Whitney Houston Critics Called Her ‘Too White’

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Whitney Houston died at the age of 48. Most articles about her death said something like, “Houston struggled with drug and alcohol problems for years …”

But Houston also struggled with something else that black Republicans and black non-Democrats can understand: ridicule and ostracism for “selling out,” or “acting white,” or not being “black enough.”

Ebony, the black monthly magazine, wrote about the then-27-year-old: “Black disc jockeys have chided her for ‘not having soul’ and being ‘too white.’ … She was booed at the Soul Train Music Awards. … It’s enough to drive a good Christian girl to drink, drugs or at least to cursing. But not Whitney. Though it hurts her deeply, she handles it all with aplomb.”

Did she?

After Houston’s marriage to Bobby Brown, and after years of Houston’s erratic behavior and rumors of drug abuse, I spoke to singer-actress Della Reese, a longtime Houston family friend. Reese and I were in the greenroom of a television studio, and we talked about Reese’s career. I told her that my mother remembered having seen a young Reese at a Washington, D.C., nightclub called either “The Cave” or “The Cove.”

She laughed and said, “The Cave.”

We talked about then-current Whitney Houston/Bobby Brown headlines. “I have a theory about Whitney Houston,” I said. “I’ve been called ‘Uncle Tom,’ and I know how that feels. I think Whitney was so hurt by being called a ‘sellout’ and ‘acting white’ — and crap like that — she wanted to change her image. What better way to do that than to marry a bad boy? And the drug abuse makes her a flawed person fighting to overcome her demons. Makes her relatable.”

Reese, a close friend of Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mom, said: “I know the family well. And there’s a lot of truth in what you’re saying.” Reese gave me permission to discuss our exchange, as long as I made one thing clear. Reese said: “The human voice is very forgiving, and Whitney is working things out. And she will come back.”

Black Republicans can relate to the name-calling.

A black St. Petersburg Times columnist wrote this about black Republicans: “Some creatures are just plain strange, making us do double takes because their compositions or habits or appearances defy our sense of logic and our way of viewing reality. Take the wildebeest, the warthog, the hyena, the brown pelican, the Shar-Pei. These animals, seemingly wrought by committee, make us laugh or shake our heads.

“Another such creature, of the human kind — and perhaps the strangest of all — is the black Republican.

… Black Republicans fail to understand that white Republicans will never accept them as equals. Although they will not acknowledge the truth, white Republicans, like most other whites, view black Republicans as strange creatures.”

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  • Fritz

    Whites, like me, really-really respect black republicans. But there are too few of them.

  • Alex Kovnat

    Thank you L. Elder for your perspective on the tragic death of Whitney Houston. I am always saddened when great entertainers and performers fall victim to drugs. If W.H. was also a victim of something else, besides drugs, thank you for calling our attention to that.

  • LindaRivera

    I was shocked and grieved to learn of Whitney Houston's death. Rest in peace, Whitney.
    Please God, help her distraught daughter.

    It is extremely cruel for some Blacks to accuse Whitney and other famous Blacks, as being "too white", "selling out", and "not having soul". We are ALL brothers and sisters regardless of skin color. When God looks at us, He doesn't look at our skin color. God looks at our character and our heart.

    • fiddler

      The only color He sees is RED, and that's the blood of His Son.

    • fiddler

      It also DIRECTLY flies in the face of what Martin Luther King said was, "not the color of their skin, but the content of their character". He made no allowances for "not Black enough"!

      • johnnywoods

        I wish someone could explain to me how a black person can be "not black enough".

        • astral

          Sure, reference anything said by MSNBC about Herman Cain.

  • clarespark

    I have been very distressed about the gawking press coverage of Whitney Houston's death. I wrote about such coverage as "spectacle" here: http://clarespark.com/2012/02/13/whitneys-spectac…. But in terms of Larry Elder's column, the most salient point is the myth of the "tragic mulatto." It has quite a history in American culture, and one wonders how she saw her own life. Only her biographer will know and even then, it will be conjecture.

  • PAthena

    (1) The Republican Party was founded as an anti-slavery party, and the first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln. The Republican Party put through the Civil War amendments to the Constitution, including the Fourteenth. It has always supported equality under the law. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, included the Southern Democrats who supported racial segregation. So the critics of the Republican Party as anti-colored are either ignorant or lying.
    (2) I use the old official term "colored" (as in the NAACP – National Association of Colored People – because the term "black," whose use came from the Black Panthers, is inaccurate. I have never seen a black person in my life. Those now called "black" are different shades of brown (as we all are, the very light ones called white). Most American colored people have white ancestry, and many "whites" have colored ancestry. Whitney Huston was a medium brown, and, more to the point, was very beautiful. (She was a fine singer.)

    • johnnywoods

      PAthena, Don`t forget that the KKK was made up of Democraps.

      • Questions

        So were Freedom Riders. Your point?

  • Guest

    The existence of black republicans always proves that conservatives still have their greatest strength: conning people into voting against their own self-interests.

  • fiddler

    Much, much more could be said about how OPPOSED the Democratic Party was to civil rights the years between Lincoln's death up to the 20th century. Visit Wallbuilders for a real history lesson. You will find that it is indutable FACT that the Republican Part was in the black's corner. Somehow, the prevaling "wisdom" has discarded obvious history for its own ends.

    • trickyblain

      Then came the 1960s…

      In the South, the two parties, for all intents and purposes, switched roles. A Southern Republican in 1970 is ideologically indistinguishable from a Southern Dem in 1870.

    • Questions

      Way too facile. In point of fact, the civil rights battle of the 1960s represented a civil war between Northern Democrats (anti-segregation) and Southern Democrats (pro-segregation), with Republicans — sort of — siding with the North. In any event, the South saw itself as resisting the North; its Democratic leaning was incidental, not central. And even some Southern Democrats, bucking the regional tide, were in fact pro-integration and risked violence at the hands of the Klan.

      These are realities that Jonah Goldberg's highly dishonest counter-narrative of American history didn't even hint at.

    • Questions

      Very rarely. The truth is, this sort of Jonah-Goldberg-inspired historical revisionism is lazy reporting and thinking. Blacks only supported Republicans, and vice versa, when blacks were installed as congressmen in the South during Reconstruction. The truth is, as a white and a neo-realist, I could care less about black interests. I do care much, however, about white interests.

  • fiddler

    Whitney was an idol of my daughter. I am haunted by the beauty of her voice, and, as with the late Karen Carpenter am deeply saddened at the loss. Those "small people" who disparage someone as Elder mentioned in this article, turn real humanity on it's head.

  • Debby

    I was wondering when someone would write about Whitney Houston's excoriation in the black community for being "too white" when she was at the peak of her pop success. Gee, could the rebuke of those who should have been cheering her the loudest have contributed to her self-destruction, duh! Could Whitney Houston have been one of the many who opened doors for all audiences to enjoy all forms of music, white people enjoying "black music" such as rap and black people enjoying "white music" such as pop?
    Thank you Mr. Elder for once again addressing the upside down situation that black conservatives, Repubs face from their own communities. I think black people a so much harder on each other.

  • Questions

    On the surface, Larry's theory sounds far-fetched, but the more I think about it, the man's got a point. Whitney Houston was primarily a pop singer with some R&B and black gospel influences, not the other way around. It was a fact: She was under tremendous pressure to impress the "bruthas" and the "sistahs" that she was one of them. Her marriage to a homey type, Bobby Brown, and her drug abuse may have been an attempt, conscious or otherwise, to impress those blacker-than-thou critics. In the end, it contributed to her demise.

  • trickyblain

    I totally agree with Elder and Reese about the reasons Houston may have hooked up with Brown. Sad that it ultimately led to her destruction. What a voice that one had!

    Still, not really buying Elder's political tie-in. He seems to say that Democrats are the reason Blacks have so little Republican representation in elected offices. But the real reason seems to be that fellow Republicans done't elect them.

  • Asher

    Whitney Houston was one of the finest talents to ever grace the record or movie industry, as was Michael Jackson. It is a shame that no one could help them get off her addictions to drugs and alcohol. Whitney was also a very fine person and especially how she treated others. She was a very sensitive person who got used by society and couldn't get a handle on her drug addictions. Our society needs to wake up and care about people who are hurting! I disagree with the comments that there are few black Conservatives, and I believe the list is growing, especially after the way Obama has treated his own people. Look to leaders like Lt. Col Allen West who stands up for values and honor. Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson Lee have said very hateful things to Republicans that are totally irrational…These two women have allowed their own race to be diminished by their stand on Abortion.

    • johnnywoods

      Waters and Lee are both towering examples of ignorance and stupidity. Ms. Jackson Lee is a continuing embarrassment to some of us Texans.

  • Carol Chang

    How sad that some people could think of Whitney Houston as "not black enough". I do not believe that one should have to behave as a carriacature to be considered "black enough" for anything. As for those who think you must behave a certain way to be black enough, what way is that? I don't think I have the right words to express what a failure in humanity those people are. What undying and unmitigated prejudice they diaplay. How hopeless I, for one feel when I hear or read this. Sad.

  • BS77

    Rest in Peace, Whitney…..all you critics out there….please respect this women and her passing. She had her demons and troubles, like we all do………Goodbye Whitney

  • Gman213

    The truly sad political truth is that the "black" leaders are in fact the new plantation owners. Calling conservative or successful blacks Uncle Toms, Oreo's or other racist name is a way of keeping the other blacks on the plantation..keeps them in line for fear of being called out. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Maxine Waters and other are the new slave masters. Black conservatives are living the true life of freedom and liberty.

  • aspacia

    Numerous talented whites have caused their own destruction. I doubt if criticism caused her slip into hazy oblivion. In many ways genius is tinged with excess and insanity. Poe, Morrison, Picasso, Joplin, et al. In elementary school, a MGM friend did well, but was institutionalized while in high school. Another genius friend avoids all drugs because her father was an alcoholic.

    That is, it is a choice, and drugs with often fuel the quirks than many gifted people possess.

    • Questions

      To say nothing of Bobby Fischer, Phil Spector, Lenny Bruce, Marlon Brando, Brian Jones and Norman Mailer. A fine line between genius and madness.