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FREEDOM TO SPEAK BENSKY'S LANGUAGE!
Many people in the KPFA listener community in the San Francisco Bay Area have asked me, Joseph Anderson, for a copy of my UC Berkeley "Daily Californian" newspaper guest column on Pacifica Radio's KPFA character Larry Bensky. At the time of its original publication, I knew nothing about Bensky other than how he came across on the air. I guess it is time for a confirming retrospective. Bensky hasn't changed a bit. This was written during the Pacifica Radio crisis of 1999, when Bensky was fired (thanks to *me*, now it can be told!). I immediately notified and talked to Mary Berry, then, about his insubordination and symbolically offered to let her have Bensky in exchange for Pacifica Radio back. But, it was still nice to have someone Black shut *Bensky* up!
UC Berkeley "Daily Californian" newspaper guest column regarding Larry Bensky:
The Daily Cailifornian
June 15, 1999
FREEDOM TO SPEAK BENSKY'S LANGUAGE!
– by Joseph Anderson
I am writing in regard to the recent articles on KPFA in the Daily Californian. I find it ironic to hear of veteran announcer Larry Bensky's hypocritical pieties about free speech, given his own history.
On his radio programs, Bensky demonstrated a notable lack of respect for the free speech of Black KPFA listeners and others with whom he disagreed – especially those more progressive than he. Bensky freely censored or summarily dismissed more progressive thinkers.
Many white Berkeley liberals simply won't tolerate any analytical criticism of their heroes. They typically try to isolate or marginalize Blacks who do. But, Bensky's anti-intellectual and unprincipled tactics were easy to recognize for anyone who cared.
For example, however concise the inquiry or comment, Bensky would abruptly cut off, undermine or otherwise subtly censor the most compelling Black perspective. Yet, he would permit even incoherent, fumbling white male callers to meander on indefinitely. He shielded white interview guests from accountable, critical inquiry.
Even when a Black guest was especially resonant to an incisive question from a Black perspective, Bensky would often try to block the question and pre-empt the guest's answer with his own.
Furthermore, it is evident that Bensky has an intellectual deficit in grasping many multicultural issues. He was usually irritated by incisive perspectives, and would often interject with inane non sequiturs. Bensky clings to a white male sentiment of what is and what isn't important – even as a 'progressive.' Even some white women from different Pacifica stations regard him as a gigantically egotistical male.
Of course, he's forced by circumstances to treat prominent Black guests with a certain respect – so they're usually not on to him. [Prominent local Blacks are, like author Ishmael Reed or feminist writer/academic Barbara Christian.] However, even then, he usually tries to orient the interview and call-in questions to more shallow, white semi-liberal sentiments.
The "progressive" Bensky once partly excused police atrocities on the grounds that "they [the police] have difficult jobs." This retort was right after Bensky was presented with myth-busting national labor statistics revealing that there are many more jobs far more dangerous than police work.
Bensky censored criticism against a white educational "liberal" (Herb Kohl) who said, 'though Blacks were not genetically inferior, they were culturally inferior.' Such genteel racism represents views also often held by KQED radio's glib, pedantic and pseudo-liberal Michael Krasny, whom Bensky also defends – his alter ego. I, for one, am tired of white-supremacists masquerading as "liberals."
Though Bensky has fooled as many Bay Area liberals as Clinton once did, I am far from the only person (Black or white) who has taken note of Bensky's behavior. In fact, many Black listeners regard Bensky as nothing more than a pseudo-'progressive' racist.
Our own UC Berkeley, recent MacArthur "Genius Award"-winning African American author, Ishmael Reed, has repeatedly noted Bensky's behavior. Unlike Bensky's vocal fan club, many Blacks, including many media and community activists, regard Bensky as not a true progressive – just "a legend in his own mind." Many Blacks once thought that Bensky was finally gone before – but like Nixon, he keeps trying to come back.
While Bensky basks in his fifteen minutes of 'stardom' as a "martyr" to free speech, many of us know better.
I challenge KPFA staff and supporters to examine their own ranks when they complain about gag rules, censorship, and disrespectful treatment. Instead, whenever minorities complain, many white liberals scream, as Martin Luther King, Jr., often observed, that, "Now is not the time!" Then in times of white liberal crises such whites want, "in the spirit of (whatever), to all pull together."
However you support KPFA, Bensky's departure was long overdue.
Joseph Anderson is a member of the National Council for African American Men.