Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Wham. Boom. Pow. Damn!
I love street theater. I especially love agitprop disguised as teaching and knowledge. I have been thinking a great deal about our conversation on white privilege and my using Paul Mooney and David Chappelle as a lens for discussing race in America. In reflecting on my experiences in the classroom, I started thinking about how some students--white and black--found my approach too serious, or that I should let them express their feelings more. As I said earlier, we got's serious work to do, and I am no one's therapist.
In a quite timely, and unexpectedly coincidental fashion, a former student of mine emailed me. She is taking a course on Race and Sociology at an institution with which I was formerly affiliated. While there I had a reputation as the "mean," "tough," black, "race obsessed" professor. That may be true--but folks went to school when they were in my seminars. Trust me. Ironically, I was feared while there, but now fondly remembered by some.
My former student proceeded to explain how her class is all Oprah Winfreyesque, and the professor is more interested in discussing "feelings" and "guilt" than in critical discourse. Apparently, there is a cadre of my former padawans in the class and the feeling seems to be a shared one.
In trying to explain the logic underlying her new teacher's pedagogical approach I pointed out two things. One, race is certainly part of this (as said instructor is a White teacher at a predominantly White institution, so she is sympathetic to the "boo hoo, I feel so guilty" deflection and"I don't know what to do, yet I know I won't give up any wealth or privilege" that some white folk play when their Whiteness is put on blast). And gender may be a component too, as the professor is female. Yes, I do think there is something to the particular intersections of whiteness, gender, and feminism that color how white women teach and approach their scholarship on race. Just as my identity as a black man colors my work, gender and race have a profound influence on how white women navigate these issues as well.
Ultimately, I told my former student that in my best paraphrasing of Jesse the Body Ventura in the movie Predator, that "I ain't got time to bleed."
Why? White teachers and professors have in general not shown much compassion, coddling, and attention to the feelings of people of color in the classroom (the "please random coloured person speak for your race" moment that many of us have witnessed in the hollowed halls of academia for example). Frankly, I am not going to extend white students a courtesy that I/we/you have not been afforded because to do so reinforces the white privilege that is the rotten heart of Whiteness in this country.
Funny, if some of my former students thought I was hard, God knows what said folk would have done if a brother from the Black Israelites walked into the room. And once more to privilege, the Black Israelites may rule that corner and have the ability to make naive white college students who are drunk on the possibilities of post-racial radical humanism as they hook up with cute racially ambiguous boys after a game of beer pong cry, but they ain't got no real juice.
Am I dark and twisted as I laugh at the predictable outcome of Black rage, white fear, white denial, and the inevitable power of white women's tears in this video? Well actually they were rendered ineffective by said brother's verbal Kryptonite. Being a bit more provocative: Is there anything that he said regarding whiteness as property, power, and privilege in the U.S. that was (generally) untrue?
Sunday, May 9, 2010
"We needed workers and they needed a place to live."
So, we reanimate George Washington, ask him what he would change in hindsight, and the answer said Tea Party costume ball attendee offers is some vague response about telecommunications. No, he doesn't mention the genocide of Native Americans, the second class citizenship of women, ending slavery, or expanding the franchise to property-less white men. Nope. He mentions the Internet. Our zombie George Washington could have massaged any of these answers with a bit of Realpolitik. Instead, he showed us who the Tea Party Fox News crowd has always been--a myopic group, robbed of moral and political vision, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of their own victimology laced patriotism. A state of affairs that would be funny if it were not so sad.
As we have seen during these last months, the Tea Party movement embodies the worst type of American exceptionalism mixed with the most willful of self-delusion. We are a shining city on the hill. The greatest nation to ever exist. We are a country born of providence, divine will, and immaculate conception. In one fell swoop our zombie George Washington demonstrated what is so wrong with the American polity...and our educational system.
It is difficult if not impossible to engage in a substantive discussion of the issues with the nouveau Right-wing Populists because their grasp of the past is so flimsy. In turn, their understanding of the present is flawed. When these Tea Bag brigands are exposed to new information they reject it in order to resolve what would alternatively be a crippling state of semi-permanent cognitive dissonance.
We do not necessarily need the rich discourse surrounding epistemic closure and Conservatives (meaning they are simply talking too each other in a closed loop) that has arisen these last few weeks to explain the Tea Party phenomenon and the intellectual crisis on the Right--a crisis that is perfectly embodied by the rise of Limbaugh, Beck, and Palin as the de facto leaders of the Republican Party. No, we can simply point the camera and microphone at the Tea Party movement and their leadership. There, in the starkest of terms, we see the patrimony, spawn, and parenthood of epistemic closure and contemporary American Conservatism.
The masses are once again proven to be asses. And ironically, zombie George Washington has proven the genius of the framers in their creating a representative government designed to circumvent the passions of the mob.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
I have to admire this Lego ingeniousness. It reminds me of the Avant-garde style of art known as infantilism, where through a child-like depiction of reality its darkest truths are revealed. Here I am happy to see a (presumably) young respectable negro practicing his craft (he sounds a bit like me at that age, and we have a similar talent for the dramatic).
Also quite telling is how the White slave owner sounds like Darth Vader. I must ask: What does this semiotic code tell us about the relationship between the shadow figure, evil, Jungian psychoanalytic frameworks, race, and our collective political unconscious?
Random embarrassing ghetto nerd story: in the 4th grade I had in my possession a GI JOE novella/audio book. This was great stuff. On one side there was a full featured story with sound effects. The flip side was blank so that enterprising young JOE's could record their own story. Of course I recorded my own version of this adventure including original dialogue and homemade sound effects. Inevitably, I loaned said audiobook to a friend--with the cassette. Little did I know that I would come to school the next day and my recording would be blaring throughout homeroom. My soul died a little bit that Friday. One more story for my inevitable autobiography (random self-aggrandizing and pandering moment: if there are any publishers looking for a pitch please contact a brother).
Both because it is a powerful story that is little discussed--and I am always so surprised when students (black, white and brown) ask if we resisted our inhuman bondage--here is a short clip on the legendary Stono Rebellion.
Strength and honor:
Thursday, May 6, 2010
The boo hoo white conservative victimology parade continues...
Black and brown folks share a common experience--the "please God don't let that criminal/thief/murderer/terrorist be one of us" moment when breaking news appears on the television. Why? Because racial minorities in America are not allowed the luxury of being individuals, and thus, the behavior of one reflects on all.
Now it seems that Jonah Goldberg and other Conservatives can share our pain in the aftermath of the attempted Times Square bombing. Initially, a white man was the suspect, quite likely (a reasonable claim given the near seditious, gun toting histrionics of the Fox News crowd) connected to the militia/tea bagger wing of the Republican Party. Now, a Pakistani American is in custody. Seemingly vindicated for the moment, the tea bag brigands, their Right wing bedfellows in the media, and Vox populi enablers can exhale.
I do wonder if this will be a transformative moment where Goldberg and his kin will now empathize with folks of color who intimately know what it is like to be immediately suspect for committing any crime, in any locale, at any time?
Who knows, perhaps the Right will see the injustice of the Arizona anti-immigration bill and its invitation to harass those who "look like" illegal immigrants? Ultimately, will this moment of white male Conservative anxiety (where they held their breath praying that the Times Square bomber was not one of their own) lead to a sense of what Lani Guiner calls political race--an alliance across differences of race to work towards common political interests and the common good?
Probably not. But a brother can dream, can't he?
Courtesy of the National Review:
And I will simply assert that I believe lots of liberals had something very close to the opposite series of reactions (here’s one small example of what I’m talking about). If this had been some Tim McVeigh type, Frank Rich would know exactly what he was going to write for his Sunday column, and he would be excited about writing it. I don’t want to say he’d be happy about it (and he certainly wouldn’t have been happy about the murder victims if the bomb had gone off). But he would certainly be smug and righteous and full of a certain emotion that looks a lot like the glee you feel when you get to say “I told you so.”
Instead, that state of mind no doubt describes quite a few conservatives this morning.
Now, which side is “worse” in their schadenfreude or I-told-you-so’s doesn’t really interest me right now. But even if both sides were equally guilty of the tendency, it hardly means that both sides have morally equivalent positions.
A lot of liberals seem very keen to minimize or dismiss the reality of Islamic terrorism while working devilishly hard to create a false reality that the real threat is from American citizens American “rightwingers.” [See update II below. — JG]
And I’m not just talking about bloggers and pundits. This has been the project of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano for quite some time. As has been discussed around here at great length, she has repeatedly discounted or downgraded Islamic terrorist attacks as everything from mere “man-caused disasters” to “isolated incidents,” even as her agency has eagerly hyped the threat from American veterans and militias. Obama himself has certainly aided in these attempts to spin away Islamic terrorism as a law-enforcement issue, while he and his subalterns — including Bill Clinton — play this subtle game of imputing that conservatives are, at minimum, providing rhetorical aid and comfort to domestic terrorists.
Are some conservatives sometimes too eager to look for an Islamic terrorist angle? Sure. Does this cause some on the right to paint with too broad a brush about Islam or to leap to conclusions about future threats? Arguably so. But that tendency is backed up by some massive empirical justification: hundreds of terrorist attacks aimed at America and her allies all over the world by known terrorist organizations that loudly proclaim their views and intentions to wage jihad on America.
Now consider Michael Bloomberg. He glibly announces on the CBS evening news that, if forced to bet on who had left the bomb in Time Square, he’d bet on the terrorist being “homegrown, or maybe a mentally deranged person, or somebody with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health-care bill or something.” Homegrown, mentally deranged, doesn’t like the health-care bill: These are the three best guesses that the mayor who works a few minutes from ground zero could come up with. To which I say, stick it up your memory hole, Mayor.
This liberal tendency is not just offensive because it assumes that American citizens — including vets — are somehow an underappreciated terrorist threat, though that is plenty awful in and of itself.
It is also disgustingly undemocratic. Why? Because so many of these people, starting with Obama himself but including former presidents Clinton and Carter, the Democratic Party, the editorial pages of the New York Times, and much of the rest of the liberal-dominated media, use this talk about the “rhetorical climate” on the right as a means to bully it into silence. That’s what Obama did in his recent commencement address, and that’s what hundreds of commentators and bloggers have been doing in response to the tea parties.
They’re saying, “You people need to shut up because you’re aiding and abetting terrorists.” They’re also trying to say to independents, “If you think the right-wingers are persuasive, you need to think again. They’re all just mouthpieces and stalking horses for the homegrown terrorists and the mentally deranged.”
And, last, it’s also dangerous. Not because it will breed frustration and anger among Americans who feel unfairly demonized for simply voicing their objections (though if liberals really believe the nonsense they spew about conservatives, they might ponder that). No, it’s dangerous because it causes the country to look for terrorists where they aren’t while telling them not to look for them where they are.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
A Pedagogical Question: Am I Evil Because I Showed Paul Mooney and Dave Chappelle in My Class On Whiteness?
Random pedagogical question for you folks out there who are teachers, or have ever been college students...
In my seminars I like to use real examples to demonstrate such abstractions as "privilege" and the idea that race is a "social construct." Specifically, I like to use humor because nothing cuts so deep--especially for the White students in my class--as seeing a person of color reverse the gaze and deconstruct their follies. It really is Earth shattering for some that the little man behind the stove (to borrow from Ellison) knows more about them, than they often know about themselves.
I am also a bit of a jerk who pulls no punches in the classroom. I don't use the "n-word," I say nigger. I don't poo poo white guilt and hold a we are the world Oprah session confessional where people can talk about their "feelings." No, I talk about White supremacy and how there is a chain of evidence from the past to the present, clear winners and losers, beneficiaries, victims, and deniers. I am both loved and hated...at least according to my evaluations.
So my question: Am I so wrong to have shown Paul Mooney talking about the ways of White folk? Am I doubly wrong to have been smiling to myself as some of the White students, the more Conservative men in particular, looked on the verge of tears while their Black, Latino, and Asian students had a good laugh?
Second question, is there a better example of the true lie that is race than Chappelle's Clayton Bigsby sketch?
And yes, Eddie Murphy's "White People" routine from SNL is a close second:
Piss Poor Punditry: The New York Times' David Brooks, The Limits of Policy, and the Problem of "Bad Culture"
Again, huge policy differences. Not huge outcome differences.
This is not to say that policy choices are meaningless. But we should be realistic about them. The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.
I don't live under the pressure of having to write a weekly newspaper column. It must be doubly difficult when your platform is contained within the esteemed pages of The New York Times. That having been noted as a qualifier: David Brooks' May 3rd piece, The Limits of Policy was for lack of a better word, just really stupid.
Brooks begins his spiral into fallacy land by arguing that government policy has little to do with the life outcomes of different ethnic groups. Moreover, there he alludes to the life chances of Swedes in Europe in the early 20th century as compared to those in the U.S. in order to deduce a claim about the relative advantages or disadvantages of socialized medicine. No, I am not kidding. This slippery foundation--like a drunk trying to ice skate on one foot--becomes even more untenable as Brooks spins a tale of race, health disparities, and social capital.
The big question Brooks is trying to engage is: What are the limits of national policy in terms of effecting the life chances of different groups of citizens? A fair question. However, playing not so quite in the shadows of his question, is a supposition that different groups of people, ethnic groups in this case, have different "characters." Problematically, this is a line of reasoning straight out of the racialist political ideologies of the late 19th century and such tracts as The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant which detailed the paranoia of America's "old stock" in the face of increasing waves of immigrants from the "lower races" and not yet fully "white" stock of Eastern and Southern Europe.
As is common to contemporary discussions of race and social mobility, the model minority myth makes an obligatory appearance in Brooks' account. He asks: Why do Asian-Americans do so well in all regions of the country? What is their secret? By extension, why do Blacks--and Native Americans--do so poorly. Of course, for Brooks this has nothing to do with government policy. Rather, it is all a function of social capital and a crude reading of the theories offered by Robert Putnam in the much cited Bowling Alone.
These comparisons are (and have always been) specious--the model minority myth is just that, a fable that conflates a whole group of people into one category. For example, is Brooks talking about the Hmong, Cambodians, Vietnamese, or Laotians--groups which generally do not fit that neat narrative? Or is Brooks talking about Japanese and Koreans, many of whom immigrated here as professionals with a significant amount of resources, both real and intangible, already in hand?
Ultimately, in his lamenting that government can do so little to impact life opportunities in the face of such primordial forces as ethnicity and social capital (what is really Brooks' way of saying "good" and "bad" culture) he ignores the role that government policy has played in creating systems of wealth, privilege, advantage and disadvantage.
For example, government policy both directly and indirectly created the urban ghettos in America's central cities and a two tiered system of citizenship until it was brought down by The Black Freedom Struggle in the 1960s. By extension, government support for affirmative action and a robust effort to end discrimination in federal hiring practices helped to create the Black middle and professional classes. Conversely, government programs such as the GI Bill and FHA loan programs created suburbia, as well as the wealth and prosperity enjoyed by the white middle classes of the post World War 2 period--opportunities that were by design and in practice all but closed to people of color. And most certainly, government policy created the alienation and poverty that are as common to the Native American reservations of the Southwest as they are to the mining towns of Appalachia.
In total, The Limits of Policy exposes one of the central contradictions of neo-liberal, center-Right, Conservative politics in this country. When the government policy works in your favor it is invisible, and one's successes are all one's own, the result of hard work, individualism, and "good culture." You can nurse at the succor provided by the Horatio Alger myth of rugged individualism. When government policy fails, it is because "those people" have "bad culture," somehow tied to race and blood, and that the solution is less government and not more. Your failings are all your own.
In this regard, the final paragraph of Mr. Brooks' piece is quite telling: "Finally, we should all probably calm down about politics. Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional and social differences that we so studiously ignore."
Sorry Mr. Brooks. Race is how class is lived. And yes, policy has a great deal to do with that fact.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Once more, this is how we lost to the White man. Moreover, in the Age of Obama can't we do better?
Here, we witness a failing of the intimacy and immediacy of technology melded with the stupidity of the lumpen proletariat ign't knuckdragging hoodrat crowd. The first time I reflected on this problem, I linked the failing of the Black family and fatherless boys performing a la Beyonce to the monumental Moynihan Report. After watching the above video, the immortal words of Stuart Hall in his seminal, What is this Black in Black Popular Culture? were echoing in my ear.
For students of Black popular culture this essay is a requirement. For others trying to make sense of young men performing their version of black masculinity by dancing shirtless while practicing pseudo-frontage through their sagging athletic wear, Hall's piece is both illuminating and invaluable.
Some choice excerpts from Hall's What is this Black in Black Popular Culture?:
Black popular culture, like all popular cultures in the modern world, is bound to be contradictory, and this is not because we haven't fought the cultural battle well enough. By definition, black popular culture is a contradictory space. It is a site of strategic contestation. But it can never be simplified or explained in terms of the simple binary oppositions that are still habitually used to map it out: high and low; resistance versus incorporation; authentic versus unauthentic; experiential versus formal; opposition versus homogenization. There are always positions to be won in popular culture, but no struggle can capture popular culture itself for our side or theirs. Why is that so? What consequences does this have for strategies of intervention in cultural politics? How does it shift the basis for black cultural criticism?
There are deep questions here of cultural transmission and inheritance, and of the complex relations between African origins and the irreversible scatterings of the diaspora, questions I cannot go into. But I do believe that these repertoires of black popular culture, which, since we were excluded from the cultural mainstream, were often the only performative spaces we had left, were overdetermined from at least two directions: they were partly determined from their inheritances; but they were also critically determined by the diasporic conditions in which the connections were forged. Selective appropriation, incorporation, and rearticulation of European ideologies, cultures, and institutions, alongside an African heritage -- this is Cornel West again -- led to linguistic innovations in rhetorical stylization of the body, forms of occupying an alien social space, heightened expressions, hairstyles, ways of walking, standing, and talking, and a means of constituting and sustaining camaraderie and community.
The point of underlying overdetermination -- black cultural repertoires constituted from two directions at once -- is perhaps more subversive than you think. It is to insist that in black popular culture, strictly speaking, ethnographically speaking, there are no pure forms at all. Always these forms are the product of partial synchronization, of engagement across cultural boundaries, of the confluence of more than one cultural tradition, of the negotiations of dominant and subordinate positions, of the subterranean strategies of recoding and transcoding, of critical signification, of signifying. Always these forms are impure, to some degree hybridized from a vernacular base.
Monday, May 3, 2010
I have a strong dislike for social media such as Facebook. They take away our relative anonymity, break down the wall between private and public, and hassle us with false notions of friendship (frankly, I am tired of folks who I have not talked to in 20 years asking me to "friend" them for the purposes of growing their Farmville estates).
Facebook does have some uses though. For example, letting me be nosy as I follow the triumphs and tragedies of both friend and foe alike. Likewise, Facebook also salvages photos and moments that were best forgotten and lost to the memory well (a comic book reference for my ghetto nerd compadres). So let's play a game. I just came upon my 6th grade class photo from elementary school. I will tell you some of the fates of those pictured, and you in turn tell me who said person(s) are. Hopefully, this will be a fun beginning of the week diversion.
1. Who was the coolest kid in class, not too long after this picture that would be rocking the Mohawk by Middle School, who disappeared into legend following High School, and was generally far smarter at that age than he had any right to be?
2. Who is our guest blogger Bill the Lizard?
3. Which of these girls were best of friends and then became hated rivals in High School following a horrible car accident in which several of their friends were killed?
4. Bonus points. I had a crush (at different times) on either of them, but had a shot at only one of them...said girl would later make a pass at me in High School, and lacking any game at all--she even told me she "put out" and "why don't boys like her?" as she flirted with me--I didn't pick up on the signals. Random story: I once got heat stroke following her home (my boy had a crush on said girl's friend and demanded I come along) in 100 degree heat while wearing my desert camo jacket, Bermuda shorts, carrying a really heavy backpack and lugging my saxophone.
5. Who is now the prettiest woman of any of the girls pictured, the "ugly duckling" that became a goddess of a woman whose bathwater I would drink at this very moment if she blessed me with the chance? And yes, I mean that.
6. Who has worked on several prominent daytime soaps as a male lead?
7. Who were the 2 biggest weed heads? One of which would go AWOL from the military after talking up joining the service during all of our many years in school together?
8. Who was the "town bicycle?"--I use that phrase because I can't bring myself to call a then sixth grade girl a bit of a whorish coquette.
9. Different girl: Who was my neighbor that I also enjoyed early teen groping sessions with in Middle School? Again, I could have "put it in her" but I didn't want to be a 13 year old dad (and I was afraid to go buy condoms lest someone see me). A hint: said girl was THE ONE who in preeminent Wonder Years style came back to school a grown ass woman following the summer between Middle and Elementary School. And yes, I did hump the bed a la Ghostface style thinking about overly developed womanly parts and curves that I would touch when her mom was not home.
10. Which girl, a bit chubby at the time, did I tease into an eating disorder who then became a model who accosted me years later with a public tirade that my cruelty made her loose weight and she did it all to spite me?
11. The easiest question of them all: Just who is Chauncey DeVega?
Friday, April 30, 2010
When Smart People Say Stupid Things: Stephanie Grace, Harvard Law School, and Why Black People are Genetically Inferior
I will leave this one for you all to discuss.
Apparently, insert gasp and shock, some relatively smart folk (Question: Is being book smart the same as being intelligent?) think that black people are genetically inferior to white people. And guess what? Said person--Miss Stephanie Grace--is at Harvard Law and they communicate said message via a mass email. Like a rock in a pond there are now so many ripples. The Dean gets involved, apologies are issued for hurt feelings, and an obligatory "conversation" about race must ensue.
Maybe I just have tough skin, but when I see these types of stories I do have to shake my head and leave my racism chasing shoes in the closet. Why? Primarily because I am always astounded by how Americans believe themselves to be experts on race by virtue of it being our national obsession. Second, I love it when ostensibly smart people say stupid things and operate outside of their area of expertise. Miss Grace may have conducted some preliminary research on racial attitudes among college students, but that does not make her an expert on biology, genetics, or the science of race--to the degree it is science--more generally. Likewise, I may know a whole lot about one little slice of Black cultural politics, but that does not make me an expert on 18th century slave systems in the Chesapeake Bay area.
First question: When did black folk get so weak and thin skinned? Why doesn't the Harvard Black Law Students Association (assuming they have not) offer up a proper response? One grounded in the decades of research that refutes Miss Grace's assertion? Moreover, that IQ tests themselves do not measure "intelligence" per se, and that Miss Grace was operating from a set of fallacy laden assumptions. To paraphrase one of my favorite bloggers, by pursuing the hurt feelings angle "this is how we lost to the White people."
Second question: What of freedom of speech? Being provocative, isn't the freedom to say what one will, also a license to be stupid? Finally, I am not a fan of apologies. Sometimes folks should stand their ground and own the consequences of their words. Am I unreasonable in that I would have found it refreshing if Stephanie Grace said, "yes, I believe that Black people are genetically prone to be less intelligent than white people. I will own that statement...and the consequences professionally and personally." Am I doubly more unreasonable to have hoped that someone would have then proceeded to open a can of intellectual, empirically driven whoop ass on her metaphorical behind?
An e-mail sent by a Harvard Law student that questioned the intelligence of blacks caused outrage when it was leaked and spread on the Internet this week. Here is the full text of the original e-mail message written by Harvard Law student Stephanie Grace to her two friends, followed by a letter from Harvard Law dean Martha Minow, and Grace's apology.
".. . .. I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.
I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don't think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn't mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.
I also don't think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to "explain" away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.
In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.
Please don't pull a Larry Summers on me.''
"Dear members of the Harvard Law School community:
I am writing this morning to address an email message in which one of our students suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people.
This sad and unfortunate incident prompts both reflection and reassertion of important community principles and ideals. We seek to encourage freedom of expression, but freedom of speech should be accompanied by responsibility. This is a community dedicated to intellectual pursuit and social justice. The circulation of one student's comment does not reflect the views of the school or the overwhelming majority of the members of this community.
As news of the email emerged yesterday, I met with leaders of our Black Law Students Association to discuss how to address the hurt that this has brought to this community. For BLSA, repercussions of the email have been compounded by false reports that BLSA made the email public and pressed the student's future employer to rescind a job offer. A troubling event and its reverberations can offer an opportunity to increase awareness, and to foster dialogue and understanding. The BLSA leadership brought this view to our meeting yesterday, and I share their wish to turn this moment into one that helps us make progress in a community dedicated to fairness and justice.
Here at Harvard Law School, we are committed to preventing degradation of any individual or group, including race-based insensitivity or hostility. The particular comment in question unfortunately resonates with old and hurtful misconceptions. As an educational institution, we are especially dedicated to exposing to the light of inquiry false views about individuals or groups.
I am heartened to see the apology written by the student who authored the email, and to see her acknowledgement of the offense and hurt that the comment engendered.
I would like to thank the faculty, administrators, and students who have already undertaken serious efforts to increase our chances for mutual understanding, confrontation of falsehoods, and deliberative engagement with difficult issues, and making this an ever better community.
The text of the apology that Stephanie Grace sent to the leadership of Harvard's Black Law Students Association:
"I am deeply sorry for the pain caused by my email. I never intended to cause any harm, and I am heartbroken and devastated by the harm that has ensued. I would give anything to take it back.
I emphatically do not believe that African Americans are genetically inferior in any way. I understand why my words expressing even a doubt in that regard were and are offensive.
I would be grateful to have an opportunity to share my thoughts and to apologize to you in person.
Even beforehand, I want to extend an apology to you and to anyone else who has been hurt by my actions."
States that the Legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.
Prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
States that if the SBE determines that a school district or charter school is offering a course that violates this act, the SBE must direct the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Superintendent) to notify the school district or charter school that it is in violation.
This is a textbook example of Eurocentrism and Whiteness in action--and the irony here is priceless. Pursuant to this new law, children of color and their parents in Arizona should sue to demand that funding be cut off to most public schools because from American history to English to Science and the Arts, the curriculum as presently taught devalues people of color, encourages White solidarity, is designed to reinforce Whiteness as the "normal" and "preeminent" state of being, and generates resentment on the part of those left out of America's grand narrative.
Last week Arizona instituted draconian laws that were designed to curb illegal immigration. In an effort to one up themselves, the state legislature has now passed a resolution banning "Ethnic Studies" programs in public schools. Once more, for those of you who are not connecting the dots between white racial resentment and the Tea Party movement; resurgent White Nationalism in the moments since Obama's election; and White anxiety about the "browning of America," here is another data point.
When the tea baggers and the Vox Right Wing Populi harp on about taking "their America back," those dead-enders do in fact want to take America back to the good old days when black and brown folk were silent and obedient--at least as seen by the gaze of the White imagination:
Although this bill is initially limited to public schools, one should make careful note of the language. "Ethnic Studies" is a particular nomenclature that almost universally applies to colleges and universities. On one hand, as someone who loosely works in Ethnic Studies I am emboldened and pleased that the essentially political nature of our work is identified as such by our enemies:
This is validating in a way. However, I am also chilled because this new law signals an increasing escalation in the assault on academic freedom and free thinking in American society. Moreover, these assaults are a further signpost on the road to a corporate, bottom line, lucre and profit oriented approach to higher education that results in lower quality instruction, poorly trained students, and ultimately, a less competitive economy.
There is a frightening coincidence of interests at this moment. The enemies of tenure, those such as David Horowitz and his ilk who rail against "liberal professors," and the minions of folk such as Ward Connerly and others who work lockstep against the "diversity business" are certainly sharpening their knives at the announcement of this new law. How long until they come for private and public universities and colleges?
To what ends will this slippery slope lead? Who will the Know Nothings, and the neo-John Birther tea baggers and their allies come for next?
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Thursday Morning Funny: The People's Court--Black Nationalist Sisters Abusing White Man with Whips and High Heels is Funnier than Pastor Manning
And the brothers think they have it hard.
I have seen the face of greatness and it is this video. I am at a loss for words. I stand mute. The part of my brain responsible for speech has been overridden by the part of my brain responsible for laughter.
Respectable negroes and our allies please circulate this video widely and often. If you have the strength that I do not, please write an analysis and/or annotation so that I may post it. A focus on the clip's Avant-garde sensibilities would be much appreciated.
Question: Who has the power here? The moaning white man being topped by the Black Woman's Court or the sisters themselves? Is our White friend topping from the bottom?
Second questions: Imagine the scandal if some enterprising political operative planted this video on Michelle Obama's laptop and then leaked its contents to the media? The Reverend Wright debacle would look like a parking ticket.
Yes. I am that evil.
Bro'bama is lucky that I am on his side 'cause if I was a Republican I would set those wheels in motion yesterday just to see the fallout.
In an acknowledgment of the greatness of said video, I proclaim that Black sisters punishing a white man (a former slave owner for the purposes of the narrative?) with high heels and whips is GREATER than Pastor Manning:
So say we all!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
How Sarah Palin Made Stupid a Franchise and Took It to the Bank: New York Magazine on the "Palin Industry"
Palin took stupid and made it cool--all to the tune of 12 million dollars.
The New York magazine piece on Palin is well worth a read in its entirety. For the time and energy challenged here are some pithy excerpts that tellingly describe Palin's Svengali-like hold over the confederacy of dunces, the intellectually challenged, and the mediocrity laden fools who pray at her cult of personality:
- "Palin is a fund-raising machine and a turbocharger for the right-wing base. The party knows she is a possible bridge to the fractious and suspicious tea-party crowd. But Palin’s conspicuous lack of depth—and the sheer joy she takes in what she doesn’t know—is a source of angst among Republicans who see larger brand risk if Palin comes to define the party."
- "Fox News has turned a disaffected segment of the populace into a market, with the fervor and idiosyncratic truth standards of a cult. Wingnut-ism has been monetized, is one admittedly partisan way of looking at it. Palin stokes the disaffection of her constituents and then, with the help of Fox, offers to heal them, for a price."
- "Here, as everywhere, the tea party is a carnival where politics and commerce commingle...Then Palin took the stage. “Thank you, tea-party America!” she yelled. “Do you love your freedom?” Palin primed the crowd. “My husband, Todd, is here … I was gonna ask Todd if I could borrow his sunglasses, but I’d have to take these off, though, and it’d make it really rough for me to see the teleprompter, and then I realized, ‘No teleprompter, time to kick it old-school!’ ” She raised her palms marked with pen. “Good thing I remembered how to use a poor man’s version of the teleprompter!” The crowd exploded in cheers. For the next nineteen minutes, Palin worked her true believers into ecstasy."
- A young woman named Bethany Owens was sitting at a small table, pulling bills from a leather satchel. The 20-year-old daughter of black conservative entrepreneurs William and Selena Owens, Bethany had spent the morning at her parents’ booth selling books and CDs, like her mother’s title The Power Within a Conservative Woman ($9.95) and her dad’s motivational CD Answers Beyond the Rhetoric ($19.95). Bethany began stacking up bills, doling them out like a Vegas dealer...“One hundred, two hundred, three, four, five hundred,” she counted. “Ugh! I gotta start over.” “Five, six, seven, eight, nine hundred. Okay, that’s $3,300,” she said, piling bills into neat rows. “Are there corn dogs here, somebody?” yelled Melanie Morgan, a blonde conservative talk-radio host sitting nearby. Just then, Russo informed her that he’d heard Palin had agreed to speak alongside Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh at Morgan’s upcoming charity event for the troops, which would mean more care packages. “Oh my God! This is fabulous. Sal, brilliant. I could cry I’m so happy,” she said. “That’s gonna be so many hundreds of thousands of dollars more.”
A Final Point on "the Problem of Slavery": White Americans Like Reparations for Themselves...But Certainly Not for Black People
In light of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s entry into the debate about reparations and the Black Holocaust, a return to the sharp work by Philip Mazzocco at the University of Ohio on white privilege and reparations seemed especially appropriate. For me, this work is also timely on a personal level as in my seminar today we discussed white privilege, Jane Elliot's classic brown eyed/blue eyed experiment, implicit bias, and white racism.
I generally do not write about my experiences with students, but this week was eye opening--the privileged are comfortable with it, and white folk (men in particular) are doubly so in denying that racial, class, or gender privilege matters at all. It seems that post-racial America is an undiscovered country and will remain so for a long time.
Ironically, did you know that:
- White folk constantly underestimate the real financial and psychic costs of racism for Black Americans;
- White respondents support reparations in the abstract but not for the descendants of slaves in America;
- A majority of White Americans support reparations for themselves if they were disadvantaged by an act committed against one of their ancestors in the past.
The hypocrisy is so glaring as to be blinding.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – How much do white Americans think it “costs” to be black in our society, given the problems associated with racial bias and prejudice?
The answer, it appears, is not much.
When white Americans were asked to imagine how much they would have to be paid to live the rest of their lives as a black person, most requested relatively low amounts, generally less than $10,000.
The results suggest most white Americans don't truly comprehend the persisting racial disparities in our country, said Philip Mazzocco, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Mansfield campus.
“The costs of being black in our society are very well documented,” Mazzocco said. “Blacks have significantly lower income and wealth, higher levels of poverty, and even shorter life spans, among many other disparities, compared to whites.”
For example, white households average about $150,000 more wealth than the typical black family. Overall, total wealth for white families is about five times greater than that of black families, a gap that has persisted for years.
“When whites say they would need $1 million to give up TV, but less than $10,000 to become black, that suggests they don't really understand the extent to which African Americans, as a group, are disadvantaged,” Mazzocco said.
These results also offer insight as to why more than 9 out of 10 white Americans reject proposals to give reparations to the descendants of slaves, said study co-author Mahzarin Banaji, the Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University.
“Our data suggest that such resistance is not because white Americans are mean and uncaring, morally bankrupt, or ethically flawed,” Banaji said.
“White Americans suffer from a glaring ignorance about what it means to live as a black American.”
The study appears in the current issue of Harvard's Du Bois Review.The researchers did a series of studies in which a total of 958 whites of different ages and from different parts of the country were asked variations of the same question: “How much should you be paid to continue to live the rest of your life as a black person?”
In most cases, the participants were told to imagine they were actually black, but had always passed for white. The imagined race change required no physical transformation, just a change in public status.
They were also asked how much they should be paid for giving up television, and how much they should be given to change their officially listed state residency (without having to move). These questions were asked, Mazzocco said, to compare what people requested for relatively trivial changes, like a new listed state residency, as compared to a more life-changing request, like giving up television.
Results suggest white people considered a race change as relatively trivial, along the lines of a change in official state residency, as opposed to the seemingly big sacrifice of giving up television.
In some of the studies, the researchers changed the scenario in order to learn more about what white Americans thought about the costs of racial disparities.
One issue with the previous scenario is that participants may minimize the disparities they would face as a black person, because they had always passed as white. So in one study, whites were told to imagine that they were about to be born as a random white person in America, but they were being offered a cash gift to be born as a random black person. Once again, white participants requested relatively small sums to make a life-long race-change. In addition, some were given a list of some of the costs of being black in America, such as the racial wealth disparity. The result was that whites in this latter scenario requested significantly higher amounts than those in the previous studies – about $500,000.
Finally, some participants were given a similar scenario except all references to blacks, whites and America were taken out. They were asked to imagine they were born into the fictional country of Atria, and were born either into the “majority” or “minority” population. They were given a list of the disadvantages that the minority population faced in Atria (which were identical to the real disadvantages faced by blacks in America). In this case, white participants in the study said they should be paid an average of $1 million to be born as a minority member in Atria.
“When you take it out of the black-white context, white Americans seem to fully appreciate the costs associated with the kinds of disparities that African Americans actually face in the United States,” Mazzocco said. “In this case, they asked for a million dollars, similar to what they want for giving up television.”
Mazzocco said blatant prejudice was not the reason for the findings. Results showed that whites who scored higher on a measure of racial prejudice did not answer significantly differently than others in the study.
The researchers are conducting new studies to examine more closely why whites do underestimate the costs of being black. Mazzocco believes many white Americans have a perception that race bias in the United States has been virtually eliminated, and that blacks are no longer disadvantaged.
“While there has been progress in making racial conditions in American more equal, there's clearly a lot more work to be done,” he said. “Blacks and whites are not experiencing the same America.”
When whites do understand the extent of racial disparities in the United States, they are more likely to support reparations. The findings showed that whites who wanted more money to be publicly recognized as black – suggesting they understood the true costs of racial disparity – were more likely than others to say they would support reparations.
But there are many reasons why nearly all whites oppose reparations. Mazzocco said some whites may believe slavery happened so long ago that slave descendants today don't deserve to be compensated. The researchers examined the “too long ago” rationale in another study.
The researchers asked participants to imagine that their great, great grandfather, a wealthy shipping magnate, had been kidnapped about 150 years ago. The kidnappers demanded and received a large ransom that bankrupted the shipping magnate. That ransom was used to start a successful company that still survives today and is worth $100 million. Participants were asked whether they would be willing to be a part of a large suit against the present-day company that could net them each about $5,000.
In this scenario, 61 percent agreed to have their names listed on the lawsuit. The researchers noted that this is about the percentage of blacks today who support reparations for slave descendants.
“When white Americans find it within themselves to say ‘I must be compensated for a past injustice done to me' but the same logic evaporates when the injustice concerns black Americans, they are staring straight at bias,” Banaji said.
Mazzocco said the results of this research have implications for the fledgling reparations movement in America. “Surveys show that 90 to 96 percent of white Americans are against slave descendant reparations. It is nearly impossible to get that many people to agree on anything, so it is an issue that really deserves attention to see why that is. We wanted to take a heated and emotional issue and look at it through a scientific lens,” he said.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
This is one of my favorite posts from last year. I have updated it just a little bit. Nevertheless, this post still rings pitch perfect in how it captures the Conservative, Right-wing histrionics--"Obama is playing the 'race card'"--that have erupted in response to his rallying the base for the upcoming elections.
The election of Barack Obama has been difficult for many Americans. As Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Pat Buchanan (among many others) have bravely pointed out, White men are experiencing discrimination and unfairness in ways never before imagined. The nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Obama's efforts to broaden the big tent of politics has been very upsetting to the natural order of things.
The Tea Parties and their efforts to "take their America back," as well as Sarah Palin's selfless work to speak for the downtrodden "Real Americans" all hint at a deep problem in America. As this country becomes more diverse and White Americans longer a majority--frighteningly reduced to only a plurality by 2050--it is increasingly clear that we are indeed two Americas, separate hostile, and unequal. In response to these unfair changes, noble voices such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have dared to speak truth to power: White Americans are suffering under Jim Crow 2.0. They are indeed experiencing the same violence and inequality that Black people did for many decades under America's formal and informal systems of white supremacy.
Earlier this week Barack Obama released a video in which he rallied those groups most important to the Democratic Party's future electoral chances--women, young people, Latinos, and African Americans. Speaking directly to those groups he encouraged them to continue with the "great progress" America has made since Obama's election. He explicitly thanked those members of his electoral coalition for their support and appealed to them to help set the Democrats' priorities in 2010. Most importantly, Obama wants young people, minorities, and women to help get out the vote in the upcoming elections, and for (then) new voters from 2008 to stay involved in politics in the future.
We must not run from the obvious. Who was absent from Obama's appeal? White men. If you read the comment sections of such Conservative websites as the Washington Examiner; Breitbart, Politico, and others you can hear the pain of White men, and Conservatives in particular, hurt and angered by how Obama has slighted and excluded them from this grand narrative..
In reflecting on this moment, I am moved to action and ownership of my deeds and thoughts.
For the world to be made more just, we must be willing to be vulnerable to one another. This vulnerability often comes through a moment of profound clarity when a person (across lines of race, gender, class, and sexuality) can reach out to another and without fear of condemnation say, "I was wrong." In listening to the repeated cries of pain and victimhood by White Conservative men living during these first years of the Obama administration, I have finally arrived at a moment of shared empathy and confession. At these times we need one of our own to make our privilege and prejudice clear to us--an ally whose eyes are now open to injustice, one who in turn will shame us into action.
This is the transgressive moment when I will confess to the realities of my own privilege as a Black man in the age of Obama. Are others ready to walk this path with me? Honestly, I do not know. Nevertheless, I will be the first to take on this burden in the hope that my deeds will motivate others.
I can only hope that we as Black Americans, acting in the pursuit of fairness, justice, and equality, can one day make amends for the many unearned privileges that we have garnered since the election of Barack Obama.
Justice is shared work. Community is at the heart of social transformation. I have worked hard to share this list with friends and colleagues and have amended it appropriately. For those of you seeing it for the first time, please feel free to make additions to this list.
2. I have the luxury of knowing that I only have to be twice as good as my White colleagues and peers to be considered for the same position. My broad range of skills are an unfair advantage in the workplace because they have afforded me opportunities to take on tasks and responsibilities that my White colleagues have often been denied.
3. Positive character traits such as humility and hard work are cultivated in me because I know that I am held to a higher standard lest I be considered "lazy" or "arrogant" by my supervisors and peers.
4. People of color have long dominated the evening news. We are disproportionately represented in the coverage of many types of news stories, especially those that feature reports of violent, criminal behavior. Moreover, with Barack Obama's domination of the evening news, the hyper-visibility of people of color is further encouraged in the mainstream media. To remedy this, I will do my best to support an increase in the amount of attention given to White people in the evening news and by popular culture at large.
5. Black communities are afforded far more than their fair share of police protection. White communities can go days without seeing a police officer, but there is never any shortage of protection and service in Black neighborhoods. Our streets are constantly swept for crime and would be criminals. Surely we don't deserve such heightened attention, but we are privileged to receive it nonetheless.
6. People of color are given far more chances to go to prison and take the time to think about their crimes and rehabilitate themselves, than their white counterparts. Often White people are not held responsible for their criminal activity, thus denying the the moral value of learning from their mistakes.
7. I can go shopping most of the time knowing that I will be given extra attention. Furthermore, this extra attention to my safety through requests for identification when I would like to use a credit card or debit card are for my own protection. My fellow White shoppers are not afforded this level of concern or assistance.
8. In my professional life, I am blessed to be around people of a different race most of the time. This is very empowering and stimulating. Ultimately, this is an unearned advantage in a world that is increasingly diverse.
9. A great deal of attention is paid to the driving safety and comfort of Black Americans. The police are very interested in making sure that our cars are in working order, that we do not speed, and that we know exactly why we are driving in certain neighborhoods. It is very hard to get lost while driving in a White neighborhood if you are a Black American. By comparison, White people are treated as though they are invisible, anonymous, and unimportant while they are driving.
10. I am often asked to speak for people of my own race. With Barack Obama's election, I have to do this even more frequently. This privilege is unfair because it contributes to my intellectual, emotional, and social growth in ways that White people are not generally afforded.
11. Linked fate. Barack Obama's success or failure reflects on me personally. Likewise, my success or failure reflects on Barack Obama. This sense of connectedness and lack of relative anonymity is wonderfully empowering for all people of color.
12. If I join the Republican Party I will have a great advantage over my peers. I will receive funding to run against other Black people. I will be placed directly behind many famous Republicans when they give speeches. Black people who join the Republican Party are also guaranteed to be shown on TV at the Republican National Convention, and there is an excellent chance they will be asked to give a speech. Even if you can't win a single election, Black Republicans have job security for life despite their incompetence. This is wrong and unfair to the many White Republicans who have to work at least twice as hard for the same attention and visibility as their Black compatriots in the party.
13. I can find the literature, music, and movies that represent my culture neatly cordoned off and near the front of the store for my convenience.
14. I know that my race is always an asset and never a liability. At will, I can play the "race card" and win any debate or dispute.
Eric Foner is The Hard Master (bonus points if you get the reference).
Smart. Pithy. Short. Efficient. A certifiable damn!...With no small amount of envy on my part.
Two hundred and twelve words of poetry in motion.
For your enjoyment:
To the Editor:
In “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game” (Op-Ed, April 23), Henry Louis Gates Jr. notes that African rulers and merchants were deeply complicit in the Atlantic slave trade. Despite Mr. Gates’s contention that “there is very little discussion” of this fact, it hardly qualifies as news; today, virtually every history of slavery and every American history textbook includes this information.
Mr. Gates’s point is that the African role complicates the process of assigning blame for slavery and thus discussion of apologies and reparations by the United States. I believe that apologies serve little purpose and that reparations are unworkable. But the great growth of slavery in this country occurred after the closing of the Atlantic slave trade in 1808.
It was Americans, not Africans, who created in the South the largest, most powerful slave system the modern world has known, a system whose profits accrued not only to slaveholders but also to factory owners and merchants in the North. Africans had nothing to do with the slave trade within the United States, in which an estimated two million men, women and children were sold between 1820 and 1860.
Identifying Africa’s part in the history of slavery does not negate Americans’ responsibility to confront the institution’s central role in our own history.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Last night I met up with some nationalist brothers at the local bar. I had met a colleague and we discussed the definition of violence and if Malcolm X was indeed a "liberal democratic thinker" in the tradition of Hobbes, Locke, and the Federalists. After he left, a few others joined the conversation. We talked about Afrocentrism, Kunjufu, Akbar, DuBois and Garvey. They were curious about why I was reading the book Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel (for the same reason that I read Guns, Germs, and Steel--black folk, especially organic intellectuals, need a broad base of knowledge that allows them to think critically and broadly about the world through a lens not always bounded by race).
One of the brothers, a thirtiesh year old, autodidact, ex-military type (and member of the Gangster Disciples) kept asking me "where am I from?" I said Connecticut. He asked again, "where am I from?" I replied my people are from North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Boston. He asked again. I looked at him and said "where am I really from then? My parents?" "No," he replied. "You are from Africa." I smiled. I politely told him that I have no dreams of Africa. For me, Black Americans have so much to celebrate here--all that we created and nurtured in the New World against unbelievable odds and seemingly unending oppression--that to look to some mythic past for inspiration is unnecessary.
Folks who have followed this site know that I have no dreams of finding Afrotopia. I have a deep concern about the "ethnicization" of The Black Experience (specifically, a belief that African and Afro-Caribbeans automatically share a natural affinity for Black Americans--which many do not--and thus should share the fruits of our struggles). I shake my head at the fetishizing of a people and place that becomes "home" for so many (collapsed into one imagined continent that removes nuance, difference, complexity, and contradiction).
Ultimately, I agree that we have long needed a critical conversation about the role of African tribes and nations in the Black Holocaust. However, I don't know if I agree with Gates' conclusion in The New York Times that this conversation somehow ought to work against claims for reparations (there is such overwhelming evidence of systemic structural disadvantage that enfranchises whiteness as property at the expense of blacks in the United States that we need not look back to Africa to make a justice claim). Frankly, I am also a bit suspicious of the how's and why's of Gates' writing this editorial at this moment. Mercenary financial interest? Comment on post-racial America? A signal to the obsolescence of the reparations debate now that we have a President who happens to be black...
What do you think Gates' motivations are?
For your inspection:
THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.
There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain.
While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.
For centuries, Europeans in Africa kept close to their military and trading posts on the coast. Exploration of the interior, home to the bulk of Africans sold into bondage at the height of the slave trade, came only during the colonial conquests, which is why Henry Morton Stanley’s pursuit of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871 made for such compelling press: he was going where no (white) man had gone before.
How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.
Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in “Roots.” The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike.The editorial continues here.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Guru was a legend. As hip hop ages we will continue to lose so many more. Time is unkind, but it is fair. But I must say, as tragic as Guru's loss is, it is oddly redeeming and welcome that he died of a disease as opposed to being killed in some street level nonsense. It seems like more grown folk business.
DJ Premier will certainly keep the Gang Starr legacy alive. Guru--gifted universal rhymes unlimited--will live on in song. Although I can be a bit of a Luddite, and have bemoaned the rise of digital DJ culture where any talentless hack with an Ipod and a Mac can claim to be a "DJ" because of Serato, the Internet has allowed us to relive moments once lost to time (unless you happen to find a very lucky tape trader). To point, Mixcloud's wonderful archive.
In honor of Guru and Gang Starr here is a trip down memory lane: Primo on the one's and two's on WBLS circa 1994. Random thought: am I the only one who loved going to The Shadow on Friday and The Tunnel on Sunday night? Second random thought: for folks out there who were dj's before the rise of Cd's and mp3's, did you study folks like Primo, Red Alert, and Funkmaster Flex (back when he was actually great before the lust for tv, Lugz, and branding took over) and tried to replicate their sets and transitions?
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Once more, a society too sick to survive. I won't call this a tragedy. Said knucklehead (I won't use his name because this story can be, and has repeated itself, thousands of times so no need to personalize the story) was a thug, street pirate, and drain on his community. I am tempted to say goodbye to bad rubbish. But, what happens when this rubbish comes to typify a generation and pollute our communities? I won't call him a victim. He made a choice--even in the face of certain "structural" disadvantage--to live the life that he did. Moreover, what of the many more good folk in the same community who don't participate in criminal behavior as a rite of passage and a norm of manhood? Men and women who hustle honestly in a society that does not fairly reward hard work...
Ultimately, victims are the innocent. Said adherent to the cult of "no snitching" was no innocent. The women have reared these baby boy monsters and the men who "fathered" them have utterly failed in their responsibilities as role models and care takers. These absent parents (one can be absent and still be in the home by the way) cannot impart wisdom, character, or moral courage to their sires because they often have little of these resources to offer. To point, notice the denial of the mother, and the willful self-deception that her son was a "good kid."
As my mother and aunt would say, "how can a 35 year old grandmother and a street corner hooligan baby daddy impart wisdom which they do not have?" Sure they can teach you how to survive in your 'hood, but those life skills offer little chance for social mobility and survival outside of a ten block radius.
Something is clearly broken in this country. We are in a moral, ethical, and economic crisis. The empire teeters on a precipice and this anxiety is fueling the spirit of our age, political unconscious, and collective psyche. Something is doubly broken in these ghetto underclass communities, what are often near failed States where black manhood is defined according to antiquated codes of violence and honor that have outlived the social structures and societies that produced them. This needs to be fixed. I am at a loss as to how.
Sometimes black people do make me sad. They truly do.
From the Chicago Sun-Times:
Police: Even while dying, teen won't talk
Cop asks: Do you know who shot you? He replies: 'I know. But I ain't telling you. . .'Robert Tate wasn't ever going to snitch -- not even when it came to his own murder, according to the Chicago Police.
Tate, 17, was shot in the chest as someone approached him on a West Side sidewalk on the evening of April 12, police say. Seeing that Tate was wounded badly and probably wouldn't make it, an officer asked: Do you know who shot you?
"I know," Tate told him. "But I ain't telling you s---."
That's according to Harrison Area Police Cmdr. Anthony Riccio, who said the murder investigation is focusing on a possible shooter -- even though Tate took his secret to the grave.
"Unfortunately it's almost a culture among the drug dealers and gang members, that code of silence, that 'don't snitch' mentality that they not only have when they're witnesses, but also when they're the victims," Riccio said.
But Tate's mother Cynthia Washington doesn't buy it.
She doesn't know how her son -- a "very respectful child" -- could have told police anything as he lay dying on the scene in the 900 block of North Avers.
"Why wouldn't he tell them who shot him?" Washington wondered.
Riccio responded that Tate was lucid as he spoke to the officer, then died as paramedics tried to save him.
Riccio said it's commonplace for shooting victims whose wounds aren't life-threatening to refuse to cooperate. Just last week, a 22-year-old gang member was on a bicycle in the 500 block of East 88th when he was shot in the thigh. He didn't even want to report the shooting after he was taken to Stroger Hospital.
"But I have never seen anyone take it to the grave," Riccio said.
Police think Tate was killed because of his involvement in the drug trade in Humboldt Park.
"One of the things from people on the street was that he was ripping off [drug] buyers," Riccio said. "When that happens, of course, the buyers take their business elsewhere, and it affects the drug trade."
So detectives think Tate was killed because he was hurting business. They're reviewing surveillance video from police "blue-light cameras" in the area to identify the shooter, Riccio said.
Tate was "in and out" of Nancy B. Jefferson High School, housed in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said. He had 14 arrests for drugs, weapons and car theft on his rap sheet; a tattoo that read "Make Money or Die;" and a nickname: "C Murder."
"I didn't give him that name," his mother said.
"He was a good young man who loved his mom," added a friend, Tasha Porter. "Neighborhoods like this are tough to grow up in."
But one detective also said the motto in neighborhoods like Tate's is: "Snitches get stitches."
And Tate is the most extreme example, police say, of the "no-snitching" mind-set they say is making it increasingly difficult to solve murder cases in Chicago. Indeed, the Chicago Police Department's murder-clearance rate dipped from 58 percent to 54 percent last year.
If Tate had talked before he died, police say, his statement most likely could have been used in court. In a practice dating back centuries, a "dying declaration" -- a statement from a dying crime victim naming the killer -- is typically allowed in criminal cases, even though the defendant won't have the opportunity to cross-examine his accuser.
In one notable case, in 1999, 24-year-old Michelle Monachello of Glendale Heights was stabbed, doused with gasoline and set afire in DuPage County. A neighbor called 911 and, as he tried to reassure Monachello, she said, "I'm going to die" and then told him, "My boyfriend -- he set me on fire." The boyfriend, Artarius Jett, got life in prison based in part on what Monachello said before she died.
In recent years, police and community groups have been ratcheting up a campaign urging people to report suspects in crimes -- despite fears of retribution, fear of the police and fear of being labeled a snitch.
Last year, the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side put up 20 billboards across the city that read: "Shoot or kill our children? You will be caught." The billboards offered $5,000 rewards for information leading to the conviction of criminals who shot or killed "our children" and urged people to call in anonymously with tips.
Chicago Police now have their own campaign called "Silence Kills." They're asking people to text-message anonymous tips to 274637 or call the police anonymously.
They're urging people to do just that in Robert Tate's case -- even though the teenager wouldn't do it for himself.