Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paul Mooney in Analyzing White America

Some have asked, who would host our hypothetical White in America television special? One choice immediately came to mind, the one and only Paul Mooney. As proof of his imminent qualifications, here are some additional clips from his Analyzing White America comedy routine:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

I could just imagine Paul Mooney in a measured voice talking to experts on White people about their history, their culture, and their struggles. He would have this dry whit about him that would appear to convey empathy where none exists. Ooh what a dream...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Being 'Hood Rich: The Poor, Conspicuous Consumption, and Rationality

As W.E.B. DuBois observed, “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”

Given our conversation last week regarding wealth and race, the following piece from the Atlantic is quite timely. It argues that the poor spend money on consumer goods in order to signal their relative prosperity, a bit counter-intuitive, but likely correct. For me, the interesting part of the I live in the projects but own/lease a Mercedes or SUV is 1) the emotional component (as an American it makes me feel good to participate in our civil religion of credit and debt) which is by definition hard to quantify, and 2) how overspending on consumer goods is less money spent on education, and wealth accrual--investments which pay real dividends inter-generationally.

History provides a necessary context for our efforts to understand the spending logic of both the 'hood rich and the black middle class (this latter group also spends more money on consumer goods than white Americans in the same income cohort). For example, given the long standing forces that worked against wealth accrual in the black community (red lining of homes, discriminatory banking practices, unequal pay for the same work as whites) there were, and are, strong reasons to display one's status via clothes, jewelry, and cars. This is especially true in a society where status attainment is central to the American mythos and national character, but where that very society systematically devalues your personhood.

Yes, it may seem foolish, but these are items which signal status to one's peers, and perhaps, in the long term hindsight afforded by history, that these purchases seemed more stable than the other options on the table. For context, many other cultures valued liquid assets which were highly portable and that would allow one to quickly move to another community, or even country, if circumstances demanded.

Consider: traditional avenues for wealth accrual were denied black Americans (and isn't history ironic given that our real, physical selves once represented billions, if not trillions of dollars in wealth and property on the part of the societies invested, quite literally, in the triangular trade in black bodies). Black Wall Streets, with their investment houses, banks, and other businesses were destroyed by anti-black riots in the 19th and 20th century. The State and many white citizens exerted a great deal of energy to ensure that poverty was an all too common experience for Black Americans and other communities of color, our Native American "brothers" come to mind here--and yes, I am very disturbed, but not surprised, by how many tribes are systematically purging black members from their rolls in order to increase the casino profit pie by decreasing the number of slices.

The sad truth is, that while other groups have liquid "assets," the assets held by the 'hood rich are relatively worthless. Cars, bad jewelry, clothes, and big screen televisions are not investments because they immediately depreciate.

Question: how many folks understand this fact? Can a culture of savings and investment be instilled among the 'hood rich, or for that matter, Americans as a whole? Are the economists researching spending habits on the urban poor assigning a calculus, a rational utility maximizing decision-making process, where none exists? And what to make of black athletes and high school students turned professional athletes or emcees, are they making poor spending choices (e.g. 12 cars, millions of dollars in jewelry, diamond encrusted belt buckles) because they are celebrities, formerly poor and now rich, or because the Allen Iverson's, Mike Tysons, Lil' Waynes, and 50 Cents of the world actually believe these purchases are investments?

A saving grace, once race is controlled for, i.e. comparing black Americans in one state to black Americans with the same incomes in different states, that similar spending patterns between racial groups emerge. Apparently, new money tends to act like new money regardless of the racial group to which they belong. And yes, I hope that one day I will get to enjoy some of the excesses afforded to those with new money.

from the Atlantic Monthly


Inconspicuous Consumption

by Virginia Postrel

About seven years ago, University of Chicago economists Kerwin Kofi Charles and Erik Hurst were researching the “wealth gap” between black and white Americans when they noticed something striking. African Americans not only had less wealth than whites with similar incomes, they also had significantly more of their assets tied up in cars. The statistic fit a stereotype reinforced by countless bling-filled hip-hop videos: that African Americans spend a lot on cars, clothes, and jewelry—highly visible goods that tell the world the owner has money.

But do they really? And, if so, why?

The two economists, along with Nikolai Roussanov of the University of Pennsylvania, have now attacked those questions. What they found not only provides insight into the economic differences between racial groups, it challenges common assumptions about luxury. Conspicuous consumption, this research suggests, is not an unambiguous signal of personal affluence. It’s a sign of belonging to a relatively poor group. Visible luxury thus serves less to establish the owner’s positive status as affluent than to fend off the negative perception that the owner is poor. The richer a society or peer group, the less important visible spending becomes.

On race, the folk wisdom turns out to be true. An African American family with the same income, family size, and other demographics as a white family will spend about 25 percent more of its income on jewelry, cars, personal care, and apparel. For the average black family, making about $40,000 a year, that amounts to $1,900 more a year than for a comparable white family. To make up the difference, African Americans spend much less on education, health care, entertainment, and home furnishings. (The same is true of Latinos.)

Of course, different ethnic groups could simply have different tastes. Maybe blacks just enjoy jewelry more than whites do. Maybe they buy costlier clothes to deter slights from racist salesclerks. Maybe they spend more on cars for historical reasons, because of the freedom auto travel gave African Americans during the days of segregated trains and buses. Maybe they just aren’t that interested in private colleges or big-screen TVs. Or maybe not. Economists hate unfalsifiable tautologies about differing tastes. They want stories that could apply to anyone.

So the researchers went back to Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term conspicuous consumption. Writing in the much poorer world of 1899, Veblen argued that people spent lavishly on visible goods to prove that they were prosperous. “The motive is emulation—the stimulus of an invidious comparison which prompts us to outdo those with whom we are in the habit of classing ourselves,” he wrote. Along these lines, the economists hypothesized that visible consumption lets individuals show strangers they aren’t poor. Since strangers tend to lump people together by race, the lower your racial group’s income, the more valuable it is to demonstrate your personal buying power.

To test this idea, the economists compared the spending patterns of people of the same race in different states—say, blacks in Alabama versus blacks in Massachusetts, or whites in South Carolina versus whites in California. Sure enough, all else being equal (including one’s own income), an individual spent more of his income on visible goods as his racial group’s income went down. African Americans don’t necessarily have different tastes from whites. They’re just poorer, on average. In places where blacks in general have more money, individual black people feel less pressure to prove their wealth.

The same is true for whites. Controlling for differences in housing costs, an increase of $10,000 in the mean income for white households—about like going from South Carolina to California—leads to a 13 percent decrease in spending on visible goods. “Take a $100,000-a-year person in Alabama and a $100,000 person in Boston,” says Hurst. “The $100,000 person in Alabama does more visible consumption than the $100,000 person in Massachusetts.” That’s why a diamond-crusted Rolex screams “nouveau riche.” It signals that the owner came from a poor group and has something to prove.

So this research has implications beyond race. It ought to apply to any peer group perceived by strangers. It suggests why emerging economies like Russia and China, despite their low average incomes, are such hot luxury markets today—and why 20th-century Texas, a relatively poor state, provided so many eager customers for Neiman Marcus. Rich people in poor places want to show off their wealth. And their less affluent counterparts feel pressure to fake it, at least in public. Nobody wants the stigma of being thought poor. Veblen was right.

But he was also wrong. Or at least his theory is out of date. Given that the richer your group, the less flashy spending you’ll do, conspicuous consumption isn’t a universal phenomenon. It’s a development phase. It declines as countries, regions, or distinct groups get richer. “Bling rules in emerging economies still eager to travel the status-through-product consumption road,” the market-research group Euromonitor recently noted, but luxury businesses “are becoming aware that bling isn’t enough for growing numbers of consumers in developed economies.” At some point, luxury becomes less a tool of public status competition and more a means to private pleasure.

In Veblen’s day, the less affluent scrimped on their homes in order to keep up appearances in public. “The domestic life of most classes is relatively shabby, as compared with the éclat of that overt portion of their life that is carried on before the eyes of observers,” Veblen wrote, noting that people therefore “habitually screen their private life from observation.” By contrast, consider David Brooks’s observation in Bobos in Paradise that, for today’s educated elites,

it’s virtuous to spend $25,000 on your bathroom, but it’s vulgar to spend $15,000 on a sound system and a wide-screen TV. It’s decadent to spend $10,000 on an outdoor Jacuzzi, but if you’re not spending twice that on an oversized slate shower stall, it’s a sign that you probably haven’t learned to appreciate the simple rhythms of life.

Virtuous or vulgar, what all these items have in common is that they’re invisible to strangers. Only your friends and family see them. Any status they confer applies only within the small group you invite to your home. And the snob appeal Brooks pokes fun at corresponds to the size of the audience. Many friends may see your Jacuzzi or media room, but unless you’re on HGTV, only intimates will tour your master bathroom. A slate shower stall may make you feel rich, but it won’t tell the world that you are. As peer groups get richer, the balance between private pleasure and publicly visible consumption shifts.

Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schiff describe a similar pattern in their book, The Middle-Class Millionaire, which analyzes the spending habits of the 8.4million American households whose wealth is self-made and whose net worth, including their home equity, is between $1 million and $10 million. Aside from a penchant for fancy cars, these millionaires devote their luxury dollars mostly to goods and services outsiders can’t see: concierge health care, home renovations, all sorts of personal coaches, and expensive family vacations. They focus less on impressing strangers and more on family- and self-improvement. Even when they invest in traditional luxuries like second homes, jets, or yachts, they prefer fractional ownership. “They’re looking for ownership to be converted into a relationship rather than an asset they have to take care of,” says Schiff. Their primary luxuries are time and attention.

The shift away from conspicuous consumption—from goods to services and experiences—can also make luxury more exclusive. Anyone with $6,000 can buy a limited-edition Bottega Veneta bag, an elaborately beaded Roberto Cavalli minidress, or a Cartier watch. Or, for the same sum, you can register for the TED conference. That $6,000 ticket entitles you to spend four days in California hearing short talks by brainy innovators, famous (Frank Gehry, Amy Tan, Brian Greene) and not-so-known. You get to mingle with smart, curious people, all of whom have $6,000 to spare. But to go to TED, you need more than cash. The conference directors have to deem you interesting enough to merit one of the 1,450 spots. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a velvet rope.

As for goods, forget showing off. “If you want to live like a billionaire, buy a $12,000 bed,” says a financial-planner friend of mine. You can’t park a mattress in your driveway, but it will last for decades and you can enjoy it every night.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: So According to McCain, Obama is "The One?"--The Matrix Meets the 2008 Presidential Campaign

John McCain's campaign has unleashed a new anti-Obama campaign commercial. Unlike the previous commercial which skewered Obama as a celebrity a la Brittany Spears who is unprepared for the responsibility of being the President of the United States, this new commercial lampoons Obama as being "The One." As amateurish and truly desperate as these commercials are, they appear to be resonating among McCain's base and undecided voters. Is there a more biting indictment of the American electorate, and Conservatives in particular, than that these commercials appear to be slowing Obama's momentum? Again, as I am often fond of saying, we are indeed a society too sick to survive.

Generational divides frame the interpretation, enjoyment, and expression of popular culture. For McCain, "The One" is Moses of Ten Commandments fame. Random thought: if you are going to call a black man Moses, one should at least feature a historically correct depiction of biblical figures. If you can't give us a black Jesus, at least give us a brown Moses. Yes, I know that would too much to ask from McCain, but I would at least give him points for the effort. But again, he is of a generation which thinks that the Egyptians were white, and that Cleopatra looked like Elizabeth Taylor. Second random thought: Cleopatra was actually an inbred Greek and none too attractive--which makes me smile when I think of how Afrocentrists try to claim her--but she was a sexpot and innovator of sorts: Cleopatra devised her own vibrator which consisted of a jar filled with thousands of bees. She would shake this jar until it began to vibrate and well get the idea.

Apparently, McCain doesn't get that "The One" for the hip hop, Generation X and Generation Y, and Myspace generation, is Neo from the Matrix:

Playing along with that idea, let's use our imaginations and cast our own version of the Matrix Trilogy meets the 2008 presidential campaign.

Some of these choices are tentative and your help is appreciated with filling out the cast. For now, I would cast this imagined movie as follows:

Obama is Neo. He is upsetting the system and is trying to free himself from the Matrix. Obama is also the key to a new future and a union between the artificial intelligence driven machine mainframe and the oppressed humans. Obama may usher in a post-racial future, but many humans and the machines are not prepared for this brave new world. Both need each other, but first Neo has to balance freedom for the human "copper tops" with the unpleasant realities of order, routine, power, and structure offered by the Matrix. Pointedly, Obama is the biracial Halfrican who identifies as Black, while Keanu is the Hapa, racially ambiguous action hero who starred in Point Break.

John McCain is Agent Smith. He is the antithesis of Obama. McCain represents stability, predictability, and familiarity. McCain may not liberate the masses, but perhaps they are more comfortable with how things are. The agents represent the whiteness of normalcy (my phrase), while Obama, and by extension Neo, Zion, and the remaining humans are a diverse, eclectic, and most importantly, emotionally engaged human collective. John McCain has also gone through many iterations as a politician. He began as a maverick who appealed to independents and challenged the religious Right in his party. Now, McCain has souled out in order to win the support of the Republican's right-wing. And they still don't embrace him. In thinking through the Matrix, this conversion to authority also fits with the subtle hints that Agent Smith may in fact be a previous incarnation of Neo, but one who chose humanity's salvation over love when faced with the Architect's challenge.

Karl Rove or Dick Cheney is The Architect. I am of two minds on this one. Perhaps, The Architect could be a composite of the two personalities. Both represent order. Both have thought through the meta-level game of how to maintain the Nixon turn/Reagan revolution/Gingrich Contract with America/Bush Regime. Rove and Cheney, like The Architect of the Matrix, set the rules of the game and watched it play out according to their predictions. Interestingly, they are omnipresent yet invisible. Like The Architect, they manipulate the rules of the game, yet are immune from being challenged or unseated because the game needs them:

Cheney is everywhere yet no where. Rove is everywhere yet no where. The Architect is everywhere yet no where. Who should be The Architect? Karl Rove or Dick Cheney? Is there a 3rd possibility I have overlooked?

Oprah is the Oracle. The Oracle guides Obama by offering motherly (or is it grandmotherly?) advice. She is the co-creator of the Matrix, an emotive program who figured out that humanity needs a savior in order to survive. The Oracle is self-interested and do not be mistaken, she is not a saint. Mirroring The Oracle, although she is intuitive and emotive, one cannot forget that Oprah is OF the system, however favorable her position in relation to humanity may appear to be. She is a billionaire (and she is a shill for books such as The Secret--how much more Oracle and Matrix inspired can one be?). Oprah, is also the emotional surrogate for millions upon millions of suburban housewives. As I jokingly tell people. "Oprah is a mammy, a safe Negress, an emotional surrogate for millions of white women." Oprah, at great personal cost, has helped to anoint Obama as the Chosen One. In a similar fashion, The Oracle, at great personal cost assisted Neo in his quest, only to lose her "face" and eventually her "life," at the hands of a deranged Agent Smith and The Merovingian.

Michelle Obama is Trinity. I did flirt with combining Trinity and Niobe, but I will let you convince me of the merits of that choice. Trinity and Neo are deeply in love. As Persephones says, "you can smell it on them." Obama and Michelle complement and support each other. They also push against each other, but also move forward towards their goal together. Obama and Michelle are working to make history...yes, an empty phrase as we all make history, but it is fitting here. Neo and Trinity are also making history by liberating humanity from the Matrix. An additional parallel of note: Trinity is hot headed, and a bit impulsive and impassioned. These character traits force Neo into a difficult but necessary choice where he chooses love over humanity precisely because Neo sees no contradiction between the two. It remains to be seen what choices, good choices we hope, that Michelle may, has, or will, force Obama into.

Keith Olbermann is Morpheus. Yes, I would have liked to find a brother who serves as Obama's mentor and guide, but the black men around Obama seem to have done more harm than good to his campaign. Consider, Olbermann has had Obama's back against the O'Reilly's, Limbaugh's, right-wing echo chamber hacks that have gone for Barack's throat. Olbermann has also been one of the few consistent voices to call to account the mainstream media, and how it has seemingly abandoned its responsibilities to check the growing, and bordering on unconstitutional, authority seized (and given to) the Bush regime by the public and Congress. In total, Olbermann has Cronkite like moments and has been indispensable to Obama's campaign. As a mirror, Morpheus is the guide, he who had faith in Obama and pushed him forward against the forces of the Matrix when Obama doubted himself.

Bill Clinton is The Merovingian. Bill Clinton was the first black president, but he proved himself to be more interested in power for power sake than in the public good. Bill Clinton did not behave as a responsible elder statesman should--even allowing for his marriage with Hillary. Instead, he threw aside the good will accrued to him by the American people, and Black Americans in particular, in order to steal a few more moments of power and the public spotlight:

The Merovingian is one of the oldest programs. He deeply and intimately understands the Matrix, its contours and tides, its ebbs and flows, the force of its currents. Like Agent Smith, I also suggest that The Merovingian could perhaps be a former Chosen One, a previous iteration of Neo, who like Smith, chose order and power over liberation and freedom. To boot, Clinton and The Merovingian also share a weakness for women and oral sex. Both are also fashionistas who are vulnerable to their physical and hedonistic indulgences--the force of the passions--rather than having their libidos subsumed by their sense of reason.

Hillary Clinton is Persephones. Again, this was a hard choice because she craves power and is part of the system in a manner akin to Agent Smith. I am open to your suggestions on this point. In favor of this pairing is her relationship to the Merovingian and a marriage based on power and utility rather than love. Hillary, and her lapdog Geraldine Ferraro's attacks on Obama, and Michelle by extension, speak to the rivalry between the two women. Here, two scenes speak particularly well to the pairing of Hillary as Persephones, and Michelle as Trinity. First, the confrontation over dinner when Trinity makes it clear to the Merovingian that he best know his place. Second, the bathroom scene when Persephones wants to know love because she hasn't felt truly desired in so long. Can you imagine Hillary telling her friends how the passion between her and Bill is long dead? Or in a moment of spite, Hillary destroying Bill's prized possessions to make a point that he needs to mind the boundaries of their relationship, i.e. do what you want, but don't embarrass me in public. Yes, as I write this it becomes clear that Hillary is indeed Persephones. Am I right or wrong?

Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are The Ghost Twins. Yes, they are not "twins." Yes, there is a rivalry between the two. However, they are lockstep ideologically. This parallels how the twins serve power through a deep, self-interested loyalty to The Merovingian and the system. Just as the twins attack Morpheus at the command of their master, the unholy two also (and my gut tells me the following is true) hate Ken Olbermann. I mean they really, really hate him--and it isn't a facade or show for the camera or mic. Your thoughts? A good match? Or should the twins be a different pair selected from the right-wing media apparatus?

Cornel West is Cornel West. He is magical, He is impenetrable. He is a genius. He has simultaneously futuristic, yet anachronistic, W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglas inspired hair. He looks like a science fiction character come to life. He is other worldly. Cornel West is equally at home in "the real world," as he is in the Matrix films.

Reverend Wright is Cypher. Reverend Wright is the mentor and adviser to Obama who later betrayed him. Yes, betrayed him. Reverend Wright in his own desire for 30 seconds of fame, for some petty acknowledgment of his role in Obama's life, almost derailed Obama's campaign. Jealousy, a little hate for his young protege's rise to national prominence so quickly pushed the good reverend to a set of public performances that were nonetheless expected, yet were still still shocking. Cypher was jealous of Obama. He wanted to be proven correct: Neo was not the chosen one. Morpheus was a fraud and a liar. Given how horrible, how unbearable this new future (and present reality) proved to be, the illusion of the Matrix was preferable. Likewise, for Reverend Wright, the new future hinted at by the political realignment (or deviation?) signaled by Obama's rise threatened to make the "real world" intolerable. For Cypher, fiction, the illusion was better than the reality.

Jesse Jackson is General Jason Lock. Shakedown Jesse wants to cut off Obama's nuts. The reconfiguring of the political landscape is frightening because Jackson is threatened with obsolescence. General Lock is threatened by Morpheus' plan, he finds it risky, unnecessary, and unduly perilous for the remaining humans. He is a great leader. But, this is a time for risks and for new directions. General Lock cannot accept this new direction because by virtue of his very nature Lock is measured and conservative. Lock is fighting the last battle--like many generals, the last war looms large in their thinking, rather than the one we are fighting in the present (see the early years of Iraq War 2). A thought, given the General's history with Niobe, his real love for her, is this love somehow paralleled by Jesse and Michelle? Given his noted appetites and indiscretions, does Jesse Jackson want Michelle? Hmmmm.....something to consider.

What other characters should we include in the McCain-Obama meets the Matrix film? Who should be recast?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at Comicon 2008

Because I am too lazy to post something original following my junket to the casino.

But don't distress, I have something fun planned for Monday, but for now, here is Triumph, linked to and copied from Aint it Cool News.

Clip 1

Clip 2

My favorite Triumph moment:

My shame is now complete. Well actually, now it is:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chauncey's World of Ghetto Nerds: Jon Voight, Why Are You Hating On Obama?

Damn brother, I really liked you. Why are you hating on Bro'Bama? You have made me mighty upset and confused because you were/are an amazing A grade, B actor.

From the Washington Times, the article follows:


Voight: My Concerns for America

We, as parents, are well aware of the importance of our teachers who teach and program our children. We also know how important it is for our children to play with good-thinking children growing up.

Sen. Barack Obama has grown up with the teaching of very angry, militant white and black people: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, William Ayers and Rev. Michael Pfleger. We cannot say we are not affected by teachers who are militant and angry. We know too well that we become like them, and Mr. Obama will run this country in their mindset.

The Democratic Party, in its quest for power, has managed a propaganda campaign with subliminal messages, creating a God-like figure in a man who falls short in every way. It seems to me that if Mr. Obama wins the presidential election, then Messrs. Farrakhan, Wright, Ayers and Pfleger will gain power for their need to demoralize this country and help create a socialist America.

The Democrats have targeted young people, knowing how easy it is to bring forth whatever is needed to program their minds. I know this process well. I was caught up in the hysteria during the Vietnam era, which was brought about through Marxist propaganda underlying the so-called peace movement. The radicals of that era were successful in giving the communists power to bring forth the killing fields and slaughter 2.5 million people in Cambodia and South Vietnam. Did they stop the war, or did they bring the war to those innocent people? In the end, they turned their backs on all the horror and suffering they helped create and walked away.

Those same leaders who were in the streets in the '60s are very powerful today in their work to bring down the Iraq war and to attack our president, and they have found their way into our schools. William Ayers is a good example of that.

Thank God, today, we have a strong generation of young soldiers who know exactly who they are and what they must do to protect our freedom and our democracy. And we have the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, who has brought hope and stability to Iraq and prevented the terrorists from establishing a base in that country. Our soldiers are lifting us to an example of patriotism at a time when we've almost forgotten who we are and what is at stake.

If Mr. Obama had his way, he would have pulled our troops from Iraq years ago and initiated an unprecedented bloodbath, turning over that country to the barbarianism of our enemies. With what he has openly stated about his plans for our military, and his lack of understanding about the true nature of our enemies, there's not a cell in my body that can accept the idea that Mr. Obama can keep us safe from the terrorists around the world, and from Iran, which is making great strides toward getting the atomic bomb. And while a misleading portrait of Mr. Obama is being perpetrated by a media controlled by the Democrats, the Obama camp has sent out people to attack the greatness of Sen. John McCain, whose suffering and courage in a Hanoi prison camp is an American legend.

Gen. Wesley Clark, who himself has shame upon him, having been relieved of his command, has done their bidding and become a lying fool in his need to demean a fellow soldier and a true hero.

This is a perilous time, and more than ever, the world needs a united and strong America. If, God forbid, we live to see Mr. Obama president, we will live through a socialist era that America has not seen before, and our country will be weakened in every way.

Jon Voight is an Academy Award-winning actor who is well-known for his humanitarian work.


Jon, you were the sort of a "good" white man in Rosewood:

And, you were a prominent character in the remake of Transformers:

Add to that honor role, Anaconda!!! J-Lo got a brother sprung...

Of course, Heat, THE movie which Deniro and Pacino co-starred in, and which Batman: the Dark Knight was heavily influenced by...extra points for that Mr. Voight:

And you starred in Karate Dog! Why are you disappointing your public?

Mr. Voight, why are you doing this? Tired, confused, exhausted, or manipulated by outside powers. Is this a senior moment which we should forgive you for?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What if? White in America--The Never to be Made Television Documentary

The fallout continues from CNN's Black in America news special. In my conversations with friends and colleagues, there is a recurring question: What would a White version of Black in America look like? A hypothetical question, yes, but one that is still interesting and useful to work through. In the spirit of Black in America, we present to you our pitch for the never to be produced, television news special, White in America.

Segment 1
White Teenagers: Out of Control and at Risk

At a time when young people should be comfortably protected by their parents while also moving forward with their lives into adulthood, white teenagers are exhibiting self-destructive behaviors which threaten to undermine the fabric of white communities. White teens and young adults are most likely to binge drink, smoke, and at the college age, to have multiple sexual partners. STI's such as chlamydia, syphilis, genital herpes, and HPV are increasingly common among college age white women. As seen in the recent pregnancy cult in Gloucester, Massachusetts where at least 17 white teenage girls endeavored to become pregnant at one time, white teenagers are exhibiting sexual behaviors that border on the pathological--in the above case having unprotected sex with strangers, including random homeless men, in order to become pregnant. The casual nature with which white teens approach sex and sexuality is mirrored through the "new" dating conventions of "hooking up" where normal, suburban, white teens--young people from healthy homes--have multiple casual and short-term sexual relationships. Contributing to this crisis, is how the sexualization of young white women through beauty pageants, popular music and film, and the beauty industry, an early sexualization which is reinforced through peer pressure, has created a minefield for young white women where many ultimately have to struggle with mental health issues such as anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic condition.

How can we help young white people? How have white parents let things get so bad? Where are white young people learning these lessons? What can responsible, white parents do?

Segment 2
A Plague Upon the Land: White Men, Workplace Violence, School Shootings, Hate Crimes, and Dead Wives

White men have long struggled with a culture of violence. While the culture of violence which afflicts white men has been moderated over time, American society is still struggling with this pathological behavior. White men have long held a near monopoly on being serial killers (the BTK killer, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and domestic terrorists (e.g. the KKK, Timothy McVeigh, and the UnaBomber) but the violence seems to be shifting its focus to schools and the workplace.

During the last decade or so, from Columbine, to Northern Illinois University, to Springfield, Oregon, to a high school in Minnesota, young white men have killed dozens of people, and wounded many more in murderous rampages. Workplace violence has also seen a marked increase where it has risen several orders of magnitude during the past few decades. This has been attributed by some critics to a tumultuous economy and the pressures felt by white workers:

Other critics would point to a dangerous populism brought about by the vitriol laced, "angry white male" narratives which underlie right-wing talk radio and television. Most recently, the shotgun wielding attack on a Unitarian church by Jim David Adkisson--the assailant blamed "liberals" for all of his problems--and his penchant for right wing propaganda, would seem to support this hypothesis.

Family members are often the first victims of violence. White women and children have been imperiled by the violence of white men. Daily, it seems that there are reports of white women and/or children being kidnapped or murdered (we label this the "Peterson" syndrome), often by their spouses.

These cases of white men engaging in murderous behavior are not confined to the United States, because in Finland, a high school age boy went on a murder-shooting spree at his local school. Most notably, in Austria, Josef Fritzl was arrested after imprisoning his children in an underground bunker where he ritually abused them, and in a shocking twist, impregnated his own daughter.

Is white male violence a global crisis? What can be done to stop this open season on white women and white children? What is fueling this culture of violence? Who is to blame?

Segment 3
School is No Longer a Place for Just the ABC's: Female Teachers Are Preying Upon Their Male Students

Teachers have a sacred trust. They prepare the next generation for life and are tasked with broadening their minds and intellect. However, this sacred trust has been betrayed in High Schools and Middle Schools across the United States. In dozens of known cases, the actual count is suspected of being much higher, white female teachers are having sex with their male students. As noted here, out of the dozens and dozens of reported incidents, and with rare exceptions, most of these teacher rapists are white women in their 30s and 40s. Beyond mere experimentation or moments of weakness, these sexually exploitative relationships develop and continue over long periods of time, and subsequently do irreparable psychological harm to the young male victims they involve. In some cases, the relationships involve group sex with multiple boys, or develop into "love relationships" where the teacher steals away to a foreign country in order to continue the illicit and illegal relationship.

Why are white women pursuing teenage boys? Is this criminal behavior a result of a culture which focuses too much on the sexual desirability of young women? Are older white women feeling neglected and left out? Is this recent fetishizing of white women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s--the Sex and the City phenomenon--to blame? Are white women feeling an unhealthy pressure to become either a MILF or a Cougar?

What can schools do to protect young boys from these predators? What are the warning signs that your son is being abused by a female teacher?

Segment 4
What are White Women to do? White Men, Down-low Culture, Cruising, Sex Cults, and to Catch a Predator

White men are indulging in sexually high risk and deviant behavior. While a cottage industry has been generated by the hysteria surrounding black men on "the down low," white men and white women have also been struggling with issues of sex, intimacy, and trust. In such high profile cases as the polygamist cult raid in El Dorado, Texas where 534 children were removed because their safety was at risk, to the lesser known bestiality and zoophilia cases in Oregon (where a man died from having sex with a horse), many white males have been exhibiting pathological sexual behavior.

Not confined to the masses, white male sexual deviancy is particularly jarring and disconcerting when one examines the behavior of white male elites. In a litany of high profile cases, white politicians (Larry Craig and many others), religious figures, and businessmen have confessed to living double-lives where they maintain relationships with men and women, and often involve prostitutes. Most troubling, many of these men, such as Ted Haggard are extremely homophobic and have made careers and fortunes based upon their outspoken crusades against gay people. These white men on the DL have committed a double breach of trust with their hypocrisy: they have betrayed the public as well as their families. White men on the DL are also pursuing high-risk sex in locations such as public rest rooms and internet chat rooms. As the television show, To Catch a Predator has repeatedly revealed, white men on the DL, a definition which we expand to include those men who seek out under-age boys and girls, are willing to risk their health and livelihood, and that of their partners:

These internet predators also include pillars of the community such as doctors, teachers, and religious leaders:

What can white women do? How can they know if their partner is on the down low? What are the health risks? If you find out your husband is cruising for sex in public bathrooms or on the internet how should you intervene? Should you stay in the relationship or should you go?

Segment 5
No End in Sight: The Methamphetamine Plague that is Destroying White Communities

Methamphetamine is destroying the fabric of Red State America. This easy to obtain, highly addictive drug is tearing apart families and communities. An estimated 1.4 million people suffer from this addiction, almost all of them white, suburban and/or rural. In fact, meth is no longer confined to rural America, its reach is expanding to include every part of the United States. The rural culture of drugs is so pervasive that not even Amish communities are immune from its grasp. No longer will the suburbs offer protection from the perils of this dangerous drug, as it has already has, or will shortly be, making inroads into what were once safe, white, suburban communities. Just as some parts of the United States were almost destroyed by the crack epidemic of the 1980s, entire communities in the South and Midwest are been torn asunder by this cheap and easily obtained drug.

How should you protect your family? What are the signs your child is on meth? What should the government do? Should drugs be legalized and regulated? If you live in a meth infested area what are you doing to protect your children and family? What is your day to day life like? How do you struggle through it?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: Boyz in the Hood--Of Naked Apes and Elephant Attacks

I love animals and the study of animal psychology. Yes, I am a hypocrite because I love a good piece of steak, chicken, pork chop, or double char red hot from Weiner Circle (this is a dive restaurant recently featured on the television/radio show This American Life).

The study of beasts rewards us with knowledge about man (check out Inside the Animal Mind or the Emotional Lives of Animals). Sometimes this knowledge can be very very useful: for example, the Naked Ape explains the reason why ape ladies have small breasts and big red butts, and human ladies have full breasts and their butts no longer swell up when aroused (is that really progress? Just thinking aloud). One additional ape related thought, consider for a moment how the cult of saggin' which has taken over young men, and young "urban" brothers in particular, forces these men to simultaneously hold their pants at the crotch and to slouch while trying to keep their pants from falling down. In fact, if these saggin' ignt's try to move, they actually have to walk like apes.

When these hood' mouth breathes are forced to run the effect is even more pronounced. Who would have thought that saggin' would actually force human devolution? Once more the Naked Ape holds great and useful knowledge and speaks even to the cult of saggin': perhaps these men who must hold up their pants at the crotch are subconsciously signaling their virility to the women, and "homo-thugs" (that while being outwardly very homophobic), who are attracted to those who sag?

Maybe has something to say on this point?

Apparently not ( FYI for those new to this site, is one of our favorite unintentionally ironic things...just wanted to let you in on the joke).

Besides the ape, the elephant ranks among my favorite creatures. They possess a certain power, wisdom, dignity, grace, and intelligence which is in my opinion, without equal among land mammals. I also love the sea cow, a.k.a. the manatee.

In fact, I so love elephants that on principle I do not attend circuses (creepy clowns) or zoos (even as a child I thought they were cruel, and I will not let my children go to zoos or circuses either). Besides belonging to the World Wildlife Federation, my support for the elephant is so great that I root for the elephants when they escape their cruel handlers and commence to get some revenge by laying the smackdown on their human captors. Making them even more ideal as subjects for study, elephants hold funerals for their honored dead (and this has been documented to include humans whom the elephants are fond of), have their own version of the telephone game, and are highly social. In total, this makes them great mirrors for examining human behavior.

The Straight Dope, a weekly syndicated column, recently featured a piece on the rise of social dysfunction among elephants. It seems that an absence of older elephants, and the violence facing elephant herds by poachers and Africa's litany of civil wars (these countries can't get their act together can they? and now the elephants, and the great apes, are paying the price for human foolishness) has damaged the social cohesion of elephant society. The older male elephants, the elephant OG's/elders are not around to control the young elephant ign'ts. And the female elephants can't keep these young elephant ign'ts in check. These breakdown is so profound that the young male elephants are killing innocent rhinos, fighting each other without cause, and then raping their dead and defeated adversaries. When reading the column, I couldn't help but think about the eerie parallels this has with the breakdown of social cohesion among the underclass. It seems that elephants, like mankind, are facing a crisis of "youthocracy"--Robin Kelley's word not mine--where the natural balance among families and communities is being upended by a crisis in elephant manhood.

Here is the article:


Are elephants in the wild showing newly aggressive behavior including rape? Is man to blame?

Dear Cecil:

I've read that elephants are now exhibiting aggression previously unseen — including raping rhinos on the African savannah. Have we truly screwed up the elephants that much, or is this merely one of those myths that is now perpetuated in the media? — K. Honey, Georgetown, Ontario

Cecil replies:

As far as I've seen, the most unambiguous published claim that male elephants do with some regularity rape rhinoceroses appears in an October 2006 New York Times Magazine article titled "An Elephant Crackup?" In opening his argument that a specieswide breakdown in social cohesion has led to an upsurge in violence by elephants, author Charles Siebert offers evidence that elephant aggression has been marked by what he calls a "singular perversity": "Since the early 1990's, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in "'a number of reserves' in the region." That's an assertion guaranteed to catch the eye of even the most inattentive reader, and it's since appeared in other discussions of animal behavior, often phrased in ways suggesting the NYT article was the source.

But is it true? Sitting down with the Pachyderm study Siebert cites — Slotow et al, "Killing of Black and White Rhinoceroses by African Elephants in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, South Africa" — we learn that between 1991 and 2001 the park's elephants dispatched 63 rhinos, mainly by goring. The authors suggest that the animals responsible were young males who had grown up in social groups from which older males had been "culled" (read: slaughtered by government-commissioned hunters as a population-control measure) and as a result entered a state of heightened, testosterone-fueled aggression called musth much earlier in life than they ordinarily would have. Since similar incidents at Pilanesberg stopped after large adult males were reintroduced into the population, thus reestablishing the natural male hierarchy, the authors advocate trying the same thing at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi.

Wait a minute, you say — what about the raping part? That's what I said too. I went back through the study a second time, then a third. The reference to abnormal behavior seen in "a number of reserves" has only to do with elephants killing rhinos; nowhere is any mention made of rape. Seeing a clear need for some inside info, I had my assistant Una get in touch with one of the article's authors, Rob Slotow, director of the Amarula Elephant Research Program at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Professor Slotow's reply was straightforward: the young elephants seemingly got into ritualized combat situations with the rhinos, as males are wont to do, but having no experience being in the musth state, didn't know they were supposed to back off when the rhinos backed down, with the result that the rhinos wound up dead. "There was," Slotow concluded, "nothing sexual about these attacks." (He went on to report that, sure enough, the attacks on rhinos subsided almost entirely once older males were brought back on board.)

That would suggest a problem in the NYT quote above. Best case, I figured, was that the article got the underlying facts right — i.e., elephants really were raping as well as killing rhinos at the parks in question — but named the wrong study in support. That was Siebert's best guess as well, and he sent me to G.A. Bradshaw, an animal psychologist at Oregon State, who'd been a key source for him on the Times piece. Bradshaw maintains that the elephants have been observed mounting their rhino victims and that it's ridiculous to dismiss the possibility that the attacks have a sexual aspect. Though she prefers the term "false copulation," she says, "it is unlikely that the act was consensual as so many rhinos were killed, so in that context and in light of current science, 'rape' is not inappropriate."

There's little doubt that decades of poaching, culling, and habitat loss have played havoc with elephants' complex social and emotional lives, and a traumatized elephant is clearly capable of some scary behavior. But so far experts don't agree on what to call it.


Maybe I read too many issues of the comic the Elephantmen, but in considering the mayhem in the elephant community I couldn't help but visualize an elephant Bill Cosby lecturing the young elephant men on manhood, "come on elephant people we can do better!"

Or maybe a elephant Sudhir Venkatesh or William Julius Wilson doing ethnographies on the social networks of the elephant 'hood. Perhaps, there is an elephant version of Daniel Patrick Moynihan studying this issue and making policy prescriptions to correct the chaos among the elephant youth? Of course, there would also be the obligatory elephant John McWhorters and Stanley Crouches (maybe being an elephant would actually improve his looks) railing against the social evil that is hip hop, or its elephant equivalent.

And guess what, when older male elephants were returned to the elephant herds the anti-social behavior of the young elephant ign'ts virtually ceased. Perhaps we should borrow that model in order to improve our own communities? But then again, where would we find these responsible, wise elders? And would they want to return to the 'hood?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chauncey's DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: YouTube Discoveries--Classic Howard Stern from WWOR-TV

The fun of having a blog is that I can amuse myself, sounds naughty huh? Growing up in Connecticut, I have fond memories of WWOR-TV Channel 9 from New Jersey. This station was ahead of its time and featured early Morton Downey Junior, The Richard Bey show (I think that was the title) which had a recurring Mr. Puniverse and Miss Thunderthighs competition that was indescribably funny, and Howard Stern's first television show. I don't know why Stern's early TV work isn't available on DVD but he was routinely demolishing Saturday Night Live in the ratings. Thanks to the goodness of YouTube these early classics are finally being made available.

Here is a sample.

One of my favorites--Herve Villechaize from Fantasy Island fame...and it features a clip of him having sex in one of his first movie roles:

Howards Stern's Hooker Howiewood squares clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Richards Simmons and his obese guests brought to near tears by Howard's antics

"Gilligan's" Island:

Al Lewis aka Grandpa from The Munsters:

"Out of the Closest Munsters"--a spoof of the Munsters:

The greatest clip of them all--Howard Stern in blackface as Clarence Thomas:

Part 2 is better than the first as Howard, still in Clarence Thomas blackface, interviews the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Offensive of course, but absolutely hysterical.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: So Underwhelming--CNN's Black in America Part 2

I am underwhelmed. I wasn't going to comment on the second installment of the series, but I felt that for consistency sake I should, and then with a sense of completion, I am going to read some comic books, look over this article I am finishing, and play some Company of Heroes.

Some relatively spontaneous thoughts.

This show and the last made me think of Chris Rock's classic, "Black people versus Niggas" routine:

This is getting really tired. As I said before, in these "let's see the negroes in the window" news exposes the bad is usually highlighted at the expense of the good. Tonight's installment wasn't too offensive in this regard, and in some moments actually had a little nuance--I particularly liked the installment on the school superintendent and how his racist neighbors called the police on him. How many of us can relate to that?

I will be informal and freestyle so to speak, so please forgive me if this is a bit disorganized:

1. This show made me thankful for the men in my life. As I have said before, my dad had a very old school view of life and success. He, and my godfather, would always tell me you have to do better, and white racism will change its stripes, but it is very very real and ain't going no where. They also told me that in the present we don't have to do 10 times better, but we still have to do 5 times better. I accepted this fact and it has served me well. I am also thankful for the women and men, white and other (Asian, Hispanics, and others) who gave me wisdom. I tell my students that you may find mentors in surprising places: we need to reinforce this fact to our young people.

I thank God for my surrogate Irish grandpa who called black folks "colored," he said this with love not malice and had so much wisdom. My surrogate grandpa would always tell me that "you have to do better than the white kids" and "that you can achieve no matter what." Period. No excuses. He was an old white man who saw so much history, but had little faith in white society doing the right thing. I remember one of my favorite conversations with him, where we were talking about the Civil Rights movement and how it saddened him that Dr. King was treated so badly, because he "just wanted the rights every American" is entitled to.

Damn, this is bringing back memories. I am also lucky for having such folk as my 4th grade teacher, a white native American lesbian, in my life. In my elementary school all the black kids were tracked into the remedial or average courses. I look back on my life and how it would have been quite different had this teacher not intervened, and if I had not had parents who threatened to sue in order to remedy this racist injustice. In this class I would do the work in about 15 minutes and of course be bored. And of course, I would get in trouble. This teacher had 2 options: help me or punish me. I remember on one occasion I had detention during lunch and she sat down with me. We talked for a long time and she said that I am going to be moved to the upper track because I clearly don't belong in her lower track class. After I left her class, Mrs. D always checked in on me. She was never warm, in fact she was damn critical and mean, but she had my best interests at heart. I wonder in watching this show, how many of our young black men, in these crappy schools, have access to people like this? How many of our gifted, best, and most talented, end up in prison because school is a dead end and they are bored?

2. I don't know how one learns to be a man. I really don't, frankly, because I am still figuring out this great mystery. From my dad, my godfather, my uncles, and the other men in my life I learned about responsibility, about women (I am still mystified and confused), about success, and am still figuring out this responsibility angle. I do remember some key moments. I remember my godfather telling me that "real" men don't need porn--yeah, right. But, I got his point. I remember my father telling me after one of my peeps got beat down and all of his friends, including me, ran off out of fear, that next time a friend fights you fight together, of course assuming he is in the right, but even if he is in the sort of wrong, you have his back. Period. No excuses.

In another moment where I thank God I had good role models in my life, I was basically accepted to West Point--I had letters lined up and all from my congress people, did the application, interviews, and I was a black man going to the Point so I got extra attention--or I was alternatively going to Naval ROTC and then the Marines. I was about a day from doing it and a bunch of men who know better than I did said, "fool, you are black and you are going to die for this country? You best stop!" When I watch the news I am glad they intervened.

At a later point, me, my "2 brothers," and a friend were going to get beat down over some woman (she was a total jump off) at this club we frequented. I was scared to death, but I checked the wallet for the insurance card (it was going off like that) and I prayed. I was going after the guy in the middle and if I got the first shot in maybe I would have had a chance, unlikely. Thank God the bouncers broke it up. I also learned something that I took for granted, a lesson which many young brothers apparently are not getting--violence is real business and you don't raise your hands or fight unless you can't avoid it and you are prepared to do real harm to someone else. Violence isn't a game, it isn't to impress women, it is in fact a means to a carefully considered end. I wonder how many of of our brothers are learning this lesson?

3. How many successful, if not solidly working class black families, have a knucklehead in the kin group? Hmmmm. In this special we have a superintendent of schools who is quite comfortable, with an attorney for a son--a prosecutor--whose other son acts the fool and shoots someone. How sad? Are these brothers doing this to perform what they think a "real" black man is? People make mistakes of course, but is there something particular to the children of the black bourgeoisie that criminality becomes a measure of manhood? Perhaps, but I hope not.

4. I don't get worked up about these black men going to jail because the "system" is out to get them arguments. Sorry, I don't feel pity for the incarcerated black men featured in these stories. I just don't feel empathy. The prison industrial complex isn't a bogeyman hunting you down. Nope, you find this monster. Life certainly isn't fair, but you do make choices. Moreover, most of these "clients" of the prison industrial complex are preying on their neighbors--black and brown folk. Sorry, I don't feel bad if you catch a bid. Now, of course we need to deal with disparate sentencing for crack and cocaine. Yes, we need to deal with a criminal "justice" system which punishes black people more harshly for the same crimes as whites. Yes, we need to talk seriously about how to address felony disenfranchisement. Yes, we need to have a mass review of felony sentencing guidelines, and the DOJ needs to review EVERY death row sentence for possibility of acquittal. Yes, we need civilian oversight boards to govern and investigate police departments. Yes, there are lots of criminal, racist, crooked, and dishonorable police thugs who hide behind a badge and should be put in jail. But, the majority of people in prison are not victims. Sorry, they just aren't. They made poor choices and prayed on their neighbors, and consequently, they deserve their comeuppance.

5. I always enjoy the dismay which many Whites display when a person of color shares their paranoia, fear, and negative experiences with the police. The police are extensions of State authority--usually a racist state. Why would we trust them? In the wrap-up show following the Black in America special, Anderson Cooper interviewed D.L. Hughley. Now, the dude makes coonish movies, but he is a good father. Anderson Cooper looked shocked and appalled that D.L. has to teach his son how to interact with the police (Amadou Diallo anyone?). As many black men (and women) were taught, you need to be polite, speak in a measured tone, and assume these cops are looking to lock you up, shoot you, or at least beat you down. Of course you never, ever, talk back, and you best not run because the law wants to shoot you in the back. Again, it is sad, but how many of our men are not learning these unfortunate, but necessary lessons? I know this speaks to my agency, but I was told to be quiet, be polite, and don't let them search the car. Hold out and we will get a lawyer and sue their asses. I, like many of you, have been harassed by the police. Never mind being followed around stores or asked for id when using a credit card--that is de rigueur. Hell, my cousin, a really rich attorney, had a shotgun put to his head on I-95 by some Maryland Staties because of course his car was likely "stolen." No, he is just a millionaire. Little did they know who they messed with, but when the black middle and upper class share these stories with their white peers it is funny how these stories are often met with utter dismay. This divide in experience, and the common white denial when people of color share these experiences with their white friends, partners, and colleagues, is one of the great dividing lines in our society, a division which stands in the face of progress and racial unification.

6. The other narrative running through this show is how much we learn informally through access to social networks. For example, how do you dress for an interview? What do you talk about? What is workplace appropriate clothing? How do you negotiate the workplace and manage conflicts with your supervisor? Do you talk back or do you eat it? How do you diffuse conflict? Many of our young men and women are not getting the preparation necessary to move beyond an entry level service position, never mind onward to a managerial one.

7. I get really pissed when I hear educated black people recycling a narrative that the breakdown in black families is due to slavery and lack of employment opportunities. Come on people. There is much scholarship to suggest that black people at Emancipation struggled desperately to find their families during and after slavery. In fact, we so respected family that we recreated kinship and family relationships with friends, fellow slaves, and others, when our blood families were irreparably torn asunder. The next time a scholar reproduces this narrative, the interviewer should ask him or her, "so, if you were unemployed would you leave your family?" We know the answer.

8. Simple thought, black elites, the superintendent again, has two kids who are dating white women. Hmmmm...I am all for race mixing (you should see my photo album). But, why must it fulfill the tired narrative of a handsome black man of means likely marrying down and/or dating a fat white woman? (look at those 2 women and be honest, those two black men could do better, right?). More importantly, especially in regards to wealth accrual, why don't black elites keep their resources inside of the in-group like every other racial and ethnic group in America? Maybe, we are just very liberal, loving, and progressive?

Actually, there are social demographers (I need to find the cite) who study these things. The argument they make is that the brothers in these relationships are trading class privilege for race privilege by marrying a white woman of lower class status. The white women in these relationships are gaining class status by sacrificing racial privilege. So calculating isn't it? But it makes total sense...sort of like why you see gorgeous Asian sisters with really unattractive white men. Oops did I just say something impolitic?

9. Next time, these specials need to stop talking about "Black" values and "White" values. It is tired and silly.

10. These hip hop is bad segments are tired and silly.

11. The Cool Kids? That was a surprise.

12. The expose presented some research on how black felons have difficulty finding jobs. Great. Here is the real punchline they should have highlighted: that people with "black" names are less likely to be hired than white felons, regardless of credentials. Now, that is a great example of the real, day to day, racism which folks who do the right thing shouldn't have to deal with.

13. The A&R brother at the end of the segment unsettled me. It wasn't that he looked like he was in Leaders of the New School or Fu-schnickens, but that he was talking about being comfortable with being black, but I didn't buy it. He seemed to be a black person more invested in being exceptional and the special one, than really being comfortable with being a black man. Am I being unfair?

14. Finally, we need to talk to black men and black women about their life choices. In watching the young brother doing his baby daddy drama performance, and that sad sister who he laid with and made a baby with, I had to shake my head. How about this calculus. Passion is tempting, irresistible at times, and really compelling. I have my lust demons and more often than not give into them. Fine. But, let's have a campaign where we talk to the sisters about who they lay with. This CNN special featured a likely (under) unemployed, tax payer assisted sister, now knocked up by another man, when the first one is already not doing his job. I would have paid money to see Mrs. O'Brien ask her: Girl, do you have anything else to do with your time? Are there other things you can do instead of laying up under some man? Does he have anything to offer except five minutes of disappointing sex? I know the answer. Fate, please help us all.

Here is my idea. The buses, radio spots, magazine advertisements, and the like that feature my campaign should emphasize a simple set of slogans and calculi: does he have a job? is he using a condom? does he have anything to bring to the table? If the answers are "no" then close your legs. If you can't close your legs then demand he use a condom and you go on the pill. We need to mirror this with our men. As my mom said, "do you want a baby with this woman?" If not, wrap it up. Simple business.

That was therapeutic. I need to de-stress. As an appropriate but random non-sequitur, it is time for a little Serenity Now:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly--CNN's Black in America Part 1

CNN's Black in America: The Black Woman and Family, was all in all an interesting 2 hours of television.

The Good

1. Seeing solidly middle and upper class black families achieving and doing more than well (owning a construction company is way past good to people from my working class roots).

2. Julianne Malveaux is always a welcome voice. She stayed away from the victomology narratives which are all to common to these "let's go look at the Negroes in the window" television shows. Dr. Malveaux also brought some much needed attention to the fact that the majority of blacks in America are not poor, are not in jail, are not pathological, are not birthing out of wedlock babies, and guess what? they have the same struggles, worries, and hopes as "regular" Americans.

3. The brother struggling on 1 income to take care of his two wonderful children. Interesting though that no point was made about his not receiving palimony and how the life of this gentlemen's kids would certainly be easier if he had some support from the children's mother--a narrative which certainly would have been inserted if the gender roles were reversed.

4. Dr. Roland Fryer from Harvard University. It is exciting (and makes me a bit jealous in a good way) to see a young, black Econ Professor doing applied research on incentive structures and public education--economics is an extremely difficult field to break into, and doubly so for young people of color.

5. The older sister in Harlem talking about the day to day travails of being poor and struggling on a daily basis to do things that many Americans take for granted, i.e. how in some neighborhoods basic goods and services are hard to find at reasonable prices. The sum effect is what some have called "the black tax," or more appropriately, the poor, black, and elderly tax, which in sum makes the satisfying of basic household and life needs more expensive, more time consuming, and much more difficult.

6. Soledad O'Brien. Smart, poised, beautiful, down to earth, and "real." She has many of the qualities that makes this respectable negro's heart commence to racing when he sees her.

The Bad

1. At about 45 minutes into the special we switch gears into the obligatory what is wrong, pathological, and in crisis in Black America. I must ask, is there still a Black America? Or is there a Black America that is actually constructed of many smaller Black Americas distinguished by class, ethnicity, geography, and "culture"--shared or otherwise?

2. The tired trope of insert Black Pathology/Unique problem here and continue forward in story: tonight we were treated to single black mothers, the marriage "crisis" in black communities, a taste of the prison industrial complex, and the obligatory portrait of the young brothers shot up and laying in a hospital bed who serve as living symbols of the Beirut like violence plaguing many black neighborhoods.

3. In these exposes on Black America, the most recent trend has been to emphasize the marriage crisis facing black women. The current trope is that while black women are achieving and doing well professionally, those poor, raggedy brothers are either in jail, gay or on the DL, with white women, or unemployed. Of course, black women are left with three choices: partner with women; marry white or Asian men; or stay single. Tired, disrespectful, and untrue. At the risk of upsetting some, what I always find curious about these "black women can't find a good black man" sensationalistic pieces of yellow journalism is how, more often than not, the women in the stories are either unattractive, out of shape, emotionally damaged, unpleasant, needy, or possess some other undesirable quality which would warn off many a man. Next time, please choose some sisters that a brother would actually want to date because it would make the story much more compelling and persuasive.

The Ugly

1. Please get a better introductory host for future installments of any similarly themed shows. In this special we were treated to a hip hopesque, spoken word, poor man's version of Common with marginal talent. Why? Because of course bad hip hop spoken word Common wannabes appeal to the sensibilities of black middle class/neo-soul/NPR listening CNN viewers. I am not saying that we need to have a bourgeois host with a fake British accent, but there has to be a better way.

2. Marry Your Baby-Daddy Day. Come on black people! On one hand we have white, red state, fathers symbolically marrying their daughters in creepy, Christian fascist inspired protecting their daughter's "purity" ceremonies--you do know that women are repositories of a nation's pride, honor, and courage and their virtue must be protected at all costs, right? (there is so much wrong there I don't know where to start. Someone please reanimate Freud so he can help these pedophilesque who probably want to actually deflower their own daughters). On the other hand, we have a situation that is so dire in many of our communities that we have to have special ceremonies, Marry Your Baby Daddy Days, to encourage our wayward youth to get married because "marriage isn't just for white people." I don't know what was more painful? Watching the men and women in these ceremonies dance down the aisle, or listening to the labored, over-intellectualized explanations of how "baby daddy" is actually an affectionate and enduring term. As was said in Ghostbusters, we truly are a society too sick to survive.

Some thoughts and questions.

1. Me and Zora were talking on the phone during the show--yes, she is alive and well--and Zora made a great observation in regards to her interest (or lack thereof) in these Black expose news programs. Apparently, Zora doesn't generally watch these programs because she doesn't see herself in these documentaries. I can't help but agree. By extension, I do wonder where the silent black majority is? Where is the voice of those black people, who like Black folk in mass, are also struggling against the shared challenge of succeeding in what is still a racist society, but who don't fit any of these tropes of criminality, poor educational achievement, single motherhood, or the like? Perhaps, focusing on this silent majority would make for bad television.

2. I am always struck by the lack of attention given to class in these documentaries about race in America. This is a function of how America as a society is uncomfortable with talking about class generally, and how we are trying to explain the "common" or the "typical" experiences of our subjects as opposed to focusing too much on outliers. Now that issue aside, I do think there is something intellectually dishonest about framing the black experience as one dominated by crime, dysfunction, and exclusion--this was made glaringly clear by how the black middle class experience was given short thrift in CNN's first installment of this series.

3. A related thought, what would a class based conversation on race look like? We got a little taste of it tonight when the brother from Harvard highlighted the relationship between wealth and education. Scholars such as Thomas Shapiro have demonstrated that the wealth gap is at the core of the work, both historically and in the present, that racism does in structuring American society. Wealth, real assets as opposed to income, is horribly maldistributed in this country. When we account for race as a variable, the differences become even starker where the typical white working class person has more wealth and assets than an upper middle class black person.

This is the lived legacy of white supremacy.

Racial discrimination and class disparities are intimately linked. As a qualifier, I am not an old school Marxist who has spent a significant amount of time theorizing slavery and white supremacy as systems based instead in economic, as opposed to being purely, racial exploitation (I am not smart or patient enough).

But, it must be stated that because it was historically illegal for blacks to accrue wealth; inter-generational means of wealth transferal were very limited, housing options were segregated, i.e. red lining, and the market values of black homes made artificially low (important because the primary way that wealth is transferred between generations is through home ownership); the government created through racially discriminatory policies (such as the GI Bill and Veteran's Administration housing programs) a white ownership and professional class; and job discrimination in the present means that even when controlling for education, black Americans make about 60 cents on the dollar of what comparably educated whites make; that wealth remains in the present one of the invisible ways through which racial inequality is perpetuated. Adding an additional challenge is the frightening way that the rise of prison industrial complex, and the historical exclusion of large numbers of potentially productive citizens from the labor market by the State through criminalization and imprisonment, have also damaged the ability of Black Americans to accrue substantial inter-generational economic resources:

This difference will only become more stark as white baby-boomers pass their resources onto their children and grandchildren in the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history. If I were to effect a policy change, it would be here, where through a combination of increased taxation on wealth transfers and substantial investments in education and public infrastructure, that we could improve opportunities for all citizens. I would also support a guaranteed minimum income...and yes, I know that is never going to happen, but it would help alleviate some of the racial wealth disparities in this country.

4. One final thought. How great would it be to have a show that focuses on white pathology? Or on the problems in Hispanic, Asian, or Native American communities? These ghetto muckraking news specials love to highlight the problems of black communities as though they are exclusive to those grouped as "black" or "African American". Yes, the black experience is in many ways unique, but these social problems are largely a function of the failures of State, a crisis in personal responsibility, a lack of community accountability, i.e. what used to be called shame, and deficiencies of resources. If CNN's next special was called Poor in America or The Ghetto Underclass in Appalachia (which would be an ironic turn because the culture of poverty and social capital arguments that are now associated with the black inner city poor were first advanced by a scholar who studied a rural Mexican community) I wonder what the response would be? For example, this hypothetical, never to be produced news program, could focus on the out of wedlock birth rates, high percentage of students whom withdraw from secondary education prior to graduation, and inter-generational poverty among Hispanic and many "ethnic" Asian communities (you know those "non-model minority" Asians that no one wants to talk about).

The documentary could also feature the crippling levels of poverty among the white rural poor in Appalachia where a deficit of social capital is compounded by a lack of the social services found in major urban areas. If these journalists and documentary film makers were really brave, they could look at drug use, out of wedlock births, family dysfunction, and std and abortion rates among suburban, "middle class" whites. But then again, we can only hope that a news network would be brave enough to present such compelling television. I would suggest that you don't hold your breath too long in waiting.