NEW YORK – Secretary of State Colin Powell brushed off singer Harry Belafonte's accusation that he is a house slave for President Bush, calling the characterization "unfortunate."
"I think it's unfortunate that Harry used that characterization. I'm very proud to be serving my nation once again. I'm very proud to be serving this president," Powell said in a TV interview Wednesday night.
"If Harry had wanted to attack my politics, that was fine. If he wanted to attack a particular position I hold, that was fine," he continued. "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."
The calypso crooner made his comments about Powell on Tuesday, during an interview with San Diego radio station KFNB.
"Colin Powell is permitted to come into the house of the master, as long as he will serve the master according to the master's plans," Belafonte said. "And when Colin Powell dares suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture. And you don't hear much from those who live in the pasture."
Earlier Wednesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher made it clear the secretary of state wasn't taking the singer's comment seriously.
"He smiled when I talked about it," Boucher said at a press conference Wednesday. "He also said that both the IRS and his accountant thought he was better off as a field hand. When he was out in the field, he was doing a little better."
Black politicians and pundits slammed Belafonte for his comments.
"For Harry Belafonte to show his ignorance and lack of knowledge and to be used by liberals in the Democratic Party because they hate the support Bush is enjoying among blacks in this country, it's an insult to him and degrades him," said syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams. "It's almost laughable."
Black Republicans were also having none of it.
Outgoing Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers said Belafonte's sentiments aren't shared by most black Americans.
"Colin Powell is revered for the most part as the best of African-American achievements," said Rogers. "He is among the most admired, if not the most admired African-American in the United States. That fact that Harry may have his opinions doesn't mean they necessarily constitute the opinion of African-Americans throughout the country:"
Belafonte could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Dubbed the King of Calypso and known more for his sultry, soothing renditions of songs like "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," "Island in the Sun" and "Jump in the Line," Belafonte was far from melodious when he blasted Powell, a fellow Jamaican-American, for joining the Bush administration.
"I think Colin Powell made a decision to serve the Republican party since he served that kind of an ideological leader," Belafonte said. "And I think that he's finding even the best of himself (is) having no room to be heard, because that's not the voice they want. What Colin Powell serves is to give the illusion that the Bush cabinet is a diverse cabinet made up of people of color and made up of people of another gender, and that that alone is to give Bush the credentials to say that he's a truly democratic man, when in fact none of that is what is true."
It wasn't clear if Belafonte was also referring to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, a black woman.
"There's an old saying in the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and there were those slaves who lived in the house," Belafonte said. "You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master to exactly the way the master intends to have you serve him."
The singer and actor also took aim at Attorney General John Ashcroft, comparing the present-day Justice Department to the post-WWII House Un-American Activities Committee.
"To deny those rights to any citizen, to any people, is to cast a great shame on us and lead us back to another dark period," Belafonte said.
Belafonte has taken issue with the Bush administration and Powell in the past, criticizing the president for not sending Powell to last year's World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
In a speech to the National Association of Black Journalists in August 2001, the Harlem-born singer and actor dared Powell to upbraid his White House boss.
"'You've gone too far, Mr. Bush. You cannot walk away from a conference on race,'" Belafonte suggested Powell say to Bush. "'The world is being devoured by it; our children are being murdered by it.'"
Belafonte, accused by some music critics of singing an inauthentic, commercially mainstream version of traditional Caribbean music, has long been outspoken about his views of racism in the United States. He has said he turned down early acting roles in his career because "Broadway only had Uncle Tom parts for me."
Belafonte has been politically active throughout his life, acting as a Peace Corps cultural advisor, chairman of the New York State Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador.