steven ivory

Steven Ivory

*One summer afternoon in 1976, still mildly enamored by the fact that I could legally drink, I walked into a nearly empty Los Angeles bar  and ordered a  beer

As the tender walked to the other end of the bar  to   fetch my libation,  a black man, mid forties maybe,  sitting several stools away, gazed at me through the bar’s mirror. “Little brother,” he declared, just loud enough for me to hear,  “if you only knew how the people who make that beer feel about Black people….

“Really?” I tried not to appear as uninformed as I was  regarding whatever he was getting at.

“They finance the KKK,  neo Nazis, and all kinda mess,” he  warned.  “When you buy that beer, that’s where your money goes.”

The bartender, also a black man, poured the suddenly questionable brew from its can into a  tumbler, placed it on a napkin before me, and, sensing a young man’s  awkwardness, spoke up.  “Hold on, my man,” he said to the stranger, tempering his tone with just enough mirth to soften his hammer.

“You drinking Jack and coke.”

“That’s right….”

“Well, Jack Daniels is from a place called Lynchburg, Tennessee. You think at least ONE racist ain’t had a hand in making THAT shit?”

“Probably,” answered the naysayer, not missing a beat. “But THIS shit is strong enough to make me forget that part. The shit HE drinkin’ ain’t gon’ do nothin’ but make him PEE.”

The three of us laughed, mine uneasy. Almost 40 years later, I  still don’t know the truth about that beer. But I haven’t bought  the brand since.

That old story came to mind as I watched TV news clips of  Clint Eastwood  at the 2012 Republican convention.  While the media  tried to make sense of the actor/director’s “speech,” many Obama supporters, unaware of the actor’s political leanings,  tried to make sense of him being  there at all.

The Black Obama supporter/Eastwood fan in particular felt a sense of betrayal–a warm and fuzzy feeling glazed  by Eastwood’s statement in a newspaper a few days later that “President [Barack] Obama is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

“Brothers are burning his DVDs right now,” grumbled a  buddy of mine the day after Eastwood’s convention appearance.  “I always did think he looked a little too comfortable in that flick standing over that brother, talking shit with that big ass gun.”

My man has sworn off  Clint Eastwood movies, forever. “A lifetime of coolness,” he said of Eastwood, shaking his head,  “obliterated with just a few minutes of foolishness  in Tampa.”

Or was it?

Where do you draw the line in supporting the professional exploits of famous people–entertainers, athletes, clergymen, etc.–who make it clear that  their  political mores or life concepts  are not compatible with yours?

What do you do when you learn that a beloved household  brand you’ve  used all your life is manufactured  by a privately held company quietly run by a small, tightly knit, secretive family that publicly abhors  the very ideals you hold  dear?  Can you separate your love of one’s talent from their personal views? Do you continue buying that product, even after knowing the truth about the company?

     I asked myself these questions a few weeks back, when the Chick-fil-A  thing made headlines.  Apparently, that chicken was tasting pretty good to everyone eating it,  Gays and liberals included,  until  Dan Cathy, the fast-food  chain’s president, made some folks lose their lunch with his public disclosure that he doesn’t care for the concept of same sex marriage.

     I’ve never tried Chick-fil-A, but I’m thinking  if  I were a  customer who simply couldn’t live without my  Chick-fil-A fix, then I might be willing to look past Cathy’s personal beliefs. After all, free speech is a towering hallmark of living in America.

However, upon learning that  his company also gives millions to what sounds like some fairly right wing causes, I’d have to get my chicken somewhere else.

And perhaps in the future,  this is how I’ll deal with this kind of thing: respect the individual’s view–providing they’re not a murderer, thief, racist, sexist, homophobe, patently evil or just straight-up stupid–and boycott the company that invests its resources in things I don’t agree with.

I respect Mr. Cathy for not back-peddling, as is common practice when people are publicly flogged in the media. However, I’ve gotta believe that, privately, he wishes he’d kept his mouth shut. Keeping certain opinions close to the corporate vest can be vital to the welfare of a brand and its business.

And that begs yet another question: What are you and I supporting that we DON’T know about? Corporations  are  vast and often intermingled; it can be difficult not patronizing organizations that finance things you oppose. The more forward-thinking the reputation of the brand, the greater the public’s heartbreak when we discover an ugly truth. Penn State University knows something about this.

I don’t feel like I’m missing anything not eating Chick-fil-A. As for Eastwood, I’m giving him a pass, and not simply because Obama says  he’s “still a huge fan.” (What else is he going to say?  He’s simply doing The Obama.)

I’m giving Clint a pass because during his career, he’s made some pretty  thoughtful films.  He is a big supporter of  jazz music. Because he likes Morgan Freeman.  Because he’s old. Because he doesn’t appear to be crazy.  Because he has a right to voice his position in life.

And it’s not like he killed somebody. He simply thinks Obama is a “hoax.”  What else is new

Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love  (Simon & Schuster),  has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].