By Patricia Wilson-Smith
I wrote a book a couple of years ago called “Duped By Love”, and in that book, I had a great time making fun of how the media here in the A.T.L. loves to walk the streets of the worst neighborhoods, looking for stuff to report on, and trying to find the least articulate person on the planet to interview about whatever newsworthy thing has taken place.
Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean.
A young black man is a witness to a drive by shooting, and describes what he saw with a heavy dirty South accent. A middle-aged black woman witnesses a domestic disturbance, and through barely decipherable English, recounts the tale to the reporter and camera man who have her framed against a background of urban desolation, eager to exploit her for the amusement of their audience. I HATE that crap.
There is no denying it – in cities and states around the country, the news media make it a point to seek out those that they feel will portray the black man, woman, and sometimes even the black voter in the worst light possible. Enter Derrick Ashong and a CNN reporter known only as “Mike”.
On January 31st, Derrick Ashong, a 32-year old musician found himself pulled into the fray of the Democratic debate being held at the Kodak Theatre. He was talked into standing outside the event and holding an Obama sign by a good friend. Now, it must be noted, that to look at Mr. Ashong is to see nothing particularly special. Outwardly, he looks like any other street kid, and if we were to be 100% honest with ourselves, he has the exact look of someone that some people might cross the street rather than confront face to face for fear of being robbed or worse. Yes – outwardly, Derrick Ashong could be the poster child for the image of young black men that the media has taught the viewing public to fear.
So I’m fairly certain it was with this (and ratings) in mind that a CNN cameraman/reporter walked up to Derrick Ashong and asked him pointedly, and rather rudely why he supports Senator Obama. I’m ashamed to admit, that when I was first told to watch the video, and the first few seconds rolled across the screen, I felt a certain discomfort over what was coming.
You see, in an age where people often amuse themselves by recording each other’s most idiotic moments and publishing them to YouTube for the entire world to see, I was certain that what I was about to be treated to was more of the same. I can distinctly recall that I felt that pang of dread that I often feel when viewing some new example of blatant black stereotyping by the media. I felt it, yes I did. But I sat there and made myself watch, and I continued to listen – and what I saw and heard brought pure joy to my heart.
Mike the CNN reporter hammered Mr. Ashong with probing question after probing question about why he was standing outside the Kodak Theatre that day in support of Senator Obama. At first, Derrick gave a few canned answers that sounded suspiciously like something you might pick up from Obama paraphernalia. And so Mike probed more deeply. He asked Derrick about the candidates’ health care plans, how they would be funded, he asked him about socialized medicine, and the likely economic impact of an Obama Health care plan – and as the questions grew more complex, Derrick Ashong proceeded to school both Mike the CNN reporter and me on the superior aspects of the Obama plan, and why it makes the most sense for the nation.
And it’s not just that he beat back an obvious attempt to make an Obama Supporter look substance-less – he did it with so much finesse, authority and in such a knowledgeable way, that the reporter had no choice but to allow himself to be drawn into an engaging conversation with a young man who was obviously his intellectual equal, and abandon what I am convinced was meant to be an opportunity to show the world that young black men, and the youth of this country in general are rallying behind Senator Obama like the unwitting victims of some pied piper, or like groupies to a rock star. Wow.
Derrick Ashong single-handedly destroyed about half-a-dozen stereo types in the space of 6 minutes during that interview. He proved, first, that young black men do much more than sit around smoking weed all day waiting for opportunities to rob and loot, as is so often portrayed in the media. Secondly, he showed that even the very young can be extremely well-versed in the issues of the day, and knowledgeable of the candidates they support. Thirdly – in casually announcing that his father was a pediatrician, he showed the reporter that young black men can be the product of good homes, headed up by educated professionals, and that not all black men standing around on a street corner come from broken homes.
Fourth – he shattered the myth that the typical Obama supporter is just somehow ‘in-love’ with the Senator, or only on the campaign’s bandwagon because Senator Obama makes good speeches. Fifth – he proved that even someone who has made a conscious decision to be a musician can still be politically engaging, and an intellectual. Sixth, he dispelled the myth that young voters don’t understand what’s at stake in this election – I could go on and on and on.
The bottom line is, it seems like lately, every day in every way, we are beginning to get the proof that our nation is turning a corner. We are beginning to really get a flavor for the power our diversity gives us as a country. You see, Derrick Ashong is an immigrant from Ghana, educated here in the states. He is young and passionate, but old enough to recall that there was a time when he lived in a land where he did not have the right to vote. His command of the issues was amazing, his enthusiasm for Senator Obama clear. The reporter repeatedly (at first) chided him about providing ‘technical’ answers, and not just ’emotion’ to support his positions. So in the face of what most would consider to be grilling on the part of the CNN reporter, he kept a cool head, and stuck to the facts.
The video of his interview that day has been played on YouTube by hundreds of thousands of people, and has become so popular that he’s been accused of being an Obama plant, which is ridiculous when you think about it. But to answer the nay-sayers, he produced a follow-up that he calls ‘The Emotional Response’, and if the first video impresses the heck out of you, this one will move you beyond belief.
In it, he discusses his love for this country, his unique ethnic background, and his appreciation of our democracy. He talks about why it is so important that we figure out a way to get past our differences, and come together for the good of our country. Sound familiar?
The beauty and the power of what occurred outside the Kodak Theater that day cannot be overstated. Out there that day, two men, one white and one black, bridged both an age and racial chasm, to find common agreement on an important political issue. What happened out there that day? Without trying to, one young man showed America the face of yet another black man who cares more about the collective well being of our country than he does about any singular racial or socio-economic group. What happened was that Derrick Ashong validated what Senator Obama has often said in his writings and in his speeches. “I know they’re out there”, he says in the ‘Audacity of Hope’. “Those people who are tired of politics as usual, and want a different kind of politics”. He showed America that not only are they out there, but they might show up in the most surprising ways, wrapped in the most unlikely packages.
Thank you Derrick, for being the very definition of ‘representin’.