Public Enemy is being put on the hot seat again.
The controversial rap group made headlines last spring when its Minister of Information, Professor Griff, declared that Jews were responsible for “the majority of wickedness” in the world. (Griff later backed away from the statement and has since left the group.)
* In January, the band released a new single, “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which prompted more uproar over lyric references to crucifixion and “so-called chosen” people that were decried as anti-Semitic by Jewish leaders. (The band’s chieftain, Chuck D, insists the lyrics referred to his treatment by the media.)
Now the band has become embroiled in another flap. When key pop critics around the country received “review” copies of the band’s new album, “Fear of a Black Planet,” which is distributed by Columbia Records, they were also sent a 15-page booklet titled “The Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy).”
The booklet, written by Dr. Frances L. Cress Welsing, a Washington-based psychiatrist, “should be seen as some of the inspiration for ‘Fear of a Black Planet,’ ” said Harry Allen, the group’s Director of Enemy Relations.
That’s what bothers some critics, who were shocked by the booklet’s unusual theories about white supremacy. “It’s understandable to be frustrated and infuriated by racism,” said Entertainment Weekly music critic Greg Sandow, who referred to the booklet in his column as “a miserable new chapter” in the Public Enemy story. “But this explanation is really loony. It’s crackpot and offensive. You don’t know whether to laugh or weep.”
New York Daily News pop music writer David Hinckley, who said he’s writing a column about the booklet, added: “This will probably cause another controversy. And I’m not at all sure, from my dealings with the group, that they wouldn’t welcome it.”
Reviewing the album earlier this month, Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn described “Fear of a Black Planet” as a work of “confrontational social commentary” whose title track “questions the integrity of a nation where, as Chuck D. maintains, black blood is considered impure.”
Welsing’s booklet couches this theory in more academic terms. She holds that racism resulted after “white or color-deficient Europeans responded psychologically with a profound sense of numerical inadequacy and color inferiority upon their confrontations with the massive majority of the world’s people, all of whom possessed varying degrees of color producing capacity.”
Among its other arguments:
* “That whites do indeed desire to have colored skin can be seen by anyone at the very first signs of spring or summer when they begin to strip off their clothes . . . in an attempt to add some color to their white, pale, colorless bodies.”
* “Whites desire sexual alliances with the ‘non-whites,’ both male and female, because it is only through this route that whites can achieve the illusion of producing color.”
* “The body area attacked during most lynchings of black males by white males is the area of the genitals where the powerful color-producing genetic material is stored.”
Welsing, who is celebrated as one of 36 “Legends in Our Time” in the currentissue of Essence magazine, says her theory of pigment envy is the foundation of her general and child psychiatry practice. She has never met Public Enemy. “I’d never heard of them--I’m not a big expert on popular culture,” she said. “But I’ve talked to Harry Allen, who said the band had apparently heard some of the tapes of my lectures.”
Welsing’s Color-Confrontation theory was first published in 1970 when she was an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Howard University. She says she was subsequently denied tenure. “It was definitely because of my political theories. I spoke with the head of the medical school who told me he felt my ideas did not make sense.”
While Welsing is delighted that Public Enemy is spreading her message, she didn’t appear surprised that some critics--in particular white critics--found the theory outlandish.
“I define racism as a global system of behavior that exists for the purpose of white genetic survival. I understand that my theory is disturbing. But science can be disturbing. If you don’t like the truth, you kill the person who speaks it. But it’s still the truth.
“If you saw the recent cover story in Time magazine (“America’s Changing Color: What Will the U.S. Be Like When Whites Are No Longer the Majority”) you’d see my point. That was an alarm. The white people writing those stories have a real fear of genetic annihilation.”
However some critics contend that by saying racism has a genetic origin, Welsing brands all whites as racist. Not so, she says.
“I’m saying that white people must first acknowledge that something awful has been going on, just as the Germans would have to accept responsibility for what they did in the Holocaust. Unfortunately, in white America, there’s a denial among 99% of the people that anything has happened.
“If they read my book, they would see I’m asking white people to respect themselves. Because if they respect themselves, they would respect others and get along with the other people on this planet instead of killing them off.”
Allen said Wesling’s booklet was sent out with “total input” from Chuck D: “He knows everything I do.” However, the Public Enemy leader refused to comment on the booklet. CBS Records corporate publicity chief Bob Altschuler had no comment, saying he had not seen the booklet. The band’s manager, Russell Simmons, responded: “They just read it to me--I didn’t see anything that shocked me.”
Asked if the controversial topic didn’t raise a warning signal, he replied: “ Everything they do raises warning signals. But I don’t get involved in everything they do.”
Allen defended the booklet, saying, “We drop bombs. And we don’t make any of this stuff up. We consider Dr. Welsing an important voice because of her standing in the African community, the intellectual level of her study and its lack of deference to white standards.”
Told that some critics found Welsing’s theories outlandish and crackpot, Allen replied: “Is it more outlandish or crackpot than white supremacy? Or flipping through the TV and seeing white people every time? Or seeing white faces on every magazine cover? Or walking through Harlem and seeing poor black people for miles and miles?”
Still, the early reviews aren’t very positive. “I’ve always liked the band,” Sandow said. “But if they believe they’re part of a political struggle in this country, I can’t see how writing off all white people is going to help them.”
HOT FLASH: A&M; Records isn’t wasting any time replacing the series of key staffers who’ve departed the label in recent weeks. As predicted here last week, the company is promoting from within, bringing up a new generation of Young Turk execs. You won’t see any official announcements until later this week, but here’s several confirmed players in A&M;'s new starting lineup. Tom Corson, ex-president Gil Friesen’s former assistant, moves up to vice president of marketing. . . . Billy Gilbert becomes vice president of sales (taking over the departed David Steffens’ old sales duties). . . . And Richard Frankel steps up to vice president of creative services (the domain of departed creative wizard Jeff Gold).