The frivolous attacks on Obama and Common

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If you thought nothing could be more frivolous than conservatives questioning whether the president was born in the United States, think again. The recent criticism of President Obama’s decisions to worship Easter Sunday at Shiloh Baptist Church in

If you thought nothing could be more frivolous than conservatives questioning whether the president was born in the United States, think again. The recent criticism of President Obama’s decisions to worship Easter Sunday at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and invite poet/rapper Common to participate in a White House celebration of poetry illustrates how far his critics will stoop to manufacture a controversy.

Fox News was hysterical over the Obamas’ decision to worship at the predominantly Black church founded in the 1800s by former slaves. Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes, aired a clip from the speech Rev. Wallace Smith, the pastor of Shiloh, had given at Eastern University, in Davids, Pa.

“It may not be Jim Crow anymore,” said Rev. Smith. “Now, Jim Crow wears blue pinstripes, goes to law school and carries fancy briefs in cases. And now, Jim Crow has become James Crow, esquire. And, he doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore because now he can wear the protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.”

After the clip aired as part of Hannity’s criticism of the president, Rev. Smith said his church received more than 100 threats via telephone and e-mail.

On his show, Fox host Bill O’Reilly tried to dismiss Rev. Smith as a “racial activist” and kept objecting to Smith’s observation on Easter that the original U.S. Constitution was a flawed document that did not count African descendants as full human beings.

O’Reilly made the mistake of inviting Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of the local NAACP chapter, to discuss the Obama decision to worship at Shiloh. Rev. Brown noted that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had attended the same church as president without being criticized.

When O’Reilly said they attended under different circumstances, Rev. Brown corrected him: “It was the same church with the same pastor with the same views.”

The first lady hosted an event at the White House to celebrate American poetry and prose. Among the performers invited was Lonnie Rashid Lynn, better known as Common.

Various Fox News personalities criticized Common for his work, titled A Song for Assata, written in honor of Assata Shakur, the Black Panther Party member who was convicted of the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. The trooper was shot twice in the head with his own gun. Black Panther Party member Zayd Malik Shakur was also killed in the New Jersey Turnpike shootout. Both Assata Shakur and another state trooper, James Harper, were injured in the exchange of gunfire. Assata Shakur escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba in political asylum since 1984.

In his tribute, Common wrote: “Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldna done. Medical evidence shown she couldna shot the gun.” Although Fox led the recent campaign against Common, the network’s Jason Robinson told Common last year: “Your music is very positive. And you’re known as the conscious rapper.”

It is unfair to hold Obama responsible for the lyrics of Common and not apply the same standard to other presidents.

Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart drove home that point when he cited the lyrics of Johnny Cash: “Early one mornin’ while makin’ the rounds/I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down.” Cash was invited to the White House by presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Clinton.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush invited rapper Easy-E to the White House. His group, NWA, released a song titled, F— tha Police.

Again, there was no public outrage.

By today’s standard, Common’s lyrics are mild. So mild that The Gap featured him in an ad for its 2006 fall collection. He has also appeared in such movies as American Gangster, Terminator Salvation and Date Night, featuring Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

Lost in the controversy over Common was the purpose of the White House event, which was to honor poetry.

As President Obama said at the event, “The power of poetry is everybody experiences it differently. There are no rules on what makes a great poem. Instead, a great poem is one that resonates with us and challenges us and teaches us something about ourselves.”

George E. Curry is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. 

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