Detroit’s 2019 Sambo Awards: Is “Calling ‘em Out” the Right Approach?

Presented by the activist group ‘Call ‘em — Out!!!,’ the 15th Annual Sambo Awards dinner was held March 21, 2019, at the International Institute in Detroit’s Cultural Center. The master of ceremonies was Sam Riddle, host of Riddle at Random on 910AM (WFDF) and political director of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network (NAN). The sold-out dinner was in roast fashion, and was hosted by its founder and president Agnes Hitchcock who is described on Kirsten Hitchcock’s Facebook page as “the Grape-throwing Detroit activist,” a nod to Agnes’ 2007 incident of throwing grapes at school board members during a meeting where a vote took place to close dozens of district schools.

This was not your customary black-tie affair. The evening’s host wore her signature black ‘Call ‘em — Out!!!’ hoodie with their mantra emblazoned on the back: “Those elected in our city must serve in the interests of the people in the city. When they don’t…Call ‘em — Out!!!” The look was complete with black leather lace-up sneakers with “Call ‘em Out” elegantly painted on them. Sambo [typically preceded by ‘Little Black’] is deemed a derogatory term for an African American who is considered weak. It is synonymous with the phrase “Uncle Tom,” which describes a Black person who has “sold out” their race. The racial term “Sambo” became prominent in American culture in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Sambo character was a slave overseer who had tormented and beaten to death a God-fearing slave named Uncle Tom, hence the title of the Detroit Sambo Awards. Hitchcock says, “We can’t be polite, we have to call it as we see it. See what Sambo did to Uncle Tom?!”

On Riddle’s talk show, he stated, “Detroit has been rendered a plantation lorded over by Mike [Duggan] of Livonia,” and stated during the Sambo event, “I unapologetically stand with ‘Call ‘em Out’ on the racial disparities and issues of poverty, piss poor schools, water shutoffs, and wealth inequality, which motivated me to emcee this event. And further, the Handkerchief Head Negro enablers who support the racist agenda that doesn’t benefit the black community are among the nominees that need a spotlight on them as well.” The awardees this year were police chief James Craig, The Black Slate and director of Detroit Water and Sewage Department Gary Brown. Ms. Hitchcock explained that there were more than 150 nominees submitted by local Detroiters, but these three received the most votes.

She noted that Gary Brown is a “repeat winner because no one has topped the violent 44,000 customer water shutoffs we have seen under his tenure.” Hitchcock went on to say, “Not even under Mayor Dennis Archer did we see this many shutoffs.” Of Archer, she said he is a “Sambo Lifetime Achievement Honoree because Archer got nominated often, even after he was out of office, for the damage he did; I got tired of putting him on the nomination and honoree list.” Riddle chimed in saying, “We should not forget that water is a human right.” Riddle went on to repeat several times, “Is it any wonder Hepatitis A is on the rise and widespread in southeast Michigan where water shutoffs are rampant? Poor people who have had their water shut off are not washing their hands wasting their store-bought water. Black people in Detroit and Flint are being treated inhumanely around this water issue.” Chief Craig, was insulted by the award and held a press conference in which he said, “being a Sambo Awardee is certainly not a flattering comment.”

Hitchcock gave Craig top honors due to the belief that the police chief can and should increase Black recruits within the police department to better reflect the demographics of the city. ‘Call ‘em – Out!!!’ supporters also believe the chief is “going soft” in regards to holding racist actions by white officers accountable. These actions are on the rise citing the 6th Precinct incident involving former officers Gary Steele and Michael Garrison who were eventually fired for an insensitive racist Snapchat video post involving a black female resident who had her car impounded for expired vehicle registration. The emcee of the event, Riddle, candidly stated, “the Sambo Awards is nothing compared to what is simmering in Detroit.” Is Calling ‘em Out the Right Approach? Agnes makes clear that the mission is focused on highlighting policies that hurt the black community.  She wants all to know that “people have a right to expect aggressive action by the city’s officers in seeking to advance, conserve, maintain and protect the integrity of the human, physical and natural resources of this city by encroachment and/or dismantlement.”

A former City of Detroit employee said he thinks the shamming approach is necessary “because reasonable methods get swept under the rug.” He reflected on being in his sixth decade and said, “I’ve seen a lot, and the City of Detroit is steeped in racism and cronyism.” Theo Broughton, WHPR TV 33 talk show host, attended this year’s Sambo Awards dinner and wants us to remember the original purpose of the Sambo Awards, which she said “was and remains to hold black officials accountable.”

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