• My inner William Raspberry

    by Kelvin Wade

    Journalism lost a great this past week. William Raspberry, Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated columnist for the Washington Post. passed away from prostate cancer at the age of 76. It’s sad to me that his passing didn’t get more notice because his was a truly important voice.

    When Raspberry’s column began in 1966, he became the second nationally syndicated black columnist in America after Carl Rowan. That was also the year I was born. And while growing up in Norfolk, Virginia just three and a half hours from where Raspberry plied his trade, little did I know the impact the man would have on my writing.

    Years later, I would discover William Raspberry’s column. What interested me about Raspberry was that while he did write about racial issues from time to time, he didn’t feel as though he was limited to writing about racial matters. And when he branched out to other subjects, his views were difficult to pigeonhole. He truly was a moderate in the best sense of the word. That’s what attracted me to him. I’d found someone who did what I did, and thought about an issue on its own merits instead of filter it through a political ideology or regurgitate talking points.

    Raspberry’s well-reasoned columns avoided the histrionics and pyrotechnics of his bomb-throwing colleagues. He used to say he wasn’t concerned with right or left but with what works. He craved solutions. This often left him with plenty of critics on the right and left. And one got the sense from reading him that he couldn’t care less who he offended as long as he was being honest with himself.

    I’d read his work and think, “Wow! I wish I would’ve written that.”

    How would a guy like Raspberry, who retired in 2005, fare today? Sadly, I don’t know if there would be a place for him. Americans increasingly seem to want to get their news from outlets that mirror their own political persuasion or bias. They want the combativeness of a Paul Krugman, Ann Coulter, Maureen Down or Charles Krauthammer. Someone carefully analyzing an issue and coming up with a solution that doesn’t try to score political points doesn’t play well.

    Even Barack Obama, who brought us one of the most conciliatory, big tent, quintessentially American speeches in his keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and ran a visionary campaign on the audacity of hope in 2008, is beating the dog crap out of Mitt Romney with a Louisville Slugger in 2012.

    That’s just where we are now.
    When I first started as a newspaper columnist in 1992, I didn’t want to preach to the choir. While having folks agree with you is always a welcome thing, I wanted to reach people who disagreed with me. And while I didn’t hold out hope that I could change their minds, I at least wanted them to read an alternate perspective, which is why I christened my column, “The Other Side.”

    I pursued a Raspberryesque tone that sought to reach out rather than write a scorched earth polemic that would only serve to fatten up my fans with red meat.

    But times have changed and Americans’ craving for red meat is at an all time high. Introspection, compromise, understanding and olive branches are scoffed at. Today, it’s all about setting one’s hair afire and kicking ass. Moderate, sober deliberation is about as welcome as a vegan in a steakhouse.

    And I confess that I enjoy the pointed jousting of Bill Maher and the take-no-prisoners tone of the Rolling Stones’ Matt Taibbi as he eviscerates the banks, corporate America and their conservative coat-holders.

    My own tone has grown sharper as I’ve seen people less inclined to want to hear alternative viewpoints.

    Still, I hope I never lose touch with my inner William Raspberry.

    • I am glad you had such a mentor Kelvin. It certainly is reflected in your columns.

      • Judy N

      • July 22, 2012 at 10:40 am
      • Reply

      I love the balance (and fine writing)in your columns and it’s interesting to know about Raspberry. But Kelvin can you really compare Krugman to Ann Coulter?

    • Kelvin,
      In my eyes you are right up there with Mr. Raspberry. I know that you are probably bursting at the seams at times, as did Mr. Raspberry, to write about more controversial subjects. I am somewhat older that you, a one time resident of Little Rock. I tell you this because of the circumstances of my youth I was unaware of the great happenings that surrounded me. An eight foot high fence prevented me from witnessing the events of the Civil Rights movement. I had no idea that those of history were at work with the struggle for human rights all around me.
      My point is this; much of white America lives in the clouds, clouds that dim their vision of the real world. A columnist does not become national by mistake and white readers must contribute to this success. Therefore your column as well as Mr. Raspberry’s enlightens a great many of us caucasions to what is occuring in the real world and at the same time your written words can spur us to action when we see racism with it’s ugly head.
      Please go on with your “solutions” for your words that you use so well can, at times, stir my very soul.

      ppss: However I enjoy your xmass videos as well.

      • Kelvin

      • July 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks Madge. It’s kind of shocking that being reasonable is a virtue these days. In some circles. In others, it’s a sign of weakness.

      Judy, I’m not comparing the quality or veracity of Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter. I’m talking about the fact that they have polarized readerships. I don’t imagine there are many conservatives reading Paul Krugman. And I don’t imagine there are many progressives reading Coulter. I know that I have progressive, conservative and moderate readers. To me, it doesn’t matter what I write if I’m just singing to the choir. And it’s hard not to want to just wall yourself off and be a cheerleader for your side. Sometimes I look around and I don’t have a side to go to.

      Thank you, Donald. I appreciate your words. That was really moving…really deep. When I first started writing for the paper in ’92 I had a reader tell me they would give my columns to a friend to read and their friend liked them. But before she’d give them to her friend, she’d cut my photo off the top of the column because if her friend knew I was black she wouldn’t have read them! I’ve always wanted to reach out. And I’ve found that one way to do that is to not be a prick unless I have to be.

      • Lynda

      • July 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm
      • Reply

      I had forgotten all about Raspberry. I used to enjoy his stuff when I worked overnights @ KUIC. I am so tired of the “I gotcha” politics and discourse that is so prevalent in todays’s writing. Although you and I differ on many subjects, Kel, we agree on even more. So does that mean we can’t be friends because we don’t drink the same flavor of Kool-Aid (actually Flavor-Aid)? It would seem so if one were to believe MSM.
      The only person I could see comin near to filling Raspberry’s shoes could be Navarette. He sees issues for issues and not for how his ‘side’ tells him to see them.
      I’m still looking for the replacement of my mentor, Mike Royko.

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