Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday (Sort of) Funny--South Carolina Senate Candidate Alvin Greene Meets JJ Walker

One day there will be a folk song called The Strange Saga of Alvin Greene. The victory of a near destitute, former GI, accused sex-offender over the party's preferred candidate in a major primary would make for more than a few good lines of rhythmic prose.

Ultimately, until the dust settles and more information comes to light, we are really just theorizing in a black box about Mr. Greene's victory. Here are the three most prominent scenarios, that per tradition, I will leave for you all to sort out.

1. Alvin Greene is a plant, a stooge for the Republican Party who paid him to run.

2. Republican voters acted strategically. In an open primary they voted for the weaker candidate so that in the actual election their preferred candidate would win.

3. Alvin Greene simply got lucky and won. No hijinks or trickery needed.

Regardless of how this all plays out, in sorting through the possibilities I kept thinking of the classic Cosby/Poitier film Let's Do it Again. To me Alvin Greene seems like JJ Walker, a pawn in a bigger con that he is not privy to.

Now the question becomes, is Alvin Greene just playing the okeydoke and pretending to be a bit slow on the uptake, or is Mr. Greene really the vulnerable, naive, and a bit slow (if not disabled) person that he is presenting himself to be?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Can You Feel Their Eyes on You? Rare Photo of Slave Children Found in Attic

Can you feel their eyes on you?

As someone whose research focuses almost exclusively on race and its relationship to power in this society, I have, by necessity, become hardened and numb to certain realities. On one hand, I would hope that this makes me an effective teacher because I want to get the story right, as well as help students understand that emotions matter--but not at the expense of rigor and precision. Thus, the "science" in social science. Reflexively, this tendency to be hardened and not surprised by the realities of white supremacy (and frankly the capacity for human beings to be barbaric and cruel more generally) can also make it difficult to connect to a young student raised in the glee of post-racial, post-Civil Rights America where "race no longer matters." As teachers, we have to shatter their naivete (because ultimately that is what education ought to be), but it brings no joy to do so.

We, those folks who study identity politics--especially where those politics are personal--do indeed learn to wear a mask. But in private, when faced with an image such as these two young boys, caught in the jaws and gears of a cruel system where their humanity was reduced to property, a mere check on a ledger sheet, one cannot help but to be moved.

This photo also makes me think of how shockingly ignorant most Americans are of the day to day realities of chattel slavery in the Americas. Imagine, if we are still negotiating those divisions in the heart of our democracy today, what it must have felt like for those black folk struggling against the slaveocracy when it was a looming present? In turn, can we even begin to comprehend the magnitude of the psychological wage which slavery must have paid the white soul?

That heretofore ambiguous wage is partly revealed in this photo. It must have been grand comfort to know that by simple virtue of color and birth that one's children would never be reduced to chattel or property, their photos and papers of sale to be discovered in some dusty attic centuries later. Ultimately, the Black Freedom Struggle is a triumph. But, that triumph did not come without a great deal of pain and personal tragedy. We often emphasize the former, but for fear of dropping the mask, the latter often goes unacknowledged.

The full story follows courtesy of Salon:

Rare Photo of Slave Children Found in Attic

A haunting 150-year-old photo found in a North Carolina attic shows a young black child named John, barefoot and wearing ragged clothes, perched on a barrel next to another unidentified young boy.

Art historians believe it's an extremely rare Civil War-era photograph of children who were either slaves at the time or recently emancipated.

The photo, which may have been taken in the early 1860s, was a testament to a dark part of American history, said Will Stapp, a photographic historian and founding curator of the National Portrait Gallery's photographs department at the Smithsonian Institution.

"It's a very difficult and poignant piece of American history," he said. "What you are looking at when you look at this photo are two boys who were victims of that history."

In April, the photo was found at a moving sale in Charlotte, accompanied by a document detailing the sale of John for $1,150, not a small sum in 1854.

New York collector Keya Morgan said he paid $30,000 for the photo album including the photo of the young boys and several family pictures and $20,000 for the sale document. Morgan said the deceased owner of the home where the photo was found was thought to be a descendant of John.

A portrait of slave children is rare, Morgan said.

"I buy stuff all the time, but this shocked me," he said.

What makes the picture an even more compelling find is that several art experts said it was created by the photography studio of Mathew Brady, a famous 19th-century photographer known for his portraits of historical figures such as President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Stapp said the photo was probably not taken by Brady himself but by Timothy O'Sullivan, one of Brady's apprentices. O'Sullivan took a multitude of photos depicting the carnage of the Civil War.

In 1862, O'Sullivan famously photographed a group of some of the first slaves liberated after Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

Such photos were circulated in the North by abolitionists to garner support for the Union during the Civil War, said Harold Holzer, an author of several books about Lincoln. Holzer works as an administrator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Most of the photos depicted adult slaves who had been beaten or whipped, he said.

The photo of the two boys is more subtle, Holzer said, which may be why it wasn't widely circulated and remained unpublished for so long.

"To me, it's such a moving and astonishing picture," he said.

Ron Soodalter, an author and member of the board of directors at the Abraham Lincoln Institute in Washington, D.C., said the photo depicts the reality of slavery.

"I think this picture shows that the institution of slavery didn't pick or choose," said Soodalter, who has written several books on historic and modern slavery. "This was a generic horror. It victimized the old, the young."

For now, Morgan said, he is keeping the photo in his personal collection, but he said he has had an inquiry to sell the photo to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He said he is considering participating in the creation of a video documentary about John.

"This kid was abused and mistreated and people forgot about him," Morgan said. "He doesn't even exist in history. And to know that there were a million children who were like him. I've never seen another photo like that that speaks so much for children."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How Many Ways can Barack Obama be an Angry Black Man?

Barack Obama is facing a challenge from across the political aisle where both liberals and conservatives are calling for him to show anger about the BP oil spill. The groundwork for this critique began during the 2008 campaign, where to some in the media and among the public, Obama seemed too "intellectual" and "distant" to be an effective leader. Metaphorically, Obama was Spock, while John McCain was Captain Kirk--the former cerebral and disciplined; the latter emotional and daring.

Here, Barack Obama is a bound man. On one hand, because of moribund constructions of gender, Obama is unable to show a full range of emotions that go beyond "anger" or "strength." To cry or to be vulnerable are still (even in the 21st century) looked upon by many as traits unbecoming a "real" man. As a Black man, Barack Obama is doubly restrained. If Obama shows any amount of upset he risks easily falling into narrow and stereotyped caricatures of black manhood--especially as when viewed through the white gaze.

The error here is an assumption that black anger is one dimensional. In fact, black anger is complex--with many rooms in its proverbial house. To point: in an effort to help Obama negotiate his "anger" problem I have compiled a helpful list of archetypes from which he can borrow.

Which of the following models are best suited for President Obama? And what types of black anger can be added to our list?

How Many Ways can Barack Obama be an Angry Black Man?

1. Stylized and cartoonish: Sam Jackson.

2. Primal, libidinous, and a force of nature: Mike Tyson.

3. Literati, intellectual, and creative: James Baldwin.

4. Crazy, nonsensical, and self-loathing: Alan Keyes.

5. Rage of a black privileged class: George Jefferson.

6. So smart that he scared white people to death: Malcolm X.

7. 1960's Black nationalist in a leather jacket and a beret: Stokely Carmichael.

8. Hollywood black anger: Spike Lee.

9. Respectable and non-threatening to White people: Sidney Poitier.

10. White liberal black rage: John Brown.

11. Apocalyptic black rage: Nat Turner.

12. Anger in the prophetic tradition: Reverend Wright.

13. Black rage that (most) white people were willfully blind to seeing: Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Would a Black Militant Say About Barack Obama and the BP Oil Spill? Brother X-Squared Returns to Speak the Truth!

The We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) is proud to bring you the latest installment in our recurring series of interviews with Brother X-Squared, president of the North American Chapter of the Renewed Black Panther Party. Brother X-Squared has become a legendary force on the Internet following his stunning debut on WARNNN last year. In a series of interviews never to be equaled, Brother X-Squared has discussed a range of topics from Barack Obama to the most recent Academy Awards with sharp, penetrating analysis that is uncommon among the pundit classes.

After a several month hiatus, Brother X-Squared has returned to WARNNN in order to update us on his travels, as well as to offer his insights on the many global crises facing President Barack Obama and the United States in these recent months.


WARNNN: How are you Brother X-Squared? It has been too long, with so much going on in the world I must imagine that you have much to say. Our audience is eager for your wisdom and perspective on the many events that seemingly threaten to derail President Obama's first term.

Brother X-Squared: How am I? I am as content as a moon cricket sitting on leaf at one in the morning on the night of the solstice! Oh, yes I am quite happy!

WARNNN: Pardon me? A moon cricket sitting on a leaf?

Brother X-Squared: Again, after our years together you still do not understand our great negro stories and mythologies. I have sent you book upon book, transcribed the ancient wisdom for you in terms that even you, a common negro could understand, and yet you still lag behind. So much work to be done Brother Chauncey. I bet your celestial energies are weakened, your natural melanin receptors down because of the racism chasing that captive Black neo-slaves such as you and your other Internet brethren do. Messing with nonsense like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck will do that to you! Yes, that must be the answer, you need to get some perspective on the evils of the white man and his tricknology! You chase his wickedness when you should be still and studying its madness from a position of rest.

WARNNN: We missed you Brother X-Squared we really did. You are unique.

Brother X-Squared: I am the Alpha and the Omega, I am the point on the line that is the derivative, I am the area of a curve, the integral. I have always been and will always be. I am blackness. I am Brother X-Squared!

WARNNN: So what have you been up to since our last interview around the time of the Oscars?

Brother X-Squared. I went off into the wilderness. The captive Black man is already in a wicked placed, the land stolen by the white European called America--named not ironically after Amerigo Vespucci--a devil the preordained the evil of this place. After watching those Precious and Avatar foul movies win awards I had to commune with my Native American Brothers. Peace be to the four winds and to the nature walkers, our Red and Brown brothers for the Earth will be ours again!

WARNNN: I am surprised. How did you monitor the news? You are a bit of a news junkie. How did you stay on top of things?

Brother X-Squared: There you go again Chauncey! Junkie, news, "on top of." The white man has so poisoned you that you repeat his wickedness even in ostensibly neutral questions. Junkie is what a drug addict is. News is something "new" to people. "On top of" is how those white sex freak tea baggers imagine a man's genitals in their faces! Language is power Brother Chauncey. It is through language that we speak things into being! As always, I have been monitoring all things. And again, if you have listened to any of my wisdom these few years, you will understand that none of this con game is new. It is all the same. It began the same. It will end the same. It will be the same forever until the Natural Black Man reclaims this world! There is nothing you could ask me that I could not answer, nor that I have not predicted!

WARNNN: Okay then. What is your opinion about Obama's handling of the BP oil spill?

Brother X-Squared: Ha! I already have you Brother Chauncey. I will school you just as Yoda did that white devil Luke Skywalker in those hellish white supremacist Star Wars movies with all of their Nazi and white racism imagery! Obama, the white black halfrican that he is, is not a true black man, but he is being played by the forces of the global kleptocracy. What color is oil? It is black. Quite literally black gold! Yes, just like the captive millions of Black Africans were black gold to the evil Europeans! How perfect then that the black gold rushes out of the Earth during the presidency of their faux negro black President! And guess what else Brother Chauncey? The plot is more complicated than it seems. Do you know about onions and Arabs?

WARNNN: Huh? That seems like a non-sequitur. What do you mean? Do both make you cry?

Brother X-Squared: Tear ducts are for the weak, a tool of white women to weaken and distract folk from the truth as one of your white allies Macon D says on his website Stuff white people do. I generally have no use for the white man, but like John Brown he seems "acceptable." No, Brother Chauncey. And again, you are a child before my wisdom so please sit and listen before you ask anymore foolish questions. An onion has many layers! This oil spill is orchestrated by British Petroleum. Those are the heirs to the same wicked white people the British East India Company that sold the slaves! Yes! And guess what? Who sold the first slaves to the evil white man?

WARNNN: Other Africans?

Brother X-Squared: No. It was Arabs! They took the black gold from Africa and introduced it to the white man who become an addict of the strength and power of the Black man! Arabs also control the oil, and then gave its power to a European homosexual named Lawrence of Arabia who rewrote the maps of the Middle East. This history is so deep. Now the Arabs have America by its collective scrotum. The white man's offense is so great. Do you see the symbolism of the oil spill Brother Chauncey?

WARNNN: Nature and the world befouled by technology and greed? How capitalism creates false needs and how we....

Brother X-Squared: Shut up. You sicken me. You truly have studied with the white Europeans in their schools. The Earth, Mother Gaia, is bleeding her blood. Black blood. Into where? The oceans over which tens of millions of Black souls, Nubian gold, were brought across to feed the avarice of the white man in the "New" World. Have you seen the poor animals suffering in the Gulf of Mexico?

WARNNN: It makes me cry. You know we both love animals, especially our canine companions.

Brother X-Squared: Now you are talking truth. God is dog backwards. Never forget it. Those poor birds are dying. Those poor dolphins are suffering. Just like in that book Song of Solomon, the white man is doubly assaulting the Black man with that oil. Those birds represent our ancestors and freedom to fly back to Africa and he is killing us with his greed! And just like they did with Katrina, where the Black man was run out of town by a hurricane and the city rebuilt and "Mexified" they are doing it to the gulf coast! This is ethnic cleansing by way of a man made disaster! But Mother Nature will get her revenge. You will see! God is not to be mocked Brother Chauncey!

WARNNN: So what do you think of Obama's response to the oil spill? His leadership more generally over these last few months?

Brother X-Squared: Do unwashed chitlins served with mayonnaise and head cheese stink? Yes they do! That is what I think of Obama. He is a man-child. The white man has neutered him. Speaking of which, have you seen that Obama action figure? Apparently, it is some super toy that can be positioned in any way imaginable. I guess white sex freaks love these things. And guess what? As accurate as it is, this fetish of Obama, what is really a voodoo doll, has no genitals. The white man hides his evil in plain sight. They have literally castrated their first "black" President. how fitting!

WARNNN: I am aware of the toy. But, how does this all relate together?

Brother X-Squared: So simple minded Brother Chauncey. In my absence you took 3 steps backwards. This is what that white woman Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism. BP makes the mess, Halliburton with that white devil Cheney cleans it up, and Obama can do nothing. The white global elite like in that movie They Live clean up. Those Bilderbergs are actually meeting this week and CNN is covering it. The world's economy is being raped and it gets featured on the evening news as a joke. The white man has lulled you all to sleep, so much so that you don't even fight back. You captive negroes are complicit in your own destruction. I love it! I truly do.

They would never put a real Black man like Brother X-Squared in office. Oh no. Although Obama is a spiritual zero because his powerful zero point energy creating melanin is neutralized by his white momma mating with that African Shaka Zulu daddy of his, the white man still hates him. They mock him everyday. They even release rats to appear when he speaks in that damned White House. What a joke, a sort of black man, living in a white house, with black rats in front of him while he address the nation. Fate is so brilliant. Energy is never destroyed it is conserved. The white man's wickedness is conserving itself and coalescing all the while Obama tries to save this damned country.

WARNNN: What does your association think of banning ethnic studies in Arizona or of the Texas school board's white washing of history? What of the anti-immigrant sentiment in Arizona? Are you and your brothers planning to march in solidarity with Latinos and Hispanics?

Brother X-Squared: You must be joking. Immigrants? Solidarity? Come on Brother Chauncey. The Black man is the first immigrant to this country. Where is our justice? We were here before those bestial European immigrants even arrived. The white man does not even know his own history. I spit on the mythology of Ellis island. You see the real Black man does not need Ethnic Studies. That is a bone the white academics threw you to get in massa's house. I don't need classes to affirm my humanity. My melanin and wisdom do it everyday when I look in the mirror.

And on "Hispanics" and "Latinos" this is so deep Brother Chauncey I don't know if you are ready. Look away because the light may burn your eyes given that the calluses on your mind state have weakened in my absence. Those words used to identify the indigenous people of the Southwest U.S. and those points South of this country, are a lie made up by white Europeans! President Nixon, one of the greatest white devils of all time added that category to the census to divide and conquer Black from Brown. Look it up, the facts speak for themselves! The true Aztec, Chicano, Aztlan brothers don't use those slave names. Those lies were made up by Christopher Columbus, white Spaniards, and Jesuits like that devil Bartoleme de las Casas--the actual demon that said the Black man should be made a slave to protect the Indians. In fact, I am glad that mess is happening to those Hispanics and Latinos right now!

WARNNN: That is pretty controversial. Why would you say that? Given the history of Black people in the United States I would expect more empathy?

Brother X-Squared: Empathy. Empathy is for the weak. Never forget it. You see a lot of those quote unquote Hispanics and Latinos don't want to be associated with Black people. They had a type of Jim Crow in Texas and the Southwest. Signs that said "No Mexicans and No Dogs." A lot of those immigrants forgot that, and to boot they internalized the white man's lies about Black people. So many are desperate to be white and now the white man Republican tea baggers have kicked them in the sombreros! Those Hispanics and Latinos are very color struck--hating on their own dark people. In fact, many of them reverse pass--they pretend to be non-white to get into college and jobs, but they are white every other day of the week! Then when the white man shows them his true face they panic. No Brother Chauncey, the real Brown, indigenous, Mestizo, and Spanish speaking folks, the Caesar Chavez, Brown Beret Brothers always understood the white man's wickedness. It is the others who are now waking up! Ha ha, as Malcolm said history is the greatest teacher! The chickens are coming home to roost!

WARNNN: Wow. You need to come on more often. So much to process. Two quick points. First, given your comments on the Oscars, I must ask: What movies have you seen as of late? And second, tell us something we do not know.

Brother X-Squared. Hmmmm. I will do that in reverse order because I can. The white man loves tricknology. In fact, some evil white scientists have invented artificial life in a laboratory. You see given that Yakub invented the white man in a twisted experiment that was an act against God, he has a natural predilection for using evil science. Man does not have the moral or ethical wisdom to make such things. And given the depths of white evil, these foul custom designed life forms will be the undoing of their creators. You will see. We got duped by the Tuskegee experiments and what happened to Sister Hela, but we are ready now! Bring those nanite racist viruses on! We, the natural Black man, vegetarian, pure of mind and body are ready with strength and honor to repel them.

WARNNN: Damn. I too have followed that story and am very worried as well.

Brother X-Squared: As you should be. I am a warrior. As such, I lead from the front in order to inspire my soldiers. I also know that captive Black Africans in America such as yourself are not ready to do what I do. Thus, I take risks for you Brother Chauncey. To protect you, I saw two movies. The first was this horrible evil thing called The Human Centipede. Dear God. Never have I seen such a movie. But, in its evil this abomination exposed the white European for his sickness. This movie is about a scientist that attaches people one to the other so that they produce feces into the mouths of those below them. I prayed to the four winds while seeing this. But, I drew strength. You see the white man, especially those Republican Glenn Beck Conservative types practice this sickness. It is called coprophagia. The European is naturally depraved and delights in consuming his own waste. The Conservatives, thus their hypocrisy, especially so. These were the same people with a Bible in one hand and a whip in another putting the proud Black man into a slave ship. Their evil is no surprise, nor is their delight in consuming feces. A truly sick race they are!

Just like a perpetual motion machine I draw strength from battle. I then saw an equally wicked race mixing movie called Splice! Again, two white people, evil scientists, conspire and make a hybrid creature. The white woman, such narcissists they are, uses her own DNA to create the thing. Beware this movie all proud Nubians! The moral of the story is that the white man has sex with anything! Even race mixed beasts that are made from their own genetic material! Lesser Nubians like you Brother Chauncey must avoid these films lest you be tempted to race mix and defile what does remain of your Afrocentric consciousness. His lies are so transparent, as in this wicked Splice movie, the evil woman/bird/fish creature has a tail with a black penis attached to it that rapes the white woman and pleases the anal region of the white man! When I left I had to read Diop, Ivan van Sertima, Brother Ben, and DuBois to cleanse my soul. Sick this movie was, so very depraved...just like the white man.

WARNNN: You shared so much. And I do thank you for seeing those movies in order to protect us. Will we be hearing from you again?

Brother X-Squared. A storm is coming! I will be forever vigilante and present like that white woman Sarah Connor in those Terminator films. We shall talk soon. Stay strong Brother Chauncey! Stay strong!

WARNNN: We will Brother X-Squared. Till next time.

Brother X-Squared: Peace.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Funny: Glenn Beck Goes Palpatine in His Best Star Wars Impression

Here is a lesson in life for all of you: be immediately suspicious of any person who brags about giving a commencement speech at Liberty University...

Beck's racism, xenophobia, and all around damn foolishness have earned him much ire. But now, he has gone too far. In the name of all things Star Wars, Glenn Beck must be stopped. Ironically, Beck in his flagrant misunderstanding of the Jungian, historical narrative that is The Trilogy, does not understand that he, not Obama, would be Senator Palpatine--a seditious, duplicitous agitator leading the Republic towards fascism. But again, Beck is anything but self-reflective:

Which of our sacred truths will he assault next? Star Trek? The Three Stooges? Robotech? G-Force?

Could Beck become any crazier? At what point do his followers lower their heads in collective shame and walk off of the plank into the welcome waters of the abyss?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Barack Obama vs. 50 Cent vs. Bill Maher: Who is the "Real" Black Man?

Here is a Friday quicky for you. I love using this clip in my The Politics of Race and Barack Obama class. I am always surprised by how folks are so utterly uncomfortable talking about if Barack Obama is a Black President or a President who happens to be black.

So who is to blame for the crisis in black masculinity? The mass media that depicts black men as hoodlums--in one form or another? Or the black women and men who reinforce these norms?

Most provocatively. Who is more of a black man? Barack Obama or 50 Cent?

This one is yours.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Congratulations! For its Botched Raid on the Gaza Aid Flotilla, Israel has Now Earned a Coveted Shit-Huffer Award!

It seems that when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail.

I have not awarded the coveted We Are Respectable Negroes Shit-Huffer award in quite some time. An homage to jenkem, a foul drug which is based on the inhalation of the toxic fumes produced by human waste, this award is given for stupidity above and beyond the call of duty. For its actions in the botched raid on the Turkish relief flotilla in international waters during which at least 9 people were killed and many more wounded, Israel has more than earned this prestigious award.

Israel's actions were an unneeded escalation of tensions in the area. And for those unfamiliar with my stances on international relations, I am a bit of a hawk. I believe in the use of State power--military and otherwise--to advance one's interests. I am also a realist. I am suspicious of the "community" of nations' ability to always deter conflict or that abstract ideas maintain the international order.

For example, I have long believed that the U.S. should strike Iran preemptively. I am concerned about the transformation of our military into one oriented to counter-insurgency warfare. Unlike many in the general public I consider China to be a clear military threat that we should be more aggressive in balancing. Finally, I consider the 3 trillion dollar boondoggle in Iraq a waste of treasure and blood--not because of a deep dislike of preemption as a national security policy--but because it took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Iran.

Israel has earned this award, both for this careless act, as well as for a series of selfish deeds that have betrayed America's trust in its "closest" ally in the region. During the Cold War, I was willing to give Israel a pass out of strategic necessity--even after the vicious attack on the USS Liberty. Now, with their overreach in Gaza and Beirut, repeated acts of espionage against this country, refusal to work in good faith on the settlement issue, and transferral of U.S. military secrets to China, something must give.

Contributing to their vaunted shit-huffer status, Israel's raid was both ill planned and poorly executed. I will concede all of Israel's points on this issue. Let us assume that there were weapons aboard. Let us also assume that perhaps some number of provocateurs or infiltrators were aboard the flotilla.

Was the gain to be had by raiding the ship worth the strategic fallout? Moreover, and again to my hawkish views on national defense, if Israel was so concerned about the cargo why not wait until the ship was in its territorial waters and disable the vessel? If need be, I would back destroying the bridge to stop the vessel. If the threat was truly dire, I would even support sinking it.

But, to drop commandos, one by one, into a hostile crowd and then look aghast when things go fubar is both reckless and stupid. You don't send Israel's version of the Navy Seals on a milk run and then get surprised when they do that special thing they do--i.e kill when confronted with a threat. Not to be overlooked, in Israel's rank selfishness they took no consideration for what their attack would do to the United States' relationship with Turkey.

Here, Israel is like the frat boy who wears his dirty white hat to class everyday, gets drunk playing beer pong each weekend, takes liberties with drunken sorority girls (you know they wanted it!) and chews tobacco all the while spitting nasty tobacco juice in an old Coke can. Dude can be a real jerk because he takes your friendship for granted. Ultimately, said dirty white hat wearing frat boy has a real sense of entitlement because he knows that mom and dad will always bail him out.

Borrowing from a more striking visual: In the immortal words of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, Israel would be the guy that would fuck you in the ass and not even give you the courtesy of a reach around.

Israel made this bed and now has to lie in it. But, given the strength of the Israel lobby (yes, I said the phrase that need never be uttered) we know how the U.S. is going to play this one..."nothing to see here, move along:

Sadly it seems that our boy can do no wrong, even as he tarnishes our name and drags us into the muck with him.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wrestling with Gifted Classes, Race, and Gender or Confronting the Honors Cabal

One of my favorites.

What now of the gender gap in public education?

Is is not a little commented upon irony that at every level of educational attainment that girls outperform boys. Yet, men somehow grow up to rule the world? It is also little commented upon that there is an informal system of "affirmative action" for men in college. Funny, that point is too infrequently mentioned in our debates on "preferences" and college admissions. Makes one think does it not?

As detailed by The NY Times, this pattern of gendered outcomes is mirrored even in the talented and gifted programs in our public schools.


Educators and experts have long known that boys lag behind girls in measures like high school graduation rates and college enrollment, but they are concerned that the disparity is also turning up at the very beginning of the school experience.

Why more girls than boys enter the programs is unclear, though there are some theories. Among the most popular is the idea that young girls are favored by the standardized tests the city uses to determine admission to gifted programs, because they tend to be more verbal and socially mature at ages 4 and 5 when they sit for the hourlong exam.

“Girls at that age tend to study more, and the boys kind of play more,” said Linda Gratta, a parent at the Anderson School on the Upper West Side, one of the most selective. “But it’s a mixed bag. The day of the test, you could be the smartest boy in the world and just have a bad day.” She said that Timothy, her first-grade son, had approximately 10 boys and 18 girls in his class.

Biases and expectations among adults are often in play when determining which children count as gifted, and fewer boys appear to end up in gifted programs nationally. A 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences reported that boys were “overrepresented in programs for learning disabilities, mental retardation and emotional disturbance, and slightly underrepresented in gifted programs,” said Bruce A. Bracken, a professor at the College of William & Mary who wrote one of the two exams that the city uses to test gifted children. He said the implications of the study were “disturbing.”


The piece is powerful. But, it is also noteworthy for how race and class are omitted from the equation. As is repeatedly documented, take the gender gap in school achievement at large, and then multiply it for young African Americans and Latinos. Black and Latino boys are significantly more likely to be in remedial programs, labeled ADHD, suspended, or be placed on the lowest tracks in their respective schools.

On that point: am I the only one who hates the tracking system, yet would throw a fit if my child were not put in the highest level?

Second on that point: Aren't tracking and the honor roll the biggest rackets of them all? Everyone is on the honor roll be they in the best or the lowest track. This is doubly cruel: I have relatives who children were in remedial classes throughout school. Yet, because they received "honors" each term, said parents were convinced their kids could go to Yale or Harvard. Talk about a setup for inevitable disappointment. This is a cousin to the Trophy generation, snowflakeitis that is currently afflicting our universities--we have raised a generation where everyone is special, talented, and gifted. What will be the consequences for the United States economically, socially, and politically as this entitled class takes the reigns of power?

Some of these outcomes are the result of limited social capital and a lack of resources and parental involvement. Likewise, faulty metrics for determining intelligence and "intellectual ability" explain some other results. Sadly, good old fashioned laziness and racism still account for a good part of these disparate outcomes.

Here, my beef with the talented and gifted programs, as well as tracking, is a personal one. Upon entering the fourth grade, I was initially put into the lowest cohort. I had always been in the highest track, but I was summarily demoted. For the grace of God, and one great (yet really tough) former WAC who was my teacher, I would likely have flunked out of school and become the highly successful criminal mastermind I was always meant to be.

I was bored, finishing my work in 2 minutes, and consequently getting in trouble. This teacher clearly knew something was up and contacted my parents. Together they discovered that I had been put into the wrong track. A simple bureaucratic mix up? No, upon some research it was discovered that a student teacher had done the placements that year. Under time constraints she put all of the black kids in the lowest track. Why? Her explanation under threat of lawsuit: "it seemed efficient given that black kids do badly in school." True story.

I was also not allowed into our school's talented and gifted program. My mother, being a perennial striver, wanted to know why I was not admitted. Once more, social networks, race, and class rule the day. Apparently, although I had met all the criteria for admission, certain spots had been promised to a select group of students and their families. Another threatened lawsuit later I was reluctantly admitted--Black folks love threatening to sue people by the way (I don't know if we ever follow through though). I refused to go on basic principle. You don't want me. I don't want you. Funny thing, to my knowledge not one of those "talented and gifted types" are doing well today.

Interestingly enough, that was not my last run in with the evil gatekeepers of "honors" and "talented and gifted programs." In High School I would eventually break down the barriers and join up. Predictably, I would be run out by an English teacher who stated that my writing and analytical skills were sub par. I vividly remember the paper in dispute--it was an essay on Silas Marner. I had developed a thesis on greed, gender, and white racial identity. I was flatly told those were not elements in the book and that I must not be able to fully comprehend the text. Being the obstinate respectable negro that I am, I left the class (she made it clear I would get an "F") and swore revenge in my best Wrath of Khan impression. Funny thing, I made true on my promise. And yes, she was terrified.

Like many students, I didn't get my full honors, Phi Beta, uppity top of the class awards and bonafides until college. Doubly curious, whenever I sit down with a bunch of respectable negroes from the striving middle and working classes, there is some version of the above story. Moreover and almost to the one, we remember being the only non-white kids in those spaces. I would hate to be so reductionist, but could it be that in many schools "honors" and "talented and gifted" are coded as "Whites Only" spaces?

Wow, this has actually been cathartic.

Do others have similar tales of woe and triumph in the face of the honors cabal? And what does it say about our educational system, that so many who are not judged to be among the best and the brightest in either elementary and secondary school, rise to the top in college and/or leave formal training and become stars on their own?

Is the system that broken?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy--Of Easter Eggs, Robert Putnam, and Kung Fu Goodness

Aaron McGruder's last season of The Boondocks is firing on all pistons--it seems that Brother McGruder is indeed leaving it all on the dance floor as the old expression goes. As I alluded to in a previous post, The Boondock's pulling aside the veil and reveling in the Black Superpublic is all sorts of awesomeness.

Tonight's episode--Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy--is rich with these moments--as well as with some fun Easter eggs for those folk whom are part of the cultural narrative that is ghetto nerdness.

Here are a few of the bits of goodness (both obvious and subtle) that I picked up on as Grandpa and family faced off against The Hateocracy:

1. The introduction of The Hateocracy was a wink to such revenge/crime noir movies as No Country for Old Men; Fargo; and A History of Violence.

2. Pretty obvious: The Hateocracy was comprised of Fred G. Sanford, Aunt Esther, and J.J. Walker of Good Times fame. Perhaps McGruder has been reading Donald Bogle's classic book Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks?

3. The opening dream is a restaging of 28 Weeks Later.

4. A second Fargo reference--the secretary at Huey and Riley's school sounds suspiciously like Marge Olmstead-Gunderson, the pregnant Sheriff played by Frances McDormand in that Coen brothers classic.

5. In another synthetic/improvisational moment that is simultaneously a reference to Kill Bill, as well as the iconic Master of the Flying Guillotine, the weapon used by Fred Sanford's doppelganger is the same as that of the titular villain in the latter film.

6. Pretty obvious: Grand Master Bushido Brown is one part Jim Kelly and one part Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.

7. Here is an Easter egg I could not fully identify. Was the musical cue playing during Riley and Huey's fight with The Hateocracy from The Kid with the Golden Arm? Or was it an acknowledgment of 5 Chinese Superninjas? One-Armed Boxer? Or 5 Fingers of Death? One, all, or neither? Help me out.

8. In what is perhaps the smartest hidden gem in Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy, McGruder's detailing of "nigga moments" and "nigga synthesis" is a pretty clear restatement of Robert Putnam's detailing of bridging and bonding social capital in his seminal book Bowling Alone.

9. The concluding dialogue between The Freemans and The Hateocracy is the finest comment on the soft, liberal, "we are all victims," sociological explanations for crime among the ign't, ghetto underclasses I have seen in many a years: Some folks just belong in elaborate explanations necessary. As one of my colleagues once said, "if the prison industrial complex was real, we would all be in jail." Brilliant and pithy.

10. Crabs in a barrel and Black folks. Priceless...and so very true.

What other Easter eggs did I miss? What should be added to the list?

By the way, next week's episode on the trials and triumphs of the one and only Latarian Milton is going to be amazing.

Sunday Afternoon Funny: The Mayor of Blacktown, Saggin' Pants, Black Women's Failings, and the Link Between Schizophrenia and Creative Genius

Oh hail the Mayor of Blacktown!

As some of our communities descend into veritable states of nature, I knew that a lone voice would emerge, one that could diagnose the how's and why's of this journey into the heart of darkness.

Random thought: How do you like that? A reference to Locke and Conrad all in one sentence. Who says that the Hamden public schools are incapable of producing gentlemen and gentlewomen of letters...

Second random thought: Did you know that We Are Respectable Negroes is now in the top 100 U.S. Politics Blogs category on Technorati? Yikes, standards must have really slumped.

Once more the cause is clear: the plague of saggin' pants, the weakness of black men, and the failures of black women explain this madness. As the Mayor says, if the sisters would both A) stop emasculating the black man and B) discard that feminist witchcraft we could move forward as a people.

Regardless of one's position on his project to save the black man, the Mayor of Blacktown must be acknowledged as a force of the first order. His mind is deft. His thoughts are sharp. The connections he makes between causal variables are compelling. The theoretical framework which drives his project is robust.

Question: What would a regression model for the Mayor's theory of saggin' pants, black women's failures, and his black men's project look like? I am not an expert on quantitative social science, so all I can do is venture a series of educated guesses. Would the dependent variable be the state of black communities? Would the strength of black men be an index variable? And finally, given that black women are at the root of all evil in the Mayor's theories would that variable be endogenous to, and co-linear with, all the others?

Perhaps an intrepid reader will detail a model (with an explanation) which we could post later in the week...

The Mayor of Blacktown's theories are also a great example of the ability to quite literally "think outside of the box" that is common to the most creatively gifted people. Interestingly, recent research is pointing to a relationship between creative genius and schizophrenia. It would seem that the most creative folks are able to draw connections between concepts and ideas in ways that the mundanes cannot.

This research also brings me personal peace. After years of frustration, I now finally have an explanation for my awkward and unique brilliance at Scattergories (true story: one of my ex queens--my White Wonder Woman of many years--loved to play that game with me not because I ever won, but because she and our friends found my bizarre examples quite entertaining).

The story follows:

Creative Minds 'Mimic Schizophrenia'

Creativity is akin to insanity, say scientists who have been studying how the mind works.

Brain scans reveal striking similarities in the thought pathways of highly creative people and those with schizophrenia.

Both groups lack important receptors used to filter and direct thought.

It could be this uninhibited processing that allows creative people to "think outside the box", say experts from Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

In some people, it leads to mental illness.

But rather than a clear division, experts suspect a continuum, with some people having psychotic traits but few negative symptoms.

Some of the world's leading artists, writers and theorists have also had mental illnesses - the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and American mathematician John Nash (portrayed by Russell Crowe in the film A Beautiful Mind) to name just two.

Creativity is known to be associated with an increased risk of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Similarly, people who have mental illness in their family have a higher chance of being creative.

Associate Professor Fredrik Ullen believes his findings could help explain why.

He looked at the brain's dopamine (D2) receptor genes which experts believe govern divergent thought.

He found highly creative people who did well on tests of divergent thought had a lower than expected density of D2 receptors in the thalamus - as do people with schizophrenia.

The thalamus serves as a relay centre, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible, amongst other things, for cognition and reasoning.

"Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus," said Professor Ullen.

He believes it is this barrage of uncensored information that ignites the creative spark.

This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss.

Schizophrenics share this same ability to make novel associations. But in schizophrenia, it results in bizarre and disturbing thoughts.

UK psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society Mark Millard said the overlap with mental illness might explain the motivation and determination creative people share.

"Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives them on to make changes.

"Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror. They see the world in a fractured way.

"There is no sense of conventional limitations and you can see this in their work. Take Salvador Dali, for example. He certainly saw the world differently and behaved in a way that some people perceived as very odd."

He said businesses have already recognised and capitalised on this knowledge.

Some companies have "skunk works" - secure, secret laboratories for their highly creative staff where they can freely experiment without disrupting the daily business.

Chartered psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon says an ability to "suspend disbelief" is one way of looking at creativity.

"When you suspend disbelief you are prepared to believe anything and this opens up the scope for seeing more possibilities.

"Creativity is certainly about not being constrained by rules or accepting the restrictions that society places on us. Of course the more people break the rules, the more likely they are to be perceived as 'mentally ill'."

He works as an executive coach helping people to be more creative in their problem solving behaviour and thinking styles.

"The result is typically a significant rise in their well being, so as opposed to creativity being associated with mental illness it becomes associated with good mental health."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Glenn Beck (Dashiki in Waiting) is Now an Afrocentric Historian

In my years I have seen the Berlin Wall fall. I have seen the end of the Soviet Union. I have seen a Black man elected president. I have seen the deaths of Michael Jackson and Gary Coleman. None of these signs portended the End of Days. After watching Glenn Beck's Friday feature on "Black Patriots" and "the Founding," I am convinced that the end is upon us.

On that day I witnessed Glenn Beck channel the hidden histories of our people that were usually consigned to the Harlem book fair, Afrocentric bookstores, the 3rd World Press, and scholars like Kunjufu, Diop, Van Sertima, J.A. Rogers, Woodson, and Franklin. On that day, I almost expected Beck to don a dashiki and preach forth on the Isis papers.

This is the sign we have awaited.

In the spirit of the Left Behind series, with the sentiment of the Christian Nationalists whom believe that folks will fly out of their clothes when they are called home, and the madness of Jesus Camp, I believe the seventh seal has been opened.

When a man such as Glenn Beck can (re)introduce our own history to us--and make it real for Conservative America--I am moved. As I watch Glenn Beck mesmerize his viewers I smell sulfur. When I try to make sense of Beck's words I see a man that is a lover of himself and of money. He is boastful, proud, abusive, ungrateful, unholy.

Ultimately, when a man such as Glenn Beck can simultaneously harness the truth of our black history, while condemning the progressive and radical vision which spawned it, I indeed know that I have seen the End of Days.

One must ask: Is Beck's performance darkly humorous or is it tragic? And what of his Red State supplicants who may (or may not) get the joke?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Persistence of the Colorline: Of Pain, Suffering, and Empathy in Post-Racial America

What we have here is a tale of two empathy studies. The first story has gotten much more attention in the mainstream media. The second story has been more of an inside baseball piece circulated among specialists in their respective fields. I wonder why?

Study number one finds that both black and white test subjects have a strong level of empathy when shown images of individuals from their respective racial groups whom are in pain. In fact, these test subjects have such a strong level of empathy for "one of their own"--what is also a measure of inter-group distance--that both blacks and whites empathize more with a member of an imagined 3rd racial group, than across the colorline with each other.

Question: Is this frightening or comforting? What does this suggest about post-racial America in the best and worst of cases?

Study number two came to a set of slightly different, yet quite distinct and quite important findings. In this experiment, white and black test subjects were shown pictures of fellow members of their respective racial groups in the midst of a natural disaster or in a neutral setting, i.e. a picnic. African Americans showed much more empathy for black people suffering in a hurricane (presumably because of the still lingering, proverbial hangover from Hurricane Katrina) than did white respondents. Moreover, white respondents showed less empathy for suffering members of their own group than did African Americans for other black folk in distress.

Why would the first experiment receive much more coverage than the second? I would hypothesize that this divergence is a rich example of media framing wherein the first study (featured on CNN's front page) confirms the popular, colorblind, post-racial meme that all groups are equally capable of "racism" or "prejudice." Thus, efforts to claim responsibility (and to ameliorate injustice) are examples of "playing the race card." What ultimately leads to either the "all of our hands are dirty so please stop complaining" meme that is popular in some Conservative circles, or the equally specious and intellectually empty claim that "all oppressions are created equal" among some on the Left and in academia.

The second study also highlights a dimension of race and racial identity in the U.S. that some may find quite troubling. Could it be that black people (and I would hypothesize that an experiment with any "out-group" would show similar results) have a particular historical experience with white supremacy that has engendered a more radically humanistic approach to politics, justice, and society than for white folk at large in this society?

My claim is not one of blood and character per se, but rather of an understanding of how suffering under power informs our sense of linked fate, identity, and kinship. The history of black folks in this country speaks well to this point: the fictive kin relationships born in slavery and that continue to the present; our leadership in a range of freedom struggles; and the richness of our cultural and political vision--the Blues sensibility so often spoken of--which gives Black and Brown folk such a prescient insight into both the contradictions and hopeful possibilities of American democracy.

You tell me. How do you explain these findings? What do they tell us about the best and worst of our souls? Why will the first story be put on proverbial blast in the next few weeks, while the second has received comparatively little coverage? Is our ability to empathize (or not) with members of a different racial group a type of hard-wiring that cannot be undone, or is this just more evidence of nurture versus nature?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Declare Today a "Be White for a Day" Holiday

Speed is freedom.

Do you ever just want to "be?" To not have to worry about being a responsible citizen? Not worrying about race and justice? Being able to free oneself of their Blue's sensibility and the unique relationship black folk have to patriotism and the American project? Or not having to think about your racial identity and personhood and how it may or may not relate to your politics--be they personal, micro, or macro?

To make real these ends, I once a month declare myself a White person. I walk about Chicago not thinking about race. I go to a romantic comedy. I eat at Chipotle. I then go feed the seagulls at Navy Pier while eating some candy from Fox and Obel and reading a few comic books.

I don't do this to turn the logic of the one drop, hypo-descent rule on its ear in a moment of lived post modernism. Nor is this day a commentary on George Schuyler's Black No More. No, I take this holiday for my own peace of mind and mental health (as experts in psychology and public health know, racism is indeed a killer).

Sure, I could be writing about how a history teacher asked her students to dress up like KKK members and reenact a lynching. Alternatively, I could muse about the militarization of police departments, "killology," and how these two variables are directly connected to the tragic shooting death of Aiyana Jones. Maybe I could comment on Rand Paul and the White soul? Hell, if I were feeling really bold, I would fire a broad side about the newly released data about the seemingly never to be closed black/white wealth gap.

Not today. On Wednesday, May 26, 2010 I am taking a "Be White for a Day" holiday. Because the ultimate power of white privilege is the ability to determine when and how one will be uncomfortable, Whiteness is also the freedom to be blissfully ignorant, as well as to benefit from the "natural" order of things without having to take any responsibility for injustice. Such a grand and relaxing state of being, one that as a mere respectable negro I can't possibly imagine...but for one day a month I am free to drink from those ambrosia laced springs.

Utter joy.

Perhaps this holiday (now celebrated by only one person) will spread across the blogosphere (and yes, white people can also participate in this White holiday). Who knows? Maybe the Be White for a Day Holiday will gain national recognition. In post-racial America maybe our children, especially those black and brown kids who know not of a world where Obama is not President, will one day know the privilege and joy of being White for a day.

A brother can dream can't he? So tell me friends, how will you spend your Be White for a Day holiday? Have you ever dreamed of something so wondrous?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Of Rand Paul, Boondocks, Jimmy Rebel, and Uncle Ruckus

Damn, I thought I knew all the racist slurs for Black folk. Now, as a result of racial pejorative escalation, I have to up my game and add these new creative turns of wordplay to a lexicon that formerly ended with moon cricket. My work is never done. In fact, tomorrow I am going to download this song, put in on my found Ipod (no, I really found it on the street as there is no way in hell I would pay for such an infernal machine), and play it whenever ign'ts upset me on the bus.

Which leads us to a quick question to start the day. Is Jimmy Rebel's and Uncle Ruckus' song, "The President is a Nigger" most popular with:

A) Tea Party attendees.

B) Black Conservatives.

C) Rand Paul supporters.

D) Devotees of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

You make the call.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What if I Taught History the Texas Board of Education's Way?

As a follow-up to my alternate timeline of U.S. history as offered by Texas and Arizona, I asked our resident historian Wernor Herzog's Bear to write an actual lecture suitable for those guidelines. So imagine if you would, your children being socialized into this new truth. Ask yourself, what will be the consequences of this Orwellian, Christian Dominionist, Right-wing Conservative rewriting of history for how students will come to view their roles as citizens, neighbors, and voters in 21st century America? Who are the winners? Who are the losers? And ultimately, what type of future will they craft?


As many of you know, the Texas State Board of Education is about to have a vote on its social studies standards, which enshrine a Teabagger/Christian Nationalist view of American history. As a fun little exercise, I decided to write out a lecture on the Constitution that conforms to the standards. Although there's a little exaggeration here, it matches the new standards much more so than what I teach now, which is based on the work of actual professional historians.


Today class we will be discussing the creation of the Constitution. Last week during our class on the revolution we talked about the Articles of Confederation, which was America’s first form of government. It seems that the Articles just didn’t provide enough freedom, so the Founding Fathers in their infinite wisdom, guided by the hand of God, composed a more perfect document.

Their convention met in 1787, in Philadelphia. I should have you note that while many important Founders were there, Thomas Jefferson was not. You see, he really wasn’t all that significant, after all. We all know there would be no place for a Godless deist amongst the committed Christians who were going to accomplish God’s divine mission.

The Founders had a lot of ideas and precedents in their minds when they met in Philadelphia. They’d read the works of great Christian thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, and wanted to craft a constitution that was like the Ten Commandments, the most perfect example that they could find. What better source for how to live our lives is there than the Bible? They had read some stuff from the Enlightenment too, but understood that most of its ideas led to secular humanism.

God’s plan included sacred principles like the separation of powers and checks and balances, which were intended to create the maximum amount of freedom possible. Most importantly, it established a federal system of government, which means that the states have the freedom to defend their rights and do whatever they want. Unfortunately, that principle would not be followed in later years, leading to the unfortunate War Between the States.

There was something for everyone in the Constitution. Even slaves, who had already benefitted so much by being rescued from the horrors of the Dark Continent at the hands of benevolent European slave traders, got rights under the Constitution. Although they technically could have gotten nothing, they were given the status of 3/5s of a person, which was very generous for the time. Don’t forget, even though some of the Founders owned slaves, no one thought what they were doing was wrong at the time. And in any case, those benighted Africans weren’t going to civilize themselves!

After the Constitution was written, the Founders realized that it could use even more freedom, and so they added the Bill of Rights. The most important amendments are the second, first, and tenth. The Second Amendment gives all of us a right to bear arms, the only thing we have to protect our freedom, especially when the federal government oversteps its bounds. The First Amendment is especially important. Because the very first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights is that of religion, that means that America is without a doubt a Christian nation. Last, but not least, the Tenth Amendment protects states rights, and if properly interpreted, bans horrible tyranny like Obamacare.

Of course, sometimes we take some of these amendments too far. The Founders never would have thought that the Eighth Amendment banned torture, especially when applied to Muslim infidels. It’s great that we have the Fourth Amendment to protect us from the government taking our guns, but it shouldn’t be used to protect terrorists and allow women to have abortions. Hopefully someday these perversions of the Constitution will finally be overturned, and the will of God made manifest through this perfect document will be able to shine fully once again.

Friday, May 21, 2010

In the Interest of Equal Time: Rand Paul is No Barry Goldwater on Civil Rights

I do have something to say on this Rand Paul "revealing who he has always been" moment. But, why write now, when there are folks who are saying it better than I ever could?

And don't ever say that I don't think that Conservatives have something to offer. My enemy is stupidity and demagoguery wherever I may find it. Although I may not agree with every point, what follows is a reasoned, reflective engagement with the relationship between libertarianism and white supremacy that is well worth reading.

From Capital Gains and Games:

Rand Paul is No Barry Goldwater on Civil Rights

Rand Paul, son of legendary libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, for whom I worked in the 1970s, is now the official Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky. Perhaps unfortunately for him, he did not get a great deal of national press scrutiny during his primary campaign because he was an outsider that many in the national press corps thought could not win. Now that he has, they are making up for lost time. And Rand has accommodated them by repeatedly saying that he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on libertarian grounds: private businesses should not be forced to serve African Americans if they so choose. Presumably, market pressure will eventually force them to be more accommodating. If it doesn't, then so be it, Rand believes.

Both Rand's supporters and critics point to Senator Barry Goldwater's principled opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, according to Rick Perlstein's excellent book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act was based entirely on constitutional concerns. He had been told by both William Rehnquist, then a private attorney in Phoenix and later chief justice of the Supreme Court, and Robert Bork, then a professor of constitutional law at Yale, that it was unconstitutional. Bork even sent him a 75-page brief to that effect.

To be sure, the Rehnquist-Bork position was not a lame rationalization for racism. It was rooted in the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 essentially replicated the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which was enacted by a Republican Congress over strenuous Democratic opposition. However, in 1883 the Supreme Court, then it its most libertarian phase, knocked down the 1875 act as well as many other Republican measures passed during Reconstruction designed to aid African Americans. The Court's philosophy in these cases led logically to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which essentially gave constitutional protection to legal segregation enforced by state and local governments throughout the U.S.

As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There is no reason to believe that this system wouldn't have perpetuated itself absent outside pressure for change.

In short, the libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s gave us almost 100 years of segregation, white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs, the KKK, and discrimination of African Americans for no other reason except their skin color. The gains made by the former slaves in the years after the Civil War were completely reversed once the Supreme Court effectively prevented the federal government from protecting them. Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn't work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.

Sadly, it took the Supreme Court more than 50 years after Plessy before it began to undo its mistake in Brown. This led to repeated efforts by the Eisenhower administration to enact civil rights legislation, which was opposed and gutted by Senate Democrats led by Lyndon Johnson. But by 1964, it was clear to Johnson that the tide had turned. The federal courts were moving to dismantle segregation to the extent they could, and the 1963 March on Washington, the murder and beating of civil rights demonstrators in the South and growing awareness of such atrocities changed the political climate and made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 possible--despite the filibuster against it by Senator Robert C. Byrd, who still serves in the Senate today.

If Rand Paul were saying that he agrees with the Goldwater-Rehnquist-Bork view that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was unconstitutional and that the Supreme Court was wrong to subsequently find it constitutional, that would be an eccentric but defensible position. If he were saying that the Civil Rights Act were no longer necessary because of the great strides we have made as a country in eradicating racism, that would also be defensible. But Rand's position is that it was wrong in principle in 1964. There is no other way of interpreting this except as an endorsement of all the things the Civil Rights Act was designed to prohibit, as favoring the status quo throughout the South that would have led to a continuation of segregation and discrimination against African Americans at least for many more years. Undoubtedly, changing mores would have broken down some of this over time, but there is no reason to believe that it would have been quick or that vestiges wouldn't still remain today. Indeed, vestiges remain despite the Civil Rights Act.

I don't believe Rand is a racist; I think he is a fool who is suffering from the foolish consistency syndrome that affects all libertarians. They believe that freedom consists of one thing and one thing only--freedom from governmental constraint. Therefore, it is illogical to them that any increase in government power could ever expand freedom. Yet it is clear that African Americans were far from free in 1964 and that the Civil Rights Act greatly expanded their freedom while diminishing that of racists. To defend the rights of racists to discriminate is reprehensible and especially so when it is done by a major party nominee for the U.S. Senate. I believe that Rand should admit that he was wrong as quickly as possible.


The gist of the libertarian critique of this post, both here and on other blogs, seems to be that since segregation was enforced by the states it proves nothing about whether a libertarian society would lead to a decline in racism. Fine. But it doesn't address the original point of this post, which relates to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without it, what force was going to make the Southern states drop their racist laws? As I point out, we had an almost 100 year test of whether market/social forces were capable of changing the laws and customs in the Southern states and eliminate segregation. It didn't happen and there's no reason to think it was necessarily ever going to happen if the Southern states were left to their own devices. I believe that federal intervention was critical to eliminate the racist laws of the Southern states that restricted the freedom of African Americans. Restricting the freedom of racists to discriminate seems to be to be a very small price to pay and that on balance CRA greatly expanded aggregate freedom.