Harry Belafonte To Keynote MLK Celebration at Dartmouth:

I just learned that Dartmouth has invited Harry Belafonte to be the Keynote speaker for its Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration next month. Belafonte is the legendary performer cum radical speaker of such classic performances as "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)," "Mama Look a Boo-boo," and "Jump in the Line."

Belafonte's more recent ditties have been in a different style, however: "There are those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master. Colin Powell was permitted to come into the house of the master..." (memorably performed on Larry King Live) and "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich. Color does not necessarily denote quality, content or value...." In his Martin Luther King address last year at Duke he compared President Bush to al Quaeda and has called President Bush the world's worst terrorist.

The indispensable Joe Malchow describes the whole sorry affair, including his eloquent take on the matter. He also has video of one of Belafonte's recent live speaking performances and other of Belafonte's comments.

Encomiums and praise for Belafonte are sure to precede his visit to campus. As one who is now associated in a formal way with Dartmouth as a Trustee of the College, I want to speak as an individual to express my dissent from that praise. I do not want to be silent and have that silence interpreted as my acquiescence or implicit approval of this invitation to Belafonte. Given Belafonte's repeated utterances, I believe that it is exceedingly inappropriate for Dartmouth to provide him with this honor and speaking platform. I disagree with this invitation and the honor that it implies. I had nothing to do with inviting Belafonte and did not learn about it until after the fact.

Let me be clear--Harry Belafonte has the same right to express his bizarre, ignorant, and hateful opinions as any other showbiz crackpot. And student organizations or political groups should be permitted to invite him to speak on campus if they so desire. But there is a vast gulf between that and providing him with the honor of the Keynote speaker of Dartmouth's MLK celebration and a major platform to spew his opinions. Is he really the best person, and are these the best sentiments, to honor King's memory?

An irony is that this announcement comes just weeks after Dartmouth held a campus-wide rally against hate and for "civil discourse" (indeed, one such sign persists on the web site of The Dartmouth today). Whatever that means, it is hard to see how this is the sort of discourse is consistent with it.

In my opinion Belafonte's comments have placed him beyond the pale of thoughtful intellectual society. He demonstrated at Duke last year that he has no appreciation of the solemnity and propriety of what words are appropriate for particular occasions and particular audiences. As the Director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies has commented, "Hitler and his regime murdered six million Jews and launched a world war that caused more than forty million deaths. How can that be compared to current U.S. government policy?"

In fact, it turns out that one of the members of the Wyman Institute's Advisory Committee is Elie Wiesel, who gave a moving and inspirational Commencement address at Dartmouth this past June. From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Belafonte has kind-of sort-of apologized for saying that there were Jews "high up" in the Third Reich hierarchy, when he really meant to just say that they "ha[d] a role ... in the the demise and brutal treatment of the Jewish people." His claim seems to be based on a misreading of one particular book, Hitler's Jewish Soldiers by Bryan Mark Rigg. Rigg commented on Belafonte's "clarification":

But the book's author, Bryan Mark Rigg, repudiated Belafonte's attempt to use his book as the basis for his controversial statements.

"Belafonte continues to distort history. My book shows that a number of people of partial Jewish ancestry served in the German military, but they did not even consider themselves Jews," Rigg said in a statement released through the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

"Moreover, the vast majority of them were drafted - they were forced to serve Hitler just as other Jews were forced to become slave laborers in Auschwitz and elsewhere," Rigg said.

"In fact, many of them were later dismissed from the German military and sent to forced labor camps, where they themselves were persecuted, and some were murdered. Belafonte should take the trouble to read the books he cites before claiming they support him. My book doesn't support him," Rigg added.

As far as I can tell, Belafonte has never apologized for comparing Rice and Powell to "house slaves," his comparisons between President Bush and Hitler's Third Reich, or for suggesting that President Bush is a terrorist and comparing him to al Quaeda. When given the opportunity he has instead reiterated them.

In my opinion, Belafonte has proven himself an intolerant fool better suited to speak on a street corner soapbox than the largest auditorium at an institution of higher learning. I can see no reason why he deserves to be honored at an institution dedicated to the life of the mind. I wanted to make clear for the record that I had nothing to do with it, had no knowledge of it, and do not endorse it.

The views expressed here are my personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees.

Cornellian (mail):
The views expressed her (sic) are my personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees.

I suspect your views are held by quite a few more Dartmouth trustees than are willing to express them. Belafonte's views are repulsive and Dartmouth should have invited someone else. If you want someone to talk about MLK day who has some clue about history, why not invite Barack Obama? Heck, what about Spike Lee? Anyone with some sense of a tone suitable for the occasion.
12.22.2006 1:53pm
Zywicki (mail):
Oops, thanks for catching the typo at the end!
12.22.2006 1:58pm
Cornellian (mail):
and "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich.

That reminds me of something I once read about Goebbels. He had seen some movie that Otto Preminger had made and was impressed by it so he called Preminger in for a meeting and asked him to make movies for the German government. Preminger said something like "how would that be permissible given that I am Jewish?" Goebbels replied something like "Oh that's no problem, because we decide who is Jewish and who is not."
12.22.2006 2:00pm
Mac (mail):
I would love to see good old Harry move to Venezuela and try callingl Chavez a terroist.
12.22.2006 2:58pm
Dan Hamilton:
I wonder if any of the people that are scheduled Harry Belafonte are worried that there might be conservative protesters to heakle and try and stop Harry from speaking?

I really doubt it. Even the Libs KNOW that conservatives believe is free speach for everyone. This makes it real easy for the Administration to only stop conservative speaker. After all if there are no violent protests how can a speaker be called controversial.

Liberals - intolerant, against free speach, brainwashed, enemies of the West and of the US. How low they have fallen.
12.22.2006 3:17pm
Steve P. (mail):
So Belafonte didn't even bother checking on the 'high up' statement by, I don't know, reading the book before saying it? I have a hard time imagining that someone who makes spurious claims would be asked to speak at an educational institution, even though it happens all the time. I don't always agree with Prof. Zywicki, but he's got me convinced.
12.22.2006 3:20pm
Adeez (mail):
"Liberals - intolerant, against free speach, brainwashed, enemies of the West and of the US. How low they have fallen."

Hahahahaha!!! Great stuff! More please. Tell us all how liberals worship satan and wanna eat our children! Do you even get the irony: your post is in response to an article on someone who speaks with the same sense of outrage and hyperbole. Isn't this site the domain of those who are smarter than the Rush/Coulter crowd?
12.22.2006 3:26pm
Cornellian (mail):
Isn't this site the domain of those who are smarter than the Rush/Coulter crowd?

I suspect Coulter is actually pretty smart, and not just because she went to my alma mater (Cornell). I don't think she believes a word of what she says or writes, but she says/writes it anyway because there's a huge number of people willing to pay her money to do so. How many books would she sell if she were writing long, scholarly, sober analyses of social issues and foreign policy?

I'm not saying Coulter is a closet liberal, I'm saying that given the choice between making money and being a credible voice on the issues, Coulter has chosen to make money and that's not such a bad choice.
12.22.2006 3:50pm
JohnAnnArbor (www):
Well, in my campus days, the only views that got suppressed were conservative ones, Adeez. Entire press runs of conservative papers were thrown out. I watched as "activists" swept through a campus building, taking down tens of posters for the conservative student government party and leaving within minutes. And I watched from a building as an anti-affirmative action guy, who was just holding a sign, was thrown to the ground and beaten by a high school band from Detroit (which, for unclear reasons, had been given the day off to be on campus). I was in class when a friend mentioned some life-related issue, and I heard whispers behind me about how the opinion was "suspiciously pro-life." And on and on and on.

A conservative speaker faces security threats and sometimes violent disruption at campus events. Liberal, even stunningly radical ones don't. Obviously, the campus lefties think free speech is for them and them alone.

My favorite example was a poster I saw on campus in the mid-1990s. It said "NO FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS!" Of course, their definition of "fascist" is someone to the right of, say, Castro.
12.22.2006 3:54pm
Adeez (mail):
Fair enough my friend. I do not dispute your point.
All I'm saying is that rants that label ALL liberals as "intolerant, against free speach, brainwashed, enemies of the West and of the US" are likely to be taken as just as extreme and myopic as the views of the ultra-leftist campus crowd. Speech such as this does not further reasoned dialogue, and makes those here who preach true conservatism from an intellectual perspective look that much worse.
12.22.2006 4:24pm
David Berke:
Perhaps someone could explain to me why every discussion of speech in the university context on this blog always ends up with conservatives arguing that liberals hate free speech?

It's almost never relevant, and completely overlooks the obvious; political extremists are seldom reasonable or fair when it comes to things contrary to their beliefs.
12.22.2006 4:30pm
JohnAnnArbor (www):

It's almost never relevant

Sure it is. Merely asking the question "why is this divisive, andgry, racist nut being asked to speak on a day honoring a man who basically wanted everyone treated equally and for everyone to work together?" will lead to immediate cries of "censorship" from leftists. These very same leftists are only too happy to block speakers they disagree with. That's "activism," don't ya know.
12.22.2006 4:51pm
JosephSlater (mail):

Good question. File it with, "why do we see blog posts here about some student group in some small Canadian college passing a motion to limit certain speech but no blog posts about Newt Gingrich, former House majority leader and possible Presidential candidate, repeatedly advocating for new "limits" on free speech/First Amendment rights?


As a U-Mich law grad, I say hail to the victors. But you made a quick slide from Berke's reference to people attacking "liberals" to you referencing "leftists." Also, I haven't seen any evidence on this thread (or elsewhere) that *anybody* had said that merely questioning the propriety of Belafonte speaking led to "immediate cries of 'censorship.'" Got examples, or was that just a strawman?
12.22.2006 5:08pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Louis Farrakhan started his adult career as a calypso singer- "The Charmer".
12.22.2006 5:24pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Someone made the decision to invite Harry. Someone extended the invitation? Who did it? Administrators, professors, students, janitors, or a committee representing them all? Ballefonte is a nut, but it would be much more interesting to know who the nuts are in positions of authority at Dartmouth. The Nuts Among Us? That has a nice ring to it. Perhaps a book?
12.22.2006 5:35pm
Spike Lee? Much better than Belafonte, but still problematic, isn't he?

TZ, you don't say whose decision it was to invite Belafonte. Did the school allow a student organization (Black Student Association?) to make the choice the speaker, or was the administration more actively involved in the choice? How much/little say are students given in choice of a commencement speaker, who generally gets more attention that an MLK Day one? (Harvard undergrads brought "Ali G" there for there Class Day, but he offended many and now the school doesn't leave the choice of speakers to the students.)
12.22.2006 5:37pm
Zywicki (mail):
Elliot123 and neurodoc:
Joe Malchow has some background on the organization of the program and who is in charge. See here.
12.22.2006 5:41pm
GarryfromNC (mail):
A person such as Belafonte, who comes from the minstrel tradition, shouldn't be playing the house slave/uncle tom card against an individual of real achievement like Colin Powell.
12.22.2006 5:46pm
tefta2 (mail):
Gary, Colin Powell, a self-serving traitor who stabbed Bush in the back, is behind the Plame affair. He's the one all the media types are contorting themselves to protect. He stayed under the radar until the Dems were back in power and now he's all over the media.

I hope he and that other back-stabber, James Baker, are both exposed for what they are and soon.

FYI Cornellian - Yes, Ann Coulter is very smart and yes she believes everything she says because it's the truth -- all of it.
12.22.2006 6:10pm
GarryfromNC (mail):
Yes. I was referring to Powell's military career. He's been a disappointment as he went native at the state department. But Belafonte should shut his banana pie hole.
12.22.2006 6:49pm
tefta2 (mail):
Gary, I don't know anything about Powell's military career, but people don't change their stripes, so I'd be cautious about anything Colin Powell was involved in. I can't wait for Libby's trial. Will these high profile reporters and editors go to jail rather than give up Powell? Darn sure Armitage won't. Either way's okay with me.

Spike Lee, on the other hand, is a very intelligent well informed guy and can make a reasonable argument for the liberal point of view. Why wouldn't he speak up against moonbats like Belafonte?
12.22.2006 7:24pm
David Berke:

You stated "Sure it is. Merely asking the question "why is this divisive, andgry, racist nut being asked to speak on a day honoring a man who basically wanted everyone treated equally and for everyone to work together?" will lead to immediate cries of "censorship" from leftists. These very same leftists are only too happy to block speakers they disagree with. That's "activism," don't ya know."

Nobody on this blog made such a comment, or suggested that it was censorship to argue that a raving lunatic should not be permitted to speak on campus. You're fighting ghosts my friend, making a counter-argument to an argument which has not been presented at this time. That is why it is completely irrelevant. You had an agenda, a pressing need to remind everyone how much liberals hate free speech. So you did.

Political extremists are inherently untrustworthy with our freedom because they will almost inevitably justify the ends with the means. Thus the guiding values of our Constitution will be readily abandoned by both the "communists on the left" you fear so much and the "reactionaries on the right" that others complain about.

Just my two cents.
12.22.2006 8:00pm
GarryfromNC (mail):
This a thread about Harry Belafonte, his ridiculous, defamatory and wrong-headed statements, and his being honored for same with a speaking engagement at Dartmouth. I hold no water for Colin Powell. His actions as Sec State and, I agree with you, particularly his role in the Plame affair were, respectively, ineffectual and despicable, but I still view him as a substantial person, and don't care to see him denigrated by the house slave arguments of a windup muppet like Belafonte.
As for the "reasonable arguments" of Spike Lee, who I have not previously mentioned, while I enjoyed his work in "She's Gotta Have It." (Maybe we should move this discussion over to the Duke- Nifong scandal thread) But his whitey bombed the levee documentary (yeah, I know he ddn't say it, he just asked the questions.)
12.22.2006 8:54pm
Bravo. Who, I wonder, proposed this raving idiot for speaker and pushed the choice through whatever selection process exists? Long after Belafonte departs Dartmouth, those similar minded supporters will remain in the administration and faculty. They are the real problem.
12.23.2006 7:34am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Given what has gone on in Druham (Duke) the past year, I think Belafonte fit right in. He was appropriate to the venue.
12.23.2006 9:36am
tefta2 (mail):
Gary, I'm not sure what you are admonishing me (us) about. Spike Lee was mentioned in some of the comments above as a better choice from the entertainment world than Belafonte and I agree that he would have been. Bill Cosby, Denzel Washington or Will Smith* would have been even better. By inviting Belafonte to the forum, like it or not, Dartmouth is giving legitimacy to his hate speech.

BTW - by Belafonte's own definition, Colin Powel isn't a house slave. He wasn't a servant of the people. He thought he knew best and tried mightily to sabotage the president's agenda. When that failed, he went underground only emerging when his pals were back in power.

*His new movie's great.
12.23.2006 12:57pm
Shalom Beck (mail) (www):
The fact that everybody is male who is wasting their time to comment on this demonstates that, as the man says, "the woman is smarter in every way."
12.24.2006 12:58am
tefta2 (mail):
Thanks Shalom. I couldn't agree more.
12.24.2006 9:02am
Roger Sweeny (mail):
David Berke,

Perhaps someone could explain to me why every discussion of speech in the university context on this blog always ends up with conservatives arguing that liberals hate free speech?

Of course, most liberals don't--and I suppose you could argue that all true liberals don't. But an awful lot of people who consider themselves liberals seem to go along with a "no enemies on the left; all enemies on the right" attitude.

So if someone who says the things that Belafonte said is invited to speak, many who call themselves liberals act like "no big deal, he means well, he's basically one of the good guys."

On the other hand, if, say, an opponent of affirmative action is invited to speak and then disrupted or prevented from speaking, the response is often, "well, that probably wasn't good but I really don't care because he is one of the bad guys."

Most people who call themselves liberals believe in free speech in the abstract. But they are unwilling to stand up for, "I disagree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it."

That doesn't justify wild (and inaccurate) generalizations, but it helps explain why people make them.
12.24.2006 12:42pm
jallgor (mail):
I saw Spike Lee speak at my school many years ago and I am not a fan. First, I am not sure how intelligent he is. I have heard him spout off a lot of nonsense in his day. When he spoke at my school he ranted and said things that were just as outlandish as the quotes from Belafonte (this was 15 years ago so forgive me if I can't provide examples). What really struck me was his reaction to a question from the audience (the only tough question of the night). If I recall correctly, the question had something to do with his views on race relations or his depiction of race relations in his films. Rather than answer the question he began berating the girl who asked it, calling her stupid and telling her to sit down and shut up.
If you want an intelligent, black, rolemodel who embodies weverything MLK stood for, then get Corey Booker (mayor of Newark, NJ) to speak at your school. He bright and articulate and, most importantly, he's that rare breed of sincere politician.
12.26.2006 10:21am
elChato (mail):
It seems like, far from a disqualifier, his ridiculous statements are the only credentials he would have that would qualify him as a speaker at an elite school or event. If he were only the "Banana Boat" singer, who would want him to speak at their school?
12.28.2006 5:14pm