Letters for the week of January 5-11, 2005

Response to the Perata package, more letters about UC Berkeley's African American Studies Department, and reflections on college sports.

“Bottom Feeder’s Xmas Shopping List,” 12/22

Six to ten years of bliss
Bottom Feeder: Yes.

The Monkey

“Don Perata: The Man. The Machine. The Investigation,” Feature, 12/8

You call that a machine?
Thank you for the informative articles on Don Perata and his current tribulations. I have to ask: You call that a machine? A half-dozen overpaid civil servants, exemplars of the Peter Principle, who couldn’t lose an election (unless their name was Elihu) if they tried, running things in a single-party hegemony that would make the Politburo blush?

The state of politics in the East Bay has become so inbred and stultifying that Tom Bates and his wife can switch seats and nobody complains, Dion Aroner can serve two terms and nobody notices, Ron Dellums can resign midterm so his selected successors can play musical chairs, and Jerry Brown can steamroll the entire city of Oakland while a chump like Perata becomes kingmaker.

The only reason for even caring is that these people handle millions of our tax dollars and apparently some have found clever methods of pocketing some along the way. Where are the Panthers now that we need them?
Hank Chapot, Oakland

Bigotry of the left
I thought the articles on Don Perata were comprehensive and interesting, having been born in Alameda and raised in the Fruitvale, where my parents still live. In fact, the Peratas were our neighbors when we lived in Alameda. What I did not like was the casual racism in Chris Thompson’s piece.

Chris says, “Gentrification may have ethnically cleansed whole city blocks. …” First, the term “ethnic cleansing” refers to wholesale murder. The whites and Asians who are buying homes in East Oakland aren’t killing black folks. In fact, many urban blacks are selling their homes to whites and Asians so they can move to larger homes in the fringe cities like Antioch or retire to Lake County. Chris seems to suggest that people have no business moving into areas where people of other races live, that everyone should all be divided up into ethnic cantonments.

“But it also has produced a new middle class that will demand accountability from its leaders. … Tens of thousands of white and second-generation Asian professionals, who intuitively expect clean streets and clean politics, will continue to settle in the old proletarian bungalows.”

Here, Chris suggests that expecting clean streets and politics is a racial trait native to Asians and whites but not blacks. So then the logical extension of his argument is that blacks must “intuitively” expect squalor and dirty politics.

How ironic that these days such ethnic bigotry comes from the left.
Patrick Carroll, San Francisco

Wanted: clean politics
Thank you for your editorial courage in running “Don Perata: The Man. The Machine. The Investigation,” along with the report on his legislative batting average in Sacramento.

What you presented confirms my deep conviction, as a longtime East Oakland neighborhood activist, that machine politics, backroom dealing, corruption, waste, and unaccountability at City Hall have kept Oakland from realizing its potential as a truly great, vibrant, and eminently livable city.

We do not need an endless stream of new parcel taxes and PR hype to make Oakland a good place to call home. We do need clean politics and accountability at City Hall, and also at the county level.
Ken Bowers, Oakland

“Dude, Where’s My Black Studies Department?” Feature Sidebar, 12/1

The admissions double standard
The good professor rightly complains that African Americans are being pushed aside in favor of less qualified Africans from Africa and the Caribbean. That’s the price of being PC. Let’s get rid of all racial barriers in admissions and hiring, and we will have a campus that is made up of the most qualified students and faculty available. Of course, the left won’t like it because Cal will be almost exclusively Jewish and Asian, but hey — you can’t have it both ways; you can’t complain that less-qualified people are taking your job or spot in the university when you yourself got there because of affirmative action.

Mike Wallin, Santa Monica

Authentic xenophobia
Your article sounds like you are a bitter professor, blaming others for being unable to keep your position. How dare you say that foreign-born blacks lack authenticity? Perhaps instead of reading English scholarship you should branch off into history/diasporic studies so that you can gain an appreciation or in your case perhaps just an understanding of what it means to be of African descent and belonging to the greater African diaspora.

We are not living in the ’60s or ’70s; we are at the brink of 2005. This country was, is, and will always be a country of immigrants. In fact, a large percentage of black Americans who live here are descendants of blacks in the Caribbean (and I’m not referring to migration that has taken place in the last fifty years). I find it disturbingly tragic that a black professor would write such a scathing article about other black professors.

Your article is problematic in so many ways, but I will focus on your use of the term “authentic.” As a professor, before using a word as part of your critique, you should first define it: What is authentic, who defines authenticity, what does it mean to be authentic, does authenticity exist, what makes you as a black American male more authentic than a black West Indian male or a black African male or a black South American male or a black British male or a black Australian male? Perhaps UC Berkeley should begin a mandatory history/diasporic workshop for the faculty so you and other narrow-minded “African-American” professors can attend. Perhaps the workshop will assist you in being less like the stereotypical backwoods racist who hates everything not born on American soil.

I would like to add that the issues raised are worthy of discussion; however, the manner in which you address fellow black professors and black students overshadows the deeper issues. The article bespeaks the need for more education even on the part of those who supposedly have already received a higher education. While black people are not monolithic, we all, especially black males, share similar experiences. I find it tragic that a black male would direct such animosity toward other blacks. Intraracial division overshadowed the greater issues that should have been addressed in this article.
D. Jackson, Philadelphia

I’m commenting about Cecil Brown’s article of December 1 about the racism at UC Berkeley. Besides the obvious disgusting aspects of the “Greek boys” behavior, I’m hoping that you do an extensive follow-up story. It’s just too gross to not put heat on any responsible UC Berkeley officials and the whole frat society.

Adi Shakti, Oakland

Stop pouting
I read your article “Dude, Where’s My Black Studies Department?” with alarm. As a former administrator in three of the largest systems of higher education in the country — CSU, CUNY, and SUNY — and someone who knows many of the heads of black studies programs in the country and the presidents at these institutions, I believe the author was just “pouting.”

Has he considered the situation at Harvard, where Henry Gates trumped Orlando Patterson, a scholar with a much more solid academic portfolio and profile? Diasporic studies/pan-Africanism is where DuBois, Malcolm, Garvey, and others were correctly headed.
Aubrey W. Bonnett, Ph.D, Uniondale, New York. Professor, Department of American Studies, SUNY, College at Old Westbury

“In a Class of Their Own,” Feature, 12/1

Just hire them
Many years ago, I graduated from a high school where basketball reigned supreme. I was already familiar with the pattern of athletes receiving special treatment in their academic endeavors. It was common for sympathetic teachers to feed them test answers in advance, and to award passing grades.

It came as no surprise in my first year at UC Berkeley when I shared a library table with six members of the varsity football team who had been given answers to finals in advance. They had the answers to whatever “mick” course they were taking, and had to transfer those to bluebooks and answer sheets. (The common practice then was to leak the answers from the university’s print shop prior to finals.) In their attempts to make their essays not appear to be identical, they were to change words and phrases here and there. It seems that most of them didn’t know how to spell, so they asked me repeatedly for the spelling of simple words.

The varsity team of 1971 was not noted for providing any major players to the big leagues. I always wondered what became of these guys, and in what professions they found themselves. What’s the problem with ending this educational hypocrisy and simply hiring players for four years? At the end of that time, they could receive a degree in football studies. They will have earned it, too. It’s asking a lot of athletic recruits to train physically hours a day and also maintain a study load. It would end the institutionalization of cheating that prevails now.

American society needs to wake up and stop putting manufactured veneers on practices that have been common for decades.
Brian O’Neil, Alameda

Remembering my isolation as a black football player
Your articles on Cal football and the African-American studies department were disturbing and brought back my college experience. I chose the University of Redlands over Cal, Notre Dame, and Penn ostensibly because academics came first there. When I took my recruiting trip to Cal, other football players impressed on me how difficult Cal was and that academic help was sparse. At Redlands there was no spring football, and if you had a paper to finish or an exam, you could excuse yourself from practice. During track season, it was not uncommon to see athletes studying during a track meet. I also recall the season we played for the national championship, and how football became a seven-day-a-week job. You were always tired, and staying up until 2 a.m. to study was common. Being a black football player was especially isolating.

My high-school counselor applauded my choice of a small school that produced many lawyers because it would provide me small classes and a close student body. My experience was one where I tried to find the largest classes possible so I would be anonymous so I would not receive the obligatory “C” for colored. Many of my white classmates thought they were smarter and that I was at Redlands because I was a football player or was admitted because of some special admissions policy. Little did they know I was admitted just like they probably were and that I was a National Merit Scholar who was recruited because of my college board scores, not my athletic prowess.

Moreover, it was especially difficult for me as a black football player because my fellow black students looked at me as a symbol of the racism they experienced in Redlands. It seems like yesterday when I was preparing to play in the national championship game and had many of them tell me they wanted us to lose and for me to play poorly.

College was very hard and painful. I wish I had the support the athletes at Cal apparently have at their disposal. They have precious slots at Cal that they would not have if they could not produce for the school. They should take full advantage of the opportunity. I had to work in the cafeteria after a full load of four daily classes, go to practice, and study late. Their only job is to play ball. It may sound harsh, but that is reality.

I was fortunate that my white teammates liked me enough to constantly invite me to join their fraternities and to their parties after I joined a predominantly black fraternity. However, the fellowship and support I found in my fraternity probably made the difference for me and kept me sane. I think the black students at Cal should always remember Cal is not immune from the handicap/disease of racism. All of us as citizens must realize we are all human beings and should try to deal with each other on a human level and not make assumptions based on nothing other than prejudices we have learned. We are constantly learning.

Go Bears!
Greg Harper, Berkeley

“Less Than Grand News,” Culture Spy, 10/27/04

just one problem
At one point the author says, “This will be the second move for both Smythe and 21 Grand, which were originally located together at 21st St. and Grand Ave.” Just one problem. Twenty-First Street does not cross Grand Avenue; the two streets run parallel.

James M. Castro, Clancy, Montana

Editor’s Note
Actually, the gallery got its name because its first address was 21 Grand Ave.

“Chick Lit Starts Here,” Theater, 12/1

Not only that, you can buy them on my Web site
I’m writing to point out a mistake in your article “Chick Lit Starts Here.” Your description of chick lit was “thin novels with bright covers usually chronicling the struggle of hip single girls with fancy publishing jobs to pick the right shoes and husbands.” That is incorrect, and not an apt description of the genre. If you’d like a correct description, perhaps you might want to check out my Web site, ChickLitBooks.com. The only true part of your statement was that the novels are usually brightly colored.

Rian Montgomery, Nashua, New Hampshire

“The Crunk and the Dead” in our December 29 issue was written by Eric K. Arnold.

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