Friday, November 12, 2010

Mississippi Basketball Coach Accused of Whipping Players with a Weight Belt

Indulge me as I paint a picture with fluttering electrons and steadfast pixels...

I was sitting in my reading chair and working through the second chapter of Daniel Walker Howe's magisterial book "What Hath God Wrought." As I sit, engrossed in the chapter on the rise of King Cotton in the decades prior to the Civil War, my computer chimes as I receive an email. The topic of said communication? Apparently, an African American basketball coach is spending his days beating the behinds of man-children, teenage, likely ign't ball dribblers with a weight belt. Of course, in our age of virtual celebrity this shameful episode is recorded and featured on CNN.

Talk about a coincidence in timing: I am envisioning overseers, Frederick Douglass fighting off Covey, and this black fucktardness stupidity comes across the screen. Once more, an epic face palm moment in the Age of Obama where the spirit of black respectability dies just a little bit more each and every day.

In fact, The Great Mississippi Basketball Gluteus Maximus Beating Debacle is so tragically funny that I give my white brothers and sisters permission to laugh. You don't have to hide behind a veneer of being good, tolerant, liberal minded folk that are afraid to judge others. Nope, these fools deserve to be laughed at, mocked, and run out of the public square on a rail.

But, this begs the question: Who is the bigger fool? The fool who beats his ballers with a belt? Or the knuckleheads (and their parents) who would submit to such a beating in order for a chance to play basketball?

Watch the video and count the pathologies. I see at least three or four--from a sick obsession with ball dribbling to compliant parents. How many do you count?

I would suggest aloud that perhaps Mr. Black Woodcock has stumbled upon a new approach to the successful mentoring of young black men.

If the youthocracy that has run amok in many an underclass community is in part encouraged by a "spare the rod, spoil the child" approach to parenting, in which "little men" are made the stand-in man of the house at age 8 in a sick dance of forced maturity and simultaneous infantilization by their often too young, unwedded, single mothers, where models of real manhood are on the street corner and not in the home, Coach Dorsey's intervention could actually be worthy of a MacArthur genius grant.

And yes, I did just say that.

Coach Dorsey's mantra deserves our full measure and meditation:
"I paddled my students... today, some of (sic) students have lost pride in their school and in their (sic) selves. Students are disrespecting teachers, administrators and other students by stealing cell phones, leaving off campus without permission, disrupting classroom teaching time, late for class and not following dress codes by wearing the pants on their butts and house shoes to school and on-court behavior. I took it upon myself to save these young men from the destruction of self and what society has accepted and become silent to the issues our students are facing on a daily basis."

What if these words were emblazoned on every billboard? Made a motto in the home? Is it so sick and twisted that I dare dream of a world in which people of conscience mobilize and lobby in order to secure Coach Dorsey a position as President Obama's Czar of Ign't Affairs?

I smile as I think of the possibilities. How great a world that would be. Would it not?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anti-climax: Black Homes Are Broken; Black Boys Are Doing Horribly in School

The black pathology porn parade continues.

According to these recent studies Black America is in a piss poor state of being. Question: can we even talk of one "Black America" any more? Did it ever exist outside of our dreams of Black Wall Streets and Black Metropolises?

In 70 words--I couldn't bring myself to write more--here are the findings (if any of you intrepid copy editing souls can cut the word count even more, please do so. I will then post a suitably amended version):

72 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

12 percent of black boys are proficient in math. In English? The percentage is the same.

White kids do twice as well in both disciplines. In fact, poor white boys do better in math and English than black boys not in poverty.

Only five percent of college students are black men.

How sad. What are the causes?

Individuals? Structures? Socialization?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity: Tim Wise and the "Open Letter to the White Right" Controversy

Tim Wise, a white brother who is "down like John Brown," has stepped once more into the cross-hairs of the New Right and the tea bagger GOP crowd. Like a ronin, he has decided to run headlong into the horde--all the while effortlessly taking heads like a zatoichi or samurai executioner.

For the uninitiated, Tim Wise (noted anti-racist activist and speaker) penned a sharp rebuttal to the politics of white racial resentment and the red tide that was the 2010 elections. His piece, "An Open Letter to the White Right," was damning and sharp. As it spread across these Internets, Tim's piece was predictably greeted with shouts of "dirty pool" and the perennially lazy charge of anti-white bigotry.

We often talk about the Black Freedom Struggle and the role of fellow travelers and white allies in that long journey. In those remembrances, it sometimes goes uncommented upon that alliances are reciprocal relationships. Not here.

I stand united in our small part of the universe with Tim Wise: his analysis of the White Soul, the politics of white racial grievance, and the reactionary nativism that is the Tea Party Republican Party's drug of choice is spot on. No qualifiers ought (or need) to be offered.

The long-term impact of the Tea Party populist infused GOP remains to be seen. Was last week's rout of the Democrats a realigning election or just a deviation? Is America moving even more to the right or does she remain center-left as signaled to by Obama's (now exhausted) electoral mandate? At present, answers to these questions remain unclear.

However, one fact is clear. The election of Barack Obama has unleashed a torrent of white rage and anger. As Tim Wise signaled to in his essay, the Tea Party GOP is up against a generational wall: their base is older, whiter, and more conservative than America as a whole. With changing demographics, this cohort with its repellent, dated, reactionary conservative ideology is on the wrong side of history.

While some analysts term this "the challenge of generational replacement," I choose to be more blunt: their base is dying. The leadership of the New Right can either mine this bitterness and yearning for a return to "real America" in exchange for short-term electoral gains--a hit of that white racial resentment crack rock--or they can look to the future.

Ultimately, the election of Barack Obama was truly groundbreaking for how it shattered one more semi-permanent glass ceiling in this country. His election was also cathartic and purifying as it further exposed the always bubbling beneath the surface white victimology and temper tantrum politics of the New Right, the Tea Party GOP, and contemporary Conservatism.

But here is my question: Why do some White folks want to kill the messenger? Is there a special amount of rage reserved for whites who dare to tell the truth about Whiteness? Who expose that the emperor has no clothes?

To some--
the sickest, those most in denial about their addiction to Whiteness--Tim Wise is a "race traitor". Ironically, in many circles to be a race traitor--here being a a traitor to Whiteness--is an act of loyalty to humanity.

As fuel for the struggle against Whiteness, once more the wise words of historian Noel Ignatiev provide comfort, solace, and wisdom.


Various commentators have stated that their aim is to identify and preserve a positive white identity. Abolitionists deny the existence of a positive white identity. We at Race Traitor, the journal with which I am associated, have asked some of those who think whiteness contains positive elements to indicate what they are. We are still waiting for an answer. Until we get one, we will take our stand with David Roediger, who has insisted that whiteness is not merely oppressive and false, it is nothing but oppressive and false. As James Baldwin said, "So long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you."

Whiteness is not a culture. There is Irish culture and Italian culture and American culture - the latter, as Albert Murray pointed out, a mixture of the Yankee, the Indian, and the Negro (with a pinch of ethnic salt); there is youth culture and drug culture and queer culture; but there is no such thing as white culture. Whiteness has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with social position. It is nothing but a reflection of privilege, and exists for no reason other than to defend it. Without the privileges attached to it, the white race would not exist, and the white skin would have no more social significance than big feet.

Before the advocates of positive whiteness remind us of the oppression of the white poor, let me say that we have never denied it. The United States, like every capitalist society, is composed of masters and slaves. The problem is that many of the slaves think they are part of the master class because they partake of the privileges of the white skin. We cannot say it too often: whiteness does not exempt people from exploitation, it reconciles them to it. It is for those who have nothing else...

What would the determined minority have to do? They would have to break the laws of whiteness so flagrantly as to destroy the myth of white unanimity. What would it mean to break the rules of whiteness? It would mean responding to every manifestation of white supremacy as if it were directed against them. On the individual level, it would mean, for instance, responding to an anti-black remark by asking, What makes you think I'm white? On the collective level, it would mean confronting the institutions that reproduce race...

A traitor to the white race is someone who is nominally classified as white but who defies white rules so strenuously as to jeopardize his or her ability to draw upon the privileges of whiteness. The abolitionists recognize that no "white" can individually escape from the privileges of whiteness. The white club does not like to surrender a single member, so that even those who step out of it in one situation can hardly avoid stepping back in later, if for no other reason than the assumptions of others - unless, like John Brown, they have the good fortune to be hanged before that can happen.

But they also understand that when there comes into being a critical mass of people who look white but do not act white - people who might be called "reverse oreos" - the white race will undergo fission, and former whites, born again, will be able to take part, together with others, in building a new human community.

A Broke Clock is Right Twice a Day: Pastor Manning Calls Sarah Palin a Closet Racist

Are the end times upon us?

I love how Brother Manning plays the martyr-prophet game. But damn, I never saw this play coming. Palin, Beck, and the Tea Parties are all satanic bigots in the eyes of Pastor Manning. In the immortal words of Darmok from Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Sokath, his eyes uncovered!"

I must ask--because there is no conning a con artist, and game recognizes game so to speak--what is David Manning's deeper game here? Why betray his former allies?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Associated Press, W.E.B. DuBois, and Racial Micro-Aggressions

They say you shouldn't sweat the small stuff. But what if the small stuff is actually killing you?

In the post-Civil Rights era, racism exists without racists. The bigots have been exiled from the public square and exist only as phantom menaces or rude outliers--the Mel Gibsons and Laura Schlessingers of the world--to be periodically and ritually expunged from the body politic. Ironically, racism is so out of fashion that even when white identity politics are front and center (as with the New Right tea bagger movement with its anti-Obama derangement syndrome and complementary addictions to "birtherism" and nativism) many Americans lack even the most basic language to describe what should be painfully obvious. Doubly so then, that most do not possess a lens sensitive enough to detect the covert bigotry that is day-to-day white supremacy and the white racial frame.

Colorblind racism is often most painful when it is wrapped in the soft, velvety glove of praise and good intentions. This was the case with Russell Contreras' recent Associated Press syndicated article on legendary scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois.

Brother DuBois needs no introduction. While we may praise Brother Malcolm and Brother Martin as visionaries, DuBois was in many ways The Black Freedom Struggle's master philosopher and scribe (how many respectable negroes--and others--can tell you exactly when they first read The Souls of Black Folk? Most, all? And for travelers on this journey, how many times do we still return to that seminal text? Was he anything if not our Merlin?)

While there is always the temptation to write a hagiography of W.E.B. DuBois, the AP's story on his relationship with Great Barrington, Massachusetts (DuBois' place of birth) was well-considered--at least until this passage:

Many of Du Bois' writings and ideas continue to influence contemporary policy and thinkers. In the early 1900s, he posited that crime by blacks declined as they gained equality. And he described a "Talented Tenth" of the African-American population that would rescue the race from its problems.

Why select that example from a body of scholarship that straddled two centuries?

W.E.B. DuBois was one of America's greatest political thinkers. He was a historian and philosopher. He wrote speculative pieces such as Dark Princess and Dark Water. DuBois also authored such foundational books as The Suppression of The African Slave Trade to America; The Philadelphia Negro; and Black Reconstruction in America. W.E.B. DuBois was also an engaged scholar who struggled for the liberation of black and brown people around the world. While his fleeting allusion to the idea of "double consciousness" is ironically what he is best known for, there are few thinkers who wrote about such a range of topics with DuBois' depth and genius. From an overflowing bounty and cornucopia of grand ideas, any one would have been a far more suitable signal to DuBois' prescient wisdom.

I ascribe no overt ill-intent to Russell Contreras. Rather, what I can most politely describe as a "racial hiccup," speaks to a powerful framing where in the American popular imagination black folk are forever linked to crime and criminality. Even when our best and brightest are praised, this is the reference point for an entire people's trajectory.

In post-Civil Rights America, white supremacy is enacted covertly. It steps silently, even while it remains omnipresent, inseparably built into the nation's collective imagination and political unconscious. Ultimately, if the white racism which colors the majority of America's history has been overt and macro-level, the racism of the Age of Obama is one of micro-aggressions.

They are pin pricks, a psychic assault and death of a thousand cuts. Micro-aggressions are also a salve and boost for the psychic wages of whiteness, for even as the Other is praised, the in-group is reminded of their own superiority and normality. Thus, the more things change, the more they almost always remain the same.

Monday Randomness: Hallelujah in the Time of the Great Recession? Which Version Do You Prefer? Leonard Cohen? Bob Dylan? Neil Diamond?

Some random breaking of blogging kayfabe after a New England Patriots loss as a source for some solace and peace because the boundaries of blackness know no limits.

Is there a meaning within a meaning to my question about the song Hallelujah? Is this writing simply a well-timed coincidence to my earlier post on brother Bruce Lee? Or is it simple self-indulgence? Is this just a well-timed sentence that is an entry point into some more Oscar Wilde Merovingian wordplay of the sort that I love to indulge on We Are Respectable Negroes?

Like so many, NPR plays on in the background while I work. This week they had a great twofer--Buika, the most liberated woman in the world, and Neil Diamond, discussing his new album, Dreams. I will be purchasing the former as an addition to my taking the ladies to space mountain soundtrack for the bedroom. Quite frankly, I don't know what the hell Buika is saying when her crooning is not in the King's English, but it sounds might sexy and encouraging to the gonads. Especially when the Lingam is swollen.

The latter has some punch. It really does. But, I don't know if I will be able to keep my respectable negro bonafides if I use my Border's bucks and a coupon to buy a Neil Diamond album in person. Just being real.

Lot's to come this week. But in this time of The Great Recession and following an ugly election last Tuesday, what, if anything, are you singing hallelujah for? And whose version of that classic song do you prefer? Dylan's? Cohen's? Or Diamond's?

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Politics of Paranoia: Of Conspiracy Theories, Nukes, and Barack Obama's Trip to India

Just because you are paranoid, does not mean that you are crazy.

A thorough knowledge of conspiracy theories is a rite of passage for ghetto nerds. For we ghetto nerds who happen to be Black in America, this compulsion is doubly reinforced because of the historical circumstances of our people.

Imagine if you would: Over three centuries, tens of millions of people are transported across the world in the hellish bowels of ships, in the process create a new culture that combines the African and the European, and then are treated as "anti-citizens" in what is ostensibly the greatest democracy on Earth. Talk about a plot worthy of a science fiction movie that would be consigned to fantasy if not so fantastical and true.

Ultimately, Black Americans know that the absurd can more often than not be true, because the ancestors' entry into the magical horrible beasts--how Olaudah Equiano described the foul killing slave ships and their barbarous crews--and our emergence thousands of miles later and worlds apart in the Americas is a lesson in the unbelievable. Thus, our sensitivity to the conspiratorial imagination. And what are conspiracies if not ways of our making sense of a seemingly crazy world?

On one hand, this is a competitive advantage as black folks and the ghetto nerd legions often have a preternatural sense and wisdom where little surprises us (9/11? saw it coming; the collapse of the dollar. Your point is?; the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments here and in Guatemala? Duh!) .

Yet on the other hand, this priming to believe in conspiracy theories has often confused many a young traveler as they are seduced by the nonsense talk of Brother Africa X at the local bookstore as he weaves fictions about Black Cleopatra and space traveling Egyptians.

So in the interest of sharing knowledge amongst friends, here is a provocative conspiracy theory that arrived in my email this morning. So why in fact is President Barack Obama going overseas with a flotilla of ships? What of the timing of his foreign trip and the Federal Reserve's reckless monetary policies? How did the United States lose contact with 50 nuclear missiles? Is the shadow government on the move? Is this weekend THE weekend when IT goes down?

Enquiring (and conspiratorial) minds want to know...

Stay Out of Major Cities This Weekend? Conspiracy?
What is going on? The president is leaving overseas with 34 warships, 65 airplanes, almost all his staff and a good number of friends (rumored 3000 people). This has never happened in American History. Is this acclimation or the real deal? You just got to wonder.

What about the loss of communication with the 50 nukes. Was it a test, dry run? How was it that it was exactly 50, and not 49 or any other number? Could it be one for every capital of every state?

What better way to get the North American Union, new monetary system, new constitution, NWO, etc…than to just take out all the state capitals. I would not put anything passed the Illuminati.

There are other stories out there including rumors of Bank holidays as early as 11/11, but I cannot confirm. To me all of this suggests the possibility of a serious situation coming this weekend and the close beyond. Would it be a good idea to stay away from major cities, and major state capitals? How about some emergency supplies and resources? I think so, but you have to make up your own mind. Being wise and prepared can’t hurt, but playing lite could potentially kill you.

It is true that all this could be nothing more than acclimation, sort of like “the frog in the boiling pot”. But since we do not know, all we can do is back in to things as best we can, though this means that we’ll get things wrong more often than not. It could also help change the mind of the evil masters and help avert /delay the disaster.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election 2010 Post-Mortem: What Exactly is so "Historic" About the Republican Victory Over the Democrats?

We are going to be hosting a salon on the 2010 Election debacle (and of course, if any of you would like to contribute a guest piece by all means email it along).

I am really tired of the banal observation that this election is "historic." Every event is historic--from getting up in the morning, to using the toilet, to ordering a burrito at Chipotle. I want some precision, a dose of poetry in motion if you would have it, in the analysis of current affairs. Stated in more high foreheaded fashion, I want some specific historiography in the claims and observations offered by the pundit classes on yesterday's Tea Party Republican rout of the Democrats.

To the rescue? Our resident historian and fellow traveler Werner Herzog's Bear of the great blog I Used to Be Disgusted, Now I Try to Be Amused.


This election cycle I pretty much stopped watching political coverage on TV, and even turned off NPR, because the punditocracy has become unlistenable. I am told by reliable sources that they are calling last night’s election “historic.” I think it is, but not in the grandiose way that they think. I contend that it was historic as all elections are--an outgrowth of larger historical structures, events, and trends.

First off, we need to be clear on something. When the economy is cruddy, the incumbent party gets beat at the polls. That, my friends, is a historically established trend. I really don’t think a majority of Americans intended to vote to allow tax cuts for the wealthy or for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, no matter how many Right wingers want to see this election as a verdict on “big government.”

In fact, considering the situation, the Republicans should have done better! We keep hearing over and over again about the strength of the Tea Party movement, but some of its most prominent candidates, many of whom beat establishment Republicans in the primaries, were total embarrassments. Opportunities to gain Senate seats in New York, Delaware, and Nevada were lost, and the likes of Paladino, O’Donnell, and Angle became national laughing-stocks. Tea Party fave Joe Miller will probably lose in Alaska, and Rand Paul made the Kentucky race a lot less of a sure thing than it should have been. Here’s a reality that they don’t talk about on television: the Tea Party stuff plays well in states like Arizona and Texas, where the voters are already heavily represented by knuckle-dragging troglodytes, but not in the Northeast, the West Coast, or much of the Midwest.

This election has actually confirmed three already established historical trends: the increased role of big money, the importance of the base rather than the middle (especially in midterm elections), and the power of the Right-wing noise machine. Corporate money and the lies that it can finance via “independent” advertising has been crucial in turning the tide in recent elections, just recall the infamous Willie Horton negative campaign ad and the "Swift Boating" of John Kerry. The Citizens United decision has merely reinforced and helped to cloak an already extant culture of underhanded corporate propagandizing. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the Church and King mob that is the Tea Party was seeded by wealthy wingnuts.

In terms of the elevation of the base rather than the center, Karl Rove had already engineered a victory in 2004 by throwing out red meat to the diehards. People forget that much the same tactic had been used in 2002 to great success. After president Obama’s election, the GOP faced a choice: work responsibly as the loyal opposition to craft legislation to deal with the nation’s worst economic crisis in decades, or demonize Democrats, obstruct, and inflame the fringe. They chose the latter, and it has paid off yet again. The president needs to wake up and realize that although a large number of Americans are tired of the endless bickering in Washington, they are not the people who go out to vote, especially in off-year elections. By doing everything he could to be bipartisan while spurning his supporters, he has helped get himself into this mess.

Last and perhaps most crucial, this past election has shown the great advantage that talk radio and Fox News give to Republicans. They basically have a mass media propaganda arm that acts like a private sector version of Pravda, filling the heads of their viewers and listeners with all kinds of agitprop drivel. Coming from and living in Red State America, I can tell you that Fox News infects the public sphere like nothing else in these parts. I have to endure it in my favorite burger joint, have been visually assaulted by it at the bank, and have even heard stories of it blaring at the local courthouse. In some parts of the country it is the only national news outlet that people have any exposure to. Fox and other media organs share a lot of the blame for the large numbers of Americans who believe that President Obama is a Muslim, that he (not Bush) started the TARP initiative, and that their taxes have gone up, not down, in the last two years. As HL Mencken once said, no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

My advice to President Obama and the Democrats? Stop bringing a knife to a gun fight. Start shaping your own narratives, start calling out the lies, and start standing up for the things you are supposed to believe in. Running away from health care basically delegitimized it in the minds of many Americans. To paraphrase the wisdom of The Staples Singers: if you don’t respect yourself, how the hell do you expect anyone to respect you?

Random Political Analogy Part 2: The Republican Tea Party Victory is to the 2010 Election as the Notorious Purple Smurf is to Red State America

The Smurfs: has there ever been a children's television cartoon series as twisted and subversive?

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. I have something more substantial coming later today. But in the near term, the results of the Republican rout of the Democrats reminded me of the truism that sometimes the American people don't get what they want or what they need. Instead, they get exactly what they deserve.

Now, the lemmings who followed the Tea Party GOP off the ledge on Tuesday are going to get exactly what they wished for. The question becomes, will they have buyer's remorse come election day 2012?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Random Political Analogy: Godzilla is to the Smog Monster as Obama is to the Tea Party GOP

I couldn't resist. The right wing echo chamber, a demobilized Left, and the noxious populism of the New Right made the analogy an obvious one. But then again, I am one of those self-admitted "elitists."

I am going to try my best to write something on Tuesday's Election Day massacre political fubar coronation of the stupid classes, but I am more of a mind that folks should just look away. Just avert your eyes as though you were at the proverbial urinal which is the cloaca gentium that is American politics at the dawn of the 21st century. The New Right and the vox populi Tea Party set only get more powerful when we pay undo attention to them. But then again, I can't turn away from a good car wreck.

Obama and the Democrats inherited a mess, a true pile of hot steaming monkey pooh in 2008. But dude wanted the job and as Truman famously said, "the buck stops here." Obama's test post-election day will now be how he snatches victory from the bitter ashes of defeat. True, the mating of the Tea Party and the GOP could result in a Pyrrhic victory of historic proportions wherein the former makes the latter a party utterly incapable of coherent governance. But that would be hoping for too much. And ultimately, a further loggerhead will do more to hurt all of us, even as it allows for partisan crowing.

We know that the pundit classes are predicting a Republican Tea Party sweep tomorrow. But what do you think will happen? Are things going to be as bad--or perhaps even worse--for the Democrats than even the most bullish pollsters are signaling?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: President Obama Visits Chicago and a Homeless Man Begs Him for Alms

How a story's narrative is flipped, when the picture framing the story is changed.

It really is a small world. As folks who frequent my blog here (and elsewhere) know, I live in Hyde Park, a few blocks away from President Obama. Because Chicago is a "city of neighborhoods," each comes equipped with its own cast of characters.

In Hyde Park we have Miss Joyce our blessed gospel singing wanderer; the intrepid 24 hour a day walker; the former steel worker who entreats passerby's for donations at Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap; know it all U of C undergrads who talk loudly on the bus about Strauss, Friedman, Ayn Rand, and others whose work they barely comprehend; and of course the old school players who "holla" at women passing outside the Starbucks on 53rd street.

One of our other neighborhood fixtures is the gentleman featured in the above photo from Reuters. He begs. He pleads. Good folk occasionally buy him a sandwich and a soda. And as of today, we now know that said 53rd street denizen does indeed reach for the stars (and 5 minutes of fame) as he begs for alms from The President of the United States.

In short, I like my 'hood.

There is no partisan humor to be had here (as I know some on the other side of the ideological divide will find in said tragic photo). Yet, I also cannot help but to think that there is no better symbol for the malaise of the Great Recession, a struggling middle class, and Barack Obama and the Democrats' impending day of doom on Election Tuesday if the pundit classes are to be believed.

A story is indeed worth a thousand words, is it not?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Enter Our The Walking Dead Contest: If Barack Obama were a Zombie, Who Would He Eat First and Why?

We are in the midst of a geek renaissance. The long awaited The Walking Dead television series is ready to debut this Sunday. I have resisted all impulses to watch it online or to read any reviews. As a long-time fan of Roberty Kirkman's opus (since day 1 folks) I am excited beyond all reason to see what Frank Darabont of Shawshank Redemption fame will do with The Walking Dead. Who knows what will be the same, and what will be different? As long as we get to see Michonne get her revenge on The Governor I am good to go.

In honor of The Walking Dead's television debut I have been blessed with some swag by First Aid Comics, Hyde Park and The University of Chicago's local comic book go to connect spot. The winner of our contest will win the first two graphic novels ("Days Gone Bye" and "Miles Behind Us") of The Walking Dead comic book series. We also have some fun stuff for a runner-up (or two).

A question for those souls brave and intrepid enough to confront the undead:

If President Barack Obama were a zombie who would he eat first and why?

We will announce our winners early next week.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Told You So: The NY Times has Discovered "Baracka Flacka Flames" and They Love It

The New York Times has "discovered" the abysmal "Baracka Flacka Flames" video. And predictably, the white gaze (with the incumbent whiteness of a cultural establishment that so often takes pleasure in the voyeuristic pleasures of neo-minstrel coonery) finds it brilliant.

The Times' piece has yielded two more data points: we now know that Barack Obama is played by comedian James Davis, and the video is produced and directed by Martin Usher. Both of whom are presumably African American. Score one for the team. Also score two points for black on black crime.

A quotable from "Prez N the Hood: A Hip-Hop Parody Stirs Issues":

And Waka Flocka Flame appears to be of mixed opinion on the song. “That they used it to be so sarcastic, it was almost a form of disrespect,” he said. He shared it on Twitter, though only to “let other people see how ignorant other people can be,” he asserted, not wholly convincingly. His manager, Debra Antney (who is also his mother), said she called up the influential hip-hop video site to have the clip removed, to no avail. “That’s not a positive image for us, period, as African-Americans, where we came from, where we’re going today,” she said.

Mr. Davis, though, said he believed that the sort of humor in the clip helped move beyond basic binaries about racial representation. “I can speak to the educated black guy and the hood black guy,” he said. “The fact that we can come out and put on a full production like this in an area where there’s gang violence, in what people would consider the hood, is important to me.”

And he believes that the president wouldn’t be offended by his portrayal, if he ever sees it. “I don’t know what it takes to get to Obama,” Mr. Davis said. “If the White House is like other businesses, other offices, he probably knows about it. Maybe it’s on his to-do list: fix the economy, health care, watch this link.”

We all have to negotiate these muddy waters in our own way. But, I would suggest that the creators of the "Baracka Flacka Flames" video take to heart Dave Chappelle's explanation for why he left his once beloved television show, "that sometimes they are laughing at you, and not with you."

The entire article from The New York Times can be found here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Barack Obama and the Crisis in Confidence Among (Conservative) White Men

Race is often discussed in macro-level terms. But, race is also about the relationship of power to individuals. To borrow from noted political theorist Michele Foucault,what is power if not a force enacted upon some things(s)? Those things being our bodies and minds. Thus, "race matters" both for how we map out the world, and the ways in which we orient ourselves in relationship to it.

Genius comics such as Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Paul Mooney and David Chappelle capture this reality with wonderful and biting wit. For example, as many a black (and brown) comedian has joked, white folks run towards trouble and not away from it. Likewise, some white folks like to keep exotic and dangerous pets simply because they can, for in their imaginations no foul deed can ever happen to them.

I always share bits of found knowledge that explain the common sense notions that black folks (and those who are the Other, more generally) have used to triumph in and navigate an absurd world. To point: my riding the bus home reading for the week is a fun book called The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why?. Therein, I stumbled upon a real gem of research that explores the levels of worry felt by different groups of people, and how this emotion impacts their subsequent capacities for risk-taking behavior. It reads as follows:


Remember that equation for dread? It's different for men and women. Almost every survey ever done on risk perception finds that women worry more about almost everything...But when risk expert Paul Slovic tried to explain the gender gap this way, he ran into problems. The stereotype didn't quite fit. For example African American men worried just as much as women generally did. So unless African American men are born nurturers, nature didn't entirely explain the difference. Are women and minorities less educated and so more emotional in their risk assessments? Well, no. When Slovic controlled for education, the sex and racial differences persisted...

Eventually Slovic realized he was obsessing over the wrong people. Men were the ones throwing off the curve, not women or minorities. And not all men, but a small subgroup. As it turns out, about the 30 percent of white males see very little risk in most threats. They create much of the gender and race gap all on their own. So then Slovic began to study these white men. They have a few subtle things in common. "They liked the world of status, hierarchy, and power," says Slovic. They believed in technology. They were more likely than any other group to disagree with the statement that people should be treated more equally. Usually, they were white men, but not always. The more important factor was how they viewed the world and their place in it. If a white male felt discriminated against or marginalized by society, then he would likely switch sides, joining women and minorities in their worry.


So it seems that the psychic wages of white (male) privilege pay off once more. But then again, this (over) confidence can also be one's last coffin nail.

Slovic's findings are potent in some other surprising ways as well.

From the right wing reactionary movement, to the herrenvolk Tea Party, and the rise of the politics of white racial resentment and victimology verbally ejaculated on a daily basis by Beck, Limbaugh, Buchanan, and the Right-wing echo chamber, the psychic comforts and confidence that come from a near paraphilia-like fixation on the memories of a nostalgia infused "good old" days and "real America" are a powerful intoxicant. This confidence when lost, this privileged status when seemingly disrupted (especially in a time of economic uncertainty), leads us almost inevitably to the backlash against President Barack Obama--when the upset and entitled empire of angry white (conservative) men are poised to strike back.

Sadly, a restoration of their confidence and a pat on the back that "things are going to be okay," may not be enough in a game of zero-sum, winner take all politics. With the upcoming elections and declining poll numbers among white voters--and especially white male independents--the ultimate victims of this crisis of confidence and the (not unreasonable) triumph of worry may very well be Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Howard Stern's Gift of Prophecy and Clarence Thomas, Porn Addict

This is one of my favorite Howard Stern clips from the good ol' Channel 9 days. My family and I sat enraptured by this performance when it first aired. Yes, this skit is so wrong. But damn, it is also so genius and so very right.

When I am wrong I admit it. I owe Anita Hill an apology. Back in the early 90's I fell for the "high tech lynching" rally around the victimized black man flag nonsense that Thomas pulled. I was a naive young respectable negro in training, going to black man think tanks, and doing the Million Man March deal. My gender politics trumped common sense. Quite frankly I didn't know any better. So Sister Anita, for what it is worth, my bad.

Now, after hearing about Justice Thomas' "predilections" from Lillian McEwen (one of his ex-girlfriends) the obvious is now made clear: dude is a bit off. I have always felt that Thomas was unqualified for the Supreme Court--and still do, his worship of Scalia, vomit inducing conservative politics, and rumored tendency to sleep during hearings aside. But Uncle Thomas Cousin Ruckus has sealed the deal with the latest revelations about his at work escapades, near-mashing behavior, and bad taste in porn (Long Dong Silver is so 1970s even by 1980s standards).

Hopefully, the latest new/old revelations about Justice Thomas will be one more asterisk next to his entry in the book of Negro History, one that puts his "history making" rise to the Supremes in the Right context (get the Oscar Wilde subtlety to that word play?).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Some Black People Are Not Ready to Have Nice Things: Introducing Baracka Flacka Flames--Head of State

I am stupified. Double facepalmed. Struck dumb.

As the old saying goes, you can't polish a turd. Stated differently, satire is perhaps the hardest of genres with which to work. The shear amateurishness of the Baracka Flacka Flames "Head of State" video is revealed by the fact that the basis of the "joke," the neo-minstrel crooning of Southern race minstrel Waka Flocka Flame (and others of his ilk), is itself already a parody of what hip hop could and ought to be. Thus, the potential for creative genius is already compromised from the onset, as how does one satirize what is already satire (be it intentional or otherwise) poorly done?

As a child I recall watching television with my mother. That day a public service announcement implored viewers to adopt a foster child. In said appeal, one of the children proudly announced that if he had a family and his own room that he would draw rainbows all over the walls. I said to my mom, "wow, that is so touching." Mom looked at me and said, "No, it is sad. That child has never had anything nice in his life and the first thing he wants to do when he finally gets a room is to ruin it. Sometimes you can't give people nice things who aren't ready for them."

Years later I would see the wisdom of my mother's words in the once nice neighborhoods ruined by Section 8, suburbanized public housing, and absentee landlords. The weight of her words is also made clear when the first signs of scattered site housing and a "neighborhood in transition" inevitably appear--the litter on the ground, people sitting five deep on porches when a perfectly nice backyard is available, overflowing, naked garbage cans left curbside, corner boys, gang tags, and broken cars in various states of disrepair now parked on residential lawns.

While sociologists and others talk about social capital, social disorganization, and the merits of value neutral approaches to the different "cultural norms" that govern the use of public space, I simply fall back on my mother's wisdom: Sometimes folks just aren't ready to have nice things. And ultimately it is a crime to give them nice things before they are ready.

The Baracka Flacka Flames video is simply more proof of that self-evident truth. The Baracka Flacka Flames video is also proof of an instinct I have long held dear and (usually) kept private to myself: white supremacy is the greatest invention of all time, not because of its durability per se, but rather because of how the subject internalizes it, reproducing the conditions of their own self-hatred and subordination.

I am unafraid to speak to the obligations of black respectability. Sadly, while some of us are ready for the responsibility of having our first Black President, others have clearly demonstrated that they are not. How pitiable and tragic that some confuse a poverty of material circumstances with a poverty of self-respect and black pride.

Star Wars versus Glenn Beck: An Exclusive Interview with Obi-Wan Kenobi

The We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) has been steadily expanding its network of contacts. We always work hard to bring you, our readers, the stories and information that you care about most. In the three years since our founding, we have had the good fortune to bring you candid interviews with such public figures as Jesse Jackson and Pat Buchanan. Two of our greatest victories to date were exclusive interviews with the nebulous figures of "Racism," and with Glenn Beck's elusive Blackboard. And of course, Brother X-Squared made his Internet debut on our site.

Today we scored a coup. Although many Bothans died to bring us this information, WARNNN has secured THE interview to end all interviews. In response to Glenn Beck, the self-described rodeo clown of television news and his channeling of the Star Wars Trilogies, Obi-Wan Kenobi, legendary Jedi Knight, friend and mentor to Darth Vader, has agreed to an exclusive tell-all interview with Bill the Lizard, guest interviewer for this most special of conversations.


Obi-Wan Kenobi: Hello there!

WARNNN: Mr. Kenobi, Obi-wan, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. All of us here at WARNNN realize how valuable your time is.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Obi-Wan Kenobi...Obi-Wan? Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long time...a long time.

WARNNN: Really?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: I haven't gone by the name Obi-Wan since oh, before you were born.

WARNNN: May I call you Ben, then?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Don't be afraid. (laughs)

WARNNN: Ben, since the early 1980s, you've been removed from the public eye. I think it's safe to say that you've been a ghost of sorts, rarely giving interviews, not really commenting on current politics. If you don't mind me asking, why is that?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Yes, I was once a Jedi Knight... For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times... before the Empire.

WARNNN: Now, I've heard you say that before. You've often been quoted with outspoken opposition towards both the Reagan and Bush Administrations, and especially American imperialism, more generally.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: What I've told you is true. From a certain point of view.

WARNNN: A certain point of view?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: You're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Let's just say “We the People” would like to avoid any imperial entanglements.

WARNNN: When was the last time you've spoken to the public about politics?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: 94.

WARNNN: That long ago? Well, what's changed? Why get involved again now?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: I'm getting too old for this sort of thing. But my allegiance is to the Republic ... to democracy.

WARNNN: Was there any thing specific that moved you to speak to us?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: I felt a great disturbance in the if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

WARNNN: Do you mean the rise of the New Right? The Great Recession? Threats to our fundamental freedoms?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: (nods in affirmation)

WARNNN: A few days ago your name is once more aflutter across the Internet.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Very interesting...

WARNNN: Glenn Beck, the American conservative radio and television icon, quoted you while defending himself against the “Drop Fox” boycott by Media Matters. He was almost daring people to confront him. Have you heard of this?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Should I have?

WARNNN: Well, perhaps I can I play you a clip?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: You must do what you feel is right, of course.

WARNNN: Now, as a Jedi Knight, a wise mentor and sage to us all, what is your reaction to Beck’s utterances? Do you feel Glenn Beck has the right message for America?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded....

WARNNN: Can I interpret this as a “no”?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Your insight serves you well...

WARNNN: Can you elaborate?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Glenn was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil. He was seduced by the dark side of the Force... when that happened, the good man who was born Glenn Beck was destroyed.

WARNNN: So you don't approve of his new “rodeo clown for the Right” gimmick?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong. He is more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.

WARNNN: Wow, that sounds incredibly harsh. I've heard Beck still considers you to be a mentor.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes.

WARNNN: Beck is incredibly popular, however. In 2009, for example, the Glenn Beck show was one of the highest rated news programs on TV. Now personally, I feel that he's a demagogue. But there is apparently an audience out there for Beck’s divisive and hateful message. What is your take on Glenn Beck’s appeal to the masses?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?

WARNNN: So you don't think that this is really grass-roots populism? That Beck channels the so-called “silent conservative majority” against the “liberal elites?”

Obi-Wan Kenobi: (shakes head no)

WARNNN: Did the Tea Party Movement start it then?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: They didn't. But we are meant to think they did.

WARNNN: What about extremist candidates like Rich Iott, Christine O'Donnell, Carl Paladino and Sharron Angle?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: A fighter that size couldn't get this deep into space on its own.

WARNNN: Well, then who's behind this explosion of Conservatism? Some have said it's just dumb luck on their part—a function of pure timing and coincidence.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: In my experience, there's no such thing as luck.

WARNNN: Fox News Republicans, then?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

WARNNN: Very strong words. However, there does seem to be a lot of intentional political trickery on the part of Fox News personalities. Especially Glenn Beck.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them…

WARNNN: Well then, what advice can you give progressive commentators and bloggers who want to try and do their part to combat the New Right and the power of the Republican Right-wing eliminationist echo chamber?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Jundland wastes are not to be traveled lightly.

WARNNN: Meaning?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Democrats are easily startled but they will soon be back and in greater numbers... they're on the move.

WARNNN: Do you have any final thoughts on Glenn Beck and the other Fox News commentators?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: The flaw of power is arrogance.

WARNNN: And any final thought for Glenn Beck's viewers?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: They have allowed this dark lord to twist their minds. Until now, they have become the very thing they have sworn to destroy. Ultimately, Glenn Beck is not the show they're looking for. His viewers should move along.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Race in the Age of Obama: A Conversation with an Angry White Man

We live in an age of colorblind racism, a world where racism exists, but there are no racists. True, we see the echos of bigotry on a frequent basis as the election of Barack Obama, changing racial demographics, and the Great Recession have brought the tea party brigands, the nativists, and the violent extremists out of hiding. But, there is little debate that the racism of today is structural, often impersonal, and more benign than in the dark days of Jim Crow.

For those activists, educators, journalists, policy types and other fellow travelers, this can make conversations with the post-Civil Rights multicultural generation on these matters quite difficult. Even when faced with the realities of racial inequality in housing, health, wealth and income disparities, incarceration rates, and other life indicators, the facts are often dismissed as "big" concepts that do not seem "real" or "personal." Thus, they are rendered untrue. When shown a vast literature that clearly demonstrates the realities of enduring racism in the Age of Obama, colorblind multiculturals also make a parallel move of denial and deflection: "sure this stuff is real, but I have never experienced it."

At times I feel like I am a conductor, a teacher in front of an audience, directing a symphony for a group that appreciates the aesthetics of the music, but doesn't get its power, complexity, or how the note and the drum are commentaries on our human existence. Or alternatively, I imagine myself an intrepid explorer, looking for the dodo bird, Bat Boy, the Yeti, or The Ark of the Covenant. I know these things are real, but I need to have the proof--"habeaus corpus"--to be able to produce the body. In short, theory needs to meet practice.

As a habit I do not engage in flame wars with Internet trolls. I enjoy a good fight. But these exchanges are often a waste of too valuable time. I broke my rule last weekend. On a popular black conservative's website I had a two day back and forth with a White arch-conservative libertarian, one who recites all of the mantras of the Right and the "reverse racism" crowd (and who by the way also believes that the Nazis were in fact "progressives" and "Socialists"). At the two day mark I disengaged, exhausted from punching water.

Nevertheless, it was wonderful proof that all of our high minded talk about racism, colorblindness, white racial resentment, and the white racial frame are reflections of the real world. I do truly believe in the virtues of what social scientists call "methodological individualism," that individual cases can tell us something about the broader social world. My conversation with said angry white man has only reinforced my allegiance to that key concept.

The whole exchange is worth reading, but the following post is an ideal-typical case of the politics of anger and white racial resentment that have long been with us, and are at present the beating heart of the New Right and the frothing at the mouth anti-Obama crowd.

What follows is akin to a critical race theorist's game of "Where's Waldo?" How many white deflections are present? What racial frame is being used? How is this an example of colorblind racism (or not)? What tired tropes are being deployed?

“When white Americans find it within themselves to say ‘I must be compensated for a past injustice done to me' but the same logic evaporates when the injustice concerns black Americans, they are staring straight at bias,” Banaji said.
Banaji thinks exactly like you. Note the interesting seque from individual to group, and how he twists the issue. If you, Mr. Devega, were discriminated against by the Government, I'd be right there defending you. You've already indicated where you would be in my case, given your commentary on what I've already revealed about Governmental discrimination -- you'd be on the other side, saying "he got what he deserved because people with his skin color have been living off of the sweat of my ancestors way too long". So I do see an interesting bias -- and it ain't me.

Now, I wonder how many people Mr. Mazzocco could find to join his putative lawsuit if he stated that half of the owners of the company today avenged the shipping magnate in hand to hand combat, and suffered great harm to themselves, with many of them dying...

You see, when you try to construct a simile, you have to make sure that the simile addresses the proper aspects of the thing you are simulating.

On my side, I'll let FUBU not hire white sales reps -- if they can grow their business and become fabulously wealthy by not doing so, well -- that's all right by me. In fact, it's all right by me if they damage their business that way, because Darwin is at work here -- big time.

You have been as much a slave in your lifetime as I have -- and perhaps less, given how much less you claim to pay in taxes. I have no sympathy for the argument you present -- or, to put it another way, exactly as much sympathy for your argument as you have for mine.

My Scottish forebears lived on a small island in the north of Scotland. Their land was assigned to one of the British royalty, and their lord got it into his head that he wanted to grow sheep on their island. So he did, on every available acre of arable land. 50% of the population died of starvation, and 50% of the remainder emigrated to North America before the lord figured out that his sheep were also dying and stopped the whole thing. Now, do I have any cause for action against Great Britain for what they did to my family? Should I curse the Queen and demand redress from her? Well...when I look at the descendants of the 25% who stayed alive, and the lives they lead, I'm not about to go there. My family struggled here in the USA, but we made ends meet and then some, in the end. Yup, an anecdote -- which undoubtedly you'll find useless.

Let's go back to you. Good education. Nice computer. Good internet access. This is not the hallmark of someone who's had some slavelord over them for even the smallest fraction of their life. You have freedoms those people left back in Africa can only dream of having. Sure, things could be better -- perhaps in Africa, your family was royalty, had palaces and such and even sold slaves themselves... But I presume too much, as do you.

I'm for rights given to people in the present, and how those rights are used or abused in the present. I'm for individual causes of action, not group causes. I find it interesting what my great great grandfather and my grandfather and even my parents had to go through to raise up their children, but I don't let any injustices from those bygone eras, as they are, drive my relationships in the present.

As for the Germans and the Italians, it was merely a point to counter your point of white self-interest. If whites were truly uniformly self-interested as you posit, there would have been no major movement to abolish slavery and no question that the Constitution of 1860 was exactly correct....and the Germans and the Italians would have been compensated but the Japanese would not.

You are absolutely right -- there were so few of them -- in the low thousands, that

Given the above, you will almost certainly have to add a few more syllables to your artfully constructed name for me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Defense of Glenn Beck: The Peanut Gallery Speaks in the Letters Section of the New York Times Magazine

I try to take folks at their word and do sincerely believe that the inability to talk across lines of partisanship and party--and a profound lack of empathy and sympathy for those with whom we disagree--is driving much of the political rancor of the moment. Now, this does not mean that all points of view ought to be elevated to the level of a considerate opinion or that half-cooked beliefs should be treated with the respect reserved for well-trodden and researched fact.

Simply put, my "Sarah Palin head full of stupid rule" will always apply: let's call a spade a spade, because then we can move forward from a shared understanding of the facts at hand.

In keeping with my prime directive of letting folks find voice, I thought it useful to repost the following entry from the Letters section of The New York Times Magazine. Last week they published a very flattering and none too rigorous piece on Glenn Beck, resident brigand pied piper of the willfully ignorant and delusional Right-wing in America. I often wonder who buys into his charade. After reading this letter, I have a better sense of who they are.

Question: should we pity this woman? Or should we (in the spirit of Noam Chomsky's suggestion) try to understand what is driving the adulation by the foot soldiers of the Right for figures such as Beck, Savage, Limbaugh, Palin, Angle, O'Donnell and other such false populists? Stated differently, is "their" pain "our" pain?

I do so badly want to pathologize the supporters of this new/old conservative populism and 21st century Know-nothing John Bircherism. But I can't bring myself to do it, for I do not know if folks such as Helga Olsson are to be pitied or feared.

Your thoughts?


Leibovich’s snide reporting of Beck as a human being, much less the country’s favorite television sage, is true New York Times muckraking, solid antitruth rhetoric par excellence. It made me sick to read such belligerence. But then Leibovich shows his own colors, seeming to relish his repetitive observations of the many times Beck has cried on TV or said something provocatively unfavorable to left-wingers. The constant smear of this kind of verbiage did not work on those of us who admire him and are everyday listeners. I am grateful for Beck’s teachings, which are also borne out by the truth of his scholarship, as well as his fears, that under the current administration we are entering a politically bankrupt “transformative” period in our country, identical to what I and other former East Germans experienced when Communism reared its ugly head there. Some of us overcame many odds to escape to America and are incensed that now we are about to taste that ugly kind of brainwashing, big government, lies and misrepresentations once again, here on our new home soil. Those of us who know the truth can identify with Beck’s teachings. We are going down the blind path to the loss of our individual freedoms, forced to hand over our hard-earned savings to make others richer, seeing corruption on the largest scale we can imagine, all under the name of “redistribution of wealth.” Nowhere in the world has this awful method ever worked. Nowhere. And you make fun of the message-bearer?

Closter, N.J.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Thinking Project: Dr. Na'im Akbar on the Normativity of Whiteness and the Power of Eurocentrism

You know you are hearing a genius at work when a brother can connect Santa Claus with Colonialism, Imperialism, and the arrogant myopia that is whiteness and Eurocentrism.


I strive for precision in my language when I write about and discuss racism, politics, and white supremacy. Sometimes I succeed. More often than not I fail.

It is easy to do get locked into jargon's seductive gaze. Many academics like the shorthand. It sounds smart, sophisticated, and sexy (at least to our ears). But when pressed, many scholar-professionals-teachers cannot offer a simple, rich, detailed explanation of the concepts at hand. Nor can they explain why these concepts matter to students or the general public.

Dr. Naim Akbar's deconstruction of white supremacy possesses none of these common failings. By comparison, his lecture is a wonderful example of what academics and teachers should strive for as he offers clarity, precision and theory without any slight of hand. Folks, there is no academic kayfabe or trickery here.

There is a also a double irony in Dr. Akbar's comments. I have long thought that dilettantes and the semi-qualified have co-opted the language of white privilege without doing the hard and foundational work necessary to really understand this concept. Simply put, many liberal white racists have started to play the white privilege game. Not surprisingly, many of these same folks couldn't tell you about anything more than sister Peggy McIntosh's Invisible Knapsack of Whiteness. They certainly couldn't tell you about Theodore Allen, Andrew Saxton, or W.E.B. DuBois and his Souls of White Folk. Lord knows they have never heard of A Rage for Order.

The practical consequence of this backdoor entry into critical race studies is that many of these well-intentioned souls end up (re)centering whiteness as their normative lens. Once and again, white folks remain the center of the universe even as they are ostensibly moved from being the "universal I" to the level of mere "object."

A question for teachers, allies, students, friends, and fellow travelers. What is the lecture or talk you can give with effortless ease and with profound clarity and directness as measured not in your own estimation, but by that of your audience? What is your worst? The one where jargon seems unavoidable and your failure of communication (and students' reception) is made painfully evident as you read their papers come midterm and finals?

For those on the other side of the table, what is the most informative and powerful lecture or seminar you have experienced? One that you still think about to this day?

Friday, October 15, 2010

What Richard Iott’s Nazi Re-enacting Really Means

A bit late on this one, but well worth it...

The Republicans and the Tea Party are the gift that keep on giving. In one party we have quite likely to be mentally ill Christine O'Donnell, secessionist kook Sharon Angle, Republican Senators such as Glenn McConnell who attend galas (with happy slaves and auctions) set in the "Good Ol' Confederacy," and now a Nazi role-player in Richard Iott who dresses up as a Waffen SS officer for weekend sport. As someone with more than a passing interest in military affairs and issues of historical memory I was going to chime in. But, I am also practical.

Why do something yourself, when you can have a friend--one who actually has a forthcoming book on Weimar-era Germany--do it for you?

As always, Werner Herzog's Bear has kindly obliged us by emerging from his comfy cave to bring some sense to this tea party brigand nonsense.


Like a lot of people, I was both dismayed and amused by the news that a Tea Party-approved candidate for the House used to spend his weekends in a Nazi uniform re-enacting the exploits of a Waffen SS unit in World War II. The amusement came from seeing a bunch of middle-aged, suburban beer bellied slobs playing dress up like they could have survived ten minutes on the Eastern Front. The dismay came from the fact that they were not re-enacting a regular Wehrmacht unit, but one from the Waffen SS, the military arm of the institution responsible for carrying out the Holocaust. Not only that, the material on their website claims that members of the original Wiking unit were just doing their patriotic duty:

“We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.”

As anyone who actually studies these things can tell you, the German military’s invasion of the Soviet Union was a war of racial conquest, extermination, and enslavement. Anyone who tries to downplay that fact, or to celebrate the perpetrators behind it, is either horribly naïve, deluded, or a closet fascist.

There are a lot of ways to analyze Iott’s participation in the Wiking re-enactors. On the surface, it must be said, is the ultimate irony that Tea Partiers have been foaming at the mouth over the supposed parallels between Adolf Hitler and Barack Obama. To me, it’s increasingly easier to read those slanders as a desperate attempt to cover up the hard Right’s fascist tendencies.

That being said, I think we can actually go much deeper. Beyond the hypocrisy and the authoritarian fever dreams lurking in the Teabagger id, Iott’s hobby reveals the Tea Party’s ignorant and false understanding of history. Ultimately, the Tea Party views history as a vindication of their ideas, but they understand history as a kind of playground emancipated from any rules of historical fact and interpretation.

Tea Party events are infamous for the participants dressed in powdered wigs and tricorn hats. Their mouthpiece, Glenn Beck, likes to pose in costume himself, and constantly uses a distorted view of history to brand Progressives “fascists.” As I have pointed out in the past, he took Thomas Paine, an avowed enemy of organized religion and a proto-socialist, and turned him into a Bible-thumping free marketer. Why did he get away with this? Because his followers do not know or care about the real historical record, just as Iott seems to be unaware of the realities of the Eastern Front. (I will actually give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s not a Nazi, he’s just stupid, confused, and insensitive.)

They use and abuse history in this fashion because they need its authority to give their blinkered worldview some legitimacy. Their ideas have failed miserably in the present, so why not create a false, idealized distant past where they worked? I think that professional historians like myself need to do a lot more to set the record straight, since Teabagger history not only distorts the truth, its funhouse of costumes and invented facts threatens to confuse the past so much that Teabagger fabrications will be accepted for reality. After awhile it does remind one of a certain political group that blamed their nation’s military defeat on a “stab in the back” from their political enemies and used the resulting anger to grab power for themselves. Gosh, I wonder who they were again…