Tuesday, March 2, 2010
He Needs More Rehab: Glenn Beck's Newest Addiction is Fantasizing About the Destruction of Liberals and Progressives
It has been a while since we heard from our friend Werner Herzog's Bear. I can think of no better a moment for the bear to spring forth from hiding and devour Glenn Beck.
The boy has suffered a relapse. This time Beck's drug of choice is a bilious, poison filled, and twisted fantasy where Liberals and Progressives are a "cancer" to be "eliminated" from the Earth. As always, Werner is ready with a a special guest lecture on the real meaning of fascism, Glenn Beck's crazy talk, and why this is eerily frightening stuff:
Today I would like to talk about the way that the word “fascism” is currently being misunderstood, abused, and distorted in the public sphere. I’d like to start by saying that I do not think that any one political group has a monopoly on misusing the word “fascism.” The Soviet Union used it constantly to shut down its enemies, radical European students in the 1960s used it against democratic regimes, and it was certainly leveled carelessly by the opponents of the Bush administration. Basically, we have all agreed that “fascists” and “Nazis” are the avatars of evil, and to label your opponents fascists is a very effective form of political name calling. I think that unless you are talking about white supremacist organizations like the Aryan Nation, that the terms “Nazi” and “fascist” should be avoided, because they tend to shut off political debate rather than foster it.
That said, there has been a recent wave of Nazi talk that has gone beyond name calling to actually distorting the historical record. I am thinking specifically here of Jonah Goldberg’s recent book Liberal Fascism, Patrick Buchanan’s Hitler, Churchill and the Unnecessary War, and various statements made by Glenn Beck on his television show. These figures aren’t just mis-using the term “fascism,” they are trying to rewrite history. For example, Beck has called FDR a fascist on his show, and has consistently called progressives fascists. Goldberg does much the same in his book, and has made the preposterous claim that fascism was a movement of the political Left, rather than the Right. Patrick Buchanan, taking a different tack, has just written a book blaming Churchill for the Holocaust under the misbegotten notion that Britain prolonged what should have been a short war. In Buchanan’s eyes, Hitler was a nationalist who invaded Poland only to unite Germans together, not to subjugate Eastern Europe under German rule. All of these assertions are ridiculous, but are deadly serious, because they are being used to push a political agenda.
As someone who studies German history for a living, I feel that I should set the record straight. Because it would take too long for me to go into all of the distortions one by one, I will instead go into what fascism actually is. From that we will see the problems with the current rhetoric, and how it is based on is a gross misunderstanding at best, and a piece of calculated political mendacity at its worst.
First off, we should have a good definition of what fascism is. This is actually kind of tricky. In the first place, fascism is not merely dictatorship, militarism, or authoritarian government. While the term “fascist” was applied to Francisco Franco’s regime, he himself was not actually a fascist, but a conservative authoritarian, even though many of his supporters came from the Falange, the Spanish fascist party. In my estimation, and according to other historians like Stanley Payne, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were the only two truly fascist regimes, while others, like Franco’s Spain, Vichy France, and WWII era Romania, had regimes influenced by fascist movements.
What is important to understand about fascism is that it is a revolutionary movement that seeks to overthrow the older order, not just preserve it. In that sense fascism was a break from prior movements on the extreme right, which tended to be more monarchical and clerical in nature. Robert Paxton, the great historian of Vichy France, has a definition of fascism that to my mind works best:
“a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
Extreme nationalism is thus the essential ingredient of fascism; you really can’t have fascism without it. Fascists wanted to purify the nation by destroying those elements they thought endangered the nation, and sought to make the nation great through military conquest. Fascists were also interested in mobilizing the nation, which made them different from traditional authoritarians; hence the creation of organizations like the Hitler Youth.
Furthermore, fascists defined themselves through their oppositions to women’s emancipation, artistic modernism, communism, socialism, and liberalism. They valued action, nation, violence, and cohesion. While they shared an emphasis on collectivism with Communism, fascists rejected the whole notion of class consciousness and instead substituted the nation.
Furthermore, the Nazi variant of fascism was fundamentally and almost exclusively concerned with the idea of race. Hitler placed German “Aryans” at the top of the racial hierarchy, and considered them a “master race” whose destiny it was to rule Europe. (This marked him off from Mussolini, who was not particularly anti-Semitic.)
The worst crimes of the Nazis are the direct outgrowth of their racial ideology. The Holocaust, persecution of homosexuals, enslavement of Russian POWs, and killing of the handicapped all were motivated by the desire to create a racially pure Volksgemeinschaft, or “racial community.” These principles were directly opposed to those of liberalism’s emphasis on individual rights and socialism’s belief in universal humanity. When commentators like Glenn Beck try to say that “collectivism” is what defines Nazism, they are wrong; it is race. This is also why Buchanan’s analysis is flawed: Hitler’s idea of Volksgemeinschaft required that those “unfit” would have to be destroyed.
But why not take this from the horse’s mouth? Mussolini himself wrote an essay called “What is Fascism?” in 1932 that is instructive in understanding how fascism wanted to break from other political ideologies:
"...given that the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy: political doctrines pass, but humanity remains, and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority...a century of Fascism."
Notice that Mussolini has defined Fascism in direct counter-distinction to democracy, liberalism, and socialism. The efforts by Goldberg and others to muddy the waters cannot overcome this fundamental fact: fascists viewed socialists and liberals as their enemies. Furthermore, fascists were most invested in enhancing the glory of their nations, which they claimed had been humiliated, something both Hitler and Mussolini did after World War I. From Mussolini again, we get the emphasis on national expansion and emphasis on the nation rising from humiliation:
“For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude.”
I provide these quotations for a reason, namely to show how wrong many of the people who talk about fascism today are about its actual nature. Now enter Jonah Goldberg. His book, Liberal Fascism, must stand as one of the most egregious abuses of the historical record ever written. Like others before him, he wants to pin the word “fascist” on his opponents, and goes to ridiculous lengths to do so. Here is what he has to say about modern day manifestations of fascism:
“Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament. In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism. In America, it took a “friendlier,” more liberal form. The modern heirs of this “friendly fascist” tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Goldberg, Brown doesn’t have an education program! Furthermore, people like him are always criticizing the New York Times, the Democratic Party, and Ivy League professors of not being nationalistic enough! His understanding of fascism is completely facile. For instance, he links the Nazi anti-smoking campaign, to the contemporary one, as an example of “liberal fascism.” That makes about as much sense as calling Dwight Eisenhower a Nazi for building the Interstate Highway System since the Nazis built the Autobahn. His problem is that he thinks that fascism has any kind of expression outside of radical nationalism. As we’ve seen already, it doesn’t.
Goldberg’s larger project, with which Glenn Beck and others have latched onto, is to term fascism a phenomenon of the “Left” rather than the “Right.” In the first place, we should acknowledge that these terms are highly subjective. Secondly, their grounds for doing so are highly suspect, especially because I cannot think of a single scholar of fascism who considers it to be primarily a Leftist movement. Goldberg for instance, likes to talk about how Mussolini started out on the Left, but that proves nothing. That would be like saying that since Ronald Reagan was a pro-New Deal leader of a labor union, that he was a liberal president. Paxton and others agree that there are elements of fascism that have their origins in the Left, such as the influence on revolution over restoration, but that doesn’t change the fact that fascism in France, Italy, and Germany, all had their origins in right wing, radical nationalist organizations at the turn of the century.
All of this is borne out in the historical record, where traditional conservative elites in both Italy and Germany allied themselves with fascism, something they never would have done with communists or socialists. People like Hindenburg saw Hitler as a tool for protecting their interests.
You might wonder why I am so passionate about this. I am because these distortions actually dishonor many of the people victimized by fascism. The first people targeted and killed by the fascist governments of Italy and Germany were Leftists. Hitler, for instance, purged the Communists and Social Democrats from the Reichstag soon after taking power, and built the first concentration camps in order to imprison them. The Social Democrats were the only party in Germany after World War I never to waver in their commitment to democracy, and they suffered for it.
Yet today they are being lumped together with Nazis. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint did this recently, where he let this preposterous whopper drop, “we're about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy.” Never mind that the social democrats lost their lives to defend democracy in the face of Nazi tyranny. If anyone deserves to be credited with trying to stop the Nazis, it’s them.
So in conclusion, I think it’s time that we stopped the name calling, and certainly that we stopped playing fast and loose with history. We all might have disagreements over politics with each other, but demonizing one’s opponents with the label of fascism is inappropriate and unproductive.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Saturday Afternoon Funny Concluded: Tough Talk on Black Women and the Black Community-Rest In Peace Black America
Talk about tough talk: one more voice on the "crisis" that is black male and female relationships. But is it tough love?
I teased this video on Saturday. It is priceless. Quite literally, I do not know if this video is worthless and therefore one cannot put a price on it, or it is such cockeyed genius that its value is beyond measure.
I was going to annotate this clip, but I kept saying "damn," "double damn," and "ouch." Thus, my powers of normally erudite analysis were stunted. This brother is the black male version of Alexyss Tylor. I have always said that the ign't underclass man is a lost cause. For me, the hope lies with black women. They are the foundation of the home in these communities. I have always suggested that if the sisters would stop rewarding the hyper-masculine, violent, and pathological behavior that makes many of our communities into failed States, this nonsense would stop t0morrow.
Yes, that may sound mean spirited. But, translating this intuition into policy would be one hell of an experiment.
My racial and gender id also tells me another truth that I hope folks will accept as honest, however under-theorized...it is from my id after all so please give me a little slack. Who raises these baby boys? Who makes these criminal, street pirates at age 8 into the "man" of the house? Who models and rewards this behavior--feminizing men in the worst way possible, molding young boys into hyper-emotional man children without respect for civil society and comportment in the world outside of the 'hood? Sadly, who often dates and lays with these baby boys once they are "grown up?" Birthing their children and repeating this cycle of socially degenerative behavior?
As one of my favorite sociologists once observed, fathers and men socialize boys into respecting the notion of abstract authority, i.e. the rules are the rules and you obey them. Mothers and women socialize boys into empathy and sympathy. A person needs both in order to be balanced, and it is very difficult for any one parent to give this balance to a child.
If an angry and frustrated brother tried to update and revise The Moynihan Report--a much unfairly maligned document by the way--after a bit too many libations and self-medication, the above video would be the result.
1. Is the brother in the video serious? Or is he being satirical?
2. Is there 90 percent truth mixed with 10 percent hyperbole? Or is it 100 percent nonsense?
3. Is this video saying what many of us think in private and are afraid to share?
4. Is our narrator a sexist or misogynist? Should it matter? Are those terms misapplied?
5. Is this video high comedy or semi-refined tragedy?
6. Is the creator of the video disqualified from offering any opinions on the state of the black community by virtue of his near fetish like worshiping of white women?
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Art and popular culture are two of the primary terrains upon which we wage a war for how we will be represented as a people. Sadly, on Friday, February 26, 2010, respectable negroes lost another engagement with the forces of coonery, black debasement, and poor taste. Tyler "Manchurian Candidate of Black Pathology and Moon Cricket Tomfoolery" Perry wins and Black folk lose--again.
This is an epic fail in the Age of Obama.
Behold how low the NAACP, what was once THE great defender of Black Freedom has slumped. The winners of the 2010 NAACP Image Awards include the following exemplars of the "greatness" that is African American arts and letters:
- Comedy Series: "Tyler Perry's House of Payne"
- Actress in a comedy series: Cassi Davis, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne"
- Supporting actor in a comedy series: Lance Gross, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne"
- Supporting actress in a comedy series: Keshia Knight Pulliam, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne"
- Actress in a motion picture: Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
- Supporting actor in a motion picture: Adam Rodriguez, "Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself"
- Supporting actress in a motion picture: MoNique, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
- Independent motion picture: "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
- Writing in a motion picture: Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Saturday Afternoon Funny: The Mayor of Blacktown on Black Women, White Men, Interracial Relationships, and Domestic Terrorism
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...
During the waning days of Black History Month, I would like to end this most auspicious month with laughter. Why? because sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Never forget, it is the blues context that has sustained us as a people.
Today's video is the foreplay for Sunday's post about the state of black male and female relationships. I have watched the forthcoming video repeatedly. I have cried. I have smiled. I have yelled at the screen. Trust me, it is wonderful...wonderful as in a wrestling match between a midget and a huge professional wrestler--think King Kong Bundy crushing a little person at Wrestlemania. In fact, after viewing Sunday's clip, the Epic Beard Man Bus Fight may be deposed from your Youtube playlist.
So, is the Mayor of Blacktown onto something here? Has he exposed a fallacy in the reasoning of our sisters whom are running to the white brothers? And what do you all make of the cottage industry that is the mainstream press' seeming obsession with exploring the "crisis" in black male-female relationships?
To that end, it seems that everyday a new story on this "crisis" graces the erstwhile pages of one of our esteemed journals of record. For example, this story from the Washington Post. Here is the author of the above piece advocating that black women date white men:
And now a self-indulgent, sort of related message from my avatar on the "problem" of interracial dating and race mixing:
As a proud race mixer in the tradition of Dr. King, I would argue that Lamont would be lucky to have this queen doing the naked, morning after a ride on space mountain, walk to the toilet--what is in fact my favorite post coital moment by the way.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
How Deep is the Commitment of Black Conservatives? Would the African American Signers of the Mount Vernon Statement Sell Themselves Back Into Slavery?
There is always one black Conservative in the room when they have these events. I wonder if Ken Blackwell,
One of the recurring narratives in the Tea Party, Republican, Right wing populist narrative is a need for America to renew its "Constitutional values" and "the original intent" of that most sacred of documents. This is not a new trope for the Right: the idea that Republicans are the true defenders of America's constitutional democracy has served as one of Conservativism's cornerstones for decades. Interestingly, the long running tension between "freedom from" and "freedom to" is a neat parallel with how the Reagan Right was able to transform "liberal" and "progressive"--what were once positive political identifiers--into dirty words.
As a result, the State has been crippled in its ability to deal with real problems--and the public robbed of any expectations for what they are rightly due as citizens. This phenomenon spawns a public that is hurting and angry. But this anger is scatter shot: it villifies bankers and Wall Street; it smears Obama as being a Socialist; it rails against "liberal elites"; it prays at the mantle of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Parties; it wallows in xenophobia; it sees an effort to expand health care as a threat to freedom; it crashes itself into federal buildings in acts of domestic terrorism.
This anger also wraps itself in the vestments and language of "renewal" and "traditional" values. These appeals to the Constitution as a source for "democratic renewal," and as a counterpoint to the Age of Obama, are also an inexorably tempting stage for political theatrics. From Glenn Beck's Thomas Paine impersonator, to the predilection of middle age white men to dress up like Revolutionary War era minutemen at Right wing rallies (people I like to call Patriotic Furries), as well as to the signing of The Mount Vernon Statement (what is an ostensible commitment to "American values" and "conservative" principles) these high theatrics are a signal to some imagined past of a perfect American founding.
The appeals to an (im)perfect past are also given voice by the dog whistle politics of the Right wing Republican, Tea Party Palin crowd. One should take careful note of how this faction uses the words "nullification" or "succession," what are in fact signals to a democracy that is separate and not equal. I would further suggest that those who utter these racially laden codewords may not in fact know the hateful origins of what they speak. But, they do know both the emotional content and implication of these words for a select audience that is moved by the politics of white racial resentment:
Not surprisingly, this appeal to the core values of America's founding is both myopic and narrow--especially in how it treats the "inconvenient" facts of history. For example: See how conservatives deal with such "minor" problems as slavery and how America was intentionally constructed as a limited, narrow, and circumscribed democracy:
Are black conservatives struck by the irony that they are signing a pledge to return to "traditional" American values, when the document they worship originally deemed black folks as 3/5ths of a person, the property of Whites, and where America was a constitutional slaveocracy? Funny, how deep is the commitment of these black conservatives to the framers' original intent? Are these black conservatives willing to sign themselves over as chattel to their white, fellow cosigners of The Mount Vernon Statement? Will these black conservatives put on a yoke, submit to an overseer, and/or wear a back of scars earned on the whipping post as they reenact the America of old?
The Constitution is an imperfect document. It is a product of its time--both good and bad. It embodies white supremacy, classism, sexism, and legitimates the wholesale exploitation and exclusion of whole groups of citizens because they are conceived of as being outside of the polity. And the Constitution and America's other founding documents have also inspired freedom loving peoples to transcend the limitations of the framers' intentions.
In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the greatness of that singular document is its ability to embody a set of principles that are flexible. Thus, the Constitution endures.
So help me understand, why make the Constitution into a magical totem? How does the Right rationalize away the inconveniences and imperfections? Is it willful ignorance? Or perhaps most troublesomely, is this indifference a function of an exclusionary America that many conservatives continue to yearn for?
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
It Would Be Funny if They Weren't So Serious: An Open Love Letter and Political Fantasy to "President Sarah Palin"
As Sun Tzu says, one must study their enemies in order to persevere in battle. In keeping with that mantra, I do some daily intelligence work and survey the usual suspects: Fox; Breitbart; Newsmax; The Free Republic, and The Washington Times. I am torn because on one hand the Red State/Blue State meme has been revealed as a bit more complicated (and less severe) than the mass media would have us believe, there certainly does seem to be a real division in ideology and worldview between the Left and the Right. This division is nothing new--we have had this cacophonous political discord since at least the Clinton era--but I am increasingly troubled by how the Tea Party, CPAC wing of the Right is seemingly immersed in its own reality.
I believe in the necessity of a healthy party system for the long term sustainability of a democratic republic. Thus, I sincerely want a responsible, level headed, and engaged Republican Party that speaks to the needs and wants of its constituents while also balancing the Democrats. The GOP at present, and the Right Wing populism which is its drug of choice, is beset by a lunatic fringe. While we may laugh at the displays of madness that symbolize a political party in its death throws, the Republican Party will not go silently into the night: there will be collateral damage. Ultimately, my worry is that this damage will not be isolated to the GOP's own factions.
In reading the following ode to the greatness that is the Wasilla wonder, I cannot help but think that this would be funny if it were not so sad. How did the idiot, lunatic fringe of the Right come to receive so much power? And once more I must ask, how can any reasonable person idolize Sarah Palin? Why is she so compelling?
A thought: Notice the emphasis on birth and reproduction. The idea that motherhood equals political competence. Are these not eerie parallels with how fascism and radical right wing authoritarianism think of women as embodying the virtues of the State? Here the womb becomes a place for quite literally reproducing the right minded men who will lead a resurgent (and pure both ideologically and racially) people to greatness. Disturbing, no?by Michael Moriarty
Today, with the help of Big Hollywood’s Leigh Scott, I begin my tribute series to Governor Sarah Palin.
What they fear is that Palin would actually stick to fiscally conservative principles. She would reform the tax laws to make them fair and rational. She would clip the influence of labor unions. She would end the unholy alliance of Big Government and Big Business. She may actually extend women’s rights to choose to include how they spend their money, where they send their kids to school, and what caliber handgun they want to buy.
In short, Sarah Palin is the essence of American identity: individual freedom married to individual responsibility and, dare I say, the sacredly unique individuality vested within all of us upon conception, an American signature more indelible than that of John Hancock.
In light of the Liberally Dark Warnings about conservative homophobia, Sarah’s appearance on Greg Gutfeld’s increasingly irresistible RED EYE is de rigueur.
Right now, and unless I’m informed otherwise, the adorable Mike Huckabee is therefore “one-up” on Sarah.
Why am I not writing a series entitled President Mike Huckabee?
Sorry, Governor, but ya just can’t have babies!
There’s the nice rub … Sarah is a woman who’s almost more Catholic than the Pope, that Prince of Rome who, rather like Mike Huckabee, cannot have babies.
Giving birth, you know, is, to put such a thing into a timely context, the ultimate Olympic experience!
The Agony and the Ecstasy!!
No, I wasn’t present at the birth of my son Matthew because he was delivered by Cesarean.
Hmmm … that may account for some of his Cesarean attitudes toward me.
Sarah, mother of five and bearing the brunt of Progressively Democrat and some Republican sadism, has, indeed, seen the ultimate agonies and the ecstasies of life.
And said to them, “Bring it on!!”
That’s not only my idea of a great leader but Big Mamma herself!!
No, I’m not genetically Italian, but I have been adopted by the most infinitely Italian mother possible. She’s a diminutive Anna Magnani living in Luciano Pavarotti’s home town of Modena.
Don’t mess with her … if you know what I mean.
Don’t mess with Sarah!
That’s the message we wish to send to Red Islam, that disgusting combination of World Communism and Islamic Jihads.
It is my contention that when women become King in the democratic household it is because the English-speaking people are preparing for war.
Check Queen Elizabeth I and how she dealt with Spain!!
Henry VIII was not her father for nothing.
The children of Victoria, in a way, fought not one but two World Wars.
Sir Winston Churchill was unquestionably a Victorian and the child of his American mother Jennie Jerome.
What do great men fight and die to protect?
Their women and children!!
That is Victorian greatness.
English-speaking freedom, ladies and gentlemen, endures no dictatorships of any kind, and the American hybrid of that, Abraham Lincoln’s United States, is in a virtual Civil War with the new version of Red Islam called Progressivism.
Progressives are those pro-abortionists who wrap the veil of women’s rights around legalized murder.
They’re false prophets wrapped in sheep’s clothing.
Since they’ve been getting away with that act for the 36 years of Roe v. Wade, it was obviously time for President Barack Obama of Harvard to show up with his very Kissingeresque long term plans for a Communist Jihadist’s version of a New World Order.
Our only complete and infinitely enduring antidote would be President Sarah Palin.
Oh, by the way, England could do well to give to President Sarah Palin the gift of Mr. Daniel Hannan as Prime Minister, in the same way we gave to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher our previous savior of individual freedom, President Ronald Reagan.
Prime Minister Daniel Hannan and President Sarah Palin would indeed be the King and Queen of the entire English-speaking world.
That Royalty is more than enough to stop the Progressive Red Islam dead in its tracks and send that apocalyptic nightmare back to the hell from which it came.
The Truth shall set you free, scare the hell out of you and put you back into the agony and ecstasy found within ALL of God’s Children.
Oh, the recent, very Jihadist-like, kamikaze flight into the federal building in Austin, Texas?
Read the alleged suicide note if you want to know most of what there is that you must know about suicidal fate of Red Islam or the dark underbelly of the Progressive New World Order Movement.
Who could handle such Jim Jones insanity best?
President Palin and Prime Minister Hannan!
And yes, the above is a preview of my special Oscar weekend post on Precious.
I have some things I am working on for this week and next. For now, please indulge my newest found news item on the movie that is Precious.
Last night I went to a great presentation by Dr. Khalil Muhammed, author of the new book The Condemnation of Blackness. During which he too took a great and well placed shot at Precious as representative of a deeply recurring and historically problematic depiction of black humanity. I smiled. It does indeed feel good to be in such good company (What wordplay, no? Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Oscar Wilde would be quite proud in my opinion).
Gabourey Sidibe: Playing the victim
Mo'Nique's performance in "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," as an abusive mother who, among other acts of cruelty, tries to keep her daughter from getting an education so she can stay on welfare, has earned a great deal of praise since the movie's release last November. The performance has been short-listed, by those who obsess about such things, as the surefire winner of the best supporting actress Academy Award.
But of the two most attention-grabbing performances in "Precious," the one that goes deeper, and ultimately has more resonance, is Gabourey Sidibe's turn as Precious, the Harlem teenager whose life is essentially a catalog of the horrors that can befall a young black woman in the inner city.
Precious' life seems hopeless, but she's saved by a few people who refuse to let her fall through the cracks in the system, among them a teacher named Blu Rain (Paula Patton) and a tough-cookie social worker, Mrs. Weiss, played, superbly, by Mariah Carey. As directed by Lee Daniels, the picture unfolds like a comprehensive brief on the worst horrors that might befall black Americans, and while moviegoers have largely embraced it as an inspirational, if calculated, story, the film has also been criticized (by New York Press film critic Armond White, among others) for fostering the misguided idea that these problems are typical of black America. The fear, as voiced by some of the movie's detractors, is that it only reinforces clueless white people's ideas about how "typical" African-Americans in this country think, live and behave.
They have a point. "Precious" does come off more as a clinical, exaggerated case study rather than as a nuanced drama; Daniels has no qualms about turning Precious into a symbolic victim. But I do think Sidibe's face counteracts much of the film's aggressive calculation: She plays Precious as a guileless but watchful presence, a girl who's afraid to let the world in but who also can't resist reaching out to be a part of that world.
This is Sidibe's first film role. Her previous acting experience had included some college theater, but she'd had no formal training. She met the film's casting directors when she attended an open call. And while it's hard to speculate about what kind of future she might have as an actress, her instincts in "Precious" are good ones. Scene after scene, she underperforms instead of pushing this adamantly melodramatic material even further over the top.
Sidibe's face is closed off for a good half of the movie -- she's almost impossible to read. We learn much of what she's feeling through voice-overs (a technique that's wearyingly overused these days, although that's certainly not Sidibe's fault). As she ponders the possibility that she might be able to change her life for the better, we hear her explain in voice-over, "I'm lookin' up -- I'm lookin' for a piano to fall! Desk, couch, TV, Mama maybe -- always something in my way." Sidibe manages to make that forced street-poetry dialogue sound relaxed and natural. She laughs a little in the middle of it, as if tickled by her own capacity for dark humor, her own ability to extend a metaphor. (She knows what a metaphor is, even though she doesn't know she knows.)
As the movie opens, Daniels clues us in to Precious' painful past -- and sets the stage for her not-much-happier present -- by showing, in flashback, how her father raped her. She escapes the horror by drifting into daydreams of stardom and fame -- fame for doing what, she has no idea. But she can picture herself flouncing around for the paparazzis' cameras, dressed in red satin and feathers, and she escapes from her pain by temporarily Photoshopping herself into that vision of glamour. (She also, highly improbably, imagines herself and her mother as characters from Vittoria De Sica's "Two Women.") No wonder Precious is closed down, shut off. And later in the movie, when we see her looking more relaxed and happy -- joking with the friends who have come to see her in the hospital after the birth of her second child, or flirting shyly with Lenny Kravitz's Nurse John -- her smile is still a little reluctant, a sun that's afraid to come out from behind its cloud.
Sidibe's reticence -- her recognition that Precious may never feel comfortable with all-out happiness -- is part of what makes the performance so touching. Monologues are often the thing that net awards for actors, even though they're never the best test of an actor's skill, chiefly because they involve talking rather than listening. And in "Precious," Mo'Nique is the one who gets the movie's big, show-stopping monologue. But Sidibe, who is far less experienced as a performer, holds her own in "Precious." She's a receptive presence but not a passive one, playing a character who can't hide from the horrors swirling around her, but who also has to fight to keep from getting swept away by them. The cautious hope that steals across Sidibe's face is the best thing about "Precious." Her performance is more about listening than it is about talking, a part of the job that more experienced actors often forget.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
I missed this a few weeks ago--clip courtesy of Rippa's blog, The Intersection of Madness and Reality.
I deem this clip to be hilarious. And I hope the defeated party in the rumble (not) in the jungle has a good dental plan.
Random question/observation: did you notice the provocations from the peanut gallery? Was it not quite typical and predictable to hear one of the "witnesses/instigators" switch from "beat his white ass" to "oh Lord have mercy!" How public opinion changes with the wind...
Second question for my ghetto nerds: Is this what happens when Frank Castle grows old? Will The Punisher one day be riding the bus ready to merc someone who crosses him?
Apparently, the brother in this video didn't get the memo that clearly stated, "don't mess with an old White man because they more often than not will kick your behind." They don't suffer from the talking alot and do nothin' syndrome that is common among some black folks (the "black people tend to shout" mantra). When old white folk threaten your behind they mean it: see Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Stalin, FDR, Hitler, etc. etc.
Let's take a step back to one of our/my favorite posts:
What’s the Best, Worst, or Strangest Thing You’ve Witnessed While Taking Public Transportation?
Ride with the dirty laundry on public transportation. Pay no attention to the people sharing a bus or subway with the dirty laundry. Obviously these people haven't heard a thing. Nor have they seen anything. Nor have they wondered why. These frightened people don't exist. The secret is safe with them.
The Cos’ suggestion that black folks’ conduct while taking public transportation is an indicator of the health of the black public sphere is interesting. In the realm of public transportation, general norms of public behavior often press up against more specific black norms of respectability. Step on a bus or train in a city with a lot of black folks. You will see altruism, selfishness, conviviality, ignorance, vulgarity, and humor all on display.
You will see people assist mothers with strollers, cede seats to the elderly, and help riders lock their wheelchairs into place. You will hear “sirs” and “ma’ams” coming from kids’ mouths. You will see locals helping tourists with directions. Sometimes you will even see riders spotting the fares of complete strangers. You will see several people reading (mostly the Bible, trashy ghetto lit, and school textbooks).You will see that most people are quiet, friendly, and respectful.
You will also see people play (always terrible) rap and R & B loud enough for everyone to hear. You will hear people talking loudly--yelling really--about sex and violence. You will see people littering, leaving trash and food on the ground or seats, even though there are trash bins near. You will see people with no home training in norms of decent public behavior.
Because I am frequently disgusted by the conduct of public transportation riding ign’ants, individual instances of rude behavior, loudness, and vulgarity don’t stand out to me. What I remember vividly, though, are the moments of social policing in which black public transportation users are so fed up with ign’ant behavior, they confront the ign’ants. Two particular instances come to mind:
1.) I was riding a bus in the afternoon, right when school let out. A couple of bookish kids were being clowned by a group of their ign’ant schoolmates. An older brother stepped in and chided the ign’ants for teasing the couple. Predictably, the ign’ants started cursing the older brother, which prompted him to respond, “You never know, I may have a gun on me right now! Keep on talkin’, I might shoot up this whole damn bus!” The rest of the riders went from admiring this guy for saying something to realizing that he was an ign’ant too.
2.) A few weeks ago, I heard a man yelling as he got on the bus, “Hurry up before I knock yo teeth down yo mothafuckin throat. You stupid as fuck!” Then, a girl who as about 11 or 12 years old got on the bus and everyone realized that the man was yelling at this little girl, his daughter. The other riders just shook their heads and look exasperated as this man continued to curse and berate his daughter.
A few minutes later, a second man went to exit the bus and confronted the father, saying, “You think that was the right thing to do, huh? Man, you a punk! I’ll kick yo ass. Get off this bus on the next stop! You don’t yell at no little girl like that, you ol’ punk!”
The father was clearly scared and apologetic, telling his confronter, “You right. You right. That’s my daughter, but I shouldn’t have done that. I shoulda handled it better. You right.”
The confronter then exited the bus yelling, “Don’t never let me catch you on these streets. I’ll beat yo ass!” Once it was clear that his confronter was gone, the father tried to save face by saying loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’ll be done killed somebody in here. I woulda shot him, but I can’t go back to the penitentiary.”
Again, the elation the other riders felt upon seeing this father get punked disappeared immediately, as we were reminded that this loser was the little girl’s role model.
Respectable negroes, what is the best, worst, or strangest thing you’ve seen while riding public transportation?
Friday, February 19, 2010
The Angry White Man Rides Again: Joseph Stack Crashes His Plane Into the IRS and White Folk Remain Untarnished
I smile. I laugh. I rest easy knowing that the absurdities of life will provide another example of white privilege, a privilege that often makes itself most known in a moment of tragedy. Cue the drums and the chimes: enter once more the Angry White Man. He usually listens to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. He prays at the mantle of Jim Crow 2.0 and Pat Buchanan. The Angry White Man loves dressing up as one of the "founding fathers" as he embraces a juvenile and sophomoric understanding of The Constitution. When most deranged he writes political manifestos and commits acts of domestic terrorism. I now introduce to you the newest entry in the rogues gallery that is the Angry White Man run amok: Joseph Stack, anti-IRS domestic terrorist who on Thursday crashed his plane into an office building in Austin, Texas.
Ask yourself the following:
1. If he were Arab American how would the story be covered?
2. If he were a person of color how would the story be covered?
3. If he were Muslim American how would the FBI be reacting at this moment?
4. In this political environment, if the Tea Party, radical Right, and disgruntled anti-Obama crowd were Black or Brown (as opposed to overwhelmingly White), if they were calling for secession, accusing the President of being a traitor, and indulging in seditious behavior, how quickly would the dots be inexorably drawn between this domestic terrorist and the racial group to which he belonged?
5. If his skin were different, and his religion more "suspect" how would Fox News and the Right Wing echo chamber be covering this story?
The details follow courtesy of Fox News:
A pilot furious with the Internal Revenue Service crashed his small plane into an Austin, Texas, office building where nearly 200 federal tax employees work on Thursday, igniting a raging fire that sent massive plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the seven-story structure.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the incident was a single act by a sole individual, who appeared to be targeting the federal building. He refused to classify it as terrorism.
"I call it a cowardly, criminal act and there was no excuse for it," Acevedo said at a news conference.
The FBI identified the pliot as Joseph Stack, a 53-year-old software engineer. Stack was confirmed dead, but his body has not yet been recovered.
At least one person who worked in the building was unaccounted for and two people were hospitalized, thirteen others were treated and released said Austin Fire Department Division Chief Dawn Clopton.
Emergency crews found two bodies in the building late Thursday evening, but wouldn't identify them.
Texas Republican Congressman Michael McCaul told reported the incident was, "not tied to overseas terror organizations."
A U.S. law official said investigators were looking at a lengthy, anti-government "manifesto" Stack is believed to have written on his Web site. The message outlines problems with the IRS and says violence "is the only answer."
About 190 IRS employees work at 9420 Research Boulevard, the building that Stack crashed into. IRS spokesman Richard C. Sanford said the agency is trying to account for all of its workers.
IRS Agent William Winnie said he was on the third floor of the building when he saw a light-colored, single engine plane coming toward the building, TheStatesman.com reported.
“It looked like it was coming right in my window,” Winnie said, according to the Web site.
He said the plane veered down and smashed into the lower floors. “I didn’t lose my footing, but it was enough to knock people who were sitting to the floor,” he said.
In what appears to have been his suicide note, Stack is believed to have written:
"If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?' The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time...
"Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer...
"I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well," the note, dated Thursday, reads.
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said he was shocked by the "tragic events," but did not directly address Stack's rant against the government agency.
"This incident is of deep concern to me," the statement read. "We are working with law-enforcement agencies to fully investigate the events that led up to this plane crash."
Stack took off in a Piper Cherokee from Georgetown Municipal Airport in Texas at 9:40 a.m. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said he didn't file a flight plan. The plane crashed into the building in Austin about 20 minutes later.The Department of Homeland Security said it did not believe the crash was an act of terrorism. President Obama was briefed on the incident. As a precaution, the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command launched two F-16 aircraft from Houston's Ellington Field, and was conducting an air patrol over the crash area.
Patrick Beach, who once played in a band with Stack, described him as a mild-mannered guy who was a stereotypical software guy.
"I talked to alot of people who knew him better than I did, and no one saw anything like this coming," Beach told Fox News.
The toughest part about this, Beach said, was how this guy, who loved his wife and step-child, could be the same person who wanted to "commit mass murder."
Billy Eli, a band member of Stack's, has known the man for about five years and said he never suspected Stack had any political feelings.
"The Joe I knew was mostly apolitical," he told Fox News. "I never heard him talk politics, or take a stand left or right. As far as I know he didn't have a party affiliation."
Stuart Newberg, who was in the area right before the crash, said the plane was flying low and fast when it plowed into the building, according to The Statesman.com.
“It was flying low and fast and I did a double take," Newberg said, according to the Web site.
"I thought it was a play remote control plane. Then I saw the smoke."
He told the paper he thought the plane seemed “very controlled.”
In a neighborhood about six miles from the crash site, a home listed as belonging to Stack was on fire earlier Thursday. Two law enforcement officials said Stack apparently set fire to his home before embarking on his suicide mission.
MyFoxAustin.com said firefighters reported that the entire house was on fire, including the fence, when they arrived on the scene.
Neighbors said they heard a loud explosion in the house Thursday morning right before it became engulfed in flames.
MyFoxAustin.com reported that a 12-year-old girl and a woman were rescued by a neighbor from the $236,000 home. The station reported that the girl is believed to be Stack's stepdaughter. Other media reports indicated that these individuals may have alerted authorities to Stack’s actions.
A neighbor told MyFoxAustin.com that Stack was an experienced pilot who owned his own plane.
The Austin American-Statesman newspaper reported several "walking wounded" at the scene of the crash. Paramedics set up a triage center at the scene.
Early reports that the building housed the FBI field office in Austin turned out not to be true. An FBI spokesman told Fox News that the FBI office in Austin is near where the plane crashed, but not in the same building. There are some federal offices in the building, though authorities couldn't identify which ones.
The NTSB was sending staff out of Dallas and Washington to the scene.
Witnesses were asked to contact the Austin Police Department at 210-650-6196 with any information that might be useful in the investigation.
According to California Secretary of State records, Stack had a troubled business history, twice starting software companies in California that ultimately were suspended by the state's Franchise Tax Board.
In 1985, he incorporated Prowess Engineering Inc. in Corona. It was suspended two years later. He started Software Systems Service Corp. in Lincoln in 1995 and that entity was suspended in 2001. Stack listed himself as chief executive officer of both companies.
I troll these Internets looking for excitement. I usually don't find any...until I start perusing the personals on Craigslist--truly a hive of scum and villainy...as well as the desperate, sad, and hopeful.
We know that love is hard to find. And according to some recent articles on internet dating, love is doubly difficult for black women to find online. So how do we rate this sister's effort? Ridiculous or heartfelt? Funny or sad? Will she attract a king or a court jester? Will his home be decorated with African art purchased from Marshalls by way of China? Does her Ipod feature Jill Scott on perpetual replay?
Courtesy of Craigslist:
I am a neo soul bohemian afrocentric human centric earth life lover. Seeking The Next Level. MANY seeds, deep family root creation, spiritual intellectual depth
My equal in a Like Minded Active Working brother. Working for the common good type of brotha... Or working for himself, with vivid dreams of where he is going in life.
NO STUFFY BROTHA-(ethnically challenged brothas please)Im out the box and often deemed radically progressive from this earthly
perspective. I am love light truth. a Great spirit woman sista Queen and -To be divine mama wife and partner. Are you a soldier of real Black Love?
If you are a Queen seeker, I am a King Searcher....and I have been ready for his arrival. The longer I await the better i get , im ripe fruit now.
READY. and yes many queens are still standing brothas! unfortunatly some sistas just lost their crowns but many will find them eventually. Here Is One Of Them. Where are You King? lets be friends join one anothers cipher..and go from there. Now is the time.
im 29. pretty round face. short and thick. organic vegetarian. honey colored. very healthy. glowing. clear skin no make up. vivacious. curved out! (super curvy)corn bread fed southern looking little brick house woman ( so now you know). please be 25-45 only and ready for the ultimate union, if blessed with the obvious.
CURRENT & ASPIRING !organizers for community etc. counselors. givers. poets. artist. entreprenuers, teachers ( in any form) TO THE FRONT. but all are welcome to say peace to a sista.
Peace Good People.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Today was Madea day in my class. After trying to convince young folks of the coontastic legacy embodied by Tyler Perry (with varying degrees of success by the way) I am spent. After trying to triangulate Herman Gray's book on race and television with the problematic politics of Good Times and Donald Bogle's classic Bucks, Mammies, and Coons, my mind is torn hither-tither. How do you talk to a generation about the canon that is Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Sanford and Son that knows nothing of these great shows? Are we that old? How did we come to lack even this most basic lengua franca?
To soothe my soul I went to the supermarket, found a six pack of beer on special (you got to get the Dominick's card my people), and rode the bus home. I needed some spiritual healing. I was spent. Given that I don't believe in organized religion, my church home is these Internets. I hoped that Pastor Manning would deliver me from my malaise, that he would provide me with nutrients for my soul. Oh the most high Lord of the Internets always delivers!
I am free to let my racial id speak: I hate black men. I am ashamed of them. They are a blight upon the world! Oh Lord, after riding the bus I hate everyone and everything! Wow, that felt good to say. Yes, oh yes, Pastor Manning is on point and I am walking lockstep with him.
Are you willing to die my brothers? Are you willing to die with Pastor Manning? Are you willing to die to fight black male stupidity? Do people hate you for telling the truth? Do you want to be one of those weak black men who are just statistics? Who have abandoned their manhood? Who are just cum droppers?
In the immortal words of Pastor Manning do our enemies have the strength to kill us? Let us bow our heads as we listen to the immortal words of our patron saint the 'Cos:
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I said I would leave this alone, but this shared link caught my attention because it is both smart and funny.
It has inspired me. So, to my friends, allies, and kindred spirits who read this blog let's do an experiment--but only if you are game. I propose that each of you who are willing, do a post where you offer the following counter-factual: If (insert given white conservative) were black he/she would (insert different consequence for their behaviors).
Does a link/post party sound like fun?
For those of you with blogs please email me or post your links so we can share our respective posts. If you do not have a blog, simply post your thoughts here.
Who knows? together we may be able to just fight off the flurry of trolls and conservative zombies that will be inspired to come out of the woodwork to defend their selective champions.
There is an excellent post on We Are Respectable Negroes about the racist double standards in our society. Here's part of it that uses Sarah Palin to illustrate just how bad things still are...
We live in a society where it is socially acceptable to be crazy racist as long as one is careful not to express the racism directly. Indirect bigotry and code speak are quite common. Of course, this is hardly limited to racism. The problem is quite common with sexism and heterosexism too. Code speak like "Family Values," "Identity Politics," and "PC" are quite common and the "Identity Politics" code is often used by people who are on the left on some issues.
- His bosses would have fired him for hoping that a President would fail.
- His lack of command of facts would be used to question the intellectual capacity of an entire race of people.
- Republicans would stampede to criticize him, rather than cowering in fear.
- Rush's dishonesty would get him vilified by the right, while those same wingnuts would treat that dishonesty as something to be expected from "those people."
- Rush's sexual escapades would be tied to stereotypes about black men.
- His illegal drug use would have gotten him taken off the radio.
- Rush's incredible obesity would be attributed to stereotypes of eating habits and laziness.
Don't think for a minute that I'm making this up. There still is a majority view in this country that white people who are incredibly lazy, unpatriotic, bigoted, stupid, dishonest, dysfunctional, and just plain irritating are "superior" to people of other races just because of the concentration of melanin in their skin.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Good stuff. It is nice to see one of the founding fathers of contemporary black music reinventing himself. All respect due to The Last Poets, but I am excited to see what Gil Scott-Heron does in this, the third act of his life.
Courtesy of the Guardian:
One of the most moving songs on Gil Scott-Heron's long-awaited new album, I'm New Here, is called "Where Did the Night Go". Over the most minimal electronic pulse, his familiar deep drawl, now more ragged and reflective than ever, intones the lines:
"Long ago, the clock washed midnight away, bringing the dawn,
Oh God, I must be dreaming,
Time to get up again, time to start up again,
Pulling on my socks again
Where did the night go?"
For those of us who have kept an ever-hopeful eye on Gil Scott-Heron's faltering musical and personal journey over the past three decades, the song has an added resonance. Where, I wondered on first hearing it, did the years go? Where, to be more precise, did Gil Scott-Heron go in the long silence that began in 1982 after the release of his last album for Arista Records, Moving Target, and was broken only briefly by the appearance of Spirits, in 1994.
"People keep saying I disappeared," the singer tells me, laughing heartily, when I speak to him. "Well, that's a gift I didn't know I had. You ever see someone disappear? That makes me a superhero, right?"
The humour, though, conceals a great deal of heartbreak and an epic struggle with addiction, both of which are referred to obliquely on his raggedly brilliant version of Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil" on the new album. "Early this mornin', when you knocked upon my door", he sings, "And I said, "Hello, Satan, I believe it's time to go."
Though Gil Scott-Heron insists he did not disappear, that he kept playing club gigs in America and did the occasional tour, that he was writing, if not recording, the news that kept on filtering back from his long winter in America was always bleak. It seemed at times as if the most astute musical social commentator of the 70s and 80s had metamorphosed into a character from one of his own sad songs of suffering and struggle. On the sombre and still-startling "Home Is Where The Hatred Is", recorded in 1971, he described a junkie trapped in a blighted inner-city ghetto who lived inside "white powder dreams". Thirty-odd years later, he seemed to be living those lyrics.
Gil Scott-Heron's creative trajectory has, in many ways, run counter to that of the traditional troubled artist insofar as he fell into hard drug use at a time in his life when most of his peers had either sorted out their addictions or succumbed to them. What we can say for certain is that sometime in the mid-to-late 80s, the man the critics were by then calling "the godfather of rap" and "the black Bob Dylan" developed a cocaine habit that, if his ex-partner, Monique de Latour, is to believed, spiralled out of control into full-blown addiction to crack.
By then, like Sly Stone before him, Scott-Heron had a reputation for showing up hours late for concerts or not showing up at all. It seemed scarcely believable that the lithe, loose-limbed performer who sang "The Bottle" – about the alcoholics he observed queuing at a local liquor store every morning – and "Angel Dust" – about the mind-destroying drug of the same name that brought down the great James Brown – had fallen so low.
"I've had bad times in my life when I'd rather be somewhere else doing something else, for sure," he tells me when I ask about his troubles. "But you get to my age, that shit happens. You get in trouble; you maybe lose some folks – a parent or a friend. Maybe your marriage breaks up, you lose your wife, lose touch with your kid. But what life does not have those things in it?"the piece continues here...
Friday, February 12, 2010
My final two cents on this Sarah Palin as a scion of white mediocrity dust up...
Those folks who are in denial about white privilege need to be like Bobby Hill and admit that they are the smelly man.
Much to my surprise, my post "What if Sarah Palin were Black?" has proven pretty popular (it has been among the most viewed posts on Open Salon and is being picked up by other websites next week). It has also been a bit depressing as it reminds me of the toxic mix that is white denial, blind partisanship, white racial resentment, and a type of soft bigotry wrapped in the robes of empathy-less privilege. It seems that in the age of Obama, as much things change, the more certain old habits seem to stay the same.
I have also taken the comments of folks here and on Salon quite seriously--and yes, even the overstated, bloated, defensive and conversation dominating claims often introduced by the supporters of Palin. They are an object lesson--much like their goddess--in privilege. Practically, their logic and reasoning when brought out into the light are exposed for the speciousness of their reasoning. That is both helpful and useful. As a final concession to their sense that this is "just" about race, and that only "certain" people can participate and be listened to in this conversation (which is to some degree true by the way, as we do not all possess equally privileged insight on these matters
A few years ago I was walking home from the local university tap after closing. As folks in this neighborhood tend to do, they walk in large groups made up of both strangers and friends. In this mixed herd the conversations of that night continue and new voices are invited to contribute. I passed a group of twentyish year old undergrads who were involved in a heated discussion. One of the students recognized me as their instructor and asked my opinion about his two friends' dispute. I obliged.
A young woman was arguing with her male friend about the merits of listening. I asked for some clarification: what did she mean by listening? She specified that as a young woman she has had some experiences with sexism that are hard to communicate with men because they can't relate to them. Her male friend was very defensive. He said that was "impossible, people can always understand each other, power has nothing to do with it. We always have to justify our feelings to one another!" "Not today, sexism is exaggerated." Both asked me what I thought. I reflected. My answer was simple. "I am a man in a society where I benefit from that fact, often without thinking about it. So yes, I agree with her statement whole heartedly. Men have to learn to listen to women on these issues, and to not force folks to explain their life realities." Her male friend was shocked. He could not understand it, so therefore it could not be real. He was too invested in how he saw the world that he could not concede the truth of another's perspective--one that perhaps saw things that he was blinded to.
Finally, this young gent asked his female friend to prove that sexism is real, that her feelings and experiences are "real" and not imagined. I asked him if he trusts and respects her. Our young male friend said "of course." If so I replied, "then don't you have to listen to her and accept her words at face value?" He stammered. I also offered a final thought. "Be quiet for a few moments and really listen. You don't have to have the final word. That is okay. But making that first concession is important for learning how to empathize and respect one another." As I departed, I saw him rambling and gesticulating again. Apparently, it was too hard to simply learn how to listen.
Sadly, I think our conversation on Sarah Palin has proven that point once more.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
John Mayer, racist hipster douchebag?
I am not a big fan of his music. But, what struck me most were not his words, but how low Playboy magazine has sunk. In reading this interview I couldn't help but long for the great interviews of years past with such figures as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., exchanges that could only be found in that most edgy of magazines.
Is the Mayer interview any surprise? Am I the only one who kept thinking of Norman Mailer's timeless essay on the White Negro as I worked through Mayer's ramblings? Is David Duke ever a fair metaphor for one's manhood--and its desire for inter-racial intimacies? Last time I checked, many a white supremacist (case in point: Strom Thurmond) for time immemorial loved to lay with a black woman (be she willing or not). Ironic then, that the loathing in the White Soul for blackness is more than balanced by an envious longing for the same.
Some choice excerpts from Playboy:
MAYER: Someone asked me the other day, “What does it feel like now to have a hood pass?” And by the way, it’s sort of a contradiction in terms, because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it a nigger pass. Why are you pulling a punch and calling it a hood pass if you really have a hood pass? But I said, “I can’t really have a hood pass. I’ve never walked into a restaurant, asked for a table and been told, ‘We’re full.’"
PLAYBOY: It is true; a lot of rappers love you. You recorded with Common and Kanye West, played live with Jay-Z.
MAYER: What is being black? It’s making the most of your life, not taking a single moment for granted. Taking something that’s seen as a struggle and making it work for you, or you’ll die inside. Not to say that my struggle is like the collective struggle of black America. But maybe my struggle is similar to one black dude’s.
PLAYBOY: Do black women throw themselves at you?
MAYER: I don’t think I open myself to it. My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart and a fuckin’ David Duke cock. I’m going to start dating separately from my dick.
PLAYBOY: Let’s put some names out there. Let’s get specific.
MAYER: I always thought Holly Robinson Peete was gorgeous. Every white dude loved Hilary from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And Kerry Washington. She’s superhot, and she’s also white-girl crazy. Kerry Washington would break your heart like a white girl. Just all of a sudden she’d be like, “Yeah, I sucked his dick. Whatever.” And you’d be like, “What? We weren’t talking about that.” That’s what “Heartbreak Warfare” is all about, when a girl uses jealousy as a tactic.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The impenetrable stupidity of Sarah Palin knows no boundaries. She wallows in mediocrity. Palin is the queen bee of a cult of personality where to be anti-intellectual is a trait to be rewarded. Ultimately, she presides over a confederacy of dunces.
People of color have many a shared experience that comes from being racially marked in a White society. One of my favorite examples of this social reality is the moment when a crime is announced on the evening news and we collectively grimace with the thought, "I hope he or she isn't black/brown/yellow/or red." I must also imagine that in a post 9/11 world, my Arab-American brothers and sisters likewise have a similar moment where they hold their collective breath in dread upon the announcement of some act of terrorism (real or imagined, in any part of the world).
Question: Do white people lower their heads in collective shame when they listen to Sarah Palin? Is there a moment where white folks shake their heads in mass and say to themselves, "Lord, I wish she weren't white?"
To be White is to be "normal," "invisible," and quintessentially "American." It is also the freedom to be an individual. When crazy white people bomb buildings, kill cops in the name of radical right wing politics, go on shooting rampages, or more generally just act like fools, it is never framed as a "White" problem. I would suggest that these actions are rarely, if ever, interrogated for what they reveal about Whiteness and/or white folk at large. In short, there is no "I hope that person isn't white" moment. Why? Because a given white person's actions are usually a reflection of their individual shortcomings, not a commentary on white people as a whole.
Efforts to communicate the essence of white privilege in American society are often made difficult because of the denial, fear, and vulnerability that comes from self-reflection about power. Moreover, in a time of economic calamity, white Americans are probably (and quite understandably) resistant to hearing about some "unearned privilege" when they are fighting for their financial lives. Surely, this is a time when conversations about the deep linkages between race, wealth, and white supremacy in the United States are an increasingly hard sell, even in so far as they remain especially true (as the old saying goes, "When White America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu...or worse").
Nevertheless, the need to discuss how race structures life opportunities remains necessary--and perhaps even more so--during our Great Recession. As opposed to the heavy theory and abstractions often favored by academics, scholars, and public intellectuals, I prefer practical common sense examples to prove my point. To that end, Sarah Palin is a perfect object lesson.
So, let's play a game of fill in the blanks. I will start:
If Sarah Palin were black she would have disappeared into obscurity long ago.
If Sarah Palin were black, her daughter's out of wedlock, "baby daddy drama" would have been presented as an example of both pathological behavior and a dysfunctional family that is symbolic of the social problems in that community. If Sarah Palin were black, never would the poor decision making by the Palin family be marked off as challenges overcome, or deeds to be valorized.
If Sarah Palin were black, her neo-secessionist husband would have been the death knell for her political career, because as we all know you can't trust "those people."
If Sarah Palin were black, her lack of intellectual curiosity, willful and cultivated ignorance, and lack of grace both written and spoken, would not be taken as "folksy." Instead, Palin would be viewed as unqualified for any public office.
If Sarah Palin were black she would be tarred and feathered as an "affirmative action baby."