Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shared Burdens and Shared Responsibilities? Harvard's Review of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Arrest Concludes that He Was an "Uppity" Negro

Officer Cowley was surprised and afraid of Henry Louis Gates Jr.? Wow.

After Henry Louis Gates' arrest by a Cambridge police officer we had an obligatory "national conversation" on race and a beer summit where all of sins and hurt feelings were washed away. In keeping with the synergy that occurs when the bureaucratic culture of the U.S. government and the conference culture of academia meet, a blue ribbon panel was assembled to review the arrest of Professor Gates.

I have looked through their very well-pedigreed report (a mix of theory and meditation on such concepts as "legitimacy" and "procedural justice"), so you will not have to. Its conclusion in lay terms: Professor Gates was uppity and that police have a broad range of discretionary power...which Officer Cowley chose to exercise in the harshest way possible.

Some choice excerpts from the report (make careful note of how asking questions of a police officer in your own home can be perceived as belligerence):

I for one do not know how an elderly academic recovering from pneumonia and who walks with a cane can be such a threat. But then again, maybe Professor Gates is a Zatoichi? Ultimately, and as I said months ago when this story first developed, the real fruits of full citizenship in America are the right to be angry, upset, and not on your best behavior...and to still get a pass from the powers that be. As demonstrated here, white privilege isn't all high theorizing and academic double talk. In practice, it is the freedom to be a jerk and to still not go to jail.

Sadly, Professor Gates seems to have forgotten that practical lesson of how race is (still) lived in Barack Obama's America.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Damn Those "Activist" Judges! It Would Seem that Republicans Ain't Got No Love for "Troublemakers" Like Thurgood Marshall

The Kagan nomination is proceeding quite predictably. With rare exceptions, the confirmation process is an opportunity for the out-party to remain relevant and to score some points among their base. It is also a chance to marvel at good governance as these often boring rituals are a great lesson in civics.

While not elevated to spectacle (yet) by the 24 hour news cycle, the GOP's repeated criticisms of Elena Kagan for her admiration of Justice Thurgood Marshall is quite illuminating. Why? For once more Conservatives and the GOP show us who they have always been.

Do not misunderstand, I am all for spirited debate about the role of the Constitution and The Courts in American life: These conversations about the balance between freedom, order, personal rights, and State power are healthy and should be encouraged. And while I labor under no illusions that the rabble will become philosopher kings, I do hope (while not holding my breath) that the attention surrounding the nomination process sparks some reflection and civic-mindedness.

However, just as with Rand Paul's misreading of history, Palin and McCain's Herronvolk tinged "real American" populism, and the rise of the Tea Party Glenn Beck enabled brigands, I am always amazed at how some folks revel in being on the wrong side of history. I know that is a lot to expect, but it would be nice if one of the voices on the Right would admit that, "well, maybe, the forces of conservatism were wrong on Civil Rights and racial relations," or that "maybe these 'activist' judges who fought for expanded and full rights for all Americans were onto something..."

Ultimately, the Kagan nomination process is a chance to once more hash out what The Constitution is and ought to be. No easy answers are not be found. But, there are always some big questions to be asked. To point:

Is The Constitution...

Speaking for we the people or Just some people?

Democratic with anti-democratic tendencies or Anti-democratic at its heart and wrapped in a veneer of democracy?

A strong document that is immutable for all time? or A document that is strong precisely because of its ability to change?

A document that should be used to support corporate interests? or A document that should protect the people's interests against all others?

Colorblind? or Color-conscious?

A document written by supermen who were divinely inspired? or A document written by smart people making politically pragmatic choices?

A genius document that was flawed only in its application? or An imperfect document whose genius is that it can be corrected over time?

Written by selfish men who realized that self-interest was both the problem and the solution? or A selfless document, written by generous and brave men who only wanted to serve the common good?

Monday, June 28, 2010

(Respectable) Negroes With Guns: The Supreme Court Takes One More Step Against Chicago's Draconian Handgun Law

The Supreme Court has taken one more step in reinforcing the 2nd Amendment and the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms. I may lose my "progressive" bonafides among some of you for this one, but I am happy with the ruling, and hopefully the lower courts will make it possible for the good folks of Chicago to register and own a handgun legally.

In the most practical sense I have always found it odd that hooligans, ign'ts, thugs, White militia types and others that would do good folk harm are able to assemble an arsenal, while the good guys (especially if you live in a city) cannot. Frankly, as the volume of the "Right wing Vox Populi militia tea party brigands Obama is a tyrant who should be deposed" meme gets turned up (with its not coincidental run on ammunition and guns), I for one would like a little insurance policy...just to ensure that I don't lose for lack of shooting back.

To my respectable negro bonafides, there is a long history of disarming black folk in this country beginning with the slave codes, through to Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and into the Right-wing law and order reactionary politics which followed the 1960s. I have always felt that just as The Deacons for Defense, the brave brothers who defended their communities against white lynch mobs in the bloody summer of 1919, and even our sister Harriet Tubman understood, there is something special about the power of a respectable negro with a gun.

What say you all? Are the racist roots of gun control coincidental to this conversation? Should gun control laws be strictly enforced as a prophylactic against black on black violence? Or will the ign'ts and street pirates always find a way to hurt the good guys? Thus, it is only the honest citizen who is most damaged by overly restrictive handgun laws?

From NBC:

Supreme Court Rules Against Handgun Ban

The Supreme Court today sent Chicago's controversial gun ban back to lower court, saying the Constitution's "right to keep and bear arms" applies nationwide as a restraint on the ability of government to limit its application.

The court issued the 5-4 rulling Monday morning in McDonald vs. City of Chicago, which challenged handgun bans in the City of Chicago and in Oak Park.

In the ruling, the justices signaled that less severe restrictions could survive legal challenges. Read the full ruling here.

In a press conference held hours after the ruling Mayor Daley elicited dissaproval.

Lawson says he's confident the opponents of the ban will prevail in any further legal battle after the court's decision Monday. Those legal challenges are coming though.

"We are digesting the 200 pages and will have something tomorrow to stand up to court's ruling," says Ald Anthony Beale, chairman of Police and Fire Committee.

After SCOTUS eliminated the D.C. ban the city put in place dozens of regulations surrounding handgun ownership. Prospective gun owners in D.C. now are required to take training courses that include spending one hour on a firing range and several hours in a classroom learning about gun safety. They also must pass a 20-question test based on D.C.'s firearm laws.

Since the ban was lifted in D.C., just over 800 guns have been registered in city. The relatively low total comes as the district passed the slew of new requirements that also include being fingerprinted and taking ballistic tests, which could help police track bullets back to specific guns if needed.

"The Supreme Court tore down the wall, and D.C. built up 95 percent of it again," said Richard Gardiner, who is suing the district over the new laws on behalf of Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the original case.

Chicago most likely will create a weapons registry and make that information available to police, firefighters and others who respond to emergencies. Gardiner said the pending lawsuit he filed is fighting a similar registry in D.C.

The city is also thinking about requiring anyone who purchases a gun to also buy insurance — a step Gardiner said D.C. didn't take. But, Daley said, "It's common sense."

Chicago residents seem to disagree.

Some in the neighborhood where an 80-year-old man shot and killed a burglar who'd broken into his home are pleased the U.S. Supreme Court supports their right to own guns for self-defense.

Seventy-eight-year-old Herman Wilder of the West Side neighborhood says he keeps a handgun under his pillow for protection. He says he thanks God for the Supreme Court's decision Monday, which eventually may make that gun legal.

Another neighbor, 50-year-old Charlene Figgins, thinks Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is living in a different Chicago than she is and that he doesn't understand the citizens' need for protection.

She says it can take 30 minutes for police to respond to calls for help in her neighborhood. She says the mayor doesn't have that problem.

"I'm disappointed but its not surprising," Daley said Monday. "We'll publicly propose a new ordinance very soon."

Daley, a passionate anti-gun advocate, said the city council will hold an emergency session to immediately put in place new restrictions.

Plaintiff David Lawson is thrilled with the decision, but also says he expects the city to try to impose severe restrictions on handguns. And Lawson says he also expects those restrictions will be challenged in court.

Learning to Please the “Customer”: The Trials and Tribulations of Student Evaluations

Student evaluations of their teachers are now a fixture in higher education. As colleges and universities have gone to a more customer serviced based model, where pleasing students (and their parents whom pay the bills) is now the ultimate goal, student evaluations have only received more emphasis. In a time of constrained budgets, happy students equal happy parents, who in turn pay what are often extravagantly high tuition rates.

For those on the other side of the desk, the end of the school year is a time for no small amount of anxiety. Did I do well on the evaluations? How will the university rank my performance? In what ways will students' opinions of my teaching impact a promotion, tenure, or salary decision?

As has been frequently discussed, student evaluations are based on a set of contentious premises. Primarily, do students really have the ability to fairly and critically evaluate their teacher? Certainly, a given student can assess the capacity to which they learned the material. But, is a given student in a position to really assess how well said material was presented to them and the pedagogical gifts (or not) of their instructor?

Moreover, in an era of rampant grade inflation and a culture where many "Millennials" (a group less affectionately described as the "trophy kids") expect an "A" for merely showing up, a student's assessment of a class or a teacher is often a function of an expected grade. Given that student evaluations are anonymous and online, the anger a student may feel about a grade (and towards a particular teacher) is doubly amplified and unfiltered by a generation raised on social networking sites and the pseudo-anonymity of the Internet. Thus, online student evaluations encourage meanness--not reasoned reflection and/or consideration.

I am not suggesting that evaluations are without merit. In the aggregate, a pattern of thoughtful comments can really improve a teacher's craft. Likewise, if a range of students, across classes, are making substantive comments on the same point there can be much learned. Rather, it is a concern about how student evaluations are increasingly used by some--both institutions and students alike--as a bludgeon and not a useful tool for actually improving the quality of instruction.

To point: it seems that some (if not many) faculty members are feeling an increased pressure to inflate grades and to simplify, dumb down, or significantly alter curricula in order to please students. In an era when tenure itself is under assault, where academic freedom is increasingly imperiled, and the classroom is increasingly politicized by the myth of "liberal" professors offered by such Right wing groups as Campus Watch and Students for Academic Freedom, this can only suggest a perilous future for the quality of college instruction. Thus a paradox: at a moment when a college degree is seen as being de rigeur for entry into the middle classes, the quality of instruction is increasingly subject to the downward pressures of student evaluations.

As is my common refrain on these matters: What types of citizens are we creating in our schools at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels?

I don't often break kayfabe, but for those of us in higher education there is much to be gained from sharing our thoughts on the use and impact of student evaluations. In keeping with that spirit, here are a few of my choice evaluations (made sufficiently anonymous) to laugh at, smile, or be disturbed by. To my fellow travelers, pray tell, what have been the highest and lowest points of your academic year?


Best trophy generation comment: "He thinks he is so much smarter than we are."

Best snowflake comment 1: "He wouldn't tell us what to think or what to write our papers on."

Best snowflake comment 2: "He corrects people in class when they are wrong about the material. He needs to learn there are two sides to everything."

Most honest and sincere comment: "Please dumb down the material more for us."

Most unintentionally funny comment: "I really liked learning about how Martin Luther King freed the slaves." [My question: Does this mean said student thought Dr. King lived in the 19th century, or that African Americans were slaves in the 1960's? And which is funnier?]

Snarkiest comment: "He is like a black version of Al Franken. Avoid him."

Conservative victimology in action comment: "A Conservative would feel really threatened and scared in his class."

Conservative victimology in action comment 2: "He is disrespectful to the Tea Parties. He called them tea baggers which made other students feel comfortable saying the same thing. Some of the people at the rallies may be crazy but most should be shown respect."

Best Glenn Beck inspired "don't tease the panther" comment: "He repeatedly disrespected Sarah Palin. Not cool."

Saddest comment: "Why all this talk about race and American politics stuff? I get it, but at a point this is too much..."

Obligatory most encouraging to end the list and to be inspired to keep teaching comment: "Cool guy. Hard but fair grader. I learned a lot from the class and I am a much better writer because of his attention."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What is Your "Be Better Than White People" Story?--Discrimination, Prejudice & Racism At The Office And Workplace in the 1950's

I can't even begin to imagine what the trailblazers in the Black Freedom Struggle endured. I know that our honored ancestors--many of whom were doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like-- had to pursue careers much less than they were capable of in order to put food on their families' tables and a roof over their folks' heads. But, the abstract of this history does not capture the tangible and real pain of what that lived present must have felt like. In total, what pride these honorable men and women exhibited as they persevered, fought, and resisted so that others would have more freedom and opportunity, even if decades later.

Does the spawn of the post-Civil Rights, Hip Hop generation (and exclusive of the outliers of course) have even a tenth of this comportment and dignity? And whose fault is it, that they may not?

So what my friends, is your quintessential (as I affectionately label it) be "X times better than White people" story? For me, it was my godparents, two professionals, one who could pass for white but found the thought dishonorable and disgusting given the history of White supremacy in this country, and another an impossibly brown in skin tone, never to get into the brown paper bag club brother, telling me that I would have to be at least 20 times better than white folks to get the same job.

I also remember my father, a sort of dark skinned, Sicilian-Italian looking negro in his youth, who as you know from a previous post wore a stocking cap to hide his "nappy" hair while a Sergeant in World War Two (lest he be sent out of his White combat unit in North Africa...yes, my family tree is both nebulous and fascinating), telling me to be 50 times better than white folk to get just as far.

My mom also told me about her experiences during the 1960's when she was one of the first black women to work in plain clothes security at a Macy's department store. She would fret about every detail--her hair, makeup and dress--because it was understood that all of the minorities had to be "better" than their white coworkers. And frankly, I have been told a version of the same story quite recently by mentors in the professorate who deeply understand that to do this "race stuff" successfully, one has to be damn better than your White colleagues studying "serious things" (as deemed by some traditionalists who hold the reigns) in order to get half as far in the business.

Is it no wonder then, that the real killer which is racism remains immune in so many ways to legislation because it remains a common poison in our society's ether, and semi-visible to all but those who choose to look honestly at our "democratic" project?

This is the reflexive. White privilege encourages white mediocrity, while also providing White folks' disproportionate power. Ironically, I wonder how many White folks, especially White men, ever look in the mirror and have a moment of critical self-evaluation where they ask themselves, "what have I gotten because of my skin color and gender?" A few? None? Many? Or do they fall into a white gender privileged induced haze of White victimology?

Most troubling to me, is that at present we have a post-Civil Rights generation of black and brown kids that while still suffering under a more closeted, backstage racism, this is a cohort that is robbed of a language to even discuss and frame their own experiences with racial inequality. For the Obama kids, even when staring them in the face--where race is real and a powerful variable in terms of their life chances--they choose to deny its power.

This reality burns too much. To have to admit that race may in fact impact the course, hem, and hew of one's future life trajectories is perhaps too heavy a burden for some to carry. Thus, in a brilliant inversion of language, morality, and responsibility by the Right, "playing the race card" has become a sin exclusive to people of color confronting racism, as opposed to the label on the deck we/you/they/us have been dealt in American society.

Per our tradition, some questions:

1. I am struck by the tone and cinematography of this educational video from the late 1950's and/early 1960's. It is more of a horror movie than anything else. Am I alone in being surprised by how critical the movie is of its White "villains" and how integration is implicitly a noble goal?"

2. Related point: White folks so often do find a way to rehabilitate their own image. Do they not? Why is the sister reduced to being such a helpless lamb before the slaughter?

3. How many of you have a "white" voice for phone interviews because it is understood that this tone is necessary to get a foot in the door? How many of you have shocked and surprised a potential employer by not being white--especially if you removed all those "black" or "minority" activities from your resume, i.e. the Black Student union?

4. Am I immoral because I told a student of color to "whiten" her resume, especially because in this economy employers will be making all sorts of unfair and subconscious judgments about who to interview (or not)?

5. Finally, in the 1950's White elites finally began to realize that they had to exercise positive leadership regarding "the race question," especially in the context of the Cold War and the stain of Jim Crow on America's image. Question: How many"regular" Americans to this day do not have proper a context for The Civil Rights Movement? And why the adherence to simple stories of tired old ladies like Rosa Parks and superhuman visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr., as opposed to a full, complex, rich, confusing history of real people and real struggles?

6. How can you not dig the jazz undertones and that Nixon spearheaded the commission which produced the video?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bye Bye Birdie: Obama's Decision to Fire (Or Not) General McChrystal Ain't a Black Thing or a White Thing, It is a Presidential Thing

Once more, heavy is the head that wears the crown. Barack Obama, I do not envy you your meeting with General McChrystal today. Why? For either way, your choice will be greeted with howls, complaints, and few cheers. I differ here from the pundit classes who like to make big predictions and cut and dry prognoses (as for these experts grand predictions are rewarded, while delicate, measured responses are met with few approvals). To dismiss McChrystal is a hard decision, one far more difficult than many would admit to.

The comments of McChrystal and his staff in Rolling Stone magazine would suggest that the former is not a "political" general. He is a fighter, a warrior, and a killer. At West Point, General McChrystal was frequently disciplined for disobedience. Yet, as an officer he charted his own path, one that often hewed against conventional wisdom. I will not deny that I was quite impressed with his 60 Minutes interview and the sense that McChrystal, especially after his successes in Iraq, was "that dude" for Afghanistan. Like so many, now, after the failures in Iraq, his repeated episodes of foot in mouth disease, the cover-up of the Tillman death, and the lack of faith among some of his troops for the mission in Afghanistan, I am now quite doubtful of his capacity to lead.

We should also frame this current controversy in some reasonable sort of historical context. McChrystal and his staff's frankness is not the same beast as that rank insubordination demonstrated by the America Caesar, Douglass MacArthur in Korea. In parallel, it is not exactly like Patton's during World War 2. The Rolling Stone interview where Obama, Biden, various officials, and others were basically described as buffoonish louts, leading the country to defeat in Afghanistan, is a case all its own.

Here, Obama is truly a bound man. If President Obama keeps McChrystal, the Republicans will claim 1) a victory and 2) that the whole episode signals that Obama has lost the support of the military and is thus further illegitimate as President. If President Obama fires McChrystal (after a dressing down), his supporters claim victory and this is another vindication that the Democrats are tough on national defense. Yet in keeping with the tenets of partisanship, Obama's detractors will still find a way to see failure in his decision--whatever it may be.

I am a pragmatist. If Obama feels that we are winning in Afghanistan I say keep McChrystal on. Eat the embarrassment, smile, and move forward with the trust that history is the ultimate arbiter of presidential decision-making. If the opposite, I say don't throw bad money after bad money. Fire the man and his staff and use this moment to exercise decisive leadership as we reorient the nation's path in Afghanistan. While histrionic attention seekers would cast this moment as a crisis of sorts regarding the constitutional authority of elected officials over the military, I have read the Rolling Stone interview and see this as more a case of foot in mouth disease on the part of McChrystal and his staff.

Let's be frank. The Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan was indiscreet. He was stupid. His behavior bordered on being a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and was just plain dumb. But...what to do?

Provocatively, (aside from a dig at Biden, who now seems vindicated) is there anything that McChrystal and his staff said in this interview regarding the overall failure of the Afghan mission that is untrue? More troublesomely, my gut tells me that Afghanistan is lost. It is the graveyard of empires, and is quite frankly a shit hole that we should not have wasted one American life on.

More broadly, in Obama's decision some folks will read meaning where there is none. For racism chasers this will be a chance to highlight the impudence of a white man, one who seemingly bristles under the authority of a black President. For white Conservative racial reactionaries this will be a call to arms, as well as a triumph for a "good" white man has stood up to a "black" President. Neither could be more untrue.

This moment is a struggle between the military and civilian control, one that exists apart from any petty concerns of race. And yes, I said "petty." For me, this is one more data point, and a great example of a President having to making a presidential choice outside of our national obsession.

Ultimately, Barack Obama signed up for the job. As Commander in Chief, Barack Obama now has to make a choice, one not dissimilar from those that caused his predecessors many sleepless nights. For me, these are the moments where the possibility of post-racial America is made real: I love watching a black American having to deal with the ups and downs, the tedium, the difficulty, and challenges of being the President. This is one of the real fruits of the Black Freedom Struggle and the losses, difficulties, pain, and sacrifice of our ancestors. It is at times bitter fruit. But, it is still glorious to behold.

What should Barack Obama do with General McChrystal? And how would you make the call?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Homophobic? Anti-Christian?--"Pause," Boondocks Season 3 Episode Reviewed

As the old saying goes, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." After tonight's Boondocks, I know that this episode will be attacked as being either "homophobic" or "anti-Christian"...and both sides will most certainly unite in mutual condemnation of Aaron McGruder's latest salvo across the bow of the Black Superpublic.

My two cents: "Pause" was great.

Shameless self-promotion: See our latest poll on the right sidebar (hopefully this one won't break just as it is getting good).

In tonight's episode, McGruder took on two sacred cows among some in the black community. He exposed Tyler Perry's coonery. And then he had the shear unmitigated gall to own the collective foolishness of the Black Church with its corporate, prosperity ministry nonsense. As folks who follow this site know, one I do not "get" the Black church; two I don't get the religiously minded; and three I do so believe that religion is all in all an opiate of the masses--equally so, both for the ghetto ign't underclasses and the bourgeois negro strivers alike.

In keeping with my earlier post on the Boondocks, here are some observations and Easter Eggs for us to commiserate on (modestly offered because the MacGuffins were pretty obvious in this episode).

1. As some have observed, where do you find the freaks on Sunday? I will let that pregnant question stand alone. And of course (not ever in my experience), I have heard about more freaky deaky hot sex make the angels blush Song of Solomon stories from guys who hooked up with "pious" church girls than from any other discrete cohort. I myself have drunk from these want to be near virgins' waters. Yes, I must tell you they are deep, ambrosia filled, and wondrous.

2. Broken toys: McGruder's wink at the porn star turned Tyler Perry devotee is on point.

3. How many of you know folks who pray for anything at any time? Is this disrespectful of "God?" I must ask: Isn't God pretty busy managing the universe? Or do interns handle these petty requests, i.e. the "please God, may my McDonald's order be correct?" or "Praise God, may I win the Superbowl and make even more money that I do not need!"

4. Tyler Perry's induction of grandpa at the mansion into his twisted sex cult is a clear wink to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

5. Likewise, the Tyler Perry zombie cult member's mention of Kool Aid is a signal to Jim Jones and the Guyana tragedy.

6. Is Aaron McGruder a fan of Richard Dawkin and Chris Hitchens? I think he is. Never forget that religion ruins all things.

7. This episode took multiple digs at hip hop and "urban" culture's homophobia/homosocial/often homosexual underpinnings. All of them damn sharp, deep, and painful.

8. Likewise, the homophobic rhetoric of many in the Black Church was put on blast. Funny, because we know that many men, men who are often in leadership positions in the church, are in fact gay or bisexual. Talk about hypocrisy.

9. To point: The cup overfloweth with references to "D.L." culture. Beware the eyes!

10. In my opinion, Pause's best barbs were at the near perfect script of professional black woman in peril because of the lack of available, good, black men. McGruder in his dig at Perry got in references to Diary of a Tired Black Man and Beyonce's new age classic Obsessed (trust, one day it will be on TNT) ...

11. McGruder's point that in the Black Church we have folks who are false prophets making false profits. Riddle me that. And Now introducing the "rent money dance." A broke clock--here being Pastor Manning--is right twice a day:

12. Tom's support of Tyler Perry's mission is, at least to my eyes, a damned powerful lampooning of how folks who should know better support coonery and foolishness in Black popular culture because of the soft bigotry of low expectations. In short, the black privileged classes know better. But, in an effort to appear "authentic" these same folk embrace foolishness.

13. Tyler Perry's character receiving inspiration from a "White" Jesus. Deep.

Do tell, what other themes, symbols, or metaphors were present in this latest McGruder masterpiece? Ultimately, are the masses that embrace Tyler Perry really this stupid?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Funny: Donna Simpson, 600 Pound Woman Who Wants to Gain More Weight is Interviewed on Howard Stern

Remember "fat is a journey, not a destination." I think that I may get that slogan put on a t-shirt and make it available for sale from our website.

We discussed Donna Simpson a week or so ago, she is a trailblazer in the world of fat fetishists and wants to grow herself from 600 pounds to 1,000 pounds: what is her 2 minute mile. Thank the god of these Internets--her recent interview with Howard Stern is available for all to hear.

In classic Stern fashion, here are some highlights:
  • She is married to a very handsome African brother. In fact, he went to school with Barack Obama, is very successful, and supports her fattening. He seems to embody every professional black woman in peril unable to find a good black man mythos and narrative in existence.
  • Miss Simpson uses a special device to clean herself in the bathroom.
  • She is a hero in the "feeder" community. In fact, her website has thousands of members who pay to watch her be force fed with a funnel.
  • Miss Simpson's husband is a "belly man." He is very satisfied.
  • And yes, their intimate life with its many joys and pleasures is discussed. Miss Simpson's drives for food are equaled only by her sexual desires.

In all seriousness, is this an abusive relationship? Could this feeder/feeding relationship be akin to some version of the Stockholm syndrome?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Armchair Sociology: New Study Reports that Fat Women Are Sex Starved

If so hungry she can always come over to my spot and get fed, for in the spirit of Christian charity I would never deny a beautiful woman a meal.

Beauty comes in all sizes and shapes. When I am hungry for a petite filet mignon wrapped in bacon I relish it. If I want for a Big Mac with fries and a Coke I do not deny myself. I have been known to eat a Chipotle fajita burrito with double meat--chicken and pork if you are curious. And sometimes I just want a few delicate nibbles of sushi. To break the metaphor, I love women of all sizes and have taken both the waifishly thin as well as plus sized models on a journey to space mountain.

As a social scientist, the recent research finding that larger women are not getting any play strikes me as a bit problematic. In the aggregate it would seem to make sense. However, even then, there are some notable variables of both culture and subculture that are seemingly excluded.

For example, what of the narrative that Hispanic and Latino men prefer gorditas over flacas? What of the seeming fascination in "urban culture" with "thick" nouveau Venus Hottentots like Buffie the Body? To mention the obvious and intuitively true: How do we factor in the taken for granted mutual attraction between (some) black men and obese/thick/BBW white women?

Adding a further complication to the link between body size and sexual activity (conceding that the study used BMI as a measure) are the changing parameters of what constitutes being "fat" or "obese."

For example, in the United States women (and people more generally) are getting bigger and bigger. Apparently, size 14 is the new 8. Across the pond--damn lucky Brits--D cup breasts are now the "average" size. Thinking even more globally, there are certain cultures such as the Bedouins in Mauritania where the forced feeding of young girls is considered a necessary step on the road to a full figure, mandatory if a young woman is to secure a husband

Reversing the gaze, we know that big men can always get play. Always have been. Always will be. Selfishly I may add...Thank god.

Random story: In another life I once watched the late great Big Pun have sex with a beautiful woman on a tour bus. Yes, she was indeed riding the curve. Fame it seems does indeed trump weight.

My thoughts on this issue of body size and love almost always circle back to health. Are young women, young black women in particular, killing themselves to look like the video vixen ideal? On the other end of the spectrum, are young men doing harm by valorizing being "thick"--what to many is a euphemism for "fat"--as an ideal body type for women of color?

The story follows:

Being Obese Raises the Risk of Sexual Problems

Scientists say being fat can be bad for the bedroom, especially if you're a woman.

In a new study, European researchers found obese women had more trouble finding a sexual partner than their normal-weight counterparts, though the same wasn't true for obese men, and were four times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. Fat men also reported a higher rate of erectile dysfunction.

Experts interviewed more than 12,000 French men and women aged 18 to 69 about their sexual experiences and analyzed the results based on their Body Mass Index.

Obese women were 30 percent less likely than normal-weight women to have had a sexual partner in the last year. In comparison, there was little difference among obese men and normal-weight men as to whether they found a sexual partner.

The results were published online Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ. The study was paid for by several French government agencies.

People with a BMI of 18-24 are considered to have a healthy weight. Those with a BMI of 25 or above are considered overweight and people with a BMI of 30 or more are classified as obese.

Previous studies have found similar trends, but researchers were surprised by the discrepancy they found between the genders as to how excess weight affects peoples' sex lives.

"Maybe women are more tolerant of tubby husbands than men are of tubby wives," said Kaye Wellings, a professor of sexual and reproductive health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the BMJ study authors.

Experts said the problems faced by obese people were probably due to a combination of physical problems linked to obesity as well as other issues, like low self-esteem and social prejudices.

Obese people are at higher risk anyway for diabetes, depression and urinary stress incontinence, all of which can hinder sex. If people are extremely heavy, they might also have muscular or skeletal problems that make sex challenging.

The researchers found that obese women were less likely to ask for birth control services, and thus, four times more likely to accidentally get pregnant. Pregnant fat women and their babies also faced a higher risk of complications and death than normal-weight women.

Dr. Sandy Goldbeck-Wood, a specialist in psychosexual medicine at a London sexual health clinic, said physicians must talk to obese women about birth control.

"Doctors need to get over their own embarrassment and ask the difficult questions," she said. Goldbeck-Wood was not linked to the study but wrote an accompanying editorial in the BMJ.

Wellings and colleagues found obese men and women with a partner were no different from normal-weight people in terms of how often they had sex.

They also found that women tended to have partners with a similar body shape. Nearly 70 percent of fat women reported having a partner who was also heavy, while only about 40 percent of fat men had a similarly proportioned partner.

Some experts said the growing obesity epidemic in the West would worsen sexual dysfunction problems.

"This is not a heart attack or a stroke...but it's an important quality of life factor and a public health problem," said Dr. Andrew McCullough, an associate professor of clinical urology at New York University School of Medicine and director of male sexual health at NYU's Langone Medical Center.

He said the study's findings should provide another reason for people to trim their waistlines.

"It seems like a no-brainer," he said. "If you lose weight, you will feel more attractive and that could improve your sex life."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are the Masses Asses? Barack Obama's Oil Speech Rewritten to a Seventh Grade Level

Are the masses asses?

There is a deep tension in American politics between so-called "elites" and "real Americans." As a complement, there is a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in American life. The popularity of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the rise of the New Right all in some part speak to this cynicism and disdain--especially among the most populist conservatives--for the educated, "liberal classes."

In connecting the dots, the amateurish assault on higher education by the Texas and Arizona school boards, with their Orwellian whitewashing of American history, is also part of this populist disdain for expert knowledge. As detailed by Lee Harris in The Next American Civil War, much of the faux Right populism of the tea baggers and their enablers is based on some sense that Washington and "the godless liberals" are too far removed from the values and beliefs of "real" "everyday" Americans.

To turn a phrase, it would seem that stupid is the new (old) black and where the Idiocracy want to reign supreme.

The calls for Obama to be "angry" and to "show some emotion" are a cousin to this phenomenon. According to the pundit classes Obama is hamstrung by a crisis in communication. As opposed to being more like Adlai Stevenson, Obama ought to connect with the people as a "regular guy" cut from the same mold as George W. Bush and Joe the Plumber. Ultimately, education is a liability, for as smeared by Sarah Palin, Obama's credentials as a "constitutional lawyer" make him too much of a technocrat--an egghead and nerd of sorts--to relate to "real Americans."

From this worldview, solutions to the challenges faced by America overseas and abroad are best met with moxie, passion, and moral certitude. Not surprisingly, there would seem to be little room here for a nuanced approach to policy making either at home or abroad.

In keeping with this narrative, President Obama's speech on the Gulf Coast oil disaster is being greeted by some as too sophisticated and complicated for the "average" American to understand. As noted by experts featured on CNN, Obama's oil speech was written at a 10th grade level: What is apparently a pitch thrown too high for a public that (perhaps) has been dumbed down by a failed educational system, which views their role as citizens in a manner indistinguishable from that of consumers, and that has embraced a mantra that government is always a problem and never a solution.

It would seem that the public wants simple answers to complex problems. They want moral appeals, heroes and villains, and cut and dry solutions. If Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor is to be believed, the American people would like to be spoken to as though they are in the 7th grade--with few syllables, and in short sentences.

In keeping with his suggestions, what follows is my rewriting of President Barack Obama's speech on the Gulf Coast oil disaster at a grade level appropriate for the American people to understand. In closing, I must ask once more: Are the masses indeed asses?


President Obama's (Now Made Grade Level Appropriate) Oil Speech to the American People


The U.S. is in big trouble right now. People need jobs and more money. We are fighting bad guys who hate us in other countries. Our soldiers are doing a good job killing the bad people.

Now, I want to talk to you about the oil in the ocean down South. On April 20th an oil rig blew up. Too many people were killed. There was a big hole dug deep in the ground by the oil rig people. It started to leak oil out into the water. The water is really deep.

We have never had a hole dug that deep into the ground to get the oil out. BP, the big company that dug the hole doesn't know how to plug it up. I got scared. I then got on the phone and called up some smart people.

One of them is so smart he won a prize for his ideas. His name is Doctor Steven Chu. He works for me. He runs the Department of Energy. He is very bright.

The oil is like a big monster. It is evil. It is hard to cleanup. The oil is killing fish and birds. People who work on boats in the water can't make money. To fight the monster I told the navy to help. The smart people are going to dig another hole in the ground. With the BP folks they are going to soak up the mess like a big paper towel. I hope that the hole in the ocean will stop leaking in a few weeks.

The water is really sick. We may not be able to get it better for a long time. This is very bad for all of us. BP made this mess. They are going to pay to fix it. I am ordering them to give money to people who can't work because of the oil. BP is very bad. They did not act like they cared about making a big mess.

The BP people killed the nice people that worked for them. We need to make sure we know why the oil rig blew up. They dug a deep hole in the ground. They didn't even think about plugging it up. Now, we need to make a rule so that does not happen again. No more messes!

America uses too much oil. This is why BP dug a deep hole in the ground. America needs to get new energy. We will get smart people in a room who can figure out how to do this. I will talk to anyone who will be fair and play nice on this issue. I want good ideas. I do not care where they come from.

Each year the people who fish and live near the messed up water get together to pray for good luck. That is a good idea. The U.S. has God on its side. We will pray that this mess gets fixed.

Remember, we are a great country. We have lots of bad things going on now. But, the U.S. always wins. We will soak up the oil. We will kill the bad guys in those other places where they pray to the wrong God and want to blow us up. The economy will get fixed. God bless America.

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: The BP Oil Spill is the Skin of Evil

I liked Obama's speech on the BP oil spill. It wasn't that moving. It wasn't that inspired. Nor, will it enter the pantheons of great speeches such as Churchill's invocation that "we shall fight on the beaches":

But ultimately, Obama is a centrist technocrat in the increasing mold of Adlai Stevenson. But guess what? President Obama (I still get chills typing that by the way...who would have thought?) got at least 20 billion dollars out of a bunch of criminals who should go somewhere and commit seppuku. History will make of that what it will.

As I watch this unending oil spill, lurch, dirty, kill and destroy, I have had two thoughts. The first is imprecise and half-formed, but for the same reason that I use a blackboard and not that damned Powerpoint when I teach, oftentimes half-formed thoughts in progress that we have to work through are far more instructive and powerful than those perfectly formed and presented on an LCD screen. Here, and every time that I watch footage of the oil spill and those poor suffering animals and imagine a lifestyle and economy now destroyed, I keep thinking of disaster capitalism. I know it is not a perfect fit for Naomi Klien's theories, but a big corporation made this mess--as they have others--and another multinational will fix it...for great profit at the American tax payer's expense.

My second thought veers directly to my ghetto nerd credentials. In one of the worst Star Trek episodes ever filmed--close to Spock's Brain in its level of horribleness--Tasha Yar, soft butch, damaged sex pot of The Next Generation was killed by Armus, a "malevolent entity." As anticlimactic as it reads on the screen or page, when I look at that sludge I think of him. 'Nuff said.

Thus my question: What monsters come to your mind as you watch our ecosystem destroyed in a crime of almost incalculable dimensions and consequences?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You Make the Call: Seattle Cop Punches Young Black Woman in Face During Altercation

You don't mess with the police. And lest we not forget that I am no fan of the police either. Most importantly, I am also not afraid of them. In fact, one of my earliest memories was my mom yelling at the Hamden police for viciously assaulting a gay couple outside of our house. Often, parents do not realize that they teach lessons even when not intending to do so. My mom doing her best/worst Thurgood Marshall impression yelled at the cops about the Constitution and that they were violating the inalienable rights of the American people. Funny, said police stopped, looked embarrassed, and the two men (guilty only for loving each other) came over and sat on our porch as my mother called 9-11.

In that moment I learned that cops are people too--both good and bad. I also learned that the police have the power of the State to take my life and that I should be weary of them.

I also remember my "don't fight with the cops or else you get killed" talk. My parents, god parents, and even the white fathers of my friends had some version of this teachable moment. They would relay (quite sternly I am may add) in keeping with this rite of passage that inducts young men of color into adulthood--and some white men as well--that you never fight the cops. Never. Ever.

Why? Many police officers are tired, exhausted, poorly trained, and perhaps even racist. Ultimately, and as I am so fond of quoting Morgan Freeman's great movie Nurse Betty, the police are the garbage men of the human condition. Thus, do not trust them to have patience or mercy. That is not their purview, temperament, or intent.

In watching this clip I have mixed feelings. I do not want to give into the official side of the story that exonerates the police and the powers that be. But, as a respectable negro I am dedicated to fighting stupidity wherever I find it. As I noted in this post, there are many reasons to put on the racism chasing shoes where necessary. Here, I do not choose to don them.

Moreover, and this may upset some, I think the police officer in this clip is not entirely wrong. Now, I do think he exercised poor judgment. He is surrounded by a hostile crowd. The offense is likely not worth the potential for violence. A call for backup would be necessary and should have been made from inside the protection of his vehicle. To boot, given the repeated physical assaults by the young women in the video, and the potential that his weapon could have been taken in the struggle and much more violence done, said officer exercised much restraint. Many police, and I would have thought this better than punching his assailant, would deploy either mace or a taser. In my opinion, and please feel free to disagree, that would have been a better tactical choice than what was demonstrated here.

Should said officer lose his job? Absolutely not. But again, that is for his review board to decide.

Ultimately, I have come to the following conclusion (and please tell me if I am arrogant, entitled, "respectable," and/or have social capital that blinds me to the struggles of the "ghetto underclass"): I don't care how this fight started. I don't care if the young black women in question were "right" or "wrong." You never, ever, put your hands on a cop. Why? because you could very well get shot. As my dad, mom, grandma, and others told me, "behave, listen, get the badge number, do what they say, and we will take them to court. Don't die out there."

So then, what explains the behavior of the young black women in the video? Is this a lack of home training? Do the young women in the video have a deep historical memory of slave patrols, white supremacy, and the role of police in the Racial State, and are thus fighting against their historical oppression? What in turn would explain their resistance? Or more cynically, is their behavior proof of a lack of home training amongst the ghetto underclasses, and the rise of some twisted mix of hyper-masculinity, femininity, and violence that fights all things and all people? In total, is this what happens when grandma is 30 years old?

Just being real. Politically incorrect or not. What are your thoughts on the behavior of the police officer in this video? And would this incident have not occurred if said young women acted more like ladies?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

White Newborn Babies to be a Minority in the U.S. or Which "Racial" Group will Earn their Whiteness Next?

I am underwhelmed by "news" stories that herald the decline of the white race and the browning of America. Students of U.S. history know and understand that Whiteness is a malleable category. While heavily policed, Whiteness as a racial grouping is ever expanding.

Why? because whites are by definition the majority group in the United States. Just as the Irish, Italians, Jews, Polish, and others existed on the periphery of Whiteness until they "crossed over" during the 19th and 20th centuries, in the 21st century other groups will be ushered into this always renewing and expansive club. Here, history has repeatedly demonstrated that in a practical calculation of the relative value of in-group and out-group membership, new (and old) arrivals to America clamor to enter Whiteness, the perpetual motion machine that it is, at any cost. As the old joke goes, immigrants learn two words upon arrival to this country: "okay" is first, "nigger" is second.

Here are some interesting data points in support of this hypothesis: According to a 2003 study, the majority of Latino immigrants regardless of origin self-identify as "white"; Blacks are the least desirable marriage partners for whites and immigrants, while black out-marriage has continued to increase; And in a signal to the creation of a "coloured" class and "buffer race," so called "multiracials" are the fastest growing group in the United States.

So what do you think about the racial draft into Whiteness? Which racial minority is most likely to take the leap?

Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. Nears Racial Milestone

Whites are on the verge of becoming a minority among newborn children in the U.S., marking a demographic shift that is already reshaping the nation's politics and economy.

The Census reported Thursday that nonwhite minorities accounted for 48.6% of the children born in the U.S. between July 2008 and July 2009, gaining ground from 46.8% two years earlier. The trajectory suggests that minority births will soon eclipse births of whites of European ancestry.

"The question is just when," said Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. He guesses the milestone will be crossed in the next few years, and could happen as early as 2011.

America's changing face has transformed race relations from the traditional divide of black and white to a more complex mix of race, language and religion. There are new strains on schools and social services, while immigration has emerged as one of the nation's most contentious issues—as evidenced by Arizona's recent law that makes illegal immigration a state crime.

A number of forces are pushing the U.S. toward a "majority minority" future. The median age of the white population is older than that of nonwhites, and thus a larger share of minority women are in prime child-bearing years. In addition, white women are having fewer children than nonwhites, while the growth in mixed marriages has led to more multiracial births.

The recession has slowed the transformation by reducing immigration. It also has made people of all races less willing to start families. But births among nonwhites slowed less than those among whites between July 2008 and July 2009. Among the Hispanic population, there were roughly nine births for every one death, compared with a roughly one-to-one ratio for whites.

Minorities made up 35% of the U.S. population between July 2008 and July 2009, up from 31% in 2000, the Census said. While immigration is a touchy political issue, it is not the driving factor behind the nation's growing diversity. Hispanics, for instance, accounted for 54.7% of the total population increase between July 2008 and July 2009, but about two-thirds of that gain came from births.

Charlotte, N.C., and surrounding Mecklenburg County offer a microcosm of the diversifying nation. A statue of Mahatma Gandhi stands in front of the historic county courthouse, a gift from the Charlotte Asian Heritage Association. Food Lion, a supermarket chain in the Southeast, spent the past year adding thousands of Hispanic food items to 19 Charlotte area stores. In 1990, 70.3% of the county was white. Today, it is 54.6%, and Mecklenburg County's youngest whites are a minority among their peers.

The shifting mix has "changed our definition of diversity," said Ann Clark, chief academic officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district. The district, for example, used to put its teachers through training to overcome racial biases that usually cut along black-and-white lines. Now, the district focuses more on reaching kids who live in poverty or don't speak English at home. It has hired four full-time translators and started a program to educate teachers about poverty.

Esselito Solano, a 31-year-old who owns a company that makes stone kitchen counters, said he felt like an outsider when he emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the mid-1980s. He remembers being perplexed when an elementary-school teacher made him throw away the remainders of his cafeteria lunch instead of bringing it home, a wasteful move in his native country.

Today, his young daughters are growing up as part of a nonwhite majority. In 2006, the most recent data available, 43% of the babies born in Mecklenburg County were non-Hispanic whites, according to health statistics. "They're not going to have a hard time blending in," said Mr. Solano.

Charlotte's business and social institutions also reflect the change. The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce has expanded minority membership via a program that gives discounts to several racial and ethnic chambers. In 2007, the NAACP of North Carolina formed a coalition called Historic Thousands on Jones Street People's Assembly, which is made up of 93 North Carolina advocacy groups that represent various races and ethnicities. "With this changing demographic, we had to operate in coalition," said Rev. William Barber, president of the NAACP of North Carolina.

America has long been on a path toward becoming a more diverse nation, and several states, including California and Texas, are already "majority minority." But in the past decade or so, the dual forces of assimilation and the housing boom have pushed diversity beyond gateway cities into the suburbs and across states that hadn't traditionally attracted immigrants.

Philip Maung started off in a gateway city, immigrating to Los Angeles from Burma (now Myanmar) in 1989. He moved to Charlotte in 1997 to start Hissho Sushi, now a 400-store company that sells sushi out of kiosks in airports and grocery stores. The company's 50,000-square-foot headquarters has offices, warehousing and a chilled room where a dozen employees begin rolling sushi at 3:30 a.m. "In a bigger city like New York or L.A., I wouldn't have had a shot," said Mr. Maung.

Although he has achieved the American dream, Mr. Maung said he wanted his two boys, both born in Charlotte, to understand where he came from. Two years ago, he sent the kids back to Asia to spend time learning Chinese and living in the developing world. "They'll come back with their eyes open," he said.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Vast Mineral Resources Worth 1 Trillion Dollars Discovered in Afghanistan: Will We "Racism Chasers" Discuss this Issue?

Racism chasing shoes are often made of cement. As a confession, I have many pairs of these shoes in varying sizes.

The black blogosphere, for a variety of good reasons, is always ready to respond to incidents of racism and prejudice. But many in the black blogosphere are often blind (like many of us in general) to the macro-level structural changes that impact all Americans across the colorline. Ironically, the seemingly "unsexy" or "unentertaining" stories that are buried on page 6 of the local newspaper and/or have nothing to do with celebrities, sports, and people famous for excelling at being nothing other than stupid and famous (the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world) impact the poor, working classes, and people of color the most.

The discovery of 1 trillion dollars worth of rare minerals in Afghanistan is one of those stories. These minerals are used for superconductors, weapons systems, advanced computers, and other critical areas of a superpower economy (where "superpower" is the mating of the corporate, the military, and the political).

In total, there have been quite a few stories in recent months that should have been more widely discussed by the mainstream media and also on the black blogosphere. The launch of the recoverable space plane and hypersonic cruise missile should have been widely discussed as it ushers in continued U.S. unilateralism, the further militarization of space, "global strike," and full spectrum dominance. The contraction of the U.S. money supply forebodes horrible things for the (not present) U.S. economic recovery. The U.S. is bleeding both blood and treasure in Afghanistan--with 23 dead U.S. soldiers this month alone. Moreover, among those in the know it is a given that the invasion of Afghanistan is going badly. Frighteningly, scientists reprogrammed DNA with the use of computers and created synthetic life.

The 1 trillion dollar prize in Afghanistan is a story that is at least as important as these--it is also equally likely to fly under the radar. Ultimately, the wars of the future (as they have always been...but perhaps moreso in the resource poor world of the 21st century) will be over water, oil, and liveable land. With the rise of China, and as indicated by their rush to secure resources in Africa--Afghanistan will most certainly be a highly contested prize.

Some obligatory questions of realpolitik:

  1. Will this discovery make the invasion worth it?
  2. How will 1 trillion dollars of resources complicate the United States' exiting of that country in 2011?
  3. Will the U.S. give up these minerals?
  4. Will the U.S. force Karzai's hand in order to prevent him from cutting a deal with China to exploit these resources?
  5. Will 1 trillion dollars in minerals be one more step towards an inevitable United States-China conflict?
  6. If the U.S. can exploit these resources does it make the invasion of Afghanistan worth it?
  7. And we must ask the hardest question of them all: What will the benefits of this find be for those of us not in the global power elite?
In thinking through this breaking story, I propose that for one day we hang up the racism chasing shoes. We must not forget that most of our greatest, most respectable negro intellectuals and leaders were cosmopolitan, global citizens. Oftentimes this fact is overlooked as many in the black blogosphere focus on micro-level aggressions in the post-Civil Rights era.

Remember my friends: Black is a nation, one that is local, national, and global. And this discovery, like many of "those stories" that are not explicitly about "us" or "race" are actually more important to our day to day lives and futures than the chronic racism chasers would lead you to believe.

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."