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Davey D: JR’s voice is indispensable to KPFA’s conversation on race

July 28, 2013

by Davey D

Ever since the George Zimmerman verdict was read finding him “not guilty” and justice for a murdered Trayvon Martin was denied, there’s been a nationwide outcry for us as a country to sit down and have a serious conversation about race. This directive was underscored the week before last when President Obama gave his “off the cuff chat” about Trayvon. Whether we agree with the president and his policies or not, part of what he noted was true. He encouraged us to have these conversations on race locally at home, amongst friends, at church and amongst our colleagues at work.

For the past week, we at KPFA have been doing a number of shows highlighting not only the need to talk about race, but also highlighting the work of racial justice leaders. Many have been doing the work long before Obama’s remarks or this verdict came down. They ranged from Dr. Joy Degruy, who speaks about intergenerational trauma, to the work former KPFA programmer Donald Lacy is doing with his play “Color Struck” to the films made by local filmmaker Dr. Shakti Butler.

Cartoon JR & White Citizens Council 'I'm ready for our conversation on race' by Signe Wilkinson
Minister of Information JR, suspended for 20 weeks from his prime time radio show while an “investigation of racism at KPFA” is conducted, tries to have a discussion with the folks he calls the White Citizens Council – management and the leaders of the unionized staff, who at KPFA are the very same people. That may not be the aspect of the presidentially mandated “conversation on race” that the cartoonist had in mind, but it fits. – Cartoon: Signe Wilkinson
JR for years has been having this conversation about race. He’s no newcomer to this, not in the least.

For those of us who consider ourselves progressive, forward thinking or revolutionary and stand in opposition to oppression, we have a responsibility to recognize that our conversation on race goes beyond the individual and deals first and foremost with what is systemic. Some call it institutional racism; others call it the system of white supremacy. Key words are “institution” and “system,” meaning they must be dismantled, and that will come when we make a commitment and create space for folks to do and continue doing the hard and necessary work.

This means that as we have this conversation on race, no one is immune or should be immune. This conversation requires constant self-reflection and examination for everyone – the police, the education system, the healthcare system and the media. Hence even right here at progressive KPFA, the conversation on race must be had.

The role of media in shaping attitudes and understandings we have of people – in particular Black people – is historic with far-reaching negative results. One could make the case, as we have done on our airwaves, that Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant before him, along with countless other victims of state violence, were killed because they were seen as less than human. Negative institutionalized depictions led to them and Black people in general being seen as animals to be contained, surveilled, policed and feared.

Again, such inhumane imagery was shaped by media, which means that if there is any place where a conversation on race must take place continuously, it is at radio and TV stations – including KPFA. This conversation we at KPFA must have on race is not about someone running around calling folks bad names. We have to look at what’s systemic.

We have to look at whether or not we are being inclusive. We have to look at whether or not we are allowing a variety of voices – in particular, a variety of Black voices – to have a seat at the table and feel like they belong.

We have to look at whether or not we as an institution are guilty of doing what has been done historically, which is play by two sets of rules – one that makes comfortable and empowers majority culture and one that punishes and disempowers Black people and other folks of color.

Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant before him, along with countless other victims of state violence, were killed because they were seen as less than human. Negative institutionalized depictions led to them and Black people in general being seen as animals to be contained, surveilled, policed and feared.

One of the purposes of this message is to raise those questions. The case around JR and his unprecedented suspension for over 20 weeks raises these important questions.

According to the reports, JR has been suspended because he talked station business on the air and said some things that were unflattering about some of the on-air folks.

First, let’s put this into context. What JR did was not the first time in the long history or recent history of this station that dirty laundry was aired and particular individuals made to feel uncomfortable. What’s “dirty laundry” to some is truth and clean sunshine to others. What do I mean by that?

Well, here at KPFA, in the past, when so-called dirty laundry was aired on numerous occasions, it was cheered, encouraged and deemed an important line in the sand around free speech.

People at KPFA aired dirty laundry when there were attempts to take over the station back in 1999.

Over the years, dirty laundry was aired when unpopular managerial figures were brought in.

Rally for community radio Davey, Carmen, JR at KPFA 111110
When Hard Knock Radio, hosted by Davey D and Anita Johnson, was threatened with removal from the KPFA lineup, Minister of Information JR and Anita organized a large and congenial rally on Nov. 11, 2010, in front of the station that succeeded in keeping the show on the air. Here, Davey D is at the mic, supported by Carmen and JR. Hard Knock, born out of the conflict that brought 10,000 people out on the street over whether KPFA should be an NPR sound-alike or a bold, inclusive challenge to the status quo, is a beacon of inclusion, especially for Black and Brown youth. But its one-hour weekday shows are not enough to outweigh the entrenched racism that has driven Black broadcasters out of KPFA for decades.
Just two months ago I myself was invited to be on the airwaves of our sister station WPFW to talk about the recent moves by them in Washington, D.C., to move their studios inside the radio home of Clear Channel. Folks were livid. They consider Clear Channel to be the evil empire, yet this is what management wanted.

Hence there were a number of hosts at WPFW who took to the airwaves and let it all hang out. The show that I was on lasted over an hour with callers talking about how messed up things were. That was dirty laundry. But it was dirty laundry everyone – Black, white, Brown etc. – could agree with, so there was no issue. There were no suspensions.

But when dirty laundry is aired about racism and unbalanced practices resulting in people made to feel uncomfortable or toes stepped on, then it’s a problem. When that happens, a second set of rules gets applied. That’s unfair. That’s got to change, that’s why we are having a conversation on race in front of this media institution.

This is not about whether or not someone likes JR or agrees or disagrees with his political position on issues. This is about making sure everyone plays by the same set of rules.

Two years ago folks in KPFA came on the air and talked about the management, after they decided to remove the popular Morning Show and make cuts to the News Department. The public was alerted to what was deemed an unfair move and wrongdoing. Some people talked about this on air, others had it included as news items to be read along with other issues of the day. When that happened, many cheered.

That was called being transparent. That was celebrated for informing our listeners and giving them the opportunity to send in donations or not send in donations. At the time many opted to hold on to their money, resulting in the station having financial problems.

When dirty laundry is aired about racism, then it’s a problem. When that happens, a second set of rules gets applied. That’s unfair. That’s got to change, that’s why we are having a conversation on race in front of this media institution.

Two years later when JR makes a public appeal about what he sees as wrongdoing and unfair practices, it’s deemed an affront worthy of suspension by the same management that two years ago was publicly put on blast.

Things have got to change. Everyone has got to play by the same set of rules. That’s one of the first things we must do to eradicate institutional racism at KPFA.

Everyone has got to play by the same set of rules. That’s one of the first things we must do to eradicate institutional racism at KPFA. 

Second point: Another thing to keep in mind is that when talking about race, we have to understand the systems of power that come into play. So if the game is rigged from the inside and one group of people have support and institutional backing and resources to highlight their grievances and further their agenda, it means that those who are disempowered and want to challenge the status quo are likely to find their concerns falling on deaf ears. The playing field evens up when folks go on the airwaves and alert the community to wrongdoing. Some call it transparency. I call it keeping it real.

Third point: We must make a commitment and find ways to include marginalized voices in the community. We try to do that at Hard Knock, but we by no means are even near being able to accommodate and meet the demands that are out there.

JR and his show helped open additional doors. He’s been helping add additional seats. He’s been helping make sure those we missed or may have overlooked have access and get a seat at the table. This is important.

Hard Knock radio was an important first step at KPFA. Ten years later, after years of institutional resistance to change, we got the Morning Mix. JR was a part of that, was doing great work and bringing new voices to the forefront. To have him suspended for 20 weeks is not only about having the individual gone, but also the community he holds it down for.

At KPFA, we as a station should be growing, not shrinking down. We as a station should be adding more voices – especially as we have this Trayvon Martin case, a hunger strike inside the California prisons and increased incidents of police terrorism.

JR was doing great work and bringing new voices to the forefront. To have him suspended for 20 weeks is not only about having the individual gone, but also the community he holds it down for.

More space and airtime is needed to highlight the voices and perspectives of those most afflicted. JR has played a key role in doing that and must be supported. It’s time he be allowed back on the airwaves. It’s time we draw up a new set of rules that are transparent and fair to all.

Peace out.

Listen to Davey D on Hard Knock Radio Monday-Friday at 4 p.m. and his Morning Mix show every Tuesday at 8 a.m. on KPFA 94.1 FM or kpfa.org. He can be reached at mrdaveyd@aol.com. Visit his website, daveyd.com, and his blog, Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner.

 

19 thoughts on “Davey D: JR’s voice is indispensable to KPFA’s conversation on race

  1. Martin

    JR's "dirty laundry" was personal attacks, not high-minded critiques of institutional racism. If there is evidence of institutional racism at KPFA, bring it forward. If JR has a case, why doesn't he file with the EEOC?

    But the facts you will find about KPFA is that it is an equal opportunity employer and there is great diversity and respect among most programmers and other staff at the station.

    It's personal attacks like JR's that are a problem, Davey, not any conversations about race and racism. JR's years-long harassment of programmers he doesn't like at the station, most of whom seem to be women, is itself cause for concern.

    Reply
  2. Guest

    Somehow Nadra Foster's battered body in the lobby of KPFA just gets forgotten, doesn't it? Davey D has been around KPFA for a long time and he knows the turf. This is the usual diversion that springs up whenever anybody around KPFA brings up the "r" word or talks about double standards and who has privilege and who doesn't at the station. It's not about that they say, it's just personal problems, they brought it on themselves, people don't feel safe. We get it. Trayvon Martin didn't make George Zimmerman feel safe either. The question is whose problem that really is and who pays the price for it. JR didn't do a damn thing. If there was an obligation to be polite and like everyone, then 1/2 the programmers at KPFA would have been out on their asses years ago. Until the rules are the same for everyone, no justice and no peace. Thanks for the article, Davey. It's right on the money. Stop making excuses Martin (or Mark Hernandez) and start fixing it. Time for the civil rights movement part 2.

    Reply
  3. John Mulligan

    "This means that as we have this conversation on race, no one is immune or should be immune."

    Completely agree. So, we can talk about institutional racism and historic racism all you want, but we will also be discussing black crime, black racism, why blacks victimize Asians and Whites, why blacks shoot each other so often, why so many black fathers are absent from their children and don't pay child support, poor parenting generally, the hypocrisy of the use of the "n" word and so on. Right?

    Reply
  4. Ann_Garrison

    If you want things to change at KPFA, be sure you're a current member, and if not, pledge at least $25 or volunteer three hours time before Friday, August 2nd, so as to be able to vote in the next KPFA Local Station Board election.

    Reply
  5. Don DeBar

    WTF is "black racism'? Racism implies power and privilege. These are held by whites. The rest of the racist imagery presented is just that – racist imagery. White people shoot – or direct the shooting of – more people every year than all black folks have ever shot, in the aggregate. Shit, just the body count in Hiroshima takes care of that. Ask the Vietnamese about how 'blacks victimize' Asians. And ask any white Occupy protestor who victimizes them – blacks? Or police? Puleeze…

    Reply
  6. John Mulligan

    "Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We've got to face that. And we've got to do something about our moral standards. We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can't keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves." Dr. Martin Luther King, 1961.
    Those statistics quoted by Dr. King 52 years today are still accurate today, nationwide. Black people, though 12% of the population, account for about half the murders in this country. I'll tell you what black racism is, it's racism. It's what happens when a 70 year old Asian man gets beaten to death in San Francisco. 72% of black children are born to unwed mothers.
    Do you want to discuss raising the minimum wage? I'm with you. Want to discuss prosecuting bankers? We're on the same side. Want to pay teachers more and improve schools? Yes. But don't think you'll initiate a conversation about race in this country and come away a winner.

    Reply
  7. Guest

    "Nadra Foster's battered body in the lobby of KPFA?" This is more than just slightly overwrought. Sounds like it might be "investigative journalist" Denis Bernstein.

    What a disappointment Davey D is in this "article." You know you have a problem right away when editorializing is labeled fact.

    There is no comparison either between a group of people trying to change a station and a bully going on the air and simply terrorizing people. It has nothing to do with skin color. It has to do with intent. Behavior.

    What a confused bunch your are!

    Reply
  8. Chandra Hauptman

    I believe in fairness and equity for all on air programmers. What some report as "news" others classify as "propaganda". And why not have honest and open on air debates about what's really happening at KPFA? Most listeners think everything is just peachy but, if this were true we wouldn't have declining listenership and donations. Listeners have a right to know the truth!

    Reply
  9. Greg

    Tell the truth Davey D. Since you are in the inside you should know that JR has a history of bullying women at the station. If fact, they are mostly women of color. Why did you leave that out? you say "accoding to reports.". What the hell are you talking anout? you are in the inside. You know whats up amd you arent telling the entire story. You mislead your readers and that's unfortunate. Makes whatever else you say questionable. KPFA can and should do better with diversity. But to act like JR is the only one who can provide a voice from the black community is rediculous. You're supporting abusive people for your own gain.

    Reply
  10. Judy

    Thanks for speaking up Davey. I've been hoping for such a commentary. Bring JR back ASAP. His contribution was/is invaluable. If there are issues among staff members they should be brought up among staff members, not by suspension of someone with views that are uncomfortable for the white majority at KPFA.

    Reply
  11. Guest

    Somehow and someday we gotta past the version that some people's fear of other people is not their own problem. It doesn't really matter if JR doesn't like some people at the station nor does it matter if they feel uncomfortable around him. KPFA is not a private club, it's a public radio station. What it comes down is exactly what Davey said: treating everybody the same. Complaining about other people on the radio happens at KPFA constantly and it's called freedom of speech. Guess what, freedom of speech applies to everybody. Even when it's your friends (instead of your enemies) that someone is dissing. The suspension is ridiculous, the accusations of menace and terror are ridiculous. This is just another version of the perception gap about poor, terrorized, murdering George Zimmerman. Just because he saw a threat didn't mean punishment had to be exacted on the object of his fear. Just because people get edgy talking about race doesn't mean they get to disappear the conversation. Grow up KPFA. You can't change the world unless you change yourself first.

    Reply
  12. alani

    The discussion about JR, has taken a sinister turn and appears to be blaming him for the violence in Oakland. A lot of the violence committed is by Police and the informants they leave on the streets. Yet, they leave informants on the street, even those who are dangerous and violent. The reason being, the are no threat to the police who do not live in Oakland or even San Francisco. So make sure you know what you are talking about when you point the finger. I believe JR should be on the Station and should not have been taken off. He is the one voice that speaks the truth about our community. The only other voice is the Media with it's sensationalism that ignores the violence in White Communities (also White on White). In fact there was a man in San Ramon who killed his own parents for money, and was sentenced to Life in Prison. There was a white man who killed a Highway Patrol Officer last year (yet white males are not targeted). Did the Highway Patrol go out and kill White Males in retaliation? That is what they do in Oakland when one of theirs is shot.

    It is interesting how whites get on their High Horse and repeat what they learn in the Media. Was it a black man who murdered the Children at Sandy Hook, at the Movie Theater in Aurora Colorado, or that committed the Boston Marathon Bombing? Was Timothy McVey (Oklahoma City Bomber), Jared Loughner (Mass Murderer shot Gabby Gifford), Harris and Kleibold (Columbine), Ted Kscinsky (Unabomber), Ted Bundy (Rapist, Serial Killer), John Wayne Gacy (Rapist, Serial Killer), Gary Ridgeway (Green River Rapist, Serial Killer), Jeffrey Dahmer (Rapist, Serial Killer), Dennis Rader, Bind Torture & Kill (BTK), (Serial Killer), black or even poor. Most are Middle Class White Males, who had every advantage, yet are Serial Killers, Rapists, Mass Murderers, and Spree Killers. Yet White Males are not profiled, Stalked, harassed, shot and killed by police, who are themselves predominantly White Males. Maybe they see themselves in this Psychotic, Sociopath Killers and criminals. In fact the crimes like these that White Males are known to commit are seen as one Incident, no matter how many victims. They Media turns these Murders in to Celebrities, putting their pictures on Magazines and writing books about them. Yet, the victims remain Nameless and faceless. We are turning that around, with Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, whose stories will continue to be told. Just like Emmit Till the young black man who was set upon and murdered by White Males in Mississippi. The history of lynching and murders in America stretch back to the Colonizers killing Native Americans to take their land. The unvarnished Truth is that America was built on the land of Natives and Labor of African Slaves. In many minds that was a successful formula, and they plan to continue with it as long as we allow it. Another tool is to shut those of us up who speak on behalf of our community like JR. The truth hurts and some folks don't want to feel that pang of guilt when the Truth is told.

    Here in American another Murderer comes to mind, Hans Reiser, a Russian Immigrant with every advantage. He murdered his wife, after laying in wait for her, while the children were in the house. He then buried her body in the Oakland Hills and refused to disclose her location. Because he was a White Male and Software Engineer, he was allowed to remain free for two years, before being arrested. He was then allowed to take a plea for 25 years in prison after agreeing to disclose the location of her body. Yet, none of the charges against him will lead to a strike, because he does not fit the profile. He should have gotten three strikes, for laying in wait, murdering, and burying her body, but he will be back on the streets in about 12 years, free to kill again. This time he will, like Jeffrey Dahmer do it better, and kill many more before they arrest him again.

    In fact they are just the tip of the Iceberg, as killings are so prevalent in the White Community that they have an entire Station (ID), dedicated to Whites who murder, Behind Mansion Walls, 48 Hours, Who the Bleep Did I Marry, are a few that come to mind. Maybe that is why so many whites are moving back into communities like Oakland which are actually safer than the ones they are leaving. Just saying!

    Reply
  13. boadicaea

    "To have him suspended for 20 weeks is not only about having the individual gone, but also the community he holds it down for." Here it is–why is JR's absence so much worse than someone else's would be? He's a voice for the disenfranchised, a voice outside the white KPFA institution. A tiny chink in the wall. Don't anybody try to equate his suspension with any one of the white KPFA voices–you can't have it both ways.

    Reply
  14. boadicaea

    "To have him suspended for 20 weeks is not only about having the individual gone, but also the community he holds it down for." Here it is–why is JR's absence so much worse than someone else's would be? He's a voice for the disenfranchised, a voice outside the white KPFA institution. A tiny chink in the wall. Don't anybody try to equate his suspension with any one of the white KPFA voices–you can't have it both ways.

    Reply
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    To have him suspended for 20 weeks is not only about having the individual gone, but also the community he holds it down for." Here it is–why is JR's absence so much worse than someone else's would be? He's a voice for the disenfranchised, a voice outside the white KPFA institution. A tiny chink in the wall. Don't anybody try to equate his suspension with any one of the white KPFA voices–you can't have it both ways.

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