a sellout, Arthur Ashe died a hero to many who looked at him cross­ eyed, early on in his career. Tennis, believed by most blacks to be “a white sport,” in the ‘60s and ’70s, earned Ashe the hushed title. Later, increasing numbers of black athletes competed in tennis, making Ashe a “forerunner,” instead of a sellout.

If you got caught playing golf two decades ago, you were really in danger of being a sellout. Any criticism of any black elected official, was a “no-no.” Now, one-by-one, the old standards are falling. Rappin granny, finger pointing expert, has more fans in her opposition to gansta rappers than do the rappers themselves. There are whispers about how Emerge Magazine stooped lower than a worms belly when they put the Supreme Courts only black Justice on the cover of their August issue, wearing a handkerchief around his head. Now, the finger is pointing at them for such bad judgment.

If Page and other political seers are correct, the finger is turning on the most unexpected. Cleveland’s Mayor Michael White was called a sellout when he shunned typical black themes during his 1993 bid for the mayor’s job.

“I will represent the people of Cleveland as their mayor, not their black mayor,” he said during a campaign stop in Cleveland’s all white west side. Naturally, he got the finger pointed a him by black leaders who insisted he wasn’t “black enough” to represent them. But a strange thing is happening in Cleveland and other cities.

As quiet as it’s being kept, some blacks are gradually turning away from the old race baiting politics and quietly throwing their support behind elected officials who survived the sellout label and who are now doing the job of bettering the community. Mayor White has now earned the admiration of Cleveland’s black population as well. How did he do it? More jobs, holding the line on taxes, a streamlined government, and a watchful eye over the city’s crime rate. “These are conservative tools,” you may be mumbling under your breath. I would say, “you’re right.”

Pressure, from blacks who felt Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, had gone too far in his support of hate speeches given by psychotic underlings, that for the first time ever, Farrakhan made a public apology for the verbal indiscretions. He felt the sting of “the finger,” pointing in his direction from more than insulted whites. Right-thinking blacks were shocked at the verbal manure and aimed the finger in Farrakhan’s direction. Are we turning a historic corner here?

The usual group of attention starved black leaders sitting in green rooms of network TV studios, waiting to go on camera and point the race finger at “white America” is subsiding, says Washington media consultant Brad Davis. “Sensing that more and more people are seeing through their well developed scam, 49 percent fewer interviews with black accusers were seen in the first quarter of 1994. Instead, themes like self-help are being discussed with growing regularity.

And while we have not arrived at the point of outwardly pointing the finger at them directly, people already have a sense that the Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, and Charles Rangle crowd are the real sellouts of the black community.

Editor’s Comment:

This article was originally printed in the April 1994 issue of Destiny Magazine and reprinted with permission. §