Friday, July 16, 2010

The Tea Party, Mark Williams, and Why the NAACP is the Greatest Slave Trader of Them All

"We are dealing with people who are professional race-baiters who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever. It's time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong along with all the other vile, racist groups that emerged in our history."--Mark Williams, Tea Party Express National Spokesperson

Question: Could there be any gift that does not keep on giving in the way that the tea bagger Palin brigades do with so much unselfish selflessness?

[Talk about a genius example of Oscar Wilde inspired wordplay, was that sentence not like wiping your behind with silk?]

Mark Williams' offering is one of those rare and priceless moments where a Freudian slip meets a psychological projection. Despite (or maybe because of himself) one of the key spokespeople for the Tea Party reveals who he and they really are as he attempts to rebut the charge that there are in fact racist elements within the Tea Party, all the while simultaneously deploying the white racist tactic of projection...what kids more affectionately call the "so I am, but what are you!" game.

Lost in the collective sigh and exhalation regarding the tea bagger's, Sarah Palin's, and the twisted Right wing populi's claim that the NAACP is somehow a "racist" organization, there is a teachable moment that has gone unclaimed by the punditry and the peanut galleries alike. The collective conservative White denial and defensiveness against what was a very measured and reasonable resolution by the NAACP was 1) a missed opportunity for the Tea Party to seize the initiative and be in agreement that the racists in their ranks should be expunged and 2) would suggest that in relief, the tea baggers seem to have a profound misunderstanding of the nature of chattel slavery in the New World.

Alternatively stated: What sort of twisted person would joke about slavery and suggest that the premier civil rights organization of the 20th century somehow profited more than the United States' slaveocracy and its bloody handed slave traders? That fighting White supremacy somehow earns money and profit in an order of magnitude greater than that earned by the perpetrators of one of THE greatest crimes against humanity? Ultimately, and this is the sickness implicit in white Conservative race baiting reactionary politics, how could one reasonably suggest that the Black Holocaust was somehow a benefit to African Americans?

To even have to write these questions seems absurd. The tea baggers, New Right, die hard conservatives, and their related ilk somehow believe that slavery was a walk in the park. Possessed of a bizarre view of American history (and drunken on a visual of happy slaves on ye old plantation sitting under the shade tree, playfully picking cotton, and eating watermelon till the sun sets), slavery is reduced to an inconvenience to be gotten over.

In the conservative imagination, race is not a variable that over-determines life chances even into the 21st century. No, racism would only go away if people of color would stop complaining. Just as the Civil Rights Movement was greeted by a white ethnic backlash that manufactured stories of white disenfranchisement and the folk fiction of signs that read "No Irish, No dogs," (a twisted equivalence game where all oppressions are somehow created equal) the New Right imagines white folks as being the new victims of Jim Crow.

What many willfully ignorant folk do not understand is that chattel slavery in the New World was barbaric. In the United States it tore a hole in our collective democracy and exposed the glaring contradictions of a Constitution that purported to proclaim freedom for all while excluding all those deemed 3/5th's of a person. With its long shadow, slavery in America has produced a legacy of structural inequalities in wealth, income, access, and opportunity that plague us to this day. The slaveocracy and white supremacy were also realities in which black bodies were counted as amongst the most valuable assets in the United States--so valuable in fact that a whole society would risk destruction in order to protect this human capital.

And not to be forgotten is the human cost of slavery--the millions who died during the barbaric Middle Passage, and the many millions more grinded under by the gears of the human killing fields of the plantation. These are anonymous and lost people, statistics if you would, for those who do not share their kinship or blood. For others, these are our lost brothers, sisters, ancestors, and kin. They are the whispers on the wind of memory and history not to be forgotten as they speak to a missing link in our connection to both the past and present.

In total, the way that some conservatives, and in particular how the New Right and the Mark Williams's of the world play these sacred dead for cheap political gain, suggests a broader crisis in political faith, values, empathy, and community that goes beyond race and straight to an emptiness of shared struggle in the face of common problems. We are a society in crisis. The tomfoolery and race baiting of the tea baggers makes this dire truth even more clear.

All in all Mark Williams, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party brigands believe that slavery was a joke, or alternatively that the enslavement of black Americans is a punchline to a political speech. As we began, you don't joke about slavery, the Holocaust, or the genocide of Native Americans. You just don't. When the New Right and its believers do so, they reveal once more a political culture that is terribly sick. For in conclusion, these neo-John Bircher racists show us all the while who they have always been. And for that we should be grateful...while also being truly disturbed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thursday Randomness: Bruce Lee on Fame and Being a "Star," Pray Tell What Lessons Do Your Heroes have for All of Us?

Some randomness for you all.

I have a few heroes in my life: Brother Malcolm, Martin, Muhammad Ali, and Bruce Lee. True, no bs. One of the favorite truisms I have heard throughout my years is that black folk have two pictures in their homes: Bruce Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. For some, we would add JFK Jr., especially if you went to my grandma's house.

Random factoid: I actually studied Kung Fu with one of, if not the only, African Americans to study with the most high and skilled teachers in China. I will never forget watching this brother doing our forms in dress shoes as I slipped, bare footed, embarrassed, and near fallen in front of him. Our teacher smiled, suppressed a laugh, and said I best keep practicing...

I also remember him hitting me once and I damn near was lifted off of my feet. Funny, after a few years of study I still was an incompetent...but ironically, that little bit I absorbed saved my life on one frightening night. Trust, if I had a time machine I would go back and pay closer attention to Brother Paul's teaching so I could actually be semi-competent beyond the ability to fight off young ign'ts with undersized pistols who happened to tangle with the wrong negro.

As we reach for the stars, as our wings of wax melt, and we keep on trying despite the obstacles, Brother Bruce Lee's words still resonate. I keep on trying to be a star even though I am far from being one. But funny, thus my faith in the creator of the multiverse, I keep getting lucky despite myself.

Ain't fate grand?

My respectable negroes friends and allies, tell me of your heroes and what lessons they have taught you? Are your heroes conventional or unconventional? Are these personal lessons which none can comprehend? Or are these teachings for all of us to grasp and share?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Absurdity of the Day: Sarah Palin and the Tea Baggers Accuse the NAACP of being "Racist" and "Divisive"

We do indeed live in strange times. So for the Right, the NAACP is a "racist" organization, and the tea baggers are innocent Americans unfairly accused of racist behavior?

Beyond partisan sniping, what is so troubling about this classic, white deflection (i.e. a mirroring where those who call out racism are in turn labeled as "racists") is that it involves a 1) deep misunderstanding of what racism actually is and 2) that in the 24 hour news cycle where all points of view are equally valid, Palin and the Vox Right peanut gallery's claims will be elevated to that of the reasoned and rational.

Mining white racial resentment for electoral gains is a tried and true strategy of the Right and Conservatives in this country. Remember, political parties are a brand name, a type of shortcut that helps its members (potential or actual) decide to support the organization. While by the reasonable person standard the Tea Party may not be a classic white supremacist organization per se, they certainly contain a great many racists. Moreover, if public opinion data is any indication, the tea baggers are certainly very "traditional" in their racial attitudes.

Ultimately, (and as I suggested before) the tea baggers condone and give safe harbor to the racists in their midst. For me, that is enough to christen the Tea Party as the new age John Birchers that they are, a group of people who as I often remark may not hold the noose at the lynching party, but would show up in their Sunday finery and cheer it on.

To point on the twisted world in which the Right wing populists live, a choice excerpt from the article "NAACP vs. Tea Party: Racism Debate Heats Up as Sarah Palin Joins Fray":

The St. Louis Tea Party coalition on Monday evening passed a resolution of its own condemning the NAACP for "hypocritically engaging in the very conduct it purports to oppose." The resolution calls on the NAACP to withdraw its resolution. It even urges the IRS to reconsider its tax-exempt status of the NAACP because of what the Tea Party coalition dubbed the organization's "habitual partisan political behavior."

Former Alaska Gov. Palin , a vocal advocate of the Tea Party movement, jumped into the heated race debate Monday night, assailing the NAACP resolution as an example of "typical divisive politics that is so absolutely unnecessary." "The Tea Party movement is a beautiful movement, full of diverse people, diverse backgrounds," Palin said on Fox News' "Hannity." "It's very unfortunate that they are taking this tactic because it's a false accusation that Tea Party Americans are racist. Any good American hates racism. We don't stand for it. It is unacceptable." Palin in turn called on President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to "repudiate" the resolution and "set the record straight."

The former GOP vice presidential candidate tweeted her support for the Tea Party again today: "I'm busy today so notify me asap when NAACP renders verdict: are liberty-loving, equality-respecting patriots racist? Bated breath,waiting..." Other Tea Party loyalists charge the NAACP's charges are driven solely by political motivations and are misguided. "Those ideas that Tea Party people are racist and that we're trying to instigate a racist climate in this country, that's simply a lie. That's out and out falsehood," said Rev. C.L. Bryant, a former president of NAACP's Garland, Texas, chapter who is now a leading Tea Party activist.

"I have not heard one racial slur that came out of that march," said Bryant, referring to the Tea Party protest on Capitol Hill where members of Congress alleged racist comments. "Those were simply Americans who were protesting."


We do indeed live in interesting times, do we not? And am I so wrong to yearn for the good old days of honest racists and honest racism? When folks wore their stripes (or hoods) proudly for all to see?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Of Race and Science: It would Seem that Different Centers of Gravity Explain Black and White Differences in Swimming and Running

I get goose bumps when I see these stories because someone's career is about to take a turn, one both unexpected and unintended, for the worst:

This disparity in athletic achievement, obvious to Olympic viewers, throws up so many sensitive questions of race and human difference that it is rarely discussed in public. But now two US academics have risked controversy by publishing a theory that attempts to explain the contrasting performance of black and white athletes using the laws of locomotion.

They argue that black sprinters have a 0.15 second advantage over their white rivals because they tend to have a higher centre of gravity, meaning they can fall to the ground more quickly between each stride. Conversely, having a lower then average centre of gravity helps white swimmers because their speed is determined by the height they can get above water.

More of their upper bodies are above the waterline, so they can generate and ride larger waves.

Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University in North Carolina, and Dr Edward Jones of Howard University in Washington, used existing data on the body dimensions of soldiers of various nationalities to determine that black people – or more precisely those of West African origin – have a centre of gravity three per cent higher than white people.

Prof Bejan said the theory “completely accounts” for the increasing racial segregation of Olympic podiums.


As a society, we have struggled long and hard to disabuse the masses of any notion that race is a biological construct. Nevertheless, we often confront the Occam's razor test for what constitutes knowledge on these matters: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must be a duck. So then, when one group seemingly dominates a sport for example, some then make a leap of faith regarding all other members of said "racial" group. In short, biology mates with performance to become destiny.

We have to be careful here because the relationship between race and science is so ugly, perilous, and barbaric. However, we must also ask ourselves should these questions about biology and race be pursued precisely because we are afraid of them? And what to do with knowledge (however socially inconvenient) that in other contexts may yield some social good--here for example, research on diseases that are almost exclusive to certain "racial" groups?

We know that race is a true lie (there is only one race, the human race). But there is something oddly compelling about the study of inter-group difference and assumed phenotypical differences.

Ultimately, I would suggest that these stories about race and athletic prowess tell us more about culture, values, and relative returns on investment than anything about biology. Black folk are not naturally good jumpers and runners, thus their predominance in the NBA. No, there is a self-fulfilling narrative that some black folk who grow up in ghetto communities gravitate to a game that is cheap to play, assigns local prestige, and which seems to offer the illusion of escape from the 'hood. In the early 20th century it was Jews who dominated basketball in the U.S. for many of the same reasons:

Could it be that West Africans, and in particular folks from the African ethnic groups studied have a cultural and financial incentive to invest in running? Or more generally, that whites dominate swimming because of the many cultural, geographic, and financial incentives for them to learn and excel at that particular sport?

The problem with the argument that West African blacks and white swimmers are somehow designed differently (and thus these divergent outcomes) is one of incompleteness: The math and physics may be right, but the conclusion is methodologically insufficient because the model excludes the variables of culture and history.

The full story follows here.

Does Aaron McGruder Hate Black Women?--"The Lovely Ebony Brown," Boondocks Season 3 Episode Reviewed

Are things really this dire in the black community? Would a beautiful young black woman have to marry an old black man to find love?

Are the tensions that great, and the divides so huge, between black men and black women? As one of my colleagues emotionally and instinctively interjects when we try to have a reasonable conversation about black professional women and their marriage prospects, "are black women in fact mules?" Are they really that unloved, unwanted, and the least desirable of all women in American society?

Let slip the dogs of war. Brother Aaron McGruder is going to be in some hot mess scalding like boiling chitterlings and the hot grits thrown at Al Green after The Lovely Ebony Brown circulates on these Internets. Trust, this episode will be talked about for years, angrily responded to, written about by the punditry, vilified by black feminists, and flamed on folks who likely didn't watch the episode in its entirety. And moreover, by folks that are preordained and have as a standing decision rule to reject any critical self-reflective exploration of black male-female relationships because The Lovely Ebony Brown does not offer a simple validation of the black women as perpetual victims meme.

Ultimately, as he demonstrated with his deconstruction of that coontastic minstrel Tyler Perry, McGruder's most recent Boondocks episode "The Lovely Ebony Brown" is one more example of him leaving it all on the dance floor and going out in style. He is a genius with uncommon honesty and insight into the dynamics of the post-Civil Rights black public. I ain't "dick riding" as the expression goes. No, I am simply acknowledging courage and uncommon smarts when I see them. Kudos to you Mr. McGruder.

As I did with the Boondocks episode "Pause," here are some thoughts, reflections, Easter Eggs, and the like:

1. What is really going on with the marriage dynamic between black men and black women? Sure, marriage markets matter and black women are more likely to marry "down." But, there seems to be a fixation and assumption that black men, and black male professionals in particular, are obsessed with marrying outside of the race. In reality, the out marriage rate for black Americans is quite low. Even among black men, the group most common to "out marry," the percentage is rather modest. We notice these outliers, the classic bogeyman pairing of the upwardly mobile black man and quasi-upward white woman that is the nightmare of some black women, precisely because it is infrequent. Thus we see the pink elephant and take it as the norm, as opposed to noticing all the gray elephants that are the most common.

Restated in different terms: most folk, the vast majority, marry within their own racial group.

Random thought: given that Asian women have the highest out marriage rates, what are the private conversations on this topic like among our Asian brothers?

So why all the fuss about interracial relationships? For some sisters (and brothers), what about investing in improving one's own self esteem as opposed to obsessing about the love partners and relationship choices made by other people?

2. The Chain of Being. This episode showed McGruder's depth and literacy once more as it repeatedly winked at the aforementioned historical artifact. This concept, born of The Atlantic Slave Trade, reached back to The Bible and its tale of The Curse of Ham to justify black enslavement. Here, in the White supremacist Colonial/Imperial imagination, a chain of being from beast to those of African decent was created where "White Europeans" were naturally on top as full citizens and human beings, and all others on the bottom. A neat arrangement if you want to conquer continents and rape, destroy, and kill "people" by the tens of millions without any guilt and with the support of the Church.

3. Slight of hand. Foreground and background. Was The Lovely Ebony Brown more of a Grandpa episode or a Ruckus episode? In favor of the latter see the following classic quotes unleashed by the Honorable Reverend Uncle Ruckus:

"Black women don't jog, that way they don't sweat out all of those industrial strength toxic avenger chemicals they use to straighten out their hair." [Extra points for the Toxic Avenger reference by the way].

"The key to happiness is to eliminate all black women from your life."

I have many favorite racial slurs. I will now add Uncle Ruckus' use of "wildebeest," and "Afro tramp," to my verbal Rolodex. Interestingly, Ruckus missed my favorite gendered racial slur: she-boon.

"I mean she was a ape but she was the prettiest ape I ever seen."

"Finally that which the darkie has done in darkness shall come to light."

"A black woman's body is the temple of doom!"

"Beneath that big soft lotioney exterior, those wide inviting hips, and that ample chocolate bosom is a savage Africanized pot boiling bone in the nose doing the monkey dance playing drums female!"

4. On relationships: Folks are generally messed up. Returning to the social commentary underlying this episode, am I the only one disturbed by the black woman in peril narrative and can't find a good black man meme that is commonly used as a mask for avoiding critical self reflection? For example, in the popular imagination all the sisters are marriageable and all the black men are raggedy, on the DL, in jail, dating white women or the like. What of the fact that many folks--men and women are not marriageable in general--and what would this do to the debate?

5. Obvious wink from the episode: the folly and stupidity of Myspace Internet celebrity status.

6. Second obvious wink from the episode: Jackie Brown.

7. On a serious note. The conversation about running, exercise, and Black women. Did you know that 80 percent of black women are overweight? How are the euphemisms of "strong black woman," "thick," the enabling behavior of such pseudo-celebrities as the Venus Hottentot wannabe Buffie the Body, and the valorizing of such folks as Monique and Precious, enabling this health crisis?

8. Inside academic, upwardly mobile, black bourgeoisie joke: Tom, resident black professional, extols the beauty and wonder of black women all the while being married to a white woman.

9. Second inside academic, upwardly mobile, black bourgeoisie joke. Grandpa's exaggerations of his participation in The Civil Rights Movement in the face of an obvious collective action problem a la Dennis Chong's book Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement.

10. Ghetto nerd confession. In my early years I wanted to have my way with Jessica Rabbit. In my later tween years I would have devoured Lynn Minmay. My newest cartoon crush is Ebony Brown. Oh Lords of Kobol, please send her my way and I would take Miss Brown to space mountain again and again and again!

11. Moral of this most recent Boondocks episode: Be careful what you wish for, as you may get he or she and then proceed to mess said relationship up. Question: How many of you have found the partner of your dreams only to talk yourself out of it and push them away?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: Chris Hitchens' Ownage of Four Religious Scholars at Once

I am a big fan of polemicist, writer, professional provocateur, and thinker Chris Hitchens. As you know, I firmly believe that religion ruins all things (a separate claim from my deeply held faith in the existence of God as the master of the multiverse). While I will never approach the deftness of Hitchens in how he argues such a basic point, I can still admire his verbal, intellectual, and philosophical jujitsu. To that point, for your Saturday enjoyment here is some classic Chris Hitchens doing his own version of Dusty Rhodes' atomic bionic elbow on 4 foes at once--and never losing a beat or breath while doing so.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Weekend Funny: Mel Gibson's Racist Rant Revealed or Let's Play the Mel Gibson Movie Quotable Racism Game

I do think this is oh so funny as I love it when people show themselves for who they always are and have been. The only real tragedy is that I won't be able to watch the Lethal Weapon movies anymore (ironic given the interracial buddy role formula perfected by that series).

However, all is not lost with the movie Braveheart. It is a new classic and Mel's most recent racist rant should not sentence the Oscar winning film to the dustbin of history. I really believe that if we work hard enough, that we can take Braveheart back. How? By using the best of our jazz sensibilities and improvising around Braveheart's many quotables, we can salvage Mel's racism for the common, creative good.

For example, see Mel Gibson's heroic pronouncement as William Wallace that:

Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!....from a pack of niggers.

Or how about this one:

Now tell me, what does that mean to be noble? Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don't follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I...from a pack of niggers.


We all end up dead, it's just a question of how and why...from a pack of niggers.

What a fun game! What other Mel Gibson movies can we improvise around using elements of his pithy, crude, racism?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Riddle Me This: How is it Possible to Fail a Take Home Open Book Exam?

Breaking kayfabe once more. For folks in academia summer is a time to catch up on one's own work that has been neglected throughout the prior nine months. I have a major project to finish (THE major project for those in the know...30ish more pages, please send me luck). Yet for reasons both financial and practical, I decided to teach a 4 week intensive summer course. For the most part the students are a good, likeable lot. As is common to summer courses some are there because they are especially motivated. Others are enrolled because they guessed that the summer version of a given course will be easier than its traditional quarter/semester/trimester companion.

I am a reasonable guy and thus split the difference. In four weeks I cannot assign the same amount of work as I would in a traditional class. But, I can hold you accountable for what you do read and will hopefully find a way to present it in an interesting way that will hold your attention--thus discussion, mixed with documentaries, small group work and simulations. As the cherry on top of this delightful dish, I even offered a take home, open book midterm that was due 48 hours after it was assigned...a proverbial gift presented on a gold infused platter.

Pray tell you ask, "how many students passed the exam? Most must have surely gotten an A!" You would be mistaken my friends. Out of some twenty students the average grade was a low C or D with a few F's for good measure. The good students did great and "knicked it out of the box." The other students floundered. In keeping with my being some sort of empiricist, when I see the unpredictable I try to do a little research and make sense of the world. Here, I decided to use these Internets for something productive: What do educational journals, The Chronicle, and the like say about student performance and take home exams?

Unfortunately, the conclusions were scattered and unconvincing. But, I then stumbled upon this gem of an essay by Thomas Reeves on the History News Network. Although it does not directly address the mysteries of how and why students fail a comparatively easy task, the piece does give us some context for how college and university life is changing at the nadir of the American empire. While the author's lamentations are from the hinterlands of academic Siberia (his words, not mine), my gut tells me that his observations about anti-intellectualism in American life rings true across the land...and not just in higher ed.

Some choice excerpts from My Experience Teaching Apathetic Students at a School with Open Admissions:

What I have seen going on in the world of open admissions education I call "The Classroom Game." Since I teach two introductory survey courses every semester in American history, let me begin there.

One quickly learns that the young people signed up for 101 and 102 (the chronological break between the courses at Parkside is 1877) know virtually nothing about the history of their own nation. They have no grasp of colonial America (I've been asked, "Is the seventeenth century the 1700s?") or the nation's constitutional machinery. All religion baffles them (no doubt a tribute to the secularism dominant in modern public schools), all intellectual history eludes them, and politics bores them. Even after instruction, they often confuse World War I and World War II. All the presidents before Clinton are a blur; Franklin D. Roosevelt sometimes shows up on exams in the Gilded Age and U.S. Grant in the twentieth century. Almost all of the students simply refuse to memorize the Chief Executives in their proper chronological order. In fact, they choose to ignore dates of any kind; written exams rarely contain any. More than one student has told me frankly, "I don't do dates."

This proud ignorance rests on a seemingly invincible anti-intellectualism. The blue collar families from which the Parkside students normally come do not stress reading, and the students are generally first generation college. (I can empathize, as I was the first in my family's history to graduate from high school.) These amiable, polite, almost invariably likeable young people read little or nothing. In a class of 50, not more than one or two read a newspaper daily; what tiny grasp they have of current events comes from television news. Reading books and magazines outside the classroom is not something they would even consider doing. In short, they have no intellectual life and see no need for one. They can talk about several things, including their jobs, television, sports, and Rock, but they are often baffled and sometimes irritated to hear from their professor that there is more to life. If that "more" requires reading, they aren't interested.

On the first day of class, you learn that only a minority of the students has purchased the textbook. The others have either not gotten around to it (a few never do) or are waiting until they size up the professor. If he or she seems demanding, some make a hasty exit...

Are things really this bad? And if so, what then of this country's future?

Armchair Sociology: Ghetto Ign't Children, Social Disorganization, and the Origin of Black Female-Headed Families

He had a toy gun. And he is tatted up. So sad. I must ask: Where is the free Norplant bus? Is there a voucher available for this essential public health service?

Just getting back into the swing of things following the holiday. For now, we are upping the momentum and slowly getting going again--trust, something fun and special is forthcoming (at least I think so). And yes, there will be a Predators review posted late Thursday night for we/us/you ghetto nerds--it is on the schedule and budgeted for as midnight showings mean this ghetto negro got to get the cab back to Hyde Park after the late show and a few Stella's at Streeter's Bar (you all are lucky because July is a 3 paycheck month).

For now, my colleagues that have figured out my online name, friends, and respectable negro comrades may turn turn up their noses at this post, but I submit that it is oh so appropriate and perfect for the purposes of reflecting on negro respectability. In keeping with earlier pieces where I promised to bring 1) posts relevant to Daniel Patrick Moynihan or 2) examples that are directly or tangentially related to his thesis on the ghetto underclasses, I present ghetto, ign't chilluns enabled by their mommies or baby daddies behaving as only "they" can. The cell is ready. What will his prisoner number be in 10 or 15 years?

Ultimately, ain't fate a cruel mistress? Oh how so sad the power of life chances are, cause this kid is done for.

Hate me if you will. But Courtesy of Oh Hell Nawl, you all cannot resist the impulse to laugh at this coonery. I dare you. Tell me how you can drink a Coke or eat a Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich and not laugh and projectile vomit all of yourself while watching this clip!

Now, my two academic interventions.

First some good stuff: As excised from The Origin of Black Female-Headed Families by Erol Ricketts courtesy of the Institute on Poverty Research:

To restate the main points of this article: Significant family-formation problems among the black population are of recent origin, for there is no evidence suggesting that family-formation patterns of blacks have historically been fundamentally different from those of whites. If anything, the evidence shows that blacks married at higher rates during most of the period studied. Serious family-formation problems among blacks began to emerge after World War 11, when black urbanization surpassed that of whites. I have speculated that the unprecedented economic uncertainty experienced by both upper-class and lower-class blacks over the last few decades is at the core of the family-formation problems of both groups. And because both groups function in the same marriage market, I believe the shortage of marriageable men relative to women and the hedging of bets by both men and women will likely contribute to a spiraling of family-formation problems over the near future. It is unlikely that these problems can be easily reversed, and they are likely to get worse without significant changes in economic circumstances.

Some weaker sauce from Wikipedia...but still pretty powerful. On social disorganization theory:

Social disorganization theory pioneers Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay suggested that disorganized communities characterized by poverty, population heterogeneity, and residential mobility weakened the effectiveness of social controls (Kelly, 2000; Messner, Baumer, & Rosenfeld, 2004). Weakened social controls led to the inability of communities to solve problems, which, in turn, led to crime. While the theory was initially popularized by Shaw and McKay, “the concept of social disorganization was applied to the explanation of crime, delinquency, and other social problems by sociologists at the University of Chicago in the early 1900s” (Jensen, 2003, p. 1). At that time, the city of Chicago was the perfect laboratory for social research as it was booming with industry and was the home to an increasingly diverse population. With this rapid growth and constant change, social problems ensued, allowing society to become somewhat disorganized.

In light of the social problems plaguing Chicago and its suburbs, Shaw and McKay studied the prevalent local crime and delinquency. Building on “an ecological theory of urban dynamics,” social disorganization theory aimed to explain the larger ratio of delinquency that occurred in certain Chicago neighborhoods (Cantillon, Davidson, & Schweitzer, 2003, p. 322). Shaw and McKay “discovered that high delinquency rates persisted in certain Chicago neighborhoods for long periods of time despite changes in the racial and ethnic composition of these communities—a finding that led to the conclusion that neighborhood ecological conditions shape crime rates over and above the characteristics of individual residents” (Kubrin & Weitzer, 2003, p. 374). Further, their study revealed that high rates of crime occur in those communities that exhibit declining populations and physical deterioration (Jensen, 2003).

At its core, social disorganization theory focuses on the effects of location and location-specific characteristics as they relate to crime (Mustaine, Tewksbury, & Stengel, 2006). Neighborhoods lacking organization lack the necessary social controls and are unable to provide essential services. This leads to an inability of the community to control its public, which is why “one way to define social disorganization is to view such places as unable to maintain public order through informal means” (Mustaine et al., 2006, p. 332). The absence of public order coupled with the problematic characteristics of disorganized communities—namely, poverty, population heterogeneity, and residential mobility—are strong predictors of high crime rates. In fact, “defined in terms of the absence or breakdown of certain types of relationships among people,” social disorganization theory “is intimately tied to conceptions of those properties of relationships that are indicative of social or communal ‘organization’” (Jensen, 2003, p. 1).

The question then becomes: How effective is social disorganization theory in explaining criminal behavior? There are five criteria used in evaluating theories, which demonstrate whether the theory makes sense in the simplest way of explaining crime and whether the theory is able to be tested to deliver true and valid results. In greater detail, each of the five criteria is applied to social disorganization theory as follows:

  1. Logical consistency: Social disorganization theory makes sense; its assumptions are logically consistent.
  2. Scope: While aiming to explain a broad range of phenomenon, the scope of social disorganization theory is an effective tool to be used in critical analysis of criminal behavior.
  3. Parsimony: Social disorganization theory is simple and easy to comprehend as demonstrated by the name of the theory itself.
  4. Testability: As seen with the early studies of Shaw and McKay as well as more recent efforts, it is clear that social disorganization theory is able to be tested and is not limited in its scientific value.
  5. Empirical validity: Shaw and McKay’s study supported the research as did the more recent efforts of Elizabeth Ehrhardt Mustaine, Richard Tewksbury, and Kenneth M. Stengel in their 2006 study of registered sex offenders, illustrating the validity of social disorganization theory.
Because social disorganization theory is effective within the scope of the aforementioned criteria, it follows that the theory is useful in the real word and, therefore, has possible public policy implications.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy July 4th From Fred G. Sanford and Frederick Douglass

We respectable negroes have created many a fiction about our family origins and The War for Independence. Funny, we black folk rush to claim Crispus Attuks. But, we ignore the inconvenient fact that more Black Americans fought for the British than the Colonials. Alas, I guess a nation needs a unifying myth of who am I to rock the apple cart?

Before you go out and indulge in cheap beer, Boon's Farm liquor, corn on the cob, and baby back ribs, please reflect on the Black Patriots (the real ones, not Glenn Beck's twisted version of that great truth). For example, take a few moments to honor such men as Frederick Douglass who after beating up white overseers (my favorite bedtime story as a young negro in training) and tricking poor white trash children into teaching him the alphabet, found the time to write such great speeches as What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

My favorite passage:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.


Eat drink and be merry on this 4th of July. And by all means, if you are playing with fireworks don't lose an eye!

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Love of Feces and Glenn Beck's (Not So Shocking) Drive-by on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King was an American hero. He was also a radical humanitarian and global citizen. Of course, Dr. King is heralded as one of the saviors of Black America and leaders of the Black Freedom Struggle. True, but I always felt that he did more to help the White Soul than is commonly understood or admitted. White supremacy is a mental illness and an affliction of the mind, heart, and spirit. White America was made sick from Jim Crow. Dr. King fought to make it a little better.

We know that Glenn Beck is a shill and a fraud. He is also pathological. Thus, in keeping with my tradition of detailing keywords which describe social and political phenomena, I offer the following: In his twisted rewriting of Dr. King's legacy and The Civil Rights Movement, Glenn Beck is demonstrating his propensity for coprophagia:

Coprophagia is the consumption of feces, from the Greek κόπρος copros ("feces") and φαγεῖν phagein ("to eat"). Many animal species practice coprophagia as a matter of course; other species do not normally consume feces but may do so under unusual conditions. Coprophagy refers to many kind of feces eating including eating feces of other species (heterospecifics), other individuals (allocoprophagy), or its own (autocoprophagy), those once deposited or taken directly from the anus.

In animals, this behavior is often adaptive. Interestingly, Glenn Beck displays much of this profile. For example, coprophagia in dogs is--

Attention-seeking behavior: When the dog engages in coprophagia, their owner tends to reprimand and, therefore, pay attention to the animal. Perhaps your friend didn't get enough parental attention. Although, I'll bet a child who eats FECES gets LOTS of attention...

Allelomimetic behavior: The dog observes the owner picking up the feces and learns from them to do so as well. Maybe your friend's parents ate their own crap. (Unlikely, but your friend sounds pretty whack, so we must consider it.)

Dominance behavior: There have been reports of a submissive dog consuming the feces of one or more dominant dogs in the same household. There are other examples in nature where the submissive members of a group participate in apparently bizarre behaviors. Your friend may unconsciously want to be the "top dog" in his human relationships. In my opinion, however, it is doubtful that stool-eating will help accomplish this.

Reinforcement: Something about eating the feces itself reinforces the behavior. Things such as taste may be a factor in this. It's simply appealing to the dog to eat the feces, so it does so. Again, this is not likely the explanation for your friend's behavior. I can only imagine how shit tastes, and wouldn't think it appealing.

But however we phrase it, Glenn Beck is what we have always known him to be--a shit eater.

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?