Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Are You Black or Blue? African American Members of the Cambridge Police Force Support Their Own Against Henry Louis Gates
Choose a side, are you black or are you blue?
One has to give it to the police, they are a gang of sorts that always has each other's back.
I must wonder, is there an informal rule that where race is introduced as an element in a public controversy, that the press needs to find a person of color who will support the party line? Perhaps, in the production meeting for the evening news the director says something akin to "a black public figure has said or done something controversial, now hurry up and go find me a black person to contradict him."
Once more, Officer Kelly King choose a side, are you black or are you blue?
Monday, July 27, 2009
All the talk these last few days has either been about Michael Jackson’s death (was it manslaughter?), healthcare (it’s not looking good for the people’s plan), or the Skip Gates incident. Let me tackle the latter:
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., otherwise referred to as Skip Gates, Black Harvard professor (nationally renowned, by the way), apparently returned home in the middle of the day the other day and had reportedly forgotten his keys. So…he forced his way into his Cambridge home. His neighbor (who allegedly has some affiliation with the same university and likely should have been able to recognize Gates) called the police who arrived on a breaking and entering call. So far, fine. Seems though that the situation escalated when Gates was asked to exit the house (protocol, given that the caller said there were possibly two suspects and if someone had been holding Gates against his will, trust me, he would have been happy that this is standard procedure) and Gates identified himself as the homeowner (showing ID even) and thought the matter should just rest there.
It just kept getting crazier. Accounts vary, even contradict—in one (from the officers), Gates was belligerent; in another, the officer was less than respectful in his requests/commands. You know what? It’s probably a little bit of both.
What is hilarious now is that this is suddenly a national issue because it’s Skip Gates (who is a big to-do in academic circles, regardless of race) and because it’s Skip Gates (who is a friend of the current president). Uh oh. Someone asked the President for his thoughts the other night (does anyone remember why the President was even addressing the nation? Healthcare!), and Obama didn’t run. (Tough spot—don’t answer and Black people are going, This nigger really is dodging from the race issue, isn’t he? Answer honestly and, as is the case now, white people go, See how they have each other’s backs? For the record, so true!
But that’s not race based. Gates is Obama’s personal friend! I’m imagining we all have friends whom we know would be starting some shit that we wish they wouldn’t 'cause they wrong as hell but we’re not going to let them get their asses kicked. Though we may threaten to kick it later: “Why you always starting some bullshit, yo? I’m about to be done going anywhere with your stupid ass!”)
What is hilarious is that people actually are talking about this situation like there is a right and wrong; the truth is this thing is so subjective. Based on our life experiences we’re going to see what we’re going to see. Let me tell my truth: Skip Gates, whose work I respect and admire is not what people are making him out to be. I am familiar with his work. He is far from a Black radical. Black Panther material he is not! Don’t make him into that now. His only Black friends are likely other people who summer in the Vineyard. What Gates is extremely educated, highly intelligent, nationally renowned, and worth a pretty penny. Believe me, if there was any indignation in Gates’s tone with the officers (and I believe there may have been) it wasn’t simply that he is a Black man being subjected to some sort of humiliation (which would have annoyed every one of us) but that he is THE Skip Gates—who done took Whoopi and Chris Rock and others back to Africa, who is friends with the President—being treated like Joe Schmoe. The nerve!
And if there was some stanky attitude on the part of the white officer (and I believe there was from Mr. I-will-never-apologize) it was not because Gates is Black (well, not only because) but because those overpaid Harvard professors always be acting all uppity. And really, all too often these career academics begin to live in their little college towns and get an over-inflated sense of self-worth; they think of the rest of the world as not as… Look, I know I am not the only one who has ever read The Outsiders and grasped the distinctions and tensions between the Greasers (have-nots) and the Socs (haves) or watched the early episodes of One Tree Hill with the Townies and them other people!
What is hilarious is that now people want to put the President’s “acted stupidly” remark in the middle of this. (Lord Jesus, better him than me because the reporter who asked me the question would have gotten The Look. You know the one your mother used to use when she wanted you to know you had said too much about what goes on in HER house and now you are going to get your tail lick in later on.)
Lemme confess though: I laughed hard when the President said the bit about if he had been breaking into his house, which is now the White House, he would have been shot. Something only a thoughtful Black President would say. Umm. For those of us at home: wink wink. (He even had That Smile—the one that says, “Don’t let them fool ya.” In other situations a brotha would be dead!)
Now for those white people who would take offense at truth, that Black and brown folks dare say there is such a thing as racial profiling: Look, the Cambridge Police Department claims that the officer in question teaches a class on this matter. Why would they need a class? Because racial profiling exists! We’re not making that shit up. Stop doing the “there they go again” routine. Come on, it’s still tough to be young, Black, and male out here. What needs saying in all this nonsense is—what the President playfully alluded to—that Gates is fortunate that his incident with police only ended with him in handcuffs.
A few days ago I learned that a friend of mine lost his brother after an encounter with Chicago police, learned that witnesses saw police beating this young man whom I knew (who lived with my family for a time) when he was a child. When I knew him, he was always agreeable, eager to please in that way that so often comes with being mentally challenged. After being beaten, he was arrested and put in a cell. Reports are that he hanged himself there (even though officers had followed procedure and confiscated his laces and belt). Three white police officers and one young, mentally challenged Black man who was allegedly walking in the wrong place at the wrong hour (though he was actually in the neighborhood where he lived with his older brother, who is a university professor). From what I have heard, he wasn’t being disorderly, simply looked out of place. From what I know of him, he would have been cowering and likely crying. His mother in her too-short time on this Earth did not fail to raise good sons and when I heard the news I immediately thought of her, wherever one goes after life, weeping at the way life ended for her good boy.
Fact: Young Black men tend to get the shit end of the stick in their dealings with police. Emphasis on "young." But to the voices who shout loudest about police interacting differently (read “unfairly”) with Black and brown people than they do with white people, I say, “Wait… I don’t think they’re any kinder to poor white people.” (And many of these damn police officers are formerly poorer, still white people.) What I mean is the trouble isn’t just race. This is about class. Even (or especially) in this instance.
We all need to learn how to deal with people who have more or less money than we do (or perhaps in these precarious economic times than we used to).
And this is about the way men can behave! Yes, you heard me right…Men!
Would it have killed both of them to say, “Yes, sir”; “No, sir”; and “Have a good day, sir” to the other? Even if either of them was being an asshole? But they all have their large doses of testosterone and their little male egos to worry about. You know what a typical female officer would have done there? “Good day, sir” and then gotten back into the patrol car saying, “Fucking idiot!” Which is what the damn police officer should have done. When Gates asked for the officer’s name, the officer should have offered to spell it, which is what a woman who really doesn’t want the situation to escalate to a physical confrontation or needless paperwork would have done knowing that she had followed protocol.
Do we women need to show you men how everything should be done?
What is hilarious is that now everybody’s talking about race and it’s about time! Except it’s about how white men are not-so-subtly being oppressed in America. (Look at how this white man was just doing his job and now we are vilifying him. Look at how those New Haven firefighters got refused a promotion because… Did anybody see them all gathered for their class photo? All men! When people start going on these anti-Affirmative Action campaigns I wonder if they do not see where women are.)
What is hilarious is… Are you laughing yet?
Sunday, July 26, 2009
My favorite line from the editorial has to be the following: "I find laughable, and sad, Professor Gates’s declaration that he now plans to make a documentary film about racial profiling. Is that as far as his scholarship on the intersection of race and policing in America extends? Where has this eminent scholar of African-American affairs been these last 30 years, during which a historically unprecedented, politically popular, extraordinarily punitive and hugely racially disparate mobilization of resources for the policing, imprisonment and post-release supervision of those caught up in the criminal justice system has unfolded?"
The piece follows in its entirety.
In a speech delivered earlier this year, during Black History Month, Attorney General Eric Holder drew headlines by criticizing the tenor of public discourse on race. “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Mr. Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” The nation’s leading law enforcement officer — who happens also to be an African-American man — was widely criticized for making this provocative comment.
Yet during this past week — as I have watched the controversy unfold over the arrest of a black Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., by a white Cambridge, Mass., police officer, James Crowley — I have come to appreciate the prescience of Mr. Holder’s remark. It is as though we are determined to prove him right — as if our talk about race must be forced into a comfortable and familiar, if false, narrative where villains (“racists”) and heroes (“victims of racism”) are clear-cut, and where all one need do to stand on the right side of history is to engage in a bit of moral sanctimony.
This convenient story line is reflected in an all-too-familiar narrative: “Here we are, 45 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with a black man in the White House. And yet, it is still the case that a distinguished Harvard professor, standing on his own front step, can be treated like a common criminal simply because he’s black. Obviously it is way too soon to declare that we have entered a post-racial era ... .”
As far as I am concerned, the ubiquity of this narrative shows that we are incapable of talking straight with one another about race. And this much-publicized incident is emblematic of precisely nothing at all. Rather, the Gates arrest is a made-for-cable-TV tempest in a teapot. It is the rough equivalent of a black man being thrown out of a restaurant after having berated an indifferent maître d’ for showing him to a table by the kitchen door, all the while declaring what everybody is supposed to know: this is what happens to a black man in America.
Certainly, the contretemps shed no relevant light on the plight of the millions of black men on society’s margins who bear the brunt of police scrutiny and government-sanctioned coercion. I find laughable, and sad, Professor Gates’s declaration that he now plans to make a documentary film about racial profiling. Is that as far as his scholarship on the intersection of race and policing in America extends? Where has this eminent scholar of African-American affairs been these last 30 years, during which a historically unprecedented, politically popular, extraordinarily punitive and hugely racially disparate mobilization of resources for the policing, imprisonment and post-release supervision of those caught up in the criminal justice system has unfolded?
Moreover, it is a shame that it takes an incident like this to induce a (black!) president to address these issues forthrightly. President Obama spoke to the N.A.A.C.P. this month, reaffirming the standard racial narrative while lecturing the black community on the need for better family values. But he barely uttered a word about the ways in which public policies — policies over which he might exert no small influence — have resulted in the hyper-incarceration of poor black men.
During his press conference on Wednesday, President Obama declared that the Cambridge police had acted “stupidly” by arresting his “friend” for disorderly conduct. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with this judgment, though I seriously doubt that calling the police stupid is something the president’s pollsters encourage.
I recall that, during the height of last year’s primary campaign, when Mr. Obama was asked to comment on the acquittal of New York City police officers in the fatal shooting of a young black man, Shawn Bell, who was celebrating with friends on the night before his wedding, the candidate was less condemnatory of the police or the courts. (“The most important thing for people who are concerned about that shooting is to figure out how do we come together and assure those kinds of tragedies don’t happen again.”)
It is depressing in the extreme that the president, when it came time for him to expend political capital on the issue of race and the police, did so on behalf of his “friend” rather than stressing policy reforms that might keep the poorly educated, infrequently employed, troubled but still human young black men in America out of prison. This is to say that, if Mr. Obama were going to lose some working-class white votes to the charge of “elitism,” I’d much rather it have been on countering the proliferation of “three strikes” laws, or ratcheting down the federal penalties for low-level drug trafficking, or inveighing against the racial disproportion in the administration of the death penalty.
Readers should know that I have had my own run-ins with the law. Twenty-two years ago a former girlfriend accused me of assault. While the charges were dropped, I had to endure the indignity of being “processed” by the police and judged in the press. Later that year, I was caught in possession of a controlled substance, spent the night in jail, and was required to enroll in a drug treatment program for my sins. My interest in the issues of race and law enforcement reflects more than academic curiosity.
Yet anyone who looks closely into the issue of crime and punishment in America cannot fail to notice that the institutions of domestic security — policing, surveillance, prisons, anti-drug policy, post-release parole supervision — have grown hugely over the past two generations. The number of Americans in prison and jail has risen nearly five-fold since 1980. Another inescapable fact is that most of those incarcerated are black and Hispanic men. (They constitute approximately two-thirds of those being held in state prisons and municipal jails.) Overrepresentation of blacks among lawbreakers is the result as much as it is the cause of our overrepresentation among the imprisoned — a fact about which the conventional racial narrative has too little to say. Nevertheless, this is a principal source of the tension in interactions between the police and black men like me.
So, while I have had my “problems” with the police, when I consider the realities of contemporary society I have to acknowledge that they have a tough and often thankless job to do. The institutions I am wont to denounce — the police, courts and prisons — are the principal means by which we as a nation have chosen, through our politics, to deal with the antisocial behaviors of our fellow citizens.
However, such behavioral problems reflect failures elsewhere in our society — racial and class segregation in our cities; inadequate education for the poor; and the collapse of the family as an institution in some communities. Because of these failures, we have large numbers of under-socialized, undereducated and virtually unemployable young men in our cities and towns. (They are not all black, to be sure, but they are disproportionately so.) Domestic violence is a serious problem in many of our communities; drug trafficking and gang activity are important parts of the social economy of the inner city.
Necessarily, such unlovely realities must be dealt with daily, and the police are at the front line in our society’s response to them. We should be slow to judge them, and slower still to embrace crude stereotypes about their motives — just as they should be slow to conclude that someone is a likely criminal suspect because he happens to be black and male.
The police are our agents, charged with the imperative to control the unruly behavior of people who don’t act within the norms of society. This does not excuse “racial profiling” by police officers. It is merely to acknowledge an essential aspect of the circumstances that fuel suspicion and antipathy between black men and the police.
I hope that something of lasting value might come from the uproar surrounding the Gates arrest. But my firm conviction is that change will not come about from the moral posturing of politicians or from more intense “sensitivity training” for police officers. Nor will it come from the president having a beer with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley, as Mr. Obama suggested in his follow-up meeting with the press on Friday.
Rather, along with Senator James Webb, Democrat of Virginia, I believe we should be pursuing far-reaching reforms in our criminal justice system. We should invest more in helping the troubled people — our fellow citizens — caught in the law enforcement web to find a constructive role in society, and less in punishing them for punishment’s sake. We need to change the ways in which we deal with juvenile offenders, so that a foolish act in childhood doesn’t put them on the road to lifetimes in prison. We should seriously consider that many of our sentences are too long — “three strikes” laws may be good politics, but they are an irrational abomination as policy. We should definitely consider decriminalizing most drug use. We need to reinvent parole.And, most important, we should weigh more heavily the negative and self-defeating effects that our policy of mass incarceration is having on the communities where large numbers of young black and Hispanic men live.
Been Traveling--The Wisdom of Sanford and Son on Henry Louis Gates Jr. Being Arrested in His Own Home
I just got back into town a few hours ago. Lord bless all of the unclean masses of humanity on the Greyhound Bus from Chicago to Kalamazoo. On this Gates business, I have a guest poster, some more of my own thoughts--you may or may not be surprised--and a piece that may be appearing elsewhere that I will repost on this most humble site.
This is sort of informal as I have mixed feelings on this case each time I think about it. I am frankly pissed that Obama "apologized," because O-Man was being too political so as not to be too black. But then, I think that some are playing up this case to earn some credibility as authentic Negroes when they have done much to distance themselves from the people. It seems I be in the midst of some racial schizophrenia! Is this an uncommon affliction among our folk? Some pork loin, a Sapporo beer, and a viewing of Watchmen may clear my mind, but I may likely remain confused...
Monday, July 20, 2009
I wasn't there and I don't know what happened. But, I have to imagine that all things being equal a white professor of Gates' stature would have been taken at his word. And why the epic fail? Gates' council is going to be none other than noted attorney Charlie Ogletree. Harvard is going to have to pay Gates' wonderful salary and give him a little something extra for the wallet it seems. Some respectable negroes have all the luck...
Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.
He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had "no idea who he was messing with,'' the report said.
Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because "I'm a black man in America.'' [To read a copy of the police report, click here]Friends of Gates said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver’s license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours last Thursday, they said.
The police report said Gates was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to upbraid him. "It was at that time that I informed Professor Gates that he was under arrest,'' the officer wrote in the report.
Gates, 58, declined to comment today when reached by phone.
The arrest of such a prominent scholar under what some described as dubious circumstances shook some members of the black Harvard community.
“He and I both raised the question of if he had been a white professor, whether this kind of thing would have happened to him, that they arrested him without any corroborating evidence,” said S. Allen Counter, a Harvard Medical School professor who spoke with Gates about the incident Friday. “I am deeply concerned about the way he was treated, and called him to express my deepest sadness and sympathy.”
Counter, who had called Gates from the Nobel Institute in Sweden, where Counter is on sabbatical, said that Gates was “shaken” and “horrified” by his arrest.
Counter has faced a similar situation himself. The well-known neuroscience professor, who is also black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.
That incident was among several that ignited criticism from black students and faculty, highlighting the prejudices that many black students say they continue to face at Harvard.
“This is very disturbing that this could happen to anyone, and not just to a person of such distinction,” Counter said. “He was just shocked that this had happened, at 12:44 in the afternoon, in broad daylight. It brings up the question of whether black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment.”
Cambridge police would not comment on the arrest, citing an investigation into the incident by Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. A spokesman for Leone said Gates is scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 26 and said the office could not provide details on the arrest until that time.Gates is being represented by Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who has taken on previous cases with racial implications.
Friday, July 17, 2009
An Exclusive Interview with Pat Buchanan On Judge Sotomayor, the Future of America, and the New Racism Against White Men
WARNNN: Hello Mr. Buchanan, it is a pleasure to finally meet you and we greatly appreciate your taking the time to sit down and chat with us.
Pat Buchanan: Of course, I have always enjoyed talking with members of the African American community, especially the black press. Oh, And I must complement you on the name of your website as one doesn't often hear the word "negro" that often anymore...it is comforting to know that it is still in use in some circles.
WARNNN: That is a surprise...thank you, I guess. Mr. Buchanan, with Judge Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court a relative certainty, what are your thoughts on the confirmation process and Judge Sotomayor more generally.
Pat Buchanan: As I am sure that you know, I have opposed her nomination from the beginning. She is an affirmative action candidate, unfit for this honor and distinction, and a fraud who has benefited from reverse racism her whole life--there is nothing she has accomplished without a handout at the expense of white men. In fact, she has benefited from being both a woman and a Latina. This type of bigotry is wholly unAmerican.
WARNNN: Strong words Mr. Buchanan. How would you respond to critics who would highlight her many years of judicial experience, her well-reasoned and meticulous legal decisions, and high praise from the American Bar Association, other judges, and colleagues, as reasons that she is imminently qualified for the highest court.
Pat Buchanan: Come on now! Let's be serious for a moment. The selection process which brought her this far was flawed in its foundations. President Obama, the reverse racist and political demagogue that he is, went out of his way to not select a white man for the Supreme Court. The fix was in from day one. Obama is a bigot who is determined to never see a white person do well in this country. It is his agenda. Ironic, considering that he is half-white.
WARNNN: Let me interject for a moment...
Pat Buchanan: No, hold on please. Do you really think that someone who read children's books in order to improve her diction is really worthy of being on the Court? And, she apparently met with her professors repeatedly to improve her writing while at Princeton. Sotomayor is a product of low expectations, guilty white liberals got her into Princeton over well qualified white kids who dreamed their whole lives that they would be in the Ivy League. She stole their rightful place, a place good, hardworking, white Americans had earned for them.
WARNNN: So the legacy admissions and "gentlemen C" students like George Bush and others who were grandfathered into places like Yale and Harvard are more deserving than someone who hustled to get there, and excelled when finally enrolled. There is something immoral about a young latina, or person of color being admitted to an elite university, while there is something correct and righteous about a privileged white student arriving there as a birthright? Is that what you want to say?
Pat Buchanan: You are twisting my words. Of course they belong their, America is a meritocracy and these rich white kids you mock--the prosperous Americans who drive this country forward--have every right to not be discriminated against. Plus, they have never received any handouts or help from programs like affirmative action so let's get that straight. Every step of her career has been because of affirmative action and reverse racism. I know for a fact that Sotomayor was given extra praise and stars on her papers in elementary school and pre-school at the expense of the white boys in her classes. Can you imagine how damaging that is to their self-esteem? When at Princeton, those guilty liberal professors fawned all over her and gave grades she didn't deserve. To boot, these same types of liberals even gave her a position on the law review later in her career, and engineered her graduating with honors from Princeton. Sotomayor's whole life trajectory has been at the expense of white men.
WARNNN: Returning to Sotomayor's hearing. How would you assess her performance during the confirmation? And how do you think the Senators did with their questioning.
Pat Buchanan: Sotomayor was unimpressive and dodged every question thrown at her--she was clearly out of her depth intellectually. The Democrats were predictable. Given that this is their nominee this was hardly surprising. I would like to commend Senators Sessions and Graham. They were courageous, absolutely honorable men. Sotomayor has no respect for the law, none at all. Her wise Latina comment demonstrates it. Plus, a judge is supposed to decide the law based not on feelings or emotions, but on reason and the facts. She plays identity politics and as Michael Steele said, God help any white man who comes before her in the court. Imagine, if a white man had made a similar comment? He would have been ridden out of town on a rail!
WARNNN: Well in fact, Senator Sessions has expressed sympathy for the KKK, called the NAACP a bunch of troublemakers and Communists, and once called a black attorney "boy." This didn't hurt his career did it?
Pat Buchanan: Stop dragging up the past it isn't relevant to this issue.
WARNNN: Strategically, and I want you to be critical and reflective, do you think that that the way that Senator Sessions tried to bully Sotomayor by repeatedly referencing the wise Latina comment, and how Senator Graham basically called her a "bitch" for lack of a better word will hurt the Republicans, or Senator Coburn's joke about Ricky Ricardo and the I Love Lucy Show was out of bounds? How will this play in the media?
Pat Buchanan: Republicans need to stop pandering to the mainstream media. We need to be honorable and stick to our convictions! There is a new Jim Crow in America and it is against the Frank Ricci's of the world, the New Haven 20, those good honest hardworking Joe Lunchpack, real Americans who are not getting a fair shake. These men have never had a leg up in any way in this country. They give and give and give, and now they have nothing left. It is absurd! The Republicans had better--as you are so fond of saying--speak truth to power on this issue. And we can't trust the media anyway. Just like Rush Limbaugh said about black quarterbacks, there is a vested interest in seeing minorities do well. Everyone knows it. The whole world has been invested in Judge Sotomayor doing well and they got their wish.
WARNNN: But, given your age and life experience, do you honestly believe that people, judges in particular, actually proceed from a basis where their own insight--or ability to empathize with other people--is not operative in their decisions?
Pat Buchanan: Frankly, look at the great men on the Supreme Court. They have never operated with any biases, prejudices, or most importantly the bigotry that Judge Sotomayor so cavalierly displays. The law is the law, and given what some of her colleagues have said about her she is histrionic and hyper-emotional. Sotomayor let's her identity influence her decision making. This is not the type of person we need on the high court.
WARNNN: So, the white men who passed laws such as Dredd Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson were proceeding from a neutral place? Their identities as privileged white men in an openly racist society didn't impact their decision making? To be direct, white men are simply...
Pat Buchanan: Normal, yes of course we are normal.
WARNNN: Can you repeat that?
Pat Buchanan: Normal, this is the white man's country and we should be proud of it. White men were the founding fathers, they wrote the constitution, they tamed the West, they were inventors and scientists and philosophers. European civilization is what made America great. White men should be proud of this fact. But, with identity politics and the rise of multiculturalism white men are made to feel ashamed as we are written out of history. These Sotomayors and others don't want to assimilate. Even her name and membership in such racist groups as La Raza smack of an unwillingness to enter the American mainstream. What about the great story where people come here, integrate, and lose all of that ethnic baggage. Geez, by now, Sotomayor if she were a real American interested in being in the mainstream of American society, would have renamed herself Jones or Smith, or something respectable like that.
WARNNN: For a moment, I thought you were going to start singing James Brown's song, "It's a Man's World."
Pat Buchanan: You may be tempted to dismiss this anger and hostility, but white men are not going to take this abuse any more and the Republican Party is missing a great opportunity by not standing up on this issue. Come on Chauncey, how can you not empathize with Frank Ricci, or the white students denied admission to the University of Michigan because of affirmative action, or those white policemen and firefighters who have only wanted to continue with the family business, a birthright of sorts, and had it taken away from them?
WARNNN: I think you are oversimplifying a set of complex issues. Moreover, you used the word empathy, so empathy is now okay?
Pat Buchanan: And, if you and other negro leaders were honest you would admit that Dr. King didn't die so that the Frank Ricci's of the world would be treated like this, absolutely not! The Civil Rights Movement was about our freedom too, don't ever forget that. White men have fought in wars, have marched for equal rights, served in Vietnam and Iraq and Korea, and made this country great for all sorts of people, we simply want our fair share.
WARNNN: You sound very impassioned. So you are saying that white men are hurting right now? That something is amiss?
Pat Buchanan: Damn right something is wrong and we are hurting. White men are the backbone of this country. Look at this semi-economic depression we are in, who is hurting the most? White men. While we are suffering who reaches out to us? Where is our affirmative action. Look at the grassroots activism out there, those wonderful tea parties of a few months back. Something is brewing in America and Obama better wake the hell up. Chauncey, white men are tired. We are tired of giving. We have given blacks welfare, housing programs, social security, child credits, all manner of set asides and entitlement programs, and what do we hardworking white men get? Nothing but resentment and demands. Black Americans have the highest standard of living of any blacks in the world, but they complain about slavery. Slavery brought you to the greatest country on Earth--and if America is so bad, why are Africans, the ones who sold your people into slavery, so desperate to come here?
WARNNN: I am rendered speechless by your honesty.
Pat Buchanan: White men have rights too. America was at its greatest point when we were the bright shining city on the hill that our most revered statesman Ronald Reagan alluded to in the 1980's. We need to get that America back again, and the Obama's and Sotomayor's of the world hate that America. White men need to wake up and stand up. We are angry and we aren't going to take it anymore!
WARNNN: That was powerful Pat, really powerful. We appreciate your candor and energy.
Pat Buchanan: Thank you, it was a pleasure.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The Black In America Part 2 Pathology Preamble Continues: Be Like Those "Good Africans" and You Too Will Achieve Greatness and Success
CNN continues to prime us with the preamble to its pathology parade that is Black In America Part 2. Today's installment, "Continental Divide Separates Africans, African-Americans" focuses on the differences between "Africans" and "African-Americans." This piece purports to provide some insight into the the ethnicization of Black America. Now, this isn't to say that there are not real differences between the various elements of the Black Diaspora and that these conversations need to occur. But, in much the same way that the model minority myth is used to position "Asians" against blacks and other minority groups, Africans are now the "good" blacks. Here, in comparison to black Americans, Africans are high-achieving, apolitical, well-behaved, not disruptive, and particularly appreciative of the opportunities America provides to its immigrants.
Gordon and I always argue about this, but I don't feel a particular kinship to Africa or to Africans (as my mother says "those people sold us into slavery!"). I am a proud Black American and have always found the imagined dreams of mother Africa to be so much semi-productive Afrocentric fantasy. Ultimately, we have so much of our own history to be proud of here--in particular our struggle to recuperate American democracy and culture--that I don't feel a need to look afar for inspiration or belonging.
Notice, I did not say ambivalence or hostility. Nor, do I assert that Africa should be separate from our study of the "Black Experience." I also would not suggest that the Black Freedom Struggle was/is not a story best told through a lens of international influence and cross-fertilization. Simply put, ethnicity matters among Black folks, even while race continues to be a trump card.
1. How alike or different are Black Americans and black Africans? How does ethnicity complicate our relationships? How do folks from the Caribbean fit into all of this?
2. What are the lessons of race in America that black immigrants from Africa are resistant to learning?
3. Should black immigrants to the United States be eligible for affirmative action programs designed to ameliorate the historical disadvantages afflicted upon black Americans in education and the labor market? Is the admission of black immigrants to colleges and universities through these programs a betrayal of their intent and design? Are black Americans, in particular young black men, being excluded from opportunities in higher education, because ethnic blacks are now over-represented at elite institutions such as Harvard?
4. For those of you in higher education: what are the dynamics on your campus between native born black Americans and those from Africa and the Caribbean? Is there tension, cooperation, or collaboration? Is there one black student organization or are there many? Does this hinder the progress of black students on your campus or does it improve the campus climate for students of color?
5. Second higher education related question: what is the worst example of manipulating the racial bureaucracy (as I like to call it) which you have witnessed? I have seen white South-Africans awarded scholarships intended for African-Americans. I have also seen white North Africans play the system for their own gain where upon arrival on campus they assimilate/disappear into an undifferentiated mass of White students.
1. N'daw emigrated from Dakar, Senegal, in 2001. She works in a hair-braiding salon and has met African-Americans who share her values of hard work and family, but in most cases, "we are raised differently, taught different values and held up to a different moral code."
2. If the Western media are doing Africans no favors, then the African media are also a disservice to African-Americans because it portrays them as criminals, some immigrants say. Sandi Litia, 19, a Piney Woods graduate from Limulunga, Zambia, said she was initially scared of African-Americans because the African media show them "wearing clothes like gangsters and killing each other." Nkosi concurred that African media "made it seem as if they were these aggressive people that did nothing constructive with their lives except occupy prison space."
3. Chinedu Ezeamuzie, 21, of Athens, Georgia, arrived in 2003. He had spent the majority of his life in Jabriya, Kuwait, and came to the U.S. to pursue his education.
The recent Georgia Tech graduate said he considers himself Nigerian because his parents -- both from the village of Uga -- instilled in their four children strong Nigerian values of family, community, spirituality and self-betterment. In Athens, Ezeamuzie found his ideals at odds with those who shared his skin color at Clarke Central High School, his first stint in a public school.On his first day, he donned khakis, a button-down dress shirt and nice leather shoes. He caught the African-Americans' attention upon stepping into the cafeteria, he said.
"They give me the look," he said. "Why is this guy dressed like the white folks, like the preppy guys?"
He found clothes akin to what he saw many African-Americans wearing --- baggy pants and an oversized T-shirt. He relaxed his British-trained tongue and tried out for the basketball team, the 6-foot-5 Ezeamuzie said.
Ezeamuzie recalled finding himself more confused by his experience with some African-Americans: Why were they so cliquish? Why did they mock students for being intelligent? Why were they homophobic and bent on using the n-word? Why did every conversation seem to involve drugs, girls or materialism?
"They kind of accepted me. They saw me a little differently, but I was thinking this is a very narrow mindset," Ezeamuzie said.
4. Ezeamuzie and other Africans say they feel African-Americans too often dwell on slavery and the racism that has persisted for more than a century since the Emancipation Proclamation."We have all been tortured," said iReporter Vera Ezimora, 24, a Nigerian student living in Baltimore, Maryland. "Now that we are free, holding on to the sins of white men who have long died and gone to meet their maker is more torture than anything we have suffered."
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I have been trying to attentively watch the Sotomayor hearings, but they are (yawn...) quite a snooze fest. Hopefully, there will be some fireworks when aggrieved White man of the year Frank Ricci gives his testimony later in the week.
In keeping with my summer tradition of bringing you random discoveries from these Internets, here is an article from that most respected of beltway publications, Foreign Policy. The topic: the beef between Jay-Z and the Game as a treatise on statecraft; the balance of soft-power versus hard power; and the limits of American hegemony.
I am moved, yet remain undecided. Is this a genius piece of work or a slapdash analogy which is such a reach that it doesn't really merit comment?
Some choice excerpts from Jay-Z vs. the Game: Lessons for the American Primacy Debate--
"See, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is the closest thing to a hegemon which the rap world has known for a long time. He's #1 on the Forbes list of the top earning rappers. He has an unimpeachable reputation, both artistic and commercial, and has produced some of the all-time best (and best-selling) hip hop albums including standouts Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and the Black Album. He spent several successful years as the CEO of Def Jam Records before buying out his contract a few months ago to release his new album on his own label. And he's got Beyonce. Nobody, but nobody, in the hip hop world has his combination of hard power and soft power. If there be hegemony, then this is it. Heck, when he tried to retire after the Black Album, he found himself dragged back into the game (shades of America's inward turn during the Clinton years?)."
"But the limits on his ability to use this power recalls the debates about U.S. primacy. Should he use this power to its fullest extent, as neo-conservatives would advise, imposing his will to reshape the world, forcing others to adapt to his values and leadership? Or should he fear a backlash against the unilateral use of power..."
"The changes in Jay-Z's approach over the years suggest that he recognizes the realist and liberal logic... but is sorely tempted by the neo-conservative impulse. Back when he was younger, Jay-Z was a merciless, ruthless killer in the "beefs" which define hip hop politics. He never would have gotten to the top without that. But since then he's changed his style and has instead largely chosen to stand above the fray. As Jay-Z got older and more powerful, the marginal benefits of such battles declined and the costs increased even as the number of would-be rivals escalated. Just as the U.S. attracts resentment and rhetorical anti-Americanism simply by virtue of being on top, so did Jay-Z attract a disproportionate number of attackers. "I got beefs with like a hundred children" he bragged/complained on one track.."
"So what does Jay-Z do? If he hits back hard in public, the Game will gain in publicity even if he loses... the classic problem of a great power confronted by a smaller annoying challenger. And given his demonstrated skills and talent, and his track record against G-Unit, the Game may well score some points. At the least, it would bring Jay-Z down to his level -- bogging him down in an asymmetric war negating the hegemon's primary advantages. If Jay-Z tries to use his structural power to kill Game's career (block him from releasing albums or booking tour dates or appearing at the Grammy Awards), it could be seen as a wimpy and pathetic operation -- especially since it would be exposed on Twitter and the hip hop blogs."
"The Realist advice? His best hope is probably to sit back and let the Game self-destruct, something of which he's quite capable (he's already backing away from the hit on Beyonce) -- while working behind the scenes to maintain his own alliance structure and to prevent any defections over to the Game's camp."
Monday, July 13, 2009
In the 1980's, there was the Jesse Jackson effect. In the 1990's it seems that there is the Barack Obama effect.
My favorite excerpt:
"Some youngsters ran into Mr Fava’s store to taunt him. 'They was pulling down their pants, shouting, ’Kiss my black ass, because we got a black mayor’, swinging their things around and throwing stuff,' said Jennifer Green, 31, a black mother of 10."
This is democracy in full bloom my friends! From the mass mayhem of Jacksonian democracy and a bacchanal at the White House, to young black boys swinging their penises in the face of a (now) deposed white mayor, we have finally reached the promised land of American democracy. Let freedom ring! Good God almighty, let freedom ring!
Is this a happy story or is it a sad story? Does this community have any other options? Did any of you grow up in a small, rural community such as this? Are things really that bad? How many different Americas are there? Are we that dependent on the federal government and entitlement programs that bringing home the bacon is all that matters--or has ever mattered--in American politics? Am I a bad person for laughing uproariously at the thought of a bunch of black kids showing they ashy behinds to the former mayor of Alligator, Mississippi?
From the Telegraph UK:
In a shock result in Alligator (population 220), Tommie “Tomaso” Brown, 38, defeated Robert Fava, the mayor since 1979, owner of the general store and once his opponent’s boss, by 37 votes to 27.
Mr Brown’s surprise victory was a milestone for Alligator, which is named after the curving lake nearby rather than the alligators that once occupied it. Although the only three businesses in the shrinking, tumble-down town are run by whites, three-quarters of the population is now black.
"They wanted a black mayor,” said a philosophical Mr Fava, 71. “Another Obama - I think that’s what brought it on. I ran on ’30 years of dedicated service’ and he ran on ’Change’. He promised a swimming pool and a recreation centre, which he can’t do.
"He beat me by 10 votes because he had enough family folks to put him in. But we get along good. He used to work here at the store and there ain’t no problems between us. They were ready for a change and I was too - it’s a weight off my mind.”
Alligator, some 90 miles south of Memphis, was once a thriving town whose population swelled to more than 1,000. Its economic backbone was provided by European immigrants, especially Italians, who came to work on the plantations in the Deep South’s fertile Mississippi delta at the start of the 20th Century.
In the 1920s, the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley railroad ran eight trains a day that stopped at Alligator, dropping off and picking up salesmen who would gamble all day in the town’s Gibson Hotel, built in 1897.
Other visitors would arrive on boats that plied the Mississippi river from Memphis to New Orleans, transporting timber and grain as well as people. Blacks would play the blues along the town’s Front Street and labour in the fields but everything was run by the whites.
A yellowing newspaper cutting in Mr Fava’s store tells how Alligator once boasted “two schools, two churches, 16 brick store buildings, two blacksmith shops, two lumber yards, two doctors’ offices...and three modernly-equipped gins.”
The trains stopped in the 1950s and the hotel closed down around the same time and was demolished. Trailer homes now occupy the space where it once stood, one of them lived in by Mr Brown, who works as a cashier at the Fitzgeralds Casino in nearby Robinsonville.
Most of the old store fronts are boarded up and grass grows on the pavements. Vacant buildings have been broken into and vandalised. The alligators in the lake have also gone, chased out by beavers whose dams now have to be blown up by farmers because they cause fields to flood.
All that remains of the town’s once teeming commercial activity is Mr Fava’s Mary Ann’s Country Store, named after his wife; Gator’s grocery and diner owned by his younger brother Ronnie; and Bruno’s liquor and convenience store owned by his cousin Vito Sbravati.
Though some work in the casinos and on the Mississippi boats, most Alligator residents are farm workers, producing corn, beans, cotton and rice that is shipped the 350 miles down the river to New Orleans, from where it is exported.
Mr Brown was the first black man ever to stand for Mayor of Alligator and it took Mr Obama’s election to galvanise him into action. “Obama was a major influence on everybody,” he said, almost drowned out by the chirping of crickets in the sweltering afternoon heat. “He inspired me. I’m not going to take that from him.
"After 30 years, I didn’t think an African-American would be able to be mayor. I didn’t think the position was open to me. When he won, I decided that I knew the changes that needed to be made here and I thought that I could make those changes.
"If we don’t look after our youth, what do we have? The population is dying out and I want more people here. I want better living conditions.
I just want the people to be comfortable. Small towns like this depend on government funding and that’s what we’re seeking.
"I mingle with a lot of the young kids here in the community because if you deal with the people and their problems you understand more what’s going on if you’re out with them.”
The town’s facilities were substandard, he said, gesturing towards the humble town hall, where a “No Loitering” sign is nailed next to the door. “There isn’t even a phone or a fax machine in there. How can we communicate with the outside world and ask for things?" There was jubilation among the town’s blacks after Mr Brown’s victory.
“"Everybody out here was whooping and hollering and running and trying to flip,” said Patrina Brown, 25, the new mayor’s niece and newly elected as one of Alligator’s five aldermen.
Some youngsters ran into Mr Fava’s store to taunt him. “They was pulling down their pants, shouting, ’Kiss my black ass, because we got a black mayor’, swinging their things around and throwing stuff,” said Jennifer Green, 31, a black mother of 10.
Miss Green is dubious about whether Mr Brown, whose duties will include organising contract labour, overseeing the water and sewer systems and distributing any grant monies, can deliver. “He says there’s going to be lots of changes and everything with all these kids running around here.
"But he do the same thing they do, drinking beer and stuff. You’ve got to stay at home and study the town. Alligator is the kind of place where if you leave your door open, when you come back there ain’t nothing in your house.
"There’s guns. Kids knock on your door asking for a beer at three and four in the morning. I get 14-year-olds asking me if I want weed or whatever. They should have just left Mr Robert in there.
"Tomaso won’t do anything about any of it. He’s going to put his hand in the cookie jar just at the wrong time and get caught.”
Her boyfriend J. R. Cook, who is white, disagreed. “It was about time for Robert to get out. He was tired. And there ain’t no saints around here. They may be Christian people but when they get out of church it makes no difference.”
Mr Fava said that relations between blacks and white had been generally good, though crime had increased. “Alligator is a quiet town, except when we get that Voodoo and Rap music.
"There’s only been one murder in all the time I’ve been here. About five years ago, there was a white lady coming in with a black guy and they got into it and he shot her and tried to burn the body up. They got him and he’s doing time in the penitentiary.”
Mr Brown said: “Robert’s coming around and accepting the reality now. I used to work for him and his brother and mow his lawn and stuff. It was a shocker for him after 30 years.”
Up at Bruno’s, at the entrance to Alligator beside Route 61, known as the Blues Highway, dozens of the town’s blacks were spending their Saturday evening outside the store drinking beer and whisky and dancing to music blasting from a boom box. The scent of marijuana hung in the warm air.
Inside the store, Vito Sbravati, 69, and his wife Christine, 65, were doing a very brisk trade. Next to the door was a photograph of President George W. Bush and his wife Laura thanking the couple for their campaign contributions.
The town had changed beyond all recognition, they reflected, since Mr Sbravati’s grandfather had arrived at New York’s Ellis Island in 1905 before making the journey by sea to New Orleans and then up the Mississippi to Rosedale, 30 miles from Alligator.
Mr Sbravati shrugged that his cousin Robert had not been able to get his vote out but said he thought Mr Brown’s election would not make much difference. “I call him Tomaso Obama.”
The couple will be retiring in two weeks. “It’s not about colour,” said Mrs Sbravati, also a third generation Italian-American in Alligator whose mother, an Allegrezza, married Mr Fava’s Uncle Bruno.
"I don’t care if someone’s orange, as long as they’re honest. I don’t go by black and white. I go by right and wrong.”
Saturday, July 11, 2009
There is so much disdain for our personhood by the Right, that again, I am often speechless. And I use "personhood" with great emphasis because the idea of a black family in the White House is a symbolic shift that racists (be they latent, colorblind, or active) cannot accept.
I wonder if "fair and balanced" Fox News will cover this one?
Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun:
"A typical street whore." "A bunch of ghetto thugs." "Ghetto street trash." "Wonder when she will get her first abortion."
These are a small selection of some of the racially-charged comments posted to the conservative 'Free Republic' blog Thursday, aimed at U.S. President Barack Obama's 11-year-old daughter Malia after she was photographed wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign on the front.
The thread was accompanied by a photo of Michelle Obama speaking to Malia that featured the caption, "To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds."
Though this may sound like the sort of thing one might read on an Aryan Nation or white power website, they actually appeared on what is commonly considered one of the prime online locations for U.S. Conservative grassroots political discussion and organizing - and for a short time, the comments seemed to have the okay of site administrators.
Moderators of the blog left the comments - and commenters - in place until a complaint was lodged by a writer doing research on the conservative movement, almost a full day later.
"Could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there?" wrote one commenter.
"They make me sick .... The whole family... mammy, pappy, the free loadin' mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin', and especially 'lil cuz... This is not the America I want representin' my peeps," wrote another.
Such was the onslaught of derision on the site that the person who originally complained about the slurs, a Kristin N., claims only one comment in the first hundred posted actually criticized the remarks as inappropriate.
A note on the front of the blog reads, "Free Republic does not advocate or condone racism, violence, rebellion, secession, or an overthrow of the government," but one comment on the thread read, "This disgusting display makes me more and more eager for the revolution," while another read, "I never actually wnated [sic] to be a pistol before but..."
After attention from other blogs, the thread was suppressed and placed under review, but before long it was returned to the site intact, and attracted a new series of racial slurs when the original complaint email was posted publicly to the site, with the sender's email address intact.
"The writer has a point," wrote site owner Jim Thompson sarcastically. "We should steer clear of Obama's children. They can't help it if their old man is an American-hating Marxist pig."
"I agree Jim," wrote commenter, by the nickname NoobRep. "The kids didn't pick their commie pinko pansy of a father. Nor did they choose to be put into the spotlight. But Obama/Soetoro is fair game and so is his witch of a wife."
"Poor kids. I hope they're not 'punished with a baby'," wrote another. "Hopefully they won't deal cocaine like the Kenyan."
"DIRTBAGS! All of them. Our [White House] is now a joke to the rest of the world. We have no respect and this is not going to turn out well, mark my words. We will be hit, and much worse than last time. We are now seen as weak and vulnerable. Ghetto and Chicago thugs have taken over."
Only after significant negative attention from a host of left wing political blogs did the maintainers of the Free Republic site place the thread under review for a second time, before finally pulling it.
In the wake of the controversy, some Free Republic posters complained about the vitriol.
One poster by the name of "fullchroma" wrote, "To Jim Thompson: The recent uptick here in racist vitriol, aimed at Barrack, Michelle and their children has made me wonder if I belong. My objection to Obama has nothing to do with skin tone. Is the ugly stereotype of Conservative racism true?"
Another, going by the name of TChris, wrote, "Free Republic is a political discussion forum. It SHOULD be beneath us as a group to stoop to such juvenile tactics as I see increasing here lately. Do we REALLY have to insult Mrs. Obama's appearance like a clique of nasty 14-year-old girls?"
But such opinions were not shared by all. Said Roses of Sharon, "Poor libs .... Too late, the battle has been joined."
One of the Worst Examples of Black on Black Crime Ever--Burr Oak Cemetary Defiled 300 or More Graves Including that of Emmitt Till
The dead they sleep a long, long sleep;When this story first broke, I kept holding my breath with the hope that the fools responsible for desecrating the graves at Burr Oak cemetery outside of Chicago were not black. My hopes were buttressed because the criminally accused had not done "the perp walk."
The dead they rest, and their rest is deep;
The dead have peace, but the living weep.
Alas, it seems that the ign'ts--and ign't is a complement--who dug up and defiled 300 or more graves containing some of our most honorable and respectable negro dead, are themselves Black.
Is this not one of the worst examples of black on black crime which you have ever been witness to?
Come Sunday, we are going to initiate the discommendation of these disgusting, foul, knuckle dragging, disgusting, hoogah moogah, evil, maladjusted, worthy of anal rape with a hot curling iron, monstrous examples of humankind.
We are truly a society too sick to survive.
Emmett Till's casket found rusting in shack
DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer
Associated Press Writer
Illinois (AP) -- Four former employees accused of digging up bodies and reselling plots at a historic black cemetery near Chicago made about $300,000 in a scheme believed to have stretched back at least four years, authorities said Friday.
Three gravediggers and a manager at the Burr Oak Cemetery are accused of unearthing hundreds of corpses and either dumping some in a weeded, desolate area near the cemetery or double-stacking others in graves. The cemetery is the burial place of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington.
While Till's grave site was not disturbed, Sheriff Tom Dart said investigators found his original iconic glass-topped casket rusting in a shack at the cemetery.
The 14-year-old Chicagoan was killed in 1955 after reportedly whistling at a white woman during a visit to his uncle's house in Mississippi. Nearly 100,000 people visited the casket during a four-day public viewing in Chicago, and images of his battered body helped spark the civil rights movement.
When Till was exhumed in 2005 during an investigation of his death, he was reburied in a new casket. The original casket was supposed to be kept for a planned memorial to Till.
Thousands of families have come to the cemetery since Thursday looking for answers about their loved ones, authorities said. Hundreds of relatives, some clutching maps of the 150-acre (60-hectare) site, were seen at the cemetery Friday.
Dart said officials have assisted the families in locating relatives' plots, and family members have reported at least 30 cases of disturbed graves and missing headstones.
The Illinois official who regulates cemeteries said Friday that the process of revoking the cemetery's license has been started.
The suspects, all of whom are black have been charged with one count of dismembering a human body, a felony.
Bond was set at $250,000 for the cemetery's manager, and at $200,000 for the other three.
Authorities said the cemetery manager also pocketed donations she elicited for a Till memorial museum. She has not been charged in connection with those allegations. Court documents show she was fired from the cemetery in late May amid allegations of financial wrongdoing.
Friday, July 10, 2009
My Friday Afternoon Happiness Pill--This is What Happens When Your Grandfather Discovers These Internets
White folks can keep Elvis all to themselves (although I must admit that he was an amazing performer).
Every Friday I am going to post a new youtube discovery and personal happiness pill to get us through the weekend and to celebrate the end of the week. And given that this was a heavy week with MJ's homegoing--and I am really enjoying the range of discussion pro/con on Michael's legacy--some levity seems appropriate.
Remember, Michael Jackson belongs to everybody! I think I am going to get a t-shirt made with that slogan emblazoned upon it. Actually, I would describe Michael's relationship in the following terms: while he belonged to "us," he was on loan to the world.
Because he is such a prolific and lucid thinker, Mike from Brooklyn also has some insights into Barack Obama's racial ancestry, genetics, and the politics of race in America:
Question: is this what happens when our elders get access to the internet? Are you afraid to get your parents or grandparents online because of the havoc they may wreak? And how would you respond if you discovered moms or pops had put a video on YouTube?
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Damn! And double-damn!
It seems that one more person has come to bury Michael Jackson rather than to praise him. The battle over Michael's legacy continues.
Courtesy of Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez on Alternet:
I have watched the fawning nonstop media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson with skepticism this past week.
Yes, premature death is tragic. Upon that we can (mostly) all agree.
What I cannot agree with, however, are the repeated claims that Jackson: was a musical genius; broke down racial barriers; was a brilliant singer; was a great dancer; changed American culture.
The book African American Education by Walter Recharde Allen details the rampant double-standards applied by the US school system to black children. Too many teachers still hold negative stereotypes about blacks. When a white kid says two-plus-two is four, the teachers nod and move on; when the black kid does the same, they stare in disbelief, express surprise, or praise the student for high achievement. In other words, lowered expectations lead teachers to praise mediocrity in black students.
I believe something similar is going on in the US media regarding Michael Jackson.
As a musician (I hold a bachelor's degree in performance from Berklee College of Music) and as a music critic and historian, I can tell you with a clear conscience that Michael Jackson's musical abilities, placed upon the spectrum of human accomplishments in this field, are mediocre at best.
Yet everyone from the London Telegraph to People magazine have gone to great lengths to tell us Jackson was a literal "genius".
Jackson, whose vocal range was limited and who sang often insipid pop songs that rarely ventured outside of a basic pentatonic scale, was no musical genius.
Cannonball Adderley was a musical genius. John Coltrane was a musical genius. Charles Ives was a musical genius. J.S. Bach was a musical genius. Hector Berlioz was a musical genius. These were human beings gifted with uncommon genius in musical understanding, interpretation and expression.
To compare Michael Jackson's twitchy, strange pop singing to the accomplishments of people such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky or Charlie Parker is downright insulting; it is rather like saying the guy who designed the Tilt-a-Whirl is on par as an architect with I.M. Pei.
That the American press have been so quick to jump on the Jackson-as-genius bandwagon speaks to the dismal state of excellence in our culture. As more and more artistic and journalistic decisions have been left to MBAs and accountants, quality has fallen by the wayside. True musical variety has died with the radio monopolies of Clear Channel and others, as we are force-fed the same Lady Ga-Ga tune until we Lady Ga-GAG. Our standards, in other words, have sunk to new lows, and not just in music.
If Jackson is a musical genius, one realizes, it is not such a great leap to imagine Sarah Palin as presidential material, Lauren Weisberger as a great author, or Lou Dobbs as a substitute for real reporting and news. The Simpsons lampooned the growing cult of idiocy and mediocrity in our nation in the character of Homer; sadly, hardly anyone noticed because they were too busy relating to him.
As a culture, it appears that we have accepted the lowest common denominator as the highest we ought to aim. We are told Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, when in reality he is the Clown Monarch of Mediocrity.
Again and again we have heard the Jackson also "broke down racial barriers". ABC News told us he was the first black artist to do so. This is as nonsensical as the claim that he was a genius, for several reasons.
First, Jackson was hardly the first black person to find popularity in American pop music. Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Fats Domino, Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis - the list of those who came before is seemingly endless to anyone whose sense of US musical history goes back further than the 1970s.
Second, Jackson worked very hard not to be black. He hated being black. His self-hatred was deep and public. To somehow now consider him as being some sort of racial trailblazer is ridiculous and incomprehensible; it also shows that people see what they need to see, rather than what is there.
Did white people like Jackson's music? Sure. But they came to love him not in the respectful way audiences came to love, say, a young Wynton Marsalis, which is to say observing his unmistakable genius in stunned silence. Rather, it was to say "lookie there, what a cute negro child singin' and dancin'" as the very young Jackson sang age-inappropriate love songs in a shuck-and-jive style that brought to mind vaudeville blackface.
This type of admiration is nothing new in a nation that has a long tradition of white folks watching black folks perform mysterious and embarrassing works for their entertainment. The young Jackson was, to most white Americans, like a singing version of Buckwheat from Our Gang.
Jackson hardly embraced his race. Quite the contrary. If he sought to break down racial barriers, it was only to have surgery to make himself white. When it came time for children, he found a sperm donor who was white, because he knew that no matter how much surgery he had, his DNA would still make black babies - and he hated black people. Both his marriages were to white women.
Jackson's dancing, so often heralded as brilliant, was not so. He was an unusual dancer, yes. But not a brilliant one. A brilliant dancer is someone like Mikhail Barishnakov, Alvin Ailey, or Gregory Hines. Jackson was a weird dancer, and a good dancer, but he simply wasn't great.
We Americans have become so accustomed to inappropriate superlatives that we scarcely notice when they are applied to the middling.
As for Jackson changing American culture? Maybe he helped justify our increasing voyeurism and obsession with celebrity by being so publicly and tragically screwed up.
But did he singlehandedly change music? Nope. The uptempo songs are fun to dance to, but the slow songs are excruciatingly insipid. I can't see any of it mattering ten years from now or, for that matter, ten years ago. We knew this a month ago; that's why no one was listening to his music. Now, we pretend we care about his music when the truth is more about the selfish communal realization of mortality among Generation X, who in Jackson lost their first big star. If he can die, we are thinking, then holy shit, so can we.
This still doesn't make Jackson a genius. It doesn't make Gen Xers geniuses, either. But maybe that's the problem. We were the ones with the hippie parents who told us all that we were great. The truth was, most of us, like most people of any age, weren't great at all; we were average. We just thought we were great. Maybe we're projecting.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I’ve done my best to ignore the disingenuous tributes from people and institutions that clearly didn’t give a shit about him when he was alive. But, like a lot of people, I’ve responded by listening to his songs—in my case, songs that normally don’t make it into the rotation.
Two, in particular, stand out. The first is “Heaven Can Wait” from Invincible, his last studio album. The second is “Childhood” from History.
“Heaven Can Wait” proved (along with “Butterflies”) that Jackson could still make brilliant music late into his career, albeit in spurts. “Heaven Can Wait” is ostensibly about how Jackson is so in love that he’d forgo eternal paradise to be with his love on earth. It soon becomes apparent, though, that the song is really about the singer’s own jealousy: he has to be with his “baby girl” because he wouldn’t be able to stand seeing someone else with her. The second verse is somewhat creepy, but very appropriate for a man as thoroughly obsessed with himself as Jackson was.
“Childhood” stands out for a different reason: despite how delusional and sheltered Jackson seemed to be, he was fully aware of his situation. In the ballad, Jackson explicitly echoes the obvious pop psychology the rest of us applied to his life, singing, “It's been my fate to compensate, for the childhood I've never known.” He waxes whimsical about pirates and other such juvenilia in the same whispery voice he used in this bizarre video footage of him singing about Peter Pan. “Childhood” is saccharine and manipulative, but sincere. It’s strange that so many people, myself included, completely ignored this song. It had a video and everything.
The saddest thing about this song isn't Jackson's actual explanation for his "eccentricities" (he didn't get to have a childhood), but that he felt compelled to explain himself at all, that he desperately needed our acceptance.