Friday, April 18, 2014

A Friday Semi-Open Thread: Rachel Maddow Asks 'Why do We Overlook Right Wing Violence and Refuse to Call it Terrorism?' Simple Answer. Because The 'Terrorists' are White


As we did last Friday, do treat this post as a type of open thread and salon where we can talk about all those news items and issues of public concern that were overlooked this week here on We Are Respectable Negroes.

Between paying taxes, my mother's car accident (the fallout from the police report does not bode well...and yes, I did get the obligatory "I am sorry to ask, but do you have x more than a few hundreds of dollars to please help me even though I know you don't" request), and a burst blood vessel in my eyeball from stress or sneezing (more likely the former), this has been one very, very, long week. I am seriously considering getting a full checkup in a few weeks to preclude that high blood pressure caused that sudden malady.

Next week should be better...I hope. I will be sharing a piece on race and the American plutocracy that I have been thinking about since the last big ruling by the Supreme Court. The podcast series will resume next week too. Good stuff.

We talked about the Neo-Nazi murderer Frazier Glenn Miller and the question of engaged and socially relevant pedagogy here. Rachel Maddow's feature on domestic terrorism is a natural companion to that post. 

She concludes the segment with the following question: "Why do we overlook right wing violence and refuse to call it terrorism?'

The shooting deaths of three people at Kansas City area Jewish community centers earlier this week by the noted Neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller has refocused the public’s attention on the violent tendencies of the White Right in the United States.

On the Tuesday edition of her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow concluded a segment on the Republican Party’s deep denial about (and active protection of) its violent “Patriot” and militia wing by asking the following question: why do we overlook right-wing violence and refuse to call it terrorism?

The answer to Maddow's question is simple.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Searching for Unicorns in the Age of Obama: The TV Show 'What Would You Do?' Desperately Looks for 'Anti-White Racism' at a Black Barbershop in Harlem


"What Would You Do?" is great television.

It merges the classic TV show "Candid Camera" with social science-like experiments and a clear moral lens which offers the viewer the "good guy's" perspective: thus, breaking the proverbial 4th wall and providing an ethical Deus Ex Machina moment.

What Would You Do? is so very smart in how it creates complicity with the viewer through scenarios that are very much a black and white, cut and dry, right and wrong binary choice, where no "decent" person would side with the obvious wrongs depicted on screen.

What Would You Do? is especially powerful, because its unscripted moments often reveal basic facts about white racism and other social ills that the privileged and the in-group would prefer to deny in order to sustain the fictions of a just world that sustain them psychologically.

It is easy to maintain a sense of one's righteousness and moral superiority by watching a television show; it is much more difficult to do so through lived practice in everyday life.

What Would You Do? offers moral catharsis and cheerleading for viewers, a group that would likely choose self-interest over generosity in most of their social interactions

A settled debate about the evils of racism and the virtues of egalitarianism are central to how post civil rights America defines itself. In practice, this is muddied: for example, the Republican Party is a white identity organization which uses the language of "colorblindness" to advance a white supremacist agenda. Operating in the same historical moment, egalitarianism has been uncritically folded into a public ethos of American Exceptionalism such that a black man could be elected President of the United States while institutional and structural white supremacy still remains a dominant force in American life.

Social and political reality often undoes easy, parsimonious, social theory. Anti-intellectualism births much nonsense because it allows its adherents to be comfortable while projecting a sense of superiority as nurtured through lazy thinking.

For all of its virtues and merits, What Would You Do? is a product of the post civil rights era consensus. This bargain was based on the following lie: all Americans, of any color, or occupying any position relative to the colorline, are equally capable of being "racist".

Racism is prejudice plus power. Racism has nothing to do with color. In practice, racism has almost everything to do with how different people are located relative to different racial groups by dominant society.

Racism is not a mutual sin across the colorline. No. Racism is the near exclusive sin, in American society, of white people.

White people as a group are not racists because of some arbitrary melanin count or the laws created around its meaning. Whiteness, white supremacy, and racism are intimates because of how white society created an entire social system around advantaging its members and thus disadvantaging those others excluded from said community by virtue of skin color.

Much anger will likely be directed against such a proposition by some white folks and those people of color invested in Whiteness. This is misdirected energy. White folks who are angry about discussions of white racism should direct their talk and processing inward to their own community, and also backwards to their ancestors who were signatories to that Racial Contract.

Moreover, the flattening of history created by such a consensus fuels fictions such as "reverse racism", or the mythic belief, common to those on the White Right and its useful idiots, that white folks are somehow "victims" of "racism" in the post civil rights era.

White Supremacy, and the struggle against white on black and brown racial terrorism, has been one of the central, if not dominant, narratives in American history. Anti-racism forced American democracy to be more true to its potential and abstract creed.

The lie of raceless "racism" gives protection to white supremacy by freeing white people of their particular relationship to a centuries-long system of white privilege while simultaneously allowing them to accrue material and psychological advantages from its evils. As I and others have suggested, white privilege is a great and singular invention because it allows its beneficiaries to accrue gains while also providing the plausible deniability of ignorance, individuality, and good intentions.

Because What Would You Do? reflects the norms of post racial and post civil rights America, the show is primed towards engaging in its own hunt for the mythic unicorn that is "black racism". The other lies, what are the slogans "fair and balanced", and "both sides do it", that dominate contemporary late 20th and early 21st century political discourse, demand such a fool's quest.

What Would You Do? tried to find "black racism" at a barbershop. The prank involved inserting a white barber into a black space.

Of course, because African-Americans are a radically democratic and inclusive people, the white barber in What Would You Do? was defended, and for the most part, welcomed by the patrons who demonstrated a deep respect for the rule of "law", and how a person who is trained and licensed should be allowed to practice their craft. This is expected--yet still welcome to see--as a principle from a community of people who were historically denied such protections by white society.

It is important to note how the scheme on What Would You Do? was grossly ahistorical and lacked any sense of context for the role of black barbershops and hair salons in the African-American public sphere and counter public. In a world long-dominated by Jim and Jane Crow and white supremacy, those spaces were one of the few that allowed African-Americans a sense of dignity, privacy, a living wage, and the opportunity to be treated as full human beings.

Of course, the black barbershop was not immune from the social power of white supremacy--white men prized their black barbers; many shops and artisans developed a lucrative reputation precisely because they did not cut black people's hair.

The political economy of black hair also reflects the broader challenges of African-American life in post civil rights era America. The end of Jim and Jane Crow, and then the new racially predatory policies of State, Local, and Federal governments, helped to destroy black wealth as held in both businesses and by individuals.

Of note here, Black Americans spend extravagant amounts of money, as compared to other racial groups, on personal grooming. However, this outward flow of resources is not sustaining the Black American community. Instead, those resources are supporting East and South Asians, African immigrants, and others, who have realized how a lack of a self-sustaining, indigenous, black American economy--as a people black Americans give the vast majority of their money to those outside of their racial and ethnic group--is a literal golden egg for others to create wealth and opportunity.

The barbershop episode on What Would You Do?, while advancing the lie of black racism, also fails to ask the inverse question: would white ethnic barbershops accept a black person as a client or as a barber? Based on my own experiences, and in talking to others, the reception a black person would have received in those spaces is likely far less welcoming than that received by the white barber on What Would You Do?.

What Would You Do? also fails to offer up a foundational question: given the history of African-Americans with racial harassment, white violence, and surveillance, what is so objectionable or problematic about the idea and practice of a "black space?"

In the Age of Obama, the search for black racism is fashionable. By comparison, the reality of white on black racism is uninteresting. The truth, more often than not, is found in the latter category. "Everyone's sin is no one's sin" is one of the guiding rubrics of white supremacy in the post civil rights era. Of course, such a claim is sophistry. Nonetheless, it is very compelling for too many Americans.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teaching is a Political Act: The Brave Adjunct Lecturer Who Invited the Murderous White Nationalist Frazier Glenn Miller to Speak to His Students

White Nationalist Frazier Glenn Miller shot and murdered 3 people at two Jewish community centers outside of Kansas City.

While the KKK tries to remake itself as a "respectable" organization that is not in fact one of the largest terrorist organizations in the United States, Miller offered no apologies for his hate and violence. Other White Nationalists have disavowed him--of course--as a man whose actions and rhetoric was "embarrassing" and "misrepresented" the movement.

For example, there is a beautiful ugliness in the following comments from a prominent White Supremacist:
Of all the people and organizations decrying the shootings Sunday that killed three people at two Jewish centers outside Kansas City, perhaps the most unlikely is Stormfront.org, one of the oldest and largest white nationalist forums on the internet. 
“We have enough of a problem with how we are portrayed without some homicidal whack job coming along and reinforcing that,” Stormfront founder Don Black told The Daily Beast.

As the folksy truism suggests, you can't put lipstick on a pig or polish a turd.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Jonathan Chait Versus the Melissa Harris-Perry Show: An Intellectual Rope-A-Dope? Who do You Think Won?


Who do you think won the debate/discussion between Jonathan Chait and Melissa Harris-Perry?

I call it as a split decision. Chait won on style (his interlocutor never got her bearings fully back after the opening counter punch). Perry won on substance.

We now have some closure on Jonathan Chait's feud with Ta-Nehisi Coates and then "blow off" match essay on race in the Age of Obama.

Chait appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show this morning. Chait is a trickster: he authored an essay which says everything--however incorrect and inaccurate The Color of His Presidency's "analysis" and conclusions--that he in fact believes while then positioning said author to deny, obfuscate, and double talk his claims on national television.

Returning to my framework and suggestion that politics is professional wrestling, Chait's interview on Perry's show was a masterful performance and run. He played the heel and then acted like the hurt and offended party on Perry's TV show. Great villains are typified by a sense of their own persecution and grievance by and towards an unjust world. Jonathan Chait channeled that energy perfectly. I applaud the routine.

For my taste, Perry was too nice and polite. I was hoping that she would simply ask him about the "terrifying" power held by those who are truth-tellers about white supremacy over those poor, aggrieved, white conservatives.

Her opening promo was an interesting choice as Chait's words are his own undoing, and thus expose his facile thinking. Why not simply pick out a few of the most bizarre claims from his essay The Color of His Presidency and let him fall all over himself defending them?

Moreover, she was pulling her punches by avoiding the "boring" social science stuff and could have easily stated that Chait is using the research literature to support his claims in a very superficial way. To point, one of the repeated findings about white racial attitudes and conservative ideology is precisely how anti-black affect and symbolic racism influences positions on seemingly "race neutral" policy matters.

White supremacy is not an opinion, it is a fact. White supremacy also influences how white folks process empirical reality. Chait's false equivalency game is one more data point in support of the latter claim.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Car was 'T-Boned' While Crossing Traffic: Advice From Any Attorneys, Pretend or Otherwise, Would be Very Much Appreciated...


I always curse the "youngsters" for over-sharing online. I feel like the old man telling the kids to get off of his digital lawn.

But, what is the point of having a virtual salon or bar if you can't reach out for advice and insight from the good folks who frequent it?

Bad news inevitably comes at night...at least according to Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek's Deep Space Nine. Perhaps I am an outlier as my bad news calls me in the mid to late afternoon and early evening. I found out that my father died at about 7:53 pm during the season finale of the Sopranos in 2004--the phone rang, I knew what the call was, as I watched Tony run away from John Sacrimoni's house when the Feds were raiding it.

My mother called me yesterday afternoon.

Her: Hello
Me: What is wrong? [her voice is transparent and obvious]
Her: I had a car accident
Me: Goodness. Are you okay?
Her: I got hit, my poor little car is all messed up [sobs, panicked voice, upsetness]
Me: What happened. Again? [exasperation]

My most important concern is for her safety. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I am a practical person and those of you who are the only children (or the only responsible children) of an older parent, my second thought was "how much is this mess going to cost of my rather limited funds to fix?"

There is no resentment in that question, just frustration at life choices which did not allow me to have a money tree growing in the backyard, how I need to rectify those choices, and the weight that comes with knowing that most of those transactions from the children of the poor and working classes who manage to be strivers is in one direction only. So be it.

Thus, my question and advice seeking from the diverse range of folks here at WARN who may be online this weekend.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Did You See Jonathan Chait's Letdown of an Interview About Conservative Racism and White Victimology on MSNBC?


One of my friends of many years was obsessed with extraterrestrials and how they supposedly kidnap people and then conduct sexual experiments on their victims. He would dream about these visitations and put on a public performance of the "Grays" riding their victims to orgasm.

I had a female friend who would call me at odd hours of the night and ask me to talk to her because she had a nightmare where the witches were riding her. Apparently, my voice and a late night visit were the only things that could calm her.

We all have burdens to carry in life.

And we all have our own obsessions.

I would like to thank you for indulging mine these last few days.

Jonathan Chait appeared on MSNBC last night.

His discussion with Salon.com's Brittney Cooper and Chris Hayes on MSNBC was a profound letdown.

There, Chait managed to further the twisted logic of white victimology and excuse-making for white supremacy with his closing comment that yes, racism may be all over the Republican Party's behavior but somehow the public is done a disservice when the media discusses it.

I riddle you that one.

Friday is a semi-open thread salon day here on WARN. I spent time on the Chait fracas because I was mesmerized by the Yellow King.  During that moment what other matters of public concern were we not discussing?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jonathan Chait's Unintentional Teachable Moment: 10 Lessons About White Supremacy in the Age of Obama

The Yellow King still has me. Jonathan Chait's new essay on race in the Age of Obama is even more poorly reasoned and problematic than its predecessor.

Obama, Racism, and the Presumption of Innocence is a rebuttal to his critics that finds its momentum in a "reasonable" claim that "evidence" must be provided for the "terrifying" accusation that (white) conservatives are racist. Moreover, Chait would like "liberals" to be fair to conservatives by giving them the benefit of the doubt that while the latter's policies may support white supremacy said actors are not in fact racists.

The second claim is easily dismissed. Why presume fairness in the treatment of movement conservatives on matters of race when their political outreach and strategy has, for at least four decades, been predicated on the unfair treatment of people of color, and the use of white racism to mobilize white voters? While they/we may be too generous and forgiving--this is a flaw of ours--black and brown Americans are not that stupid or gullible.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Additional Thought on Jonathan Chait's Essay 'The Color of His Presidency': Why Are White Liberals So Afraid to Call Republicans Racist?


White racial terrorism in places like Tulsa and East Saint Louis was the tyranny of white supremacy in human form, bombing, killing, raping, and burning black people alive and their communities to the ground. Anti-racism has created no such terrors or blood-letting where white conservatives are victims.

I would like to develop my earlier thoughts on Jonathan Chait's bizarre feature for New York Magazine about race in the Age of Obama a bit more.

Tommy Christopher, writing over at The Daily Banter, kindly linked to my criticism of Chait's false equivalence excuse-making for white conservative racism.

He featured the following observation from a longer essay where I argued that:
Jim and Jane Crow were terrifying. Lynching parties that dismembered black bodies, cut them apart, forced black men to eat their own penises as the price for a “merciful killing”, or the white rampaging mobs that destroyed black wealth, life, and many dozens (if not hundreds of black communities) during the Red Summers of the American post World War one era, are terrifying. 
The slave ship and the many millions killed during the Middle Passage are terrifying. The chattel slavery auction block is terrifying. The mass rape and murder of black men, women, and children on the charnel house plantations of the American slaveocracy, both after the seasoning process and in the hell that awaited the survivors of the Middle Passage, is terrifying. 
Men like George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn who can kill black people at will under Stand Your Ground Laws are terrifying. Police who have the power of life and death, and can use that power to murder black people who are “armed” with house keys, wallets, phones, or their empty hands is terrifying. The “don’t get killed by the cops” lecture that responsible black parents give their children is terrifying. 
The thought that how despite one’s successes and educational accomplishments that because they are identified, however arbitrarily, as “black” in America means that their resume will get thrown in the garbage, a mortgage will have higher interest, or how doctors will not give proper treatment or necessary pain medication, is terrifying.
It would seem that in some ways I "buried my lede".

The most troubling part of Chait's essay "The Color of His Presidency" is his suggestion that anti-racism is some type of "terrifying" social force in American life.

He wrote:
Few liberals acknowledge that the ability to label a person racist represents, in 21st-century America, real and frequently terrifying power. Conservatives feel that dread viscerally. Though the liberal analytic method begins with a sound grasp of the broad connection between conservatism and white racial resentment, it almost always devolves into an open-ended license to target opponents on the basis of their ideological profile. The power is rife with abuse.
Of course, such a claim is absurd. However, it is compelling for those who believe that white supremacy is a passing fad, something vanquished from American life, and how people of color--black folks in particular--are now the "real racists".

Shorter version: if black and brown folks would stop talking about racism the problem would go away. This is the central fantasy of aggrieved whiteness with its delusions of white innocence and black bullying along the colorline. American society was forged by white racism and white supremacy. The valiant resistance against the status quo by people of color and a few white allies helped to make America a more inclusive democracy.

I have read The Color of His Presidency several times. It has received praise from Isaac Chotiner at the New Republic as a "superb" piece of work. Others have also said kind things about The Color of His Presidency. I remain vexed and disappointed by it.

I generally like Chait's work. But, his latest essay makes me feel like I have watched some Lovecraft-inspired play that makes its viewers go insane. As a piece of work that purports to analyze the role of race in American politics, The Color of His Presidency is akin to the Yellow King: one cannot study it too much or they will go mad.

[I wonder how President Obama, who counts Chait as one of his favorite political essayists, feels about The Color of His Presidency? I worry that Barack Obama would agree with Chait's central thesis about racial "paranoia".]

Nevertheless, I have gleaned several conclusions from Chait's riddle.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Politics is Professional Wrestling: New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait Reveals White Racist Conservatives Are Now 'Victims' of Anti-Racism's 'Terrifying Power' in the Age of Obama


Last night, at the WWE's 30th annual Wrestlemania, one of its most legendary figures lost his first match at the event in 22 years. The defeat of the "Undertaker" caused utter shock, dismay, and confusion among professional wrestling fans. That the unbreakable and indefatigable Undertaker would lose a match in "his yard" caused a collective moment of cognitive dissonance and a collective "huh?" as it trended around the world via social media. 

The sun sets and rises everyday; the Undertaker does not lose at Wrestlemania. It would seem that rules are made to be broken--even those once thought immutable.

I use the phrase "politics is professional wrestling" as a way of describing how, just like the scripted events in the squared circle, that much of American politics is a battle of good guys and bad guys over relatively predetermined outcomes within what is in practice a very narrow issue space.  Politics is professional wrestling is also my way of alluding to the spectacle, fun, entertainment value, mayhem, madness, and polarization that has come to typify American political discourse in the 24/7 cable news cycle.

The much discussed public debate between The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates and New York magazine's Jonathan Chait about the "bad culture" and "pathological" ways of black folks was a very useful and necessary conversation, one stimulated in its most recent incarnation by the bigoted, white supremacist, dishonest, lazy thinking of Paul Ryan, the Republican Party's wunderkind "big ideas" guy.

Chait and Coates are so very smart. Their writing is a joy to read. Their debate, has for the most part, been a net gain for a public that has been trained for soundbites as opposed to an extended dialogue and deep thinking about serious public policy matters. 

As in professional wrestling, there is a natural ebb and flow to a feud. Chait and Coates's "program" reached a climax this week with the latter appearing on the Sunday morning edition of Melissa Harris-Perry's essential MSNBC program.

Unfortunately, Chait was unable to be on Melissa Harris-Perry's show with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

A great feud also has falling action and closure--in wrestling parlance this is called the "blow off" match. 

The blow off match is a way to milk a now concluded storyline for more money, to set up a new feud in the future, for a competitor to leave the promotion and pursue other ventures, and/or to give the fans a final taste of the sport and entertainment provided when competitors have great chemistry with one another. 

As with boxing (Ali-Frazier), sometimes the rematch is a story unto itself and surpasses the first parts of the narrative. 

Shawn Michaels' and the Undertakers' two classic matches at successive Wrestlemanias would fit the latter model. 

Unfortunately, most blow off matches diminish the quality of the events and climax that led up to them. And in the most egregious examples, the blow off match can actually hurt the fans' memories of what transpired beforehand: the failed follow-up match is the heavy shadow that comes to color our memories with an ugly tint.

I am concerned that Jonathan Chait's new piece on race in America is the failed blow off match in what was a thrilling feud with Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

Chait is now baiting Coates in order to get a cheap "pop" from the fans.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Member of the Hip Hop Generation's Smart Mark Obligatory Predictions and Thoughts on Daniel Bryan's Moment and Wrestlemania 30


Wrestlemania is professional wrestling's equivalent of the Superbowl. Tonight will be the 30th such event--three decades of mostly great storytelling, controversy, amazing memories, and occasional disappointment.

While the label the "Hip Hop Generation" has been used to talk about those of us who who were born in the 1970s and 1980s, we could also be called the "Wrestlemania Generation". The children of those decades saw professional wrestling reach new heights of popularity, the breaking of kayfabe, the fall of the regional territories, and WWE/WWF's emergence as a true, global, multimedia empire. Like hip-hop, American professional wrestling really did conquer the world.

That fascination with and love of professional wrestling remains with me to this day. I know that I am not alone.

Tonight's card offers up some of the most interesting possibilities that fans have seen in some time. There is a nice mix of new talent and older established workers who are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning. And of course, we have Daniel Bryan, one of the most compelling, talented, and "over" wrestlers in recent history. 

Here are some random thoughts and predictions about Wrestlemania 30.