Colin Powell's first reaction was to smile when he heard that entertainer and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte called him a "house slave" for touting President Bush's policies. When pressed later Powell, always the consummate diplomat, called Belafonte's attack, "unfortunate." But Belafonte was hardly original in tagging Powell with the unsavory reference. Malcolm X routinely used it as a throwaway line in his speeches during his Black Muslim days.
The reference was to those civil rights leaders, and that for a time even included Martin Luther King Jr., who supposedly cozied up to white politicians and sold out black interests. But Malcolm in time wised up and deeply regretted the name-calling. In speeches immediately before his murder, he spoke favorably of King and other civil rights leaders and even sought ways to cooperate with them.
But Belafonte's far over the top reference was much more than a personal slander of Powell. It again pointed up the infuriating tendency by far too many black activists, and I certainly count Belafonte as one, given his long and admirable record championing civil rights and civil liberties causes, is to verbally mug those blacks who don't toe the line on their brand of racial orthodoxy.
But don't look for Belafonte to back down on his Powell slur as Malcolm X did with the civil rights leaders. Powell's drumbeat of Bush administration policies is simply too much for the black ideologues to stomach. No sane African-American, if Belafonte and the others that name call blacks who dare depart from their self-constructed racially correct line, are to be believed, could possibly support anything that Bush has said or done. This silly, self-serving notion defies all racial logic and reality.
A recent poll by Black America's Political Action Committee, a Washington D.C. based political think tank, found that nearly 40 percent of blacks say that Bush is doing a good job. Even more ominous for black Democratic politicians, nearly forty percent of blacks reviled the Democrats for taking them for granted. Even if blacks had not softened their hostility toward Bush one bit, that hostility has never been directed toward Powell. He is, and still remains, universally admired by most blacks for his achievements.
In fact, it's a good bet that if it wasn't for Powell battling Bush war hawks Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condeleezza Rice, and arguing for a bi-partisan, global engagement approach to diplomacy, the bombs and missiles may well have already flown against Iraq with or without UN blessing. Powell has also been willing to buck Bush and urge a formal nuclear treaty ban, massive economic development, and HIV/AIDS prevention aid to Africa.
If Powell is the yes man that Belafonte claims he is, he would not have attained the lofty respect and admiration of European, Asian and African diplomats. He would not be constantly in demand to attend the top international summits, confabs, and symposiums on development issues. He gives the Bush administration foreign policy luster and credibility that it can't buy. The truth is that Bush needs him much more than he needs Bush. But Powell has also been anything but a house slave when it comes to defying his own party on hot button policy issues. And this political independence has always stirred deep furor in the bowels of many conservative Republicans.
They have never been awestruck by the general's bars, commanding personality, and public popularity. This was glaringly evident when Powell made some soundings that he might seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. Then Republican, Pat Buchanan and a mighty coalition of conservative groups were appalled. They sternly warned that they would make "war" on him if he were really serious about grabbing the nomination. If Powell had ignored their threat and bulled ahead in his bid for the party's nomination they would have pounded him for backing affirmative action, and abortion rights. They would have dredged up the charge that he did not take Saddam Hussein out when he had the chance as chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs during the Gulf War. The general got their message and quickly opted not to seek the Republican presidential nomination.
The Secretary of State post has been a much better deal for Powell. It has given him a high political profile without the risk of stirring the rancor of the hard right. The irony is that this has not spared him the rancor of Belafonte, and other African-Americans that hold him in utter contempt for daring to think and act differently than they do. This is nothing to smile about, and much to feel ashamed about.