Sunday, February 22, 2009

We Were Robbed!

No comment.

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Ledger Gets His Due and Mickey Rourke Wins Best Actor!

I am writing this before Mickey Rourke accepts (what I hope will be) his Oscar for best actor.

The Wrestler and Dark Knight were my two favorite movies of the year--I have not seen Wall-E but expect it to be my 3rd favorite once my list is complete.

For you Wrestler marks, here is a great roundtable discussion on the film and the accuracy of how it depicted the world and characters that are/is professional wrestling:

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Heath Ledger Must and Should Win the Oscar

We miss you Heath.

I have a bottle of Chimay ale ready for when you win your posthumous Oscar.

You are a gift.

You were a gift.

You will continue to be a gift.

Peace to you, wherever you are and may be.

RIP Heath, I would have loved to have enjoyed a drink with you...the highest honor this simple, working class, respectable negro can give a person.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why Doth You Complain So Much? Eric Holder's Speech in its Entirety

I am still collecting my thoughts on the controversy surrounding Attorney General Eric Holder's address on race in American life. In my surveys of the varied reactions to his speech, I have been--in much the same way I was in regards to the discord that awaited Reverend Wright's insightful and powerful sermon--struck by how few of the critics (and supporters) seem to have actually read his address.

As a service, I am posting Holder's speech in its entirety. Respectable negroes and others, just what is all the fuss about?

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

As a nation we should use Black History month as a means to deal with this continuing problem. By creating what will admittedly be, at first, artificial opportunities to engage one another we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character based, acceptance can actually be realized. To respect one another we must have a basic understanding of one another. And so we should use events such as this to not only learn more about the facts of black history but also to learn more about each other. This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful but the rewards are potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction but that accomplishes little. Imagine if you will situations where people- regardless of their skin color- could confront racial issues freely and without fear. The potential of this country, that is becoming increasingly diverse, would be greatly enhanced. I fear however, that we are taking steps that, rather than advancing us as a nation are actually dividing us even further. We still speak too much of "them" and not "us". There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever confronted- and remember, there will be no majority race in America in about fifty years- the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will, instead, become a reason for stagnation and polarization. We cannot allow this to happen and one way to prevent such an unwelcome outcome is to engage one another more routinely- and to do so now.

As I indicated before, the artificial device that is Black History month is a perfect vehicle for the beginnings of such a dialogue. And so I urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters. In this way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America.

It is also clear that if we are to better understand one another the study of black history is essential because the history of black America and the history of this nation are inextricably tied to each other. It is for this reason that the study of black history is important to everyone- black or white. For example, the history of the United States in the nineteenth century revolves around a resolution of the question of how America was going to deal with its black inhabitants. The great debates of that era and the war that was ultimately fought are all centered around the issue of, initially, slavery and then the reconstruction of the vanquished region. A dominant domestic issue throughout the twentieth century was, again, America's treatment of its black citizens. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's changed America in truly fundamental ways. Americans of all colors were forced to examine basic beliefs and long held views. Even so, most people, who are not conversant with history, still do not really comprehend the way in which that movement transformed America. In racial terms the country that existed before the civil rights struggle is almost unrecognizable to us today. Separate public facilities, separate entrances, poll taxes, legal discrimination, forced labor, in essence an American apartheid, all were part of an America that the movement destroyed. To attend her state’s taxpayer supported college in 1963 my late sister in law had to be escorted to class by United States Marshals and past the state’s governor, George Wallace. That frightening reality seems almost unthinkable to us now. The civil rights movement made America, if not perfect, better.

In addition, the other major social movements of the latter half of the twentieth century- feminism, the nation's treatment of other minority groups, even the anti-war effort- were all tied in some way to the spirit that was set free by the quest for African American equality. Those other movements may have occurred in the absence of the civil rights struggle but the fight for black equality came first and helped to shape the way in which other groups of people came to think of themselves and to raise their desire for equal treatment. Further, many of the tactics that were used by these other groups were developed in the civil rights movement.

And today the link between the black experience and this country is still evident. While the problems that continue to afflict the black community may be more severe, they are an indication of where the rest of the nation may be if corrective measures are not taken. Our inner cities are still too conversant with crime but the level of fear generated by that crime, now found in once quiet, and now electronically padlocked suburbs is alarming and further demonstrates that our past, present and future are linked. It is not safe for this nation to assume that the unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of our country can be isolated and will not ultimately affect the larger society.

Black history is extremely important because it is American history. Given this, it is in some ways sad that there is a need for a black history month. Though we are all enlarged by our study and knowledge of the roles played by blacks in American history, and though there is a crying need for all of us to know and acknowledge the contributions of black America, a black history month is a testament to the problem that has afflicted blacks throughout our stay in this country. Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society in general and by our educational institutions in particular. As a former American history major I am struck by the fact that such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole. In law, culture, science, athletics, industry and other fields, knowledge of the roles played by blacks is critical to an understanding of the American experiment. For too long we have been too willing to segregate the study of black history. There is clearly a need at present for a device that focuses the attention of the country on the study of the history of its black citizens. But we must endeavor to integrate black history into our culture and into our curriculums in ways in which it has never occurred before so that the study of black history, and a recognition of the contributions of black Americans, become commonplace. Until that time, Black History Month must remain an important, vital concept. But we have to recognize that until black history is included in the standard curriculum in our schools and becomes a regular part of all our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty, relatively unimportant and not as weighty as so called "real" American history.

I, like many in my generation, have been fortunate in my life and have had a great number of wonderful opportunities. Some may consider me to be a part of black history. But we do a great disservice to the concept of black history recognition if we fail to understand that any success that I have had, cannot be viewed in isolation. I stood, and stand, on the shoulders of many other black Americans. Admittedly, the identities of some of these people, through the passage of time, have become lost to us- the men, and women, who labored long in fields, who were later legally and systemically discriminated against, who were lynched by the hundreds in the century just past and those others who have been too long denied the fruits of our great American culture. The names of too many of these people, these heroes and heroines, are lost to us. But the names of others of these people should strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Charles Drew, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Vivian Malone, Rosa Parks, Marion Anderson, Emmit Till. These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude. It is on their broad shoulders that I stand as I hope that others will some day stand on my more narrow ones.

Black history is a subject worthy of study by all our nation's people. Blacks have played a unique, productive role in the development of America. Perhaps the greatest strength of the United States is the diversity of its people and to truly understand this country one must have knowledge of its constituent parts. But an unstudied, not discussed and ultimately misunderstood diversity can become a divisive force. An appreciation of the unique black past, acquired through the study of black history, will help lead to understanding and true compassion in the present, where it is still so sorely needed, and to a future where all of our people are truly valued.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Distorted Reality: Attorney General Holder's Speech Viewed from Within the Right-Wing Echo Chamber

I will have something substantial to say on Holder's speech tomorrow.

For now, I always marvel at the response, quite predictable as it may be, in the comments section of Fox News and other conservative "news" outlets, towards any efforts at having an adult conversation about race or the persistence of racial ideologies in this country.

You have to love conservative mouth breathers as they are a source of never-ending joy and entertainment value. Moreover, it always strikes me how those who have immersed themselves in the cacophonous musings of the Right-wing echo chamber really do in fact live in an alternate reality.

To that point, some choice posts from the comments section of Fox News at


What a surprise, some one in husseins cabinet is talking negatively about the country and our people...this goverment has become a complete joke and is completely out of touch with americans

It's funny how black people always call the race card. Quite frankly, I'm sick of it. We have "black history month", "asian heritage", "gay pride", etc. where's the white pride. Oh I forgot, that's racist. Anyone who thinks that whites are bad and always have to use to race card towards the whites are cowards. I am white and I am proud. Am I racist for that? Well if so, let me ask you a question. Are the other ethnicities racist for thinking the same way? This cowardly way of thinking by Mr. Holder sends a message to all races to be ethnically irresponsible towards the white race. What really pi$$es me off is that other whites think this way. Stand up and be proud of who you are. And yes I will use the same quote all other people do while expressing their undying beliefs, "It's my constitutional right to be allowed to say what I want". I'm standing up for my race and what I believe in....if I don't then noone else will. I am a proud WHITE man.

Oh the irony- Holder calls the US a nation of cowards on the heels of the election to where an African American was elected as president of his "nation of cowards" and then takes it further when he suggest we use "Black History Month" to inspire the discussion. The hypocrisy of it all!

Remember the obese black minister that spoke at the first black presidents inauguration? Remember that he said "White will do right". The overwhelming majority of blacks in this country are the racists and they don't want racism to end. It's how all of you start and end your day. Racism is your issue and you have the solution. Grew a few, step up and show you're willing to be a part of this country. When things get tough don't cry racism everywhere you go.

By the comments it appears AG Holder is right. I've never seen some many victims in all my life. I have many friends from every ethnic background. It's amazing how much you can accomplish by walking up to people and extending a open hand. That approach has worked well in every community I've lived in and I have lived in several states and countries all over the world. Time to end the excuses. Who's racist? If we must proclaim "Black History Month" are not those that do so the racist people? If you want to eliminate racism, eliminate all references to race, but that will include all references. Be careful what you ask for. You might get it. I believe America's black people have been experiencing a greater degree of favoritism in hiring, retaining, recruiting, etc. in the past decade. How about we treat all people the same, and base it on merit, not race.

Black History Month Hijinks: A Pastor Manning Two For One or Barack Obama Needs to Get that Jungle Jive Out of the White House

Lord have mercy. I was in a foul mood today, now I am happy again.

Pastor Manning is now my personal Valium.

Black History Month Hijinks: Is Obama the New Caligula?

Barack Obama and Caligula do in fact resemble one another, no? And if Obama does in fact share some of Caligula's predilections then the White House will certainly be a much more interesting and fun filled place than it has been these last few years.

Interesting, mighty interesting...

Maybe Henry Louis Gates will do a PBS special and trace Obama's family tree back to the great emperors of old?

Random thought: I love how so many of us black folk want to claim a little Native American blood and then find out we ain't got none.

You got's to love these Internets!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Black History Month Hijinks: The "Iniggeration" or Don't Forget that Everyone isn't Happy with Obama's Victory

Daniel Carver of Howard Stern fame is one of my favorite people. His political analysis of Obama's campaign, and his nuanced understanding of America's racial politics is the stuff of legend. In fact, I would suggest that Daniel Carver is such a powerful and insightful voice, that he would be a wonderful addition to Meet the Press or National Public Radio.

To that point, Carver has outdone himself again with the following interview where he discussed Barack Obama's victory and historic event which Carver has rechristened "iniggeration."

Never has venom been so sweet or so funny.

Wake up White people!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Black History Month Hijinks Shall Now Ensue

It is Black History Month. More accurately, it has been Black History Month for some two weeks now and we respectable negroes have been otherwise all know how we can be a little late with things.

Don't fret, we have some fun activities planned for this most auspicious of months. And yes, the above video clips hint in not so subtle fashion at our love hate relationship with Black History Month.

In the upcoming weeks we are going to be holding some contests--contests where we give you folks some pretty good prizes (if I do say so myself) that have been graciously provided by some of our friends in the book publishing industry.

So please stay tuned, we will be back at the same respectable negro time and the same respectable negro station!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chauncey DeVega says: Sometimes You Can Play a Perfect Game and Still Lose

I have to admit the fact that my spirits are a little low today. I called upon the tribe for some of that Shaka Zulu energy and I still failed despite your assistance. This failing was mine and mine alone, and I was brought closer to my goal because of your help and not despite it. I am indebted to you because of the assistance you have rendered to me.

But, you know what? The creator is a bit of a trickster with a master plan and I know there is something good in store for a brother in the near future. Things may be hard today, but I hope things will be easier tomorrow.

When I am disappointed, I consult my mental Rolodex for life lessons and inspiration.

Frankly, I sold ice to an Eskimo last week and it still wasn't good enough. I know that I am my own worst critic. Yet, I also know that I brought it the way that Ric Flair did during his glory years and I still came up short:

Why? As my dad would say, "there was someone better." Sometimes you just have to own that fact.

Alternatively stated, you can play a perfect game and still lose. I think that is how I will frame last week's happenings. It has to be said--damn the academic job market this year! Okay, I feel a little better now.

By example, for my wrestling fans and others, a life lesson from Wrestlemania 23: Sean Michaels wrestled a perfect match against John Cena. The Heartbreak Kid still lost the bout. It happens. The lesson Sean was sharing in that match was how one should graciously accept such a loss. We can all benefit from his example:

Part 1--

Part 2--

Part 3--

Part 4--

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Geek Trifecta--Inglourious Basterds; Wolverine; and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I feel a certain tingling in my nether regions. It must a geekgasm!


Awesome. But, they couldn't find room for the obligatory black actor a la the Dirty Dozen or the Guns of Navarone?

How many characters from Marvel canon do we see in the trailer?

The "fallen" transformer looks cool, but I am much more amped to see Devastator in action, you?


A Ghetto Nerd Bonus: Quentin Tarantino knows his movies, here is a clip from the "original" Inglorious Bastards, the Italian exploitation flick known as Quel maledetto treno blindato:

Gordon Gartrelle Digests the Chitlins and Gefilte Fish

Even though it didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked and turnout wasn’t what I expected, I got a lot out of this dialogue, and I know that others did too.

Hopefully, we will be hosting a C&G installment once every few months, so be on the lookout for more intrepid tales of Black-Jewish adventures.

I want to thank all the participants and everyone else who talked to me about this project. I know firsthand how difficult it is to write on this subject.

I’ll leave you with this classic Eddie Murphy SNL skit, which is how I first learned about Black-Jewish tensions and which still holds up 25 years later:

Gordon Gartrelle finishes off this batch of Chitlins and Gefilte Fish: "We need to be more like the Jews..."

A few months ago, T.R.O.Y.’s RHS penned an extraordinary piece on the Juggaknots song “Generally,” a song he describes as “a dissection of the racial subtext of The Dukes Of Hazzard television show.” As thorough as his analysis is, RHS doesn’t mention what I think is the song’s defining line:

“sure was a brainwashed kid but never had a fad with rockin’ a swastika.”

It comes as rapper Breeze reflects on the fact that, through The Dukes of Hazzard, the Confederate flag became a symbol stripped of its history and mass marketed to an eager public—a feat Breeze deems unimaginable for the ultimate symbol of modern anti-Semitism. Initially, I read the aforementioned line as a simple condemnation of mainstream America’s callousness toward blacks: “white people don’t respect us because they don’t value black lives.” I now see Breeze’s line as a critique of black offense politics, especially as measured against Jewish offense politics. To me, the topic underlying this line—black self-conceptions vis-à-vis the perception of Jews—is even more interesting than personal interactions between Blacks and Jews, positive or negative.

Old school African American race men and women often say that black folks should model their behaviors after those of a host of ethnic groups: Koreans, Arabs, Mexicans, Jamaicans—basically, any group but our own (for a variety of reasons, previous generations of black people are like a foreign ethnic group to modern black folks).

Black people regularly praise other ethnic groups’ success, work ethic, commitment to education, cohesiveness, and self-sufficiency. What all of this says about our estimation of ourselves is a topic for another day (no, really. Chauncey will be tackling this subject soon).

In any case, black folks’ “model minority” envy extends to Jews as well, of course, but Jews represent something else in the black imagination, namely, the idealized vision of what right wingers call “grievance politics” and “PC identity politics.” At the heart of this idealization is the practice of defending the collective public image from a constant stream of attacks. While “Generally” never explicitly mentions Jewish activism, Breeze could very well have added to his lyrics the following appeal to his black brethren:

“White folks continue to disrespect us and ignore our indignant cries of offense because we don’t stand up for ourselves. We need to be more like the Jews. Jews would never allow mainstream America to get away with such levels of disrespect.”

Jewish elites stick to the public script (on the Holocaust, Israel, anti-Semitism), and they devote waves of resources to shaming and punishing those who depart from it. Jewish people who critique this process have their authenticity questioned and are labeled “self-hating Jews.” We should be that disciplined. We must stigmatize offenses against black dignity and history to the extent that Jews have stigmatized offenses against Jewish people…or so the story is told by black race men and women.

Black folks are certainly aware that we have our own rigid public speech norms (on the middle passage, American bondage, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement) and our own authenticity- questioning slur (Uncle Tom). We just think that our forms of speech policing are nowhere near as effective or serious as Jewish people’s. Ask a politically-inclined black person to name the third rail of public discourse. Anti-Semitism will likely be the response. Incidentally, if you were to ask the same question to a politically-inclined Jewish person, the answer you’d get would probably be anti-black racism.

Triangulation is central to the internal and external politics of blacks and Jews. This triangulation—this psychic bond of mutual (mis)perception, this constant measuring against the other, this notion that the sympathy grass is greener on the other side—forms the core of our “special relationship” and is a big reason why calls for more Black-Jewish dialogues won’t subside any time soon.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Lost in Space? or Battlestar Galactica Reviewed in the Atlantic Magazine

Been traveling and am now back...and quite ready for some Black History Month high jinks. And please respectable negro tribe members, use your collective Shaka Zulu, witch doctor inspired powers to send me some good fortune in the next few days (What is the point of having a blog if you can't beg for positive energy from your online peoples?):

I have 2 episodes of BSG to catch up on and will certainly have some commentary to offer.

Heads up to Ta-Nehisi Coates for posting this following bit of journalistic musing on Battlestar Galactica on his great blog at the Atlantic magazine's website.

Plus, they call a brother out in this piece--more shameless self-promotion--I will likely see if I can get a proper rebuttal submitted for publication in the Atlantic's most esteemed pages. Courtesy of the Atlantic:


Is Battlestar Galactica a great television epic—or proof that there is no such thing?

by James Parker

In the expert view of L.Ron Hubbard, there was nothing futuristic about the genre called (flippantly, by some) “space opera.” The alien host, the spongy nebulae, the zip and twang of the photon torpedo, the bluster of the starship captain at his bridge—these, according to Hubbard, were not the idle tropes of pulp-fictioneers and drugged-up sci-fi hacks but the stuff of deepest prehistory, somber emanations from the memory of the species. It had already happened, in other words—it, or something rather like it. Humanity trickled down from beyond the stars. Billion-year colonial wars were fought and fought again. And that cold buzz of awe that we get from galactic-scale science fiction? Just the rumbling of our “implants” as they salute their origins in deep space.

Hubbard, of course, founded an extraordinarily profitable religion, incorporating the virgin science of Dianetics as well as a sprawling mythos of interplanetary invasions and implantations—Scientology! The makers of Battlestar Galactica have not demonstrated a similar ambition—no temples for them, as yet. They can lay claim, however, to a decent-sized viewing cult. The original show ran on ABC for one season in the late 1970s, with Lorne “Bonanza Greene in Aquarian robes as the Galactica’s Commander Adama. After its cancellation, various attempts at revival were made, but nothing significant panned out until the project passed into the hands of writer-producers David Eick and Ronald D. Moore in the early 2000s, at which point the great “reimagining” of Battlestar Galactica began.

Ratings for the new show, now beginning its concluding run on the Sci-Fi Channel, have wavered, but fandom and critical interest have been maintained at a heady pitch. Hailed as “the best show on TV,” “one of TV’s boldest and best dramas,” and “a fleet of red herrings flapping majestically through space” (that last one is mine), Battlestar Galactica boasts a fierce corps of geeks and a professorial secondary literature to rival that of ABC’s Lost. (I had to look up, for example, the word diegesis—n. A narrative or history—while reading Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica.)

Hubbard might have smiled upon this show’s basic premise. We—mankind, that is—come not from Earth, which is out there somewhere, but from the planet Kobol, whence we set forth long ago in our ships to found the Twelve Colonies: Caprica, Leonis, Gemenon, and the rest. All went well until the Cylons, a race of man-made androids turned hostile, descended from their glassy star-bower to wipe us out. They took us by surprise, the bastards. Copious nuking, enormous loss of life—but one military vessel, or battlestar (the Galactica), survived, along with a few charred and limping people-carriers and their inhabitants. This rump of humanity, 50,000 or so, would hereafter be hounded across the universe by the implacable Cylon horde. The survivors’ goal: to find Earth, the fabled 13th colony, and begin civilization anew...

The article continues here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds-Guest Post Alert--Michael Steele as Bizarro Superman

As always, We Respectable Negroes are a democratic group. When we see something good we ask, "how can we be included?" When someone offers a corrective or insight, we say, "sure, here is some time to shine." Thus, enter our guest blogger Heavy Armor of the site Evil Giant Robots!, and his suggestion that THE (notice the irony and self-deprecation) Chauncey DeVega may have been a bit off in his assertion that Michael Steele of GOP fame is the DC character "Steel." As Heavy Armor suggests, the current Tom Negro of the GOP could perhaps be closer to the character, Bizzaro Superman.

Guess what? Me thinks Heavy Armor may in fact be right!

As always, we love to host folks with interesting ideas on our site, so if you have a piece to contribute, or something noteworthy to share, by all means send it along.


In response to a blog post here which compared new GOP Chairman Michael Steele with John Henry Irons (after making the assertion that President Barack Obama is Superman), I opined that perhaps Michael Steele's selection as GOP chairman fits not so much with John Henry Irons, but rather as Bizarro Superman.

Like most comic book characters, Bizzaro has many incarnations and histories spanning decades. In the interests of making a concise comparison, however, I've decided to use the version from the last Superman Animated Series to demonstrate the creation of Bizzaro and how it related to Michael Steele's selection as GOP chairman.

The GOP, desperate to find their own "Superman" (especially seeing as how their 'Republican Wonder Woman' project failed miserably) , decides to "emulate" the flavor of the moment once again. And, on the surface, the GOP's Superman will have many of the same powers and abilities. However, this Superman is answerable only to Lex Luthor (admittedly, this version is not as smart).

Michael Steele's main ability, it would seem, would be the ability to leverage the press to attack Obama, the Democrats, and their policies while making the claim that the attacks are not racist in nature. However, the attacks will still be framed around the usual ideological talking points of the GOP, even when the talking points are outrageous, inaccurate, or outright distortions. However, this will be one of the primary methods by which Republicans will attack the Obama Administration in the years to come.

Unfortunately, there is a fatal flaw in the logic, as demonstrated in Superman TAS.

The problem with cloning a popular personality is that the results are always unpredictable - and that the results don't follow a predictable pattern. Michael Steele may be an actual bid to take the GOP closer to the "center" and make it more representative of Americans in general, but first, he'll have to overcome the image of the GOP, which is composed of people like Joe (plumber, war correspondent, GOP advisor?), Sarah (who, not too long ago, accused a sitting United States Senator of aiding and abetting an enemy of the United States. This crime was never reported by Governor Palin to the authorities, but instead exploited for political gain), David (noted White Supremacist and current/former Klansman), and that's just on the surface. It's not even including those like Grover Nordquist (he of "Starve the Government so that he could drown it in a bathtub" fame), or Senate Republicans (who scream "Tax Cuts" at the top of their lungs, happily vote for bailouts for rich investment bankers, but yell foul when the money is being directed at average Americans when the word "Union" is somehow involved).

So, is Michael Steele the real deal, or more of the same from a Party whose face hasn't changed in more than 40 years? Only time will tell.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gordon Gartrelle Says: Chitlins and Gefilte Fish Will Still Be Served

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

The Chitlins and Gefilte Fish Project Presents freedarko’s Bethlehem Shoals

What follows is Bethlehem Shoals’ contribution to the Chitlins and Gefilte Fish Project, the Black-Jewish dialogue we're featuring this week.

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

The Chitlins and Gefilte Fish Project Presents freedarko's Dr. LIC

What follows is Dr. LIC's contribution to the Chitlins and Gefilte Fish Project, the Black-Jewish dialogue we're featuring this week.

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

Gordon has been excited about beginning a Black-Jewish dialogue for some time. When I would come into town, he would suggest, "hey, let's talk about the relationship between Blacks and Jews." I would demur. We would talk on the phone since my exile into the land of obese white women and ghetto fabulous, underclass negroes who don't know that they are embarrassing themselves by acting out the worst stereotypes of black-female relationships at the local sports bar during the a less than perfect world, these two, the PWT and her coonish suitor would be perfect mascots for a Klan postcard--a story for another time--and this topic would arise once more.

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

Gordon Gartrelle says: Prepare for some Chitlins and Gefilte Fish!

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.

Bon Appetit.

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."