Amos Brown on RiShawn Biddle

Dateline: Fri 09 Nov 2007

The new issue of the Indianapolis Recorder contains radio talk show host/columnist Amos Brown's take on the termination of RiShawn Biddle, who was canned Oct. 31 by the Star for using the words "zip coon" in an online blog, his bad. Brown's headline: "You can't yell 'fire' in an Internet theatre; the RiShawn Biddle fiasco."

This is as much about culture and change as it is language and racism. For Brown, zip coon is a "hateful slur." Biddle, who has expressed his regret, gave this explanation: "It is the kind of language that many of us as Black people use in describing and comparing the kind of negative, corrupting behaviors done by our fellow brothers and sisters."

Brown's response: "Sorry, RiShawn, but you're flat wrong. You may have thought that because regrettably Blacks call each other the N-word, B-word and H-word, that you could use the racial C-word without consequences. But that word is so revolting Blacks don't speak it anywhere. Not even rappers!"

Brown continues, accusing Biddle of having a "threatening" side -- what, the editorial writer accosted people in the street with verbal bombs? He was a word terrorist? He lobbed potentially deadly insults?

Brown explains: "His Expresso essays demanding the forcible eviction of the homeless from downtown, because he didn't like their aesthetics, made him the city's Scrooge. His shrill, bitter attacks against our African-American community earned him not commendation, but scorn.

"Biddle," says Brown, building up to his real point, "refused to address his feelings about Black folks to Blacks, preferring to speak only to white-majority audiences. Biddle was virtually invisible in the Black community, never speaking before Black organizers or groups, refusing to belong to the local Black journalists association."

Here, then, is what we call the "nut graph" in the biz: Brown's raison d'etre:

"RiShawn was one of a new breed of African-American journalists the Star has hired who disdain their blackness; refusing to acknowledge our community; not even wanting to be caught anywhere in our community."

Brown then goes on, amazingly, to make a veiled threat himself, against Star writer Erika D. Smith, a business reporter and columnist who, by all appearances, is doing a fine job, and is completely not a party to this whole catastrophe:

"For example," continues Brown, "there's a Black Star business reporter and weekly columnist who has a serious mental block about writing about Black-owned businesses. And if she does, she only writes negative things; never anything positive."

This, then, unmasks Amos Brown's hidden agenda. He wants to control the editorial content of the Star; he wants his old-timey spin to prevail. Above all, he is threatened --- funny that he used that word earlier -- by this "new breed of African-American journalists" who do not march to Brown's piper.

This whole schmeer is as much about Brown's arch rival, radio talk show host/columnist/man-about-town Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, as anything else. Biddle and Hakim-Shabazz are good friends; they've gone their own way, rather than kiss Brown's ring. And last time I saw these two, they were plenty black.

As for the charge that Biddle wasn't black enough, that he didn't hang with blacks, when I was at the paper, I saw him continually seek out longtime reporter/editor Eunice Trotter. She's a good mentor.

Brown ends by quoting Star exec editor Dennis Ryerson, who acknowledges that blacks in the city have no sense of ownership in the paper. And why should they? The Star has a lousy record of hiring and retaining blacks. "We must do better," says Ryerson, ever patronizing.

Concludes Brown: "Haven't I been saying that in this column for years?

"Perhaps that's the legacy of the RiShawn Biddle debacle. Finally opening the eyes of the Indianapolis Star that our community doesn't regard it as 'our' newspaper."

Oh, I think the Star has known that for years. But there's no profit motive in courting the black community; the Star just don't care. Just as the Star did not care about Biddle, which is why they kicked him so quickly, so eagerly, to the unemployment lines.


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