Thursday, January 19, 2006

Max Castro’s Definition of 'Multiculturalism' is Dead Wrong

"Miami is where neon goes to die"
-Lenny Bruce

As someone who has done time in Miami (City of the padded shoulders, I call her--I lived there for nearly a decade), I still feel tied to the place, try as I might to clear my head of the art deco faces and poolside souls that float along Bird Road, sit stark still in sweaty exile in the stalled traffic of Highway One in South Miami, and hurtle down the Dolphin Expressway inside the freezer-cooled, sealed consciousness of Mercedes.

Even the supermarket parking lots are done in pink motif.

But Elian Gonzales be damned, it's in my blood for the rest of my life, that place, and I'll always miss Hialeah, and the Japanese dive I hung out at with Tony and Perri on Douglas Rd., and the blue skies like the face of Prozac, and so it is for any of us who ever lived there in paradise for a time. I am dying a slow death from three years now of missing real cafe cubano, my beloved media noches, and Little Havana's garish ethnic arrogance that spills West from the shadows of downtown skyscrapers along Eighth Street to crash right through the pretentious charms of Coral Gables with its nerve to exist right in the middle of Miami and yet have streets with names like Galeano and Phoenetia and Ponce DeLeon in sharp contrast to the rest of Miami whose streets are numbers not names (Coral Gables is my former 'hood', a place where GM executives, former Guatemala CIA-backed torturers and airline executives retire to) and on and on westward until it is no longer Little Havana in body but only in spirit, past the "Pasta Factory", past a hundred dollar stores and outdoor laundromats run by plaid wearing older gentlemen named Ignacio, past Florida International University (where I used to teach--greetings, Don Watson, I miss you, Jefe!) before hurtling in spirit into the maw of the everglades to die in the open jaws of an alligator.

Elian be damned, I miss that place, for all its corruption, hideous cruelty, and shameless insanity. Imagine LA without the restraint (yeah. it's that insane).

So when things happen there, I have an opinion about it. A while back, a Black Miami politician named Arthur Teele committed suicide in the lobby of the Miami Herald by putting a gun to his head and shooting himself after telling the security guard there to tell a Herald reporter named Jim Defede to tell his (Teele's) wife that he loved her.

No. I' am not making this up. It's better than both the screenplay and the novel I wrote about Miami while I was there, so I wish I HAD made it up.

Max Castro wrote about this incident, and the political corruption that infected Teele and led him astray and toward this uniquely Mimai (neon) method of self annihilation. But Miami is MY city too. Part of me sees it as my home, Pastor Cook help me. When I read the piece in Progreso Weekly by Castro, once-and-future columnist for the Miami Herald, I had an opinion of my own. I take exception to one small aspect of what he writes, though I agree with his general attack on Miami corruption. Below is a response I wrote and sent to Progreso editors. Don't know if they will publish my response to Castro or not.

But you get to read it here. Ain't you lucky.



1-15-06
To the Editors of Progreso Weekly:

I disagree with Miami journalist Max Castro that Arthur Teele's death is proof of the 'multicultural' nature of corruption in Miami. Castro claims that,


The Teele tragedy is not a story about “Another Black Man Done in by Media and
the Establishment,” as some would like to portray it. It is a tale about the
equal opportunity, gloriously multicultural and immensely seductive nature of
our corruption. It’s the one area in which we in Miami have achieved absolute
parity. Arrogance and greed, your name is Humberto Hernández, Demetrio Pérez,
Howard Gary, Cesar Odio, Alex Daoud, Miriam Alonso, Alberto Gutman, Miller
Dawkins, Jimmy Burke, Donald Warshaw, Dan Paul and…Arthur Teele, may he rest in peace. Black and white, Anglo and Latino, Jew and Gentile, there are no barriers
to misfeasance and malfeasance here, no need for affirmative action or
set-asides where graft is concerned. (Castro, Progreso Weekly, Aug, 2005)

Is Castro serious? I lived several wonderful, frightening, incredible, horrific, beautiful, and insane years in Miami and every year I lived there as an undervalued, underpaid, and powerless university professor in a racist and anti-intellectual city, only served to strengthen my conviction, from my Black perspective, that three things are inescapably true about Miami:

1. That there are few places on Earth more astonishingly beautiful than Miami—from the weather, the endless sky, and the dreamlike blue ocean, to the quality of the light that I woke up to every morning and the clarity of the stars in that tropical celestial sphere every night.

2. That the utter cruelty, brutality, venality and corruption, the materialism, and self aggrandizement not only of politicians and the wealthy, but infecting all levels of social life in Miami all the way down to the working class and the poor, is breath taking and disheartening enough to kill the optimism of even the most devoted of Samaritans.

3. That my own people, Black people, are virtually invisible in the echelons of every single institution of power in Miami, from civil to economic to intellectual, other than the roles they play there as in every other modern American city, as the inevitable gladiators of the sports industry, the singers and dancers of the entertainment industry, as a handful of corrupt politicians, and as a small portion of the Black clergy that is comfortably connected to mass media influence.

‘Multicultural’ is not a word I would ever apply to the Black experience in Miami, not even in terms of crime. Arthur Teele’s horrific death is but another nail for the box I’ve buried my Miami experience in; his death does exemplify exactly the “story about “another Black Man Done in by Media and the Establishment, as some would like to portray it” that Castro says it isn’t.

Teele, a Black Miami city councilperson indicted on ethics charges, accused the Miami police of stalking him, was despairing of the negative publicity he was receiving in the Miami local media due to rumors that he had been involved in extra-marital homosexual activities. After the apparently sympathetic writings of Miami Herald reporter, Jim Defede, who questioned the actions of Miami police in his Herald column, Teele apparently felt that Defede was someone he could appeal to and trust. On the last day of his life, Teele called Defede to talk about his despair, and ultimately ended up going to the Miami Herald’s offices where he shot himself to death in the newspaper’s lobby.

Max Castro’s article, published in Progreso (Progreso Weekly, Aug 4-10, 2005) claims that this tragedy exposes the paradisiacal image of Miami as being no more than a veneer over a ‘darker’ Miami; a Miami of deep corruption, a Miami of ‘multicultural’ vice:

magical realism had given way to noir, and the paper’s front page featured a
photo of Arthur Teele sprawled on the floor of the Herald building, his head in
a pool of blood. Wednesday morning’s festive, folkloric take on Miami was
overtaken by the night’s events, which lay bare another side of the city, an
ugly and brutal one, and the reality of real power versus the purported power of
the pen. The real city (Castro, Progreso Weekly)


True, so true. The long list of multicultural names of the corrupt that Castro mentions in his article, however, includes people who definitely did not end up dead in a pool of blood on the floor of the lobby of the Herald.

And there's the rub. Yes, Black men participate in America's corruption, and among Black Miamians are Blacks who are venal, selfish, racist, and materialist, and it seems that even in Miami, some Black leaders manage to rise to the top of the corruption heap; and in fact that is exactly when American corruption stops being a trough and becomes, in Max Castro's words, a VISE--that crushes the heads of Black men, I might add.

It's the oldest sub-plot in the American epic: just when Blacks (or browns, or yellows, or women) begin to successfully play the corrupt but lucrative American political and economic 'game' the rules change, or, in the case of Teele, the allegations of sexual misconduct emerge. In the American lexicon, it's not 'corruption' until Black, brown and yellow hands begin to do it.

Lest we forget, the weapon of alleged sexual scandal was wielded even against our most (seemingly) upstanding Black leaders, such as M. L. King, who, shortly before his assassination was threatened by the FBI with the release of photographs of himself allegedly having sex with women other than his wife. According to declassified COINTELPRO files, we know that such photographs were reportedly sent to King's wife by J. Edgar Hoover. As I sit in Detroit writing this, on the anniversary of MLK's birth, It is not difficult at all to imagine, regardless of evidence of Teele's corrupt activities such as money laundering (in fact perhaps because of them), that he too, may have been victimized by law enforcement officials seeking to destroy his legitimacy within the Black community.

Teele's claims of being followed by police officers, seemingly accepted as true by Jim Defede, and Teele's abrupt disintegration into dementia and then into suicidal despair seem all too familiar from where I sit, in Detroit, as a Black man in America. Right here in Detroit not long ago a prominent member of the Black community, a political leader in the state democratic party, Melvin Hollowell, was publicly disgraced by charges of sexual misconduct. As Detroit’s local independent weekly, the Metro Times reported:

Two weeks ago, the Detroit Free Press published two long,
front-page stories that graphically destroyed the career of — and probably
immensely damaged the life of — Melvin Butch Hollowell, a man who is not an
elected official or on the public payroll, and who has been convicted of
nothing.
He has, in fact, been charged with only a low-grade
misdemeanor. But they ran these stories, with large headlines (“Hollowell
accused of picking up hooker” and “Police report: Woman says Hollowell paid her
$60 for sex”) because they involved a prominent person and gave them an excuse
to write what amounted to soft porn disguised as journalism.
The newspaper described the supposed sex act in especially graphic detail in its
earlier outstate editions, basing the account on what the “known prostitute,”
also identified as a heroin addict, told police. (Hollowell denied doing
anything except stopping to help a woman he thought was in trouble.) (Jack
Lessenberry
, Metro Times, 9/1/2004)


Mister Hollowell had to resign his position as a leader in the state democratic party as a result of his public humiliation.

Am I defending corruption? No. I'm simply pointing out the second oldest sub-plot in the American epic: when the Negro ends up dead his death itself becomes proof of how 'equal' we all supposedly are if not in any other way (and indeed, the "State of Black America Report," the Bureau of Statistics, FBI crime reports, national morbidity and mortality rates, and all other objective measures of Black life in this hell of urban America shows that we are not equal in any other way), then at least we are equal in terms of corruption.

Bull. As a former resident of Miami for eight years, living there as a Black professor, writer, journalist, and intellectual, I had long maintained that the hypocritical double standard that former Miami Mayor Joe Suarez was held to (they went so far as to question his manhood in the pages of the Miami weekly, New Times, which I publicly denounced the Times for doing--my letter of protest was printed in the Times) was a double standard that demonstrated that Whites in Miami saw no contradiction in 100 years of white corruption being rewarded (i.e. the elevation of corrupt oligarchs like Henry Flagler to the status of gods) while Latino corruption (or even the appearance of it, as was often the case with Suarez) is bitterly denounced. Must Max Castro be reminded that the St. Augustine Record, in 2002 reported these fateful words:

Flagler worth $100 million at death

On May 27, 1913, just a week after his death, the will of Henry M. Flagler - who was said to be worth $100 million - was made public.
The document created a trust designed to keep his businesses running and to ensure the continuance of Flagler's policy in Northeast Florida.


while this is a headline at Mr. Teele's death:

Arthur Teele Dies After Self-Inflicted Gunshot
POSTED: 6:32 pm EDT July 27,
2005
UPDATED: 12:07 pm EDT July 28, 2005
MIAMI -- Former City Commissioner
Arthur E. Teele Jr., recently indicted on corruption charges, died after
shooting himself in the lobby of The Miami Herald building Wednesday,
authorities said.
Teele shot himself in the head shortly after 6
p.m., police said. The Herald said it happened just after he asked a security
guard if he could see columnist Jim DeFede.
"He said to tell
DeFede to tell his wife he loves her," the security guard, Feliz Nazco, told the
Herald.
Delrish Moss, the Miami police spokesman, said Teele
died at 7:50 p.m. at Ryder Trauma Center. (NBC6, South Floria---NBC6.net)

Would Max seriously claim that these two Miami big shots, Flagler and Teele, are comparable as examples of the multicultural nature of American corruption (and of its spoils)?

I doubt it.

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