22 January 2008

Gil Scott Herbert?

I have a real love-hate relationship with NYT's Bob Herbert. I think he gets the issues right four out of five times. And the problem isn’t that one-out-of-five annoying editorial, but that three out of the other four righteous columns deploy bizarre naïve “there’s a major injustice, here in America, ohmigod, something must be done!” appeals that makes it seems as though racism, sexism and poverty are aberrations.

Then I think, maybe it’s just a tack he takes in writing, not unlike Langston Hughes’s old Jesse B. Semple, who through pure common-sensical reasoning demonstrated all the contradictions and hypocrisies of Jim Crow. I know I've mentioned this problem before, more than once.

Today, I was reassured that Herbert’s playing the game.

Some people may have missed it, but I swear, he is riffing on Gil Scott Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” in today’s editorial that criticizes Obama and both Clintons for ignoring the entrenched problems of racial inequality in America. To illustrate the deplorable conditions of some South Carolina schools, Herbert writes:

One principal complained about nonfiction books in the school library that dated back to the 1940s and ’50s, including a volume that promised “one day man will land on the moon.”
Maybe the unnamed principal here should get the credit for bringing up the contrast of children being educated in such dilapidated settings that they could no doubt easily imagine that man has yet to land on the moon.

But Herbert goes on further to point out: “ancient plumbing has resulted in raw sewage backing up into some schools, bringing in vermin.”

Or in other words: “A rat done bit my sister Nell / with Whitey on the moon.”

Maybe it's too much time reading Soviet documents and looking for hidden meanings and connections, but I am totally convinced that this was no accident.

Thank you, Bob, for finally tipping your hand.