Crossing Amerikkka

In 1996, the white gods of privilege smiled on Scoop Jackson: he got bumped up to first class on an overbooked flight. Although Scoop leads a jetset life writing for national magazines and hosting an NBA television show, he was a first-class virgin. He recalled the experience in the pages of The Agenda, a black literary magazine Scoop started on the South Side. "White eyes tightened and little lips curled as Suzy Stewardess took my overhead bag," Scoop wrote. "Surrounded by white folks, do I remain myself or do I do the Bryant Gumbel?"The only black person enjoying leather seats and a bottomless glass of Scotch, decked out in Knicks gear, Scoop fully enjoyed first class. First, he got on the cell phone to convey a "drug-dealer image." Then he decided to "go corporate" by pulling out his laptop, cranking Raekwon on his Walkman "just to keep everything black."Finally, when the plane landed, the man next to Scoop asked him what he did for a living -- and cringed at the reply. "I make white people think."I'm white, and Scoop Jackson sure as hell makes me think. His new collection of articles, "The Darkside: Chronicling the Young Black Experience" (Noble Press), takes its title from an Ice Cube song featuring Chuck D. and Public Enemy, "Tales from the Darkside." Like Ice Cube, Scoop is a product of America's dark side; he grew up the son of two Black Panthers on the South Side under the "cloud that's hung over young Black Americans."Scoop's words can be as raw, raucous and rhythmic as any gangsta rap. He criticizes the Nation of Islam for letting the Anti-Defamation League dictate the NOI's internal affairs. He claims that "white America's biggest fear has been either a black man with a gun, or a black man with a following." He writes that "the Black press, if there truly is one, needs to be overtly demanding in setting the agenda for Black America." In essay after essay, Scoop blows across lines that political correctness, the zeitgeist, the media -- basically, white people -- draw in the sand.Not surprisingly, Vibe once called Scoop's labor of love, The Agenda, "the most dangerous magazine in the country" -- a country that Scoop usually labels "Amerikkka." Amerikkka, Scoop writes, "has a way of making you hate white folk." Amerikkka capitalizes on black talent in sports and entertainment by owning the teams and the media outlets, earning money off the backs of blacks. Amerikkka judges black success in terms of white success, parceling out how many blacks will be let in to California's public universities, how many black shows will appear on white-owned networks, how many writers like Scoop Jackson will work for mainstream media."Amerikkka," Scoop charges, "has always found a way to put a limit on the powerful black individual.""There's a limitlessness to the way I think," Scoop says. In his early twenties, he wrote articles in the Washington Post and USA Today. But that success didn't overly excite him. Even then, he wanted to be a regular contributor, not a one-hit wonder.But Scoop's critical mind knows no bounds. It sneaks through the phonetically spelled words, the rapid-fire allusions to everyone from Malcolm X to Kelsey Grammer, the distorting aura of the celebrities he interviews. At times, Scoop's raw energy and honesty may be wrongheaded. But right or wrong, Scoop crosses boundaries of thought that hem in most writers, especially those working at his level.Exhibit A: How many writers cop to being racists?Scoop Jackson, for one. "I'm a racist. It's just that simple. There are no excuses, no explanations. I have a tendency not to like some white people simply because they are ... white." The words appeared in the September 1997 issue of SLAM, a New York-based basketball magazine where Scoop is editor-at-large.Scoop went on to explain that he hates the Atlanta Hawks' Aryan-poster-boy center Christian Laettner simply because Laettner is white. After Laettner and Duke University's NCAA championship victory over UNLV, a white man near Scoop in a D.C. bar yelled out, "Yeah. Duke beat them niggers." From then on, Scoop hated Laettner without knowing him, "for all the wrong reasons, for the color of his skin." Scoop said in print what many black people say about Duke behind closed doors.But Scoop didn't stop there. If Laettner's first name were Juwan (as in Juwan Howard, a black NBA All Star with identical stats), Scoop argued, then he would have made the All-Star team. Reverse racism in the NBA. The concession didn't stop a Miami shock jock from telling Scoop he was a moron who should be castrated and kicked out of the country.As the essays in "The Darkside" attest, Scoop's courted controversy in print for years. In The Fly Paper, a Chicago hiphop magazine founded in the early nineties by Raymond "Promo" O'Neal and Mic Shane, Scoop took a similarly controversial stand during the Simpson case. To this day, O'Neal, now national music sales director at Vibe, marvels at the piece, entitled "O.J. Juiced.":"It's one of the best commentaries on O.J. I've seen. Basically, Scoop said that if O.J. hadn't married that white girl, we wouldn't be talking about it. People appreciated the frankness, the criticism of the media and of O.J."Bringing a black perspective to sports, basketball in particular, made Scoop the "star writer" for SLAM magazine. Publisher Dennis Page adds, "It's important to have black writers covering the sports, and Scoop's as good as they get, black or white." His first SLAM assignment was to cover a Nike high-school all-star camp at the Bulls Deerfield practice gym, the Berto Center; nowadays, Scoop returns to the Berto Center to interview Jordan, Pippen and Rodman.His work has earned respect from fellow sportswriters. "I always enjoy reading [his articles]," says Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, who's known Scoop four years. "They're very lively, very street, which is a euphemism for black. Scoop is one of the most -- I know it's not a great word -- bubbly guys. I don't think I've ever seen him when he wasn't smiling." Telander adds that "he's not looking for confrontations, when most journalists are." I mention that description doesn't exactly jibe with the Laettner article. "As a person," says Telander, who has only heard about the Laettner piece, "he's not a racist. There are plenty of reasons for a black man to feel upset, angry, or have prejudices. He doesn't need to let that rule his personal life. "To get right down to it, if Scoop's a racist, he's the nicest racist I've met."I hadn't yet learned from Telander about Scoop's bubbly personality when I drive down to his South Shore home/office. Truth is, I'm slightly nervous. After all, minus the basketball skills and about a foot of height, Laettner is basically just like me. I'm white, a product of northern Indiana's version of Amerikkka, went to a white-bread university like Duke, live in Lincoln Park, watch "Friends" instead of "Living Single." As I drive down Lake Shore Drive to Jeffrey, I try to set the mood by tuning to WGCI, shrugging my shoulders like an electroshock patient to the "Men in Black" theme.Holding his one-year-old son Furious, Scoop greets me on the porch of his new two-story red-brick home as if we're old friends. An orange shirt and orange basketball shorts drape on the slim, athletic-looking writer (he's got a treadmill in the basement). We head up to the office, decorated with a "Do the Right Thing" poster and filled with back issues of Vibe, Rolling Stone, Men's Health. While Furious plays with the fax, we crack a brewski and talk hoops, music, kids. Scoop is, as O'Neal puts it, "a very intelligent, smart brother."Yet, far from going into some highbrow James Earl Jones mode, Scoop lets loose. He's definitely the most intelligent person I've met who uses some version of the word "mothafuckin" as often as I, like, use "like." Far from curling my white ears, the "M" word sounds like music from Scoop's tongue. When he talks about helping "young black mothafuckas" or refers to his brand new house as "this mothafucka," he conveys genuine warmth and love.Along with SLAM, Scoop contributes to Vibe, the hiphop magazine The Source (the September issue includes his article on Malik Yoba of Fox-TV's "NY Undercover") and other national magazines. From January through June, Scoop co-hosts "NBA 24/7," lending street cred to the Channel 4 Television production out of London that appears throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.That kind of mainstream success that could snap all the militant bones in a black man's body, even the son of Black Panthers. But according to O'Neal, Scoop's "not doing anything different than he was five years ago. He had an agenda, and he has not changed his demeanor or his tune." Instead, pop culture adopted an urban edge. Magazines such as SLAM, Vibe and The Source, while providing a forums for articulate black perspectives, don't necessarily edit out black "street" language. And while the white media machine has embraced urban youth culture, O'Neal says, Scoop "works very well without compromising. He's the type of brother who looks you in the face and tells the truth."The next time I meet Scoop, he's working in the basement on ad copy for a commercial he'll be in with NBA star Stephon Marbury for AND1 basketball shoes. Jackson family trophies dominate one in one corner: "Chatham Biddy B-Ball 1975," "UICC Community Rec. 1st Place 1980," "Alvernia H.S. Pom-Pon Team 1983-84." We settle in on the wheat-colored couch, the walls a Boston Garden parquet, the U.S. Open on TV.The Ghetto Mafia's gangsta-rap CD "Straight from the Dec" booms out of the stereo. Scoop just got an assignment to cover the Atlanta group for a hiphop culture magazine, XXL, which he helped found. But he's not into the steady stream of lyrics about drugs, guns and Thug Life. A chorus echoes: "Fuck the hos, fuck the hos, fuck the hos." Scoop cringes. "We're the only people who still refer to women as hos. You'd think black people would have gotten beyond that."Still, Scoop doesn't dismiss the Ghetto Mafia out of hand. "It's just not my thing. If you get an opportunity to translate what you feel and bring it out to the world, are you gonna be responsible or irresponsible about doing it? I'll stand on the wall and say my book is responsible. It's not trying to promote anything that's irresponsible for black people to do or think."I ask Scoop what a white person should think about his writing. He can't immediately answer; Scoop's not really worried about white people's reactions. He knows what he wants from black readers, however. "I got a problem with black people killing black people. You can't blame that on white folk. People saying, 'Well, they bring the guns in here. Black folks ain't got money.' Fuck that. It goes back to responsibility. I have a large problem about this whole gang mentality, low self-esteem, I-don't-give-a-fuck-about-you-or-nobody-else mentality that black kids tend to have. If I piss black folks off and they start acting another way, cool. They can't say that I lied. I can really give an answer to what I want them to feel, 'cuz I been in their shoes."Eventually, Scoop answers my original question. "If there is one thing I want white society to get out of this book, it's that there's something behind it. That I'm not just venting."What is behind Scoop Jackson's words? Scoop was born the day after John F. Kennedy was shot: November 23, 1963. His father, Robert Jackson Jr., was the first black reporter at the Daily News. He was a contemporary of Walter Jacobson and Bill Kurtis. Fittingly, "Scoop" actually appears on his son's birth certificate: Robert Scoop Jackson. "[My father] had the 'black beat,'" Scoop says with a laugh. "Whatever involved black people, he covered it: Democratic Convention, the riots that started here."Like the parents of Tupac Shakur, both of Scoop's parents belonged to the Black Panther movement. For Scoop and his younger brother Randall, the Black Panther connection was less an "activity than a mentality -- of taking pride and not taking shit."The Jacksons' marriage fizzled when Scoop was in second grade. (Scoop remains close with his father.) Margaret Fisher kept her sons on their toes with current-events quizzes at the dinner table. No answer, no "End of the Month Soup." "Woo ooo," Scoop says of his mom's classic dish. "That End of the Month Soup was it. That's the bomb. We'd die for that." The Jackson brothers would run to the television, newsstand, radio or telephone to find out the latest about the two Richards, Nixon and Daley.Scoop inherited his father's love for jazz and basketball. His father was a college ballplayer, while Scoop's SLAM business card basically sums up his attitude until about age seventeen: it reads "All Ball 24/7." He played on the team at Luther South. While working on a double major in communications and political science at Xavier University in New Orleans, Scoop stepped in after guard Avery Johnson abandoned the point guard spot on a semi-pro team called Gumbo to join the San Antonio Spurs. Ironically, the chance to write for SLAM and co-host "NBA 24/7" fulfilled Scoop's lifelong dream of making it to the NBA -- if only to cover it. His official NBA sweatsocks are a prized possession.A huge collection of classic jazz artists on vinyl attests to Scoop's other passion: albums by Art Blakey, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker. Like his father, Scoop is a jazz purist. "Jazz fusion, acid jazz. Fuck that," Scoop curses. Pounding the back of one hand into his other palm in his signature gesture, he says, "Give me the Count Basie shit. Give me that original [smack], straight up, [smack smack] no chaser [smack smack smack] jazz."Scoop's fashion sense, well, that's all his own. "Scoop wears stuff so trendy it's not even in stores yet," Telander says, only half-joking. At one gathering, Telander recalls, "Scoop's got his baseball cap tilted sideways, and a huge medallion, and he's got these really nice sunglasses. He's wearing these bib overall shorts with these big chains. I said, 'Man, Scoop, I gotta get me one of these.'""I never wear more than one chain," Scoop counters with a laugh when he hears Telander's description. "Oh, wait, I know what he's talking about." Scoop drags out a freshly laundered pair of Maurice Malone overall shorts with a big black rubber "M" on the chest. The straps hook to the bib with steel links of chain thick enough to lock up Houdini. "Rick and I just shop at different stores," Scoop says. "I've always dressed in a certain way." Today, Scoop's got a hiphop Johnny Cash thing going: tight black-felt baseball cap with visible seams and the logo "dada" (from another black designer, Chris Lattimore); black shirt with a purple "B Strong"; baggy black NBA shorts; and black-and-white Adidas gym shoes. "I like to call it lounge wear. I always try to be comfortable."Scoop is also comfortable in the Chicago community where he was raised. While his father moved to Colorado, Scoop's mother still lives in South Shore. She's a happy, proud presence at his book launch party at The Shark Bar, a chic Canal Street buppie establishment. Scoop's mom brings friends by the table for autographed copies of "The Darkside."He's known his wife, Tracy, since childhood; she gets stopped on the street because of an uncanny resemblance to "Clueless" co-star Stacey Dash. Nicknamed "Red" almost as long as Scoop's been Scoop (for her "red" skintone, Scoop explains), Tracy works as a financial analyst for the "client perception and advertising" firm, Burson-Marsteller. Their son, Furious, is named after Laurence Fishburne's "Furious Styles" character in "Boyz in the Hood" ("a strong brother," says Scoop).One block west of the Jacksons' new house, children arc on the swing sets of Bryn Mawr Grammar School, one of four which Scoop attended (he got kicked out of one assembly for holding up his fist during the National Anthem, and soon changed schools). At the other end of the block, the stone facade of the Church of St. Philip Neri rises impressively above the trees. As a kid, Scoop played baseball in the church parking lot.Scoop could escape to the North Shore, out of the low-middle-class streets where he grew up. But he won't. "I'm approachable," says Scoop, understating the case. "There's no Oprah or Michael Jordan type of shit, where you have to go out to see me speak somewhere. I'm right fuckin' here. I'm not saying I don't believe in the concept of 'giving back.' But the easiest thing for rich folks to do is give you money. Spend some time. These folks who are trying to feed off what you're doing, they need your time, your ear, your words, your thoughts. They can't get all that if you're somewhere else. I'm right fuckin' here."Staying put has its risks. While walking around recently, Scoop recounts, "I saw my boy. Drug dealer. Gave him a hug. He introduces me to his boy, says he wants to get into the rap game. I see another kid that runs his little game, that stays in my mom's building. I say what's up. I'm not in the position to judge. But who knows who wants these motherfuckers. You know, there could be some motherfuckers say, 'Ah yeah, there he is, let's get him.' And I'm in the middle of that shit. It's not like I'm thinking about that stuff at the time, but realistically, I'm at risk like a motherfucker."But I ain't gonna just roll past and not speak with my boy. He's trying to hook up his boy to get out of this game he's in now. 'Anything I can do to help him, you know where I live. It's a block away.'""To me, not to be corny," Vibe's O'Neal says, "Scoop is the kind of brother I would call a hero." Indeed, the Sun-Times honored Scoop as a "Neighborhood Hero" in 1993. O'Neal continues: "I would like to do more things for kids, speak to them. Scoop does that with clarity. He believes it's up to every individual to put into their community to make it a better place. He's got a big heart."This big-heartedness, perhaps, bridges the apparent gap between Scoop the man and the writer, makes Scoop into the "nicest racist" Telander knows. "I have a problem with the bigger picture," Scoop says. "As for what Rick said, individually, oh, it's all on the love. One of the few books I read as a kid -- I was into newspapers and magazines, remember -- was Telander's 'Heaven is a Playground.' I die, they may bury me with that book. It doesn't make a difference who the fuck wrote that book, or that Rick is white."Will Scoop ever cave in to the white establishment? There is one possibility. "I want Alex Haley's old job at Playboy," Scoop confesses. "He was their quote unquote black interviewer. He interviewed Doctor King, Malcolm X and Miles Davis. He got some shit out of individuals like Malcolm X. That was the longest, and one of the only one-on-one interviews Malcolm ever did. Fuck watching the movie, even reading his autobiography. You can read that interview and understand what he was all about as a person."But what Scoop wants most of all is a solid foundation for his son, and black children in general. "I want Furious to know if anything goes wrong in his life, his father's built something for me to take over. Black folks haven't left the next generation" -- and her come the hand smacks again -- "something strong to build off of, from an economic and business standpoint."With that in mind, Scoop wouldn't necessarily jump if the Bunny tapped him to be the next Alex Haley."Playboy, yeah, that shit'd be lucky. But I gotta set a foundation. If I can establish my own magazine to the point that I can put my kid through college by the money I make off this magazine, well fine, that's what I got to do. You know, fuck Playboy."


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