Friendly Fire?


I keep asking myself what I did to deserve this. Twice in the past few weeks I’ve been the subject of a surprise attack by a well-known black newspaper columnist. Having my name dragged through the mud has been a very enlightening experience.

The first to fire was Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald—my former teaching colleague at Hampton—who let me have it for refusing to waste my time seeing Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. His overwrought column didn’t persuade me to see the movie, but at least it was civil and made a logical case.


Not so with Stanley Crouch of the New York Daily News, who dredged up and totally distorted a column I wrote 15 years ago for TIME magazine, in a tortured attempt to associate me with what he claims is a backlash aimed at Tiger Woods for philandering mainly with white women.

Never mind that I’ve never written a word about Tiger Woods’ sexual peccadilloes or that I don’t give a hoot about the race of his bedmates. Never mind that I have never written what Crouch accused me of writing—that O.J. Simpson had committed a racial crime against black women by marrying Nicole Brown—in that column or anywhere else. Read my piece here and judge for yourself whether I said any such thing.

But then, poor Stanley has never been one to let facts get in the way of gratuitous verbal—and, in his case, physical—assaults on people he disagrees with. His MO is to mix crude insults, laden with 50-cent words he often misuses, with putdowns based on the skin color of his opponents.

When it comes to my skin tone, Crouch appears to have been stuck in a rut for more than a decade. In his most recent blast, he calls me a “Creole,” meaning, I suppose, to suggest that because I am what is often called light-skinned there is something defective about me. Fifteen years ago, he called me a “mulatto” in Esquire magazine. On another occasion, he repeatedly made the same claim about me in a conversation with a mutual friend. Why in the world is Crouch so obsessed with my complexion? My suggestion to him then, and now, is to lighten up, Stan.

My initial reaction to Crouch’s latest column was to stoop to his level by posting a riposte on the Daily News’ Web site calling him a punk and a liar. Both charges are accurate, but I shouldn’t have made them because my momma taught me to ignore foolish prattle. Besides, after reflection, I’ve found something of real value in his and Pitts’ columns. Both are evidence that we are, indeed, moving into a new era of race relations.

Back in the day when I was still writing for TIME, most of the people I tangled with were bigoted white conservatives and neo-conservatives like David Horowitz, Don Imus and the Republican National Committee. Now I’m being blasted by fellow black commentators—one of whose insights are so superficial they are, literally, only skin deep. In the new, post-racial America, some Negroes have the freedom to make fools of themselves in the newspapers where everybody can witness their minstrelsy. I suppose you could say that such writing is progress. Or, to mimic Crouch's characteristically orotund phraseology (and capture the worth of his musings), you could say that it's manure that comes from a horse.



is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.