Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Chauncey DeVega says: He Loves Him Some White Folks or Is Shelby Steele a Coon, an Uncle Tom, or a Respectable Negro?
I have such mixed feelings about Shelby Steele. Listen for his observation that "freedom is a revolutionary idea for black America." Goodness. And yes, I will leave it at that.
Steele is so smart and has the potential to speak so much truth to power, but more often than not his politics appear to be grounded in a deep self-loathing. Moreover, in his working for such think tanks as the Hoover Institute, Steele has clearly signed away his soul to be one of the very well compensated black poster children, aka slave catchers, for the Right.
His latest piece in the Wall Street Journal, where he laments the inability of conservative ideology to compete with the grievance based culture of "liberalism" and how it has monopolized narratives of truth and justice, is another such example. In short, Steele argues that black and brown folk (and their liberal masters) have held America's conscience hostage, and virtuous White people (code for conservatives) have not been acknowledged for how they are in fact the true defenders of human dignity, worth, and equality in America. For Steele's reimagining of history, it was those who argued in favor of the broader Civil Rights agenda that were immoral, and not the conservative, racial reactionaries--many in Steele's own Republican Party--who held firm against racial progress and social justice.
In short, as Mathew Yglesias pithily observed on his Atlantic Monthly blog, "Shelby Steele Hearts White People."
The three faces of Shelby Steele (my playful name for the trio of videos in this post) made me think about my own politics--as well as those of Gordon and Zora. Are we in fact conservatives? We rail against white liberal guilt, liberal racism, as well as conservative bigotry and myopia. Our wrath and disgust knows no bounds of party or ideology, so where do we fit on the ideological spectrum? What makes us respectable negroes so different from Shelby Steele?
I know the terrain of my own personal politics (even as I struggle to articulate my beliefs in the form of a coherent ideology) and for now, I will leave them unstated.
Thus I ask, is Shelby Steele a Tom, a coon, or a respectable negro? And why?
My vote: Shelby Steele is a Tom, because he has no love for himself or for his people. Steele cannot be a "coon," because while a coon may not understand how he or she is embarrassing black folk (or more generally, how a deficit of race pride informs their behavior), coons at least have some love for themselves as "black" people. Respectable negro? Impossible, because one cannot simultaneously be a lap dog for the Right and also a respectable negro--like matter and anti-matter, the two states exist in perpetual and permanent contradiction (and explosive hostility) to one another.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Zora Says: What Does it Say That We Finally Have a Negro in the White House with "Madea Goes to Jail" as the #1 Movie in America?
I am really struggling to maintain the high I achieved on my trip to witness the inauguration. I returned from D.C. to a town fraught with economic anxieties. The major employer in the area, my employer, had announced that soon it would be entering an unprecedented period of layoffs. My community is largely white with a strong "town-gown dynamic." The expectation was that the layoffs would be concentrated among lower-level support staff -- "townies" -- and among more recent hires -- "outsiders" who tend to be mostly minority. The result was that folks outside of those constituencies did little to prepare themselves for the cuts. With their Obama buttons on their lapels, they put together restructuring proposals that would do away with diversity initiatives and benefits for pink/blue- collar workers, and that would consolidate responsibilities under insider, white managers. Picture Sarah Palin wearing one of those Obama masks.
Surprise, surprise ... the cuts did not happen as expected. The decision-makers actually took the time to assess the value of the employees based on their productivity, performance evaluations, and ability to work with others. The cuts were still bottom-heavy, but not as much as expected. The result was that there were significant lay-offs among those who had considered themselves untouchable. When the news broke, the atmosphere was like that in the Republican National Committee during McCain's concession speech. It didn't take long for folks to start leveling the "stink-eye" at the "outsiders" who survived the cuts -- as a relatively young, African-American woman, that includes me. Of course, it was my gender and race that saved me. It had nothing to do with the fact that I manage to be twice as productive with half of the resources of others, that I regularly work 10-12 hour days while my colleagues are off skiing in Stowe, that I am one of a hand-full of employees who have made an attempt to update practices that were put in place back in the seventies, that I have turned around an office that my older, white colleagues deemed un-fixable, ... Nope, none of that.
We should not be surprised. Obama's election was a watershed event in American politics; however, it is naive to expect that Americans would drop their racial hang-ups with his election. Up until a few months ago, his own Secretary of State was pulling out every affirmative action stereotype she could think of: "he's smart, but he's not experienced," "he's articulate, but lacks leadership skills," "his mentors and advisers are the engines behind his success." Obama was labeled as an "outsider" not just to Washington politics, but to American society as a whole. What's so funny is that many of the folks who were quick to point out the racial hypocrisy and prejudice of the campaign season, are the very same who refuse to acknowledge it in their reactions to recent layoffs. It is a lot harder for them to acknowledge racial baggage when it sits on their own stoop. Obama is not their competitor, I am.
Even more funny is the indignation that is expressed by supposed Obama supporters when you call them on their prejudice and lack of understanding. One of my colleagues suggested that restructuring involve the slashing of our institutional diversity offices and personnel. First, she cited the election of Obama as proof that such resources were no longer needed. She then went on to suggest that as a white woman married to a black man, she was perfectly suited to anticipate and address issues of diversity. (In case you are wondering, she has no formal training on these issues.) She was offended that her "expertise" would be questioned. I tried to get her to acknowledge the absurdity of her assertion by suggesting that men have an intrinsic understanding of women's issues simply by being married to women. She failed to understand my point and looked at me like I was the idiot. This woman was part of the lay-offs and is now considering a discrimination lawsuit based on her status as a middle-aged, white woman -- no kidding. I still see her zipping around town with her Obama CHANGE bumper sticker.
Jeffrey Toobin recently wrote in the New Yorker about politicians who are arguing that the Voting Rights Act is no longer relevant given Obama's election. He counters this by pointing out that voting patterns in the Deep South signal that race continues to be a major factor in American political life: "Barack Obama actually did worse among whites than John Kerry in several of the covered jurisdictions, despite the nationwide Democratic swing." We should be careful not to dismiss this data just because it focuses on the South. Those of us who have been "raced" experience everyday instances, difficult to recount and impossible to quantify, that confirm racism as a continuing phenomenon in our society. Conservatives are not alone in their desire to use Obama as an excuse to take racism out of the national dialogue. Joining them are some so-called "progressives" who are all too willing to use their Obama button as a way out of confronting their own demons.
So what does Obama in the White House have to do with "Madea Goes to Jail" being the #1 movie in America for seven weeks? Well, I began thinking about this question when I realized that being #1 for seven weeks means that Negroes are not alone in flocking to view a tired stereotype play itself out on screen. When I saw it showing at the local theatre in a town where the number of black people amounts to less than one percent of the total population, I really began to wonder. Why is Madea so popular at a time in our history when you would think that such a character would be passé?
It wasn't until I was approached for the third or fourth time by white co-workers praising Madea that I realized why he/she is so popular. Madea evokes a time when Negroes were non-threatening, when their only legitimate roles were to serve and to entertain. With the fate of our nation in the hands of a black man, it would make sense for Americans -- still immature in their racial understanding -- to cling to such stereotypes like a baby clings to a pacifier. And, in my role as an African-American woman who is perceived to have unjustly survived a major layoff, I can't help but to think that my co-workers' praise for Madea signals their desire that I conform to what he/she represents. Again, the irony is that these are people who are nearly Obamaniacs. At the same time, are they also people who are uncomfortable with the thought of losing white privilege?
Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Watchmen has a Dark, Intense, Brooding Soul, But I don't Know if It has a Beating Heart
We all have rules for entrance into the party, a magical password that signals, "I belong."
For students of film, it is having watched Battleship Potemkin or Citizen Kane. For students of modern literature, it is having read Ulysses. For philosophers (pretend or otherwise) it is having read Nietzsche, Kant, or Hegel--in German. For East Coast hip hop fans, it was knowing every line and verse of all the Notorious BIG songs ever released by DJ Mister Cee.
And if we don't possess this knowledge, we know how to pretend that we do. Moreover, we are skilled at lording the truth of that lie over all who would dare to enter "our" world. For comic book geeks, Watchmen is a password for entrance into the sacred tribe.
My confession, I have lived a lie of sorts. I have never read Watchmen. Thus, I come to Watchmen with relatively virgin eyes.
With that confession now made, while I cannot assess Watchmen by a standard of measurement relative to the original text, I can, with great confidence, make the claim that Watchmen is an amazing achievement. It is "special"...and I rarely give such an accolade.
For the uninitiated, Watchmen posits a world where super-heroes are not the stuff of fantasy or fiction. They are normal, typical, and as flawed as the public they ostensibly protect. This is an alternate reality where Nixon is still president in the 1980s and the Russian-U.S. rivalry threatens humanity with imminent destruction. Domestically, the American government passes a series of laws banning costumed heroes because they are threats to public order. It is a dystopian world that is creator Alan Moore's critique of the celebratory, juvenile, unreflective and jingoistic conventions of superhero comic books as a genre, as well as Reagan and Thatcher's neo-liberal political order. In total, Watchmen set the standard for "dark" or "adult" works in the medium. And so long is its shadow, that Watchmen made possible such films as the Dark Knight, where now the mass public finally accepts, some 23 years after Moore's work was originally published, that comic books (and their adaptations for the screen) are "serious" works.
The world of Watchmen, and the world of our present, are both suffering from an existential dilemma, a deep crisis of being. It is this shared experience that explains the resonance of the film. While some would suggest that Watchmen is dated Cold War era fare, they miss the central point of the text--that a crisis of meaning and values lies at the heart of our late 20th century (post-modern) project.
In parallel, a crisis in meaning and a lack of faith lies at the heart of Watchmen. In much the same way that capitalism is in crisis because the public has lost faith in the invisible hand of the market, Watchmen depicts a world where nothing really matters. During the Cold War, it was looming destruction through nuclear cataclysm that gave our collective experience a pause and emptiness. At present, it is an imminent Depression and the evaporation of trillions of dollars of wealth where all that worth and value has been exposed as so much mist and illusion.
The uncertainty of our world is revealed through the characters of Watchmen. The public has no use for super-heroes as they are reminders of their own frailty and pathetic normalcy. The superheroes themselves are Gods among men, but they too are imperfect. They are prone to the same moral weakness, desires for the flesh, the arrogance of egomania, and narcissism as any "normal" man. The one "hero" in Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan, is literally a super man, the one figure who comes closest to possessing God-like powers. But, he rejects the title of god and doubts the very existence of a master creator. From the perspective of Dr. Manhattan, a character laden with symbolism, even time is flexible and malleable. In the post-Newtonian world, the age of Einstein's Theory(ies) of Relativity, time, the one constant that ostensibly binds us all together, is itself unmoored. This change is so profound that even time itself, what was once a universal constant, is reduced to being but one variable in a far more complex equation.
As Dr. Manhattan observes, what are we to do with a world where there is a master clock but no master clockmaker, a Deism without the initial mover? How depressing is this thought? Not surprisingly, the Comedian and Rorschach, the only two characters with the insight and vision to see this existential absurdity, are depicted as psychotic and unbalanced. In this skewed world, it is through madness that one achieves sanity and clarity of mind.
Standing alone, the character Ozymandias imagines himself to be a god. But, Ozymandias is utterly amoral and irresponsible in how he uses the god like powers that he has achieved through technology. Ozymandias is also a true pretender. Thus, he fails because of a lack of maturity and moral vision, traits that are demanded by godly power.
In total, Watchmen is a meditation on the anti hero. However, "anti hero" in this usage is not the same as anti-hero. Here, it is not the anti-hero--the badman, Clint Eastwood's "the Man with No Name"--a figure who is amoral, but who we idolize nonetheless. Instead, Watchmen is a meditation on the anti hero in the sense that heroes do not exist.
Quite simply, there are no heroes in this world because the public does not deserve them, and Watchmen cannot be heroes because they are undeserving of the adoration.
Watchmen is also a deep reflection on the sexual themes that are omnipresent in superhero comic books (e.g. Wonder Woman's lesbian sensibilities and appeal to kink; the thin homosexual subtext between Batman and Robin):
In the shadow of the Cold War--what itself was in many ways a phallocentric rivalry over whose "missile" or "bomb" was bigger--the costumed superhero speaks to our sexual impulses and anxieties. For example, be it how the Nite Owl dreams of having sex with Silk Spectre 2 where at the point of climax a nuclear bomb detonates in the background; the playful allusion to a pathetic, masochistic "villain" who liked to be physically abused by Watchmen (until Rorschach kills him); the Comedian's rape of Silk Spectre 1; or the Nite Owl's impotence and how it was replaced by male libido, strength, and ecstasy once he donned his costume for a night of adventure, there is a close link between violence and sexual release in Watchmen.
The costume allows us to hide ourselves and to become someone else. This second skin reveals the impulses and desires that are normally hidden from public view. Alternatively, for the superhero, this denial of one's true self can tragically lead to the depressingly routine boredom of (what could otherwise be an extraordinary) life lived in plain sight:
This is one of Alan Moore's central critiques of the West's abundance, commercialism, and excess: What of a world where the extraordinary is ordinary? Where the magical is common? Where the super and the miraculous are typical? Would you want to live in this world?
Because it is so dense thematically, Watchmen can be viewed from either the foreground or the background. By this, I mean one can "simply" watch the movie and have a very satisfying experience. But, Watchmen can also be viewed more deeply, where the audience looks to what is occurring in the depth of the screen as being primary, rather than secondary, to the film--the details in the frame, the signals and cues in the background, what is written on the numerous billboards that are generously spread throughout the city (a hint: look for multiple references to the company Pyramid Deliveries), the happenings on the periphery of a scene, or the music playing in the background. In watching the movie multiple times one gains an appreciation for how layered this film actually is, and why Watchmen transcends being merely a "movie" and becomes something far grander.
Ironically, Watchmen's depth is the foci for one of my few criticisms of the film.
There are moments in the movie's score that are directly borrowed from the seminal, dystopian film, Blade Runner. While watching Watchmen, and hearing the hauntingly melodic notes of Blade Runner, I was reminded that a film can be dark, and at times even hopeless, yet still have a beating, passionate heart:
Watchmen contains a second moment that also speaks to this sentiment. During the concluding scenes of the film, Ozymandias is surrounded by a wall of televisions, on one of which, the film Mad Max: the Road Warrior is playing. Like Batman: the Dark Knight, the Road Warrior is a reminder that a film can be dark, even sad and brooding, and still have a heart.
By comparison, Watchmen is a cold movie that is deeply soulful, but one that ultimately lacks a heart.
Watchmen is a masterful accomplishment. Zack Snyder has created an amazing work of transposition. Some would say that he has simply copied a masterpiece--and thus dismiss Snyder as a filmmaker who is incapable of originality. As a rebuttal, I would argue that sometimes transposition is a more difficult task because one has to retain the essence of a thing, while making careful choices about what to change or excise. It is in this act of transposition, and how successfully Snyder has done so, that makes Watchmen a near-masterpiece of a movie.
Coming full circle, a question still remains: how many children of the 1970s and 1980s who dreamed of what a Watchmen film could be are going to be disappointed? Can it win a duel with their imagined memories and fanciful expectations?
I don't know if it can, but I certainly hope that it will.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Lord, What Shall We do with the White Men?...They do So Seem to be in Need of Help--10 People Murdered as Gunman in Alabama Goes on Killing Spree
Do I have to keep saying it? Lord, some people really do need help. Thought exercise--again--make the story about someone other than a "good old boy." How about making him someone black, brown, red, yellow, or Other?
The difference in reaction by the public would be predictable. But, would the difference in reaction be noteworthy and important? Absolutely.
Funny, how some try to salvage crazy, murderous, monsters as being "good folk" somehow gone wrong. Of course, some folks do in fact try to make excuses for the black and brown ign'ts, but as I tell my students, the great privilege of whiteness (as opposed to white privilege) is anonymity and individuality. Thus, there will be no great effort to link Michael McLendon's actions to those of White men, more generally. There will be no moral panic. There will be no outcry for a national conversation about why White men go crazy and shoot up their workplaces, their schools, or become serial killers. White men will not have to worry about being racially profiled or harassed by the police because of McLendon's actions, nor will a White man be shot because someone was "traumatized" or "made nervous" about White men writ large because of this one man's cruel deeds.
Nah, those are just crazy individuals--White privilege wins again.
When I read stories like this, or about those 2 school teachers who were giving the same student a "reduced price lunch," (like the euphemism?) I really begin to feel that the next installment in our White in America: the Never to be Made Documentary is increasingly imminent in its necessity.
Till next time...and there surely will be one.
Monday, March 9, 2009
College, End of Quarter/Semester Evaluation Season Potpourri--Welcome to a World where Feelings Trump Empiricism, Critical Thinking, and Fact Finding
I am working on (what I think is shaping up to be) a "classic" ghetto nerds review of the Watchmen.
Until then, I have been sitting on these links about the state of higher education, undergraduate teaching, and the depressing state of the academic job market. If anyone wants to commiserate, by all means chime in. We haven't directly broached these topics before on the site, but they seemed timely given some of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues these last few days.
My personal entry point into this conversation--or the straw that broke the camel's back--has been the following situation: have you ever had a student who is utterly impervious to critical engagement? In fact, so difficult that they make you--and all the other students around them--feel like you, the professor/teacher are in fact the crazy one? That is so incapable of critical or reflective thinking, all you can do is look at your watch to pass the time while they struggle to give voice to their muddled thoughts?
For those of us who teach classes that are rooted in issues of identity (sexuality; race; gender; class...) this can be even more vexing and challenging as some students are looking for self-validation and therapy through their coursework, when you the teacher are not equipped to, nor will allow, class to become an "I feel X so it must be true" party.
Don't be mistaken, I have some really good students, students that really want to grapple with and think about these difficult issues. But, the others are wearing a brother out.
Final thought, for those of you in the academy, as a respectable negro I am still taken aback when it seems that the students most resistant to critical engagement, especially on matters of race and racial inequality, are students of color--black students in particular. There I said it. And it felt good.
Am I just having a respectable negro moment of exhaustion? Or is there something to my instinct that this generation of young "race men and race women" do not see their education as a political act? Thus, not having a sense of being in "the struggle?" By extension, these young black and brown students do not have a sense of obligation to, nor are they happy to see someone who looks like them (and is invested in their success) in front of the seminar room?
Maybe I am getting old, but I was grateful for my professors who really demanded the best out of me and held me to a higher standard.
They say the Irish are impervious to psychoanalysis. Could it be that this generation of coddled, helicopter parented, "I'm unique and special," undergraduates are impervious to critical thinking?
To the articles--
1. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Horowitz at Emory
David Horowitz gave a speech at Emory this week, and he lived up to the advance billing posted here. It was a provocative, in-your-face lecture, and he railed against Islamic radicalism, Jimmy Carter, liberal professors, and Arab anti-Semitism.
There were no disruptions this time, no protests. But the evening turned out to be an utter disappointment. While Horowitz was pointed and passionate, the audience response was feeble and flat. Nearly every questioner opposed the speaker, but their opposition came down to one repeated phrase: “I’m offended.” They felt that Horowitz insulted their religion, their politics, their ethnicity, and they told him so — earnestly and courageously.
But they didn’t say much more...the article continues here.
Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes
Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.
“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”
He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.
“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”
3. You all know my feelings on this one. Also from the NY Times:
Chris Pieper began looking for an academic job in sociology about six months ago, sending off about two dozen application packets. The results so far? Two telephone interviews, and no employment offers.
“About half of all the rejection letters I’ve received mentioned the poor economy as contributing to their decision,” said Mr. Pieper, 34, who is getting his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin. “Some simply canceled the search because they found the funding for the position didn’t come through. Others changed their tenure-track jobs to adjunct or instructor positions.”
“Many of the universities I applied to received more than 300 applications,” he added.
Mr. Pieper is not alone. Fulltime faculty jobs have not been easy to come by in recent decades, but this year the new crop of Ph.D. candidates is finding the prospects worse than ever. Public universities are bracing for severe cuts as state legislatures grapple with yawning deficits. At the same time, even the wealthiest private colleges have seen their endowments sink and donations slacken since the financial crisis. So a chill has set in at many higher education institutions, where partial or full-fledge hiring freezes have been imposed.A survey by the American Historical Association, for example, found that the number of history departments recruiting new professors this year is down 15 percent, while the American Mathematical Association’s largest list of job postings has dropped more than 25 percent from last year...
The piece continues here.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
It's Spreading Like a Disease: Sexxed Up White Female Teachers Again Caught Having Sex With Young Male Students
Where were teachers like this when I was in school? And this young stud must have some really good game--or some other special gift--to be able to have his way with two teachers, in the same school, at the same time.
Once more, we have a case of two desperate housewives aka public school teachers, reaching out to the young studs in their lives. No, not the mechanic or the cable guy--rather, the junior high school students who are sitting in their classes.
But lest I complain too much, I must concede that school must have really been in session during those late afternoon and early morning tutorials (insert self-congratulatory moment: sometimes I do so impress myself with my oh so easy turns of phrase).
As I said in my lampooning of CNN's Black in America series, imagine if black or hispanic teachers were featured at least once monthly on the evening news for giving some special "counseling" to the students in their care? Me thinks the public reaction would be quite different.
What drives white female teachers to drink so freely from these (too) youthful waters? Are they succubuses? Do these teachers find sustenance in the life force that is generated by the tumultuous, hormonally upset, Pon'Farr afflicted, always aroused state of being common to young boys between the ages of 12 to 17?
And I must ask: what is the romance and foreplay like? Do they pretend to be teacher and student? Is the latter "naughty" and in need of discipline, while the former is excited and all too ready to give it? Or instead, do the older woman and teenage boy pretend that they are married to one another, and after a fight over bills or the kids, the two find a way to reconcile so that they can enjoy 3 minutes of semi-monthly, boring, tedium filled, monotonous coitus?
The story follows:
The Salt Lake Tribune
Two Bountiful Junior High School teachers are accused of sexually assaulting the same 13-year-old student, after their separate relationships with him spiraled from personal conversations to the exchange of sexual text messages and phone sex, authorities said.
On Friday, the Davis County Attorney's Office filed first-degree felony charges of rape and sodomy on a child against Linda R. Nef, 46, and Valynne Bowers, 39.
Nef, a Utah studies teacher and cheerleading adviser, and Bowers, who teaches math, each confessed to having sex with the student, said Bountiful Police Lt. Randy Pickett. Until recently, the two teachers did not know about each other's relationship with the same boy, Pickett said.
The charges were filed after Nef arranged a meeting with police on Thursday and admitted having sex with the boy for more than a year, Pickett said. Their sexual relationship allegedly began in October 2007 and lasted until December 2008, he said.
Nef was booked into the Davis County Jail on Friday afternoon and has her first court appearance scheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 27.
Bowers also was arrested and booked into the jail on Friday, Pickett said. She later appeared in court, where she waived her right to a preliminary hearing and was ordered to stand trial. A felony arraignment in her case is scheduled for 9 a.m. March 16.
Nef, who began her career with the Davis County School District in 2004 as a physical education teacher at Taylor Elementary School, resigned from her post at the junior high on Monday, said school district spokesman Chris Williams.
Bowers was placed on administrative leave while district officials conduct their own investigation. Bowers has taught in the district since 1996 and was an elementary school teacher for nine years before she transferred to Bountiful Junior High in 2006, Williams said.
"So far, there is nothing to indicate that there are any other students involved, or any other faculty or employees involved," Pickett said.
In separate conversations, the boy and the two teachers began discussing personal problems, Pickett said. That led to text messages, including ones involving sexual matters, then phone sex and the alleged sexual assaults, Pickett said.
The investigation so far indicates none of the alleged sex acts occurred at the school, Pickett said. Instead, the teachers allegedly went with the student to homes, parking lots or parks in Bountiful, Woods Cross, Farmington and Kaysville.
Williams said parents picking up their children from the school Friday expressed disbelief and shock. Jenifer Wright, whose eighth-grade daughter attends the school, said the news alarmed her.
"It makes me very worried. I'm very protective about my children," she said.
Holly Ruhr, whose seventh-grade daughter attends the school, said she is not worried by the charges because she has been "impressed in every way" by Bountiful Junior High.
"My daughter is thrilled to go to class every day," she said. "This is just a case of one or two teachers. Not a bad school."
Another parent struggled to believe the allegations, defending Bowers as a great teacher.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
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I had a vision, a shimmering image which came to me in the twilight of my waking hours. As Saint James Brown departed us, he sent a messenger. I did not know HIS name, but his energy was powerful--yet it possessed a great sadness. HE, the great White ambassador, spoke to me and the Earth shook. This messenger sent by Saint James communicated in the most clear and melodic voice: What of your White allies? What of the White masses? We too have great guilt...especially the most "liberal" and "progressive" of us. You, Chauncey, must build us a temple, a place where we can confess our guilt and shame. I looked to Brother James and he said go forth and help our White allies, for it is the special burden We Respectable Negroes must at times suffer as an act of love.
I awoke. I went to class and encountered a young white student who was emphatically recounting the events of the previous weekend to his friend. Curious, I listened. It seems that this young, naive, white soul had loaned his cell phone to a stranger in need. This stranger was black. They were on "the wrong side of town." Our naive white liberal did not want to "prejudge" this "homeless" and "rough" looking black man. "That would be wrong," he told his sympathetic friend. The black stranger implored to our white liberal student of kind comportment that he needed to "borrow" the phone, in order to call some friends so that he could find shelter for the evening.
As I heard this story, I shook my head--we respectable negroes all know how this story ends.
In great shock and pain our young white friend explained how the black lumpen walked off with his cell phone. Our young white liberal ran after the brigand. The black tough then told our progressive young friend, that "the phone is mine." Our noble youth further protested at which point the black ign't threatened to shoot him. So sad, so very sad.
Our pink cheeked, ivory hued protagonist shrugged his shoulders and told his friend, "I didn't want to fight him or complain because given that I am white in a black neighborhood somehow it would be my fault if something went wrong."
Come one, come all, be you either anonymous White folk or our white allies. Unburden yourselves, share your pain.
Do you pretend to like rap music because you don't want to be perceived as "racist?" All the while hating it?
Do you pretend to like "ethnic food" because you want to look tolerant, but you really can't stomach it?"
Do you not lock your doors in high crime areas as a "progressive" act against racism because the 'hood happens to be predominantly black and brown?
Did you pretend to support Barack Obama when in fact you actually find his politics deeply troubling, yet, you wanted to do the "right" thing?
When in line at the ATM do you tell yourself that it is wrong to be scared when the hard looking brother, with the prison muscles and tattoos, who is also wearing a hoodie with a scarf wrapped around his face, is standing behind you at 3am?
Come to us, one an all...share your secret White liberal shames--those hidden thoughts--for you will find salvation here.
And let it never be said that We Respectable Negroes are guilty of reverse discrimination! As we gave gifts to the parishioners of the Church of James Brown, we shall give the best 2 confessionals in the Church of White Liberal Guilt a free copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates's great book, The Beautiful Struggle, courtesy of Spiegel & Grau publishers. Do you have the courage to lay bare your souls?
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Now this is some heroic, respectable negro behavior. We salute you!
Response to terrorist attack makes bus driver a heroLAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- His job was to drive the bus. But Meher Mohammad Khalil is now being hailed as a lifesaver.
When gunmen jumped out of bushes and began spraying bullets at the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team Tuesday, Khalil quickly sized up his options and got everyone to safety.
"First I thought there were some firecrackers going off. Then, when I saw the elite force cars in front of me taking fire, I immediately lost my voice," Khalil told CNN on Wednesday.
"At that time, the other elite car that was with us gave me cover, and then, when I saw he was giving me cover, my courage and my patience returned.
"I decided to take the vehicle from there, and one way or another, even if I had to drive over someone, I would take this bus and escape."
Khalil returned to the scene of the attack in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday to honor those who were killed and to place flowers in their memory.
One of the dead was Zafar Khan, a friend and fellow bus driver who had been in a vehicle behind Khalil.
"My eyes filled with tears that these were people that I was eating with and who died in doing their duty."
Khalil had been part of a convoy heading to Gaddafi Stadium, where the Sri Lankan cricket team was to continue a match against Pakistan.
Six police officers were killed, in addition to Khalil's friend Khan who was driving a bus with the match umpires. See where the attack happened »
The Sri Lankan cricketers praised Khalil's quick thinking and action, saying he saved their lives. Six team members were injured by broken glass and shrapnel.
Team captain Mahela Jayawardene wrote on his Web site of Khalil: "He probably saved our lives, showing remarkable bravery in the face of direct gunfire to keep the bus moving."
Crowds mobbed Khalil as he paid his respects at the place where his life changed in an instant.
"He is a hero, a real hero, a real man of the people," a man in the crowd said.
Private donors in Lahore have rewarded Khalil with 300,000 rupees (more than $3,000) -- a small fortune for a Pakistani bus driver.
Today, Khalil says all he can feel is pain of the loss of life. And he called on the attackers to recognize that their victims are humans just like them, with mothers and sisters.
"For God's sake, please stop this terrorism and let this nation breathe a sigh of relief," he said.
CNN's Zein Basravi contributed to this report.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Chauncey DeVega says: Dr. Martin Luther King Didn't Die for You to Let Your Pants Sag! or How Will Barack Obama Fix this Problem?
This video is priceless. We are going to do an expose on the politics of pants saggin' and our Bureau of Ign't Affairs, but this video is so great that it has to be posted and shared all around these Internets.
Some choice quotes:
@ 5:22--God, underwear, and the family:
I think it is disrespectful first of all to God and then their parents…Pants weren’t designed like that. They need to start honoring the Father in heaven, and then their parents, and then they will honor themselves…I don’t think that is a way of honoring…
@5:43--You have to give points for linking Brother Martin with the crisis of pants sagging among the ign't youth:
Hi, I am brother Malcolm and my opinion based on the law in reference to the young men that are wearing saggy pants and baggin pants I think it really is a negative attitude that is sent to the children. I have young men coming up, and I am a father, and I think all young men ought to have the potential to be as much as they can, and a gentlemen should not be walking around the neighborhood with his behind out, showing his underwear. What difference does it make what color underwear you have on? You know, we ought to be like Martin Luther King, we ought to be judged by the content of our character not the color of our skin nor the color of our behinds…
@ 7:25--Poetry in motion:
A real man do not want no one to see his underwear but a woman...
My respectable negroes and white allies, how do you manage to negotiate the plague of saggin' pants in your neighborhood?
We are happy to say that the membership of the Church of James Brown has increased thirty-fold over the course of our revival. Respectable Negroes from far and wide have marched down the aisle to drop to their knees and confess their sins at our black velvet altar of Negritude. Can I hear an Amen?
In a reversal of the long-standing, Negro church practice of soliciting offerings for a never-to-be-built building fund or for a Cadillac upgrade, we deacons have decided instead to make offerings to our parishioners. Several of you deserve special offerings for the degree of humility and self-reflection expressed in your confessions. In addition to a small token of recognition in the form of a book written by one of our prophets, we will also be sending to you a piece of red polyester taken from the hem of Father Brown's cape along with a small flask of his blessed cold-sweat. Hit meh!
We begin our recognitions with Sister Marci. Sister Marci was the brave soul who was the first to stand up and take those meaningful steps toward the altar. It took a lot of courage to confess her addiction to the dangerous mixture of raw eggs, oil and vinegar. Sister Marci, my brethren, is a Mayo-lover -- pure and simple. Don't be ashamed, Sister Marci. We are all equal before the Permed One!
We recognize Sister VOD for confessing her impatience with sisters who whine about the shortage of marriageable black men. Sister VOD's lack of empathy likely comes from the fact that she looks like one of the Glistening One's background, praise dancers. With her afro-puffs and hot pants, Sister VOD has never experienced a shortage of interested brothers -- marriageable or not, already married or not, on the down-low or not, employed or not, living with their mothers or not... Because of this, we can also understand Sister VOD's lack of sympathy for the "endangered black male." For, they are not endangered in her world.
For his low-down and dirty confession, the Church of James Brown gives the nod to Brother Al from Bay Shore. Brother Al. Brother Al. With tears in his eyes and a lump in his crotch, he confessed his secret shame of wanting to have a threesome with NeNe and Kim from the Real Housewives of Atlanta. It overwhelmed us all when he added the details of jheri curl juice and Jodeci on a cassette tape. Brother Al, we hear your confession and absolve you for your sins. There is not a deacon in this church who doesn't have a hot, ghetto love fantasy buried somewhere deep in his mind. Amen?
Sister Ya-Akua also deserves recognition for his heart-felt confession. She loves ghetto mess as portrayed on shows like Maury Povich and Flavor of Love, but confesses a fear of traveling to the ghetto alone. Sister Ya-Akua is a cultural voyeur. For this, she joins the ranks of Cornell West, Melissa Harris Lacewell, Henry Louis Gates and Mary Patillo McCoy. Sister Ya-Akua, we will absolve you only if you promise to reconcile the contradictions in your values. Go forth and stop eating watermelon and fried chicken in the dark!
For confessing her rage against all things Madea, Sister Natasha is recognized. Her rage has led to visions of Madea in the White House. Calm down, sistuh; otherwise, we'll soon be watching a new series called Natasha in Jail. To other members of our congregation, we ask that you hold Natasha up in your prayers. We also caution you against seeing a Madea movie in a black neighborhood -- Natasha may be in a theatre near you!
Finally, there was one who confessed but wished to remain anonymous. His shame was so deep that he couldn't bear to share his identity with others in the flock. Among other things, Anonymous confessed to hating "grown ass men, over 20 in matching hat, top, pants and shoes," "people wasting money they don't have on rims," "gold /platinum teeth," "weird, unnatural hair colors like blue, pink, and purple," and "Black churches that encourage 'prosperity salvation'." Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, and AMEN! Anonymous, we all break out in a cold-sweat when faced with such abominations. Wherever you are, you are absolved.
Brothers and Sisters, we end this service by encouraging you all to keep love, peace and funk within your hearts. Should you find yourselves burdened with the guilt of not being an authentic Negro, feel free to shift the weight from your shoulders by confessing at the Church of James Brown. A revival will be coming soon to a church near you. For now, may you be blessed with the serenity of knowing that you are not alone in your sinfulness. Good Gawd!
Sunday, March 1, 2009
One More Black History Month Hijinks: Monday is the Final Day of Confessions to the Church of James Brown!
Brother James has a concert to play with Isaac Hayes, Bernie Mac, Richard Pryor, and Redd Foxx on Tuesday. Thus, we only have have one more day for confessionals. Come Negro Sisters and Brothers, share your secret shames on Monday, 'cause come Tuesday you will have to wait till next year--and we will be announcing the winners for best confessional on that same day.
Come one, come all, Brother James loves all of you!
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Behold the Church of James Brown: Come Ye Negroes One and All, Confess Your Distaste for Things and Matters that All Black Folk Are Deemed to Love
Black History Month is an opportunity for respectable negroes to wallow in the muddied waters that is the politics of Black authenticity.
To that end, we live a lie. We pretend to like certain types and examples of music, culture, books, historical figures, etc. in order to be deemed sufficiently Black. Because of our love/hate affair with this most auspicious of months in the negro pantheon of holidays, we are forced to live a lie. No longer.
Behold! we have created a safe space where you can let down your guard. Here, in this most private and anonymous of spaces you can surrender, you can unburden yourself, and lay forth those secret shames that threaten to compromise your Black authenticity.
James Brown is the patron saint of all Black people for he is the one figure whose greatness we can all agree upon. Ultimately, James Brown is a unifier--a greatest common denominator--that transcends the diversity that is the tribe of respectable negroes and it is to him that we give our secret shames.
Come my brothers and sisters, enter the Church of James Brown and share your pain as you preface your offerings with the following prayer as we mark the end of Black History Month in the year 2009:
"Oh most amazing James Brown, greatest of all negroes, I offer you my lies and secret shames. All these years I have yearned to share those things which I have pretended to like and adore in the name of being authentically Black. I cast my words into the wind so that you can take our secrets and make these shames unintelligible as you sing them for all time in your unique and spirited language."
As an example for all of you, I will be the first to share three of my secret shames:
I, Chauncey DeVega, do not like black eyed peas.
I, Chauncey DeVega, do not like the television miniseries Roots.
I, Chauncey DeVega, do not like the Black Church.
Come my friends and unburden yourself!
We have some great prizes to give away courtesy of our friends at the Hachette Book Group.
How will we decide who get's our swag?
As a way to make this difficult choice, we will be holding a contest called "the James Brown Church" where you can confess the secrets and lies that you hold closest to your heart in order to maintain your Black authenticity.
And as an incentive for your sharing those deepest burdens and lies necessitated by the politics of Black authenticity, the best 2 confessionals will receive the following 8 books--
The American Journey of Barack Obama By The Editors of Life Magazine
Fledgling By Octavia Butler
Stand the Storm By Breena Clarke
Red River By Lalita Tademy
Keep the Faith: A Memoir By Faith Evans
Say You're One of Them By Uwem Akpan
The Shack By William Young
The Bishop's Daughter By Tiffany Warren
There are two main problems with popular approaches to history in general: history is frequently reduced to mere fact-listing, and “history” often amounts to uncritical hero worship.
The same is true of popular Black history narratives. Too many times are we forced to sit through lectures like this one: “Winston A. Freeman, a BLACK MAN, invented the screw that holds together toenail clippers!” And forget the Barbershop controversy, my colleague Chauncey is quite familiar with black folks who think it’s disrespectful to tell the truth: that Parks’ protest was planned.
Unless we cultivate nuance and complexity in our traditional historical narratives, Black history will be little more than trivia to build black kids’ self-esteem and “educate” others about our contributions. By nuance and complexity, I don’t mean just acknowledging that our heroes are subject to the same human failings as the rest of us (though we need that too); I mean re-examining the core of why we celebrate the subjects of traditional Black history.
Consider the Buffalo Soldiers. While they are celebrated as paragons of courage and patriotism in the face of American racism, it’s incredible how rarely their defenders question their missions: displacing Native Americans during the so-called Indian Wars, beating back Mexican insurrections, aiding imperialist efforts in Cuba and the Philippines.
Essentially, The Buffalo Soldiers were used to do the dirty work of (arguably racist) American imperialism. As such, it doesn’t make much sense to praise them unconditionally. We arrive at a fuller, more complex and interesting history if we acknowledge the dubious nature of their missions. Imagine if the dominant narrative of the Buffalo soldiers changed from “hey black men served with distinction in the military!” to “black people, hopeful that their service would lead to improved conditions in society, were used to aid the subjugation of other oppressed people. Tragically, black folks never reaped any social benefits from aiding American imperialism.”
By the way, I just don’t buy the argument that they deserve to be honored strictly based on their military service independent of whom they fought. Praising military service independent of the cause is questionable to say the least. I don’t think we want to go there.
Consider Madame CJ Walker. Her story is inspiring—self-made, independent black woman makes fortune through her business savvy in creating and marketing her line of black beauty products. That’s good stuff.
Now think about the vigor with which her defenders deny that Walker invented the hot comb (they’re right, actually) and sold skin-bleaching creams (they’re wrong on this one). This is clearly the desire to praise a black female entrepreneur clashing with later “Black is Beautiful” norms. But what’s wrong with placing Walker’s beauty products in context, noting that they were based on facilitating European notions of attractiveness? Doing so doesn’t diminish her accomplishments; it merely situates her among the racial norms of the time.
In short, we promote a more mature and more relevant Black history if we draw out tensions instead of ignoring them or attacking those who highlight them.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Black History Month Hijinks: We Must Convene a War Council and Vote One More Negro (or Actually Negress) Out of the Tribe of Respectable Negroes
We respectable negroes believe in equality among all peoples. Thus, no person, be they male or female, straight or gay, rich or poor, religious or agnostic will escape our long and mighty grasp.
This is especially true in matters of discommendation. As you know, we have successfully voted 2 lapdog Tom Negroes out of the tribe (Cowboy Troy and James T. Harris). Today, in this most auspicious Black History Month, I move that we vote our first woman out of the tribe. Her name: Tara Wall, Deputy Director of the Washington Times and former Senior Adviser to the Republican National Committee. Her offense: playing the colored race apologist aka "slave catcher" in her CNN editorial critiquing Attorney General Holder's speech in which he called Americans "cowards" on matters of race and justice.
I am all for ideological diversity, but this is simply outside of the bounds of common sense, propriety, and race pride.
Tara Wall's seditious editorial, "Americans are not Cowards on Race" is presented as evidence.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- First, we're a nation of whiners; now, we're a nation of cowards.
The coward comment comes from none other than President Obama's newly minted attorney general, Eric Holder.
The remarks were part of a speech Holder delivered for Black History Month. Yet, even in that context, the words came across as arrogant, condescending and not at all becoming a statesman.
One dictionary definition of coward is "lacking courage." Stinging words for a country at war, where white and black soldiers are shedding the same color blood. Are they cowards?
Ironic too that Holder's remarks come at a time when the nation has just elected its first black president and witnessed the confirmation of its first black attorney general (Holder himself). Forget that more whites than blacks cast their ballots for a black man to lead the nation. So this is how Holder says thanks?
Did the attorney general not think about the weight his words would carry? Was he simply trying to be provocative? Is this his way of bringing the races together? Does his position or his color give him the bravado to think that he can get away with calling us cowards?
Imagine for a moment if John McCain or George W. Bush uttered those words. The criticism would have known no bounds.
You'll recall, it was just a few months back that a media frenzy erupted when former Sen. Phil Gramm called national leaders (not the nation) a bunch of "whiners." Media pundits and broadcasters blasted Gramm for weeks, until he was forced off McCain's campaign.
Gramm's words, while true, were mild in comparison to Holder's. Where is that same outrage and moral condemnation over Holder's loose lips? It's a rhetorical question, of course.
And as much as we are constantly reminded of the past "mistakes" this country has made, is there nothing worth celebrating, no times when racial harmony brought racial reconciliation? Little of that made it to Holder's speech. Instead, he chose the celebratory occasion to exact punishment by way of guilt.
It makes one wonder, why does every race speech by those on the left have to begin (and end) with repudiation and insult? Why must there be a constant reminder of what went wrong without giving due recognition to what went right?
I will acknowledge that the country can always do better when it comes to race, but as much as Republicans are accused of refusing to admit racism exists, assuredly Democrats exploit it for every inch of territory they can garner. They point fingers, threaten and name-call without offering real solutions or substantive conversation.
One regular reader of The Washington Times, a Democrat, forwarded me a letter he sent to Holder, telling the attorney general how much he "applauds" his remarks but saying he had one request: "I would like to recommend that your office take the lead in ensuring the appointment of at least one African-American on every committee and task force that is created by the President of the United States and current cabinet Secretary's."
How's that for affirmative action on demand? More like affirmative extortion. The writer also stated in closing: "Let us (by "us," he means black folks) take advantage of every opportunity that is before us." I was particularly struck by the words "take advantage." It is a line of thinking and supposed reasoning to justify black Americans getting what's "due."
This was just one person's opinion, but it reflects a sentiment shared by many liberals. It also reveals a get-it-all-while-you-can mentality that has nothing to do with parity, equality or justice but rather with guilt trips, paybacks and quotas. This is not how the "case for race" should be made.
To be fair, there are some points Holder made with which I do agree (at least in part). "We, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race," Holder stated. It is a challenge for each of us, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, to go outside our comfort zone and reach out to someone "different" from ourselves (though I've done it my whole life).
It is an observation that, while true, shouldn't just apply to white people. It applies to black folks, too. Yet that's where the discussion of race loses traction among liberals. Holder doesn't really want to "talk" about race, because that would entail not only encouraging blacks to reach out, but it would mean addressing black racism -- which we've seen in the likes of one Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- in addition to white racism (and all racism).
Yes, we are sometimes too "socially segregated," as Holder put it, but cowards we are not. And mere rhetoric and rancor does nothing to elevate the discussion.
In contrast to Holder's bombastic speech, President Bush's Black History Month speech last year was refreshingly retrospective without being pretentious. While condemning present-day acts of racism (i.e. hanging nooses), Bush also offered a way forward.
"We renew our commitment to securing liberty and justice for every American," Bush said, focusing on the present instead of the past: "We honor four Americans who ... are leading the way toward ending racial injustice across our land."
Rhetoric aside, what was lacking from Holder's remarks was a way forward. Instead of "hope," Holder offered more hate veiled in subtle anger.
Last year, Obama gave a famous speech on race, addressing the controversy about the remarks of his former pastor, Wright, and urging people not to wallow in resentment:
Obama said, "The profound mistake of Rev. Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress had been made, as if this country -- a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past."
Obama's speech sums it all up. Holder's is a contradiction.
Do you respectable negroes have the courage to show this handkerchief head the exit? Or do you cower and quake with fear at the call of battle?
Per our procedures, I propose that Tara Wall should suffer discommendation from the tribe of respectable negroes for the following offenses:
___ Driving Miss Daisy
X Bagger Vancing
X Clarence Thomas Lap Dogging
___ Blatant Victimology a.k.a. the Jesse Jackson Offense
X Black Lap Dogging before a Conservative Audience
X Consistent and Chronic Lack of Race Pride
___Cooning and Lawn Jockeying a.k.a the Crime of Committing the Flava Flav
As a senior member of the We Are Respectable Negroes leadership council, I need the agreement of one other founding member, and the votes of 5 other members of the respectable negro tribe (or alternatively, 4 lifetime members and one white honorable ally) to complete the expulsion of Tara Wall. If I have indicated the incorrect offense, or if Tara Wall should suffer discommendation because she has instead violated some other unstated and auxiliary regulation not listed above, please indicate this discrepancy according to our established rules and procedures.
As per our procedures we will notify Tara Wall of her expulsion. In addition, all respectable negro friends and allies should query Tara Wall at CNN's website regarding her lack of race pride and cowardly behavior.
Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the New York Post and Fox News has finally seen the light of day and apologized for the recent cartoon that attempted to satirize Barack Obama's stimulus bill. Ultimately, Murdock wanted controversy and he certainly received it--in spades (you have to love that Oscar Wilde like wordplay).
As I noted in regards to the controversy surrounding the New Yorker magazine and its failed effort at lampooning the Islamophobes and those Right-wing paranoids who were convinced that Michelle Obama was Angela Davis redux and Barack was an Al Qaeda fifth columnist, the best satire both provokes while also speaking to some deeper truth. One that is not readily apparent. Likewise, as I suggested in the New Yorker case, the New York Post cartoon fails the latter test because it is so utterly obvious.
One cannot forget that the New York Post is a tabloid. And by extension, the raison d'etre of the New York Post is to be tacky, heavy handed, and clod-footed. Thus, it is incapable of subtlety by virtue of its very nature and design.
With those qualifiers noted, yes the cartoon is racist. Yes, Murdoch's publication was intentionally linking Barack Obama to a monkey. Yes, this is quite different from those editorial cartoons that parodied George Bush as being chimpanzee like in his countenance. Yes, as researchers at UCLA have demonstrated, the relationship evoked by the New York Post cartoon speaks to a far deeper and more dangerous racial dynamic in this country. And yes, I still believe that folks need thicker skins and that they should reorient their energies towards addressing real matters of public concern.
Consider: the world is on the cusp of a second Great Depression. We have inner city communities that are virtual Hobbesian states of nature. We have failing schools. We have communities that are struggling for their very existence. We have a contracting--if not disappearing middle class. In short, we have real problems, real concerns, and real worries as this generation of Americans, and their children, will likely see a radically diminished quality of life. These are concerns that cut across the colorline. Moreover, and as United States history has repeatedly demonstrated, while white supremacy and racism were a consistent narrative, economic adversity exacerbates, rather than minimizes, racial animus. Alternatively stated, when is the kumbaya, basking in the glow of inter-racial, post-Obama bliss going to turn into a let's throw the bums out--starting with those black bums in the White House and anyone who looks like them--clarion call for a political housecleaning?
And I must ask the provocative question, will this be a general purge or a racially hued Pogrom?