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Belafonte won't back down from Powell slave reference

Belafonte said his views also apply to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Belafonte said his views also apply to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

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Singer Harry Belafonte refused to back down from his remarks likening U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to a 'house slave' in the Bush administration (October 16)
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Singer Harry Belafonte on Tuesday refused to back down from his remarks last week likening Secretary of State Colin Powell to a house slave in the Bush administration, saying his problems are not with the man but with the policies Powell is supporting.

"I like Colin Powell, I like his West Indian background, I like his intellect, I like a lot of things that he does and his style. What is at fault here is a policy that's taking this country to hell," Belafonte said on CNN's "Larry King Live," referencing the Bush administration's push to go to war with Iraq.

In an interview on San Diego radio station KFMB-AM last Tuesday, Belafonte compared Powell to a plantation slave who moves into the slave owner's house and says only things that will please his master.

"There's an old saying," Belafonte said in that interview. "In the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and there were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master ... exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him."

Powell last week called the comments "unfortunate" and said he is "proud to be serving" his nation and his president.

"I think it's unfortunate that Harry used that characterization," Powell told "Larry King Live" last Tuesday. "If Harry had wanted to attack my politics, that was fine. If he wanted to attack a particular position I hold, that was fine. But to use a slave reference, I think, is unfortunate and is a throwback to another time and another place that I wish Harry had thought twice about using."

Belafonte said he was happy to have the chance to put his remarks in context but said he doesn't regret making them.

"This was never meant to be a personal attack on Colin Powell's character," he said. "What it was meant to be was an attack on policy, and the reference, the metaphor used about slavery is part of my personal feeling that plantations exist all over America."

The singer said he doesn't believe Powell agrees wholeheartedly with the Bush administration's position on Iraq, judging from his earlier comments that the dispute over Baghdad's weapons program should go through the United Nations, and he called the secretary a "sell-out."

Belafonte said his views also apply to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, although, he said, he has never heard her step out of line with the administration's views.

He called upon Powell and Rice and other black people in positions of power to use their platforms "to speak out about the ill-advised policies" of the Bush administration.

"The idea that you work in the house of the master is almost in itself its own opportunity to do some mischief and make a difference, but when you are in that place and you help perpetuate the master's policy that perpetuates oppression and pain for many others, then something has to be said about it," Belafonte said. "And the master in this instance, of course, was the president of the United States."

The singer said he opposes a war against Iraq unless such action were deemed necessary by the United Nations.

"Go through the United Nations and follow the counsels and principles of the international community," he said. "Stop bullying the world."

When asked whether he had ever considered getting into politics to effect some changes, Belafonte said he was once asked to run for a Senate seat against Alfonse D'Amato, but he declined.

"I stepped away because I genuinely believed that the platform that I have as an artist, the work that I do at the United Nations, sits above suspicion because I have no agenda, so to speak, I don't serve a political party. And I thought that my service to the things that I believe in, and to this nation that I deeply believe in, was best served by staying where I was," he said.



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