Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Reviewed--Yo Joe!!!

Yo Joe! If I were 12 years old I would think that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the greatest thing ever. I am some years older than that, and G.I. Joe successfully brought out the 12 year old in me.

Please ignore all of the hate and hostility that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is receiving from "mainstream" critics and ubergeeks with impossibly high standards--and narrow and selective memories of what their favorite childhood franchise was really like. If you go into the new G.I. Joe film with the slight bit of goodwill you will be rewarded. It is loud, ridiculous, fun, self-aware, and smart. Now, some will smirk at the last comment--how can G.I. Joe be smart? It is a retread of a cartoon that was a 30 minute promo for Hasbro toys for goodness sake!

Before someone challenges my G.I. Joe cred...why would anyone be so foolish...I have my G.I. Bonafides (get the Oscar Wilde-like worldplay?) in spades. The comics? I have read just about every issue from Hama's run up to the IDW/Devil's Due reimagining. The toys? a whole bunch. I never get my parents to buy the USS Flagg, but that god awful G.I. Joe headquarters is still at home somewhere. I was the plague of Toys R Us and Child World where I would incessantly call them every Sunday about any new toys arriving that week. I sent away in the mail for the special edition of Zartan. I spent many an hour creating contrived stories where Tomax, Xamot, and the Crimson Guards would kill the Joes until Snake-Eyes and Flint arrived to save the day.

In the ultimate act of G.I. Joe loyalty, I even had the G.I. Joe storybook/comic on cassette. This horrible product featured voice actors reading the adventure along with some pretty crappy sound effects. It was also the source of no small amount of embarrassment when my friends stole it from me in elementary school (but that is a different story for another time). In fact, I was so ashamed I almost passed out in class:

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra works because it is as ridiculous as the cartoon or the comic ever was. Brainwave scanners? Weather control satellites? Springfield, Sierra Gordo, MARS Enterprises, battles where no one ever gets killed (the invasion of Cobra Island in the comic was an exception for sure), Serpentor, Big Lob, Cobra-La, Cobra Commander's needlessly complicated plans to conquer the world, etc. etc. etc. Did any of this stuff ever make sense? Of course it didn't.

The comics (especially the Special Missions series) were our chance to be a bit more mature than the "kids" who exclusively watched the cartoon, but G.I. Joe, even with Larry Hama's military abbreviations and terminology (my favorite word that I learned courtesy of Mr. Hama: defilade) was 12 levels of crazy.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the comic book and cartoon with a 170 million dollar budget. The movie is a thinly veiled excuse to take live actors, actors who are in fact little more than living action figures, and have them fight and blow stuff up. Sadly, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a victim of poor marketing, rumor mongering, and ill will on the part of critics who the studio foolishly did not invite to press screenings.

Ultimately, my decision rule for a summer popcorn movie is as follows: Did I have a good time and would I see it again? My answer is "yes" and "yes." I smiled throughout the whole film. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra wasn't perfect, and in script doctor tradition I will suggest some changes, but it was a great time. Yo Joe!!!

Some thoughts on the movie and its sequel (and yes, there will most definitely be a sequel)

1. Lots of folks have complained that G.I. Joe is a NATO group and not an "all-American" team. I feel their pain. A fix for next time, have all the soldiers wear the G.I. Joe insignia, then an American flag, and under that, their respective nation's colors. Have a throwaway line about it and move forward.

2. I want and need to hear the old school G.I. Joe theme (the cartoon movie version would be perfect). In the sequel, Breaker should be playing with some music editing software in the first part of the film. The other Joes tease him about wanting to be a music producer. Breaker is embarrassed and takes the mp3 and puts it on a zip drive. During the movie's climactic battle Breaker plays the original theme over the communication network to rally the Joes to victory:

3. It is too late now, but the Baroness should have a Russian accent. Destro needs to be more imposing. Here, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra dropped the ball. Destro serves Cobra Commander because he chooses to, not because the Commander has enslaved him. In a rewrite, Destro chooses to don the mask of his ancestors not because of injury, but as an act of loyalty to his past as he works to redeem clan McCullen's honor.

4. Ripcord and Scarlett? No. Sorry. Doesn't work. Scarlett is Snake Eye's woman. The petty romance between the two is a distraction. Likewise, the relationship between Duke and the Baroness is a waste of time. The next movie needs to make the world a little less insular and focus more on adding the legacy Joes to the mix.

5. We need Stalker, Gung-Ho, Leatherneck, Lowlight, Recondo, Tunnel-Rat and Shipwreck added to the fight. This first installment could have used Ace (his flying the Raven is far more plausible than Ripcord's effort) and Wild Bill (although, I think we do here his signature cowboy hee-haw during the first 15 minutes of the film where the Joe's "helicopter" evacs the group..maybe his cameo will be on the DVD). For Cobra, we need Tomax and Xamot, Major Blood, the Dreadnoks, BATs, and Firefly.

6. The movie needs more legacy vehicles as well. G.I. Joe's gear is especially sterile and generic. The fun of the toys and comic was the utter ridiculousness of the equipment. Nevertheless, it was "realistic" enough that a 12 year old geek could imagine it sitting in a DARPA lab, buried 10 miles below sea level for the sake of security. For the sequels we need HISS Tanks, Trouble Bubbles, the Mauler, the Moray, the Mamba, the BuzzBore, the Rattler, and more CLAWS. The film did have some Easter eggs--the FLAGG made an appearance, there was one CLAW, and we saw the Mantas and Sharks fight it out during the climax.

7. G.I. Joe is such a huge universe that the film has to be careful about overwhelming casual fans. Also, for narrative sake, the sequel cannot feature too many additional Joes or Cobras. But, some of this can be accomplished through innuendo, side conversations, carefully staged shots, and the like. For example, in his cameo Brendan Frasier should have been explicitly referred to as Flint. During the sea battle, we could have heard Torpedo and Shipwreck on the radio giving orders to their respective squadrons. Prior to the insertion in Antarctica, Ripcord could have joked about Alpine and Snow Job being upset that they were assigned to a different mission. You get my drift. These little winks give life to a film and also make the die-hard fans feel acknowledged by the film's creators.

8. Second to final thought: yes, Snake-Eyes is that dude. Storm-Shadow will be back for sure, and in a way that parallels the comics. Unfortunately, the origin story for Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow was an example of a film not sticking with what works. Next time, the writers should leave well enough alone--especially which a standard bearer such as Snake Eyes. The winks to G.I. Joe: The Movie were great, although we could have used Doc's over the top exclamation that Duke (or in this case, Hawk) is going to be okay.

9. Cobra Commander needs his iconic hood. And yes I know that it was dropped in favor of his armored mask because folks were fearful that Cobra Commander looked like a member of the KKK. But, Cobra Commander's plan within a plan was brilliantly executed and suited the G.I. Joe mythos. Again, G.I.: Joe The Rise of Cobra borrowed a storyline from the IDW/Devil's Due comics and executed it quite well, with the moral of the story once more being, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Any other thoughts or suggestions? What would you like to see in a sequel? Am I delusional and this film actually did rape our childhoods? Am I suffering from G.I. Joe Stockholm syndrome?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Is “Racism” dead?: An in-depth conversation with America’s most inflammatory and most misunderstood word

Don’t ever say that we don’t deliver. The We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) has scored an exclusive interview with Racism…Yes, the actual word Racism.


WARNNN: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Racism: Thanks for having me.

WARNNN: You’ve been extremely busy over the last few weeks or so.

Racism: You have no idea.

WARNNN: And actually, the last year must have been a whirlwind for you, right—what with Obama’s election, all this post-racial talk, and the backlash from the right?

Racism: Definitely. It’s just been too much. I all but shut down in the months running up to the election, and just when I thought I’d recovered, I get hit with this wave from the Right: Tea Parties, Birthers—it just never ends.

WARNNN: So how are you feeling now?

Racism: Frustrated, spent.


Racism: I still get national headlines, maybe even more than I used to, but I feel empty. I fear that I’ve become a shell of my former self. Scratch that—I don’t fear it; I know it.

WARNNN: That’s a pretty bold statement. What’s behind these feelings?

Racism: Popular race discourse in America has never been more uncritical and simplistic as it is right now. I mean, it’s certainly less explicitly hostile and bigoted than it once was, but what passes for discussion of racism today is pathetic. They've flattened me to the point where I have no meaning.

WARNNN: I assume you’re talking about some combination of white people and the mainstream media.

Racism: For the most part, yeah. White people aren’t alone, of course, but, by in large, whites have driven this process. But this isn’t to say…It’s not that white people are inherently bad or stupid or anything; they’ve dumbed me down strictly as a defense mechanism, as a response to threats against their interests—both material and psychological. And the corporate media have their own set of interests, as you know.

WARNNN: There’s just so much to unpack in that answer…I’m not sure where to start. OK, let’s bracket the media thing for a minute. First let me ask this: what exactly do you mean when you say that you’ve been “flattened” and “dumbed down?”

Racism: I really just mean that the criteria for what qualifies as racism has been changed to benefit white people: the bar has been raised impossibly high for whites, lowered for everyone else.

WARNNN: In what way? Can you elaborate?

Racism: Nowadays, only biological white supremacy, racial slurs (especially the “N’ word”), and explicit racial violence will get a white person labeled a racist. Therefore, many whites respond to charges of racism by saying things like, “I’m not a racist…Some of my best friends are black…I’ve never enslaved any black people or terrorized them with dogs and firehoses…I’ve never burned a cross on a black family’s lawn or called anyone ‘Nigger.’” You see? Nazis and Klansmen are the only racist whites from this perspective. This isn’t the only view, but it’s been the default for decades.

On the other hand, look at how conservatives have co-opted Civil Rights language to depict members of the black left as “racists.” I mean, in just the last week, these people have charged Obama, Sotomayor, and Skip Gates with racism. In some formulations, merely mentioning race and racial injustice gets you slapped with the racist label. Think about how, in the eyes of most whites, the Panthers, Malcolm, Reverend Wright—indeed, all blacks who offer savage critiques of white supremacy—are racists on par with David Duke.

WARNNN: Divorcing you from structure seems to be at the heart of this flattening.

Racism: Exactly. They focus on individual attitudes—racially hostile attitudes—so as to limit the scope of racism to the hearts and minds of benighted souls. Not systematic discrimination in housing, the criminal justice system, education, employment. Not racism with any kind of heft or history to it, but just attitudes. That way, anyone can be racist and all racisms are equal. They can say, “Hey, racism is a 2-way street!” That’s their new favorite saying.

WARNNN: That’s a great way to segue into your family, particularly, you younger siblings, “Reverse Racism” and “The Race Card,” both of whom have had quite a bit of success in their own right. How are they doing these days?

Racism: In all honesty, we don’t talk that much. We were never really close, but it’s hard to forgive the two of them for getting into bed with the lowest right-wing scum.

WARNNN: Your brother “The Race Card” is still wildly popular across the board, but your little sister “Reverse Racism” has fallen on hard times. Conservatives seemed to have abandoned her for you. Is there any truth to the reports that she was a prostitute for the Republican Party?

Racism: I’m not going to get into all of that. It’s a shame how they used her. That’s all I’ll say. She brought most of her problems on herself, but believe me, I take no joy in the fact that conservatives dropped her and are using me now. Both my brother and my sister are tragic figures.

WARNNN: Let’s go back a second. How do you combat the argument you just stated, namely, that anyone can be racist, that, that all racisms are equal? How is it not racism when people like the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Brother X Squared, and any number of black prison philosophers on public access TV go beyond a critique of the institution and ideology of white supremacy to espouse a hatred of white people?

Racism: Yes…yes. Great question. Racial hatred, regardless of its source or its victim, is deeply destructive. It corrupts the soul and dehumanizes those who are subject to it. This should go without saying. But if I am to have any real meaning, racial animus by a subjugated group cannot be placed in the same category as a system of racial disenfranchisement and generations-long second class citizenship—hell, second class humanity!

WARNNN: Switching gears a bit—Isn’t it somewhat unfair to attribute this dumbing down to white people as a whole when, from what you’ve been saying, the process is driven by Frank Luntz-inspired, conservative newspeak?

Racism: Hold on, now. Wait a second. I’m glad you said that, because it gives me an opportunity to clear up a big misconception. While conservatives have done immeasurable damage to my image by denying that I exist and/or conflating me with critiques of white supremacy, it would be dishonest to pin this all on them. When it comes to dumbing down “racism,” white liberals have been right there on the front lines with their conservative enemies.

WARNNN: And what do white liberals have to gain from this?

Racism: The same thing that white conservatives have to gain: absolution. They get to convince themselves that their success is due entirely to their own hard work; that they possess no unfair advantage over their darker brothers and sisters. They get to live their lives without confronting the most uncomfortable aspects of racism, namely, its real world consequences and legacies. Again, material as well as psychological interests.

I also want to make it clear that black people have enabled whites in their effort to flatten me. Like I said, it isn’t just conservative whites; it's everyone.

WARNNN: How have black folks aided the processes?

Racism: Blacks embraced the platonic ideal of racism: The American South. The South, the fetid asshole of Jim Crow, was the perfect embodiment of what I should stand for: corrupt institutions and ideologies reinforcing and sustaining one another to create a semi-permanent underclass. In many ways, the decision to emphasize this most unmistakable form of racism would seal my fate. Focusing on the Bull Connors, the Faubuses, the George Wallaces, gave whites a convenient villain upon which to project their racial anxieties. But it made blacks sympathetic. It left no doubt as to the justness of their struggle. Blacks were helped tremendously by the focus on redneck crackers, but it came at a great cost in the long term.

WARNNN: Hmm. We just can’t win, can we?

Racism: {laughing} It appears that way.

WARNNN: Any parting words?

Racism: All I’ve ever wanted was to be a fully drawn, complex semantic being. There are people from all backgrounds fighting the good fight, in academia and in communities, and I never thought that I’d see the day, but we now have a President that speaks of me in nuanced terms. My days are numbered, however. I have no idea how long I have or how I will go, but then again, I’m not a political theorist or a linguist; I’m just a word.

WARNNN: We didn't even get to talk about the media's role.

Racism: {laughing} Perhaps another time.

WARNNN: Thank you again for joining us.

Racism: It was a pleasure.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Barack Obama is the New Joker? or The Dark Knight Repurposed by Conservative Activists

Politics is popular culture and popular culture is politics.

As has been widely reported, a series of posters substituting Barack Obama's face for that of Heath Ledger's Joker have appeared across Los Angeles. My immediate reaction was simply that this isn't smart satire, and is thus ineffective, because the creator(s) of this piece of agitprop do not "get" the Joker character. As I outlined in one of my most popular essays, the Joker is freedom through chaos and mayhem--he is liberation through violence. The translation does not fit because Barack Obama represents none of these things. I may have to revisit the politics as work in Batman: The Dark Knight if this story continues to gain traction. But in the meantime, I leave you with this food for thought. Courtesy of The Washington Post:


Obama as the Joker: Racial Fear's Ugly Face
'Political' Poster Turns On Violent Symbolism

By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009

Between Jack Nicholson's 1989 portrayal of the Joker in "Batman" and Heath Ledger's 2008 characterization in "The Dark Knight," something sinister happened to the villain's iconic makeup. What had been a mask, with the clearly delineated lines of a carnival character, became simply war paint, and not very well applied.

The visual change signaled a change in the Joker's inner mechanism. Nicholson's dandified virtuoso of violence was replaced by a darker, more unpredictable and psychotic figure. What had been a caricature became more real and threatening. An urbane mocker of civilized values became simply a deformed product of urban violence.

It is the latter makeup job that has been superimposed over the face of President Obama in an anonymous Los Angeles poster campaign that is now the talk of the blogosphere, the airwaves and the 24/7 hermeneutical speculations of cable television. The image, which appears above the word "socialism," delights and distresses people roughly on the lines of the usual political cleavage, with wide agreement that the as-yet-unrevealed artist certainly intends it to be disrespectful. But there is little consensus about whether it is effective as political messagemaking.

Comparisons to Shepard Fairey's Obama posters, which rendered the president's face a boldly contrasted palette of red and blue above the blunt message "hope," generally tend to favor Fairey's artistry. The exhausted icon of last year's political campaign, now falling off bumpers and fading on T-shirts, had both a subtlety the current poster lacks and a simplicity that it desperately needs. Fairey's image included a clever visual play on red- and blue-state political values (a windmill rendered in red, a tank and dollar sign sketched in blue), but it required only one step of mental grammar: Obama is hope.

The new Obama poster has two basic thrusts. Obama is a socialist, or a crypto-socialist. And Obama is somehow like the Joker, unpredictable and dangerous. But joining these two messages together yields more questions and contradictions than good poster art can sustain. The Joker is violent and dangerous, but a socialist? And didn't we see George W. Bush depicted as the Joker not so long ago?

Yes, in an image by Drew Friedman published online by Vanity Fair on July 29, 2008. That drawing at least played into a view of Bush popular among his detractors, that the former president was unpredictable and fast on the draw when it came to geopolitics. But the danger many of Obama's detractors detect is more of calculating, long-standing deception, that he is quietly and secretly marshaling a socialist agenda, a view that would be better served by imagery that recalled "The Manchurian Candidate."

Even the first claim, that Obama is a socialist, isn't introducing anything new into the argument. Obama's opponents, in Congress and among pundits, have already raised the specter of socialism. The great virtue of an anonymous poster campaign is that it anticipates unspoken fears or claims, and leads the debate by insinuating and teasing out ideas that would be too explosive or alienating if simply dumped into the public forum by responsible actors.

Good posters lead on the viewer and tease us with hints about the unseen hand that has crafted the image. The Obama Joker poster leaves you with the sense that it has said everything it has to say, and waits only for the media to endorse the message through the legitimizing process peculiar to our new age of rapid-response journalism: that we are talking about it because you are talking about it, which means it must be worth talking about.

So why the anonymity? Perhaps because the poster is ultimately a racially charged image. By using the "urban" makeup of the Heath Ledger Joker, instead of the urbane makeup of the Jack Nicholson character, the poster connects Obama to something many of his detractors fear but can't openly discuss. He is black and he is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and '70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness despite falling crime rates.

The Joker's makeup in "Dark Knight" -- the latest film in a long franchise that dramatizes fear of the urban world -- emphasized the wounded nature of the villain, the sense that he was both a product and source of violence. Although Ledger was white, and the Joker is white, this equation of the wounded and the wounding mirrors basic racial typology in America. Urban blacks -- the thinking goes -- don't just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus. Scientific studies, which demonstrate the social consequences of living in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, get processed and misinterpreted in the popular unconscious, underscoring the idea. Violence breeds violence.

It is an ugly idea, operating covertly in that gray area that is always supposed to be opened up to honest examination whenever America has one of its "we need to talk this through" episodes. But it lingers, unspoken but powerful, leaving all too many people with the sense that exposure to crime creates an ineluctable propensity to crime.

Superimpose that idea, through the Joker's makeup, onto Obama's face, and you have subtly coded, highly effective racial and political argument. Forget socialism, this poster is another attempt to accomplish an association between Obama and the unpredictable, seeming danger of urban life. It is another effort to establish what failed to jell in the debate about Obama's association with Chicago radical William Ayers and the controversy over the racially charged sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Obama, like the Joker and like the racial stereotype of the black man, carries within him an unknowable, volatile and dangerous marker of urban violence, which could erupt at any time. The charge of socialism is secondary to the basic message that Obama can't be trusted, not because he is a politician, but because he's black.

Social Science in Action--The Federalist Papers Number 10 on the Right Wing Town Hall Disruptors Against Health Care Reform

I can't stand the unclean, dirtied, foul smelling, cheapily mobilized, populist, easily baited, democratic rabble.

I love teaching the Federalist Papers. I have never apologized for my suspicions and disgust towards mass democracy, and the fact that the ign't, troglodyte mouth breathers have the same number of votes that I do. When I tell my students that I don't believe in democracy as a long term, workable system of government, you can imagine their facial expressions. As I love to repeat as an object lesson, George Bush 2 (aka Little Bush) was not the president we needed, but he was certainly the president the American people deserved.

Democracy in action my friends--and one of the many sources of my disgust.

In watching the nonsense and mayhem that is the Right Wing "protesters" at the town hall meetings on health care reform I am reminded of the wisdom of the framers. Yes, they weren't perfect--God knows that--but they had a great deal of wisdom that we best heed as many of our leaders play the fiddle while Rome burns.

An excerpt from one of our greatest documents. Please read and reflect as we work through our latest political morass:

The Federalist 10
James Madison

The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. Let me add that it is the great desideratum by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind.

By what means is this object attainable? Evidently by one of two only. Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:

In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

White Men are Falling Down: Beware the George Sodini Next Door

My mom keeps warning me to be careful about crazy white supremacists. I would always laugh mom off and tell her if I can survive walking around Chicago and New York at all hours of the night, I can manage semi-rural Michigan no problem. After hearing about the murder rampage at the LA Fitness in Pittsburgh, I may have to reconsider her warnings.

Now, given the mainstream media's tendency in these cases, George Sodini's murder of at least 3 women and the wounding of 9 will be treated as an isolated incident. The mainstream press will ring their hands over "how could a normal guy like Sodini go crazy?" Or they will ask, "how could a good, normal American commit such a horrible crime?" As pointed out by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jack and Jill Politics, one can rest assured that Sodini's anger at Barack Obama and black people in general will go unreported. As George Sodini wrote in his online journal:

"Why do this?? To young girls? Just read below. I kept a running log that includes my thoughts and actions, after I saw this project was going to drag on.
November 5, 2008:

Planned to do this in the summer but figure to stick around to see the election outcome. This particular one got so much attention and I was just curious. Not like I give a flying fcuk who won, since this exit plan was already planned. Good luck to Obama! He will be successful. The liberal media LOVES him. Amerika has chosen The Black Man. Good! In light of this I got ideas outside of Obama’s plans for the economy and such. Here it is: Every black man should get a young white girl hoe to hone up on. Kinda a reverse indentured servitude thing. Long ago, many a older white male landowner had a young Negro wench girl for his desires. Bout’ time tables are turned on that shit. Besides, dem young white hoez dig da bruthrs! LOL. More so than they dig the white dudes! Every daddy know when he sends his little girl to college, she be bangin a bruthr real good. I saw it. “Not my little girl”, daddy says! (Yeah right!!) Black dudes have thier choice of best white hoez. You do the math, there are enough young white so all the brothers can each have one for 3 or 6 months or so."

Academics are fond of throwing around the word "intersectionality." If there ever was a case of someone hating both women and people of color (and quite likely gay folks, those who aren't Christian, etc. etc.) Sodini is quite likely it. In his infectious, all encompassing, anger, resentment, and hate, he is most certainly not alone.

With the spate of workplace shootings, the more than 10,000 threats against Barack Obama, and the rise in hate crimes since the 2008 presidential campaign, something is clearly amiss in America. Those more timid souls will highlight how these trends are a function of a failing economy. For them, this has nothing to do with race. Likewise, and for the conservatives in particular, the argument that Beck, Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, and the other members of their rogues gallery of bloviating hate mongers are stoking the fires of racial and political violence will land on deaf ears.

Again, we see the myopia that is whiteness. The link between white male insecurity, the right wing media machine, and these incidents of violence is so utterly clear, yet the privilege of whiteness (as the very definition of what it means to be "normal") has created a blindness that is incapable of acknowledging the obvious sickness that beats in the heart of the American body politic:

The more bold and brave will point out that violent episodes such as the George Sodini rampage have everything to do with race, and with white men in particular feeling that their place in the world has been disrupted. And whoa upon on any person who stands in their way. A storm is coming--and America best get ready.

Monday, August 3, 2009

They Brought a Knife to a Gunfight or Broken Politics and the Weakness of the Democratic Party

Wernor Herzog's Bear chimes in with the last--I hope not--installment in his series on how the hope and change of Obama's election has become mired in petty, dishonest, partisan politics by the Right...a dynamic enabled by the weaknesses of the Left.


Today I am writing the last in my series trying to explain how the high hopes of six months ago have led to legislative deadlock and a poisonous political discourse. While I've been bagging a lot on the Right's use of racial politics and its kamikaze strategy, it's time to shine a light on the other side, which has failed miserably to press its advantage. I'm continually amazed that Democrats control a large majority of the house, 60 of the Senate's 100 seats, and have a popular president in the White House, but still can't get progressive legislation passed without having it watered down to the point of destruction, or blocked outright. (I think here specifically of health care and the energy bill. The latter was compromised so much that I think it's less than worthless.)

The contrast with the last presidential administration is telling and informative. As much as I despised George W. Bush, I did have to admire how he managed to push through unpopular and ideologically motivated policies without a smidgen as much opposition as Barack Obama has faced. If you remember, the public was not clamoring for tax cuts for the wealthy in the summer of 2001 (tax cuts which helped eliminate our surplus and create a budget deficit), but Bush got them anyway. Contrast this to our current situation, where a small group of "Blue Dogs" who do not represent the mainstream of the party have hijacked health reform and tried to eliminate the public option, something three quarters of the nation wants! Perhaps more humiliating, some Dems are hedging on whether they will vote for Sotomayor, in some cases the same who approved hardcore conservatives like Alito.

The GOP then as now understood the need for party discipline to get their agenda passed. If the Democrats want health care reform, action on energy, and other important initiatives, they need to whip the troops into shape. The first thing they should do is fire Pelosi and Reid, who have manifestly failed to get the job done. Second, president Obama might want to privately remind Congressional Democrats that he is much more popular than they are, and that many of them were elected on his coattails. During the Bush administration the Democrats finally figured out how to win elections again, but they didn't seem to make plans for how to wield power once they won those elections.

They have done so timidly in ways that do not inspire confidence. This grievous fault extends even to the president, who failed to overturn "don't ask, don't tell" despite the fact that many important voices in the military no longer support it. He and Timothy Geithner have done little to regulate the insane banking practices that got us into this mess. As I mentioned a bit back, they negotiated from a weak position on the stimulus.

Perhaps this inability to seize the initiative has disheartened to the progressive grass roots, who fought so hard and so well to get president Obama into office but now seem absent. While we have been basking in the afterglow, the other side has gotten even more radical and united than before. The whole Tea Party thing may be an amalgamation of cranks, wing-nuts, Paulistas, and birthers, but it has made a bigger impact than any Left-oriented movement has since the beginning of the war in Iraq (of course, much of this has to do with sponsorship of the teabaggers by Fox News and the conservative media.) We (and I am including myself in this) need to be out in public making sure that health care reform does not merely protect corporate interests, but improves the nation's health and well-being. The other side, which has deep pockets, is already gearing up for its offensive, from TV ads to birther assaults on town hall meetings. This means not only addressing the lies and mistruths used against a public option, but putting the heat on Democrats to actually come through for us.

Here is what it all comes down to: our nation is facing several crises at once, including a financial meltdown, high unemployment, industrial decline, a deteriorating infrastructure, climate change, and two wars. Unlike other times in America's history, when crisis lessened political discord so as to address pressing issues, this time the opposition party has publicly stated that its goal is to destroy the president rather than to save the nation. Their mantra remains "I hope he fails." Just look at how the runaway success of the cash for clunkers program is being interpreted as a failure by Senate Republicans who are trying to block further funding. This is a democracy, so they have all the right in the world to be obnoxious obstructionists, no matter much it distracts us all from addressing our dire circumstances.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Sean Connery in The Untouchables, the Democrats brought a knife to a gun fight. When Mr. Obama came to office, he made the mistake of thinking his opponents were reasonable people who understood that they had just gotten a major rebuke from the public. Instead, he has been dealing with a group of ideological fanatics who dispute his birth certificate (or worse), going beyond policy to question the very legitimacy of his presidency. You should never argue with a crazy person or negotiate with a fanatic, which is why it is time for the Dems to put on the armor, tie their horses' tails, and go into battle instead of hoping for their opponents to see the light. We voted for you, now please, for the love of God, lead us.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jay-Z Concert Footage from All Points West--MJ Tribute, Roc Boys, and No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn

You know my love of HOVA one of the Elder Gods in hip hop.

This footage has been circulating around these Internets so enjoy.

Roc Boys--

Not the Beastie Boys but more than a fair cover:

Why not? A classic flashback:

Sunday Internets Discovery--What Would You Do If You Opened Your Door and Saw This?

What does the mayor of have to say about this?

Oh well.

Some laughter to start the day, this rollerskating weekend. So, why not?

From simpler times...but we didn't know that then.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Saturday Internets Discovery Part 1--Black Women Belong Barefoot, Pregnant, and Back in the Kitchen

I will share a long held fantasy. I have always dreamed of coming home and being greeted by the wonderful image of my beautiful Nubian (or ambiguously brown) queen topless and in the kitchen. As I enter my home, my nostrils would be opened by the wondrous smell of fried chicken. And there she would be, topless, not afraid of the spitting grease and lard frying from the iron skillet, making her man a meal fit for a king. You see, making fried chicken with one's breasts exposed is the ultimate mating of the sensual and the culinary--an act of selfless love. I am in good company as the mayor of Blacktown seems to be in agreement with me.

The mayor of blacktown is a national treasure. He reveals hidden truths. The mayor understands the damage which the sagging pants culture has done to black boys. Now, he blesses us with song. Mayor, you are the Paul Robeson of the 21st century.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: The Day Hip Hop Died Again...A Hip Hop Themed Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game is in Development

World of Warcraft now meets crappy "commercial" hip hop. Again, art has long descended into self-parody. For those of you who play WOW, what would the parallel character classes be? Would TI be a mage? Would Gucci Mane be a troll? Is Rick Ross an elf? Are there Elder Gods such as Rakim, Big, Pun, Nas, 'Pac, Jay, Ghostface, Rae and others?

Help me figure this out.

So, the minstrel-hopppers and southcraptastic rappers will now be character classes in a new MMORG...and the semi-literate ign't autotune fans will now be signing up for accounts to play their favorite characters via cellphone--ign'ts don't tend to be on the PC or MAC thing.

As one of the comments on the story so wonderfully summed up:

"Lemme guess how this game runs... you earn fame by either performing a typical crappy backtracked rap concert, make a mixtape of rapping over ripped off radio beats or supermanning Dat Ho'... and earn money to buy 30 bathroom mansions, expensive brand Clothes made in sweatshops, fuel eating SUV's, Diamond Chains gathered from sierra leone and show them off as achievements!... sounds fun!. Im expecting an item mall element as well... ill be surprised if you can rap off in pvp, since most of todays commercial rappers dodge radio freestyles/rap battles just to keep their endorsements intact in the likely case they mess up through their tacky 'skill'."

Courtesy of Gamespot:

T.I. Headlining Hip-hop Themed MMORG

Incarcerated hip-hop star first act to sign onto Platinum Life, a new free-to-play multiplatform massively multiplayer game which will incorporate role-playing and rhythm elements.

On May 26, hip-hop artist T.I. began serving a 366-day prison sentence for federal weapons charges. But being behind bars isn't stopping the Atlanta-based rapper from expanding into new media--games, specifically. This morning, Austin, Texas-based independent developer Heatwave Interactive announced it is working on a hip-hop massively multiplayer game starring the rapper, born Clifford Harris Jr.

Called Platinum Life, the microtransactions-based title will take standard free-to-play role-playing game mechanics and adapt them to a hip-hop music-scene setting. Players will take the role of an aspiring musician who must earn "fame," the game's version of experience points. This is accomplished primarily by playing shows in the game, where players will perform existing hip-hop hits by engaging in Guitar Hero-like, pattern-matching rhythm minigames and more traditional RPG actions.

Platinum Life will also incorporate other RPG elements, such as non-player characters. NPCs can also be used as back-up musicians or DJs during shows, although Heatwave CEO Anthony Castoro, a former Ultima Online developer, said that players will be encouraged to form their own groups. These groups will be able to take advantage of a certain level of music-creation tools, but will act more like a party in a traditional RPG, using spell-like special abilities to move the virtual crowd.

Performing more and more successful shows will put players on the path to follow an in-game "icon"--a real-life musician who offers a career path for players to emulate. T.I. will be the first such icon, with Castoro saying the game will feature "around a dozen" major real-life musicians as icons, whom players can eventually open up for at major venues. These icons will also determine character classes, which will include rappers, R&B singers, DJs, and other musicians.

As a player becomes more famous, the size of his NPC entourage will increase--as will the "drama" the NPCs in said entourage creates. This drama system will task the player with missions, such as helping out an entourage member who is in a troubled relationship or in trouble with the law.

Speaking of legal troubles, Castoro was emphatic that Platinum Life would not be as violent as other hip-hop themed games, such as Def Jam Icon or 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand. Though players can get into scuffles with rival crews, there won't be any shooting or killing. However, the game's open-world setting will allow for some Grand Theft Auto-style gameplay, with the paparazzi hounding players much like the police did in GTAIV.

Heatwave is aiming to release Platinum Life on the PC and other undefined platforms in 2011 or 2012. However, the company will begin building up to the final game's launch with a series of social media initiatives, the first two of which are expected to arrive this fall.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Personal Happiness Pill of the Day: Is Justin Barrett One Dumb White Man or What?--or Racist Boston Cop Gets Called Out Over Derogatory Email

Oh well, so much for the vaunted predictive power of civil service exams.

Once more, I love honest racists--dishonest racists not so much.

As Marcus Aurelius said, "Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts."

From CNN:

Boston Officer's Apparent Racial Slur May Get Him Fired

A Boston police officer who sent a mass e-mail referring to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as a "banana-eating jungle monkey" has apologized, saying he's not a racist.

Officer Justin Barrett told a Boston television station on Wednesday night that he was sorry for the e-mail.

"I regret that I used such words," Barrett told CNN affiliate WCVB-TV. "I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name. I am not a racist."

Barrett was placed on administrative leave after the e-mail surfaced, and he might lose his job as a result.

Barrett, 36, who is also an active member of the National Guard, sent off a fiery e-mail to some fellow Guard members -- as well as The Boston Globe -- in which he vented about a July 22 Globe column about Gates' controversial arrest.

Gates, a top African-American scholar, was arrested on July 16 and accused of disorderly conduct after police responded to a report of a possible burglary at his Cambridge home. The charge later was dropped. The incident sparked a debate about racial profiling and police procedures.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham supported Gates' actions, asking readers, "Would you stand for this kind of treatment, in your own home, by a police officer who by now clearly has no right to be there?"

In Barrett's e-mail, which was posted on a Boston television station's Web site, he declared that if he had "been the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC (oleoresin capsicum, or pepper spray) deserving of his belligerent non-compliance."

Barrett used the "jungle monkey" phrase four times, three times referring to Gates and once referring to Abraham's writing as "jungle monkey gibberish."

He also declared that he was "not a racist but I am prejudice [sic] towards people who are stupid and pretend to stand up and preach for something they say is freedom but it is merely attention because you do not get enough of it in your little fear-dwelling circle of on-the-bandwagon followers."

Barrett's comments were taken out of context, said his attorney, Peter Marano.

"Officer Barrett did not call professor Gates a jungle monkey or malign him racially," Marano said. "He said his behavior was like that of one. It was a characterization of the actions of that man."

According to a statement from Boston police, Commissioner Edward Davis took action immediately on learning of Barrett's remarks, stripping the officer of his gun and badge.

Barrett is "on administrative leave, pending the outcome of a termination hearing."

CNN has been unable to reach Barrett for comment.

Davis wants Barrett, a two-year member of the Boston police, fired, a source close to the investigation said. But he will continue to be paid while on leave, and no date has been set for his termination hearing.

From Happiness to Discontent--How Did We Stray So Far From the Hope and Glory of November 2008?

This negro is getting tired and is in need of some backup. I have lots to do in my few weeks before moving back to Chicago. And I have had a burst of productivity that has left my batteries a little low. It seems all cylinders were firing after my 2 Greyhound bus rides in one week. A word from the wise, take your inspiration when it comes.

In short, I am leaning on friends at this point. My White in America Part 2 entry is coming soon, but I wanted to share another guest post in the meantime.

From our friend and frequent commenter Werner Herzog's Bear (and please go to his site as it is on point and deserves a great deal more attention) I bring you the following.

Broken Politics Part One: What We Should Have Learned

Recent political events in the public sphere and in my private life have made me more depressed about living in this country than I've been at any point since the 2004 election. In the first place, politicians seem just as unresponsive to pressing needs as they've always been. For example, about three quarters of Americans would like a public option as part of health care reform, yet a group of conservative Democrats have set out to block such a thing in the name of "moderation" and "bi-partisanship." Secondly, voices of extremism and hatred have been getting plenty of mainsteam airing, just witness Lou Dobbs giving credence to the birthers last week. Third, the opposition party has decided to make its agenda one giant kamikaze agenda, seeing health reform as a chance to "sink" president Obama rather than making any serious attempts to fix a broken system that is a national embarassment. (This is in line with our former president's claim that those without insurance could merely go to an emergency room.) Just six months after America witnessed the most attended and perhaps most joyous inauguration in history, the man who seemed to embody the desire for change and reform is being abandoned by members of his own party and pilloried daily by the right wing noise machine.

This series of posts is an attempt to figure out how this happened. Today, I think we should take a step back and remember last year's election. In the glow of the inauguration, many in the media claimed that it represented some kind of symbolic end to racism in America, or that it would begin a more civil phase in our politics. As I said at the time, and cannot be denied now, this was wishful thinking of the most fatuous sort.

The seeds of the extremist response in many corners of the Right to Barack Obama's administration were sewn during the election. During the last months the conservative Id ran rampant. Anybody remember the vile shouts coming out of the mouths of crowds at Sarah Palin's rallies? Or her asking the question "who is the real Barack Obama?" Or Palin's tendency to talk of herself and her supporters denizens of "real America"? Or how about Michelle Bachmann calling Obama "anti-American?" And this doesn't even touch on the fact that the birther bullshit was already flying fast and thick, helping to elevate Jerome Corsi's book of lies and falsehoods to the top of the best seller list. The template for the current Right-wing hatred of Barack Obama was already set by last October.

Beyond the rhetoric employed in the election, the electoral results themselves helped create a more extremist party. The moderate Republicans of the Midwest and New England went down to defeat, while the more conservative ones from the South and Great Plains stuck around. Furthermore, the fact that the Republican base was more willing to support the erratic, inexperienced, scandal plagued, willfully ignorant and palpably incompetent Sarah Palin rather than John McCain, one of the most respected men in Washington, should have told us that things were about to get crazy.

As a Washington Post article from the post-election period ominously pointed out, Barack Obama was a hated man in large swaths of the United States even before he took office. It is undeniable that his race has been a factor in the fervence and nature of the attacks against him, just witness the birther crap (which would not have been used against a white man) and the histrionic response to his offhand comments about the Henry Louis Gates arrest. Those of us on the Left can certainly blame the Right for appealing to bigotry, but we should look in the mirror and remind ourselves that you should never lower your guard in a fight, especially against a crazy opponent who fights dirty.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More to Love is Quite Frankly, More to Love or Where are the Big Sistas on Fox Television's Newest Reality Dating Show?

Black folks can't have anything can we?

First they stole rock and roll. Then they took hair weaves...for the uninformed, hair weaves are now called "hair extensions." In the ultimate and final insult, "mainstream" i.e. White America has stolen black people's love of big beautiful women (well not just black folks as our Latino brothers call the thick sisters "gorditas") with the new reality dating show More to Love.

I love a good freak show. This fondness for the bizarre explains my unending appreciation of fat babies on Maury Povich, "the treeman" on the Discovery Network (what a poor, sad soul he is), Sober House, Intervention and Dr. Phil. More to Love is quite frankly more of the same--a bunch of sad, unhappy, mostly lonely and miserable people looking for love on network television.

It was also entertaining, almost too much so as I felt dirty watching a bunch of bbw's describe in sad detail the exploits (or lack thereof) of their dating lives. Please preempt your rush to judgment. I love women. I love them short, tall, thin, and thick. As the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of race mixing, my ministry is dedicated to the holy truth that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Our mantra is simple: sometimes you want a petite cut of filet mignon; at other times you want some sushi; and then there are those moments when you want a Big Mac. The trick is to find the right meal at the right time.

But, one must be mindful of the trigonometry and physics of lovemaking across the body size divide because it is indeed true that sometimes even a 747 looks small landing inside the Grand Canyon (for a handy guide on negotiating this practical challenge see one of my favorite books).

Self-congratulatory moment: How can you not love that Tom Arnold/HHH/Oscar Wilde inspired turn of phrase?

The joy of More to Love is that the bachelor, a self-described "big teddy bear," only has one type of meal to choose from. The sadness of More to Love is going to be the sheer desperation of these poor women as they throw themselves at him. Too bad, because if these big beautiful women simply came over to the dark side they would never lack for attention again.

Some thoughts for those of you who watched the show.

1. Where are the big sistas? We have magazines like King and leading sex goddesses such as Buffy the Body but Fox can't find one thick, voluptuous black woman--not the 2 ambiguously brown folks they featured on last night's debut--to feature as contestants? Black folks are overachievers in the arms race that is an appreciation of the donkey booty. How, as innovators in the field, can Fox justify excluding us from More to Love?

2. Wasn't the woman who explained that she has only had 3 dates in her life, and none went past the first meeting, just pathetic? Was I the only one thinking that the dates don't get past step one because she probably sleeps with dude immediately after meeting him?

3. Now, some of the women were just big, as in not sexy big (trust me there is a difference). While others were tall and Amazonian, traits that to my eye are damn attractive and desirable. Are they simply unable to find men who would kill to bed their own personal Wonder Woman, or is it that these women have internalized a size zero beauty standard and therefore have no self-confidence?

4. I wonder what the viewing demographics are going to be for this show? I bet Fox is going to see a huge spike in viewership among black and Hispanic men between the ages of 18-80.

5. Ready for a little self-indulgence? I am.

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

Are We Laughing Yet? Race, Class, Gender and the Arrest of Henry Louis Gates

Our Henry Louis Gatesathon continues...doesn't that sound like an olympic event? From our guest poster Buhbajangal (always honest and a bit impassioned), some reflections on why folks are really talking about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.


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

From the New York Times: Glenn Loury on the Henry Louis Gates Arrest Controversy

Class now rears its ugly head in the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. You have to love Loury's honesty--admitting to his own varied "experiences" with the police.

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.

Obama, Gates and the American Black Man

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...