Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Five: How do you spell it?--5 “black” terms with indeterminate spellings

Students and purveyors of negro language often come across terms that they hear on a regular basis, but rarely write or see in print. I’ve seen such words spelled several different ways, and I always have trouble translating them into writing. I present the pronunciation of 5 such terms below:

1.) sə-'dĭt-ē

2.) 'bü -zhē

3.) 'ĭg-nĭnt

4.) nĭm

5.) ô 'sʊk-ē 'sʊk-ē

I invite everyone to offer their best guesses about how any of these five is spelled…and feel free to offer other relevant words/pronunciations. For your convenience, I’ve included a handy pronunciation key. Cut and paste away!:

\ ă \ as a in pat
\ ā \ as a in ace
\ ä \ as a in father
\ au \ as ou in out
\ b \ as in baby
\ ch \ as ch in chin
\ d \ as d in did
\ ĕ \ as e in bet
\ ē \ as ea in easy
\ f \ as f in fifty
\ g \ as g in go
\ h \ as h in hat
\ ĭ \ as i in hit
\ ī \ as i in ice
\ j \ as j in job
\ k \ as k in kin
\ l \ as l in lily
\ m \ as m in mom
\ n \ as n in own
\ ng \ as ng in sing
\ ō \ as o in no
\ ô \ as aw in law
\ oi \ as oy in boy
\ p \ as p in pop
\ r \ as r in red
\ s \ as s in yes
\ sh \ as sh in shy
\ t \ as t in tie
\ th \ as th in thin
\ th \ as th in the
\ ə\ as u in cut
\ ü \ as oo in loot
\ ʊ \ as oo in foot
\ ûr \ as ur in fur
\ v \ as v in vivid
\ w \ as w in away
\ y \ as y in yet
\ z \ as z in zone
\ zh \ as si in vision

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bill Clinton Must have Eaten a Luther Burger Before this Speech Honoring Dr. King

It looks like our first black president has a case of "The Itis":

He must have eaten a Luther:

Maybe that tired, black preacher affected speech lulled brother Clinton to sleep?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: It's True, I Caught Cloverfield from a Toilet Seat

This is not a spoiler free review. In fact, I do not want you to see this movie and all respectable negroes and our friends should avoid this movie like the plague. I will also not provide any details about the characters or specific plot moments as to recall them would be too painful.

I will not make a habit of writing movie reviews because my girl Zora has staked out this turf and made it clear to me that if I sit on her porch she will shank me (Are you impressed? I picked up some of that prison speak while watching The History Channel). On Monday, in honor of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., I, like all negroes everywhere, went to the movies (in my case 2), bought my monthly comic books (Walking Dead is returning to form; The Punisher and Barracuda have upped it one more level in their on going "feud"; I just discovered Pax Romana and it looks promising; and The Ultimates is mixed at this point--beautiful art, but too dark, and the characters are sort of blah), and went to Chipotle for a pork carnitas fajita burrito.

On that day, I was blessed to see a great movie, There Will be Blood (TWBB), and a horrible movie, Cloverfield. The former is an undeniable classic. As I told a friend, by comparison, TWBB makes P.T. Anderson's body of earlier work look like a set of movies shot by well-intentioned (but untalented) 5th graders. TWBB is the work of a master, working with a master actor (Danielle Day Lewis), on a set of universal topics (greed, the human heart, faith, nationalism, religious zealotry, family, and human frailty).

By comparison, Cloverfield is the work of an amateur who is grappling with a motif and genre he does not understand. Yes, I took the bait. Yes, I was excited by the viral marketing. I also believed that JJ Abrams had the skill to reimagine the monster movie genre, and perhaps introduce something new to science fiction story-telling. I was wrong, horribly wrong. Cloverfield is the girl in the 5th grade who promises to show you something special if you go behind the bushes with her, but instead you see nothing. By analogy, one thinks Cloverfield is a beautiful woman, but instead your love/lust object is oiling up her inner thighs and playing a man like he is a naive trick. I have long asserted that in order to either innovate upon, or to reimagine a genre, one must have mastery over it. Cloverfield demonstrates that JJ Abrams has neither mastery over, nor any particular insight into, this particular sub-genre of science fiction.

Don't be mistaken, I am not a film snob. I know and love bad movies. In fact, I am a connoisseur of them (They Live, Armageddon, Flash Gordon, etc.) As a point of reference, I was one of those unfortunate souls whom saw Prince's magnum opus, Under the Cherry Moon, in the movie theater--a film so horrible that the audience cheered when Prince, our protagonist, is contemplating suicide because his death would have mercifully ended the film. Under the Cherry Moon is the first film I contemplated walking out of before its conclusion. Prior to watching Cloverfield, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe occupied second place on my list of worst movies of all time:

And compared to the masterpiece which was He-Man, Cloverfield is a failure on almost all levels. Akin to my experience with Under the Cherry Moon, this was one of the most divide screenings I have ever been to. Half the audience booed and hissed at the main characters (and cheered when we thought they were killed), and the other half--mostly teenage ign'ts, hipsters, and other victims of group think--clapped and cheered reverentially at the film's conclusion.

First, as a point of serious criticism Cloverfield uses the device of a monster destroying NYC as a means for exploring how people grapple with the incomprehensible. What would we do if a 30 story tall monster appeared in a major city and proceeded to destroy everything in sight? How would the average person process the unimaginable? Cloverfield fails in this regard because it fails to acknowledge one obvious fact: on 9-11 we saw both the unimaginable and the incomprehensible (see The New York Times, Salon, and Slate for reviews which speak to this point). As a society, we witnessed what was thought to be impossible. Abrams's use of the monster as a thinly veiled reference to 9-11 places a heavy, almost insurmountable burden on his film. Unfortunately, Cloverfield uses the device and fails to bring anything new (here meaning real inspiration, compelling story telling or even a novel narrative device) to the story. This is Abrams's greatest failure: in playing with such heavy topics his reach never equals his grasp.

Moreover, I am all for exploring 9-11 and its visual lexicon, and a great film maker could use the monster movie genre to effectively do so. Abrams is simply not up to the challenge, and ultimately, what remains is a rehashing of 9-11 with little innovation beyond that of substituting airplanes for a whale beast summoned from the deepest parts of the ocean by an incessant demand for Slusho Cola (sounds like Slurm soda on Futurama). Sorry Mr. Abrams, that cheap slight of hand is not enough to carry a movie.

Second, for a monster movie to "work" we need to have either 1) sympathy for the victims; or 2) to cheer on the monster as a device of righteous justice because it is punishing humanity for our sins. Cloverfield fails because the main characters are unlikeable. In a multiracial, polygot, New York City the main characters are remarkable for their diversity: a clique that has seemingly walked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch or J Crew ad, with the obligatory racially ambiguous brown woman, and a wannabe, miserable, cynical hipster. JJ Abrams wants us to feel sympathy for these characters and to be empathetic to their plight. Instead, we want the monster to kill these folks--especially the cameraman--because they are foul people, truly vacuous, grating to one's eyes and ears, and frustrating to our intelligence.

As a proud negro geek, I take my genre films seriously. Here, I look for small details in the story telling which make a movie feel real and signal a commitment to good film making. I ask two questions. First, do the things I see look so ridiculous as to convey the filmmaker's intent to invite and court the absurd? Second, if the film maintains a pretense to "realism," does it do the little things right? Beyond the big monster running around and destroying the city, do the details ring true?

Cloverfield clearly fails the detail test. For example, our main characters have an indestructible camera with super batteries that never run out. Through monster attacks, gunfire, building collapses, and the like, the camera works without fail--in fact, they should make the Space Shuttle out of whatever this camera is made from. Second, our beautiful, obligatory, racially nebulous brown sister has on a silver necklace from Tiffanys and high heeled shoes. The necklace never breaks because it is monster proof (certified by Elsa really is). The 3 inch heels on these shoes, even when climbing over corpses, rubble, or running from our beast, never break. Moral of the story: super powered cameras and indestructible heels can ruin a film if you aren't careful.

Cloverfield fails the absurdity test because the monster is sort of "blah". He is a device, but he lacks personality. The monster is present, and a marvel of CGI and practical effects, but he is looming in the shadows. Yes, I understand that was Abrams's intention, this idea of what one sees is less scary than what one imagines, but a compelling monster would have added some measure of salvation to a failed project. It is in this regard that Abrams could have benefited from a deeper understanding of monster movies as genre entertainment. For example, the fun of Godzilla (or Kaiju films more generally), is that there is generally no pretense to seriousness. We enjoy the spectacle, the battle royal of men in suits beating the hell out of each other. Godzilla is interesting. She is an anti-hero who punishes mainkind for his sins. Yet, she protects us when we are in peril. It is this loving care which endears lady Godzilla to audiences. She is a friend, sort of a kinder, simpler version of Deebo from Friday:

Simply, Godzilla and man in suit monster movies "work" because they are fun. Cloverfield is not fun. Sure, it courts the eternal geek question of how one would defeat a 30 story tall monster or an alien invasion? I have always voted for a combination of superheroes and giant robots to do the job. Alternatively, we could bring in Charles Barkley to save humanity:

In Abrams's monster movie one would have to drop a nuke on the beast to kill it because the MOAB apparently couldn't do the job. We viewers could kill the monster far more easily by simply not seeing this movie.

Postscript: courtesy of the Internet Movie Database here are some answers to the mysteries of Cloverfield--

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We are Respectable Negroes Mourns for You: Actor Heath Ledger Found Dead

Heath Ledger was one hell of a gay cowboy. He was ready to shine again as The Joker, but now we will only have those fond memories. Hopefully, Heath will find the peace in death that he could not find in life.


Heath Ledger found dead in NYC apartment

28-year-old actor was nominated for Oscar for ‘Brokeback Mountain’

NEW YORK - A New York Police Department spokesman says the actor Heath Ledger has been found dead at a downtown Manhattan residence.

According to, Ledger, 28, was found dead in his bed in one of his residences in Soho by his housekeeper at 3:35 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The actor has a two-year-old daughter with former fiancee Michelle Williams. Ledger was set to play the Joker in the upcoming Batman film "The Dark Knight." He received an Academy Award nomination for his work in "Brokeback Mountain."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.

All Things To All People...

In America’s poorest ghettos, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s portrait is one of the most popular subjects of public art. These images, which I have been documenting since 1977, regularly appear on the walls of the liquor stores, auto-repair shops, fast-food restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and public housing projects of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and many other cities across the country. The majority are the work of amateur artists. Though Dr. King is usually front and center, he is often accompanied by other inspirational figures: Nelson Mandela, John Paul II, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Pancho Villa. He is often accompanied by his famous phrase, “I have a dream” – a reminder that in many of the communities where these murals exist, the gulf between hope and reality remains far too wide.
-- Camilo José Vergara

New England Wins One More: It is Hard to be Tom Brady

My boy Brady is only human. Watching the game I felt like this:

To be honest, the game made me feel like this:

In two weeks our victory over the Giants will be more like this:

It is good to be the King.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Five: 5 stereotypes that whites and blacks share about each other

As I stated in response to Zora, not only was Toni Morrison’s “Bill Clinton is the first black president” comment not racist, it was aggressively anti-racist in that it was meant to underscore the inherent ridiculousness of racial stereotypes. I was extremely disappointed (though not surprised) when pundits and cultural critics in the mainstream media tripped over one another to condemn Morrison’s “racism.” If they’d only read Morrison’s short story “Recitatif,” they’d understand that Morrison would never condone essentialist racial stereotypes. The story follows the lives of two women—one white, one black. From childhood to adulthood, the women harbor racial stereotypes about each other, but Morrison uses ambiguous language and signals, so it is never totally clear which woman is white and which is black. “Recititaf” draws its force from one of the cruel (yet hilarious) jokes of American race relations: due to our historical and cultural proximity, black people and white people have many of the same stereotypes about each other. To be fair, these stereotypes apply to all groups that position themselves opposite another, but as I’m most familiar with black-white relations, that will be my focus.

1.) They stink

…as in, their bodies smell funny. “White people smell like wet dog,” “white people’s hair smells like wet dog,” “white women’s diggum smacks smell like wet dog.” Clearly, wet dog smell figures prominently in black stereotypes about white people’s odor. And any casual perusal of white supremacist literature and music will turn up assertions of black people’s supposed stink. Cooler heads have suggested that argue that genes, diet, cultural preferences for hair and body products can account for different racial odors. I can’t say that I’ve noticed, but then again, I don’t go around sniffing folks.

2.) They are sexual deviants

Many white people believe that black women are promiscuous and have a primal sexual energy (signaled by the hypnotic movement of black women’s hips and asses on the dance floor). Many black people say that white women are nasty and loose. Black men, in particular often brag about the relative ease with which they can bed or turn out white women. White folks (and black folks too) have bought into the idea that black men are sexually potent and promiscuous. Black people often say that white men are into “freaky shit” (s and m, interracial cuckolding, bisexuality). Nowadays, black men are getting some of that with the overblown D.L. panic, but the “freaky” stereotype is still relatively rare for them.

3.) They have terrible taste

…in music/movies/books/clothes/food/comedy/beauty, etc. Black people like Tyler Perry plays and movies, crappy stand up comics, lowbrow rap and derivative R and B, gross, greasy fast food, and tacky, bright colored clothes. White people like “Friends,” crappy stand up comics, unlistenable rock and country music, bland food (or sometimes “exotic” cuisines), and lame clothes. What makes this one an interesting stereotype is that it often goes beyond generalizations about cultural preferences. This stereotype tends to bolster the idea of differing racial aesthetic capacities. The white vs. black “tastes” typically break down along the binaries of affect vs. authenticity, formal training vs. instinct, script vs. improv, craft vs. style…in other words, (white) mind vs. (black) body or (black) soul.

4.) They don’t discipline their kids

Without this stereotype, 95% of black hack comedians wouldn’t have material. According to popular stereotypes spread among black people, white kids can curse, disrespect, and hit their parents, all without being punished. White people, on the other hand, look at unruly, vulgar black kids in public space like malls, schools, public transportation, and think that black kids are generally out of control due to absentee parenting or disrespectful black culture. There’s no shortage of asshole kids who have little respect for others’ property or public space, but racial tunnel vision makes us see only what confirms our prejudices. When someone has destroyed or defaced public property in an interracial neighborhood, many white people just assume that black kids did it; most black people probably think that drunken white fratboys did it.

5.) They are untrustworthy

I’ve come across quite a few old black people who tell me that white people are shady backstabbers, not by nature, but certainly by having been raised in a culture of white supremacy. As for white perceptions of black dishonesty, I will offer my first hand experiences. Occasionally, I’ve had to duck out of sporting events, museum visits, and symphony concerts at the last minute. Rather than waste time trying to sell the tickets outside of the venues, I’ve opted to give them to the first taker. But since I’m black, especially a black man, white people refuse to take the free tickets from me. One might argue that white people aren’t responding to my blackness; they’re responding to my suspicious behavior of giving away free stuff. That’s somewhat understandable, but then why do I never have issues giving them away to the first black person who shows up?

Can you all think of others?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The End of a May-December Romance? A Drama in One Act

I am a bit of a voyeur. I like watching my neighbors, I have listened to my neighbors doing the deed, I eavesdrop on loud conversations, and I make no apologies for being an observer of the human condition--I am sort of like that old lady on the stoop of that show 227. I did some dissertation work, and something beckoned me to go out. It said, "tonight, you Chauncey, are gonna see something interesting." As Grandpa Munster said, "curiosity killed the cat, but intelligence brought him back," (click here for one of my favorite Granda Munster moments).

Last year (and Zora can vouch for this as I told her the story right after it happened), I was lucky enough to watch an old school player in action at one of the local spots I frequent. He was in his early 60's or late 50's and was on a "date" with a young lady in her last 20's or early thirties. I knew what was up, as did all the other men in the bar he was signifying to: Old School Player (OSP) had on a wedding ring, she was smitten by him, and OSP had "cultivated" her (I learned that phrase from American Pimp) . She, let's call her Young, Dumb, Desperate, and in Love (YDDL) couldn't resist. Love (lust?) was in the air, and OSP was making his move. We know how the night ended on that occasion--his hand had crept up her dress and she was smiling. YDDL was smiling, winked at the men in the room, and the two left together.

Fate has a sense of humor. Frankly, I don't know if this fits the theme of We are Respectable Negroes, but I don't believe that questions of respectability are exclusive from questions of why young women fall for old men, so please indulge me. For your visualization, OSP looked like a cross between the notable light skinned musician Cab Calloway:

and 1980s action superstar Kurt Russell from the classic movie Escape from New York:

Yes, OSP did have on leather pants. Yes, OSP had on a leather jacket. Yes, OSP did have his hair straightened (or maybe he just had good hair?) YDDL was cute--not great--but cute. She looked like a cross between Tiffany Pollard aka New York (did you see her sex tape--I watched the tape and remain undecided as if it is her or not) and Angela Bassett. Yes, she too was wearing leather (I think they met at the local black motorcycle bar):

As I said, I was there at the beginning of their tryst and I was there at the end (?) Here are the events as I can best recall them (all folks are in a medium high voice. YDDL is a bit histrionic. OSP is quiet and trying to calm her:

Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I am done with you! No more kissing! No more touching..
Old School Player: Come on, calm down..
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: Good pussy costs money!
Old School Player: I didn't promise you anything, it doesn't have to be like this, please calm down..
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I am gonna tell your wife. I left a good man for you.
Old School Player: (Inaudible)...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I am gonna call my friend right now and leave a voice mail. I am gonna tell her that I don't love you anymore. I want everyone to know. Damn, I shouldn't have kept fuckin' with you. I am gonna tell your wife. I left a good man for you.
Old School Player: Baby, calm down...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: No more kissing, no more fucking. No! I don't want to share you.
Old School Player: Come on baby, please calm down...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: If you really loved me you wouldn't want to share me either! I hate you!
Old School Player: Come on baby...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I hate you!

OSP and YDDL walk out together and presumably fight outside. YDDL comes back in, she sits down, collects herself and talks on the phone. She leaves 5 minutes later. What struck me was that OSP was calm the whole time. It was pretty clear OSP didn't care about losing his young mistress as he was more worried about being embarrassed by YDDL's behavior. It seems this sister, who was much more attractive and younger than our Old School Player, was really invested in old dude.

What do you all think? My smart money is on her returning to OSP and continuing on as the mistress. Plus, and this is up for debate, I believe that the more histrionic and upset a person is, the more invested they are in keeping that relationship alive. My money says they get back together this weekend. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gordon Gartrelle sighs: If only I weren't such an honest, respectable negro...

from: XXXX
date: Dec 18, 2007 8:03 PM
subject: WGA Residuals
Dear Mr. Gartrelle:
Are you by any chance a former writer on “The Cosby Show”?
If so,please contact me. We have been trying to locate you for a long time regarding residual payments owed to you currently in our possession.

Writers Guild of America
Foreign Levies Department
(323) xxxxxxx Phone
(323) xxxxxxx FAX

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's Electric Boogaloo 2: The Wiggers Strike Back

Last weekend I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. One of the trailers attached was for the upcoming film, "Step Up Movie 2." I offered some narration during the trailers that much to my chagrin got quite a few laughs in the theater. What is the point of being 1/3rd of a blog if you can't share your pre-movie commentary with the world (or at least our readers)?

I now offer the following (and yes, I know our parents thought we were ridiculous at the time):

Start with Wild Style:

Add some Breakin:

Flavor with some Krush Groove:

Mix in some Cool as Ice:

And we have this:

Maybe it should be called "Now Introducing Breakin' 3-Poppin and Lockin' Gentrification?"

As a culture are we this bereft of ideas? And doesn't history indeed come full circle when "whites" through their imitation of "black" popular culture eventually come to own it?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chauncey Devega Says: New Hampshire Primary Reaction Part 2--Obama's Still Got that Old Black Magic

In the interest of transparency, I will likely vote for Edwards come November if he remains in the presidential race. Simply put, Edwards's platform speaks to me in a way that Obama's platform does not. But, I cannot deny that Obama is an exciting candidate with much to offer.

However, I do have to admit that while I correctly predicted an Obama defeat, a big part of me, the proud, respectable negro part of me, really wanted to see him win. While political scientists, pundits, and other analysts are conducting a New Hampshire postmortem, we will not know for some time if Obama was defeated because of the "Bradley effect," i.e. white respondents reporting to pollsters that they will vote for the black candidate, when in the privacy of the voting booth these respondents then vote for the white candidate (and in an interesting twist, a white, female candidate). Alternatively, predictions of an Obama victory may have been a function of a sampling error, where as Andrew Kohut in The New York Times points out, the preferences of white respondents in New Hampshire making less than 50k a year were not "captured" by surveys. These voters disproportionately did not vote for Obama, what I affectionately call the PWT effect, and the pundits and analysts were blindsided by the subsequent failure to predict a Hillary victory (click here for a thorough list of possible explanations for Obama's defeat). Ultimately, Obama, his supporters, and the pundits, were caught in a "Damn!" moment by Hillary's victory--whatever the causal variables which may explain it:

Honestly, there is something compelling about Obama and he offers much to like. Obama is wonderfully self-deprecating ("I’m a black guy running for president named Barack Obama. I must be hopeful"). As a child in Indonesia, Obama was known to chase young girls at his school (something I certainly can relate to). Apparently, being such a young Lothario, Obama was tied to a fence and whipped with a cane by his schoolmates as punishment for his flirtatious ways (I was beat with either a paddle or a belt, but never with a cane). Obama once owned a pet monkey (cool--3 month long readers know my feelings about those damn, dirty, apes). But, Obama has also eaten dog (not cool at all). "Obamamania" may have even helped maintain the peace in a little corner of conflict afflicted Kenya. In total, while I haven't caught Obama fever yet, I am beginning to see why some voters find him so infectious:

But, as compelling as I find aspects of both Obama's life story, and some of his policy initiatives to be, I have two interrelated concerns which give me pause.

First, Obama is in a crusade for hope. While not a problematic theme (who can disagree with "hope"?) it has transformed Obama into a vessel for the dreams and desires of others. This is an important, yet simultaneously almost banal observation that demands reiteration. Obama is a vessel for the hopes and dreams of others, but who are these others? What do they imagine? In their eyes, what is he a vessel for?

Here, Obama's candidacy has been positioned, and has quite skillfully positioned itself, as a force for "racial healing." For the Right, the Left, and for the tragic mulatto crowd, a vote for Obama ushers in a "post-racial future." For the Right, Obama is the embodiment of a "color-blind" America. But, as part of their racial project the mere mention of race, or racial difference, or for that matter racism, is itself "racist." For the "color-blind" Right/neo-liberal Left, to speak truth to power, is itself a racist act. For them (and quite disingenuously in my opinion given Bush 1 and 2, Reagan, et al's assault on black people's sanity), Obama's race is irrelevant. Further, Obama's candidacy hints at a reality where race does not "matter," and to bring forth questions of race as they relate to Obama borders on being impolitic at worse, and impolite, at best.

For the tragic mulatto and self-consciously bi-racial crowd, Obama is a mascot. He signals a future where self-identified bi-racial folk will be accepted in a wonderful, post-racial world where one can be all things to all people, and where the fact of race will have no burdens, no consequences, and no obligations:

This fantastic post-racial world will allow all forms of "race play." In this racial Utopia one could be "black" on Monday and "white" on Wednesday depending on a whim (or utilitarian need, i.e. getting a scholarship). Ultimately, the arrival of Obama is a coronation of sorts. But, in an inconvenient truth for many, Obama identifies as a black American, a black man who happens to have a white mother, but nonetheless, he is proud, and unapologetically black. In the greatest of ironies, the post-racial future which Obama's candidacy signifies will allow tragic mulattos to exercise agency over Obama's identity by their claiming him, while in reality, Obama claims an identity as a black, and not creatively hyphenated, "Canablasian," "mocha," or "multiracial," American.

For the Left, an Obama candidacy signals the arrival of a type of political humanism where all citizens manage to forget the past (and exercise selective memory regarding the present) and to live in a world which appreciates "difference." But, this is a post-racial future where race, and its inconvenient baggage, neither has purchase nor power. As articulated by Gary Kamiya on, if we could all just move forward, if we as a society could find a racial "healer" as opposed to a "divider" (those troublemakers who talk about discrimination, racism, and white supremacy), we as a society could transcend racial difference. More pointedly, the Left in its vision for a post-racial future wants a safe, conciliatory, black leader who privileges the good will which ostensibly underlies the intentions of white liberals.

Again, no plain speakers need apply to the cult of "multiculturalism" and "diversity" because race is an unfortunate "social construction," a social construction which is only skin deep. For the post-racial Left, we are all human, and no troublesome folk (be they black, brown, yellow, red or white) need apply. Collectively, these post-racial knuckleheads (or PRK's as I label them) embrace Obama as a "magical negro." Although their agendas are different, these factions see in Obama their hope for a post-racial future, and he becomes the site for a type of magical, racial catharsis. Ultimately PRK's look to a future in which race is magically transcended. However, I suspect their understanding of the magical negro is closer to this one:

Primarily, I have reservations regarding Obama as a healer of racial wounds because I believe that we as a society need to embrace the realities of racism in the present. As a society, we continue to struggle through a project of race and remembrance. Subsequently, the American project of racial reconciliation remains an ongoing one. In short, the PRK's and their support of Obama causes me great concern because the present is a product of racism in the past, racism in the contemporary, and racism in the near present (e.g. disparities in hiring; job discrimination; the prison industrial complex; illegal and racially disparate mortgage rates; health disparities; and the material consequences of slavery and Jim Crow, i.e. widely unequal rates of black and white wealth accrual). The cures for these problems are not a set of fanciful dreams which look forward to a heretofore undiscovered country.

Hillary's victory, and the conversations surrounding how gender may (or may not) have impacted "The New Hampshire surprise," point to my second set of concerns. As Gloria Steinem pointed out in the New York Times, Hillary's campaign is a essential site for feminist struggle. For Steinem, gender as an identity category is necessarily at the forefront. A white woman is almost by definition an underdog to a black man. I suggest that we cannot forget that the black body more generally, and the black male body in particular, is itself a site of what have been powerful and pernicious applications of both gender and race as socially marginalizing categories. In short, I suggest that the historical record would offer much that would complicate Steinam's assertion.

The relationship between race and gender is the 800lb elephant sitting in the corner of the room that few, be they black, white, or other, want to acknowledge. Obama is a black, male, candidate. Moreover, Obama is an attractive, black, male, candidate. Sex appeal, charisma, and personality are as relevant in this campaign as they have been in any other. Obama isn't a mandingo figure. But, Obama as a magical negro is able to leverage this identity to his advantage. I worry that it can also be to his disadvantage as well. Consider for a moment: we have witnessed many conversations (with much consternation) regarding why black people, and black women in particular, have not offered as fervent a level of support for Obama (Oprah excluded..but she ain't black, she is a celebrity) as have white women. In their continual search for black ideological solidarity, some commentators seem perplexed that black people have not rallied behind Obama. Yet, white women (and whites more generally) are among his staunchest supporters:

I am worried that Obama as the magical negro--their black Jesus (yes, I know Jesus was "black")--represents a false hope, a candidacy which will collapse once he either 1) dares to become too "black" or 2) when the media ends their love affair with Obama and casts him as a "black" candidate.

In a reformulation of the Bradley effect, it is also my worry that Obama is in many ways a "safe" choice. By analogy, Obama is the "well spoken," "professional," light skinned black guy that many white women would date and sleep with but damn well wouldn't marry.

Don't misunderstand my position. I believe that one of the ironies of Obama's candidacy is that these necessary conversations regarding black American's support for his campaign (or lack thereof) highlight our political sophistication. While we are proud of Obama, our cynicism, suspicion, and deep seeded reservations point to a profound understanding of power, race, privilege, and politics. While the Right has long lamented that black support for the Democrats is evidence of a plantation mentality--disregarding the fact that there are many rational, self-interested reasons for our being "behind the mule"--we have been ahead of the curve on many issues (for example, black folk saw through Bush 2 long before white people).

I am proud of both our insight and our caution. For example, as The Washington Post recently highlighted, there are many reasons for black Americans to approach the Obama campaign with caution. Quite logically, many black Americans are concerned about the reasons underlying white support for Obama. What are his allegiances? Who is he beholden to? Why would white voters support a black candidate? How sincere is their interest? In addition, many black Americans, myself included, are deeply concerned about how Obama has positioned himself as a post-racial black man, a new "New Negro" of sorts, who is emphasizing his immigrant roots in a way that distances himself from his domestic, black brethren. Strategically, Obama's appropriation of the Horatio Alger, American-immigrant narrative sends a signal to whites that: "He is sort of like us"; "He and his people came here and made it with nothing..just like our ancestors!"; "Obama isn't angry like those other black folk who always throw slavery up in our faces!" It is Obama's skillful triangulation between whites and "regular" black folk, that give us regular respectable negroes much to think about.

The next few months will be exciting. Brother Obama, do not doubt for a second that we respectable negroes have your back--a fact that will be demonstrated in South Carolina. You will probably benefit from the calls of politicians, black activists, scholars, and public intellectuals to support your campaign. Moreover, how can we not be happy that a member of our proverbial tribe is competitive for the highest position in the land and is representing himself with such confidence, skill, and political deftness? The next few months will also be challenging. "They" will remind you of your blackness. "They" will test you. It may get so bad that you may have to do an Eddie Murphy to conduct some reconnaissance:

If Karl Rove's recently published racist screed is any indication (a piece where he described you as "lazy," "rude," and "a trash talker" who learned to be disrespectful while playing pickup games of basketball), the campaign will get uglier. And let us not forget William Bennett's comments on CNN that:

"Well, I think it's -- and again, a wonder of America here, a remarkable breakthrough, this year, as the other group said -- 97 percent, in fact, Iowa, rural, white farming state. Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, wins this for the Democrats...I have been watching him. I watched him on Meet the Press. I watched him on your show, watched him on all the CNN shows -- he never brings race into it. He never plays the race card. Talk about the black community -- he has taught the black community you don't have to act like Jesse Jackson; you don't have to act like Al Sharpton. You can talk about the issues. Great dignity. And this is a breakthrough, and good for the people of Iowa."

I hope you pass muster and respond as I know you will--with pride, dignity, courage, and intelligence. Who knows? You may still win my vote from Edwards.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gordon Gartrelle says: The Democrats refuse to see the Wizard

I differ from Chauncey in that I think that Obama has a chance to beat whomever the Republicans nominate. I also differ from him because I would never even joke about eating chitlins. However, we agree that, in general, the Democrats are poor strategists compared to the Republicans, and that the Democrats are absolutely clueless when it comes to choosing their presidential candidates. Take a look at this list of losing Democratic Nominees from 1984 to the present:



Gore (don’t give me that “But he won the popular vote and they stole Florida” shit. OK, but he couldn’t even win his home state. How pathetic is that?)


Just look at that list for a second. Is it even possible to imagine a more lifeless, uninspiring group of Democratic politicians? What this list tells me, though, is that the Democrats do not learn from their mistakes, and that Hillary will most likely be their nominee. Why? Because they believe that she is the “safe” choice (though she is anything but). Because she is an insider with “relevant experience” (though she has little).

Let’s revisit 2004 for a moment. Republicans’ charge them with being antipatriotic, so what do the Democrats do? They get all giddy about Wesley Clark running, and they ultimately nominate a Vietnam vet...a boring, robotic, aristocratically-mannered Vietnam vet. That’ll show ’em! That this move backfired is irrelevant. The mere fact that they allowed Republicans to define the attributes of their candidate shows how unimaginative, obsequious, and pathetic the Democrats are.

We live in interesting political times. Due to an odd convergence of circumstances, the three potential democratic presidential nominees are an economic populist, a woman, and a (kind of) black man, and the last one is the most electable candidate of the three! To see why Obama is the best bet for the Dems right now, let’s examine his main rivals:

Edwards, a white male and a Southerner, may seem like a good choice given that the last few Democratic presidents have been white men from the South. But Democrats got extremely lucky with Clinton and Carter: not only were they white male Southerners, they were up against Republicans whose loser-dom was too great for even the Democrats to fuck up. Most important, though, was that they came off as regular guys, despite their high levels of formal education. Edwards, on the other hand, is an effete pretty boy. Independents, especially male ones, will never vote for him in large numbers; he’s too “queer.” They can’t imagine having a brew with Edwards. Though these criteria are idiotic, they certainly explain Gore and Kerry’s failure to mop the floor with a man who, while just north of functionally retarded, appears to be a regular guy despite his privileged upbringing. Edwards can “man up” and criticize Hillary’s crying all he wants, this country will not elect a Southern dandy. The mainstream media will make sure of that. And I haven’t even gotten to the fact that Edwards’ platform is populist, poverty-centered, and critical of big business. Do you think that’s gonna fly in our current political climate, where any critique of the institutions that foster poverty earns one the socialist label?

It’s bad enough that Hillary represents boring “politics as usual.” The fact that she is a Clinton is what’ll ultimately sink her. Feeling good about New Hampshire women coming to bat for their girl? That's nice. Feel this: do you know how many conservative and moderate women will come out to vote, not for a Republican, not against a Democrat, but against Hillary personally? People will crawl from the swamps to ensure she never sets foot in the White House again. If this is fairly obvious even to party loyalists, why are the rest of the Democrats so blind? I think it’s a collection of things: cowardice, strategic and ideological stagnation, an insider devotion to the status quo, and the all too predictable establishment liberal mantra, “White is right (to lead black people), black is awesome (but if it comes down to white vs. black leadership, black get back).

So Obama’s the man…except that he isn’t and probably won’t be. The Democrats embody all four of the pre-Wizard Oz pilgrims combined: no brain, no heart, no home, no balls no noyve. Obama is the magical Wizard poised to restore to the Democratic Party its squandered mojo. For the Democratic establishment, though, Obama’s campaign is too much like a fairy tale, and nominating him would be too much like right.

Chauncey DeVega says: New Hampshire Primary Reaction Part 1--Hillary Clinton and the Power of White Women's Tears

To begin, we offer some secret footage that we obtained at great risk and personal peril of the chaos at Hillary Clinton's headquarters on Tuesday, January 8th at 5pm:

As a student of politics, the New Hampshire primary has reminded me of one immutable truth of American political and social life: never, and at your own great peril, do you ever underestimate the power of white women's tears. Hillary turned on the waterworks, portrayed herself as a "victim" under "attack" by the media, and many a Miss Ann rallied to her cause.

Hillary's camp was in turmoil following her poor showing in Iowa. Rumors abounded that Hillary would change her campaign strategy. Hillary's core group of advisers would be retooled (and may still be). Billy Bob, seen as a liability by some, was going to be reigned in. Old confidantes such as James Carville were to be brought back into the fold. Following her expected defeat in New Hampshire, Hillary was going to position herself as Hillary 2.0--a new and improved Hillary, with more vigor, life, personality and energy. But, Hillary's tears have taken a crisis and turned it into an opportunity. Her tears may have changed everything. Perhaps, Miss Hillary will be the comeback kid of 2008.

A few days ago, the stress of the primary campaign had Miss Clinton looking like this:

Oops wrong picture, but you can't tell me that she doesn't look like the Emperor from Star Wars:

Hillary has now used her secret powers to breath life back into her campaign. Despite her husband's comments questioning Obama's experience, and electability; his observations that Obama's handlers (and by implication his supporters) are living in a fairy tale; or Hillary's jabs that Obama is no MLK--comments which undoubtedly turned off many voters and pushed them into Obama's camp--Hillary survives to fight another day. Representatives from the Hillary camp even went so far as to speculate aloud that if Obama continues to win and to fashion himself in the mold of MLK or Bobby Kennedy, he may very well be killed. But, even that tasteless comment (if not a reasonable concern), didn't prevent Hillary from capturing victory.

The media loves a horse race, the American public loves a close (but fair) election because it encourages their belief that the electoral system "works." And ultimately, we can only hope that these competitive primaries may improve the health of our body politic. But for now, I say kudos to you Miss Hillary because your victory has pushed me one step farther away from that chitlin' sandwich I promised to eat come November if Obama won the election.

To close, here is some secret footage of the celebration at Hillary Clinton's headquarters on Tuesday, January 8th at 11pm. Many Bothans died to bring you this information:

Monday, January 7, 2008

Respectable Negroes of the Week

Only One Negro Deserves Recognition This Week...

Obama Shows that Hope Can Carry Us A Long Way

With the New Hampshire primary a day away, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is edging out Hillary Clinton. A USA Today-Gallup poll taken over the weekend has her trailing Barack Obama by 13 points.

“For those of you who have already decided that you are voting for me, do not take this race for granted,” Mr. Obama told voters at a morning rally in New Hampshire. “I know we had a nice boost over the last couple of days, but elections are a funny business. You actually have to wait until people have voted and counted the votes before you know what’s happening.”

Advisers to Mrs. Clinton and former Senator John Edwards played down any effects from Mr. Obama’s victory in Iowa. But one prominent black supporter of Mr. Obama, Representative Artur Davis of Alabama, called this moment “a very precarious time for the Clinton campaign.”

For black elected officials who either stayed out of this race or have supported Senator Clinton, they’re in a very dicey position right now,” Mr. Davis said, “because their black constituents are about to move overwhelmingly toward Barack Obama.” Outright defections may be unlikely, he said, but he predicted some black Clinton supporters would become “magically unavailable when the Clinton campaign calls them.”

.. and one Negro Deserves an Honorable Mention

Gordon Gartrelle Backs Down
in the Face of Strong Black Women

Our own Gordon Gartrelle is nominated this week for rethinking his position on how his sisters are portrayed in the media and pledging to be more thoughtful when he engages this topic in the future. He will be a strong ally in our struggle for respect and consideration.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Chauncey Devega says: Gordon Gartrelle this is All Your Fault!--Making Me Put this Lap Dog, Ass Kisser, Uncle Tom, Shelby Steele on This Site

When we started this project I said we should never feature this handkerchief head on the blog. You pointed his comments out to me, and now, we have this:

You know what? A broken clock is right twice a day.

Gordon, you are a bad person--and, you ruined the climax of my post for next week. Shame on you!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Zora Says: Why should Negroes Vote for Hillary Clinton?

Friend or Foe?

The presidential primary season has just begun and Barack Obama has surprised a lot of pundits by surpassing Hillary Clinton at the polls. Already, the "yes, but" folks have begun to raise their voices: "It's still early in the race;" "Iowa isn't reflective of the rest of the nation;" "Primary votes only reflect the sentiments of true believers;" "Obama will never secure broad support in the general election"... Yes, Obama may be both popular and qualified, but he'll never get elected -- is what it boils down to.

A lot of African-Americans are still reluctant to throw their vote behind Obama not because of any particular policy issues or concerns, but simply because they doubt his electability. The old guard of black leaders voiced their doubts early on expressing "concerns" about his experience and authenticity. We all know that their real concerns have to do with losing their place in the line for white patronage. They didn't/don't like Obama because they feel that he is an upstart and that it isn't his turn. Many younger African-Americans, and those who are not as invested in the leaders of the civil rights era, are less concerned with Obama as an upstart and are unwilling to play the black authenticity game. Still, they do express concerns about Obama's ability to actually get elected. For them, Hillary Clinton represents a safer choice.

Back in 2005, Al Sharpton challenged black folks to think more critically about their support for the Clintons. While I am certainly not a fan of Al Sharpton, I have to admit that he does a good job of putting shit out on the table. Given the rise in "yes, but" voices and the inclination to go with a "safer choice," I'll raise again Sharpton's challenge: Why do we support Hillary and Bill to the degree that we do? Is Hillary really a safer choice than Obama in this election?

I never really understood the joke that Bill Clinton was America's first black president. I don't know who first said it, but be they black or white, it was a terribly racist statement. The Clinton's are clearly comfortable around African-Americans and it is true that they have appointed a fair number of black faces in high places (they do like symbolic Negroes). Does this make them black? (Given this criteria, we could then say that George Bush, Jr. is America's second black president.) Believe it or not, Bill Clinton was even inducted into the Black Hall of Fame. I didn't even know that such a thing existed.

The Clinton's both have been very good at strategically playing the wigger role. Bill Clinton won many over when he pulled out his saxophone and began wiggling his hips during his first bid for the presidency. Both Bill and Hillary have expressed their appreciation for soul food. At every opportunity they jump into our pulpits and give speeches with accents and mannerisms so affected that they would have made Norman Lear proud.

Some would argue that it is Bill Clinton's background and behavior that links him to African-Americans. Unfortunately, they are neither thinking about his Rhodes scholarship nor his Yale degree when they say this. They are more often thinking about his drug addict brother and his working class mother. They are even more often thinking about his womanizing and fast talk. I wish that I could say that only white people express such essentializing foolishness, but I can't. Ambassador Andrew Young, for whom I once had a tremendous amount of respect, recently was called out for saying that Hillary and Bill were "blacker than Barack." Young supports this very weighty statement by citing that Bill has probably been with more black women than Obama has and that Bill is often the first to start a Soul Train line at official gatherings. This may make "Slick Willy" a pimp, but it certainly doesn't make him black. Nor do heavy-handed, aggressive responses in the Middle East make Hillary Clinton "a strong, black woman."

The fact is that the Clinton record on issues that affect African-Americans is not very strong. Bill and Hillary have successfully used black-face to mask actions that have negatively affected African-American progress. Even while it defended Federal affirmative action programs in Congress and the courts, the Clinton Administration made more cuts in affirmative action than any administration since they were instituted during Nixon's presidency. Bush, Jr. is merely finishing what Bill started.

The Clinton initiative on race, begun in 1997, never went anywhere:
  1. *Creation of a permanent body, which would be known as the President's Council for One America, to promote harmony and dialogue among the nation's racial and ethnic groups;
  2. *The Government's development of an education program to keep the public informed about race in America;
  3. A Presidential ''call to arms'' to leaders of government and the private sector to ''make racial reconciliation a reality;''
  4. Engagement of youth leaders in an effort to build bridges among the races.
Do you recall any of this? I don't. A voluminous report that emerged from the race initiative apparently acknowledged the problem of racial-profiling, but didn't make any substantive recommendations to address it.

Bill Clinton promised in his first campaign that he would end welfare "as we know it." In endorsing the Republican agenda, he participated in "the most sweeping reversal of social policy since the New Deal." He did exactly what he promised, but not what he led voters to believe. (We've witnessed the same kind of 3-card Molly, double-talk in Hillary's presidential debate responses.) Bill's early rhetoric rang of education and resources that would allow the poor to escape the cycle of dependency on government programs. Somehow the practical translation of this was an increase in the numbers of women and children in homeless shelters. Added to the Clinton list of shame should be failed health-care reform, Operation Gatekeeper and NAFTA.

If the Clinton treatment of Lani Guinier and Marion Wright Edelman is at all representative of how they value and relate to African-Americans, we're in trouble. Guinier was a long-time friend of the Clintons and perceived them as comrades-in-arms in the ongoing fight for civil rights. Bill Clinton nominated her as assistant attorney general for civil rights and promptly sold her down the river when opponents began to challenge and distort her work. The friendship was tossed aside as soon as Guinier represented an impediment to Clinton political ambition. Marion Wright Edelman, too, became persona non grata in the struggle between politics and integrity. She was at first touted as a mentor and role model to Hillary Clinton in her legal training. When Edelman challenged them to live up to their rhetoric and professed ideals, the Clintons distanced themselves. One dear friend that the Clintons decided to keep close was Sheriff Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Yes, this is the same Sheriff Lee that ordered his officers to prevent Katrina evacuees from crossing the Crescent City bridge to safety. Apparently, he was a committed fundraiser for the Hillary for President campaign.

Respectable Negroes, ask yourselves why Hillary Clinton deserves your support. What will you gain from her election to the presidency? Is she really a safe choice? As self-interested as he may have been when he made the statement, we have to wonder if Senator Joeseph Lieberman was right when he said that the Clinton's have used African-Americans like Kleenex.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Respectable Negro New Year's Resolutions in 2008

For time immemorial, people have made New Year's Resolutions. In the spirit of this time honored tradition, we, in our inaugural year, offer the following--

Respectable Negro Resolutions for 2008:

  1. We resolve that as a nation we need to stop saggin'. Stated differently, these United States of America need to stop showing their collective asses and looking raggedy to the rest of the world;
  2. We resolve to ask ourselves if they are laughing with us, as opposed to at us? Do "they" really get our jokes?
  3. We resolve never to support authors and pundits who profit from positioning black men and women as enemies.
  4. We resolve to elect our leaders rather than have them either appointed by the media or be self-appointed. Relevant question: how in the hell does one earn the title of "black leader?"
  5. Like the rest of the world, we resolve to get some Euros and to use them as our benchmark currency;
  6. As black men and black women, we resolve to work harder to understand each other and to address our problems as a collective issue in our community;
  7. We resolve to condemn all efforts to paint black folks as a monolithic ideological group;
  8. We resolve to be more sympathetic to tragic mulattos (qualifier: this only refers to those who are truly tragic, and not to all mulattoes);
  9. We resolve to be less sympathetic to self-destructive black athletes and entertainers;
  10. We resolve to follow the example set by of our nation's leaders and to never, ever snitch;
  11. We resolve to not frame our decisions and actions in response to white expectations;
  12. We resolve to always keep in mind that, in spite of the success and power we might attain as individuals, we as Black people have yet to see success as a group in the promised land (A Luta Continua!);
  13. We resolve to critique adolescent-minded music made by people pushing 40, but we also resolve not to praise mediocre music simply because it's "positive."
  14. We resolve to complain to the management at local bookstores about their conflation of "niggerlit" with African American literature. (Candy Licker shouldn't be shelved next to Their Eyes were Watching God);
  15. We resolve to learn Mandarin and/or Cantonese;
  16. We resolve to do more for each other.