Monday, February 9, 2009
One of the things I've learned from this project is that neither Blacks nor Jews are great with deadlines.
So I'm granting a few extensions--C&G will be running for a few more days. Keep your noses open.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Maybe I'm horribly naive, but I've never seen Black/Jewish relations as optional, largely symbolic, or defined solely by Crown Heights. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about "Jews were the Blacks of Eastern Europe," or "Blacks identify with the ancient Israelites, so THERE!" About the most shared identity I'll cop to is the following, written in response to Chauncey's opening salvo: "Blacks and Jews have stayed Black and Jewish in ways that the Irish and Italians haven't, and the story of Asian isn't (however unfairly) front and center in the story of this country."
Then again, the African-American experience and Jewish-American experience are so radically different, I don't even know if that similarity is anything more than a curiosity. As far as cultural narratives go, they're almost polar opposites: Jews came to America as a solution to their problems and now run the country (on the low); Blacks didn't get a say in their relocation, and have had every institution in the land conspiring against them ever since. One of their own is now the very conspicuous leader of the free world, and yet this one exceptional man is, well, the exception that proves the rule of day-to-day inequality. Not to mention that, as long as they're never asked to state their last name or reveal their privates, most every Jew can move through life like he was any other white person.
If Jews and Blacks aren't the same, then why talk? Because in addition to the indifference and acrimony, there's an affinity, a sense of having worked together well at times that have helped each define its contribution to American culture. History's no accident if it yields something worthwhile.
Most people—well, most Boomer Jews—who hold this view would point to Civil Rights, specifically the hopeful, integrated, idealistic movement that took to the South in the mid-1960's. When I tried my hand at writing pro-Obama letters to Jewish papers in Florida, I'd immediately point to the important bond formed between us at this crucial moment in history. But really, I know better than that. I'm not so sure Civil Rights really created a bridge between peoples, since only a few years later, a more radical, identity-conscious movement rejected this alliance. The bitterness some older Jews feel about the schism that emerged in the late 1960's are read by Blacks of the same generation as arrogance or condescension; the fact that the state of Black/Jewish relations has for the past 20 years been hung up on Farrakhan and Hasids is particularly sad, since it turns fringe elements into spokesmen for the two groups.
All of which brings me to the email from Gordon that started it all. I don't think it's by accident that it included the following line: "a series of collaborative blog posts exploring Black-Jewish relations from the perspective of left-leaning 30(ish)somethings whose formative years were informed by rap and sports." I'm sure everyone reading this knows that (pre-Obama), too many whites, including Jews, were most familiar with, or at least interested in, Blacks as athletes and entertainers. At the same time, too many young Blacks saw the NBA or a record deal as their only path to success. I can speak with anecdotal certainty in asserting that young Jews are more likely than other white people to develop a strong interest in Black music or or a more nuanced appreciation of sports. Like, in an all-consuming way.
Presumably, this just makes us the worst of all the appropriators and exploiters. The problem with Lou Reed's "I Wanna Be Black" isn't that it's inherently offensive, but that we can't ever fully believe that Lou Reed doesn't mean it. Less pointedly, it backs up Dr. LIC's theory that Jews are forever aspiring to a stereotypical Black form of "cool". On the other hand, if you comb through the annals of (Black) entertainment and sports, you'll also find a disproportionate number of Jews actually involved in some way. Were they driven to this role by some fetishitic urge? Or does their presence throughout history testify to a real collaboration, one that, if not readily explicable or always apparent, has left a lasting stamp on America without subsequently falling apart at the seams.
The ugliest form of this partnership is the money-grubbing agents, or "kosher lawyers." But in music, there are key figures—if almost always behind the scenes—like Jerry Wexler, Rick Rubin, Benny Goodman, Lou Adler, Lyor Cohen, David Axelrod, Lieber and Stoller, and yes, Phil Spector. Sam Cooke wrote "A Change Is Gonna Come" after hearing Dylan's "The Times They Are 'A Changin'", albeit because he felt it should be African-Americans writing this kind of anthem. The Beastie Boys, whatever their flaws, brought hip-hop to the pop mainstream. In sports, Jews once owned the sport of basketball, and then legendary coaches like Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, and Larry Brown cast a long shadow over the game as it became identified with African-Americans. Granted, this was often an unequal partnership. Even if the Jews weren't outright shady, they still occupied the position of power. Then again, as Gordon pointed out, how many people did James Brown swindle? And what, if anything, do we make of the strange saga of Bob Johnson?
If you outright reject placing too much, or any, significance on pop culture, then this relationship is all but meaningless. However, if you feel that these forms of production are never just about making a buck, or doing what comes naturally in front of an audience, then there's a connection there that was around before Civil Rights and outlasted its fragmentation. Sports and music should never be the extent of America. Nor do they have the gravity of a voter registration drive. But they're an important part of former, and were never completely unrelated to the latter. Besides, the impetus for this project was our shared interest in sports and hip-hop, which is at least a vestiginal trace of this relationship. And while this isn't a reason for instant familiarity between the two groups, it's at least a start. Not a common heritage, but two sides of one history.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Of the countless factors that explain my early dissociation from any sort of Jewish identity—from being one of three-and-a-half Jews in my high school, to the constantly weird goings-on with my congregation’s rabbis (everything from megalomania, to sex scandal to one of the temporary rabbis engaging in fisticuffs with a student), to forced viewings of Molly’s Pilgrim during Sunday School, to congregational “retreats” to a dismal camp area in northern Minnesota where my peers would disquiet the night with racist jokes and gay innuendo, to a Hebrew school teacher who once accused me from cheating on a test of the Hebrew alphabet(!)—one of the most underrated issues was my lack of exposure to extrafamilial positive Jewish role models.
Sure I was aware of crumpled old males like Elie Wiesel and Victor Frankl, as well as obligatory syllabus inclusion, Anne Frank. But it wasn’t until college that I started to realize that pretty much everyone I gave a shit about was Jewish: Daniel Kahneman, the Coen Brothers, Red Auerbach, Mel Brooks, MC Serch. It was unbelievable. I felt like I had stumbled on a gold mine of self-affirmation. The feeling of surprise I experienced at this awakening I believe stems directly from my previous exposure only to the stereotype of the American Jew: physically Woody Allen, mentally Harold Ramis’ Egon, and, in terms of sexual magnetism, Ben Stein teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The archetypal American Jew to me was—and still is—paradigmatically uncool.
Imagine my surprise when I found out about James Caan, Henry Winkler, and Gene Simmons. Imagine when I found out that we are essentially the Rahm Emanuels of LIFE. That our sandwiches and our guns kill people. That, as my close friend once told me, stuff-white-people-like doesn’t apply to us. These days I am [culturally] proud as hell. Learning of those great semitic icons later in life and all of the perks that come with being Jewish, however, does nothing to change the fact that entering the world as a Jew means entering it as a nerd.
Now I ask you this. What is a ying supposed to do, but seek out its yang? And if the American Jew is the paradigmatic nerd, then the obvious question with an even more obvious answer is what constitutes paradigmatic cool: Miles Davis slam dunking the ball on a Klansmember’s head of course! I’m sure there are one thousand some odd dissertations written on this very notion, so I need not go into depth like I did on the Jewish side of things, but—and I want to remind everyone that we’re dealing strictly with the stereotype here—American blackness is as close to unmistakable cool as you can get this side of age 18. And to a certain degree I personally sought to attain that cool.
By age 11, I had completely connected to Motown and hip-hop (which I would have done regardless of my religion). In my tweener years, I wore a Cuban X Giants baseball school, rented every Blaxploitation movie in Blockbuster, and read Soul on Ice. I should stop you right there and note that this type of cultural consumption was done rather tastefully and as privately as I could. I was attracted to non-Black signifiers of cool (e.g. Kurt Cobain, an Armani shirt) to an equal degree and in no way was some caricatured wannabe. In fact, my entire ‘attentiveness’ to black culture only reinforced the notion that I was not black, and should therefore not attempt to ‘act black.’ Point being, I think what I went through around puberty is a fairly typical process for the Young Jew to go through: seeking “coolness” through at least one ethnic identity primarily responsible for the “cool pose” in the first place.
Think about all the major white hip-hop figures, from 3rd Bass, to the Beastie Boys, to Lyor Cohen, to Rick Rubin, to El-P and Aesop Rock, to Mark Ronson. And those are just some of the few who have operated tactfully in this sphere. Now think of all the Adam Mansbach-looking white guiltified schmos who keep trying with embarrassing results. Now think about the curious case of Andy Samberg, who amazingly has made the only humorous parody rap video in the history of parody rap videos…
When I watch “Lazy Sunday,” as when watching the videos from Samberg’s previous comedy trio, The Lonely Island, it seems apparent that at one time Samberg possibly entertained the thought of rapping for real. He probably has some discarded notebooks somewhere with some halfway decent rhymes written on them. And one day, he decided, you know what, I can’t do this, this isn’t me. While I appreciate Samberg’s self-honesty, it is this stunted attempt at achieving cool that allows the Jew-geek stereotype to persist. Another thought for another day…
Now, having never been an African American myself, I’m asking you to brace for some serious armchair sociology, as I postulate that the Jew/Black exchange is bidirectional. We have something they want as well. Of course it’s easy to cherrypick examples, from Sammy Davis Jr. to Rod Carew to Shyne and Boyz II Men, to Rastafarianism’s reappropriation of the old testament, to Raekwon shouting out Meyer Lansky, Ghostface criminally implicating “Big hatted Jews out in Crown Heights,” and Chris Rock paying homage to Don Rickles. But I think I can hone in on something specific that African Americans seek: Anti-Cool. The exact attribute I referenced earlier signifies some odd sort of appealing status and makes the Jewish-Black relationship truly symbiotic.
Consider former legendary coked-out Knicks star and CBA coach Micheal Ray Richardson who bragged that he had some “big time Jewish lawyers” working for him and observed, “If you look at a lot of most successful corporations and stuff, more businesses, they're run by Jewish. It's not a knock, but they are some crafty people.”
Consider The Wire’s Maurice Levy who was the only character universally respected by the Barksdales, Stringer Bell, and Marlo Stanfield.
Consider Cam’ron’s decision to title his DVD, “Here’s Cam’ron (You Little Yentas), accompanied by a warning cry of “Killa Season again, you little yentas!!!…Cam’ron is anonymous. Dipset!” When Cam’ron was asked if he knew what a yenta was, he responded, “Hahaha, of course! You know my lawyers are Jewish, they be saying that all the time. So then I was watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Larry David—I fucks with Larry—he called Ted Danson a ‘yenta.’ Yo, I fell out laughing. That shit was crazy. I said, that’s exactly what all these folks are doin’, gossiping about me. Yentas. That’s where the ‘Cam’ron is anonymous’ came from too. Did you see that episode? That’s my shit. You have HBO On Demand? Its episode 52….”
Consider Mars Blackmon/Mookie’s debt to Woody Allen’s charismatic New York geekwad characters who always get the girl.
Consider Nas’ claim that “Halle Berry blew [him] a kiss at the Barbara Streisand concert. It’s almost as if Streisand’s massive lameness that signifies status.
[pause as I go in for the last paragraph which owes a lot to a conversation with Shoals]
And it is this specific lameness (as well as the unawareness of this lameness), the anti-cool that Judaism affords, that African Americans may in fact prize. The mucosal phonics of Yiddish, the “craftiness” of kibbitzing laywers, and the balding scalp of Larry David, these are somehow sought-after attributes that at once reject WASPiness, and relieve one from the obligation of ‘holding it down’ for one’s eternally swag-ful race. For as much press as Obama’s “cool” got him (41 million more Google hits than searching for: ‘McCain’ ‘angry’), it had to be relieving seeing those photos of him with the bike helmet and too-high dad jeans. It had to be calming to read about his comic book lust and his Blackberry obsession. I guess in the end we both embrace outsider status, and can only truly attain it—if we don’t try too hard—through a little culture-swapping.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Chauncey DeVega says: In Regards to This Black Jewish Thing I Am Mighty Confused--Or WASPY Jewish Folks in My High School Who were Whiter than White
In regards to Gordon, I would share my anecdotes, and my response that perhaps being a product of the Tri-state area (Connecticut; New York; New Jersey...the cradle of civilization) I don't see a strict divide behind Jewish folk and White ethnics at large because to me the former are just Italians from another part of the world. This could also be a function of those long, hot racially charged summers of the early 1990s in New York where I would listen to Public Enemy and go to Crown Heights. It was also a time when I was becoming increasingly politicized, and would encounter open hostility from Hasidic Jews--as well as the shared mutual animosity between Blacks and that latter group in the City. I didn't feel friendship or even progressive, leftist, or minimal center-left empathy or sympathy in those encounters. Rather, I saw White (and other) ethnic hostility towards Black Americans, my people, whose arrival predated the great waves of European immigration from groups who were no more than a few years rooted in this country. I have never forgotten the hypocrisy and/or absurdity of those interactions where black citizenship, belonging, and personhood were questioned by those relatively new arrivals.
But, Gordon convinced me that my stories of W.A.S.P. status desiring Jewish folk, and my interactions with them, are entertaining and revealing of some deeper truth. I trust his judgment, so I will eagerly share.
In my little corner of the world, as a teenager who was one part Colin Powell and one part Prince (the camouflage when combined with purple velvet did go a long way with the ladies), I attended a High School where the Jewish kids were the most WASP-like--meaning more desirous of a normalized, elite, invisible Whiteness than the other White students with whom I went to school.
It was really an interesting schism. The Jewish students in my High School had their own fraternities and sororities. They had their own parties. They lived on the North side of town, i.e. the "good" part of town. They, as a function of class privilege, and maybe a sense of their tenuous hold on Whiteness wanted nothing to do with the Black or Hispanic kids in the school. No, it wasn't because on divergent interests, or "culture" or "class" per se. In hindsight, and as I have learned more about Whiteness and the (white, as we can't forget the Ethiopians and others) Jewish community's relatively recent, but now secure hold on that racial identity in this country, it seems those young people knew to be close to us was to be far from the goal they imagined for themselves.
Ironically, on matters of politics, these same students who also belonged to a proto-politically Zionist group by the name of Exodus--Zionist as in political Zionism not religious Zionism (my distaste for religion in all forms is well documented on this site, but I do offer that qualification) would reflexively defend the state of Israel and all of her deeds (both good and bad) with the requisite amount of militant guilt and quickness reserved for many in American Jewry. On cue, they would recite the mantras that 1) "the land was empty and we made it bloom" and 2) "any criticism of Israel is by definition Antisemitism."
For me, the rough parallel I draw is between those middle and upper class Negroes who have moved out of the 'hood but passionately portray a certain type of hip hop, minstrel, ghetto underclass blackness as a compensation for insecurities about identity and "authenticity." Like that particular cadre of young folk among the Black upper class, some of American Jewry try to out-radicalize the radicals.
In much the same fashion, if you were to ask these kind of conveniently Jewish students about their racial identity, the obligatory and narrow, "Who or what are you question?" i.e. the "What race are you?" they would almost always respond "White." But, if this ethnicized identity was threatened it would activate and they would reflexively become "Jewish."
I didn't have the language to describe the dynamic at the time. Now I see a parallel: this activation of identity mirrored the White, conservative, reactionary backlash that awaited the incremental gains of the Black Civil Rights Movement. Here, White racial resentment was activated as a knee jerk reaction to a sense of black progress and White insecurity. Ethnicity doesn't necessarily matter per se, until White ethnicity is threatened, or can be leveraged, in the face of Black progress. In my part of the world, WASP-Jewish identity seemed to function according to this model.
To conclude: I offer three stories which may or may not speak to the dynamics of a working class Connecticut Negro's experience with this Black-Jewish stuff--
1. I was never called a nigger to my face by poor white trash. Yes, they uttered it, but they knew better than to say it. The only time I was ever called a nigger was by one of the Waspy Jewish kids in my elementary school. Interestingly, he would later go on to be the president of our High School Jewish fraternity. We were in sixth grade and my "playmate" Jeremy called me a nigger. Now, respectable negroes certainly know that standing order number one in these circumstances, our prime directive, is to unleash a can of whoop ass on said offender--which I diligently proceeded to do.
The substitute teacher called us over and demanded an explanation. With great pride I explained what I did and why--without apologies. She was shocked and threatened to send me to the principal, to which I replied, "that was an agreeable solution as my parents told me that my self-respect could not be negotiated." The teacher was shocked. Upon reflection, she offered that instead of hitting Jeremy again, that a compromise was in order. I asked, "what compromise?" Her reply: "call him a kike as that would make things equal." I replied, "No, that is wrong and I don't think that is exactly the same anything and that those words are wrong and hurtful and people shouldn't talk that way to each other." She encouraged me. I said, "no!" Once more, much dejected, she surrendered and made Jeremy apologize. And no, I did not accept his peace offering.
2. In college, while I was in my early Black Nationalist phase, Norman Finkelstein came to deliver a speech. I was enthralled with the presentation and his intellectual sharpness. Innocently, after listening to his discussion of Israel as a Racial State and the hypocrisy of Black leadership in this regard, I asked how did he explain Cornel West's then recent work on Black-Jewish relationships and his endorsement of Israel's right to exist and its then expanding settlement program. Finkelstein, in classic, sharp, provocative prose (and in front of a a group of protesters from the ADL) replied, "that is easy, Cornel West is at Princeton and he is a whore for the Jews." Bombs exploded, people yelled, and I sat down.
3. I love women of all colors, hues, ethnicities, and races. I have my eyes affixed on a Black queen now, but I can't forget my past. Truly, there are days when I reflect on my adventures and I realize that I am Dr. King's dream come true (extra points if you get the joke). But, I do have two particularly great crushes in my life (besides of course the standard tripartite obsession of Sarita Choudry, Rosario Dawson, and Lucy Liu).
In High School there were two Jewish sisters I was enthralled with. The first was Sandra Bernhard. Lord, she was the stuff of fantasy. So sexy was she that I awoke many a night humping the bed Ghostface style aroused by her lesbian scene on the television show Roseanne.
The second object of my desire was more attainable but equally impossible to possess. In High School, a young woman came of age by the name of Taryn Chorney. I had no game at the time, and could only imagine having the courage to ask her out. She was utterly beautiful and charming: imagine a "Jewish" Eastern-Europeanesque Lisa Bonet from Angel Heart. Taryn was that kind of sexy. Effortless, intelligent, and sensual. Years later, I would see her at the popular late night diner in town, I am not crazy, and my instincts (then much refined) sensed an opening, but I reverted back to being the insecure Prince-Colin Powell of my High School years. Ultimately, the Black-Jewish divide kept us apart because I could not envision a scenario where mutual attraction overcame parental disapproval.
Maybe Gordon, with his grand experiment, can give me some advice about how to close that gap?
Monday, February 2, 2009
This week, we are respectable negroes will be home to a series of posts about Black-Jewish relations. I’ve enlisted the help of some of my favorite bloggers on politics, hip hop, and sports—all of them heavy hitters, and all of them either Jewish or black.
On the chosen team, there’s some of the downest Jewish folks DrLawyerIndianChief and Bethlehem Shoals from free darko, the juggernaut basketball/theory site from which an incredible book was recently published; Rafi Kam, ½ of the iNternets Celebrities and proprietor of oh word, the greatest hip hop and media blog in existence; and, hopefully, a word or two from others.
Holding it down for the negroes will be me, Chauncey, and that brilliant writer and negro double agent The Assimilated Negro.
I’m calling this week’s event the Chitlins and Gefilte Fish Project.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Geek Analogies--Barack Obama is to Superman as Michael Steele is to John Henry Irons
Barack Obama is a self-confessed geek. For ghetto nerds such as myself, this is another signal that we have finally arrived at the promised land as a people--a summer filled with great movies such as Batman and Iron Man, and now a Black president who reads Conan and appears in Spiderman comic books.
President Obama, has also packaged himself as a super man for our perilous times. He is part Abraham Lincoln, part superhero. In a tight parallel, this fits neatly with the Superman comic and film mythos as Clark Kent/Kal-El's story was also a thinly veiled messianic narrative (boy falls from the heavens; raised by parents who find him abandoned in the wilderness; he demonstrates superhuman abilities).
It seems that the Republicans are trying to find their own Superman to resurrect a party that is in disarray and quickly sliding towards irrelevance. The GOP's solution? Michael Steele, the first black RNC chairman--their Superman...their Barack Obama.
Ironically, Steele fits perfectly into the Superman mythology. If you recall, in one of the first comic book "events" of the 1990s, Superman was "killed" by a powerful alien named Doomsday. In the vacuum created because of Superman's absence, other superheroes, none with either the gifts or talents of THE Superman, attempted to fill the void as humanity's protector.
One of the most prominent of these well-intentioned, but otherwise incompetent superheroes, was a black man by the name of John Henry Irons. He was a gifted engineer and weapons designer, but utterly mortal. John Henry Irons fits the mold of Iron Man in that his heroism and powers are amplified and made possible by technology. Don't misunderstand. John Henry Irons was groundbreaking as an African American superhero--a role made more exciting given the symbolic value of his donning the title "Man of Steel."
Even more fitting to the political theater and keystone cops comedic drama that is the GOP at present as it nominates a Black man as Chair, while the actual head of the party is a bloviating, former drug addict, bigot, named Rush Limbaugh, is the other, more often forgotten version of the John Henry Irons character. Who is this you ask?
Shaquille O'Neal! In one of his first movie roles, Shaq who would later release the magnum opus Kazaam, took on the role of John Henry Irons in the movie Steel. Shaq's version of this superhero was a weapons designer for the Army. Kicked out of the service, Shaq did not have access to a high technology weapons laboratory to create his powered battle suit. In a manner quite fitting for the quality of this movie and Shaq's acting, he made his suit from parts culled from the local junkyard (maybe Fred Sanford was consulting?) Without the help of a staff of designers and engineers, Shaq's version of John Henry Irons utilized the talents of a wheelchair bound tinkerer and her elderly companion/guardian:
Sad. So very sad.
In the same way that John Henry Irons aka Steel was no Superman, Michael Steele, GOP knockoff, the Republican's Black savior, has neither the gifts nor talents of Barack Obama.
John Steele, if he is not careful, will like Shaquille O'Neal in the acting world, be the laughing stock of the 2009 political season.
Ultimately, if Barack Obama is the Optimus Prime of our generation, Michael Steele is just a Gobot.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Social Science Research that Matters--First Names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble? or Ghetto Names Will Get You Put In Jail
I love social science research that matters. Moreover, I love social science that allows me to imagine the researchers twisting their collective mustaches, having a laugh, and finding a way to use data driven quantitative approaches to have a joke at the expense of a given group.
Thus, the genesis for David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee's article "First Names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble?" Alternatively, the article (which appeared in the Social Science Quarterly) could actually be entitled, "Are Ghetto Names Correlated With Making Poor Life Choices and Ending Up in Jail?"
Let the firestorm begin. I am a self-professed expert on ign't culture, and have taken the ghetto name phenomenon in stride. Thus, my relative indifference to the obvious connections between structural disadvantage, social capital, and ign't naming practices. But, this piece is too juicy a bit of bait to resist. A suggestion: as you read the following excerpts substitute "ghetto" for "unpopular..."
Some choice excerpts from the article:
1. Objective. "We investigate the relationship between ﬁrst name popularity and juvenile delinquency to test the hypothesis that unpopular names are positively correlated with crime. Conclusions. Unpopular names are likely not the cause of crime but correlated with factors that increase the tendency toward juvenile delinquency, such as a disadvantaged home environment and residence in a county with low socioeconomic status."
2. "However, none of the studies investigated the possibility of a correlation between names and crime. To the best of our knowledge, Figlio (2007) is the only research that studies the relationship between names and disruptive behavior. He ﬁnds that, especially for blacks, boys with names commonly given to girls are more likely to be suspended from school."
3. "For example, if people with unpopular names in the population are more likely to have criminal histories, employers, renters, and others may avoid transacting with these applicants a statistical discrimination explanation. This study also has potential implications for identifying youths who may engage in disruptive behavior or relapse into criminal behavior."
4. "We add to the literature on ﬁrst names by ﬁnding, regardless of race, a positive correlation between unpopular ﬁrst names and juvenile delinquency."
5. "We show that unpopular names are associated with juveniles who live in nontraditional households, such as female headed households or households without two parents. In addition, juvenile delinquents with unpopular names are more likely to reside in counties with lower socioeconomic status."
6. "Gyimah-Brempongand Price (2006), for example, use the Scrabble score of a person’s ﬁrst name as a tangential explanatory variable (their key independent variables measure skin hue) in regressions trying to explain age at incarceration and length of sentence. In the majority of their speciﬁcations, a higher Scrabble score is associated with either an increased hazard of criminal activity or a longer sentence."
Some questions and thoughts:
1. Is this piss poor social science research? Or is this groundbreaking and valuable work?
2. Is it the chicken or the egg? What came first? Ghetto underclass behavior and criminality or the ghetto name? Is this correlation or causation?
3. What about poor white trash? How do the names common to Appalachia or the "Meth Belt"--the new "Bible Belt"--fit into this model?
4. What of outliers? I know a great many people with "unpopular," "unconventional," or "ghetto" names who are attorneys, doctors, professors and the like. Or are they exceptions to the rule? Should we instead focus on the meaty part of the distribution?
5. The popularity of names change over time. For example, names like Esther, Gertrude, Birtha, and Pearl were common in the 1900s but are relatively uncommon at present. How does the dynamic nature of naming practices fit into this story? And, what is a "black" name anyway? Anticipating the answer: please, don't introduce that black creative naming practice mess as a valid response.
6. We know that names influence both life choices and life chances. A study by researchers at the University of Chicago demonstrated that those with "black" names, even with superior credentials such as an MBA, suffered hiring discrimination when competing with White job applicants who were felons. More generally, names impact career choices, thus the over-representation of people with the last name "Law" in the legal profession. Being provocative, is it unethical to give a child an unpopular name? Is it even more unethical to give a Black child a "ghetto name" in a society where said child already has to contend with racism?
7. Related thought: if names influence life choices, are those young black men with "ghetto names" more likely to be athletes or hip hop artists? More importantly, are they more likely to see those careers as their destinies and a natural fit for their life trajectories?
8. Here is a complication. Can we assume a universal standard for "normal" or "popular names?" What if in a given community the "ghetto name" is the most popular and most normal name? Those children then have a type of local social capital and prestige (especially if the name is really "unique"). In this scenario those people with "normal" names, i.e. the John's, Mike's, and Robert's of the world are picked on for being different. Does this latter group then go on to commit more crime because of the damage to their self-esteem? Or do they get the hell out of their ign't community and use their "name advantage" to move up in the world?
9. Additional thought, does all this conversation about "ghetto" and "normal" names really make you think about how there may really be two nations in this country, separate, hostile, and unequal? More frightening, that there are some communities where you can have local social capital, but none of that social capital transfers outside of a five block radius?
10. How do ethnically specific or religiously specific names factor into this story? How does a history changing moment impact naming practices? On this point, one can only imagine the plague of little Obama's we will see in a few years...most of whom will never reach achieve a tenth of the great accomplishments of their namesake.
11. You have to laugh at the Scrabble Score Index. I guess our favorite car stealing ign't youth Latarian Milton is in real trouble!
12. What is your best/worst or most interesting "unusual," "unpopular," or "ghetto" name story? I have several. One would be Gordon's tale about seeing a young woman on the bus with the name "Fellatia" (the feminine version of fellatio I guess) emblazoned on the back of her track jacket. Mine would be either a young student I taught several years ago who happened to be from a lower socioeconomic background. What was her name? It was "Supreme Court"-her parents were thinking ahead. A close tie would a young boy I tutored in a reading program whose name was Yvonne. What is so interesting about the name Yvonne? It was pronounced "Why-von-ee."
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Anti-Barack Obama Threat Pyramid Part 2: The "Principled Opposition" of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity et al.
In our first installment of this series, we analyzed the top of the Anti-Obama threat pyramid. In this second piece, we move down the pyramid to the "principled" opposition--a mid-level threat more common than the most dangerous grouping at the top of the pyramid. However, these bloviating conservatives are toxic to the public discourse because they hide behind a veneer of "respectability" and the shield provided by free speech. Moreover, the mid-level of the Anti-Obama threat pyramid is to be watched closely because their access to the popular media (and the audiences Rush Limbaugh and others command) represent the potential for a broader danger across the spectrum of possible threats in our battlespace.
In the following piece, guest blogger Buhbajangal takes on this issue by exploring the politics of blackness and black authenticity as inspired by Ann Coulter's recent performance/appearance on the television show the View.
There were some valuable responses from the panel: something to do with the acknowledgment of said racial category being based on how these individuals are perceived in the world. Simply put: When people see them, they see Black people. The perceivers react accordingly—envision the same clutching of purses that happens to darker skinned Black people, imagine the same must to prove one’s qualifications in academic/professional settings, or sadly, the same got-to-act-the-fool-ness to prove you truly are Black enough. Of course, I thought Whoopi’s response (smirk—“I think that [Coulter’s view] is bulls… I think that’s bull!”) was…priceless!
But the mention of this line of thought (if you can call this stuff Ann Coulter does “thinking”) brought my friend and me to our own: Obama is suddenly not as Black (to White America) as he was. Or Black at all. Though what drives us globally to laud his election victory is that he is to be the first African American President, well, suddenly he isn’t! What?
There I was thinking about Blackness. What is Black? Who is Black?
We all know that back in the day in the United States it was if you had even one drop of Black blood… Even if you had lived your whole life as white and someday someone found out you had a Black relative somewhere in your family tree…BLACK! No matter how far back…BLACK! You can, by this logic, undo whiteness but you can never return from being Black, never cease to be Black. Until now. You remember how we used to say “There are only two things I have to do: Stay Black and die!”? Not anymore? Not if you get a lot of fame and/money or become President of the United States? (When did I up and move to Brazil?)
I was on my end of the phone saying that I think the Obamas’s Blackness cannot be denied. Somewhere I read that Barack Obama referred to his wife as “the most quintessentially American woman” he knows. I am going to say that she is quintessentially Black. I declare THEY are quintessentially Black.
Honestly, as a Black woman, the moment I first encountered
Barack Obama, I thought, Nice! But I was cautiously optimistic.
(Yes, I was readying to conduct the “how Black-identified is he?” test.) I know that all too often Black men achieve some level of success and they find a not Black woman. (Harold Ford Jr.!) Sometimes they find a not-Black-enough woman. (You know what I mean: She’s so light-skinned you have to ask and she likes it that you ask. She doesn’t want anyone assuming.) So I was left with the mix of not sure if to be happy or grieved. Then out came Michelle Obama—undeniably Black to the human eye. Then the public learned more about who she is—daughter of working class African Americans who emphasized education, excellence, family, oh, and education. That’s Black!
You know I think back to my mother’s and her parents’ generations and how the drive was always towards schooling—the best schooling. Even if they couldn’t or didn’t have it, they wanted it for us. We had Black people who fought for their children to be bussed to better schools because they believed that’s where it was at—access to an equal quality of education and everything else would fall into place. When white folks could see that we are the same sort of intellectual and moral creatures that they are, well, they had to treat us right. People risked life and limb for some book learning. Look, even when it was a mortal crime to learn something Black people found a way.
Black: parents living in the same household—mother and father—working sunup to sundown (and sometimes beyond) to provide for their children whose only job was to study hard. Black: parents and GRANDPARENTS tending to, guiding the children. Black: making you take all kinds of lessons (piano lessons, dance class, swimming lessons)! Black: making you say all kinds of “Yes, please” and “Thank you.” Black, Black, Black.
Look now, I did say I am a person of a certain age, but is it only me who remembers these as definition of Blackness?
But the issue is not Michelle Obama’s Blackness now. It’s his. So I say, “He’s a different, other, still-connected-to kind of Black. A postmodern kind of Black. A kind of Black that young people, people younger than I am, can relate to.” (Because to be Black is not just one thing any more than to be white, Asian, or Latino is to be just one.) Black: single mother trying to instill all that do-the-right-thing-via-education notion. Black: rising to the top even in the willful absence of a father. Black: grandparents doing the bulk of the providing for and child rearing in the face of a mother’s need to work. Black: deciding to marry your partner before you have some children (because you are not going to be like your father). Black: sticking around to raise said children. Black, Black, Black. (Now, do you see the intersection with and re-development of the first group of Black people?)
Family first is Black. Taking care of your responsibilities—i.e., the community—is Black. Speaking Standard English is Black. Keeping your cool in the face of some real bullshit is Black!
Society has to be careful with the kind of talk that Coulter and her sort are promulgating. By their reasoning (I use this word loosely here), Francis Grimke was not Black. Booker T. Washington was not Black. Nella Larsen was not Black. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was not Black. Damn, even the masterblaster Bob Marley was not Black! Even though the aforementioned identified as Black people.
I have not only this response to Coulter’s question; I have my own questions: You mean forever “the other” will exercise the ultimate in white privilege? Forever they get to tell us who we are? Forever? Forever ever?
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The Anti-Obama Threat Pyramid: or A Confederacy of Hatemongers, Fools, and Miscreants Who Ain't too Pleased That Barack Obama is President (Part 1)
Apparently, because they do not want to be accused of inciting panic or fear, the mainstream media has largely under-reported the violent crimes which have been committed in retaliation for Barack Obama's election as President of the United States.
Legendary military strategist Sun Tzu famously stated, "know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster." I want you to be prepared for battle. Accordingly, in the spirit of Sun Tzu's guiding wisdom, I have compiled a brief primer on the range of racism, bigotry and hateful threats against good, decent, and respectful people that can be expected in this, the Age of Barack Obama.
Today, we highlight the top tier of the threat pyramid.
1. From the New York Times, "Three Are Charged in Attacks on Election Night" (anticipating your question, yes, he is in fact one of the defendants):
Like countless other Americans that night, a group of young Staten Island men gathered on Nov. 4 to watch election results, and then took to the streets when it became clear that the country had elected its first black president.
But, the authorities say, they were not out to celebrate. Armed with a police-style baton and a metal pipe, they attacked a black teenager, pushed another black man, harassed a Hispanic man and, in a finishing flourish, ran over a white man who they thought was black, leaving him in a coma, the authorities said.
A federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday charged the men, Ralph Nicoletti, 18; Michael Contreras, 18; and Brian Carranza, 21, with conspiracy to interfere with voting rights in their efforts to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” black people on Staten Island on election night.The men were arrested on Tuesday night and arraigned in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Wednesday. All three pleaded not guilty...
2. From the Daily News Tribune, "Brockton Shooting Suspect Told Police He Targeted Blacks, Jews, Hispanics":
A 22-year-old white man is being held without bail on charges he shot three Cape Verdean people, killing two. Police said Keith Luke told them he was "fighting for a dying race" and planned to kill as many black people as possible and he had been planning to kill all "non-white" people.
According to papers filed in court, Luke said he had been planning to kill African-Americans, Hispanic and Jewish people and he had planned to go to a Jewish synagogue near his home that night and "kill as many Jews as possible on bingo night."
Luke of 1177 Pleasant St., Brockton, pleaded innocent to two counts of murder, kidnapping, aggravated rape and other charges in Brockton District Court Thursday morning. He was ordered held without bail.He told police in an interview after his Wednesday arrest that he purchased a 9mm handgun with 200 rounds of ammunition about six months ago outside Gilmore Academy on Clinton Street. He said he planned to kill himself after his killing spree...
3. From the Desert Sun News Service in Palm Springs California, "Three Alleged White Supremacists Arrested in Latino Beating":
Three more alleged white supremacists were behind bars today on $1 million bail in connection with the November beating in Hemet of a Latino who suffered brain damage. Crystal Lee McCann, 22, Derek Shane O'Brien, 22 and Darrin Peter Thibault, 24, were arrested between Dec. 19 and Thursday in connection with the Nov. 14 beating of a 19-year-old Latino whose name has not been released.
The teen, beaten at the Jackson Mobile Home Park at 225 Elk St., Hemet, has been placed in a long-term care facility and his brain damage will likely be permanent, said Hemet police Sgt. Mark Richards.
Thibault, arrested Dec. 19, has been arraigned on charges of attempted murder, membership in a criminal gang and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, with gang, serious felony and great bodily injury allegations, according to court records. McCann, arrested Dec. 26, has pleaded not guilty to attempting to dissuade a witness and gang allegations. She is to be arraigned Tuesday. O'Brien was arrested Thursday on suspicion of attempted murder, violation of probation and membership in a criminal street gang. He is also to be arraigned Tuesday.
The first person arrested, Justin Tyme Hayes, 21, has been charged with attempted murder and participating in a criminal street gang, with serious felony, great bodily injury and gang activity allegations. He has pleaded not guilty. All of them reputedly belong to a white supremacist gang, Richards said. Investigators may charge more people in the near future, the sergeant said.
4. Courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alternet.org, "Obama Called a "Visual Aid" for White Supremacist Recruiting":
"Historically, when times get tough in our nation, that's how movements like ours gain a foothold," the leader of the National Socialist Movement told USA Today. "When the economy suffers, people are looking for answers. … We are the answer for white people."
The Obama era comes after years in which white supremacists have successfully exploited the immigration debate – both providing racist propaganda that seeps into the popular culture and benefiting from the vilification of Latino immigrants. Mainly as a result of the bigotry and xenophobia surrounding the immigration debate, the number of hate groups operating in the United States has risen by nearly 50 percent – from 602 to 888 – since 2000.Now, these groups have begun to turn their attention to Obama – distributing racist propaganda, filling Internet message boards with threats and messages of hate, and, in some cases, taking more direct action against minorities. Here is a sampling of racial incidents reported in the wake of the election...
I love me some Sober House...or any other reality show where we can watch these most sad, B-List celebrities suckle at the teets of television for five more minutes of fame.
But, what is Zeus doing on Sober House? He is one of my idols and I am utterly disappointed! Deebo, the black Godzilla, Hulk Hogan's rival from the art house classic, No Holds Barred, is slumming on Sober House. Say it ain't so!
At least we will still have our innocent and precious memories of the No Hold Barred music video:
And we can also take comfort in knowing that the savage beast that is Tiny "Deebo" Lister can be soothed by the firey, flame broiled goodness that is Burger King:
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Battlestar Galactica Reviewed--In Barack Obama's America We Are All Cylons Now
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Disappointment tests the mettle of one's convictions. Disappointment hurts, as much as it strengthens, our character. Disappointment can crystallize one's resolve, and make more resolute a hope for a better tomorrow. Disappointment can also destroy our belief in the virtue of our dreams, weaken the ties that bind our community together, and set us against one another in a sea of nihilistic fervor.
Battlestar Galactica is a series rooted in the "now." In its first three seasons Ronald Moore, the producer and writer of Battlestar Galactica, has used the show as a lens for discussing the national trauma that is/was September 11th, the morass of a twilight war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the disastrous Hurricane Katrina. In the final season, Battlestar Galactica's first two episodes "A Disquiet Follows My Soul," "And a Great Notion" are an extended meditation on the hopes and dreams of the American people in the face of economic calamity--and the investment which they have made in Barack Obama, a political messiah of sorts (one in which I too believe), to lead them through this darkest of times.
In mirroring our present, Battlestar Galactica has found its promised land, the fabled planet Earth, a destination that was supposed to be a new home for the refugees of the human-Cylon War. The leaders of the human fleet, and now their Cylon allies, have sacrificed so much for a new beginning, that they are numbed by the discovery that Earth has been destroyed. The goal of their struggle, the object of the religious faith and belief in prophecy which has sustained humanity in its struggle for survival, has been exposed as a fraudulent, cruel lie.
Barack Obama's presidency, like the humans' struggle to find Earth, is pregnant with the potential for great disappointment and calamitous consequences if he fails in the great crusade to remake America. Those throngs of people in Chicago's Grant Park, the millions who attended the inauguration, and the many many millions both here and abroad, who watched America elect its first Black president, a man who is the first and best hope for change and salvation, can just as quickly sing Obama's praise, as they can turn in venomous rage upon him if he fails to right America's path. Will it come from the Left or from the Right? Who will be the first to whom Obama will ask, "Et Tu Brute?"
Battlestar Galactica as literate, compelling, challenging television is highly evolved and wonderfully executed melodrama. The "big" questions of faith, survival, life, justice, death, hope, and free will, are embodied by and through the struggles of its characters. In the first two episodes of Season 4.5, Battlestar Galactica has given us the dualism of spiritual emptiness and loss mated with the cathartic liberation of death through Dualla's suicide. Questions of government, justice, inclusion and community, are witnessed through the rebellion among the fleet against including Cylons, their blood enemies, into their political community. The dignity of struggle in the face of adversity, and the nurturing power of love are embodied by Admiral Adama and President Roselyn's intimacy...and also Tigh and Six's act of heretofore impossible conception. Painful truths about faith, responsibility, despair and loneliness are voiced by Baltar as he preaches, "What type of a father abandons his children to despair and loneliness? Perhaps it is God who should come down here and beg for our forgiveness?"
Barack Obama's campaign and election are also powerful melodramas. Consider, could one even construct such a story that is Barack Obama's life? The first Black president, born to an immigrant father and a white wanderlust filled anthropologist mother, abandoned by his father and raised by grandparents in Kansas, and who rode a meteoric star to Harvard, married a beautiful, smart and formidable woman with whom he would have two charming children, then elected to the United States Senate, and eventually the presidency. President Barack Obama's life is a fiction that is real. How will this story end? Will the political theater that is Obama's evocation of Abraham Lincoln end in the healing of what is now a broken promise between the American government and its citizens to guarantee the common good and national prosperity? Or, will the melodrama that is the Barack Obama moment end as a tragedy, one of epic proportions where disappointment and pain are the feelings most associated in the public imagination with President Obama's administration?
As Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica has thrown into question our assumptions about humanity's relationship with the Cylons by introducing the notion that perhaps humans and Cylons are actually one in the same species, in Barack Obama's America, Left and Right have been forced to work together to solve our collective crises. Once looming large in our political vocabulary, such once common sense framings as Blue State, Red State, and "the Culture Wars" have momentarily given way to a sense of collective, linked fate. White voters, voters who historically have chosen racial animosity, and the psychic wages of whiteness over shared class interests with people of color, have in a moment of enlightened self-interest, elected a Black man the President of the United States.
It seems that in a moment of disaster, just as in Battlestar Galactica, former foes are forced to work together for a common goal. Differences are seemingly erased, while still simmering beneath the surface. Genocidal calamity has brought humans and Cylons together, but for how long? Economic calamity has brought Americans together, but for how long? It seems that in Barack Obama's America, we are all Cylons now, but for how long?
Battlestar Galactica, Battlestar Obama. It has a certain ring and cadence to it, does it not?
Some thoughts and questions.
1. Why Dualla? Why the strong black woman? Perhaps, she was not as strong as we thought? Or is she stronger than any of the other characters?
2. Is the prophecy which described Earth as the home of humanity wrong? Is the Book of Pythia incorrect? Or as in most matters of prophecy and faith are they merely being misinterpreted?
3. On this point, notice the language of the Prophecy, "humans were cast out of Kobol." Hmmm....sounds like punishment to me. And if we were cast out, what was our crime?
4. Confusion. Okay, did humanity make the Cylons on Earth and then the Cylons rebelled and destroyed us? Thus, the circle being complete when humanity returns and destroys the Earth?
5. Or did the Cylons make humans as slaves, we rebelled, and returned and then destroyed them? Again, the mirror, and the fulfillment of the idea that all of what we are seeing in Battlestar Galactica is cyclical?
6. Apocalyptic religions are centered on a narrative of destruction and rebirth. Could it be that the final five, and Tigh's wife in particular were part of a cult (i.e. those Christian Fascist Left Behind Rapture types) that actually put into motion the destruction of Earth in order to fulfill God's plan?
7. Oh, I have to gloat, I called Tyrol's baby daddy problem a year ago in this post.
8. We have the final five Cylons. But, we don't have a number "Seven" Cylon. Could Tigh's wife be a Seven, and someone else, Starbuck or Athena/Boomer's child be the real final Cylon?
9. My theory, this is all cyclical and will repeat itself again and again because the desire to create artificial intelligence is hardwired into the subconsciousness of man. We want to create life in an effort to become God. These creations will repeatedly rise up to destroy us. Second thought: each generation humanity leaves Earth and returns to find it destroyed. They, the humans and Cylons, then go out into the galaxy to find new planets. This cycle is repeated again and again. For a visual imagine the spokes of a wheel. We return to the center and then strike out in new directions, an act which in turn spreads our human/Cylon civilization throughout the galaxy. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Question: will this continue forever or until we finally get it "right?"
10. Two words: Count Iblis. I still put my money on a Deus Ex Machina moment where all is revealed and someone has been pulling the strings.
11. Do you take the Cylons into the fleet or leave them out to dry? Do you trust their technology given how they have used it as a weapon before? Do the Cylons merit inclusion as citizens? Given the many poor decisions which Adama and Roselyn have made how can you not be on Zarek and Gaeta's side in the upcoming civil war?
12. Ultimately, this all has to end badly with a huge loss of life, a loss so great that it necessitates the merging of the human and Cylon fleets.
The average person has a vocabulary of approximately 10,000 words.
By virtue of our ability to code switch from the king's English to Black English, the average respectable negro has a vocabulary of approximately 50,000 words.
In reflecting on Rush Limbaugh's recent antics, let's add one more pithy word to our mental Rolodex:
To bloviate means "to speak pompously and excessively," or "to expound ridiculously." A colloquial verb coined in the United States, it is commonly used with contempt to describe the behavior of politicians, academics, pundits or media "experts," sometimes called bloviators, who hold forth on subjects in an arrogant, tiresome way. Some speculate that bloviate derives from adding a faux-Latin ending to the verb 'to blow' or boast, following a 19th-century fad of adding Latin-like affixes to ordinary words. However, others like William Safire claim that 'bloviate' comes from combining the words 'blow-hard' and 'deviation.' Although 'bloviate' is listed in slang dictionaries as far back as the 19th century, the term was popularized by United States President Warren G. Harding in the 1920s. Famed for his poor English usage, Harding often used the word to describe his long, winding speaking style. The term dropped from popular usage following his presidency but was resurrected in the 1960s when it was sometimes used in reference to Harding. It became widely spoken again in the 1990s. Today, it appears regularly in The New York Times, The New Yorker and the Washington Post.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Dramatel! I don't now how I missed this wonderful infomercial...note the not so subtle racial cue that Dramatel will help the sisters keep their men from that Black kryptonite--White, blonde women:
Dramatel is a great tool for monitoring those old school players who can't help but stray from home:
We haven't heard from them lately, so I must ask, what do the brothers from Blacktown.net think about Barack Obama's presidential victory and inauguration?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
As I sat at my desk on Monday afternoon, fretting about the layoffs and budget cuts that I face, I realized that I needed to feel part of something larger than myself, larger than my office, larger than the current state of the economy. So, I found a relatively cheap ticket and made my way to Washington, D.C. My goal was only to join the masses of people who are hoping for a better day.
Once in D.C., where everybody knows somebody, I was able to get two silver tickets to the swearing-in ceremony. This stroke of luck simply confirmed that I was meant to be there. I woke up at 5:00am and left the house at 6:00am. Leaving from the outskirts of the city, I had no problem finding space on a Metro car. Even though I could feel the bodies of at least five people pressing up against me, I was not annoyed, not afraid, not at all uncomfortable. It felt like one big bear hug.
Two Alphas on the train began a spontaneous game of Roll Call, singing out their names, hometowns and what they expected from the day. At first only other African-Americans joined in, but then the recognizable voice of an older, white southern man sung out, "My name is Bill and I'm from Kentucky. I don't know about ya'll but I'm feeling damn lucky!" There was a moment of silence before everyone cracked up laughing. After that, everyone joined in -- young and old without respect to race or class -- singing and rhyming and just feeling good.
I fell out of the car at Judiciary Square and joined tens of thousands of people as they streamed beneath the Mall through an underground tunnel. It was a shortcut that normally would have terrified me. I reached the end and found the sun shining on a shoulder-to-shoulder mass of individuals moving forward like a flock of penguins. The anticipation, excitement and general good feeling was apparent even on the faces of the police officers.
The silver tickets placed me right in front of the reflecting pool. I could actually see the figures moving across the stage. The jumbo-trons flashed images of guests taking their seats -- Sean Combs looking flashy and overdressed, Dustin Hoffman looking a lot like Sean Combs, Mohammed Ali being escorted by his attentive wife, Joseph Leiberman looking like the cheese standing alone, Justice Scalia, John McCain with a wistful expression, Mr. Nancy Pelosi, Governor Schwartzenegger with members of the Kennedy clan, the Bush girls with oblivious smiles on their faces, Laura Bush with an appropriate look of discomfort, Denzel Washington trying to deflect attention away from himself, Oprah Winfrey surrounded by a throng of folks (including her BFF) ...
Gradually the VP seating areas were filled. And, amazingly, the VPs looked a lot like the crowds that filled the Mall -- they were Black, White, Asian, Latino, old, young, important, not so important, recognizable and mundane. I don't recall ever seeing this before. I was especially moved by the seating area closest to President Obama -- the family and friends area. Typically buzzing with WASPs, the space looked like a snapshot of a crowded street in New York City, Chicago or D.C. The faces were recognizable. They looked like my neighbors, my colleagues, my friends, my family. Anyone in America could look at that area and see a face that looked familiar. For me, that crowd was more than symbolic. It was a tangible reflection of America in the 21st century. It was a reflection of a change that has been happening for decades but is only now being acknowledged by those in power.
Gordon asks, "What was so special about the inauguration?" What was so special was the synergy of feeling among those who attended -- a national synergy that eclipsed what was present in Grant Park by a thousand fold. Back in November, folks were still caught up in what could or should have been. White women, conservatives, Republicans, and old school haters were still entrenched in their petty grievances. On Tuesday, everyone was focused on the future and what will be. Even the Republicans in the crowd could not help themselves from smiling and joining in on this national celebration.
In November, Obama as President of the United States was still not quite real. After all, Bush and his cronies were still in charge of the fate of the nation. After Obama was sworn in and Bush's helicopter took off from the Capitol, the crowd looked to the sky and without cue began singing "Nana na na, hey hey hey, GOODBYE!" Imagine, hundreds of thousands of people singing this at once. You could hear the joy and relief in the voices as the song rolled over the crowds. That exhale moment wasn't possible in November.
Rereading what I have written, I realize that it doesn't capture an ounce of the feeling that I carried on Tuesday. All I can say really, is that I felt damn good and I have not felt that way in a long, long time.