Thursday, September 9, 2010

Black is a Country: "Gypsies," Justice, and Brown Versus Board of Education



Last week I was watching the movie Drag Me to Hell with a friend. At some point I had a moment of clarity, turned to her and said, "damn, the Roma have it harder than black folks."

The film jarred loose a series of memories. When I was a teenager I clearly recall my Korean American war bride boss coming into the convenience store where I worked and warning me that I should be especially vigilant because "gypsies have been sighted all across Connecticut, and they are robbing Shell gas stations by swarming them like bees!" I also found a lost laugh recalling a colleague who traveled to Hungary and was robbed by a "Roma woman who pulled up her t-shirt to reveal mesmerizing, gigantic breasts which she then proceeded to squeeze such that milk was expelled." My friend--now blinded by Roma breast milk--was then robbed and left penniless in a remote village.

Consider for a moment: Gypies are constantly stereotyped, vilified, and reduced to the most foul caricatures of personhood. I would suggest that in the hierarchy of groups that are still permissible as targets of mass humor and stereotyping in America, they would rank somewhere above East and South Asians and below poor white people. In terms of socioeconomic status, "gypsies" (I hate that word) have likely earned their whiteness in America and been washed away into a sea of nondescript stock of Eastern European descent where they achieve (or not) just like any other group of plain ol' white folks. But even in the United States, the stigma of being a "gypsy" still remains. By contrast, in Europe the stigma against gypsies exists as naked hostility, hostility that is stark, harsh, and often violent.

For example, in Eastern Europe the Roma have been struggling against discrimination in their access to education and schooling. They have modeled their resistance on the groundbreaking legal decision Brown versus Board of Education which was one of the first nails in the coffin of Jim Crow. The Roma's use of Brown is inspirational. Despite its struggles with obsolescence in the present, the Roma's enlistment of Brown signals the historical weight of the NAACP as an organization. More broadly, the use of Brown v. Board, and their appropriating the language of The Civil Rights Movement (never forget that The Movement itself borrowed and was inspired by Gandhi's anti-colonial struggle) is an object lesson in how the Black Freedom Struggle has given so much to Americans of all colors, and has inspired people around the world.

Black Americans often don't claim that gift. Perhaps, it is because like Americans at large (and to paraphrase Gore Vidal) we don't have a memory past last Tuesday. Maybe it is a function of some odd mix of colorblindness, charity, and politeness that those in the know may claim the genius that is Black creativity in the arts, letters, and music, but for whatever reason these same members of the negro intelligentsia are often resistant to claiming our gifts to American democracy.

The Roma haven't forgotten. They know that Black is a country. And perhaps the wellspring that is blackness as "political race" will give them the strength to overcome the adversity and challenges facing them as a people.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Of Follow the North Star and Steal Away Jordan: Would You Play a Roleplaying Game Set During Slavery in the Antebellum South?



This ain't Darkon.

One of my favorite joys as a teenage ghetto nerd was playing hour upon hour of Dungeons and Dragons or Star Wars with my friends (most notably our guest blogger "Bill the Lizard"). In particular, I loved running an epic Star Wars campaign where through my machinations the players all ended up in a moral conundrum (one impossible to resolve) that would inevitably tempt one of them to embrace the dark side of The Force.

Ultimately, role playing games are an exercise in theater, friendship, and conviviality. At their root, they--at least for me--are about escaping reality and not engaging in the heavy day to day struggles of negotiating one's identity and its relationship to structurally embedded relationships of power.

To that point: Over the weekend I continued to meditate on the question of historical memory, tourism, and respect for our honored ancestors. During that time, I did a little more research and stumbled upon some interesting--and disturbing--finds. Apparently, the African Holocaust and slavery in the Americas is entertainment mated with education in some circles.

Some discoveries.

1. As seen in the leading video, Conner Prairie, an Indiana based living museum, offers a range of experiences for its visitors. One of these is "Follow the North Star" where visitors navigate The Underground Railroad to freedom. As Conner Praire's website notes: "This interactive glimpse into our shared past will affect you in ways that reading a book or watching a movie about it cannot." Be weary though as many dangers are afoot as Follow the North Star is not for everyone. "You should be prepared to take on the role of a runaway slave; you'll be walking outside on rough terrain in all kinds of weather, told to keep your eyes focused downward and spoken to in an abrupt manner."

I wonder if visitors can be whipped, branded, physically disfigured, manacled, or raped and defiled to complete the "historical" experience? Question: who would react more strongly to this live action role playing experience? Young "post-racial" black people or their white peers of the same generational cohort?

2. There is apparently a pen and paper role-playing game called Steal Away Jordan. In this game, you can play any number of "characters" in the antebellum United States. One can be a slave owner, a master, a runaway, a free person, etc. The only limit is your imagination and the boundaries imposed by your fellow players. But once more, I don't see how there is any pleasure to be had in reenacting such suffering (perhaps therapy, but joy and entertainment?).

For the curious, here is an in-depth interview with Julia Bond Ellingboe, the creator of the game.

As an example of my worry about how these types of "reenactments" can go oh so wrong because they trivialize the experience of what was then a heretofore unimaginable historical tragedy, see this post where a white gamer concludes following a session of Steal Away Jordan that:

This experience has always made me not accept the 400 years of oppression argument. As an individual there is no way society can stop you from achieving. The problem is you have to not give in to people who want you to stay where you are. That's difficult. Anyway... that yes masta moment has me reexamining some of my thoughts as that's the first time in my life I've ever felt wrong, like I'd done something racist.

3. Insert finger into throat and induce vomiting. I only have questions. Abolition News Network? A high school project gone wrong? Just all around poor taste? Is this people's exhibit number one of how a well-intentioned "diversity" training session can go very very wrong?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

When Stupid People don't Know that They are Stupid: Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor Rally and the Dunning-Kruger Effect



The masses are asses. We know this. But the level of ignorance displayed by the attendees at the "Restoring Honor" rally is shocking even by contemporary standards.

It is quite clear that Glenn Beck is a master propagandist with a chilling and Svengali-like power over the lemmings of the New Right. Beck-watching is compelling (to me at least) because his popularity is a barometer of the toxins in our political atmosphere. Moreover, I wonder if Beck's followers would be so slavish as to follow him off a cliff, and to what extremes would the tea party brigands go in their devotion to his cult of personality.

To point, here is a little armchair sociology to help put Beck and the New Right's devotees into a broader context:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence: because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. "Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."

The Dunning–Kruger effect was put forward by Justin Kruger and David Dunning. Similar notions have been expressed–albeit less scientifically–for some time. Dunning and Kruger themselves quote Charles Darwin ("Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge") and Bertrand Russell ("One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."

The Dunning–Kruger effect is not, however, concerned narrowly with high-order cognitive skills (much less their application in the political realm during a particular era, which is what Russell was talking about.Nor is it specifically limited to the observation that ignorance of a topic is conducive to overconfident assertions about it, which is what Darwin was saying. Indeed, Dunning et al. cite a study saying that 94% of college professors rank their work as "above average" (relative to their peers), to underscore that the highly intelligent and informed are hardly exempt. Rather, the effect is about paradoxical defects in perception of skill, in oneself and others, regardless of the particular skill and its intellectual demands, whether it is chess, playing golf or driving a car.

The hypothesized phenomenon was tested in a series of experiments performed by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, then both of Cornell University. Kruger and Dunning noted earlier studies suggesting that ignorance of standards of performance is behind a great deal of incompetence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis.

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Slave Cabin Sleepovers: Honoring The African Holocaust and Our Ancestors or Trivializing their Memory?



Would you sleep in a cabin once occupied by black slaves in the antebellum South? Is this honoring the memory of our many millions gone, or is it trivializing their suffering, freedom struggle, and triumph?

Yesterday was the informal beginning of my academic year. In a change of pace from last year, I was asked to participate in a program where first year students are oriented to the university and the "big city." My course: Race, Conflict, and Segregation. Yes, I am difficult. And yes, there is no better way of introducing young minds to college than some real talk about power, privilege, and the built environment.

Today we went to the local African American Museum of Culture and History. While black cultural politics and history is my broad area of "expertise," I have always found it hard to teach on this topic. As is common with folks asked to work in their depth, we are often more interested in complicating the narrative, while our students are still trying to get the broad strokes and basics. My solution today was to let my young charges wander about and to occasionally intervene when appropriate.

However, I did stake out some space for observation. I wanted to see how (and if) the cone of uncomfortable silence and discomfort would magically descend around the exhibit on The Middle Passage and The Transatlantic Slave Trade. Inevitably it appeared. Some White students looked at the manacles and chains curiously...like something alien that they could not comprehend (or was that unprocessed guilt in action?). Few of the Black students ventured close to this exhibit--perhaps for fear of feeling "marked" or "marginalized?" Of being reminded of their origins in The New World and the echoes of history in the present as they yearn for a post-racial future?

I wanted to intervene and talk about the millions killed. How America's rise to preeminent economic power was built on the African Holocaust and its human assets. Or to ask them about the diagram of the slaver, where black humanity was chained foot to foot, hand to hand, bodies smashed and abused, soiled and left for dead, whole human cargoes cast overboard for insurance money, trapped for months in the cacophonous cargo hold of a ship where Africans of many peoples entered and a new people--and modernity--emerged on the other side of the Atlantic. I wanted to explain how there was so much death that sharks learned to follow the slave trading routes to catch a quick meal at the cost of little effort expended. And how this crime against humanity still structures American history and our search for a more inclusive and perfect democracy.

I chose not to. Was this is a teachable moment never to be recaptured? What would you have said? How would the students have responded? What could I have said to do justice to the honored ancestors and their experience with the incomprehensible?

Civil War reenactor Joseph McGill has been trying to commune with the ancestors by sleeping in slave cabins throughout South Carolina. His mission is noble and ought to be admired. However, part of me is uncertain about his project. For example, I have always wanted to go on a tour of the underground railroad where one traces the actual routes used, sleeping in basements, navigating north to freedom over several weeks. I have also wanted to go to Goree Island in Senegal, where I would meditate in the slave fortresses where thousands upon thousands were imprisoned and died.

As powerful as the experience would be, I wouldn't have slave dogs on my heels and bounty hunters a step behind me. I wouldn't be trapped in the belly of a beast, exhausted and frightened beyond all belief, for I knew not what would happen to me tomorrow. What would you do? How does one balance a yearning to experience just a tiny bit of the unimaginable with a fear of reducing hallowed ground to a tourism destination?

Original, Historic Fabric Makes Hobcaw Barony Slave Cabin Stay Special

by National Trust for Historic Preservation on August 17th, 2010

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

Joe McGill at Hobcaw Barony.

My first slave cabin stay in Georgetown County, South Carolina was Hobcaw Barony. I had great anticipation for this stay because of the county’s historical ties to the growing of rice. Many slaves were imported into the state of South Carolina because of their knowledge of growing rice.

Two media representatives made arrangements to spend the night with me on this visit. In the end only one – Eric Frasier from the Charlotte Observer - stayed. His role on this occasion was as a freelance writer exploring my desire to sleep in slave cabins.

I met George Chastain, executive director of Hobcaw Barony, at the Visitor’s Center at 6:00 p.m. as scheduled. Representatives from the media were there also. After learning about the history of the plantation from George we all proceeded to the cabins. Once at the cabins the media proceeded to follow my every move as I toured each and every building.

The mosquitoes were fierce so I knew that I would be in for a long night. After dousing myself with insect repellent, I became more tolerant of the mosquitoes. When I inspected the cabin, I discovered something unique that the other four cabins that I had stayed in to date did not have – this cabin had most of its original historic fabric left. Hobcaw Barony’s policy has been to maintain, not restore. It suddenly reminded me of my many visits to Drayton Hall in Charleston, SC. The cabin was one of several buildings in the village, which also contained a church, doctor’s office and several other houses. These buildings – which had been lived in up until the 1950s – were an indication of how the plantation evolved from slavery to freedom.

Eric Frasier mentioned that getting to sleep would be a challenge for him, but once we got settled into the cabin we discovered a calm that would allow us to sleep. The mosquitoes did not bother us, maybe because of the insect repellent or the burning of the candles or both. Our biggest challenge was the humidity. That was the first time that I slept in a cabin with both doors left open. The next morning I proceeded to do my usual documenting through an audio visual recording. Eric did the same before we both packed up and went our separate ways.

In my conversation with George Chastain the previous evening, I mentioned to him that I was trying to make contact with the owner of Mansfield Plantation, which is also located in Georgetown County. He mentioned that Mansfield had an absentee owner but he would do all within his powers to help make that connection. He also mentioned that Mansfield is located on the Black River a fact that I had not previously known. The Black River runs through my hometown of Kingstree, SC. Because of that revelation, this project has now gotten personal.

Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our First Ever Open Thread Sunday: Do Glenn Beck and the Restoring Honor Crowd Want a Fascist Coup in America?



I have much to say about Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally. But in re-watching some of the footage, I kept thinking about the rhetorical notes struck there. Am I alone in noticing that Saturday was Beck's dreamy, messianic Reichstag speech moment? Moreover, in watching the rally I kept thinking about how some have argued that fascism will not come to America from the top down. No, it will come from the bottom up in the guise of a failed populist politics. Today, I am again in agreement that those voices may have been more prescient and wise than known at the time.

Some questions for you all.

1. How do you feel about the God, plus country, plus patriotism and America is perfect meme (despite his quick and smart rhetorical evasions on the point) being pushed by Beck and company? Is this not frighteningly ahistorical and scary stuff?

2. Why the return--often very round about and through no small amount of triangulating, obfuscating reason--to the U.S. military as the basis of all that is good in this country throughout the rally? Even Palin tried to shoehorn the military into her obligatory mention of Dr. King and The Movement (she should ask some former African-American GI's about how they were treated upon return to the U.S. following World Wars One and Two for some context for her childish understanding of American history and politics).

3. What were the attendees thinking? Who and what are they defending? Why are they so aggrieved?

4. Dr. King fought for the powerless, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed. Who is Beck fighting for?

5. Formula: God-country-myth of national origin-Sarah Palin as fascist symbol/idol/idealized womanhood (a good Christian, mama grizzly bear who is subservient to the men in her life, yet still knows her proper role in the nuclear family)-Beck as messianic leader-the attendees as the chosen people soon to be dead enders = nascent fascist movement? Yes or no?

6. Inside history buff joke: What would General Smedley Butler say about Glenn Beck's adventures?

7. Final question: did anyone else notice Glenn Beck's bulletproof vest? How soon will Beck integrate this choice of attire into his martyrdom shtick?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

This Week in White Victimology: Glenn Beck Takes Back Dr. King and White Folks are Attacked on "Beat Whitey Night" at the Iowa State Fair



We do live in troubled times. I have been doing my best to help white folks adjust to the Age of Obama. I have confessed my shame at how the Age of Obama has ushered in an era of black privilege. I have empathized with the struggles of white folks as they face bullying from the New Black Panthers, being beaten up on school buses, faced with a Supreme Court that does not reflect them, and subject to discrimination in all things and in every area of life. I have hoped and prayed that a leader would emerge--a Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, or Pat Buchanan--to lead my white American brothers and sisters to the promised land as they face a frightening world where they will one day be only a plurality of the population in this country by the year 2050.

Perhaps Glenn Beck will reclaim The Civil Rights Movement from the evil progressives and empower white folk to advance themselves? We will not know until this weekend. To paraphrase Brother Cornel West, what to do about the here and now, a present when white folk are "unsafe, unprotected, unwanted, and subject to random violence?" In a moment that should shame us all (and be the headline of every newspaper), last weekend whites were apparently targeted at the Iowa State Fair by a group of young black people in a "game" called "beat whitey night."

I feel for you my white brothers and sisters. Because I empathize with your victimization, the lion must lay down with the sheep and share some of his wisdom. Black Americans and others have long ago learned to negotiate inequalities of power in order to survive in this country. As you learn to stand against power, here are some practical strategies and suggestions to help you in your time of greatest need.

1. Beware committing the crime of what was once called "reckless eyeballing." Be careful and perform in a way that those with power expect you to (you are not submitting, you will retaliate and resist in more subtle ways). In the most humiliating moments you may have to look at the ground, step off of the sidewalk to let non-whites pass, or submit to being called "boy, Auntie, or Uncle."

2. You may have to remove any evidence from your resume that you are White. Whiteness is a liability in the Age of Obama. Try to be as race neutral as possible.

3. When looking for a home you may not be shown property in certain neighborhoods regardless of your income or credit score. Do some research to find out which real estate agents will treat you fairly.

4. During Jim Crow, Black Americans were denied service at hotels, restaurants, and other places. In fact, it was very difficult to even drive through certain communities as blacks would be killed if they found themselves in a "sundown town." Black Americans tried to avoid these humiliations by referencing The Negro Motorist Green Book. This book detailed the places people of color could stay safely and be treated with dignity as they tried to exercise the most basic of human rights--to travel freely and safely within their own country. Perhaps some enterprising American--such as this Tea Party, Glenn Beck rally supporter--will offer a similar guide to help white folks?

5. Some leaders on the Right are suggesting that armed rebellion and resistance may be necessary to stop the tyranny of the Obama Administration and the federal government's denial of state's rights. I do not agree with the likes of Sarah Palin or such militia groups as The Oath Keepers that it is time to "reload," and that the New Right should confront the government with force. That would be foolish and irresponsible. However, there may come a time when White Americans will have to use non-violent resistance in order to restore their trampled rights and privileges.

History is the greatest of teachers. As many Americans know, the Freedom Riders and other civil rights demonstrators were met with violent resistance in the South (and parts of the North as well) that resulted in death and serious physical injury. Those who are going to fight for a return to a pre-Obama America and the glory days of Leave it to Beaver must be prepared to die for their beliefs. For example, those brave souls who marched with King and the movement were commonly subjected to:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Spitting on
  • Kicking and stepping on
  • Beatings with fists, chains, and police billy-clubs
  • Dragging female protesters across a room by the hair
  • Throwing manure, eggs, tomatoes, exploding firecrackers, rocks, & bricks at us
  • Knocking sit-ins over and rolling them down a flight of stairs
  • Chokings by police (the infamous "choke hold")
  • Attacks with home-made flame-throwers (hairspray ignited with a cigarette lighter)
  • Pouring hot tar over heads Cars attempting to run over pickets
  • Stabbing with a knife
Do besieged white Americans, and conservatives in particular, have the courage to stand up for their beliefs? Is there a leader with the moral vision to organize them so that justice will flow down from the mountaintops?

Ultimately, these are indeed perilous times. I hope this list is of help to those brave souls attending Glenn Beck's rally this weekend, joining the Tea Parties, and fighting the good fight in such places as Texas and Arizona, or picketing against the "Ground Zero Mosque." They only want to return America to greatness and restore her ideals for "real Americans." Never forget that those who drink at the fountain of white victimology are selfless and good. These honorable Americans only want to restore a shining city on the hill and take their rightful place in it.

Who would dare to disagree with the righteousness of such a noble cause?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Glenn Beck Goes (Afrocentric) Again as He Reveals the Secret History of Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement



Cue up the dashiki and kufi.

Glenn Beck is "rediscovering" the lost histories of African Americans once more. At this rate, I do wonder if Beck is going to one day reveal that he is actually Brother Africa X from the Harlem bookstore and his whole career has been a scheme to bring lost Afrocentric histories to the wider world.

We know that Glenn Beck is a performer. His professorial shtick is just that--a con. Thus, when reasonable folk try to make sense of his skewed version of history they turn themselves inside out. But, in watching Beck's most recent lesson on the "secret" history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement in the United States (he covers 400 years of history in 2 hours by the way) I was dumbfounded, truly rendered confused and lost. Who could follow this mess? If one has studied the history of black people in America with any rigor, Beck's claims are specious, dishonest, and anti-historical (notice I did not say "ahistorical").

Because Beck is a master propagandist, he knows the power of the big lie...as well as the little one. To that end, he has mastered a very powerful rhetorical device that is front and center when Beck discusses history and politics. Beck makes a comment and inserts, "but you know this stuff already, so I am going to tell you the things you do not." That is the trick. It empowers those with little information and gives them a sense of confidence in the facts, "facts" which are impervious to intervention.

In regards to the history of black Americans (and the centrality of race to U.S. history more generally) large segments of the public are both woefully and willfully ignorant. Beck's core audience does not know the real history of the Black Freedom Struggle. They most certainly do not know about the long Civil Rights movement and its radical left-progressive roots. When many on the Right actually believe that Dr. King was a Republican in the vein of Reagan, and the GOP is the party of Civil Rights we have a problem. And the biggest elephant in the room, when it is still in dispute that the defense of slavery and white supremacy were at the core of the Civil War and the Confederacy's treason, we do not even have a common basis for the much discussed national conversation on race.

Ultimately, Glenn Beck offers a excised version of history that is structured to fit his ideological priors. It is the equivalent of reading a book and taking a quote out of context again, and again, and again. Why? Because you so desperately want that lie to be real for in the immortal words of George Costanza on Seinfeld, "it is not a lie if you believe it."

As Beck ramps up for his "taking back Dr. King's dream" rally this weekend, his abuse of history does bring some important questions to the forefront as we try to make sense of this long summer of Obama derangement syndrome and white racial resentment. What is history? Who owns it? What of our obligations to truth, be they moral, philosophical, and intellectual? What should we expect from our pundits and journalists?

Most importantly, how did we get in this mess to begin with?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Notes on Barack Obama's Post-racial America: Choking Game Kills Two Teens in Chicago Suburbs



Enter: America's newest moral panic.

Barack Obama this is all your fault. Every bit of nonsense, foolishness, and damn bad behavior by white folk of any age since the election is your fault. You have freed black folk to be stupid, and now your post-racial mess and all that hope and change stuff has caused white folk to lose their collective minds too.

So it seems that in Chicago ign't street pirates shoot each other for fun on the weekends. Apparently, in the suburbs there is a surplus of time and safety so young people have to go out of their way to find danger and death. Talk about a comment on race, privilege, and geography.

Back in the 1950s, kids would watch Superman and jump out of windows because they thought they could fly. Now, teenagers play the choking game. Cue up The Darwin Award. I feel for the parents, I truly do. But, as with David Carradine and many a teenage boy there is something else going on here. I would not be surprised if these girls (and others who have died playing this "game") were practicing auto-erotic asphyxiation. Not surprisingly, the pretend ignorance of the press, the police, and parents to this fact is an indication of how feigned prudery is still the norm among many in 21st America.

I would never have thought the obligatory "birds and bees" talk would include a moment where you tell your kids not to choke themselves as they masturbate. But times do indeed change and parents need to understand that their kids may have slightly different sexual norms and habits.

Are we getting that old?

Deaths of 2 teens prompt police alert about 'choking game'

Fifteen-year-old Rebekah Toia was bright and attractive and had lots of friends. She was an honor student at Whitney Young High School, a softball player and loved writing fantasy stories and poetry.

The night before she died in her Northwest Side home, she had come home from a party, went into her room and an hour later came out and asked her mom if she could sleep with her. In the morning, her mother made pancakes for her. Rebekah took the dog out for its morning walk. When her mother left for work, each told the other, "I love you."

When Barbara Toia came home from work Tuesday afternoon, she found Rebekah hanging by her neck from a cloth belt attached to the top of her bedroom door. She was not breathing.

Her death -- and that of 14-year-old Angelena Ohanessian who died the same way two weeks earlier -- have prompted Chicago police to issue an alert to parents about the dangers of the "choking game."

Both girls, who didn't know each other, succumbed to the deadly game, they say. The point of the game is to induce a feeling of euphoria by temporarily depriving the brain of oxygen by applying pressure to the neck until the person passes out.

Teens have been finding information -- and instructions -- about the choking game for years on the Internet, where it is variously known as Passout, the Fainting Game and Good Kids High, among other names.

In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 82 deaths attributed to it and other strangulation activities from 1995-2007. Most victims -- unlike the two recent Chicago cases -- were boys 11 to 16 years old.

Barbara Toia said she had no clue her daughter was engaging in the dangerous activity.
"There were no signs," she said. "She asked for permission to do everything. She was a really responsible kid, no alcohol or drugs -- a mama's girl. She was so mature."

When Barbara Toia got home from work late Tuesday afternoon, she called out for Rebekah but didn't get an answer. She saw both the television and the computer on. She went up to her daughter's bedroom and found her.

"I found her hanging. . .not hanging in the air. . .she was on tippy toes."

"Hopefully my daughter's death is for a purpose," she continued, saying she wants to focus attention on the choking game and prompt parents to watch more closely for signs and seek help if necessary.

She said she plans on making herself available to other families when she is done with her own grieving.

Just this morning, Toia found something that indicated her daughter had been engaging in the choking game for some time. It was a jump rope her daughter had used to train for softball. But one of the handles had been removed to turn the rope into a noose.

A wake for Rebekah will be held from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at Cumberland Chapel, 8300 W. Lawrence Ave. in Norridge. A memorial service will be held 10 a.m. Saturday at South Park Church, 1330 Courtland Avenue in Park Ridge. Barbara Toia says everyone is welcome.

Tonight, a Chicago police detective is expected to show up at a barbecue in Oriole Park near the Toia home to talk about the dangers of the choking game.

Angelena was found hanging in her bedroom closet at her Northwest Side home on July 28 and died three days later. Police say she also had played the choking game.

"Angelena had told me about it, (that) some of the the kids had been playing this game," said her mother, Violette Ohanessian. "I said tell me about about the game, it sounds absolutely ridiculous to me.

"I was absolutely convinced there was no way my child would do this. She wouldn't do such a thing."

Her father found her with a noose around her neck in her bedroom and cut her down. Her mother, a nurse, administered CPR. Angelena, who would have been a freshman next term at Resurrection College Prep High School, was pronounced dead three days later at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

While Angelena was in the hospital, her father found video on her cell phone of some of her friends playing the game. "My daughter took video of other kids doing this," her mother said. "She knew about it and had been doing it with them," he mother said.

"And she made a very bad choice."

One police official said this morning that children may be playing the game because it's not illegal.

"They don't want to get in trouble," he said, "so they're trying to get a high. It's not new for kids trying to get that feeling, but it's got deadly consequences. This can become an addictive behavior."

Here are the warning signs listed in the Chicago police alert:

• Strange bruising or red marks around the neck.

• Bloodshot eyes.

• Bed sheets, belts, T-shirts, ties, or ropes tied in strange knots and/or found in unusual places.

• Visiting Web sites or chat rooms mentioning asphyxiation or the choking game.

• Curiosity about asphyxiation (asking questions like "how does it feel?" or "what happens if?").

• Locked or blocked bedroom or bathroom doors.

• Frequent, often severe headaches.

• Changes in attitude; becoming more aggressive.

• Wear marks on furniture (bunk beds or closet rods).

Police urged parents with questions to call Grand Central detectives at (312) 746-8282.

-- David Elsner, Pat Curry, Muriel Clair

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Masses are Asses (Again): 24 Percent of Americans Believe that President Obama is a "Secret Muslim"



Once more, are the masses asses?

Despite what the Tea-Party Palin proud to be ignorant crowd would like to have you believe, this question isn't born of high foreheaded, look down the nose snobbery at "those people."

No, it is a simple acknowledgment that the American public--while smart at times in the aggregate--hold none too few absurd beliefs in private. Thus, the "news" that 24 percent of Americans believe that Obama is a "Muslim" should be taken in stride. Sure, the stakes are a bit higher than how many Americans believe that Elvis is still alive (7 percent by the way). And yes, it is true that the "Obama is a secret Muslim meme" does speak to the power of a very basic idea in the White American psyche that black folk, even in the 21st century, are somehow not "real" or "regular" Americans.

But for my two cents, the idea that Obama is a Muslim (as though that is a crime) is not half as disturbing as the data suggesting that a substantial percentage of Americans still believe that the failed war in Iraq was linked to 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. Ultimately, in the twenty-four news cycle, and the bloviating chorus of the Right-wing noise machine we see two publics. The first: the devotees of Fox, Limbaugh, Beck, et al. who live in their own echo chamber of mutually sustaining talking points and epistemic closure, a framing of the world that is increasingly immune to fact, correction, or intervention. The second: the rest of us who live in the reality based community. The struggle going forward is how to talk to one another about making America a better place, when the basic terms of the conversation seem impossible to agree on.

For some context, here are some other "strange" beliefs held by the American public:

41 percent believe in extra-sensory perception;

25 percent believe in astrology;

41 percent believe that Jesus will return by 2050;

48 percent believe in creationism;

6 percent believe that the moon landings did not take place.

In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, "stupid is as stupid does," and it seems that in the age of the New Right our political environment is more and more coloured by a toxic and contagious fog of willful stupidity.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Let's Play the Photo Caption Game: Black Beauty on Display in Barbados During Crop Over


This is just a bit of self-indulgence on my part, for why have a blog if you can't engage in a little humor at the expense of another party.

So, how would you caption the above photo taken by a friend of mine at the annual Crop Over festival in Barbados? I have a few things in mind...none of them kind.

For starters: "Just because you can do a thing, does not mean that you should."

Your thoughts?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Walking Through the Looking Glass: Right Wing Bloggers Choose their 25 Worst Americans in History



Folks, we have indeed walked through the looking glass.

One of the repeated findings in the literature on American politics is that the American people are for the most part non-ideological and centrist in their political beliefs. Certainly, there are outliers of opinion and different publics reveal an intensity of opinion that is proportional to how much they care about a given issue. But, folks tend to congregate around the middle of the distribution and run away from candidates and issues that are too far to either extreme.

In the campaign preceding Barack Obama's election (and most certainly in the months that have followed) we have been witness to an increasingly polarized electorate. However, with the rise of conservative talk radio, Right wing epistemic closure, and the tin eared blaring by the conservative punditry, there are many elements whom are deeply invested in fueling the exaggerated divides between Red State and Blue State America.

Of course divisions in American politics have always been with us: see people's exhibit number one, the vicious smear campaign against former president Bill Clinton. But the noxious elements of white racial resentment and white victimology have added something else to the hostility faced by Barack Obama. For the Right, the sky certainly is falling...and there is no Chicken Little in waiting.

While hardly scientific, the recent survey by the website Right Wing News which asked 48 conservative bloggers to list the 25 worst Americans in history is quite revealing. Some of the picks are a function of recency (who ever heard of Saul Alinsky until Beck started braying about him?). Others are gimmes (Timothy McVeigh for example). But some are shocking (Jimmy Carter? A man who builds homes for poor people and has dedicated his life to service?).

Quite predictably, who is at the top of the list for worst Americans in history? Barack Obama.

For these conservatives, the President is apparently worse than Timothy McVeigh, Jefferson Davis, John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Governor Faubus, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, Charles Manson, or Benedict Arnold? Wow.

While the data may tell us one thing, I am more and more convinced that the divides in our political culture are even more severe than is commonly known. If this survey, the rise of the New Right tea baggers, the Texas history revisionism, and anti-immigrant sentiment are taken in context, there are indeed two Americas in this country...Americas which are increasingly separate, hostile, and unequal.

Here are the results in their entirety.

23) Saul Alinsky (7)
23) Bill Clinton (7)
23) Hillary Clinton (7)
19) Michael Moore (7)
19) George Soros (8)
19) Alger Hiss (8)
19) Al Sharpton (8)
13) Al Gore (9)
13) Noam Chomsky (9)
13) Richard Nixon (9)
13) Jane Fonda (9)
13) Harry Reid (9)
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)
11) Margaret Sanger (10)
9) Aldrich Ames (11)
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)
7) Ted Kennedy (14)
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)
5) Benedict Arnold (17)
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)
4) The Rosenbergs (19)
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)
2) Barack Obama (23)
1) Jimmy Carter (25)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Introducing the Seamstress of the KKK and her Klan Couture

Hood Fitting

Ms. Ruth personally sews one robe a day. She works 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. She has 1 to 3 helpers at times. The person to be fitted measures themselves, fills out the tailoring chart, and mails in the order. It takes 4 to 6 weeks for delivery. Here she puts the final touches on a red Klan hood.

****

Hate still lives--and is flourishing if the data from the Southern Poverty Law Center is to be believed. Speaking to that point, Mother Jones magazine has a great photo essay on Ms. Ruth, the seamstress of the KKK (accompanied by a troubling series of interviews that you should certainly take the time to listen to).

Not a one dimensional monster, she seems like a kind, yet misguided person. Ms. Ruth loves animals (points for me on that virtue). But Ms. Ruth also hates people who look like me. Moreover in her eyes, the KKK is not a terrorist organization. No, it is a noble civil society organization that has been miscast by the media, liberals, and "outside agitators."

People are complicated. Few are truly, unrepentantly evil. But, can evil hide behind a kind face and the gentle words of someone like Ms. Ruth? Is she in fact a more dangerous bigot and hate monger than the foot soldiers of the KKK, the robes of whom Ms. Ruth so lovingly sews?

Just a thought.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

White Folks, You have to do Better! Suburban Housewife has Sex with 67 Minors; Chicken McNugget Madness Rules the Land



In the Age of Obama white folks are in a real crisis. As conservative pundits and Fox News have bravely pointed out, racism is hurting the white community. Denied jobs, promotions, admissions to college, subject to violence at the polling place and on school buses, and being brow beaten by a tyrannical black president these are indeed dark times for white people in America. Reverse racism is the rule of the land and it will take brave souls such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to take up Dr. King's mantle and force freedom to ring from coast to coast for all Americans.

Decades of research has revealed the psychological, emotional, and physical harm that racism does to its victims. When coupled with structural inequalities in the service of the Racial State, individuals can begin to internalize these negative messages about their collective personhood. Racialized individuals can also develop any number of negative coping skills. In total, a pathological culture can take hold among the disempowered. It would seem that in this long hot summer of white racial resentment white folks are finally beginning to manifest the symptoms of internalized racism. So very tragic. So very sad. I thought my white brothers and sisters were made of sterner stuff.

Ultimately, the destiny of White America is in the hands of its own leadership. Do white folks have the strength to stand up and rediscover their dignity in Barack Obama's America? Will white Americans overcome their worst impulses as they struggle to adjust to their new status as "racial minorities?" Only time will tell...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This Week in White Victimology: U.S. Navy's "Secret Plot" to Discriminate Against White Men Exposed

"In practice, the Navy will be creating a list of privileged "diverse" officers who will enjoy special benefits and career mentoring not available to people of the wrong race, as well as a virtual guarantee of fast-track access to the highest reaches of command. Fifty-six years after the Supreme Court struck down the concept of "separate but equal" treatment of races, the U.S. Navy is erecting a wall of segregation between what will amount to two parallel promotion systems: one for the "diverse" and another for the monotone. If this isn't illegal, it should be."

With the long hot summer of white racial resentment, white victimology, and the nonsense meme of "reverse racism" showing no signs of coming to an end, I thought it would be helpful to offer a weekly update on how white folks are being discriminated against in Barack Obama's America.

Apparently, the United States Navy is working hard to diversify its officer corps. In order to do this, a "secret" list of up and coming young sailors of color have been identified for mentoring by senior officers. Predictably, the defenders of colorblindness and meritocracy on the Right are up in arms for once more "qualified, hard working" white men are being disadvantaged by "racist" policies and "reverse discrimination."

As this story develops over the upcoming weeks, the argument made by the white victimology crowd will be a predictable one: the forces of political correctness aided by Barack Obama are using social engineering to tamper with the foundations of American society to the detriment of national security. Once more, this is evidence of a profound and deep "anti-White" bias in American society. Predictably, for the most extreme on the New Right (the "birthers", racially reactionary conservatives, and the Glenn Beck et al. crowd) this "secret" U.S. Navy program is more proof that Barack Obama wants to make America less safe and not more so.

In their gasps and protests, white victimologists will of course miss out on a few key details--details that are both subtle and obvious. To the latter, the military is one of those places where personnel choices can mean life and death. Here, the U.S. Navy has identified a human resources problem where the best and brightest are not receiving the mentoring needed to reach their full potential. Consequently, the U.S. Navy is not maximizing its pool of available talent. The result? A less effective war fighting machine.

Although now a dirty word because of the success of the Right in co-opting language, it is little discussed that the goal of "diversity" in recruitment and promotion has been long supported by the U.S. military and many corporations. In fact, senior representatives from the U.S. military have been cited as "friends of the court" in legal cases supporting affirmative action. Why? Because pragmatic, results oriented institutions understand that a diverse workforce is more profitable and successful than one which is not.

The subtle point missed by the reverse racism crowd is that they operate from a position where white men are the default choice for all things, and white people are always the wisest of the wise, the best of the best. Rarely is there a moment of reflection where one asks, "did I get this job because of the color of my skin?" "How was I given advice or guidance that perhaps someone of a different color, sexuality, or gender would not have received? How did this help me get a job or promotion?" "Am I really the most qualified person for this job?" "Did I get a leg up because of who I know and my access to certain social networks?"

Here, the myth of meritocracy is a comfortable shield and set of armor to protect the reverse racism crowd from hard questions about success in life...at least until the complications of race, class and gender are exposed as variables in how fast one is able to climb the social and career ladder.

We see echoes of this privileged and myopic worldview all around us. In Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings the presumed normality of white men was used by her detractors to paint her as a "racist," and a potential member of the Supreme Court who would let "racial and gender identity" influence jurisprudence (for we most certainly know that white Supreme Court justices, scions of neutrality that they are, have never been influenced by their race, gender, or class backgrounds).

Certainly there are echoes of white racial resentment in the hostility against President Obama where some cannot accept the symbolic power embodied by having a President who is not white. And in the most obvious example, the calls that "we want our America back" by the Tea Party crowd represent a herrenvolk ethic that clings to a bygone Leave it to Beaver imagined golden age where white people were at the center of all things--and a return to which the white victimology and reverse racism crowd ultimately yearns for.

The full editorial, "High Seas Segregation" can be found at the Washington Times.