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The McKinney letter
By Kimberley Jane Wilson
First comes the tragedy, then comes the farce.
I was reminded of this saying when I heard about Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-4th GA) and her recent letter to His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, of Saudi Arabia.
The massacre that took place on September 11 is of course, the tragedy. This terrible event caused enormous physical and emotional pain for thousands of survivors as well as friends and family members of the victims. An untold number of people have lost or will soon loose their jobs because of the economic impact of the attacks. These folks are suffering as well.
Congresswoman McKinney's efforts to wheedle money out of Prince Alwaleed, is the farce. If these weren't such serious times her letter would be almost funny.
Prince Alwaleed offered a donation of $10 million dollars to the disaster relief fund for New York City victims and was promptly turned down by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It turns out that the donation came with strings attached. The prince was looking to score publicity points against Israel and gave his unasked for opinion on US foreign policy.
Mayor Giuliani told the Saudi prince to take his check and go away. That should have been the end of the story but instead Rep. McKinney who is from Georgia and not New York jumped in. She wrote a pitiful, groveling letter to Prince Alwaleed that first, praises him lavishly then attacks Israel, and finally asks that in light of the poor conditions of black Americans could he please send that $10 million to some black charities that she'd be happy to recommend.
Now, I have been among the first to point out that Black America has some serious problems. Rep. McKinney did not entirely exaggerate in her letter. As she wrote, "A black baby boy born in Harlem today has less chance of reaching age 65 than a baby born in Bangladesh." I have no argument with that statement. However, a mere $10 million hand out to a few selected charities will not change a thing.
The challenges facing many a black baby born today can be daunting. Too many of our kids have to play catch up due to substandard public school education, low to non-existent expectations from teachers and a poisoned popular culture that certainly is not helping. Hip Hop and to a lesser extent R&B frequently glorifies a lifestyle of violence, misogyny and mindless sex without acknowledging that this is a dead-end way to actually live. The drug epidemic did serious harm to inner city black communities. Too many of our young people feel hopeless and are acting accordingly. Despite all this I can't help but feel repelled by Rep. McKinney's begging letter to a foreign prince.
I would've hoped that a member of the United States Congress would've had more pride than to write such a letter. By both Saudi and rich American standards $10 million isn't a such a huge sum. If Rep. McKinney is really serious about collecting cash for her pet charities then she would do better going to one or two Hollywood celebrities. All you have to do is pick up the latest copy of Ebony Magazine and you can read about some actor or singer who merrily threw away more than the amount the prince offered on houses and cars.
Someone should remind Rep. McKinney the source of a donation matters just as much as the amount. Prince Alwaleed comes from a country that is infamous for it's casual abuse of human rights. According to Amnesty International women in Saudi Arabia face a horrifying level of daily discrimination. They are not allowed to drive or even walk outside of their homes unescorted and face severe physical punishment if they dare show their uncovered faces in public.. Saudi Arabia is a country that only "officially" outlawed slavery in 1962! Unofficially domestic workers, particularly foreign born female workers are treated little better than slaves. This is also a country that is strongly suspected of appeasing and giving millions upon millions to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.
When Rep. McKinney told Prince Alaweed in her letter that "statistics are very grim for Black America" and that his money could "help improve the state of Black America and build better lives," she fell prey to the idea that black people can't help ourselves and need some kindly outside savior to fix everything for us. As living proof of what an ambitious and determined person can do she should know better. While it's true that people can not live on pride the congresswoman from Georgia is a glaring example of what happens when you try to live without it.
Kimberley Lindsay Wilson is the author of Work It! The Black Woman's Guide to Success at Work (Iuniverse, ISBN 059500122X, $8.95) & Eleven Things Mama Should Have Told You About Men (African American Images, September 2000, ISBN: 0913543691, $12.95). She can be found at http://members.aol.com/wilsonhope/aaa/index.html.
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