Malcolm X had an entirely different thought in mind when he said, "The chickens have come home to roost." But that is exactly what appears to have happened in the recording industry when we consider the idea of blacks participating in discriminating against other blacks.
A few days ago, the NAACP accused several of the country's top black recording stars of "hypocritical discrimination" against other blacks and announced that it has begun a campaign to pressure these same singers and their recording companies into hiring more blacks.
According to the NAACP, the campaign will focus on five superstars who have "almost entirely white operations . . . and . . . have excluded blacks from their operations."
Among the entertainers charged are Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross and Prince. Representatives of the five artists vehemently denied discriminating against blacks, saying their clients seek out the most qualified people, regardless of color. Sound familiar?
Ironically, many of these artists are the same stars who made the recording, "We Are the World" and have been leaders in the USA for Africa project that has raised millions of dollars for African famine victims. "While we praise their work in Africa, we are concerned that they are engaging in racist practices at home," said the NAACP'S Melanie Lomax.
Agreeing with Lomax, Jack Gibson, publisher of a black entertainment trade paper called Jack the Rapper, said, "I don't understand why our stars have to have all-white management. That tells us they don't have any confidence in blacks." For the past five months, Gibson has been campaigning to get the same top recording artists who raised money for African famine victims to cut another record for the hungry in America. Thus far, he has met with little success.
While Richie's manager, Ken Kragen, who created the USA for Africa Foundation, acknowledged there "may be a problem with a lack of black presence in the production side of the industry," he said he was "not aware of any conscious effort to keep blacks out. Richie, in particular, is very aware and sensitive to the issue," he said.
Prince's business manager, Fred Moultrie, said he agrees with the NAACP criticism as a rule, but does not feel that his client should be a target. "I'm black and I handle all his financial affairs," he said. "I try to hire blacks. But I agree there's a problem as far as the industry's concerned. The problem lies in blacks being able to gain the experience in the first place."
While there may be an inkling of truth to what Moultrie says, I cannot totally agree. There are already many blacks with the skills and experience to handle any of the record industry's behind-the-scenes work. In fact, declining opportunity, not lack of expertise and experience, prompted some 40 black professionals to form a coalition called Black Business for Equity in Entertainment earlier this year to ensure that blacks get a fair share of the greatly expanded revenues being generated by black entertainers.
If expertise among blacks is really a problem, the stars and their record companies should consider minimal training programs that might even be a tax write-off under the new Reagan administration proposal. Considering the multibillion-dollar business that the record industry has become, some of our high schools should include courses in recording arts technology.
Black stars must remember that they have a responsibility to black industry professionals. After all, if it weren't for the blacks and whites who marched and faced fire hoses during the civil rights movement, many of these wealthy black entertainers might still be considered "race artists" and confined to the chittlin' circuit.
Of course, not all black entertainers fail to support black professionals in the music industry. The NAACP cited many black entertainers for their conspicuous efforts, including Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, Lena Horne and Sammy Davis Jr.
Many black entertainers support a variety of causes and donate their services to benefit telethons and worthy causes such as the USA for Africa project. But while charity begins wherever there is a genuine need, responsibility detours through their own industry.