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The Spook who Sat by the White House Door

New America Media, News Analysis, Commentary, Kevin Weston Posted: Mar 26, 2008

Editor's Note: The outrage directed at Barack Obama and his former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright has everything to do with white America's deep-seated fear of African-American revolutionary potential. Kevin Weston is a writer and director of new media and youth communications at New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- It took the recent death of black pioneer filmmaker and actor Ivan Dixon to put the proper perspective on Barack Obamas preacher problems. Hillary Clinton wouldnt go to Rev. Wrights church but Dixon mightve.

Dixon is best known for playing a very out-of-place African-American POW in Hogans Heroes, a 70s sitcom that depicted allied prisoners of war as insurgents who ran an "underground railroad" and waged guerilla war in Nazi Germany during WWII from a barbed wire-lined camp.

I would wonder while watching the show: Where are the Jews? How did this black man get to hang out, blow up trains and sneak downed pilots back across enemy lines - and not get lynched?

Dixon directed, among other movies and television series, The Spook who Sat by the Door one of the best-kept-secrets of the black exploitation film era of the early 60's and 70's. A young Herbie Hancock, recent Grammy winner for album of the year, composed the film's hyper funky soundtrack.

Spook was kicked out of theaters in 1973, weeks after its release. Based on the novel by Sam Greenlee, the movie asked: What if a modern black hero built a guerrilla army made up of street gangs and incited armed black revolution in America? What would that look like?

VIDEO: Trailer for The Spook who Sat by the Door.

The mastermind of the movement is a Spook (a spy who is black), literally. The protagonist, Dan Freeman, is the first black CIA agent ever to be recruited by the agency. His job is to monitor community-based radicals while fronting a non-profit type job in Chicago.

He has a super square, black yuppie, semi-super fly lifestyle, but the whole time he is organizing behind the scenes to create revolutionary conditions on Chicagos streets. The cell he founded is replicated across Americas inner cities so that by the end of the flick the Spook is martyred, but every ghetto in the country is on fire, and black people are in the streets looking for a brighter day.

This scenario plays out one of the deepest psychic fears of the white American establishment: the slave uprising led by the negro who white folks thought they could trust -- the non-threatening one they could let run their White House while they went hunting.

He could be the very same ungrateful negro that would poison the food, or set the barn on fire while organizing the other slaves to steal and steal away. This is the nightmare Thomas Jefferson and George Washington had to have tossed and turned over at night on more than one occasion.

Like the Spook in the movie, Obama has made a living winning white votes playing the role of the non-threatening black man America can trust. The Wright controversy has gone a long way in disproving that assumption.

Fear of an '08 Spook is what Clinton -- and if Obama is the nominee, the Republicans - will use to try bring Chi-towns finest down.

The movie is intriguing because the hero was so determined, focused and smart that you rooted for him. The daily injustices of life in isolated poverty while living in - what was then -- the richest country in the world, were rendered so clearly by Dixon's direction that Freemans vision seemed like a blue print to an ironic, apocalyptic justice.

There is a side of many black people that would look at any humbling of American power as divine retribution. Malcolm X described the type as a field negro, one who would pray for a great wind to blow and catch the master's house on fire. Its that spiritual, age-old longing for justice that can only come from God humbling the powerful, coming to the aid of the afflicted through an Old Testament-style catastrophe aimed at the American pharaoh class. This is the spirit that Rev. Wright, and any black preacher worth his black liberation salt, has to preach to. Without understanding that, you cant speak to the souls of black folk.

This kind of black thought is what got Chicago native Black Panther Field Marshall Fred Hampton assassinated, but it is also the foundation of the current African-American political classs success at winning elections. It was the Black Panther Party that laid the ground work for Ron Dellums (first to Congress and recently to the mayor's office) to get elected in Oakland in the 70s. And, like it or not, it is on the shoulders of that black thought and action that Barack Obama is standing.

Fred Hampton

Obama sat in Wright's pews because he needed to soak that game up - learn the skill of speaking to the choir and gathering a flock, with flair and audacity, while shouting truth to power and the people. Growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia couldnt have provided that crucial experience to the son of a white woman and an African immigrant.

Obama's speech on race, while meant to defuse the Wright controversy, actually catapulted Obama into the rare air of great American orators and has helped place the struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination in the historic quagmire of American racial politics.

I was one of the early nay-sayers in the community that thought Obama wasnt black enough. This last week taught me that regardless of his intentions or feelings, he is as black as James Brown, by association, and owning up to that reality could cost him the nomination or, in classic jazz-like improvising under duress and making something-from-nothing wizardry, win him the presidency.

Related Articles:

Prophets Don't Speak the Language of Politics

Obama's Speech: A message of unity

Barack Rhymes With Tupac

Racial Idealism vs Racial Realism: Obama's Effort To Bridge the Divide and the DLC

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