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Jayson Blair Comes to Harlem (“Tell Jayson I want to kick his ass”)
Village Voice ^ | March 17 - 23, 2004 | Ta-Nehisi Coates

Posted on 03/16/2004 12:15:44 PM PST by dead

Plagiarizing, Fabricating, Way, Way Fallen Black Dude Seeks Salvation on 125th

Harlem, U.S.A., March 12—Jayson Blair has come to Harlem on this Friday evening for one reason: He thinks we can keep them away. The disgraced and highly former New York Times reporter spent the past week hawking his falling-down memoir—sparring with Katie Couric, jousting with Larry King, crying the blues to Chris Matthews. But for his first public book signing—and his only one in New York—he's come to Hue-Man Bookstore, the self-proclaimed nation's largest black literature vendor, to avoid "a circus."

A media circus, that is. Who knows what angry journalist would be camped out in the midtown Barnes & Noble, coiled somewhere between Military History and Self-Help, waiting to strike? But here, on the sacred ground of 125th and Frederick Douglass, where the Magic Johnson Theater serves up fried chicken, where Old Navy planted the flag of "the New Harlem," Jayson Blair has home field advantage, and he knows it.

You aren't allowed to speak.

He is joking—halfway at least—with a reporter from The Globe and Mail. Seated at a table covered with African-print cloth, he is way more comfortable than he should be. An older black woman stands up to laud his prose. A well-dressed gentleman asks him to speak on the influence of religion in his life. Blair taps a pen to his head as he ponders each question, puffs out his cheeks, and laughs while he recasts himself as anything that isn't a liar—press critic, mental health advocate, soldier for 12 steps, and most importantly for us, the guy who's now willing to stick it to the Man.

As if titling his tell-all Burning Down My Masters' House were not enough, he flashes his hood pass on the first anecdote of the night. This would not be the one where he realizes his editors have found him out, or the one where he beds the Gray Lady and takes her for all she's worth. No, this would be the one where he claims to have realized that the Times is a bastion of liberal racism. It happened while he was covering a woman's murder in Central Park. He sat back and watched, horrified, as the story got bumped from page one to the Times' nether regions, once editors found out she was black. In the audience, a young woman with braids, adorned with red, black, and green beads, shakes her head and sucks her teeth, and this is the signal. Jayson Blair has been brought back home.

Granted, there's a litany of reasons for barring him at the gates. Of all the Negroes who've left us shaking our heads with that old refrain—had to be a brother—Jayson might be king. We should castigate him for not heeding the lesson of Janet Cooke, for embarrassing us in front of white folks again, for adding the weight of his tired black ass to the cross we bear. Tell Jayson I want to kick his ass, a journalism professor hisses when she hears about his Harlem appearance. But we are still black, and thus are bound to miss no opportunity to offer a middle finger to the Man. Everyone thinks O.J. did it, but we're vindictive. Washington mayor Marion Barry was re-elected specifically to furrow George Will's brow. Spite, not forensic evidence, makes us take Tawana Brawley at her word. What would we be if we did not back the dude who laid the Times low?

The book has an interesting title, someone says. I'd like to know, were you the house slave or the field slave?

The house slave. Can I tell you why? I just got sick of having this conversation about how racist the Times was.

Blair laughs out loud again—I can't believe I just called myself a house slave.

But we can. This is what we came for—dispatches from the Big House, confirmation that it was neither coke nor crazy that brought him down, that it was the lord of our sorry world, the scourge of our days, the one who rages against us as sure as storms and unites us in enmity—the White Man.

For sure, there are many beautiful things that bring black people together—words like "dig" and "dap," Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up," an affinity for serious feminine curves, mac and cheese baked hard, chicken fried harder. Then there are good hair/bad hair, gaudy suits, ugly jewels, and, of course, a hatred of white people. A man can't come into the world with a decade shaved off his life and not hold someone accountable. Show me your favorite Negro, corporate in a three-piece suit, killer golf game, mastery of every angle of the queen's English, his wife's blond hair shaking down to her shoulders, and I will show you a man who in his most private moments curses and sucks his teeth over a lost promotion and utters the phrase that puts us all on the one—Goddamn, I can't stand these white muthaf*ckas.

Jayson is too smart to play his race card that overtly. Even his book mitigates fairly mild racial critiques with a host of other factors. But he knows that F*ck Whitey is our primordial note. And so, tonight, he sings:

I was told by my parents that I would have to work double as hard, triple as hard.


Some of the worst e-mails I got were from white guys telling me I had no right to date a white woman.

More nods.

I do think there is a white backlash and it's primarily from people in the old boys network. Look, there are people who don't have credentials to work on a daily in my parents' home town working at The New York Times.

On the verge of amen now.

I'll be like Moses, if you let me.

Awkward pause.


Later that evening, he walks up Frederick Douglass Boulevard and steps into Revival, an upscale black joint sitting in the shadow of the projects.

A young woman at the restaurant bar stops him. You look familiar, she says. Did you go to Howard too?

No, I'm Jayson Blair.

Ooooohhhhhh . . .

Our hero is halfway through dinner now, weighing an appearance at this year's National Association of Black Journalists convention, which tonight's reading has somehow made him come to believe will not end in tar and feathers. There's no F*ck Whitey talk now. He's explaining why he hasn't called former Times managing editor Gerald Boyd, an African American who lost his job in part over the Blair affair. He admits he's scared, but otherwise demurs—You have to be ready. Then the older lady from Hue-Man appears. She wants to say how much she enjoyed his reading. She glances at the tape recorder on the table, and even though it's no longer running, she knows what this is.

I like him, she says, meaning Blair, and for the record.

Of course she does. It's elderly black women who most need the new Jayson's appeal. It is they who've carried so much, who've worked the third job, who've raised other people's kids, who've watched their men come up lame, shaky, and short. Now, more than any of us, they're desperate for champions. Now they pledge fealty to anyone who seems ready to stick it to the Man, instead of his kids. But Jayson knows those two things are never mutually exclusive. He managed to stick it to us all.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; US: New York
KEYWORDS: jaysonblair

1 posted on 03/16/2004 12:15:45 PM PST by dead
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To: dead
Harlem, the liberal retirement pasture.
2 posted on 03/16/2004 12:19:10 PM PST by bmwcyle (<a href="" target="_blank">miserable failure)
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To: dead
The writing in this article is atrocious.
3 posted on 03/16/2004 12:19:36 PM PST by cyborg (In die begin het God die hemel en die aarde geskape.)
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To: cyborg
You thought so? I enjoyed it.

It was very conversational, but it was a very angry and bitter conversation.

4 posted on 03/16/2004 12:21:31 PM PST by dead (I've got my eye out for Mullah Omar.)
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To: an amused spectator; Liz
This clown will just NOT go away.
5 posted on 03/16/2004 12:21:34 PM PST by martin_fierro (STOP CASTING POROSITY!)
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To: dead
That's probably why I didn't like it. I can almost envision the writer's hand shaking with anger trying to write! lol JB is just pulling a good hustle. I'm sure he'll make a lot of money too!
6 posted on 03/16/2004 12:24:19 PM PST by cyborg (In die begin het God die hemel en die aarde geskape.)
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To: dead; cyborg
It was very conversational, but it was a very angry and bitter conversation.

I agree.

The author writes like he (she?) is observing life under a rock.

7 posted on 03/16/2004 12:24:23 PM PST by martin_fierro (STOP CASTING POROSITY!)
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To: mhking
8 posted on 03/16/2004 12:24:38 PM PST by annyokie (There are two sides to every argument, but I'm too busy to listen to yours.)
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To: bmwcyle
Ta-Nehisi ?
9 posted on 03/16/2004 12:26:18 PM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: dead
I thought it was pretty good.
10 posted on 03/16/2004 12:26:23 PM PST by BrooklynGOP (
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To: dead
I wonder how many Black people think 'honkey, cracker, greymeat, whitebread, etc.' everytime a White person looks at them cross-eyed. I wonder how many Black people hate Whitey?

Probably more than the average joe thinks, but less than this left-winger would like to believe.
11 posted on 03/16/2004 12:32:50 PM PST by jjm2111
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To: martin_fierro
That's what happens when race and bitterness becomes the singular lens through which one views life.
12 posted on 03/16/2004 12:33:07 PM PST by cyborg (In die begin het God die hemel en die aarde geskape.)
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To: martin_fierro; Eric in the Ozarks
It's a man, baby!
13 posted on 03/16/2004 12:34:22 PM PST by dead (I've got my eye out for Mullah Omar.)
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To: dead
Jayson Blair needs a rock to crawl under, and just stay there forever. He was given an affirmative action opportunity and blew it big time. End of debate!!!
14 posted on 03/16/2004 12:36:06 PM PST by Smartass
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To: martin_fierro; an amused spectator
This clown will just NOT go away.

Hey, he's only trying to keep the Times staff amused.

" Hey, Pinch, how'm I doing? "

15 posted on 03/16/2004 12:36:23 PM PST by Liz
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To: rdb3; Khepera; elwoodp; MAKnight; condolinda; mafree; Trueblackman; FRlurker; Teacher317; ...
Black conservative ping

If you want on (or off) of my black conservative ping list, please let me know via FREEPmail. (And no, you don't have to be black to be on the list!)

Extra warning: this is a high-volume ping list.

16 posted on 03/16/2004 12:53:52 PM PST by mhking (Terrorists are vulnerable to silver bullets....and any other bullets.)
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To: martin_fierro
This clown will just NOT go away.

Anybody who embarasses the Gray Lady has at least one redeeming quality.

17 posted on 03/16/2004 2:25:26 PM PST by presidio9 (the left is turning antisemitism into the new homophobia)
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To: jjm2111
Well, I've read through eleven posts now, and It seems to me that I read a different story than others read. This seemed to be a writer's disgust with Jayson Blair, and disgust with the old fall back of covering every problem by blaming someone else, in this case, the white demon.

Maybe I'm the one who misread it.That's what makes an honest dialogue between blacks and whites so difficult.
18 posted on 03/16/2004 3:38:35 PM PST by billhilly (If you're lurking here from DU, I trust this post will make you sick)
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To: billhilly
I agree with you to a point, that's why I posted it.

My only disagreement with the author would be his unstated contention that there is nothing wrong with black people knowing that OJ was guilty and still supporting his acquittal. Or knowing that Tawana Brawly was lying and still supporting her dopey story, no matter how many innocent people's lives were destroyed by her (and Sharpton's) lies.

I get the impression from his writing that, deep down, Ta-Nehisi Coates knows that that is a pathetic and ineffective form of retribution for real wrongs.

He's willing to point out that Jayson Blair is a total fraud and dickhead for exploiting that mindset, but he won't make the leap and clearly state that that mindset is wrong and destructive.

He wants it both ways in a sense.

19 posted on 03/16/2004 9:47:37 PM PST by dead (I've got my eye out for Mullah Omar.)
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