Harry Belafonte On Koch Bros.: Bad Timing, But Accurate

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I’m always weary of being critical of Harry Belafonte (pictured) for fear of catching the beat down from an older Black person. Like catching a swift kick to the shin or a purse at the back of my neck coupled with a raspy voice shouting, “Respect ya elders, child!” So it is with great trepidation that I say to the pioneering actor and activist: Maybe you could’ve waited until Wednesday morning to mention the KKK? Or you know, not. Just saying.

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Although it’s essentially a forgone conclusion that Bill de Blasio will win the New York mayoral race, the Democratic mayoral candidate had to spend time distancing himself from comments Belafonte leveled against the Koch Brothers.  While introducing him at the First Corinthian Baptist Church, Belafonte blasted the conservative financiers.

Belafonte said:

They may help the heart and the thinking of the mind of those who would belong to the Ku Klux Klan. They are white supremacists. The Koch Brothers. That’s their name.”

de Blasio did not condemn the remarks after taking the stage, instead he offered praise for the singer and actor. de Blasio said, “When you listen to Harry, you are listening to the voice of a wisdom that’s deeper than any wisdom we meet in our day-to-day life.” As the kids say, “True tea.”

Nonetheless, the pushback was swift. de Blasio’s opponent, Joseph Lhota, said of Belafonte’s comments: “That kind of rhetoric is race baiting and hateful.”

That’s rather rich coming from Lhota, defender of stop-and-frisk and the guy behind this racially charged political ad:

This is actually the kind of rhetoric that’s race baiting and hateful, Mr. Lhota.

Meanwhile, Rob Tappan, a spokesman for the Koch brothers, said:

Mr. Belafonte’s comments are false and reprehensible. His comments are divisive and destructive and are indicative of the type of hateful rhetoric that leads to the breakdown of a civil and respectful society.

Ultimately, de Blasio said of Belafonte’s characterization of the Koch Brothers:

I disagree with that characterization. I have great respect for Harry Belafonte, but I think that was the wrong way to talk about them, and I don’t think that’s fair.

So this went exactly how you would expect: A surrogate says something not politically correct, a faux controversy is engineered, and the candidate issues a disingenuous condemnation to save face.

Even so, Belafonte’s invoking the name of the Ku Klux Klan may have ruffled feathers, but was he totally off base? Hardly.

In 2011, the John Birch Society published a piece celebrating Fred Koch, the patriarch of the Koch family, and the rest of the family’s role in developing their group — a group known for its racism. They’ve done wonders with respect to keeping that legacy alive.

As Think Progress reported at the time:

The Bircher ode to Koch glosses over Fred’s record of bigotry. In a booklet he authored, Fred railed against civil rights leaders, and claimed the movement against racial segregation was a communist plot to use African Americans to destabilize the country. The Koch-funded Birchers held numerous rallies during the ’60s claiming integration would lead to a “mongrelization” of the races.

Although the present-day Koch brothers try to eschew explicit racism, their top Tea Party front group, Americans for Prosperity, is currently pursuing similar racial segregation goals. In North Carolina, the Americans for Prosperity chapter led a campaign to end a highly successful public school integration system.

There’s even a video chronicling David and Charles Koch’s role in the integration fight.

What kind of people would fight integration in 2013? The kind of folks who remind you of white hoods and burning crosses? I’m sorry if that imagery offends you, David and Charles. Would elite racists be better?

Over the years, the Koch  Brothers have given millions of dollars to conservative political groups and candidates who have routinely employed racially charged language to get ahead — and cut money to the poor, prevented minorities from voting, and restricted women’s rights.

Those are all things that aid institutionalized racism and boost a White power struggle.

So maybe Belafonte’s truth was inconvenient, harsh even. Regardless, he didn’t pull from where he sits. The man just accurately characterized how the Koch Brothers’ money has been spent.

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick

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