Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Long Until Fox News and Bill O'Reilly Introduce Their Racial Hostility Into Michael Jackson's Funeral Service?

These folks are so predictable.

It seems that Bill O'Reilly came to bury Michael Jackson, not to praise him.

I was talking to Zora today during Michael Jackson's funeral and I jokingly observed that Fox News and company are going to somehow find a way to introduce racial invective into their analysis of the event. I thought they would wait at least 24 hours. But alas, I only had to wait 6.

Are black folk so foreign, Other, and by definition unAmerican to the Right-wing in this country that their spokespeople are on 24 hour alert for any opportunity to introduce race where race is (less than) relevant? Hypocritically, while O'Reilly, Limbaugh and others plead for colorblindness and race neutrality in American political and social life--all the while mining a narrative of white male grievance under the guise of "reverse racism"--their bread and butter is the theater of white racial resentment.

Put more simply: O'Reilly and his kin hate Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. They paint the duo (and the NAACP and "civil rights establishment") as racial ambulance chasers and "shakedown" artists. Ironically, O'Reilly and company are themselves far worse race baiters. As is well-documented, in the United States since at least the 1960s, bigotry and racial resentment have been the bread and butter of the Right. It is a drug which has fueled their electoral politics, and one to which they show no signs of ending their addiction. And frighteningly, the false populism which is their standing order number 1 and primary strategy does not necessitate a much needed intervention.

I have to ask: Is O'Reilly so addicted to his bile and vitriol that he is rendered incapable of waiting a few obligatory days before beginning his vicious assault on Michael Jackson's memory? Is O'Reilly such a whore for the 24 hour news cycle that he has to pounce on the same day that Michael is remembered fondly and bathed in love and acceptance--emotions that Jackson was all too often deprived of during the 50 years of his much too short life?

I suspect the answers are "yes" and "yes."

Shame on you Mr. O'Reilly.

My Personal Happiness Pill of the Day: Jerry Springer Randomness, the Beauty of Black Gay Love, and a Less Than Pretty Tranny

Hat tip to O Hell Nawl on this one (I love that site. Trust me, if you want to waste an afternoon at work and be brought to near tears click on the "just ignant" link).

Michael's funeral was wonderful if not draining. As I sit here processing the gravitas of MJ's homegoing, this clip from Jerry Springer is a much needed and welcome happiness pill for the day.

Sit back, laugh, and enjoy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Impenetrable Logic and Stupifying Behavior of Princess Sarah Palin and Her Cabal of Enablers

We have beaten up on Palin quite a bit here, and she continues to be comedy gold.

I am working on a piece on Sarah Palin, the New Haven 20, and the myth of meritocracy, but this "explanation" of the logic underlying the resignation of the governess of Alaska demands a quick comment.

To my eyes, what is most entertaining is how Anderson Cooper is visibly stunned by Meg Stapleton's twisted logic--the exchange reminds me of a scientist becoming frustrated while trying to debate the existence of evolution with a creationist, a non-starter because their respective truths are grounded in such utterly different realities.

But, one has to appreciate a friend who is ready to ride or die in defense of Palin's decision making process.

One must ask: Is Palin's resignation political genius or political suicide? And what is more likely? Sarah Palin as Chairperson of the GOP or Sarah Palin as reality tv star?

The latter option is most compelling as she possesses all of the elements for a great Lifetime or TLC show--a protagonist who is amazingly confident yet simultaneously unaware of her own stupidity; baby daddy drama; a MILFish grandma; a secessionist hill billy husband; the moral quandaries brought about by ethics violations and political corruption; and a cliquish group of friends and supporters that are dedicated to enabling Sarah Palin's egomania.

How would you script Sarah Palin's reality tv show? What should it be called?

Was He a Monster, Hero, Villain, or Tragic Figure? Robert McNamara Has Died

I have always admired Robert McNamara's intellect and drive. He was an expert manager, a technocrat in the best and worst sense of the word, and a man whose failures and successes were played out upon the public stage. Although some would find the self-reflective turn which McNamara took at the end of his life (where in a book and documentary he gave a big mea culpa for his role in the Vietnam War) to be insincere, I instead took it as heartfelt and honest.

Ultimately, McNamara's lesson, and one we should all heed, is that we should not be trapped by the hubris of "expertise," a lack of empathy for one's adversaries, or be hamstrung in our decision-making by a set of foregone conclusions.

Travel well and rest in peace Mr. McNamara.

From CNN:

Robert McNamara, Ex-Defense Secretary Dies

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a key architect of the U.S. war in Vietnam under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, has died at age 93, according to his family. Robert McNamara took a lead role in managing the U.S. military commitment in Vietnam.

McNamara was a member of Kennedy's inner circle during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war.

But he became a public lightning rod for his management of the war in Vietnam, overseeing the U.S. military commitment there as it grew from fewer than 1,000 advisers to more than half a million troops.

Though the increasingly unpopular conflict was sometimes dubbed "McNamara's War," he later said both administrations were "terribly wrong" to have pursued military action beyond 1963.

"External military force cannot reconstruct a failed state, and Vietnam, during much of that period, was a failed state politically," he told CNN in a 1996 interview for the "Cold War" documentary series. "We didn't recognize it as such."

A native of San Francisco, McNamara studied economics at the University of California and earned a master's degree in business from Harvard. He was a staff officer in the Army Air Corps during World War II, when he studied the results of American bombing raids on Germany and Japan in search of ways to improve their accuracy and efficiency. After the war, he joined the Ford Motor Company and became its president in November 1960 -- the first person to lead the company from outside its founding family. A month later, the newly elected Kennedy asked him to become secretary of defense, making him one of the "whiz kids" who joined the young president's administration.

In October 1962, after the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, McNamara was one of Kennedy's top advisers in the standoff that followed. The United States imposed a naval "quarantine" on Cuba, a Soviet ally, and prepared for possible airstrikes or an invasion. The Soviets withdrew the missiles in exchange for a U.S. guarantee not to invade Cuba, a step that allowed Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev to present the pullback as a success to his own people.

In the 2003 documentary "The Fog of War," McNamara told filmmaker Errol Morris that the experience taught American policymakers to "put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes." But he added, "In the end, we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war."

McNamara is credited with using the management techniques he mastered as a corporate executive to streamline the Pentagon, computerizing and smoothing out much of the U.S. military's vast purchasing and personnel system. And in Vietnam, he attempted to use those techniques to measure the progress of the war.

Metrics such as use of "body counts" and scientific solutions such as using the herbicide Agent Orange to defoliate jungles in which communist guerrillas hid became trademarks of the conflict. McNamara made several trips to South Vietnam to study the situation firsthand.

He, Johnson and other U.S. officials portrayed the war as a necessary battle in the Cold War, a proxy struggle to prevent communism from taking control of all of Southeast Asia. But while they saw the conflict as another front in the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, which backed communist North Vietnam, McNamara acknowledged later that they underestimated Vietnamese nationalism and opposition to the U.S.-backed government in Saigon.

"The conflict within South Vietnam itself had all of the characteristics of a civil war, and we didn't look upon it as largely a civil war, and we weren't measuring our progress as one would have in what was largely a civil war," he told CNN.

Casualties mounted, as did domestic opposition to the war. In 1965, a Quaker anti-war protester, Norman Morrison, set himself on fire outside McNamara's office window. In 1967, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the Pentagon, which was ringed with troops.

By November 1967, McNamara told Johnson that there was "no reasonable way" to end the war quickly, and that the United States needed to reduce its forces in Vietnam and turn the fighting over to the American-backed government in Saigon. By the end of that month, Johnson announced he was replacing McNamara at the Pentagon and moving him to the World Bank. But by March 1968, Johnson had reached virtually the same conclusion as McNamara. He issued a call for peace talks and announced he would not seek re-election.

After leaving the Pentagon in early 1968, McNamara spent 12 years leading the World Bank. He said little publicly about Vietnam until the publication of a 1995 memoir, "In Retrospect."

"You don't know what I know about how inflammatory my words can appear," he told Morris. "A lot of people misunderstand the war, misunderstand me. A lot of people think I'm a son of a bitch."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Some July 4th Good Times

I could post an obligatory Crispus Attucks documentary, but in celebrating July 4th I have always preferred Good Times' exposition on the first American to die in the Revolutionary War.

Here is a little corrective that should have been included in that episode--but I guess folks don't like to promote the fact that more African Americans fought on the side of the British than the slave holding colonies--I won't tell our secret if you don't. Random thought: wouldn't a movie about Colonel Tye, the runaway slave turned commando/guerrilla leader who terrorized colonists in New Jersey and New York, be great to see?

Part 1

Part 2--I love me some David Walker

Remember, knowledge is half the battle. Now, eat, drink, and be merry!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Friday Fun! Alien Nation to be Remade

Everything old is new again. I have always loved Alien Nation--both the movie and television series.

I have some mixed feelings as well...that critical part of my Virgo personality that I cannot get past: for example, the trope of the Other as alien is well past tired, and the way that slaves are depicted as having little agency in Alien Nation has always troubled me. But in total, Alien Nation was great, entertaining, and challenging television fare (random factoid: I am teaching a course next year on the politics of science fiction television and film. Alien Nation is most certainly getting its own week because we slightly older ghetto nerds do have an obligation to school the youngsters).

Hopefully, this rebooted series will find a home amongst those of us that are still mourning the departure of our beloved Battlestar Galactica.

From Variety:

Sci Fi cops a remake of 'Alien' tale

Sci Fi is developing a new take on "Alien Nation," the 1988 feature that previously spawned a spinoff series on Fox.

"Angel" alum Tim Minear -- no stranger to sci-fi tales, having worked on "The X-Files," "Firefly" and "Strange World" -- is penning the fresh take on the franchise. Fox 21, the alternative production arm of 20th Century Fox TV, will produce.

"Alien Nation" centers on the partnership between a veteran cop and his alien detective partner, set against the larger tale of alien "newcomers" who move to Earth and attempt to assimilate into society.

Fox 21 topper Chris Carlisle said he believed "Alien Nation" could rep the next franchise revival for Sci Fi, which found huge success in dusting off "Battlestar Galactica" and reworking it for today's auds. Carlisle said "Alien Nation" works both as a sci-fi piece and a procedural drama.

"It's absolute perfect timing for this type of show," Carlisle said. "They're looking for more grounded sci-fi and close-ended episodes, and at the heart of 'Alien Nation,' it's a cop movie. It's grounded. And it has a tremendous amount of dramatic possibilities and humor."

Sci Fi is also looking to broaden its footprint, as it preps to rebrand itself as "Syfy" next week.

"It's very much in keeping with what we've been looking to do -- find themes that are more than just hard sci-fi, something that feels contemporary and relevant and invites a broad audience in," said Sci Fi original programming exec VP Mark Stern.

The new "Alien Nation" would include a mythology that evolves over time and will also touch on some of the issues of the day, such as the immigrant experience and how society integrates an incoming culture.

Minear said he's looking forward to incorporating a mix of all the different kinds of series he's written in the past.

"It's genre mixed with procedural mixed with funny and mixed with big, giant scary," Minear said. "I love serialized stuff, but this is also a cop franchise. That 'Starsky and Hutch'/'Lethal Weapon' buddy cop comedy is absent from TV right now."

Minear is currently busy outlining the "Alien Nation" script and mapping out the project's mythology. The new "Alien Nation" will likely take place in the Pacific Northwest, and will take place about 20 years after the first ship of aliens - who have been banished as slaves - crash lands into Earth.

By the time the show begins, some time in the 2020s, the alien population has multiplied from a few thousand to 3.5 million. And much of the "newcomers" live their own segregated existence, in what Minear compares to the North African ghettos in France.

"You can take (the original 'Alien Nation') a step forward and really do a show that encompasses the clash of civilizations, and the idea of a ghettoized minority," he said. "You can touch on racism, terrorism, assimilation, immigration. And there's room for satire."

The original film, which took place in 1991, was helmed by Graham Baker and written by Rockne S. O'Bannon (with an uncredited revise by James Cameron). Mandy Patinkin and James Caan starred as alien cop Sam Francisco and his reluctant human partner, respectively; Terence Stamp also starred.

In 1989, 20th Century Fox TV and Kenneth Johnson Prods. adapted the movie for Fox, with Eric Pierpoint and Gary Graham in the lead roles. The show lasted just a single season but spawned a series of books.

The TV show was revived in 1994 as a series of telepics for Fox, starting with "Alien Nation: Dark Horizon." Five TV movies were ultimately aired; the last, "Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy," ran in 1997.

Stern said Sci Fi had been looking at "Alien Nation" as a potential franchise for several years and had talked to several writers about ways to update the concept for modern auds.

"The challenge is how do you do it in a way that will reinvent it without it feeling like a derivative rehash," he said. "We sat down with Tim, who is someone we'd been looking to work with for quite a while, and his approach felt like it wouldn't be a traditional adaptation. We got excited."

Minear said he'd been anxious to develop for cable - and in particular, Sci Fi. The success of "Battlestar" fueled his interest in reviving "Alien Nation," he said.

"Twenty years (after 'Alien Nation'), TV as a whole has evolved, and you can explore issues and go deeper with subject matter than you ever could before," Minear said. "On cable, you can play with ambiguity. This is a place I want to be."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Look at the Negro in the Window! Black in America Part 2, Black Men and Women Issues, and Single Mothers Adopting

CNN is ramping up for its second installment in the Black in America series (to air July 22-23). As CNN builds its momentum towards a second "expose" on the problems of Black America, the network has featured the obligatory stories on the politics of black hair; what does it mean to be African in Black America; an excellent piece on the urban farming movement; and the obligatory rediscovering our past aka our personal version of Roots story.

Yes, as I did last year, we will be featuring our very own White in America series as a parallel and complement to CNN's zoo-like, freak show, pathology parade on black folks.

As an opening volley, here is CNN's latest installment on the problem that is Black America (yes, that phrasing is intentional). And of course these are problems endemic and unique to the Black community: only black professional men want to be players; we are the only racial group plagued by colorism; and stories of heartbreak and loss are unique to black folks...it must be our blues sensibility.

Random thought that I should probably keep to myself lest we start a black man/black woman gender battle royal--I didn't know that black professional men had it so easy! I guess all the professional brothers I know who can't get any play from the sisters are doing something really really wrong--oh well, I have never been very good at self-censoring.

The full story "Single Black Women Choosing to Adopt" is found here. Some choice excerpts:


"Zoey was going to be born to a single black mother anyway," Fleming says. "At least she's being raised by a single black parent who was ready financially and emotionally to take care of her."

Yet there are some single African-American women who are not emotionally ready to adopt an African-American child who is too dark, some adoption agency officials say.

Fair-skinned or biracial children stand a better chance of being adopted by single black women than darker-skinned children, some adoption officials say.

"They'll say, 'I want a baby to look like a Snickers bar, not dark chocolate,' " Caldwell, founder of Lifetime Adoption, says about some prospective parents.

"I had a family who turned a baby down because it was too dark," she says. "They said the baby wouldn't look good in family photographs."


The African-American men she dated, however, didn't want to marry, she says. She dated African-American professionals: engineers, attorneys and managers. But there were so many eligible African-American women, and they still wanted to play, she says.

Time was running out for her. At 37 years old, Duren had earned an MBA degree, a six-figure income and had traveled widely. But she couldn't find the right man to raise a family.

One man she thought she would marry broke off their relationship because he said he wasn't ready to be a father. Then he had a child out of wedlock with another woman, she says.

"He broke my heart," Duren says.

The persistent heartache ate away at her.

"I was struggling," Duren says. "I prayed: 'You know Lord, I worked so hard. I have my integrity, morals -- how did this happen?' ''

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hurricane Chris Raps in the Louisiana House of Representatives and in Doing So Justifies the End of Reconstruction

I am rendered speechless once more.

Question one: is this an example of what some have called "the black image in the white mind" come true? Is Hurricane's performance an act of racial projection that validates D. W. Griffith's wicked lies about African American self-rule during Reconstruction?

Question two: given the many celebrity deaths this past week, am I alone in wishing that hip hop had died a glorious death a decade or so ago so that she would be spared the indignity of a slow, painful decline?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Legendary Graffiti Artist Iz the Wiz has Passed Away

When I was growing up, my parents and I would take the Metro North into Grand Central and then go to see relatives in Brooklyn or the Bronx, or alternatively backtrack up to 125th street. During those trips, I fondly remember seeing graffiti art (as opposed to crudely drawn "tags") on the subway cars. To my preteen eyes, those moving murals were part of what made New York so different, special, a wee bit dangerous (in a manageable sort of way) and "exotic" to a kid from the semi-suburbs.

These were good times. I especially liked stopping by the stores next to Grand Central that sold imported (and overpriced) hand held video games like Donkey Kong from Japan and Taiwan. I also loved the Japanese sex figurines that featured samurai, geishas, and sumo wrestlers doing the deed in any number of less than traditional positions. Even then, the profane, the gross, and the sensual held a certain appeal for this preteen ghetto nerd. And this love of the lurid would almost cost me my life during my high school senior year class trip...but that is another story for another time.

Before the Disneyfication of New York and Times Square, those simpler days during the Reagan 80's--a moment in time that was in fact not so simple--the City had such personality.

Rest in peace Iz the Wiz, hip hop pioneer and graf artist, as you were part of what made New York special. From The New York Times:

Michael Martin, Subway Graffiti Artist Iz the Wiz, Is Dead at 50

In the 1970s and ’80s, chances were good that anyone traveling the New York subways rode at least once in a car emblazoned with “Iz the Wiz.” Cryptic but euphonious, often abbreviated to the ultraminimal Iz, the signature could be seen all over the subway system: fat capital letters spray-painted on a door, below a window, across an entire car or even along the full length of a train.

Iz the Wiz was a legend among graffiti artists, by almost all accounts “the longest-reigning all-city king in N.Y.C. history,” as the graffiti Web site at149st.com puts it. In other words, Iz put his name, or tag, on subway cars running on every line in the system more times than any other artist.

Michael Martin — Iz the Wiz — died on June 17 in Spring Hill, Fla., where he had moved a few years ago. He was 50. The cause was a heart attack, said Ed Walker, who is working on a biography and documentary of Iz the Wiz.

“Look at any movie shot on location in New York from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and you will very likely see an Iz tag,” Mr. Walker said. “He told me once that in 1982 he went out every night and did at least a hundred throw-ups” — letters filled in quickly with a thin layer of color. “People can’t fathom it.”

Not everyone was appreciative. His career put him on the wrong side of the law — he was issued summonses on several occasions — and of New Yorkers who regarded graffiti as vandalism, not art. But he was a hero to generations of taggers. Mr. Martin started out spraying graffiti on walls and buildings when he was 14, using the tags Scat or FCN, for French Canadian National, although he was not Canadian. He soon graduated to subway cars, specializing in the A line, the longest in the New York subway system. He painted his first cars with the tag Ike — his nickname, Mike, minus the first letter.

In 1975, in the 68th Street Station of the Lexington Avenue line, he saw a poster for the Broadway play “The Wiz” with the slogan, “The Wiz Is a Wow.” It had a certain ring. “He said, ‘If the Wiz is a Wow, why can’t Iz be the Wiz?’ ” his friend and fellow graffiti artist SAR (real name, Charles Sar) recalled in a telephone interview last week.

With the graffiti artist Vinny, Mr. Martin mounted an intensive throw-up campaign on the A line. In the late 1970s he branched out to other lines, spray-painting top-to-bottoms (graffiti displays extending from the top of a train to the bottom), burners (complicated works intended to dazzle the competition) and fully realized scenes, like his homage to John Lennon, painted after Lennon was shot to death in 1980. It was a two-car scene with a portrait of Lennon and a graveyard filled with tombstones.

“He was an artist, but also a bomber, recognized as a person who made himself seen by everybody,” said the photographer Henry Chalfant, using the graffiti term for a prolific artist. “At the same time he appreciated the aesthetic side of it. He didn’t do wild style” — complex, interlocking letters — “he had a simple, readable style with great color and interesting forms within the lettering itself.”

With the photographer Martha Cooper, Mr. Chalfant published “Subway Art” (1984), recently reissued by Chronicle Books, and made the documentary film “Style Wars” (1983), which included Mr. Martin in its portraits of graffiti and hip-hop artists. He also appeared in the role of a transit police detective in the cult 1983 film “Wild Style.”

Mr. Martin was born in Manhattan and lived in a succession of foster homes after his mother was imprisoned for burglary. He did not know his father. He grew up in Ozone Park, Queens, and as a teenager lived in Covenant House on the Lower East Side.

Like many others, he found a community in the graffiti movement. Early on he worked with artists like Vinny, Epic 1&2, and Evil 13. Later he painted with many of the top crews, or graffiti collectives, in New York, including the Odd Partners, the Crew and the Three Yard Boys. At one point he was president of the Master Blasters and the Queens chapter of the Prisoners of Graffiti.

When the graffiti artist Spar One, interviewing Mr. Martin for at149st.com in 1995, asked how many complete cars he had decorated (“You mean like burner top-to-bottom jammies?” he asked), he said: “Oh, I don’t know, I never counted. But I know in the years ’81 to ’82 I did no less than 25.” Mr. Martin often added snippets from classic rock lyrics to his tags, like “whole lotta love” or “welcome to the machine,” which became the informal titles for his more famous works.

The displays enjoyed surprising longevity in the days before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began cracking down on graffiti. Elaborately painted cars could run for months or even years. Artists would often gather at certain stations to watch their work and keep an eye on the competition, much like their counterparts did in 15th-century Florence.

Mr. Martin withdrew from the scene in the mid-1980s. He managed a grocery store briefly, then began using drugs heavily. A marriage in the late 1980s ended in divorce. He is survived by a brother, Peter Poston of Spring Hill, and a sister, Evelyn Poston of East Stroudsburg, Pa.

In the 1990s Mr. Martin jumped back into graffiti, painting cars, but also taking part in the legal graffiti movement, expressing himself on walls set aside for the purpose. He was one of the first artists to work on the Phun Phactory, a 200,000-square-foot industrial building in Long Island City, Queens, that artists began covering with graffiti in 1993. It is now known as the 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center, or the Institute of Higher Burnin’.

Mr. Martin learned he had kidney failure in 1996, which he assumed was a result of working with aerosol paint, and for the rest of his life he was on dialysis. His financial situation was dire. “He never made the connections he needed to make to be appreciated in the art world,” Mr. Sar said.

Iz the Wiz sought fame, and found it, but not on gallery walls. His work appeared on the old dusty brown subway cars known as coal mines, and their replacements, called ding dongs for the bell tone that chimes when the doors close. Painting one of those, end to end, Mr. Martin once said, “was like sex in a can.”

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Frank Ricci, Discrimination, Exams, and the Law--Why the New Haven Firefighter Case Matters

"Neal and Bogan's conception of merit is different from Frank Ricci's. It's easy to see why. Ever since the test results came out, the black Firebirds and the white plaintiffs have had opposing interests. Stretching back further in time, back over the decades, the two groups also see the history of the department through a different lens. For Frank Ricci, the past is a story of ethnic heritage and family pride. For Mike Neal and Erika Bogan, it's a story about breaking the lock on hiring that kept their people out."

--Part 5, of Slate's feature on the Frank Ricci promotion controversy in New Haven, CT

Slate has a great feature exploring the history, context, and issues of legal jurisprudence in the New Haven fire department promotion/exam controversy. A decision in the Ricci v. DeStafano case will likely be handed down by the Supreme Court next week and this series is an excellent and balanced primer--one that goes beyond the reactionary, Jim Crow 2.0, White male grievance narrative offered by the Right or the overly simplistic reading of the case offered by many "progressives".

As a native of New Haven, I can second the nuance captured in the series regarding the tensions between firefighters from the lily white suburbs and those black and Latino firefighters from (by comparison, the much more integrated) city of New Haven. I have always argued that municipal jobs should be filled by folks from that community--be they cops, firefighters, or the like--but that is a conversation for another time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gucci Mane: Lyrical Genius, Outsider Theorist

Over the last few weeks, some of the best rap bloggers have been making the case that Atlanta trap rapper Gucci Mane is a brilliant lyricist.

I called bullshit on the whole enterprise. I was put off by Gucci’s frequent emphasis on well-tread topics like jewelry, alcohol, hoes, crack, and cars, by his sometimes sketchy technique around the beat, by his mumble-mouthed delivery, and by his flamboyant, coonish image. I was prejudiced by the fact that he is 30 years old but still dresses and speaks like someone half his age. In short, I allowed my uptight, judgmental respectable negro elitism to get the better of me.

In all honesty, I had only listened about a dozen or so Gucci verses before dismissing him, so I wasn’t even giving him a fair shot. Since then, I have listened to Gucci’s entire catalog, and I’ve determined that the aforementioned bloggers are being too conservative with their praise. Not only is Gucci one of the best rap lyricists right now, he is one of the smartest writers in any genre or medium. He’s obviously a master with words, but what makes him stand out is the way in which he so effortlessly (and perhaps unwittingly) channels the complex theories and approaches of several influential writers while avoiding these writers’ weaknesses.

For instance, Gucci employs Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of mass consumer culture, as well as Ralph Ellison’s playful puns and elevation of African American folk traditions, yet Gucci avoids the reactionary cultural politics and elitism that plague these three men’s works. Gucci’s lyrics also reflect the feminist theories and analytical lenses of Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray, while remaining uncorrupted by their obfuscatory academic writing styles.

A close reading of one exemplary verse, the opening verse from Gucci’s “Booty Shorts,” reveals the intricacy of Gucci’s theoretical tapestry. From a cursory examination of this classic verse, one might conclude that “Booty Shorts” is simply a derivative song objectifying women’s asses; upon closer inspection, however, what emerges is a linguistic and theoretical tour-de-force.

This verse underscores the socially constructed nature of gender, serves up a radical critique of the mindless consumption and dehumanizing sexist exploitation of female bodies that define the ethos of late capitalism, and uses subversive language to (re)claim the female subject position. And the verse does all of these things through the medium of African American folk dialect.

“Booty Shorts”

I don't holla at girls, girls holla at me
I don't throw dollars at girls, they throw dollars at me

Gucci wastes no time. He opens by explicitly inverting the traditional gender roles in which men pursue women. In his world, women are aggressive and vocal, while Gucci becomes their object of desire. Furthermore, he reverses the common practice of men objectifying and commodifying female sexuality. Here Gucci acts as the stripper being exploited by women. As will become clear later in the verse, these inversions are, in fact, subversions, as Gucci promblematizes and unsettles traditional relationships of gender, sex, consumption, and capitalist labor.

“Gucci you conceited,” Bitch, I might be
Cause my chain so bright Stevie Wonder might see

When an unnamed woman accuses Gucci of possessing a trait that is typically considered feminine, Gucci entertains the idea. Recall too that Gucci Mane’s moniker, much like Kanye West’s (the Louis Vuitton Don), comes from his penchant for wearing designer labels, thus mocking rap’s hypermasulinity by embracing signifiers of dandy pomp and gay fashion. Moreover, their designer fetish is itself a sarcastic shot at the absurdity of excessive consumerism.

Contemporaries Camron and Charles Hamilton unabashedly wearing pink, and self-identified heterosexual Lil’ Wayne greeting his heterosexual male mentor with passionate kisses are also part of a promising trend of rappers combating the rampant misogyny and homophobia in rap by forging ambiguous queer masculine personae.

The word “Bitch” in these lines is not an expression of misogyny. In using it, Gucci refashions the word as a symbol of feminist agency over language. He challenges the unnamed woman to act like a reconstituted “bitch” who embraces the rhetorical destruction of rigid man/woman binaries.

Yeah, you got a man but ya man ain't me

As the verse progresses, Gucci is becoming more explicit in his subversive critique of gender. In this line, Gucci denaturalizes manhood by noting the distinction between his unique manner of performing masculinity and that of another man.

Add ya whole life savings times three
The mo’ and the dro and the clothes ain't free
So you gotta be a dimepiece to approach me

Not only do these lines reveal that Gucci is great at multiplication, they comprise a sharp parody of mindless capitalist consumption. In them, Gucci lays bare the twisted notion of women’s commodified value in our society—a value based strictly on a crude materialism that reduces women to their bodies and burdens women with unrealistic standards of beauty.

How much 'unh’ can one girl take
How many cakes can one man bake?

In this context, “unh” refers to penis. For Gucci, this rhetorical question is not a macho sexual boast; it is a nod to radical lesbian feminist awakening. Another way of framing the question is, how much rapacious male sexuality must a woman endure before she rebels against hegemonic patriarchy and becomes a fully realized, liberated human being?

An alternate version of the second line has Gucci asking “how much cake [i.e. money] can one man make?” This alternate question’s proximity to the previous one links liberation from patriarchal norms to liberation from the capitalist drive for greed and acquisition. Gucci’s choice to stress a man’s cake baking instead suggests that he preferred to stay with the theme of subversive gender acts, in this case, a man engaging in domestic labor, a realm traditionally associated with (or thrust upon) women.

Playa on the real?, man I don't know
I just love it when they fresh and they ass cheeks show

The first line sees Gucci questioning his own player status in a moment of existential self-consciousness. He expresses doubt about whether he is the player that hetero male culture demands he be. In doing so, Gucci again calls into question the default position that sex and gender are synonymous.

One can easily read the second line as an suggesting attraction to both male and female bodies, further upsetting the heteronormative order. The use of the plural pronoun “they [they’re]” and of “they [their]" here is ambiguous—these gender-neutral terms could refer to women or to leather boys.

Also notable is Gucci’s sex-positive feminist attitudes. Though he is destabilizing hetero patriarchy, he nonetheless appreciates the beauty and sensuality of the human body, male and/or female.

Everybody stare when I walk in the room

Gucci, who has donned a queered male/feminized persona, is now subject to the penetrating male gaze. However, what is normally an oppressive burden becomes an empowering political act in Gucci’s subversive feminist hall of mirrors. Gucci wrests the power from the hetero male gaze, rendering his own body a site of contestation, thus forcing those watching this spectacle to confront the fluidity and performativity of gender.

Smokin on purp got me high like the moon
Chain front big like its New Year's Eve
But my Rollie on fire like the first day of June

These final lines are dense and complex, but they reflect Gucci’s theoretical approach better than any of the verse’s lines. A seemingly pedestrian marijuana reference (“Smokin on purp”) may actually be an ode to purple, a color long associated with androgyny.

Gucci concludes the verse with mentions of two informal holidays. The first is New Years Eve, whose bacchanalian celebrations are defined by lowered inhibitions, i.e. flouting social norms. And “the first day of June” is likely a reference to the anticipation of Juneteenth. The latter holiday’s celebration of the (belated) end of slavery is the perfect metaphor for Gucci’s liberation from oppressive patriarchal gender roles.

Since Gucci probably hasn’t undergone advanced study, it’s amazing and wonderful that he has come to write with such theoretical depth. Gucci’s raw outsider theory is a testament to how resourceful black folks can be. They often possess an authentic innate wisdom that no amount of reading and formal study can provide.

What we have in Gucci Mane is a national treasure, the kind of visceral thinker and writer the world only sees once in a generation. Doubters, I implore you not to repeat my mistake. It is to your own detriment to ignore Gucci’s prodigious talents. Mark my words: this man will be transforming the way we think about language and the intersection of race, class, and gender for years to come.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson has Died--The World is Now Made Less Interesting in Your Absence

Michael Jackson has died.

Our generation's Elvis is gone. We'll have a proper MJ reflection post in a bit, but this is truly a surprise.

I guess Johnny Carson got Ed McMahon back a few days ago and they wanted to do a special edition of The Tonight Show in heaven with guests Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

Travel well, you had a kind heart and were a genius of the first order.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brother X-Squared at the Movies or Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen Reviewed--Tricknology and the White Man's Demagoguery

The We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) is proud to announce a new project: Brother X-Squared at the Movies. This new series will feature one of our most popular commentators and his unique perspective on the art, aesthetics, and politics of film. Brother X-Squared is a true Renaissance man and we know that his series will soon grow to become one of WARNNN's most popular features. For his first installment, Brother X-Squared offers his feelings on the soon to be Hollywood blockbuster movie, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.


Transformer 2: Revenge of the Fallen is perfectly titled. It is an example of the fallen white man. It an example of how the white man has tried to make the Black man fall to his level. It is an example of how the white man uses tricknology to try to create the fall of the Black man. In short, Transformers 2 is a prime example of the white man's duplicitous evil--but as our honored elders teach us, all Nubian warriors should study this film because it contains truths that are mixed with lies, and as Asian god knowledge warrior Sun-Tzu taught, we must know our enemies as well as ourselves in order to be victorious in battle.

Transformers 2 is a story about giant robots from the planet Cybertron who have brought their thousand year long battle to the planet Earth. The plot points are irrelevant because as that white race mixer Roger Ebert said, "If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination."

You see, this is how tricknology works! It lulls you into a mindstate where you are receptive to the manipulation of your subliminals. Michael Bay, as an instrument of Zionist controlled Hollywood is a master of mind control and mental warfare. Consider how all of his movies have denigrated the Black man--Bad Boys 1 and 2 (what I like to call the Will Smith happy rapping negro meets doing the monkey shine Martin Lawrence); Armageddon (with that "magical", foolish, ape-like negro Michael Clark Duncan from the movie, The Green Mile); and Titanic where he doesn't even show the Black passengers (except for the good negro servants who instead of escaping continue to play music for their white social betters) on that boat and dares to waste 3 hours of our time waiting for a bunch of ice people to get their comeuppance from an iceberg. Just like the Nazi propagandists in World War 2, Michael Bay is an expert at implanting images into our subconscious in order to control our emotions.

Thus, and in keen fashion, Transformers 2 is an assault on the positive Afro-Asiatic mindstate that Nubians in America need to develop in order to protect ourselves from psychic violation by the white man. For example, we have worked long and hard to rewrite the white man's lies about Egypt. In Bay's version, this greatest of civilizations was populated by white people that looked like Elizabeth Taylor and Kirk Douglas--and don't ever forget how that devil John Wayne was cast as colored military genius, Genghis Khan.

Transformers 2 perpetrates an even more wicked lie.

In Bay's movie, the villains of the film, the Decepticons have actually hidden a machine that destroys the sun inside the Great Pyramid of Giza! Yes, OUR great pyramid, one of the greatest marvels of the ancient world. And here is where the white man's tricknology is so very deep, his attack on Nubian consciousness so profound, that this foul machine is designed to destroy the sun! Yes, the very life essence of the Afro-Asiatic man as a sun person! In short, the Decepticons are actually trying to commit genocide against the Black man in the service of the white, ice people. This wickedness is hidden in plain sight for all to see and for our children to internalize: Transformers 2 is a movie about the genocidal destruction of the Black man. It is the white man's wish fulfillment brought to life.

Transformers 2 is multilayered in how it attacks the Black man. Again, as I love to say, the white man is playing 3 dimensional Star Trek chess while you negro, lapdog, Obama post-racial types are playing a game of spades or checkers. In the mythology of the movie, there were several original "Primes" who made a pact to never destroy life as they searched the galaxy for suns to consume. To understand why this is important you need a deep understanding of the subtleties of the Black man's life force. The Black man needs the sun. As Gods we actually consume its heat and energy, but just like the Primes, we would never destroy life in order to satisfy our needs. The Black man as sun king is a life giver not a life destroyer, he is a positive not a negative. Inevitably, one of these legendary Primes decides to break this rule and to destroy the Earth. The other Primes then sacrifice themselves in order to stop him. Who is this betrayer? "The Fallen" of the movie's title.

Again, truths mixed with lies. This story is directly out of the teachings of Black genius Elijah Muhammed!

The fallen character who creates all of this violence and mischief in the movie is a proverbial fallen angel, who is in turn exiled and defeated by the Primes. In parallel, just like Elijah Muhammed taught us, the white man is actually an invention of an evil scientist named Yakub who betrayed the wisdom of the Gods. In Transformers 2, the Decepticons are direct descendants of this fallen Prime. And notice the name: "Decepticon" equals "deception." Again, the wisdom offered by the Afro-Asiatic transcendent mindstate proves revelatory. Just as the white man is a natural deceiver, the Decepticons are naturally evil!

The heroes of the film are led by Optimus Prime--the last of these legendary Primes. He is loyal to humanity and is compelled to be honorable and righteous. Again, Transformers 2 assaults the mental defenses of the Black man. Optimus is a slave to the white man's will! He is self-sacrificing and willing to do anything to protect the white man's world. Optimus, as in thinking optimistically--one of the tenets of the strong and righteous Afrocentric mental state--is noble, but again, here is Michael Bay's trickery, he is the leader of the "heroes," the Autobots, who are actively assaulting Black personhood.

The movie features any number of denigrating references to the Black man. President Obama, that halfrican leader of respectable negroes, is depicted as a coward who runs away when the Decepticons attack the world. There is a sad, indentured servant-like negro with rotten teeth who works in the foul, swine soiled butcher shop of one of the human protagonists (a Jewish character with a "pubic hair" like afro) so that he can buy some new teeth from the Sky Mall magazine...yes, the Sky Mall magazine--that level of wickedness is so multifaceted that I am still trying to figure out the racially coded meaning behind that allusion.

The worst and most foul of these assaults on the Black man are the two Autobot twins named "Mudflap" and "Skids." These characters are worse than that coon Jar Jar Binks from those hellish Star Wars movies. Apparently, these robots are the bastard offspring of that minstrel hip-hopper Lil Jon and coon extraordinaire Stepin Fetchit. Mudflap and Skids (names that are intentionally close to the racist slurs "mud people" and "spics") are lazy, uncooperative, and need to be "disciplined" like uppity slaves by an overseer named "Bumblebee" (who in another time would sting the captive Nubians with his whip).

The level of the wickedness on display in this movie knows no limits as these two robot Sambos are illiterate, have gold teeth (but their pants aren't sagging, thank goodness), and speak in the most stereotypical, nouveau slave, urban, hip hop, pidgin English imaginable. The worst part of Transformer 2's use of these images is that the fools in the theater with me were laughing at this nonsense! Yes, Black, brown, red, and yellow alike were cackling like they were hyenas! I could understand the white devils enjoying this visual assault on Black people, but for the melanin empowered people to not see how they are being violated, truly boggles the mind. Again, white supremacy is the greatest tricknology of all time and the white man is a master at deploying it in ways both subtle and gross.

The ways of white folks which are on display in Transformers 2 are clear to all mentally empowered and intelligent Nubians. Where by contrast, the white man's tricknology distracts you simpleton neo-slave, negroes with a "hero" in Optimus Prime so that any charges of racism will be diffused, all the while socializing you into believing the most pernicious stereotypes of Black humanity--stereotypes which you all internalize and reproduce.

In my Afrocentric, black god, transcendent and mentally empowered analysis of politics, art, and culture, I always return to the natural depravity of the white man and how through sex he has waged a long battle against the Black man's spirituality and rightful place as ruler over the Black family. Because he is a natural sex deviant, the white man cannot help but insert his fascination with unnatural sexual acts into his films and "culture."

Transformers 2
has many such instances. The film itself is full of inter-species sex and miscegenation between humans and robots (one of which is naturally disguised as a white woman!). Shockingly, some of the sex in this movie is even bestial in nature. Transformer 2's worst and most depraved use of sex in order to humiliate the Afro-Asiatic Black man involves the movies climax where a giant robot named Devastator is assaulting the Great Pyramid of Giza. This monstrosity of a thing is tearing down one of the greatest marvels of Black genius while his testicles, yes his robot testicles, are swinging in the face of one of the human characters. Sick and gross.

This is the ultimate example of the wickedness of the white man's tricknology on display in this film: Devastator is doing what the white sex freaks call "tea bagging" (a sex act where a man puts his testicles and scrotum in another person's face...and not coincidentally "tea bagging" is also the name for what those closeted, white, perverted conservatives called their wannabe lynching party "protests" a few months back). Ultimately, Devastator was metaphorically putting his deceptive, foul, testicles quite literally in the face of the Black man's history and legacy.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen is an assault on Nubian consciousness. But, as good warriors, you are obligated to see this foul film in order to be fully prepared in all things as we battle the white man's wickedness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Now Introducing Jim Crow 2.0--Those Poor, Oppressed, Conservative White Men Certainly do Need to be "Liberated" or Where is Limbaugh's MLK?

Jim Crow 2.0 has a certain ring to it, no? Courtesy of Alternet:

Whiny Conservatives: How Dare Rich White Guys Cry About Oppression?

In a a June 12 column titled "Miss Affirmative Action 2009," Patrick Buchanan observed, regarding Judge Sonia Sotomayor's stellar academic career, "To salve their consciences for past societal sins, the Ivy League is deep into discrimination again, this time with white males as victims rather than as beneficiaries. One prefers the old bigotry. At least it was honest ..."

Here then is a common lament among white conservative men; from listening to Buchanan and other rich, old conservative pundits, one would think that they were the most oppressed minority in America today. Often, they go so far as to imply their "suffering" is far worse than that experienced by African Americans during the darkest twilight before the successes of the civil rights movement.

In the maelstrom that has followed President Barack Obama's nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the right-wing media have crafted a political narrative of white male oppression, exclusion and victimization.

Their solution? Crying about Jim Crow 2.0 -- the idea that the white man is treated unfairly -- and absurdly claiming for themselves a 21st century "civil rights movement" to "free" white men from so-called oppression. They see this as a moment when America's moral conscience should be aroused in the defense of white men as victims of racism and prejudice.

One could reasonably suggest that this agenda is laughable, clumsy and necessarily hamstrung by the hypocrisy of the agents involved.

As a matter of practical politics, the shrill labeling of Sotomayor as a "racist" and "intellectual lightweight" has threatened to further stigmatize the Republican Party as out of step with the political mainstream. Moreover, the very idea that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Buchanan, a veritable rogue's gallery of the intolerant and bigoted, would have the moral weight or ethical authority to speak on issues of social justice (in any context) is itself absurd.

The deployment of the politics of grievance and reverse racism by the right proceeds from a well-worn script that is decades, if not centuries, old. Consequently, there exists a very real temptation to ignore the narrative of white victimhood that is generated by Jim Crow 2.0, precisely because its foundations appear to be so weak and illegitimate.

Thus, the relative silence by black public intellectuals and others on Jim Crow 2.0. Herein lays the greatest danger: This reimagining of history reveals a lack of critical language with which to discuss racism in the Age of Obama, as well as the ostensibly "post-racial" future which his election symbolizes.

Moreover, Jim Crow 2.0 is the logical result of a conservative, colorblind politics that has triumphantly succeeded in fashioning a political reality where the very discussion of race or racial inequality by progressives is itself smeared as illegitimate and racist.

With Jim Crow 2.0, the politics of race in America have witnessed a perverse inversion wherein "playing the race card" is now the exclusive province of white men -- the most economically, socially and politically privileged class in the United States.

Unpacking Jim Crow 2.0

The right's positioning of white men as victims of racism involves an appropriation of the justice claims made by the civil rights movement. In Jim Crow 2.0, oppressed white men are the newest victims of racism, discrimination and inequality. Within this fictional world, the racial order has been so upset by the election of Obama that reverse racism against white Americans (an oxymoron that itself demands engagement and rebuttal) is now the rule of the land.

The assertion that white men are oppressed is a tactically sound move that accomplishes two goals. First, it positions conservatives and the Republican Party as the true defenders of equality, justice and freedom in America. Second, it mocks the centuries-long efforts by African Americans for freedom, equality and the fruits of full citizenship.

The sum result of these maneuvers is that the "struggle" to "liberate" white men from "reverse racism" and "oppression" is made the primary civil rights issue of our time. To accomplish this goal, the right-wing media ape and parrot the symbolism and language of the civil rights movement.

For example, Buchanan, in his discussions of the Frank Ricci case in Connecticut, repeatedly references the evils of Jim Crow and the unfair hiring practices that were used to deny black Americans equal access to jobs and promotions. Likewise, in Buchanan's discussions of Sotomayor and her oft-cited comment that a "wise Latina" judge could potentially make better legal decisions than a White male judge, he suggests that her confirmation will serve to revive the evils of "separate but equal" as embodied by the infamous United States Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson.

The assertion that white men are an oppressed class in America is a given and working assumption for Buchanan -- an assumption and premise that goes largely unchallenged by the mainstream media.

Limbaugh also works diligently and steadily to advance the narrative of Jim Crow 2.0. On an almost-daily basis he conflates political partisanship with the systematic racism historically experienced by black Americans. For him, Obama is a reverse racist, who like "the other minorities" has learned "how to use anger" against white people as a weapon to advance his political career.

In opposition to the Democratic Party, Limbaugh refuses "to sit in the back of the bus" like the other Republicans. Limbaugh is not "oppressed" because he continues to resist, while the other Republicans are afraid of "fire hoses" and "police dogs."

Limbaugh refuses to drink from the "colored" water fountain. Undeterred, he references the political thuggery of such racial terrorists as Bull Connor and asserts that the Democrats are "standing in the schoolhouse door." As one of the prime architects of Jim Crow 2.0, Limbaugh depicts himself as a freedom fighter who against all odds will push these bullies aside as he works to advance the conservative agenda. In effect, Limbaugh reduces the black freedom struggle to a petty politics of partisan maneuvering within a narrative of white male grievance and victimhood.

As they work to legitimate a narrative in which white men are victims of oppression and racism, the architects of Jim Crow 2.0 have revealed a deep understanding of the symbolic power afforded to "heroic" figures. To that end, the right needs its freedom riders, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther Kings in order to communicate the righteousness of their cause.

In keeping with this strategy, Sean Hannity has rechristened the firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who were denied promotions because of a questionable exam as "the New Haven 20." It is a clear allusion to the Little Rock Nine, a group of schoolchildren who in 1957, under protection of the United States military, braved threats of violence and death in order to integrate their local school in Little Rock, Ark.

Frank Ricci, the "leader" of the New Haven 20 has been valorized. In the version of events offered by Hannity, Ricci, a dyslexic, studied day and night with the assistance of tutors in order to pass the exam for promotion only to see his hard-earned opportunity denied him by a lawsuit filed by the city of New Haven on behalf of a group of "unqualified" African American firefighters. For Jim Crow 2.0, Ricci is Rosa Parks, and the upcoming Supreme Court hearing of his case will be the equivalent of Brown v. Board of Education.

Who Bears Responsibility?

The ability of the right to mine white racial resentment as the fuel for Jim Crow 2.0 is not surprising given the long relationship between white racial resentment and identity politics in American society. In keeping with this precedent, the ability and willingness of the right to quite literally play with history as it rewrites the civil rights movement, an event of radical energy and liberal aspirations, for the purposes of racially conservative and reactionary politics is also to be expected.

However, what is surprising is the preponderance of silence by African American pundits, critics and public intellectuals in combating Jim Crow 2.0. While it embodies a set of political values that are seen as increasingly marginal in American politics, the ability of Jim Crow 2.0 to gain traction, and to persist for as long as it has, signals a divide of experience, memory and values that may be deeper than previously imagined.

Could a failure to critically engage Jim Crow 2.0 be a result of an inability and unwillingness on the part of Americans to think critically about the relationship between racism, history and inequality? Likewise, does Jim Crow 2.0 resonate with its audience because Americans (white, black and brown alike) are afraid to ask if white privilege is in any way unsettled or challenged by the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States? Most importantly, how does this narrative of white male oppression and victimhood complicate the continued struggle for full racial equality and justice in the Age of Obama?

Ultimately, Jim Crow 2.0 will continue to have life to the degree that these questions remain unasked and unanswered.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On the Senate's Apology for Slavery, Chris Matthews' Confusion, and a Bit of a History Lesson or Yes, the North Owes Us an Apology for Slavery Too

I like Chris Matthews a great deal. I find his interviews to be sharp, incisive, and rigorous. But, he isn't much of a historian. Luckily, I have friends who are. Introducing our newest guest blogger, Thaddeus Stevens, who kindly offers Chris Matthews a little American History 101 on the North's role in America's slaveocracy.


"Stop talking about the South. As long as you're south of the Canadian border, you're South."

Malcolm X "The Ballot or the Bullet" (1964)

Brother Malcolm might have been talking directly to Chris Matthews of MSNBC, whose anti-historical outburst against the South during his interview of two southern Congressmen on Thursday afternoon has floated around the web.

Let's get our history straight. Slavery was an institution legal in all of the 13 Colonies and briefly legal in all of the founding 13 states of the United States. Slavery's legitimacy was supported by provisions omitted from the Declaration of Independence and inserted into the U.S. Constitution. While not all of the figures rated as Founding Fathers were slaveholders, they all compromised explicitly with the continued legality of slavery. Nor was slavery a minor institution in early America. Blacks, mostly enslaved, constituted about 20% of the population in 1776 and again in 1790 at the time of the first U.S. Census.

While Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire led the way with early abolition measures, other states in the historical North moved much more slowly, such that there were a number of slaves in New Jersey who were freed by the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution: the very provision that ended slavery in much of the South.

So, if the South wasn't solely responsible for slavery, then it certainly was the cradle of race prejudice and discrimination, right? Well, not exactly. Alexis de Tocqueville, writing about America in the 1830s, noted that race prejudice was least obvious in the South where slavery prevailed. It was much more strident in states where slavery had been abolished and was even more marked in states and territories where slavery had never existed. Race riots, which before the 1960s consisted almost exclusively of white mobs attacking blacks and other people of color, were practically nonexistent in the South before Emancipation but prevalent in the North where black men and women were free. Perhaps the greatest urban riot in American history, the New York uprising of July, 1863--a combined anti-conscription and anti-black pogrom--focused on the black communities of Manhattan. Blacks in the North and Midwest had to arm themselves against violence from their ostensible neighbors in the free states.

Segregation or "Jim Crow" was born in northern cities (see C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow.) Philadelphia and New York were in process of becoming racially segregated while Richmond, Savannah, and New Orleans had essentially residential integration. Surely, slavery ruled race relations in those latter cities--all southern--but the differences in appearance of say Philadelphia and New Orleans in 1850 was there for all to see. Philly had a ghetto (still does) while blacks and Creoles lived all over the "Big Easy." The laws of slavery governed often even free blacks in the South. The "law" of the mob governed free blacks in the North. Barred from the vote, the jury box, and many economic pursuits in much of the North, many free blacks could be excused for not being able to tell the difference between 'freedom' in the free states and slavery in the slave states. Indeed, after Congress extended slaveholders' power into the North through a new Fugitive Slave Act, many black women and men found that true freedom lay far to the north, in the British Dominions of Canada to which they fled. (Frederick Douglass departed upstate New York for Canada upon receiving news of John Brown's capture at Harper's Ferry in 1859. Despite the fact that Douglass had cautioned against an armed uprising against slavery led by Brown, he knew that an uppity black man would find scant justice at trial for treason in these United States.)

Let's not forget the Civil War. The Confederate nation was certainly proclaimed to protect and extend slavery but the North didn't initially fight the C.S.A. for purposes of Emancipation. We can take President Abraham Lincoln's word on that. The Civil War, one of the most profoundly transformative events to ever occur in the U.S. is not a simple subject. The North didn't set out to free slaves and not all southerners defended secession. If one counts blacks as southerners, 33% or more of residents of the eleven Confederate states served the C.S.A. under threat of violence and prayed, worked, and finally fought to preserve the Union. Moreover, there were nearly 200,000 WHITE Union regular and irregular soldiers, probably representing 2,000,000 of the South's civilian population. Meanwhile, there were areas in the North with strong Confederate sympathies, not least New York City (then consisting only of Manhattan.) The Union military was full of officers who were born in the South and the C.S.A. military had more than a few officers born in the North. Tennessee split, with the eastern part turning towards the Union. Virginia split permanently, with its western mountain region rejoining the Union. Conscription resistance, partly a sign of lukewarm support for the larger Union, was epic in parts of upstate New York, rural Pennsylvania, and rural Ohio.

Lincoln, the Emancipator, was born in Kentucky, a slave state, and married into a prominent slave holding family there. Robert E. Lee early in the Civil War executed his father-in-law's will to manumit his considerable estate of enslaved people: late in the War, Lee wanted to emancipate black men and recruit them into the Confederate armies.

What I think a reasonable person should conclude from all of this is that the United States is a very complex country but one country through it all. There are regional differences and yes, the North did generally fight the South during the Civil War. But the American South is not our historical scapegoat to be sent out into the desert to die for our sins; for all of our sins. The South is not in the Caribbean or South America. The South is as American as...pecan pie. Today, as in the past, people born in the South migrate to other parts of the country and this is and always has been reciprocated. While the South didn't get much immigration from abroad after 1810 during the 19th century that is no longer the case. The modern South is an international immigration destination.

Let's lay down the bloody shirt at long last, Chris. Even my namesake, a Civil War-era Pennsylvania politician who was called "the scourge of the South" didn't think the South was all bad. He worked for enfranchisement of nearly one million black men in the South during Reconstruction and tried to enact land reform for them and for white men loyal to the Union, too. Not even the "radicals" he led wanted to read southerners out of the American family if they pledged their loyalty to the Union and gave up slavery. And while my namesake also wanted racial equality in America, that hope plus a nickel wouldn't have gotten him a cup of coffee anywhere in his Congressional District in central Pennsylvania back then, and he knew it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Cure for the Dating Crisis Between Black Men and Black Women--Gordon Gartrelle Dreams Up a Foreign Exchange Program: Grass-Eating Boys for Baby Boys

Slate recently ran a piece about soushoku danshi or “grass-eating boys,” the Japanese men who are rejecting sex, materialist consumption, and competitive careers, all of which defined the popular image of Japanese manhood in the ‘80s. Grass-eating boys are not only viewed as undesirable by many Japanese women; these beta males are blamed for contributing to Japan’s dwindling birthrate and slumping economy.

The piece continues,

[grass-eating boys are] often close to their mothers and have female friends, but they're in no rush to get married themselves, according to Maki Fukasawa, the Japanese editor and columnist who coined the term in NB Online in 2006.

Why do these guys seem so familiar?

I’ve got it! They’re like baby boys, the hopeless man-children who are considered unsuitable partners for black women and who have long been blamed for hindering the black underclass. Let’s give this comparison a more thorough treatment:

As is clear from this scientific approach, grass-eating boys and baby boys are surprisingly similar, with the exception of their dispositions toward sex.

Let’s conduct a little thought experiment: What would happen if we switched the two populations, i.e., sent our black baby boys to Japan and brought the grass-eating boys to the U.S. to live among black folks? Since this is simply an exercise in thought, we could disregard the many practical obstacles (apparently, grass-eating boys don’t like to travel outside of Japan, and baby boys would need clearance from their parole officers to leave the States).

So let’s say black baby boys go to Japan:

1. Japanese women would get their hypermasculine alpha males.

2. Japan’s birthrates would soar (we all know how fertile these baby boys are)

3. The Japanese economy is boosted by the increased consumption of goods (just think about the amount baby boys would spend on shoes alone).

4. Baby boys would get to have fun with unfulfilled Japanese women.

5. America would shed a largely unproductive population.

6. There would probably a spike in Japanese crime rates and fatherless children.

This last one is troublesome, but the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks.

Now let’s imagine the grass-eating boys coming to the U.S., where they would encounter a wealth of single professional black women. Nothing would happen because these black women and grass-eating boys wouldn’t date each other.

First of all, we would have to pretend that professional black women are as open to dating non-black men as they claim to be (in tones that make their interracial dating sound like either an ultimatum to black men or a consolation prize).

Grass-eating boys have the same major flaws as baby boys, namely limited career ambitions and indifference to marriage. Sistas have been there, done that. And while it's probably not a big deal that grass-eating boys won’t buy nice things, it’s definitely a problem that they aren’t really about sex. Stereotypes aside, a meh attitude toward laying pipe simply won't fly with sistas, despite how much they lament black men's supposed oversexedness.

Damn, even in a thought experiment sistas can’t win .

Glenn Beck's New Low, pt 2: The Discreet Charm of Ayn Rand

I am without apology in my love of bringing in my friends so that we can go all G-Force on those knuckleheads who dare to oppose us! Accordingly, Werner Herzog's Bear is back at it again with his sequel to Glenn Beck's New Low Part 1:

Last time I went over the reasons why Nazism was and is a product of the extreme political Right. Again, it pained to even have to make such an assertion, which is about as obvious as saying that the earth is round and the pope is Catholic.

If you remember the clip of Glenn Beck and his guest claiming Nazism and racism are products of the Left, they used the specious rationale that the Right is all about individual freedom, and the Left is all about collectivism. How those who are against a woman's right to choose, are in favor (mostly) of prosecuting the "war on drugs," against allowing gay people to marry, and who howled "treason" at anyone who protested the war in Iraq are all about individual rights is beyond me.

Beck's guest was Harry Biswanger of the Ayn Rand Institute, and his assertions about "collectivism" reflect the usual Randian fallacies:

"Well, this Von Brunn's culture is a tribe of racist, anti-Jewish, anti-Negro, anti-immigrant, everything, and therefore he's a phenomenon of the left, because racism is a form of collectivism. The right wing is individualist -- believes in individual rights, freedom, the dignity of each individual life. But it's the left wing -- you know, Hitler was National Socialism, right? It's a leftist phenomenon."

Ah yes, no one on the Right spouts "anti-immigrant" rhetoric! And no one in that camp would ever make oblique, dog-whistle references to George Soros' Judaism, surely not! (In my search for this link I saw some scary, scary stuff. Just putting his name into Google will reveal all the evidence you need that anti-Semitism is alive and well on the Right.) And no one on the Right would ever casually send out "anti-Negro" (wtf with that terminology, by the way?) materials and "humor" to their co-workers, or even broadcast such offensive things over the airwaves.


As I've already demonstrated, the Right has plenty of collectivist tendencies. (Like the Left, the Right is "collectivist" in certain areas and "individualist" in others, it's just that Randians don't have any grasp of subtlety.) Oddly enough, voices on the conservative right have been cloaking their appeals to in-group solidarity and hatred of those who don't belong (Beck's "we surround them") with paens to the radical individualism of Ayn Rand. Michelle Malkin and others have talked stridently of "going Galt," referring to the hero of Rand's thickest pile of literary dross, Atlas Shrugged. The love to claim that they are truly "Libertarians" at heart, even when supporting a war intended to bring democracy at the point of a tax-funded bayonet.

It's hard for me to rip the Randian fascination better than Colbert did, but I'll try. I should admit at the top that my reading of her is limited to some of her more analytic essays. They tried to justify a philosophy so self-centered and anti-social that it borders on the sociopathic. We are social animals, after all, and to deny that fact, as Rand does, denies one of the very things that makes us human beings.

Rand's Objectivism meshes well with the immature solipsism of adolescence, a time when just about everyone doesn't want to do what their told, and thinks no one understands them. This pretty well explains the popularity of Objectivism among teenagers and young adults, who are easily swayed by simple answers and any philosophy that makes them feel more important and tells them to make themselves happy, anyone else be damned. Most of the Rand-lovers I know rejected it once they grew up and experienced the complexity of life in the adult world. (In that way there are some interesting connections to be made between Objectivism and radical Marxism.)

Unfortunately, when they still subscribe to Objectivism, the little Randians prostlytize with missionary zeal. A friend in college pressed a copy of The Fountainhead into my hands as if it were holy writ, imploring me to digest it. I could only get ten pages in, considering that it contained prose more wooden than the USS Constitution. I was wary anyway after many intense arguments with a high school friend who adored Rand and called anything to the Left of her "socialism." As someone who admires the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, I was and am horrified that anyone would try to portray basic human empathy and altruism to be evil. Being aware of history, I knew that in the nineteenth century laissez-faire capitalism had failed as miserably as Soviet communism in the twentieth, so I wasn't exactly enchanted by that facet of Rand's thought either. (If anyone doubts me read Dickens or witness the recent fruits of financial deregulation.)

For some reason that's a hard fact for many 19 year olds to grasp, however, especially those with a middle class or wealthy background. Rand's myopic understanding of human nature allows them to think of the social standing they were born into as something that they have earned, and the grinding poverty endured by others as a product of laziness and therefore undeserving of help. Rand's readers, like Beck's viewers, embrace this conceit and can conveniently think of themselves as Galt-like rugged individualists, even if the American middle class is highly funded by the federal government. (Interstate highways connecting cities to suburbs, the home mortage deduction, subsidized student loans, state universities, Social Security, Medicare, etc.)

And what is Glenn Beck, if not a contrarian 19 year old Rand disciple grown up to be a raving liar on national television? Of course, like my friends who finally sold off Atlas Shrugged at the used bookstore, he outgrew Rand, too. Her "individualist" ideas are a fig leaf cloaking Beck's inherently collective mindset, one that sees shadowy enemies everywhere who are out to destroy America. (In the clip at the top, he even put liberal professors like me in the crosshairs, so I take this personally.) I'm not fooled by the talk of "individualism." His use of the Big Lie (which I mentioned last time), extreme paranoia, messianic nationalism, thinly veiled appeals to violent revolution, and constant villainization of groups supposedly primed to give America a "stab in the back" reminds me of a certain "collectivist" movement he is at such obvious pains to distance himself from.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Self-Interest as a Compelling Argument in Favor of Affirmative Action

"One lesson that I have derived from participating in this debate, for heaven knows how many years, is the simple-minded assumption that you either deserve to be there or you don’t. There isn’t just one index of merit, and the point of admissions is not to bestow gold stars on people who’ve done well before, to predict the future. It’s to choose students to invest in who are going to make the university better and are going to make society better. Those are bets on the future."--William G. Bowen

As the Sotomayor debate ramps up (again) in the next few weeks, here is a reasoned voice on affirmative action from The New Yorker. Surprise! Major corporations, the U.S. military, and institutions of higher education support "affirmative action" because they have learned that a diverse pool of talent is in their immediate material self-interest. As my parents said, "don't trust folks to act rightly, trust them to act in the interest of their pocketbooks"--anti-climactic but often a perspective that is little heard in this emotion filled debate.

School Days

William G. Bowen joined the faculty of Princeton in 1958. He became provost in 1967 and served as president of Princeton from 1972, the year Sonia Sotomayor matriculated as a freshman, until 1988. At Princeton, Bowen was involved in the decision to admit women to the university and recruit more minority applicants and faculty, and his 1998 book, “The Shape of the River,” co-written with the former Harvard University president Derek Bok, was the first extensive study of affirmative action in university admissions.

Bowen will be releasing another book this fall with new research into equity and access in American higher education. We sat down in his office at the Mellon Foundation on Wednesday morning. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

You became president of Princeton University, in 1972, at the same time Sonia Sotomayor arrived as a student. Do you remember her?

Oh, very well. I remember her extremely well. The reason I remember her extremely well is, first, she was a presence. Not in the sense that she was someone who pushed herself on you, which she never did—it’s not her character at all—but just because of what she did, how accomplished she was. You couldn’t help but notice a student that exceptional.

She was chosen—I was one of the people who did the choosing—as the Pyne Prize winner in her class. That’s the highest prize Princeton bestows on undergraduates, given to a student with a record of excellent academics. But you can’t be considered for the Pyne Prize unless you’re more than that. It’s for leadership, it’s for being a responsible citizen of the university community, and she had it all. She had, as they say these days, the full package. And so we chose her and I presented the prize to her at alumni day and she was a great recipient.

About halfway through her time at Princeton, she filed a petition to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. What was it?

It was a complaint that the university was not doing enough to hire and advance Latino and Hispanic faculty members, and to recruit students. That was, I’m sure in some respects, true, and she, as a student, wanted things to happen faster than in fact it was possible for them to happen. All of this takes time, and patience, and effort, which on some level she certainly understood.

But I’m sure she felt, as others did, Let’s put a little pressure on the system and see if we can’t get things to move faster. And someone observed that the university did quite a bit better—in fact, a lot better—along these lines before the petition was ever actually reviewed or handled in the government.

Critics of Sotomayor have made a couple of complaints about her Princeton years. One is that she got preferential treatment, and the second is that she showed all of this resentment toward the institution and focussed on the negative, even though she eventually joined Princeton’s board of trustees. What’s your response to that? And why do you think there’s been such an intense focus on a fifty-four-year-old’s experiences when she was in college?

Well, I think she has said, correctly, that her move from Cardinal Spellman High School to a different environment was a formative experience. I think that she grew considerably during her undergraduate years. They changed her, just as she changed the institution, so in that sense it’s appropriate for people to look back on those days.

But I think the criticisms that you identified are entirely off-the-mark. This is a woman of enormous ability. She was going to succeed and going to thrive wherever she was, in any setting. And she did. She accomplished what she accomplished because she was good! I mean, not only was she incredibly smart, as I think there’s plenty of evidence to demonstrate, but she was ... very steady and mature. Remarkably mature. That’s one of the things I remember about her.

And so she put her talents to very good use, to very constructive use. Now on the question of resentment, I don’t think she resented the university at all. I think she saw the university as an excellent university, but she thought it could be better! And it needed to be better. So did I.

She worked very purposefully, but always constructively, to take a good place and make it better. When she received the Pyne Prize, she was certainly very gracious and very generous in her response. I think she’s stayed involved in Princeton over the years because she cared about the place.

If Sotomayor was going to succeed no matter what, then what role do affirmative-action programs play for people like her?

Well. There are not that many Sonia Sotomayors in the world. There just are not. The whole purpose of affirmative-action programs isn’t to find the one-in-a-thousand Sonia Sotomayor, but to diversify campus communities and to identify people of promise who would do well, but who didn’t necessarily have all the qualities and characteristics that she had.

I think the book that Derek Bok and I wrote demonstrates empirically how well the minority students who were recruited to these selective universities performed. And how well they performed after college.

One of the striking findings in “The Shape of the River” is that the civic contributions and engagements of the minority graduates of these selective universities were far greater than the civic commitments and contributions of their white classmates. Now that was in part, of course, because there was a need for them. American society needed a wider array of talent and they have, in remarkable measure, met that need.

What would you say is the one misconception that you keep on encountering when you look at the current debate over affirmative action?

One lesson that I have derived from participating in this debate, for heaven knows how many years, is the simple-minded assumption that you either deserve to be there or you don’t. There isn’t just one index of merit, and the point of admissions is not to bestow gold stars on people who’ve done well before, to predict the future. It’s to choose students to invest in who are going to make the university better and are going to make society better. Those are bets on the future.

In the introduction to the paperback of “The Shape of the River,” Glenn Loury wrote that the debate over affirmative action revolves around two competing claims: the procedure-based morality of “color neutrality” and the outcome-oriented morality of racial justice.

The way many Americans learn about civil rights—the way I learned about Rosa Parks in second grade—very much focusses on color blindness. The idea of racial justice often coexists uneasily with that basic narrative. In a recent Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative-action programs for some school districts, John Roberts reflected the opinion of many conservatives when he wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” What’s your response to that?

You might find interesting the last speech that Lyndon Johnson ever gave, right before he died. I won’t get the quotation exactly right, but it’s worth getting right, because it’s a great quotation.

He said, Yes, today blacks and whites do stand more or less on a level playing field, but they’re not in the same place. Whites see the world from the mountain place, blacks see the world from the hollow of history. It’s a great phrase: “from the hollow of history.”

It affects the way the world works today. You can’t just be ahistorical and forget all of that, and think that you’re going to get the best outcomes. I think the real answer to the quote that you gave me from Roberts is, “Yes, the way to end discrimination is to not discriminate, that’s true, but it just doesn’t go far enough.”

I think the Sandra Day O’Connor opinion in the Michigan Supreme Court cases was really extraordinarily powerful and really broke new ground. It was very different from the Powell opinion in the earlier Bakke case, because she pointed out that for the country to succeed, to achieve all it wants to achieve, you need to have—it is desirable to have—people of a variety of backgrounds, appearances, and persuasions in visible roles.

I think that’s right, and that’s one of the reasons the army is a great example. You don’t want all white commanders and all black soldiers. That’s really not a good idea!

One of the good outcomes of the O’Connor decision was the rejection of quotas and just giving points because you were black or whatever. The University of Michigan was told that, at the undergraduate level, you can’t do that. That’s wrong. I agree! That is wrong because it fails to capture what the whole portfolio of the person looks like.

Now did this require Michigan to spend more money on admissions? Absolutely, it required them to spend more money on admissions! You couldn’t look at applications in such a simple way, and I think that’s all to the good.

Can that be overdone? Of course. Anything can be overdone, but it is worth investing resources in allowing yourself, your system, to make thoughtful judgments. You need to have the right metrics when you judge outcomes. One of the aspects of our current research is that we think much more emphasis needs to be put on graduation rates, not just access. Getting through, finishing—and finishing well.

Basically what you’re saying is that fostering diversity or providing racial justice does not end at the point of selection. It requires work and time and practice.

When we first aggressively recruited different people who had not even been in the applicant pool, we thought that putting them on the campus would be enough. Wrong. It wasn’t enough. You had to do a whole lot of things—thinking about the counseling you provided and so forth.

This work we’re doing right now is a great example of what we’re talking about. When you look at the college choices different groups of students make, large numbers of highly talented minority students do not go to programs for which they’re really qualified. Why? Often, they don’t understand it’s important to do that, and they don’t have the help in completing the financial-aid forms and the applications that, as a parent, I was able to do for my own children.

So being in the white upper-middle-class brings its own systemic advantages.

Huge, huge. The research we’re about to publish next September is just a dramatic confirmation of what you have just said. The differences in college-going patterns and college-completion patterns by socio-economic status, forget about race, are huge.

You mentioned socio-economic status. What do you say about the argument that we’ve over-focussed on race and we should focus more on class-based affirmative action?

I think that we do need to do more in focussing on socio-economic status and we argue that in the “Equity and Excellence” book. But it’s not a substitute for race-sensitive admissions because, again, if you look at the data, you find that if you focus just on socio-economic status you’re not going to begin to address the disparities in outcomes by race that we see in America today.

One critique from the left of O’Connor’s decision is that the idea of fostering diversity is a gauzy notion. They argue that affirmative action should be explicitly focussed on addressing disparate outcomes. They ask: Who is diversity for? A white person gets to meet a black person for the first time?

My answer to that question is that it’s society being served. I don’t think of it as conferring benefits on this group or that group to the exclusion of some other group.

One of the other telling findings in “The Shape of the River” was that the alumni of the selective institutions that we studied, including those white alumni who didn’t get into their first-choice school, were still strong supporters of affirmative action. You might have thought that, well, to their way of thinking, they might have lost out to some minority candidate. But overwhelmingly they thought these were the right policies.

I’ve always thought that was very interesting. The extent of support for affirmative action among student bodies—the graduates of the places like Michigan, like the Ivy League, like good liberal arts colleges—is very strong because I think they see the broader benefit.

What would you say to people who ask, “If a black man can get elected President, why do we need affirmative action?”

The answer is the same as the answer to the Sotomayor question: How many Obamas are there in the world? The fact that you have one success story is terrific, wonderful. But it doesn’t mean that the same outcomes or the same opportunities are going to be there for everyone else. They’re not.