Tempest in a Bass Pot

Fort Worth minister draws national attention to controversy over comedian’s appearance.
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Posted June 27, 2007 by Dan McGraw in News

The demonstration over comedian D. L. Hughley’s appearance at Bass Performance Hall last weekend could produce another protest, this one involving legendary comedian/actor Bill Cosby.

The Rev. Kyev Tatum, pastor of Fort Worth’s Servant House Baptist Church, who helped organize the Hughley boycott, said his group will approach Cosby to help them with their dissatisfaction with Bass Hall and city leadership. Cosby is scheduled to do two shows at Bass Hall on Sept. 30. “We have tried to sit down with [Bass Hall officials], and they have ignored us,” Tatum said. “Our goal is to sit down with city fathers and discuss the double standards that exist when dealing with minority communities in this city. The fact that they brought in Hughley, and knew he was offensive to many of us, and to do so during the Juneteenth weekend, shows they don’t care about anything we think at all.” If his group can’t get city leaders to meet with them for “serious discussions,” he said, “we will ask Cosby to cancel his shows at Bass Hall.”

The boycott of the Hughley show began after the comedian made comments on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC that many blacks and women found offensive. Hughley was referring to remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team that got Don Imus fired from his CBS Radio and MSNBC-TV shows. Imus referred to the black women on the team as “nappy-headed ho’s.” Hughley said Imus was wrong to call the women of the Rutgers basketball team “ho’s,” but added that the team members were some of the “ugliest, nappy-head women” he had ever seen. “He said almost the exact same thing as Imus, but Imus’ remarks were more off the cuff,” said Eddie Griffin, a Fort Worth resident who participated in the protest but who bought a ticket rather than actually boycotting the performance. “Hughley’s remarks were planned and DELETEed. His demeaning of African-American women is offensive to everyone, and Bass Hall should have recognized this. But the fact that they wouldn’t even discuss the issue shows how they feel.”

Bass Hall spokeswoman Maggie Estes declined to comment on the plan to ask Cosby to cancel his appearance. She said the booking of Hughley was part of the hall’s “diverse entertainment offerings, and was never intended to be part of a Juneteenth celebration.” As for the protesters’ desire to talk to Bass officials, she said, “to my knowledge they have not requested a meeting.” Griffin was arrested inside the hall during Hughley’s performance. He had started booing and shouting after Hughley referred to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York as a “bitch.” “He was referring to the former first lady and one of the leading presidential candidates in such a derogatory manner, and I spoke up,” Griffin said. “The next thing I knew, I was being carried out.” Although Griffin had a ticket for the performance, police initially said he was being arrested for criminal trespass, a felony. That was eventually reduced to a warning as police tried to settle the situation outside. Griffin, however, has been banned from attending any other show at Bass Hall.

Estes said the ban “was part of the citation issued by police, and not by Bass Hall.” Tatum praised Fort Worth police for not overreacting to the protest, even protecting the protesters from a crowd of hecklers. But the minister said Bass Hall staff went out of their way to make the two dozen or so protesters look bad. He said a Bass Hall public relations staffer approached a KXAS-TV news crew and brought them into the hall to film Griffin’s arrest. “The staff member walked over to the KXAS truck and asked them to come in,” Tatum said. “When the camera crew went in, they got to film two black officers accosting Eddie Griffin. That is how Bass Hall wanted to portray us. We had a peaceful protest outside, and Eddie Griffin paid for his ticket and had every right to boo Hughley. You have the right to laugh or cry or hiss or to boo. But they wanted to show us as disorderly, even though we were very far from that.” Estes said Hughley allowed the tv crew inside for the first five minutes of the performance, and that is when Griffin was removed, on the decision of police officers. Estes also said “it is not unusual” for police to be inside Bass Hall during performances. It is unclear whether police watch for criminal behavior during operas or ballets. In a statement after the show, Hughley was unapologetic: “I believe that freedom of speech is a zero-sum proposition. Too many times I have watched clowns like these pretend to speak for the masses. …

Isn’t there a child you can help teach to read, a war to help stop, an unjustly accused man you can help out of jail? I will not apologize for telling a joke about the world as I see it.” In an e-mail to Tatum, Rutgers University President Richard L. McCormick said he appreciated the Hughley boycott. “Thank you for your message of support for the Rutgers women’s basketball team,” McCormick wrote. “We are proud of the dignity and grace with which these 10 student athletes conducted themselves throughout the controversy … .” Tatum said the Hughley protest is helping to draw attention to what he perceives as the double standard in Fort Worth’s treatment of minorities. “They keep saying we have such a livable city, but it all depends on what side of the city you live in,” Tatum said. “If the white community was upset about Bass Hall booking an entertainer who was offensive to them, you know for sure Bass Hall would have pulled the plug immediately. But for us, they didn’t even have the courtesy to listen. “If Eddie Griffin had not been forcibly removed from the show, we would have dropped everything,” Tatum said. “But they have not been apologetic and are showing their arrogance.” Cosby, he said, “has been quite vocal about the derogatory comments black entertainers make against their own people, and I feel quite strongly he will be on board with us.”

 


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