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VOL 3. NO. 25 Monday, July 2 - Sunday, July 8, 2001
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LOOK UP IN THE SKY ...It's Not D.C. Air

Robert Johnson, courtesy photo.

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 coming-to-an-airport-near-YOU!

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. Air.

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 legal pursuits.

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 history.

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 at againstthegrain@metroconnection.info.

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