Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: On the Plight of Mixed-Race Children---Can Anyone Help These Poor Tragic Mulattoes?

There are some bad adolescent behaviors that whites do more than blacks (like drinking and smoking), and there are other bad adolescent behaviors that blacks do more than whites (watching TV, fighting, getting sexually transmitted diseases). Mixed-race kids manage to be as bad as whites on the white behaviors and as bad as blacks on the black behaviors. Mixed-race kids act out in almost every way measured in the data set.

From the New York Times article "The Plight of Mixed-Race Children" by Steven Levitt.

Sometimes the powers that be make this stuff all too easy.

My position on multiracial identity and the multiracial political movement is well documented. I am deeply concerned about the creation of a coloured class in this country, a buffer race, like in Brazil or Apartheid era South Africa into which "mixed-race" people can "graduate." As we argued here before, race is a social construct with some biological basis, so ultimately the idea of a mixed-race identity is non-nonsensical because there are no "pure" races. Thus, it presupposes difference where none exists and suffers from a crippling ahistoricism, i.e. there is nothing new or unique or unprecedented about these identities.

Moreover, and as impolitic as it may sound, the real force behind efforts to create a "bi-racial" or "multi-racial" political category, a category which exists apart from blackness, is driven by the desire of white parents, often single white mothers, to access some degree of white privilege for their kids. Ultimately, the positions held by the lightskinned girls, Association of Multiethnic Americans, and Generations Mixed's of the world, is one that is self-fetishizing, a look we're special...and magical...and different from "those" "regular" black people (to the degree these tragic mulattoes even identity with the black community) type of celebratory identity politics.

As Gordon Gartrelle said in response to our early posts on this very subject, "race messes us all up," and biracials are just messed up differently. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, "if you are white you are alright, if you are light step ahead, and if you are black get back." While granting that there is a "rational" calculus for running away from blackness, what is so disturbing to this respectable negro is how this decision to distance oneself from negritude is masked and hidden behind such pathetic, narcissistic pleadings as "I shouldn't have to choose, I want to identity with every part of my identity" or the equally sad claim that, "I am 1/4 Indian, 1/8 Scots Irish, 1/8 Italian, 1/16 Inuit, 1/16 Cuban, and 1/4 Black, why can't I be all of these things?" To which I may add, these multiple identities often represent choices that are made quite selectively and strategically: as in "If I want a scholarship I am black, but don't expect me to have a sense of group loyalty to, or kinship with, black folk." And you know what? If I hear these rationalizations again I will insert hand into throat in order to induce vomiting.

For all of these reasons, and apart from the admiration I have for the authors of Freakonomics (any book which can simultaneously be on the top of the New York Time's bestseller list and be sold in Walmart and Price Costco is good by me), I simply love reading empirically based arguments about race and behavior which "wink" at the reader. Here, the wink is a pretty clear one: look at how messed up these self-identified "bi-racial" people really are. But to really get the humor one needs to unpack the actual article which can be found here. It isn't perfect by any means, and the conclusion is really a mea culpa which limits the range of findings, but there are some great moments and insights.

Some select passages:

1. The first relevant dimension is whether one bases the classification on the responses of the parents or the child. The second relevant dimension for classifying mixed race children is how “strict” or “inclusive” one is in defining who is mixed race. Our preferred definition is one that is child-based and strict. We use a childbased definition both because data on fathers are often missing, and even if a male guardian is present, it is impossible in our data to determine whether he is the biological father.16 A childbased approach is more direct, but relies on the child’s self-identification. Under our preferred “strict” definition at the child level, an individual is considered race A if and only if he consistently says he is race A whenever he is observed in the data. If there are any inconsistencies across waves, we code the race as missing. Using this approach we obtain 304 black-white mixed children; but we are likely to understate the number of mixed race adolescents in the data.

Thought and Comment: So, these children are actually self-identifying as "mixed-race." This throws a bit of a wrinkle into the plan because this identity is by definition anomalous and contingent on environment and background. How many "mixed-race" people choose to identity as black (or brown or white)? Are these children just outliers? What is special and particular about anyone who self-selects into this category? Is it perhaps a signal that the person is either profoundly at peace with themselves or profoundly conflicted? Wouldn't it be interesting to study discordant pairings, i.e where the parent says the child is one identity and the child gives a different response? Wouldn't it also be a rich project to study HAPA's in California and Hawaii who self-identify as white? Or to study black Creoles in Louisiana?

2. Although generally not statistically significantly different, mixed race children do worse on most of the psychological dimensions explored. The greatest observed difference is with respect to whether the child perceives his father as caring, which mixed race children do significantly less. Interestingly, blacks tend to be more content on most dimensions relative to whites and mixed race children. The exception to this finding is when asked about their chances of surviving to age 35.

Thought and Comment: Ah ha! I knew we black folk were well-adjusted. Like Jewish folk, our sense of humor has sustained us as a people. And we are happier than white folks--I always say that the privileged manufacture reasons to be unhappy. Interestingly, mixed-race children see their fathers as being less caring. Could this be because many of the fathers are not present? Where are the fathers? Did they break up because of family disapproval of inter-racial dating? And more generally, what does this mean for how the identities of these children will form? If the father is not white, how is this child learning about their raced identity? By extension, this plays directly into my theory about multi-racial identity as mom's way of trying to connect with her child through an effort to pass along some white privilege under the banner of asserting a "biracial" or "multiracial" identity for her child.

3. Because mixed race adolescents have an outside option, they must go to greater lengths to demonstrate their affiliation with the group; one way of demonstrating solidarity is to go to extremes in carrying out group-sanctioned misbehavior.

Thought and Comment: I thought young people had it hard in general, but this is a one-two punch. Poor tragic mulatto children do apparently have to be bad in the way that black kids are bad and bad in the way white kids are bad. Result: years of therapy. Question: what about parenting and local group norms? What about class? And isn't there lots of variability within groups in terms of behavior, what constitutes "good" and "bad"? Just thinking aloud.

4. It is important to note that when there are few blacks present, the costs of acting black for mixed race adolescents is lower. For example, fighting is one aspect of behavior more associated with blacks than whites. If blacks are more experienced fighters than whites, than it is less costly for a mixed race child to prove he can fight when the only opponents are whites. This force works in the opposite direction of conformity.

Thought and Comment: Huh? I thought it was Mexicans and Latinos who were the best fighters? I guess I am just out of step.

5. In contrast, in the Roy model, when there are few blacks around, mixed race children can have a comparative advantage in black behaviors, inducing them to act particularly “black.” Empirically, the evidence on this point favors the Roy model over conformity.

Thought and Comment: Another light bulb moment. I have personally seen this phenomenon in action. I cannot tell you how many mixed-race kids I have witnessed going through the not-black, to blacker than thou, to self-consciously mixed-race, to I am going to perform blackness for my white friends--they are an ambassador you know--transformation, yet who simultaneously harbor a deep fear of and resentment towards "real" black folks. This transformation is particularly common among Ivy and elite educated, young, mixed-race people. In these cases it usually involves a discovery of hip hop and b-boy culture, an embrace of post-racial politics, and a hairstyle which alternates between a wild 'fro (to signal he is black, plus women like to touch it) and a signifying set of cornrows.

6. Broadly summarizing, the data on mixed race black-white children suggests that they grow up in home environments that are similar to blacks, have academic achievement in between that of whites and blacks, but engage in much more risky behaviors and are slightly worse off psychologically.

Thought and Comment: Like we said earlier, race messes us all up and tragic mulattoes are just messed up differently. It seems that thanks to Steve Levitt we now finally have an explanation for the bad behaviors of the Halle Berry's, Mariah Carey's, Vin Diesel's, and Slash's of the world. But a mystery still remains: how do we explain the unbalanced behaviors of the Britney Spears's, Paris Hilton's, Amy Winehouse's and Kim Kardashian's of the world?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Introducing Our Nominee for Barack Obama's Vice Presidential Running Mate

As speculation grows about who Obama will select as his vice presidential running mate, and with the announcement imminent, we respectable negroes have been hypothesizing and strategizing as to who would make an ideal candidate for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

In brainstorming through Obama's options one should keep in the mind the following guidelines: A vice presidential candidate should strengthen the ticket by appealing to a constituency which the presidential candidate is weak with; broaden his geographic appeal; offer personality traits or expertise which the presidential candidate lacks; unify and strengthen the party apparatus and its factions; or bring a certain excitement, intangible or celebrity appeal to the ticket. In considering all of these factors we have come to a clear choice...

We are Respectable Negroes enthusiastically endorse accomplished actor, musician, and humanitarian, Corky of Life Goes On fame as the perfect VP for Barack Obama.

Corky's strengths as a candidate are many:

1. He is honest and sincere;
2. In his comments that he doesn't like black people and that he is afraid of them, Corky speaks for America's racial id, and therefore protects Obama from charges of "playing the race card;"
3. He is a white male;
4. He is anti-establishment;
5. Corky is not a Washington insider;
6. His simple cadence, binary thinking, and straightforward analysis of problems and their solutions will appeal to the Red state and conservative base who are attracted to Bush's "truthiness," war against "evil doers," and McCain's sloganistic posturing.

We were originally going to nominate Corky as a write in candidate in Ta-Nehisi Coates' great, "Who Will Speak for White People" competition at the Atlantic Monthly, but it dawned on us that Corky's greatness need not be limited to mere figurehead status. Without reservation or qualification, Corky is simply the best choice for Vice President of the United States of America.

Obama and Corky 2008--A Special Kind of Ticket!

Chauncey Devega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Some Late Night Batman the Dark Knight Clips

Like I always say, having some free real estate upon which to post random clips is part of the entitlement and narcissism which comes with having a blog.

I am going to see Dark Knight 2 more times this weekend, until then, for you sad souls who haven't even seen it once, here are some new "leaked" clips.

A montage:

Enter the Batpod:

Understand the Joker:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ? Apparently We Didn't Get the Memo

In boxing, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to get tunnel vision, to fixate on one hand while ignoring the other. This is an error even experienced professional fighters often commit when they are looking for a big punch to come from one direction and inevitably get tagged from the opposite. In the best case scenario the punch is a jab. In the worst case scenario it is an uppercut or a hook. Either way, you are going to get hit. The question then becomes, is this the "go to sleep" knockout punch, or is it a stinger that you can shrug off?

Two weeks ago, we, meaning you and I, and most of America, got caught sleeping, focusing on the wrong hand. To make matters worst, we didn't even realize our error as the McCain camp threw a knockout blow that we didn't even catch. Why? because we were looking for the left hand, when in fact, it was the right hand that would do us in.

McCain's two commercials, Obama and Brittany aka the uppity Negro ad, and Obama is "the One," were crafty combos. The first was a jab, a punch quickly followed up by the second punch--a devastating body blow:

We laughed at these commercials, for their awkward crudeness seemed desperate and clumsy. No one would take these ads seriously because no reasonable person could respond to them. They seemed to register a bit in the polls, closing the gap for McCain, but we again laughed at the gullibility of the American electorate. I must admit that I fell into the trap as well.

In fact, in an earlier post I reflected that McCain, that old out of touch fool doesn't get that "the One" is Neo from the Matrix and that his uppity Obama appeal was misdirected. I spent a good amount of time patting myself on the back for my quick wit (aren't I smart!). You know what? As the days past, and I began to think more about these two campaign commercials something just didn't sit right. My Spidey-sense was tingling but I couldn't figure out from which direction the threat would come:

Eventually it clicked. In a moment akin to laying in bed with your woman after a session of kundalini stimulating bliss, all hot and stinky, a Boon's Farm wine bottle resting on the chest of drawers next to the lamp, polyester sheets sticking to spent bodies, with either some Silk, Jodeci or R. Kelly's 12 Play stuck on repeat in your broken cd changer, 99 cent inscents burned down to their nub--the sandalwood still hanging in the air mixed with a little p funk--and you realize that she liked something, said something, moved in a way she never had before, and that mamacita muttered the wrong name in a half-awake dream state. It is a moment of crystal clear and painful clarity. Only one explanation passes muster: you realize in your heart of hearts that you have just played yourself.

As my mom, as well as Zora would say about how hardheaded and self-centered I can be at times, "must everything be about you, Senor Chauncey?" You see, we were not the audience for McCain's ad. Not black folk, not blue state voters, not progressives, not center left, or even I dare say, center right, undecided voters. Nope, we were not the audience. The Obamaholics certainly were not the audience. In reading Time Magazine and the Washington Post's pieces on the widely held belief that Obama is the Anti-Christ (and how popular this narrative is among the Christian Nationalist and internet conspiracy crowd) the horrible truth dawned on me. The audience for "the One," and its parallels of Obama to Moses were Christian Nationalists, the Left Behind crowd, those mouth breathing Rapture awaiting troglodytes...those folks who believe that Obama is the anti-Christ, even as they claim he isn't:

I thought about it again. I watched the videos once more. I digested the analysis. I had to admit, if this were a boxing match, we were outplayed. You, me, the American public in mass, the non-Evangelical crowd were knocked the fuck out by McCain's one-two punch:

For the initiated, McCain's commercial utilized what is known in the business as "a coded appeal" or what is also less politely and more appropriately termed in my opinion, as "the dog whistle effect." McCain's "the One" ad contains messages and codes that only the target audience can detect. In the same way that a dog owner uses a whistle to tell Fido to sit, fetch, or stay, the coded appeal keys off of the ability of the target audience to "hear" commands and appeals that the rest of us are immune to.

For example, when Bush talks about the courts and references the Dred Scott decision he is making a coded appeal to the anti-abortion crowd to overturn Roe v. Wade. These signals often combine the obvious, as in the case of McCain's ads, with the subtle, images and visuals we perceive, just out of range of our perceptual range, but can't fully get a grasp of--sort of like Tyler Durden's "playful" antics in the movie Fight Club:

These coded appeals are pheromones of a sort, causing the target audience to act like Jack Nicholson in Wolf:

Not all of us were blind to this appeal as critics such as Keith Olbermann did in fact point out the racial appeals embedded in the first Obama is an uppity negro celebrity ad. He highlighted the implied relationship between a blond white women, a black man and the implication that Obama was arrogant. We understood the ad on that level. Our error was seeing this ad as nothing more than a desperate ploy, when in fact it was the setup punch. It got us to drop our guard, to have a "they are at it again" moment. Because McCain is feisty and shrewd, this obvious attack was the point (sort of like Ali's right hand leads in the Foreman fight). But even here, there were the grains of something more sinister: notice the white phallocentric objects in the ad, those penis like monuments that hint at the always potent triangle of sex, white women and miscegenation which lies in the heart of the American racial subconscious.

As highlighted by Time magazine's great piece (and these others here and here), the Obama is the One ad is laden with coded appeals which point to Obama being the anti-Christ. As though taken from an enterprising semiotics professor or graduate student's wet dream, McCain's ad features the following codes and symbols: a man of foreign birth who claims to be the savior of the world and ushers in a New World Order; a narrative which seems to be directly taken from the Left Behind series of novels; and most damning is the symbol which flies out of the parting sea, an allusion to the crest carried by the anti-Christ in the Bible, a direct linkage to Obama by the campaign commercial:

This is dangerous and frightening both for what it portends about how far McCain and the Right are willing to go in order to win an election, as well as what it signals about the inevitability and primacy of a re-centering of religion and religious appeals in the mainstream of the American body politic. However disturbing to a secularist such as myself that presidential candidates would feel obligated to stump for "values voters" (doesn't the rest of the public have values too?), and to seek legitimation in a mullahesque (I just coined that word) Saddleback forum (cue Brokeback Mountain music---it was so obvious I had to go there) a move which further hints at our sliding towards an American theocracy, for me it is ultimately the fact that a mainstream presidential candidate would tar his rival as the anti-Christ which is beyond belief. People's exhibit number one of the (re)merging of politics and religion, consider this disturbing clip regarding Christian Zionists:

This is serious business and I remain deeply stunned at the silence of the mainstream media on the story, and why Obama himself is not confronting it directly. The use of coded appeals, ones as pernicious as these, is made doubly problematic by the historical precedent set by totalitarian and fascist States such as Nazi Germany. I also understand that democracies need propaganda more than any other type of government. But, that the appeal would be so narrow, and play along the dual fissures of race and religion, is particularly poisonous to our collective civic health.

What of the obvious response, that perhaps Obama is the Anti-Christ? I have to ask it in order to give fair treatment to those who "believe." While trying not to reject the claim on the face of it or to point out the interpretative errors which buttress this mythology, I would simply appeal to my ghetto nerd, Art Bell, Nostradamus, Father Malachi Martin respecting, Illuminati studying, Bilderberg group observing, Behold a Pale Horse Reading, Skull and Bones kitchen attending, conspiracy studying credentials. Frankly, Obama doesn't fit the mold or the timing of whom the Anti-Christ will be. Moreover, we can't and won't know who the Anti-Christ will be until it is too late, and whoever it is certainly won't use the Left Behind novels as a template. And oh yeah, I don't believe the Anti-Christ will be anything like the figure that these religious hucksters and their bamboozled followers imagine him to be.

Random theological note: perhaps the anti-Christ is looking us in the mirror everyday? Our collective human baseness, mistreatment of one another, greed, and bad behavior could be the literal Anti-Christ among us all.

And you know what? As much as I condemn them, I admire McCain and his campaign for the excellence with which they have executed their plan. The coded appeal is a perfect strategy in fact because it hides itself in the open and hits you before you know you are under attack (sort of like hiding metagenic agents among background radiation and sending them towards a planet on a subspace carrier wave to later be activated by a Theta band signal: extra points for any ghetto nerds whom get the allusion). It is also utterly impervious to counter-attack because to respond to McCain's ploy is to make yourself look like you are in fact the crazy one, or in this campaign's vernacular, to be guilty of that most grievous of sin, "playing the race card." Or to paraphrase Luscious Fox in the Dark Knight: "Let me get this straight. You think your client, one of the richest men in the world, is a vigilante who likes to dress up as a bat and beat criminals to a bloody pulp with this bare hands. And your answer to this is to try and blackmail him? Well...good luck with that." Exactly.

McCain, or whoever put together this Goebbels inspired, Obama as anti-Christ commercial, I would love to pick your brain, to complement you on your smarts, to get a drink or three with you, preferably either a Jack on the Rocks or a Manhattan, but on principle I couldn't take a meal with you because I can't digest properly when seated across from someone I don't respect.

Per tradition, some questions:

1. Where is the mainstream media on this story? Are they scared? Do they not get its gravity?

2. More importantly, where is the black blogosphere and black political "leadership?" Folks throw fits over stupidity and want to bury "the n-word" but a black presidential candidate is called the anti-Christ and folks are as quiet as church mice. People throw fits over knuckleheads like the Jena 6 who act like fools and then are valorized for it, but they aren't raising the call to arms over a real issue, something really worth fighting for, are they?

3. Is Obama doing the right thing in not responding to these Obama as anti-Christ appeals? Or is he letting McCain chip away at him bit by bit?

4. Speaking of which, should Obama have gone on that Saddleback forum? Especially given the serious questions being raised about McCain's cheating?

5. On this anti-Christ stuff: so if one in fact believes that Obama is the evil guy, the harbinger of doom, shouldn't the Left behind, saved, rapture loving crowd vote for him? Wouldn't Obama's victory speed their journey to paradise, their lifting of themselves out of their clothes and into heaven?

6. Intuitively, isn't McCain more of an anti-Christ figure than Obama? Just going on instinct here...

7. Are folks afraid of "values voters?" Are they afraid to take the Christian Nationalists on in a fight? To respond, to put them in their place? If yes, then why so?

8. The Obama is anti-Christ crowd, along with the political Zionists and Christian Nationalists share a striking similarity to the political Islam/Islamo-fascist crowd do they not? How ironic, it really is a clash of civilizations with a bunch of fools willing to kill us all in order to see who gets to heaven first. What can the radical middle do about this, be they either secularists or what I like to call "the reasonably religious?" Or are we all just screwed?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Joys of Bad Saturday Afternoon Television

We haven't done one of our favorite bad movie posts in a few. As I sit here procrastinating...insert thought-got to finish this chapter and congrats to a friend who just walked into the light so to speak...there is a great bit of 1980s fare on the idiot box.

Do you remember The Gate? I saw this one with my mom, God bless her patience, when I was about 12:

This made me think of CHUD!:

Do you remember The Devil's Rain, featuring Ernest Borgnine and William Shatner?

A little later, but a classic nonetheless, who else has love for Leprechaun in the Hood?

It is time to clean house! The People Under the Stairs:

You get no reparations!!!!! Damn slave voodoo dolls! Tales from the Hood gets extra points for the fact that the actor who is type cast as the Uncle Tom in every movie in which he appears gets done in pretty quickly:

What other bad "horror" classics should we add to our play list?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gordon Gartrelle says: The End of Black Politics? Or a Return to the Paper Bag Test?

I have to agree with Zora that a title can be misleading. When I heard that the Times piece was called “The End of Black Politics,” I dismissed it outright. Not very open-minded, I admit.

The title evoked two books that rub me the wrong way (no Johnny Gill): Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and Debra Dickerson’s The End of Blackness. The former is an incredibly popular piece of international relations political theory about how the fall of Soviet Communism marked the end of large-scale ideological global challenges to Western capitalist democracy; the latter is an occasionally amusing polemic about the death of the Civil Rights era notion of blackness.

I pegged the Times article as another tired argument about how Obama’s success proves that race (that’s code for “blackness”) is no longer relevant in American society, and in American politics more specifically. The article isn’t that, for the most part-the author doesn’t make the ideological argument that the end of racism obviates the need for black politics; he instead makes the practical argument that Civil Rights-era politics are no longer viable on a national stage in light of the successes of a new breed of “post-racial” black politicians.


I agree with most of the points my colleagues made, but I want to focus on something else in the Times’ article: the role the author’s black Ivy (and near Ivy) graduate fetish plays in his depiction of the new post-racial black political over-class. Consider author Matt Bai’s examples: Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law), Alabama Rep. Artur Davis (Harvard, Harvard Law), Newark Mayor Cory Booker (Stanford, Oxford), Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (Penn), Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (Harvard, Harvard Law), NAACP President Benjamin Jealous (Columbia, Oxford).

To the right, these Ivy-League-educated negroes are simultaneously typical and atypical. They’re typical in the sense that they’re nothing special; in the conservative mind, black Ivy grads are black people of average ability (well, average in comparison to black people, below average in comparison to whites) who merely had the benefit of affirmative action. Black Ivy grads are atypical, according to conservatives, in that their lives don’t represent the stereotypical black struggle. For this reason, these “elite” black folks have no grounds on which to ally themselves with the black underclass (recall the common conservative judgment that if a black person has a nice home and a high salary, she cannot complain about discrimination). Conservatives often resent liberal Ivy negroes’ infiltration into what was once a “pure” system of white moneyed elitism; however, conservatives love the idea of black Ivy grads because their existence proves that racism is dead.

To the left, Ivy-educated negroes are the new black. It’s not at all surprising that white liberals’ have starry-eyed crushes on these elite negroes. Most white folks are extremely uncomfortable with our society’s racial history, and positing a new kind of black political actor-one who doesn’t remind white people of slavery and Jim Crow-is a way to alleviate some of that discomfort. Bai goes out of his way to note that all of the aforementioned new post-racial politicians grew up with physical and/or cultural distance from average black folks. He makes sure to mention that Jealous and Booker were Rhodes Scholars (lest anyone think these two were unqualified diversity admissions). Bai is effectively marking this new batch of post-racial politicians as “different from the others,” and not just ideologically.

Think about the fact that Detroit Mayor (and soon-to-be convicted felon) Kwame Kilpatrick is noticeably absent from the new-negro-political-elite list. The fact that he’s a coonish crook might have a good deal to do with it, but the author would likely agree that Kilpatrick doesn’t count because he doesn’t have broad appeal (code for “acceptance from white people”). Kilpatrick lacks several qualities-honesty, decency, shame, competence, to name a few; one thing he doesn’t lack, though, is blackness. His unmistakable blackness-his Steve Harvey zoot suits, his “black” speech patterns, his BET-Uncut-style stripper parties mark him as “traditionally black,” thus, he doesn’t fit the profile. Plus, he went to an HBCU (FAMU), not an Ivy.

Also, compare Kilpatrick’s photo with those of the new breed:

Notice anything about their hue?

I realize that light-skinned privilege is nothing new (Chauncey, you El Debarge-colored bastard, I’m looking at you!), but the light, Ivy-educated, post-racial, “universal appeal” associations don’t sit well with me, regardless of whether it comes from white folks or from bougie, Talented Tenth touting, paper bag test-giving black folks.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: White People No Longer a Majority in 2042? Homework Assignment 1

We Are Respectable Negroes: Race and History 101

Essay Assignment 1

We have spent the first portion of this course discussing the intersection of race, politics, and culture. To this point, we have explored the notion of "racial frames" and race as an ideology. We have also developed a working definition of race which is as follows: race is a socially constructed identity based on a loose and often arbitrary sense of phenotypical difference, a difference with the State and society choose to emphasize (or not). Using the materials we have read to this point in week 5, compare and contrast the racial frames deployed in the following two articles. The first piece is taken from the Los Angeles Times and is titled, "White Americans no Longer a Majority in 2042." The second piece is an excerpt from the famous racialist tract, The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant published in 1916.

White Americans no longer a majority by 2042

White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2042, according to new government projections. That's eight years sooner than previous estimates, made in 2004.

The nation has been growing more diverse for decades, but the process has sped up through immigration and higher birth rates among minority residents, especially Hispanics.

It is also growing older.

"The white population is older and very much centered around the aging baby boomers who are well past their high fertility years," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "The future of America is epitomized by the young people today. They are basically the melting pot we are going to see in the future."

The Census Bureau Thursday released population projections through 2050, based on rates for births, deaths and immigration. They are subject to big revisions, depending on immigration policy, cultural changes and natural or manmade disasters.

The U.S. has nearly 305 million people today. The population is projected to hit 400 million in 2039 and 439 million in 2050.

That's like adding all the people from France and Britain, said Steve A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington group that advocates tighter immigration policies.

White non-Hispanics make up about two-thirds of the population, but only 55 percent of those younger than 5.

By 2050, whites will make up 46 percent of the population and blacks will make up 15 percent, a relatively small increase from today. Hispanics, who make up about 15 percent of the population today, will account for 30 percent in 2050, according to the new projections.

Asians, which make up about 5 percent of the population, are projected to increase to 9 percent by 2050.

The population 85 and older is projected to more than triple by 2050, to 19 million.

Chapter VII

The European Race in the Colonies

The prosperity that followed the war attracted hordes of newcomers who were welcomed by the native Americans to operate factories, build railroads, and fill up the waste spaces - "developing the country" it was called.

These new immigrants were no longer exclusively members of the Nordic race as were the earlier ones who came of their own impulse to improve their social conditions. The transportation lines advertised America as a land flowing with milk and honey, and the European governments took the opportunity to unload upon careless, wealthy, and hospitable America the sweepings of their jails and asylums. The result was that the new immigration, while it still included many strong elements from the north of Europe, contained a large and increasing number of the weak, the broken, and the mentally crippled of all races drawn from the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, together with hordes of the wretched, submerged populations of the Polish Ghettos.

With a pathetic and fatuous belief in the efficacy of American institutions and environment to reverse or obliterate immemorial hereditary tendencies, these newcomers were welcomed and given a share in our land and prosperity. The American taxed himself to sanitate and educate these poor helots, and as soon as they could speak English, encouraged them to enter into the political life, first of municipalities, and then of the nation.

The result is showing plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of native Americans because the poorer classes of Colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring children into the world to compete in the labor market with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian, and the Jew. The native American is too proud to mix socially with them, and is gradually withdrawing from the scene, abandoning to these aliens the land which he conquered and developed. The man of the old stock is being crowded out of many country districts by these foreigners, just as he is to-day being literally driven off the streets of New York City by the swarms of Polish Jews. These immigrants adopt the language of the native American; they wear his clothes; they steal his name; and they are beginning to take his women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals, and while he is being elbowed out of his own home the American looks calmly abroad and urges on others the suicidal ethics which are exterminating his own race.

As to what the future mixture will be it is evident that in large sections of the country the native American will entirely disappear. He will not intermarry with inferior races, and he cannot compete in the sweat shop and in the street trench with the newcomers. Large cities from the days of Rome, Alexandria, and Byzantium have always been gathering points of diverse races, but New York is becoming a cloaca gentium which will produce many amazing racial hybrids and some ethnic horrors that will be beyond the powers of future anthropologists to unravel.

One thing is certain: in any such mixture, the surviving traits will be determined by competition between the lowest and most primitive elements and the specialized traits of Nordic man; his stature, his light colored eyes, his fair skin and blond hair, his straight nose, and his splendid fighting and moral qualities, will have little part in the resultant mixture.

The "survival of the fittest" means the survival of the type best adapted to existing conditions of environment, to-day the tenement and factory, as in Colonial times they were the clearing of forests, fighting Indians, farming the fields, and sailing the Seven Seas. From the point of view of race it were better described as the "survival of the unfit."

We Respectable Negroes Salute You: Two Badass White Queens---Dr. Ruth, an Isreali Sniper and Julia Child, An OSS Spy

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, isn't it? Our own Harriet Tubman served as a Union spy, and during her service she carried 2 pistols. One to defend those with the courage to go ahead to freedom, and another for those who may not have had the heart to keep going. Harriet Tubman was one hell of a sister. As we know, heroism and true grit comes in all forms, and in all colors. Thus, we respectable negroes salute you, Julia Child, and belatedly because it is long overdue, salute you as well, Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

For You Julia Child:

Chef Julia Child, others part of WWII spy network

Famed chef Julia Child shared a secret with Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg at a time when the Nazis threatened the world.

While Julia Child was cooking pheasants, she was also part of an international spy ring during World War II.

They served in an international spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt.

The full secret comes out Thursday, all of the names and previously classified files identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the first centralized intelligence effort by the United States. The National Archives, which this week released a list of the names found in the records, will make available for the first time all 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives.

They were soldiers, actors, historians, lawyers, athletes, professors, reporters. But for several years during World War II, they were known simply as the OSS. They studied military plans, created propaganda, infiltrated enemy ranks and stirred resistance among foreign troops.

Some of those on the list have been identified previously as having worked for the OSS, but their personnel records never have been available before. Those records would show why they were hired, jobs they were assigned to and perhaps even missions they pursued while working for the agency.

follow the link here.

For you Ruth Westheimer:

Dr. Ruth Reveals a Few Secrets, Not About Sex

April 17, 2008 - Bryan Schwartzman, Staff Writer

The world knows Ruth Westheimer, aka "Dr. Ruth" -- a thrice married, soon-to-be octogenarian -- for her candid advice on sex, for breaking taboos on radio and TV and, of course, for her German accent, which she's managed to hold onto despite her long tenure in the United States.

Few know that, in 1939, at age 11, she had to leave her family behind in Germany and live in a Swiss orphanage, where girls weren't permitted to go to high school. She stayed up nights studying her boyfriend's textbooks, determined to learn.

Fewer still know her as a sharpshooter. Westheimer, who's about 4 feet 7 inches tall, was a sniper in the Israel Defense Force during the 1948 War of Independence and was seriously wounded in the battle for Jerusalem. (She said that while her shooting can still win prizes for her grandchildren at carnival booths, she never killed anyone in battle.)

There's lots more that people don't know about Dr. Ruth that she revealed during a recent stop in Philadelphia.

the story continues here.


Heroism does indeed come in all packages.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Where Have all the Arcades Gone? Reflections of a Negro Pinball Wizard

If Chris were not otherwise occupied, he could tell you that he is, by several objective measures, the most talented Guitar Hero player in existence: not only good enough to have attained numerous high-score records, but so skilled that he has parlayed his peculiar blend of athleticism and showmanship into online celebrity and a fledgling career designing and endorsing his own line of video game hardware. But at the moment, another barrage of notes was about to descend on him. “The chaos,” he said, “begins right now.”

Despite his preternatural dexterity, Chris, who turns 17 on Sunday, would seem to be just one more avid gamer who has helped make the Guitar Hero franchise a towering success. It has sold more than 20.7 million copies worldwide since its debut just three years ago.

Yet to the video game business Chris represents just the kind of player — the freakishly talented one-man spectacle — who could bring more revenue and legitimacy to the industry, and prove once and for all that video gaming is as much a mainstream American pastime as going to the movies or watching television.

From, the piece "Rec-Room Wizard" printed in the New York Times.

Youth is indeed wasted on the young. Sounds embittered doesn't it? I am just hurting, a little sad that the world has seemingly changed around me, but not necessarily with me. It is also a little nostalgia, a longing for the not so recent past and a realization that one of the favorite pastimes of my childhood has changed, pushed forward by "progress" and morphed into something I know, but don't particularly like or feel comfortable with--sort of like the hot ex-girlfriend from college you meet a few years later, who is still gorgeous, just a little older, and is now with a beau who is the exact opposite of who you would have pictured her with. This is one of those moments when you wake up and realize that you are a little older than you were yesterday:

Yes, I still play video games. Yes, my tastes have gravitated to PC games over consoles because I primarily play RTS's (although I will be getting an X-Box 360...primarily to download the "old school" classics and to play GTA 4). And yes, I play a pretty mean game of Call of Duty 4 and other first person shooters. But, something has changed. With the rise of the internet, with consoles and home PC's which are more powerful than anything we could have imagined ten years ago, the social space for gaming has inexorably changed. The communal space, those hives of scum and villainy which many of us ghetto nerds were drawn to in our New York City Time Squares, our South Sides, our West Sides and corner bodegas, our Milford Rec's, is gone, never to be replaced. Those hideouts from parents and adults where we could seek out a brother from another planet, an old school sage to teach us the latest tricks and exploits:

Reading about the rise of this Guitar Hero phenom encouraged me to take a trip to one of the few remaining arcades in the city. For the young and uninitiated, arcades were physical spaces where you would play video games and pinball with others, face to face, in a personal contest for supremacy. I was so excited, I would get on the Red Line, read a book, get some Chipotle on the way home, and pop some quarters into a favored machine. Would it be Killer Instinct? Street Fighter 2 Turbo or CE, Mortal Combat? Marvel vs. Capcom? What would it be? Guess what? It would be nothing as our video game oasis was closed, shutdown, its dirty floors still uncleaned. It seems this last arcade would be a victim of hipster gentrification.

This isn't to disparage the rise of the internet and how we finally have a truly global stage for contest and where video games are approaching a "sport" of sorts with tournaments, leagues, and big money purses. In my childhood I would have never dreamed that there would be lucrative prizes at stake in tournaments for games like StarCraft, Quake or Ultimate Tournament. I wouldn't have imagined that video game pros would have real groupies and fans...not the cast off, sallow faced, semi-teen runaway degenerates who hung out at the local spot. No, attention from real people whose approval you would seek, and if they were an attractive woman, to likely try to enjoy in a biblical, Song of Solomon kind of way.

You children of the 1970s and 1980s, did you also hear the same rumors that I did? That you could go to Japan and face off against the best, Asian kids who were in our imaginations just as good at martial arts as they were at video games, a mythical Blood Sport for video game heads where you could compete against the best of the best:

Random thought: am I the only ghetto nerd who was jealous of his Asian friends and their video game collections? Bootlegged titles purchased in China or Korea town, or mailed to them from friends and family overseas?

My use of the phrase "blood sport" is not accidental. Playing video games competitively was physical. In its most benign, it either involved travel and searching around town for the newest machine or the best competition, running to the neighborhood arcade, the bakery next to the high school where everyone congregated after school and during lunch, or the duck pin bowling alley that we would dip into after school for a few rounds of Street Fighter or Karate Champ. Sometimes it involved hours of travel to and fro just to find that best, most favorite, machine, or nagging a parent to sit in the car for a few hours while they read a book and you played video games all day long on your birthday. In its least benign, it involved a physical exchange, a stare down, especially if you were a newbie, to just put the quarter on the machine to get a play. In the worst case scenario playing in the arcade could escalate into a fist fight, real blood drawn between players if one felt that they were either treated unfairly or humiliated by a rival. With the ascendancy of video games into the mainstream and the rise of the internet as a means to compete, the world, as is the ultimate goal of technical innovation, has been made just a little too sterile for this ghetto nerd's taste.

By analogy, in the same way that we can find any number of "Emcees" "battling" on Youtube, MySpace or in chat rooms, how many would have lasted second in a real cipher, a real battle in the South Bronx, Queens, or Brooklyn?

Object Lesson 1:

Object Lesson 2

Hell, how many of these "crappers" would even be allowed into the cipher? Now, it is so clean and impersonal. You don't have to have clout to get into the circle, there is no physical risk if you under-perform or step out of bounds. The worst that can happen is that you move onto another chat room, another message board, or another Youtube video.

We no longer have to put quarters up on the machine to get a play, we don't have to be accepted into the local tribe (real people not a virtual clan), and we certainly don't have to face down rivals eye to eye in what could easily end in a post-game melee. I am not discounting the visceral rush of online play, of an hours long match, or how great it feels to beat a rival--I don't know how many of you have had this experience, but I sincerely love playing skinheads and Nazi wannabe's online (and summarily dispensing with them in the most humiliating fashion possible), ignorant folks who take competition very seriously and make their video game playing prowess some type of proof for the superiority of their imagined Aryan bloodline.

I am not a Luddite. I love technical change and innovation, but I am worried about how our social interactions with strangers, meeting people and becoming friends in the real as opposed to virtual world, what was once the core of playing video games, has been changed for the worst. I admire the art and artistry of video games. I am wonderfully pleased that a hobby has grown into a culture. And I do indeed smile when I think about how we are now in a position where we can hear the symphonies of our childhood elevated to the level of high art:

Nevertheless, I do offer a warning, a fear about the rise of glamor and glitz, of the prominence of bells and whistles over substance and form. Sure, we have gorgeous games like Metal Gear, God of War, and the like; and immersive titles like World of Warcraft (and on MMORG's isn't the Star Trek title destined to be horrible?) and the Grand Theft Auto series; and great fighting games such as Soul Caliber, Virtua Fighter and the new Street Fighter--which by the way I am holding my breath for in anticipation of its release:

But, will they stand the test of time? Will they be downloaded and played twenty or thirty years from now? Will they be the objects of fond reminiscing of battles both epic, bloody, and personal? I suspect they likely will, but will the memory be the same? Will it have the same texture as a kid recalling the first time he played Ghosts and Goblins, Elevator Action, Double Dragon, Street Fighter 2, Tron, Karate Champ, Ikari Warriors, Cruis'n USA, Star Wars, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pacman, or Killer Instinct in a dingy arcade or bowling alley and where he or she defeated the local arcade king, if even for a day? And then had to hustle home before dark to ensure that the local tough wouldn't get some revenge? This ghetto nerd doesn't know, and in truth probably wouldn't like the answer.

Random thoughts and confessions:

1. I was never so happy as when I found my Christmas gift, an NES hidden in my parent's bedroom. I was never so exhilarated as when I would take it out and play it when they were at work and I was home "sick."

2. I never beat Super Mario Brothers--I still to this day cannot beat the last level.

3. I never beat Zelda--I couldn't find the silver arrows.

4. I loved M. Bison. No, I owned with M. Bison. I owned even more with Guile...but then again, who didn't?

5. Anyone else remember The Adams Family pinball game? or Fun House? Were they not perfect?

6. Is it not sad that pinball is a dying, if not dead, game? Thank goodness, some are keeping the hobby alive.

7. Didn't Chuck E. Cheese have horrible pizza and even worse video games? I take that back, the one on the Post Road in Milford did have the Star Trek video game. It was unplayable, but the vector graphics were really futuristic and cool.

8. Spy Hunter! Galaga! and 50 cent slices of pizza in the Acme Mall on Dixwell Avenue were my heaven. Where was your favorite video game spot, one with not too much competition, where you could play for hours on a quarter or two, and get a snack?

9. Am I the only one who charmed a pretty would-be girlfriend at the local arcade with my video game playing prowess?

10. The General Custard video game. The holy grail of Atari games, need I say more? A naked man with an erect penis raping a tied up Native American "squaw"--yes I know what the word really means--really needs no embellishment.

11. How many of you went on quests in New York or Los Angeles to find games you couldn't find at home? This is something I really miss, in hip hop and dj culture we used to have to "dig" to find the obscure, the exciting record, a new white label, which rewarded our efforts at the next party. Now, folks just buy music online or download it to a laptop pc-dj-turntable interface. Yes, lighter on the back. No, in my opinion too far apart from what the culture should be. And sad when folks don't graduate to this technology from analog, but begin there: you do need to learn how to use a knife before graduating to a food processor if you want to be a real master chef. Likewise, in the past one would have to "dig" to find certain video games. They were usually overpriced and a letdown, but often they were real gems. Do you have any war stories, great games found following an epic search?

11. Colecovision, Intellivision, Turbo Graphix, the Amiga, or Neo-Geo? Which is the greatest missed opportunity?

Chauncey DeVega says: This Respectable Negro Salutes an Honorable Animal Friend

A distraction from the heavy political stuff we have done lately--we do have a heart you know.

One of the myths held by an unnamed Native American tribe reads:

"A spirit had assembled all of earth's creatures. His task was to find the right animal to become a companion to human beings, who had not yet been created. He asked the animals how they would treat people. Some said they would tear human beings apart; others said they would live near people to steal their food.

The dog said his only wish was to live with people, share their food, help them hunt, guard their children and possessions, even at risk to his own life. Another legend states that a dog's life originally spanned 20 years, but that the dog willingly gave up 10 of his own years so people could live longer."

For all of the degenerate, Michael Vicks of the world, ignt's who seem to revel in abusing their pets (imagine how they treat their children or elderly parents?) there are many more good people, people like those who placed the lives of their animal friends before their own during the deluges of Katrina. In that spirit this respectable negro shares the following story. From CNN:

Loyal dog guards owner for weeks after death

GREELEY, Colorado (AP) -- A dog stood guard over her owner's body for up to six weeks after the man committed suicide on the remote northeastern Colorado plains, authorities said.

The body of 25-year-old Jake Baysinger of La Salle, Colorado, was found Sunday on the Pawnee National Grasslands about 75 miles northeast of Denver, Colorado. Cash, his German shepherd, was found beside him, thin and dehydrated but still alive. The dog had apparently survived by eating mice and rabbits, authorities said.

The Weld County coroner ruled Baysinger's death a suicide. The cause of death wasn't immediately determined but authorities found a gun nearby, the coroner's office said Tuesday.

"At least we know it's over now," said Baysinger's wife, Sara. "We'd been looking for my husband for six weeks, and this isn't how we wanted it to end. At least we can close this."

Baysinger was reported missing June 28. An extensive search failed to locate him, but Kip Konig, a rancher, saw the dog last weekend, went to investigate and discovered Baysinger's body and his pickup.

He said Cash kept running back to the pickup and jumping into the front seat.

"I got the sense she was trying to tell me where her master was," Konig said.

Cash was reunited Monday with Sara Baysinger and her 2-year-old son, Lane. She said her little boy is "very close to that dog" and happy to see her again.

Investigators said the dog probably kept coyotes away from the body.


We salute you, our honorable animal friend. If we were more fortunate, humans would be so good as you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Crime, Section 8, Neighborhoods in Transition, and New Tensions

In her research, Suresh noticed a recurring pattern, one that emerged first in the late 1990s, then again around 2002. A particularly violent neighborhood would suddenly go cold, and crime would heat up in several new neighborhoods. In each case, Suresh has now confirmed, the first hot spots were the neighborhoods around huge housing projects, and the later ones were places where people had moved when the projects were torn down. From that, she drew the obvious conclusion: “Crime is going along with them.”

It seems this week has brought a two for one, a sort of perfect storm for those armchair sociologists among us looking for an un-Obama related topic to discuss over the dinner table or at the barbershop.

This week, the Atlantic and the New York Times have each published pieces on race, housing policy, and crime that are worthy of more attention than either piece has received to this point.

The Atlantic's "American Murder Mystery" by Hanna Rosin and the New York Times' "As Program Moves Poor to Suburbs Tensions Follow" explore what some have called an uncomfortable truth: that with the destruction of inner city housing projects that people, and their problems, go with them to their new homes. Apparently, it seems that while crime has leveled out in America's metropolises it has increased in America's bedroom communities and other regional cities. After growing up on Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood flicks, and watching Colors and Menace to Society too many times to count, who would have thought that the front line of the war on crime would be Memphis, Tennessee or Kansas City, Missouri instead of Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York?

As argued by the sociologists quoted in the above articles, the cause of this increase in crime and social dysfunction could in fact be a function of how the proliferation of housing vouchers and Section 8 programs have transplanted both the good folk and the bad folk from their former "communities" to whatever neighborhoods they have collectively moved into. Thus, the inner-city crime problem concentrated in the projects becomes the inner city crime problem spread out in the semi-suburbs. Cue music: start controversy.

What follows are some quick thoughts about the "new" tensions which occur when the urban poor move into suburban neighborhoods. My emphasis on "new" hints at the fact that the middle and upper classes have never wanted to live near the poor...this is why those of means move away from those without. As my godfather used to say, "the very reason you want to have money is so that you can have the luxury of choosing your neighbors."

Perhaps, we can have a conversation, prompted by Zora's return, about respectability, class, and race? And to bait them, as though it is necessary, how long will it take for someone to let forth the shrill charge of racism at what may simply be an uncomfortable truth? Or to reflexively rise to the defense of "the victims" in this story?

Some questions:

1. What to do with the urban poor? As housing projects are transitioned into gentrified properties, where should these folks go? Stay in new housing in their communities, or be moved to scattered site housing in the burbs?

2. Again, what about the black and brown middle and working classes? They live in what are politely called "neighborhoods in transition," those most likely to have high numbers of section 8 and other housing voucher recipients and where the landlords are absent. The result: poorly maintained properties that diminish the property values of the properties nearby. Also, shouldn't these working class families feel resentful as they themselves are barely above a minimum income line (and many would not seek aid even if eligible)--and these families struggle to maintain their heads above the water--while their neighbors receive Section 8? Maybe, I am just a little annoyed by literally hearing a sister jump up and down (without shame) in the supermarket last night upon receiving news on her cell phone that "her section 8 had come through."

3. What of the black respectable poor who are happy about and gratified by the chance to live in a nice, clean, safe neighborhood? And are eager to have a leg up? To have a chance to conform with these new community standards? How do we separate them from some who have internalized a culture of poverty (notice I didn't say economic poverty) and who wear their pathologies as a badge of honor, as opposed to working to overcome them?

4. Why is the middle class often made a villain in these stories? I know many middle and working class black and brown folk who are just as concerned about their property values, and norms of behavior in their communities as white folk? Where is their voice?

5. No, I am not a conservative. Yes, I think there are different norms of behavior across communities. Example: in the now Section 8, scattered site neighborhood that I grew up in, we have had real issues with community standards, i.e. when to put the garbage out on the street, why one doesn't fix their car in the yard, why loud parties and littering are not acceptable, why one shouldn't sit on their porch or that of their neighbors, etc., etc. etc. Is this classism, racism, or something else?

6. Again, where are the black and brown working class voices who roll their eyes and feel imperiled, rightly so, as their neighborhoods transition into something they cannot recognize, and for the worst, as the class composition of their communities changes?

7. Should we expect the black middle and upper class to act any differently, i.e. less self-interested than the white middle or upper class? To expect so, is that not itself "racist?"

8. Playing devil's advocate: We don't expect the white upper class, middle class, and striving working class to live with the white poor. Why should we expect this of black Americans? Why should we be surprised when the black middle and upper class want nothing to do with their poorer brethren?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Zora Says: Is Obama the End of Civil Rights Era Politics? I Hope So ...

The recent New York Times piece Is Obama the End of Black Politics? is titled inappropriately. It should have been called Is Obama the End of Civil Rights Era Politics? And to this I answer, I hope so.

With the achievements of civil rights era strategies and the untimely death of Dr. Martin Luther King, black folks got stuck in a rut. We got frozen in time. We continued looking to the same leaders, using the same strategies, pursuing the same goals, relying on the same coalitions, and making the same assumptions about white folks. We shouldn't blame ourselves completely for this, however. The powers that be figured out how to appropriate civil rights era language, strategies and leadership to support their own goals.

Those who have been anointed to speak for black Americans are almost universally from the civil rights era. They are the black leaders we look to for political endorsements. They are the black leaders who are selected to be the talking heads in the national media, to speak for black folks. They are also the black leaders who are increasingly out of step with most of Black America:

"[Congressman John] Lewis was in anguish over the primaries. He had endorsed his friend Hillary Clinton, but his constituents had gone heavily for Obama, and he was beginning to waver. As [James] Clyburn remembered it, Lewis told his old friend sadly that after all these years, they were finally going to see history yield to the forces they had unleashed. 'And I’m on the wrong side,' Lewis said.

Black folks are just as hungry for change as white folks are. To quote a voice that is all too often left out of the male-dominated, civil rights leadership, "We are sick and tired of being sick and tired."

If Black politics had been allowed to progress without the intervention of COINTELPRO, blacks and whites might all be further along than we are today. Just imagine if the seeds of the Black Power era had been really allowed to take root.

Black voices early on identified the danger of hitching our cart to someone else's horse. We can only progress so far relying on a relationship which is inherently based in an unequal distribution of power. Ultimately, it is this white patronage which has allowed the Democratic Party to take the Black vote for granted. It is what has kept elected, black leaders from calling the Clintons on their crap. The problem with civil rights era leaders is that they can no longer imagine a world without white patrons. It is truly sad to say (and my mother will probably pop me for this), but many of our civil rights era leaders have become "House Negroes": Miz Hilree, our house be burnin'!

Black Power voices understood the need to build coalitions with other people of color. Asian-Americans and Latinos were radicalized in part by the organization of Black Power activists. Rejecting the xenophobic rhetoric of the white mainstream, there was the understanding that people of color had more in common than not. Instead of building on this sentiment and expanding our circle of friends, our leadership led us to adopt more short-sighted, provincial perspectives. And now, we wonder why Latinos and Asian-Americans don't support African-American candidates in large numbers? Let's ask our leaders what they have done to engender their support. What have we done for them lately?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot before he could fully develop a class-based political platform. He was beginning to stir a powerful cocktail, mixing political rights with economic rights. Black Power leaders picked up the baton and made class a key component of their consciousness-raising efforts. They made basic claims to demands for education, health care, affordable housing and adequate food for all oppressed people, regardless of race. What was so radical about this? Oh yeah, it scared the white, middle-class and made them think that the U.S. was going to turn into the U.S.S.R. I'm sure that it also scared the black middle-class, the source of many civil rights era leaders. And so, the old guard jumped to distance themselves from "the radicals," from the Mao-Maos.

And, where are the voices of black women in all of this? Civil rights leaders and Black Power activists both got it wrong when they decided to exclude black women from the stage. Angela Davis and Elaine Brown found prominence almost in spite of their brothers. It is not surprising that in discussing "black politics," the New York Times did not include a quote from a single black woman. For all of the talk about Obama's "white mama," he has shown more affinity and respect for black women than most of our old guard leaders -- both self-appointed and elected. Andrew Young's old boy comment about Bill Clinton having "had" more black women than Obama still hurts me to the core.

My point here is not to compare Barack Obama to Eldrige Cleaver or to Huey P. Newton. For he certainly is not radical in that regard. What I do want to do is draw comparisons to the strains of criticism that have been leveled at "young upstarts" over the years. Obama is no Huey, but he is challenging the status quo of black politics. Leaders that found their voices in the civil rights era have developed a sense of entitlement: We set the pace and standard of Black politics. All of us need not have been beaten in Selma in order to be effective leaders. When will they decide to pass on the baton to a new generation? To begin serving as mentors to those other than their own children?

Once again, the old guard proves its own short-sightedness in criticizing Obama for not being Black enough, for not taking a stronger stand on "black issues." What are they thinking? Obama is running to be President of the United States, not to be an Oakland city councilman or a Washington, D.C. mayor. Don't they understand electoral politics? Are they that naive? Rather than believe that they are promoting trite notions of authenticity, I prefer to think that they are.

Unfortunately, Black politics is not coming to an end anytime soon. Politics is about the balance between the powerful and the powerless. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, black folks have yet to garner enough power as a whole to tilt that balance in our favor. Older, black leaders lament not the end of black politics, but simply an end to black politics as they have molded it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: Obama and the End of Black Politics--Is Black Politics Dead? Is an Obama Win a Pyrrhic Victory?

I tend to conceptualize problems in military terms (I think I watched too much of the History Channel and played too much chess as a child). It is this same inclination which attracted me to the study of politics and its emphasis on such concepts as conflict, opposition, struggle, resistance, and power.

For me, Black politics has been about a struggle, a battle for the full civic, social, political, and economic inclusion of Black Americans. Accordingly, our collective and historical war to these ends is often described as either the "Black Freedom Struggle" or as "Black Freedom Struggles." In reading the New York Time's piece, "Is Obama the End of Black Politics?" by Matt Bai one can only imagine how many edited volumes and dedicated journal issues will be produced on the topic. And to be honest, in thinking through the life and (possible) death of Black politics, I can't help but have a self interested moment of reflection where I ponder how many students of Black politics are simultaneously both excited by, and scared to death, about what an Obama victory could mean both for their research, as well as for the state of the discipline.

Is Black politics dead? Has Obama signaled the end of what we understand the Black political struggle to be? Is the Black political establishment, to the degree that there is one, publicly excited about the prospect of a Black president while being secretly terrified of what an Obama victory could represent? Is Black politics obsolete, or is it, and has it been for a long time, in a period of extended obsolescence, in the death throws of Black political demobilization? These are heady and exciting questions. Guess what? I just don't know. And if folks are being honest, they will likely tell you the same.

Again, is Black politics dead? The answer depends on how we define the end goal of Black politics. Here, the language of military science is profoundly helpful. As of late, my bedtime reading has consisted of the book, The Utility of Force by former NATO General Rupert Smith. This book focuses on how paradigm shifts impact military planning, and how technology, politics, the actors involved (nation-states, ngo's, terrorists, groups other than countries and armies), and the circumstances which govern how wars are fought (or not), have in the last few decades undergone a radical change.

As Smith details, there are some technologies which forever change how battles will be fought (airplanes for example). There are changes in the geopolitical order which change both how the ends of war are imagined, as well as what the goals of inter-state conflict are to be (the end of the Cold War; the War on Terror). A successful commander responds to all of these changes, looks forward, and innovates as he wins the current war and plans for the next.

General Smith highlights 2 useful distinctions for our thinking through of Black politics. First, the distinction between strategy and tactics. Amateurs and armchair generals often confuse the 2 (and almost always leave out the importance of logistics). Strategy is the big picture, the overall goal towards which you are working. It is the meta-level game. Tactics are the battles, the fights, the exchanges between individual men and their machines, and also between groups of these men and machines upwards to any scale--a metaphorical boxing match in which the stakes are life and death. Reconciling, what is the strategic goal of Black politics? If the strategic goal of Black politics is to elect a Black person as president, then an Obama victory may indeed mean the end of Black politics. If our only goal in the Black Freedom Struggle is to elect a Black person to office then we may indeed be nearing the end game.

What of the tactics deployed by Obama? Do they signal a shift from the past? Here, I would answer "yes." However, one must be careful and precise in this claim, as Obama is not in his accomplishments independent of the groundwork laid by NAACP, the Jesse Jacksons, the Urban Leagues, the indigenous Black political organizations, and what remains of the Black counter-public, to get him to this end. And frankly, one can understand the resentment and undisguised anger, the "I want to cut your nuts off moments," that the old guard must be feeling. In the boxing match, the tactical level engagement, Obama won battles which these "old soldiers" would not have been able to. Obama, the "next generation warrior" deployed a touch of post-racial politics, maneuvered his forces more nimbly than Clinton, and positioned himself into and through a set of different tactical postures than a Civil Rights era politician could (or would have been able to). Ultimately, Obama is a product of a particular moment and time. As a biracial, ethnic, "Black" man, Obama is able to engage in battle in a manner much more suitable to the "color-blind" political battlespace of the present than his Civil Rights era compatriots. Here, in this moment, the terrain of struggle may be more appropriate for Obama, with his lightening strikes, feints, and unorthodox approaches, than for the Civil Rights era leadership and their slow, plodding, offensive schemas.

If we complicate the goal of what a 21st century Black politics is and could be, we should also creatively modify the strategic goals to include both Black representation, as well as the improvement of Black life chances. If we broaden the goals, or recast this as the working definition of Black politics, then how does an Obama victory speak to its current or future state?

An Obama victory does not necessarily speak to his ability to reorient policy, to redirect resources, or to radically improve the life chances of the average Black American. Obama's victory, while significant, is a symbolic victory, one that is valuable, but in isolation is not empowering. Moreover, while an Obama victory may signal a sea change in how we imagine the limits of Black public life, it will likely not impact the day to day lives of the rank and file in the African American community. Obama, with a swipe of the pen, will not be able to revitalize Black communities, launch a broad initiative against poverty, correct a corrupt criminal justice system, or re-energize moribund and under-performing inner city public school systems. He could, but America, Black, White, and Brown has neither the political will, nor the resources.

Returning again to the Black Freedom Struggle, an Obama victory in this redefined Black politics is closer to being an operational victory which changes the strategic complexion of the war. This is our D-Day, a massive operation that has secured a beachhead which we can use as a jumping off point to move forward in the war. It is a monumental accomplishment, but it is not the end of the campaign.

General Smith's second point, one which is strikingly relevant to Matt Bai's piece, is the difference between war and conflict. Wars are sustained engagements, the sum total of battles--a continual state of conflict towards some strategic goal. By comparison, battles are "merely" skirmishes. Conflicts are moments of battles, perhaps more than one, but don't necessarily, and usually do not, lead to open war. Applying this conceptual framework, the Black Freedom Struggle is a War, one which has been going on for several hundred years in America and across the Diaspora against the Racial State. For some, this language is uncomfortable (the anxiety producing allusions to "race war" and the like), but "war" is the most appropriate phrase because the struggle for Black political empowerment has been one battle after another, in a sustained conflict, on multiple fronts towards a strategic goal.

But we must ask: what has been the strategic goal of the Black Freedom Struggle? Has it been an aimless series of battles, wandering and meandering from one to the next conducted by an army which has been leaderless since the victory of the Civil Rights Moment? Notice the phrasing: I use "moment" because this was an operational victory that did not signal the end of the War--as many, some Black, and many in White America, believed/and desired it to be the ultimate end of racial conflict, the final salve on America's great dilemma.

My worry is that in the rush to simultaneously announce the death of Black politics, and to crown Obama as the herald for a post-racial politics, or perhaps more benignly, a "new" Black politics, that many pundits, citizens, and advocates have forgotten that war is a state of struggle between (at least) two opposing forces. If the enemy of Black politics, of the Black Freedom Struggle, is indeed the "colorblind," neo-liberal, reactionary, racial politics embodied by the Right and the Republican Party, then how will they respond? How do they plan to resist? Do they plan a guerrilla war? Or, and given how malleable and changing the American Racial regime has been, will they concede this battle in order to win the bigger war?

Returning to the perennial example of the Civil Rights Movement, the racial establishment conceded a victory in order to maintain its racial order. However, the world was not radically changed, or more precisely, America was not changed as radically as one would like to believe by that singular step towards a more inclusive racial democracy. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the symbolic and material gains embodied by, and made possible through, the Civil Rights Movement were more of a victory for "the system" and its stability than they were for Black America. What happens to Black politics, or more generally to progressive or Left politics (they are not the same) if the Right has chosen to resist on this battlefield all the while preparing an unexpected offensive in another theater of war?

Black politics is not dead. But, the remaining soldiers and generals in the Black Freedom struggle (those erstwhile race men and race women still in the struggle) must be perpetually vigilant of the possibility that Obama's election could be one so costly, where so much was invested, so many resources spent, so much time and material expended, that the victory was not worth the cost.

Let me play provocateur and Devil's Advocate: Is Obama's victory a Pyrrhic one? Is it our Verdun?

Or our Battle of the Chosin Reservoir?

Is an Obama victory akin to the Zulu's defeat of the British? A victory which required that the King of the Zulus to deploy half of the entire male population in one battle, only to see a significant number killed in exchange for what was only a tactical victory?

Or is an Obama victory a homecoming, an anointment of a brave new world?

Could it perhaps be both?