Two Black Media Voices Speak To Relieve Bigotry's Burden

LETTERS TO MY CHILDREN

By Robert C. Maynard

with Dori J. Maynard

Andrews and McMeel

246 pp., $16.95

BLACK LIES, WHITE LIES: THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO TONY BROWN

By Tony Brown

William Morrow

& Co. Inc.,

379 pp., $23

BLACK voices in the mainstream news media are far too rare. Two new books by prominent black journalists, with their depth of emotion and intellect, show what we're missing. While the authors differ in their political perspectives, both draw on their experiences as African-Americans to write with a common humanity that reaches across racial lines.

Former Oakland Tribune editor and publisher Robert Maynard, who passed on in 1993, became the first black owner of a major metropolitan newspaper in 1979. His weekly "Letter from the Editor" became a syndicated column in many newspapers. His daughter Dori, also a journalist, has collected from the best of his work in "Letters to My Children" and added several touching essays of her own.

Maynard draws larger lessons from columns that take as subject matter the everyday occurrences in his life.

One poignant piece describes heading out to commiserate with a white journalist friend on the day that President Kennedy was shot in 1963. The friend had been a classmate of Kennedy's at Harvard. They try to eat at a Baltimore restaurant, only to be refused service because Maynard is black.

In a 1992 column, Maynard describes how he and his wife try to watch the last episode of "Cosby," the quintessential televised depiction of black achievement and proud cultural identification.

But his children are watching Los Angeles burn on CNN as blacks react to the verdict in the Rodney King trial. Which is the true picture of black America, he seems to be asking the reader. Or is neither?

Maynard wrote in his journal, as quoted by his daughter:

"If it seems at times my preoccupation is with life's losers, the underfed, the victims of crime and the victims of the system, that is no accident. That is what I think my life and work are about. I am a son of the disinherited. The urban scene is my scene. The hungry are no strangers. They are my neighbors, not a statistical abstraction."

Failing all else, Maynard writes, there ought to be an economic motive for America to stamp out bigotry. "Our economic and political competitors, sharks in the waters of our future, will eat us alive if we continue to burden our society with the pathological legacy of slavery and racism," he writes.

That theme of economic empowerment looms even larger in "Black Lies, White Lies: The Truth According to Tony Brown."

The author, host of a long-running PBS television talk show and a radio and newspaper commentator, is part of a small but apparently growing band of black conservatives.

For Brown, affirmative action in the workplace is a failure that hasn't moved people from poverty to the middle class. White liberals, the Clinton administration, and black establishment leaders are the villains: They have failed to design self-help strategies to lead the black community out from dependency on government handouts.

His prescriptions? Blacks should return to the Republican Party and become a swing vote that neither party can take for granted and that both would have to woo. He would go beyond Steve Forbes's flat tax and abolish personal income taxes, replacing them with a national sales tax.

Yes, he concedes, "America has been and continues to be unfair to its Black citizens, [but] the opportunities provided by the system outweigh this liability."

His message to white America is simple: "I don't care if you don't want to marry me. I don't care if you don't want to sit next to me in school. But if you and I cannot work together and make widgets better than the workers in another country, neither you nor I will have a standard of living as high as the people in that country.... [Y]ou and I have to get one thing straight: We're all we've got."

And unlike Colin Powell, here is a black Republican full of new ideas who is itching to run for president. He's not likely to be asked. But with the field now a tossup, to overlook his ideas would be a great loss for everyone.

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