|District bamas converged and congregated on FM radios during crunched
commutes when the announcement was made some months early into the doorstep
of the millennium: Chocolate City would have its own airline. D.C. Air they
called it - the social, economic and political desperation of the District
rolled into it's own Home Rule Wings of Glory. It was like Tuskegee Airmen,
Part II without the World War - Black folks had surface (albeit no substance)
control of city government, and now they controlled the blue skies grinning
like Louis Armstrong, trumpet in hand, blazing perfect ivory teeth while
perched atop the backdrop of atmosphere singing "It's A Wonderful World." It
was like a Black, 40 Acres & A Mule Spike Lee Joint spin-off of "Top Gun,"
minus Tom Cruise and that White chic we all forgot about (we'd throw in Goose
because he seemed at ease with himself, overall cool enough and accepting of
cultural surroundings to the point where I recall brothas and sistas in the
theatre outraged by the untimely, unexpected snapping of his neck). It was
like a quiet, sublime replay of the Brown Bomber when spotting spats of
salvation on street corners and barbershop sanctuaries when everybody was
pimped to believe this was the first Black airline already
Black folks would be flying. Bob Johnson would see to that.
Anyway, I'm on a trip right now - can't you notice? Closing in on 6:30 in
the evening, laptop burning my thighs as I struggle to string thoughts into
over 1,200 words of pure verbal slice by 7. So, after a week's worth of
tongue twizzling, news nibbling, back scratching and elbow greasing through
the top stories of the past several days, I zeroed in on the Demise of D.C.
Now, I'm not on this rant to hate the Bob - Bob's cool. I dig Bob Johnson.
And I'm not just saying that in hopes the brotha might be looking for the
fine writing wit of an aspiring Black author to pen his biography. No - I'm
not one to front: I want to be like Bob. What Black man wouldn't want to be
like Bob - bump Mike. Any brother who makes millions, then gets blessed with
a multi-billion dollar nest egg is someone to look up to.
However, because Bob Johnson is a noted public figure and financial
extraordinaire, he is subject to intense public scrutiny and critique. So
here goes ...
That Bob made his millions through the pure, no-preservatives,
high-concentrated pulp pastry promotion of commercialized Black culture and
climbed to heights of universal industry dominance is a feat of brilliance
and madness intertwined. Through BET, we all grew to love our daily one-hour
packages of R&B, Hip hop and spiced ethnic rants. The hairstyle and fashion
orientation was unparalleled and unprecedented - not since Madame C.J. Walker
had we engrossed our collective cultural selves into sound bitten time
bubbles of racialized post-modern posing. BET was (still is) "urban"
attitudes adjusted into the pathologically "fly" and "tight" sophisticated
corporate consumer fiendism, socially constructing an almost ghetto-herd
mentality of Black "mindlessness," as many prominent, paid and
establishment-supported multicultural philosophers and thinkers of our
persuasion would love to constantly reflect. Yet, they jumped as fast as
Flash Gordon to ferry their opinions on the cable giant's dime. The fact
remained that BET was the "Only Game In Town."
But, this week marked the fall from Fortune 1000/Black Enterprise 100 grace
to the pits of business editorial embarrassment. Bob Johnson now owned an
airline ... according to the artistry of a masterful public relations apparatu
s known as Black/Urban radio and Black Entertainment Television ...
Correction: was going to own ... maybe ... probably - probably not. What
local 30-60 second news bites of Negro hype conveniently forgot to mention to
the intellectually mangled masses was that D.C. Air was actually a phantom of
fiduciary obligation and regulatory arm-twisting. D.C. Air never really
existed. It was all contingent upon the closing deal of two aviation titans,
United Airlines and U.S. Airways, successfully merging into one
cross-continental supreme commercial air mammoth. Few average peeps within
the Black social circuit spoke of anti-trust regulations, and how the
Department of Justice would carefully eyeball the transaction in a Fed
attempt to prevent monopoly of the airways.
District delegate and non-voting, Constitutionally violated Member of
Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton lamented the fall of Bob Johnson's big up of
the millennium, describing D.C. Air as a "truly novel and path-breaking
proposal for minority ownership of a major airline." However, D.C. Air was
not only the Great Black Hope in the clouds for taxed and un-represented
citizens of Chocolate City - D.C. Air was the silver lining, the ink between
the lines that would propel United Airlines beyond the limitations of an
increasingly clouded sky of aviation commerce and save U.S. Airways from
potential folding of its torn, financial cards. Johnson would purchase air
routes from the merged venture, ultimately create a small, prestigious air
carrier flying suits and Congressman across the four winds, thus basing
operations in the District and lifting the tarnished image of Chocolate City
from once Cradle of Crack-head Mayor to Pinnacle of Black Success. Whispers
were abound that Johnson's sudden sale of BET assets to media monster Viacom
for 3 billion milk bottles signaled his entrepreneurial eagerness to become
the Don King of the Skies, hence significant cash to pump interest into an
intriguing and most risky vision.
Few spoke of the fact that, once President-(s)elect George W. Bush, Jr.
entered 1616 Penn Ave., the political climate would dramatically change to
Johnson's chagrin and dissatisfaction. Once again, we failed to study the
world of elected officials, government agencies, lobbyists, regulation
schemes, Political Action Committees and campaign kickbacks. We failed to
study the system - Johnson failed to preempt its inner workings. Bush's
Republican Justice Department, led by Bible-belt minion of conservatism and
Attorney General John Ashcroft would remember Johnson's millions pouring into
Democratic campaign coffers. They would recall the hours upon hours upon
eight-years of informal, unofficial ad campaigns and on screen rally cries on
BET for their political nemesis Bill Clinton - and how that translated into
nearly 90 percent of African-American voters pulling the Donkey ballot during
every election cycle as long as their narrow minds could remember.
Shaking hands with Texas-based Southwest Airlines executives, White House
officials would have the final say in this plan for the District Messiah of
the Blue Skies. First and foremost: Southwest would not have to worry about
the added competition - the former Alamo State Governor would hook his
worried good ole golf and baseball park hot-dog homeboys up. Within a matter
of weeks and after the stroking of a few phone lines, United Airlines was
paying its $50 million "break-up fee" to U.S. Airways, forever avoiding
months, possibly years of government investigations and federally instigated
Unlike U.S. Airways, Bob Johnson (now receiving paychecks from Viacom mogul
Sumner Redstone) gains nothing - no break-up fees, no crumbs of change ...
not even a bonus check for Christmas. His U.S. Airways stock might peak a
few dollars, but Bob Johnson must now look for another flawless exit strategy
to end an otherwise illustrious, inspiring chapter in American business
That's cold. But, that's how the White boys do it.
C.D. Ellison is Contributing Writer to Metro Connection. He can be reached