Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Echoes of History: Reading Race Back into the Constitution Through the Eyes of Theodore Bilbo, Southern Reactionary

Sometimes one can be wrong in spirit, yet correct in implication and analysis.

These moments are awkward--especially for those inclined towards ideological purity. In thinking through the fight over Reagan's legacy, the Tea Party GOP's revival and misunderstanding of "American exceptionalism," "the framers," and willfully juvenile understanding of the Constitution, complexity seems to have been thrown out the window in the service of binary thinking and New Right orthodoxy.

By extension, one of the recurring fights between Left and Right centers upon how the United States Constitution ought to be interpreted. Is it divinely inspired, sacred, and never to be changed from the intent of its creators in the 18th century? Or, and we have explored this here at some length, is the Constitution a living document, made by flawed men, yet the wisdom of said contract is precisely in its adaptability?

I stand hands open and transparent in my suggestion that racism and white supremacy are central to the American project. At the time of the founding, the U.S. Constitution was a herrenvolk document by design. Not surprisingly, it reinforced the class, gender, and racial interests of political elites and the dominant classes. In the present, appeals to some mythic "original intent" are more often than not a lazy mask that dances around these preeminent facts.

To deny these facts is to deny the sum evidence provided by the historical record. But simultaneously, the greatness of the Constitution is that it is more than the sum of its parts. Thankfully, progressive, radical, and forward thinking Americans understand this truth and have been able to force the country to live up to its promise--a work that is still in progress.

While thinking about those questions, I was thumbing through The Age of Jim Crow (a great collection of essays and testimonies by the way) and came upon Mississippi Governor and United States senator Theodore G. Bilbo's 1947 essay "False Interpretations of American Democracy."

Bilbo was a virulent racist and forefather of much of the race baiting that we saw in the moments before the Republican Party's open embrace of the Southern Dixiecrats, and that are present in the contemporary as the New Right, "real American," Tea Party, neo-John Bircher crowd.

Funny then, that I found myself agreeing with his analysis of the Constitution, the White Soul, and original intent. As a qualifier, Bilbo was profoundly wrong in his reading of the Black Freedom Struggle and the transcendent power of the Constitution. Moreover, he was a contemptible human being. But, nevertheless, a broken clock is indeed right twice a day.

History is once more our greatest teacher:

False Interpretations of American Democracy

The Negro leaders who are seeking social equality of the races and the abolition of every kind of racial segregation cannot justly claim that ideals of American democracy support their demands. They contend that democracy means "full equality" for all citizens, and they quote the Declaration of Independence as proof thereof. Discussing "Certain Unalienable Rights," Mary McLeod Bethune asks for "full American citizenship" for American Negroes. She says: "As long as America offers less, she will be that much less a democracy. The whole way is the American way."

There is absolutely nothing in the immortal declaration "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" to support this plea for social equality of the white and black races in the United States. Any person who uses the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution to bring about the social equality of the races in this country is placing a false and dangerous interpretation on these two documents which embody the ideals of American democracy...

It cannot be forgotten that Thomas Jefferson who wrote that "all men are created equal" also wrote the following lines concerning the Negro.

Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free; nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government.

...Jefferson believed that the race question should be solved by colonization of the Negroes at some place outside the United States, and he devoted much time and energy to promoting such a scheme. There is no indication whatsoever that either he or any of the other Founding Fathers interpreted the words of the Declaration of Independence to destroy the racial barriers which from the very beginning of our history separated the white and black races in the United States. Practically all of these men were owners of Negro slaves, and the indications are that they never even thought of the Negro when they announced to the world that "all men are created equal."

...How can the Negro leaders contend that it is "un-American" and "undemocratic" to preserve the government as our forefathers made it? As was once emphatically stated by Senator Robert Toombs: "This Republic was born of the soul of a race of pioneer white freemen who settled on our continent and built an altar within its forest cathedral to Liberty and Progress. In the record of man, has the Negro ever dreamed this dream?"

...The Negro leaders themselves say that never in the history of the United States have the members of their race been accorded full and complete equality with the whites. And it is true that "On no aspect of the race problem are most white Americans, North as well as South, so adamant as they are on their opposition to intermarriage." Then, what stronger proof than the actual practice of white Americans do we need in ascertaining how the majority of our people feel toward the demands of the Negro leaders today for the social equality of the races?

We have found that white Americans have never interpreted American democracy to mean that there would be no racial barriers between the white and black citizens of this Republic, and those who now seek to read such a meaning into the Declaration of Independence are misconstruing the immortal words which were penned by Thomas Jefferson. The social equality of the white and Negro races and the abolition of racial segregation have never been in accordance with the ideals of this Nation. Any one who advances such an argument is placing a false interpretation on the meaning of American democracy, and because he is willing, either consciously or unconsciously, that the future of this Republic be destroyed, he is a traitor to his country as well as to his race.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Cult of Ronald Reagan and the Racist Origins of American Conservatism

I don't need no stinking badge to understand the cult of Ronald Reagan.

On the Right he is elevated to the heights of a near deity by partisans that both simultaneously and eagerly overlook his violation of the U.S. Constitution and conciliatory gestures towards "The Evil Empire," the former Soviet Union.

On the Left, he is quite correctly criticized for his vicious assaults on the working class and the poor. And moreover, look no farther than Ronald Reagan for the wrong-headed Laffer's Curve that has brought nothing but trouble since its inception, and is no small part responsible for the Great Recession and legitimizing the foot stomping foot obstructionism of the Tea Party GOP as it insists on renewing tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans (even though this will not stimulate the economy, and only further encourage a problematic maldistribution of wealth and the growing kleptocracy) at the expense of all others.

In total, Reagan's reach is indeed large (and disproportionate to the merits of his presidency) in the years following his tenure.

The cult of Reagan has also fascinated me because of its resonance with black conservatives. Stating the obvious: Former President Ronald "Welfare Queen" Reagan was certainly no friend of people of color--choosing to begin his campaign by speaking at Philadelphia, Mississippi on state's rights and thus cementing his commitment to the Southern Strategy and "State's rights." This is the root of my snicker at White American conservatives who proclaim their colorblindness, and at Black conservatives in particular, who defend all things Reaganesque.

Primarily, Reagan made it clear that Conservatism will use and abuse dog whistle politics and the accompanying succor of Lee Atwater's appeals to the worst of the White Soul in order to win electoral victories. So why support Reagan's political vision when you are decidedly outside of it? Second, the narrative of Black conservatives (and conservatives at large), is that black and brown folk are somehow confused, "on the Democratic plantation," and do not understand where their self-interest lies.

Funny, White conservatives are somehow rational actors, but black and brown folk--and Liberals at large--are somehow not. Thus, my delight when I talk to Conservatives who honestly admit that they care not for the common good. Rather, their immediate concern is for their pocketbooks despite the cost to the body politic. In the era of Obama that level of candor is so rare, as we live in a moment when the Tea Party GOP largely travels with the false passports of speaking for "real Americans" and "fiscal responsibility." So special that honesty is, I always applaud it whenever such true admissions are encountered.

Professor Robert C. Smith, a fellow searcher who kindly offered drinks and sage advice to me some years ago, has penned a great new book on this topic. Conservatism and Racism and Why in America They Are the Same works through the ambivalence of black folks towards Ronald Reagan, and the racist roots of American Conservatism far better than I ever could. Dr. Smith's argument is sharp, sweet, and to the point.

In total, American Conservatism cannot help but animate the forces of White supremacy and racism because those are the first priors from which it is sprung.

Courtesy of Robert Smith and ROROTOKO:


In this book I systematically demonstrate the inescapable racism inherent in American conservatism. The argument unfolds in layers.

First, I show that ideological conservatism is everywhere and always the conscious and reflective defense of established institutions and ways of life. In the United States this has meant a defense of racism and white supremacy. The first conscious conservative movement in America emerged in the South partly as a reaction to the movement to abolish slavery, and the modern conservative movement in America is rooted partly in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement.

Second, the substantive ideals of American conservatism—limited government, states’ rights, individualism, property rights, and the prioritizing of liberty over equality—when applied consistently inevitably result in racism.

Third, I show that the ascendancy of the conservative movement to national power with the election of Ronald Reagan was partly based on the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” of exploiting racist and white supremacist sentiments in the electorate beginning with the election of 1964.

I am acutely aware that the argument will strike many Americans—and not just conservatives—as outrageous. Therefore, I approached the analysis and writing with unusual care. I spend the entire first chapter defining the terms of the discourse—conservatism, racism and white supremacy. The remaining chapters are thoroughly referenced and documented. By design, the book combines philosophy, history and political science.

This is first a book about ideas and how they can have consequences in politics, if they are linked to powerful, well-financed movements.

I excavate the ideas on race of the leading conservative and neoconservative intellectuals from the 1950s to the 1980s. The ideas examined, among others, are those of Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Jr., James J. Kilpatrick, Milton Friedman, Robert Bork, Irving Kristol, Edward Banfield, Nathan Glazer and Aaron Wildavsky. These ideas helped to shape the presidential campaigns of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, the two leading conservative statesmen of the modern era.

For example, Bork, the conservative movement’s leading jurisprudential scholar, objected to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He described the landmark legislation as “unsurpassed ugliness” because, Bork argued, the core principles at stake in any civil rights law are individual liberty and property rights; it was the freedom of individuals to do with their property as they wished, even if they wished to deny access to a BBQ joint or motel to other individuals because they were black.

Similarly, Friedman, the movement’s apostle of unfettered, free market capitalism, compared the equal employment title of the 1964 Act to “Hitler Nuremburg laws” because “such legislation clearly involves interference with the freedom of individuals to enter into voluntary contracts with one another.”

The book includes detailed study of the Reagan presidency and race related issues. Using archival material from the Reagan presidential library, I focus on affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, the Grove City case, welfare reform, South Africa policy, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. I conclude the book by showing how the conservative movement and the Reagan presidency have had an enduring impact on presidential elections, the presidency, the Democratic Party, racial liberalism and the continuing struggle for a more racially just society.

A section of Chapter 8 on the ascendancy of Reagan to the presidency is titled “It’s the Ideology, Stupid.” President Reagan is a central character in the book, because he is undoubtedly the most significant conservative leader of the present era and one of the most significant in American history.
Reagan was frequently accused of being a racist. Nothing angered him more. As he writes in his presidential memoir “the myth that has always bothered me the most is that I am a bigot who somehow surreptitiously condones racial prejudice… Whatever the reason for this myth that I am a racist, I blow up every time I hear it.”

In close, careful study of the biographical and historical records, I found no evidence that Reagan was a racist or white supremacist. It was Reagan’s principled, ideological conservatism that led him to oppose every civil rights bill enacted in the 1960s.

Reagan’s opposition to the Civil rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was based on the conservative principles of limited government and states’ rights. In California he opposed the state’s Fair Housing Act on the conservative principles of individualism and property rights, declaiming that the right of an individual to dispose of his property as he wished was “a basic human right.”

Reagan prioritized these conservative ideological principles over the human rights of African Americans to be served at a Georgia BBQ joint, to vote for president in Alabama or to purchase a house in California. In doing so, he clearly made conservatism and racism the same.

As if to symbolize this relationship, Reagan’s first campaign appearance after he received the Republican nomination in 1980 was in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Philadelphia was the site of the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan. In his Philadelphia speech Reagan invoked states rights, code words in the South for the right of whites to oppress blacks.

The public, politicians and the media are often puzzled by the consistent failure of conservatism to have much appeal to African Americans. This book provides the answer to those puzzles.
I decided to write the book shortly after Ronald Reagan’s funeral. In the long lines of mourners that gathered to pay their respects to the President at the Capitol in Washington and the presidential library in Simi Valley, California there were very few African Americans.

In the course of the nearly week long commemoration of Reagan’s life and legacy—where he was lauded as one of the nation’s greatest presidents—I was asked in the media to explain the absence of black mourners in Washington and Simi Valley. My explanations dealt less with Reagan as an individual or as president than with conservatism as a philosophy and ideology.

Ronald Reagan was not mourned by many African Americans because he was a conservative; the most successful conservative president of the post civil rights era and one of the most successful conservative presidents in the 20th century. Conservatism as a philosophy and ideology, I explained, are and always have been hostile to the aspirations of Africans in America; incompatible with their struggle for freedom and equality. Thus, very few blacks could mourn the passing of a man who was an icon in the cause of 20th century American conservatism.

In the nature of modern media it was difficult to convey this rather complex idea in a brief interview. I found that even in extended interviews it was difficult to fully explore this complex relationship between conservatism and black aspirations.

Repeatedly, I was asked: Are you saying that conservatism is racism? That all conservatives are racist? Aren’t there black conservatives? Are they racist? Are the millions of Americans who supported President Reagan racist? Are President George W. Bush and the conservatives who control the Congress and the courts hostile to African American interests?

My answer to most of these questions was a qualified yes. But the many qualifications and caveats left me, the interviewers, and the audience, without the kind of clarity one would hope for when professors are called upon to explain complex issues to the public. Thus, this book.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Politics of Little Things: Slavoj Zizek, the Political Symbolism of Toilets, and the New Right

I was thinking a bit more about our convo on Howard Stern, racially profiled garbage, and community norms...

For granted, I take it that small things matter. Now this isn't purely because of my belief in the power of methodological individualism, but likely more because I am an avid student of human nature. Folks reveal a good deal about themselves through seemingly small things: how a person stands, the words they use, if they wear a watch or not, the type of shoes they wear, the grooming of their nails and hands, and one's style of haircut can tell you so very much. Maybe I have read too much about Harry Houdini's career as a genius breaker of the con game, or watched The Sting more than is recommended? But little things do indeed matter in this signal game called life, and I try to take them all in as best I can.

Politics of course is no different.

In coming full circle from our conversation about garbage, race, ethnicity, and class, Slavoj Zizeck's observations regarding the politics of the toilet are quite apropos. Because ultimately, on a personal level you don't really know a person until you see (and snoop around their bathroom).

Random factoid: in the best Seinfeld inspired spirit, I was hanging out with a quite pretty black Finnish sister. She wanted to take a ride on space mountain and I was more than willing to oblige her. On said evening, I looked about her bathroom and discovered The Tower of Babble in her garbage can, a twisted pile of nasty used tampons that was at least one foot high. I made an excuse and quickly left. My reasoning: if you that nasty, I will remain in blissful ignorance, for I do not want to know what other hellish mess you may have in store later in the night. Case. Closed.

As a complement to Zizek's insight, Theodor Adorno of the legendary Frankfurt School offered a powerful theory wherein the amount of punitive violence used during potty training was correlated to a given person's propensity for authoritarian politics ( a hypothesis clearly influenced by Freud). Zizek ups it one level and examines the collective political unconscious of a society as revealed through its waste disposal apparatuses.

I must wonder, given the New Right populist wave sweeping the country, what are the collective toilet politics operative in the Conservative political personality type that marches lockstep for the Tea Party GOP and the Palin brigades? Immaculately clean or horribly foul? Only made presentable when guests will be coming over and sitting upon the royal throne? Or (pardon my turn of phrase) are the Tea Partiers anally possessed and so clean that one could eat out of their toilet bowls Ramen Noodle prison style?

Just a thought.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Rainy Saturday Armchair Sociology: Of Race, Ethnicity, Garbage, and Community Norms

It is yucky, cold, and so blah outside here in Chicago. For those other denizens stuck inside, here is a fun Saturday evening distraction for those so inclined.

This clip from The Howard Stern Show (now re-signed with Sirius for another 5 years) is one of my favorites. His show is consistently one of the few places where honest conversations about race occur on a near daily basis in this country. For example, Stern's Harlem interviews during Barack Obama's presidential campaign remains one of the best demonstrations of the dynamics of mass opinion in the American public that I have ever seen.

The above clip featuring the King of All Blacks (Wack Pack sanitary worker extraordinaire) is also a true gem: Stern and company explore an impolitic but obvious question; what is the relationship between race, ethnicity, and refuse?

As someone who subscribes to the broken windows theory, I believe that neighborhood decline begins with little things. Consequently, the norms of public space resonate quite strongly in my worldview.

Random factoid: My particular data point of interest for measuring the socio-economic trajectory of a community is the care taken in how air conditioners are installed.

Consider the following. How many times have you seen air conditioners precariously hanging out of windows? Cardboard and plastic in the spaces between the air conditioner unit and the window casement? Now ask yourself: Are these communities generally desirable to live in?

I am suspicious of uni-variate explanations of complex social phenomena. Nevertheless, the garbage/race/ethnicity/class puzzle is a fascinating example of applied social science.

What are the little cues that you pick up on when assessing a given neighborhood's standard of living and community norms?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Featured Reader Comment: "Obama is an Outcome of his Cultural Dna Which is Bi-racial and as Such He Reacts Accordingly"

Obama is a outcome of his cultural dna which is bi-racial and as such he reacts accordingly as a professor in a law class and as a president in a white nation..

Obama is exactly what we observe a mild manner colored man handcuffed by his bi-racial cultural dna..Obama's restraint and tilt toward avoidance is his deliberate posture..His entire inner circle is absence of any strong outspoken Black males and this truth has hurt him...Obama is not going to change his true being..,We are stuck with a guy driving the car that likes to stay within the speed limit when we need him to race the engine and get to the ER...


This comment was worth bumping up. And let's tread carefully as we want to avoid the essentialist politics of blood and identity. But, maybe Thrasher has stumbled upon something of note.

I have been thinking a bit about our earlier conversation on the psychologizing of President Obama as either battered partner or hostage. The jury is still out on his tax deal with the GOP (some think it is pragmatic brilliance), but I have been struck in recent weeks by how the pundit classes seem unwilling to address how the sum of Obama's life experiences and racial identity are interrelated variables, variables that are most certainly impacting the president's approach to politics.

Sure, race is omnipresent as a narrative framing for the presidency of Barack Obama. For example, he is routinely tarred and feathered as an "uppity" black man by his enemies, an anti-white bigot, or somehow "unAmerican." Conversely, the president cannot show the type of passion and anger that his populist base demands because he would then risk being branded as an "angry black man." Thus, being reduced to being like those "other" black people--a political liability if there ever was one.

What we have not seen to this point is an explicit reference to how Obama's experiences as a black man of a mixed racial background, and the President's struggles to negotiate his identity, have impacted his approach to politics and life. Now, we most certainly don't want to be hand-tied by old, flat, and binary narratives of tragic mulattoes that 1) either want nothing to do with their blackness and run toward whiteness and imagined salvation or 2) become anti-white firebrands who hate all white people. And as I am so fond of saying, there are some 30 million ways to be black.

Ultimately, there has to be a nuanced middle role that acknowledges the complexity of Obama's life experiences, while also signaling to how, like Commander Data in Star Trek, he is more than the sum of his parts.

Obama's biographies are a great and obvious place to start: He openly discusses the processes through which his identity was negotiated, and the ways in which blackness for Obama came to have meaning--politically, socially, culturally, and intellectually. President Obama is a brother: a healthy and whole black man who happens to have a white mother.

I would propose that the true Rosetta Stone for understanding Obama, both as the pragmatic politician and as a black man of mixed race background, lies in his much lauded "A More Perfect Union" speech. While justly praised for how it was a sophisticated and mature reading of race in the post-Civil Rights era, I found the speech noteworthy for a different reason. There, Obama made a subtle tactical move that telegraphed the type of President (and decision maker) he would soon be.

In "A More Perfect Union," Obama made the frustration, hurt, and struggle of Black Americans as they fought for their fair share of the full fruits of American democracy somehow equivalent to White rage, anger, and resentment at having their centuries of de facto race privilege challenged. This was not a shocking move on Obama's part. Part of then candidate Obama's appeal was precisely because he does not share the blood lineage or family legacy of slavery. For some, a vote for President Obama could be a get out of white guilt free pass; he was a candidate without the blood of slaves, and thus a perfect salve and leader for post-racial, twenty-first century America.

However, the way in which Obama so casually conceded the moral justice and superiority of the Black Freedom Struggle to the petty spitefulness of white anger was and remains troubling. If then candidate Barack Obama was willing to surrender the metaphorical Mount Rushmore of moral high ground, what else would he be willing to surrender at the bargaining table if elected President? At the time this was just speculation. Two years later we are seeing just how "pragmatic" President Obama actually is.

To what ends remains the question.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is President Obama Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? Is He a Battered Spouse in an Unhealthy Relationship with the Republican Party?

Two memes are circulating in the aftermath of Barack Obama's seeming surrender to the Tea Party GOP on a two year extension of Bush the Second's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and a deep cut in inheritance taxes in exchange for a one year continuation of the unemployment insurance needed by those Americans either on, or frighteningly close to being in, the bread line.

Some have suggested the Obama is a battered spouse in an unhealthy relationship, wherein the GOP emotionally abuses the President and holds his agenda hostage all the while playing a foul game of blame the victim. The second narrative suggests that Barack Obama is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Here, Obama is America's first Black President turned Patty Hearst, and is in a twisted relationship where he has come to identify with the hostage takers that are the Republican Party.

Both of these analogies seem a bit flat to me. True, the Republicans are obstructionists acting against the common good. But, President Obama has the greatest bully pulpit of all. He is President of the United States, the national cheerleader, champion of the national prosperity, and informal head of state. Obama also inherited a majority in Congress and a mandate for change. In total, the logger jam he finds himself in is 1) a function of a failure in communication where charismatic candidate Barack Obama has been replaced by a much too modest Adlai Stevensonesque persona and 2) he is dealing in a reasonable manner with clearly unreasonable people who are determined to see him--and the Democratic Party--fail at any cost.

Upon the beginning of his term, Obama (instead of slapping the Republican Party with a steel hand covered in silk) extended a naked hand of conciliation and friendship to mouth frothing ideologues. He was bitten because of his own willful and poor decision making. Consequently, President Obama is no battered spouse or hostage, as he is responsible for making his own bed and must now lie in it. In short, Barack Obama, the most powerful politician in the world, is a victim of his own doing.

The latter point is especially revealing as we try to make sense of President Obama's difficulties as of late.

Breaking kayfabe as I occasionally do: Several years ago a fellow traveler and colleague of mine studied under then Professor Obama. In the latter's constitutional law class there was a very outspoken, provocative, and often wrong student that was quite disruptive as he seemed to revel in contradicting a young professor--especially one (who was coincidentally) not White. Throughout the term, Professor Obama would handle him politely and delicately, in the best professorial sense finding merit in said student's comments and redirecting the course appropriately.

One day the seminar was discussing Reconstruction, the Emancipation of Black Americans, and the Equal Protection Clause. The arch-Conservative student in question suggested that African-Americans were not prepared for freedom, had not demonstrated a propensity for democracy, and would have been better off in a state of servitude until they could appreciate the fruits of liberty as taught by White people. Shocked, with students on the edge of their seats, Obama smiled, did not respond, and then once more salvaged this intentionally provocative, racially tinged, and disruptive set of assertions. Many students were stunned. The line of reasoning offered by our provocateur was both intellectually lazy and unfounded by the historical record. Obama could have destroyed this observation and the specious reasoning underlying it with little effort...what could and should have been a truly teachable moment. Instead, then Professor Obama chose to make lemonade by adding bar sugar to a noxious mix of rotten lemons.

In that moment President Obama signaled to a type of too good-natured naivete, and a belief in the generosity and reasonableness of people, that is to this day vexing his presidency. Because he is a preeminent compromiser, even when to his own detriment, Obama believes that you can deal reasonably with unreasonable people. Sadly you cannot. Just as bullies are encouraged by appeasement, Obama's version of realpolitik signals that he is trading territory for maneuver room. Unfortunately, the American people will be the losers in this gambit.

Question: Is President Obama playing a deep game of chess, the fruits of which we cannot see in the near term? Or, and it pains me to write this, is Obama in over his head, monsooned by the craziness that he faces by the lockstep, single-minded, "principled opposition?"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sorrows of Empire: Scenarios for America's Collapse by 2025

Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.

Under pressure, is she not? What a fitting soundtrack for the United States' managed (?) decline.

I do not know if the Imperial United States will go out with a whimper or a bang. As I wrote a few weeks back, I never would have imagined that the passing of the guard from America--failed hyperpower in the moments following the fall of the U.S.S.R.--would occur in my lifetime. But alas, all signs seem to be pointing to "go." The pundits at Tom Dispatch have been kind enough to map out a few possible scenarios, some bad, others horrible, and a few truly frightening.

I would like to believe that just as the British Empire bowed out (and America filled the vacuum) that this transition to a post-American world will come with a whimper and not a bang. Here, vacuums are filled by rising powers, regional hegemons, and other actors. But the decline of the United States is occurring at a moment coterminous with the end of peak oil. The new powers, China and India, have just as much need for these resources as the former big dog on the block. So is a graceful handing off of the reigns even feasible? I would not hold my breath.

Because of the collateral damage caused by the religion of American exceptionalism, some folks may forget that there is a global context for domestic politics. Moreover, one that determines the contours, health, and trajectory of the centuries-long Black Freedom Struggle.

For example, the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought about modernity and linked much of the world together in a forced exchange of cultures, peoples, thoughts, and ideas. The Cold War and the global struggle against Communism, as well as for the "hearts and minds" of Third World peoples, was the context for the Civil Rights Movement and American elites' understanding that Jim Crow was a net liability. The post-Civil Rights moment, globalization, and the end of the Cold War was the stage upon which the managerial class of the United States embraced diversity as a mantra. In that moment it became self-consciously more integrated, all the while the rank and file remained racially segregated.

For a variety of reasons (as this past created our present) it appears that the confluence of events at the nadir of American Empire could be a perfect storm which upsets much of what has been accomplished since the end of the Civil Rights moment.

First, the end of American empire will no doubt impact the intersections of race, politics, and society. Race will continue to over-determine life chances, all the while macro level forces relentlessly impact all Americans across the colorline. Whiteness will remain a buffer. But the breakwaters provided by white skin privilege will be fewer. And we know that Whiteness does not surrender its power easily...

Second, in this time of economic decline, the State will have no choice but to further limit services. The Culture Wars will only be amplified by this practical reality of realpolitik. Consider the following set of circumstances for a moment. Ironically, Red State America Tea-Party GOP country receives more federal monies per capita than any other part of the country--all the while these same anti-government types rail against the nanny-state. Unaware of their own entitlement, these folks are perhaps most sensitive to any change in their share of the federal lucre.

America is becoming more diverse and less white. The Black underclass remains mired in pathology, even while the black middle and professional classes have grown at record rates. Perhaps most damning, the American middle class is being decimated by extreme wealth inequality, outsourcing, flat wages, and a global kleptocracy continues to gain traction by marshaling the misdirected Right-wing populism of the tea bagger set to act against their own economic self-interests.

The racial resentment mined by the Palin Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama is a signal to these bigger forces. The "us versus them" politics of the New Right is one more data point that the racial heliocentrism of Whiteness, as interchangeable with privilege, and an almost divine right inspired belief in by the birth entry into middle class status, is under siege.

Ultimately, the liberalization of American race relations occurred if not precisely because of economic prosperity, but was most certainly strongly correlated with it. What happens when the apple cart is turned over? When the gravy train dries up? The buffet closed? How soon until the implicit economic privilege of Whiteness becomes explicit race baiting, bigotry and provocation that goes beyond code words, anti-immigrant sentiment, the "real American" nostrums of the Palin Tea Party crowd, neo-secessionist, quasi-polite brown shirts, and evolves into something more naked?

The juvenile platitudes of American exceptionalism aside, "It" can happen here. Empires rise and fall. This is one singular lesson of history. Why should the United States be any different?

The full piece, "Taking Down America" can be found here. The most frightening scenario (at least to my eyes) is excised and follows:

World War III: Scenario 2025

The technology of space and cyberwarfare is so new and untested that even the most outlandish scenarios may soon be superseded by a reality still hard to conceive. If we simply employ the sort of scenarios that the Air Force itself used in its 2009 Future Capabilities Game, however, we can gain "a better understanding of how air, space and cyberspace overlap in warfare," and so begin to imagine how the next world war might actually be fought.

It’s 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday in 2025. While cyber-shoppers pound the portals of Best Buy for deep discounts on the latest home electronics from China, U.S. Air Force technicians at the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Maui choke on their coffee as their panoramic screens suddenly blip to black. Thousands of miles away at the U.S. CyberCommand's operations center in Texas, cyberwarriors soon detect malicious binaries that, though fired anonymously, show the distinctive digital fingerprints of China's People's Liberation Army.

The first overt strike is one nobody predicted. Chinese "malware" seizes control of the robotics aboard an unmanned solar-powered U.S. "Vulture" drone as it flies at 70,000 feet over the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. It suddenly fires all the rocket pods beneath its enormous 400-foot wingspan, sending dozens of lethal missiles plunging harmlessly into the Yellow Sea, effectively disarming this formidable weapon.

Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident that its F-6 "Fractionated, Free-Flying" satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their "Triple Terminator" missiles at China's 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits. The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.

As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate U.S. supercomputers fail to crack the malware's devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of U.S. ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the U.S. Air Force has long called "the ultimate high ground": space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.

Featured Reader Comment: "He Explained to Me Why the Black Families had Nice Cars But the Houses, Not So Nice..."

Changes are here, and in the now. More changes are coming in the near future.

As signaled to by the change in the graphic at the top of We Are Respectable Negroes, I am moving forward while always acknowledging the core values of this project. And yes, I will break kayfabe a bit more more in the next few weeks and reveal some more details about what the future will hold.

But trust, one, that me Gordon and Zora are still family and they will be around either on a Blogtalk radio show or as guest editors. But also two, that at 1,000 posts (a benchmark that I never would have imagined this fun project reaching in two years), I decided to acknowledge the obvious.

'Nuff said.

One of the changes I am going to introduce is to feature those comments that I find particularly thought provoking. I have a few more in the queue, but the following comment from Fred C seemed particularly worthy of discussion given last week's convo on Sarah Palin's white nationalist infused (mis)understanding of Black Americans and our patriotism.

Thus, our inaugural featured comment. In response to Palin's nonsense, Fred C wrote:

I was seven when my family started driving through the south every year to visit my grandparents in Florida. I remember my sense of wonder at the signs for "White Only" and "Colored" on everything from water fountains to beaches. My father, not perhaps the most enlightened man but well up the scale, made an education of it. He'd pull off the main road and take us through the towns. One time, in a Black neighborhood of some little Georgia backwater, he explained to me why the Black families had nice cars but the houses, not so nice. "The car guys will lend them money, but no bank will give them a mortgage." It was the beginning of my long education in these matters. Much later, married but far from rich, and subject to bad times, my wife and I would sometimes console each other by saying, "it could be worse, we could be Black." We knew that being Black made everything much, much harder. Good for Michelle, speaking truth to power.


"The car guys will lend them money, but no bank will give them a mortgage."

I love that observation. Black folks may have money. But, we don't have wealth. The penchant of black folks for consumer goods makes sense given how white supremacy punished wealth accrual, but how damning and sad that the ethos of conspicuous consumption in true Freakonomics style continues to hold purchase over too many of the poor, middle, and working classes. And how vulnerable this has made blacks folks and others in this, our Great Recession.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Duel of the (Anti)Hero Iron Mics: Mike Tyson versus Jack Johnson

Last weekend we talked about Brothers Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali--two elder Gods whose teachings resonate into the present even though one is passed on and another has learned through fate's cruel irony that sometimes our greatest gift is stolen from us such that we learn to communicate in different ways. Indeed, Crom can be so cruel in his teaching.

Moving forward, the classic fantasy match up for Brother Ali is/was Mike Tyson. While the stuff of barbershop griot exchanges, I never found this fight very compelling. Ali would have destroyed Tyson because the latter, while gifted, never had the ring sense and acumen of the former. And being even more provocative, this fantasy bout would have ended early with Tyson laid out, face down in the fifth round, leveled by the prettiest fighter to ever enter the ring.

The more compelling pairing--at least for this student of the sweet science, that brutal sport of pugilistic beauty--was Mike Tyson versus Jack Johnson. Here the real fight would not be in the squared circle (again Johnson would have easily beaten Ali), but rather in how each embodied different types of impenetrable black masculinity. I would suggest that Jack Johnson, he who put gauze in his trunks to intimidate white fighters, and publicly caroused with many white women when such deeds would mandate him becoming strange fruit both below and above the Macon-Dixon line, was in fact irrepressible and unforgivable blackness that could not be equaled.

Tyson was more a force of nature. While Johnson was born of Jim Crow white supremacy, Iron Mike was a product of Moynihan's sharp observations on the black family, the failures of the neo-liberal order, and post-Fordist economies of scale and deindustrialization.

Both were bad black men and the bugaboos of the white imagination as they embodied the myth of the black rapist--all the while their bodies provided voyeuristic pleasures as simultaneous objects of the white gaze and black triumph in sports (with its obligatory intersections with national manhood).

Random thought: how do you like that Oscar Wilde run-on Homi Bhabhaesque wordplay?

A set of propositions.

Mike Tyson was an anti-hero and tragic figure, a symbol for the failures of black masculinity as caricature. Jack Johnson was a hero and trickster figure pushing outward the boundaries of black respectability all in the service of an expanded and more fully evolved black manhood.

Two questions.

Whose blackness is more powerful and compelling? And which figure, Tyson or Johnson was more hero than anti-hero?

So then, let's playfully enter the duel of the iron mic(s)...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tea Party President Wants to Repeal the 17th Amendment: Of Factions, The Tea Party GOP, and the Jacksonian Mob

So Judson Phillips, the president of the Tea Party Nation, believes that those who do not own land ought not be allowed to vote. Is this the 21st or the 19th century?

I have used a few catch phrases with which to capture my disdain for the Vox Populi and the tea party GOP New Right. I have suggested that "the masses are asses," "stupid people don't know that they are stupid," and that the Right wing populists "hate government but want more government benefits" for themselves. In total, these turns of phrase have been ways of signaling to the long held finding that the American public is largely non-ideological (except in regards to race). Here: they get the big picture more or less. But, the American people are not consistent in their viewpoints. Nor, does the mass public possess a keen and detailed understanding of public policy. Nevertheless, somehow we seem to get it more right than not.

Enter a complication: Let it be transparent that I do sincerely try to give my ideological opposites a fair hearing. To point: Since the election of Barack Obama and the emergent plague that is the birther/Socialist/outside of the tradition of American exceptionalism anti-Obama derangement syndrome, I have found maintaining a fair respect for those on the other side of the political aisle increasingly difficult.

Consider just some of the policies put forth by the Tea Party Republican Party and its representatives:
This week the Tea Party New Right topped themselves when their president suggested that the 17th Amendment should be repealed. Collectively, this is more than a moment where voters and their leadership evidence a lack of expert knowledge on issues of public concern. No, this is stupid put on blast.

Doubly problematic, there is a deep irony at work here that titillates the senses and provokes the mind (how can you not love that Oscar Wilde wordplay? Is it not like wiping your behind with silk?).

The tea baggers worship and fetishize the past. The colonial era of the founding is the tea baggers' political ecstasy, where instead of engaging in group hugs, cuddle parties, and rubbing off the tips of their fingers on concrete or laying prostrate in showers while they orgasm time and time again as their neurons fire uncontrollably, the Tea Party instead chooses to wear Tricorner hats and recite misunderstood passages from Jefferson, Adams, John Jay, and Washington.

How funny that the Tea Party brigands are the very groups that Madison warned us against in The Federalist Papers where: "By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

Hysterical too, that by extension the Tea Party and its leaders call for repealing such laws that ban literacy tests, provide for the direct election of Senators, and remove the property clause for voting that ushered in the all white male franchise. In total, the Tea Party GOP is the Jacksonian mob--all the while this same group supports a return to the very policies that were designed to restrain the excesses of people like them at the time of the founding.

The entitled white working and middle classes are the base of the Tea Party GOP. Fate is not without a sense of humor as this same group of people pursue laws that in spirit could write them out of the polity.

I am always weary of simple, one variable explanations for complex social and political phenomena. But given the data points available, one compelling explanation for the "cut off our nose to spite our face" politics that are intoxicating for the AstroTurf New Right is the following--race still matters.

The detritus of the not aptly named "Greatest Generation" (those same returning veterans which perpetuated Jim Crow segregation and racial violence) that is the New Right, want to turn back the clock in the service of their nostalgic Leave it Beaver Dreams. But, their views on public policy remain profoundly inconsistent...unless one looks at the bigger picture.

Balance the budget, but do not cut our benefits. Keep the goodies for "us" but certainly cut those same benefits for "them." These are the freedom dreams of the herrenvolk masses--the chosen people where the State works for people like us, coloured like me, and who share my beliefs. But the State had best not serve those people over there, because they are "liberals," "immigrants," "gays," "minorities," or somehow "unamerican." These Tea Party AstroTurf patriots pursue policies that are against their immediate and long term economic interests because they sincerely believe that one day they too will be part of the (supposed) meritocratic elite.

History's echoes are indeed deep: The philosophical and political ancestors of the Tea Party GOP are the same secessionist ilk that ran head-forth into the canister rounds of Union guns at hallowed ground battlefields such as Gettysburg. One hundred plus years later, how much things change and yet remain the same...all in the pursuit of the inestimable psychic wages of whiteness.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

They Have Blood on Their Hands: The Sons of Confederate Veterans will Celebrate the Anniversary of Secession with a Gala Ball

The proclamation was urged on him by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which asserts that the Confederacy was a crusade for small government and states’ rights. The sesquicentennial, which coincides now with the rise of the Tea Party movement, is providing a new chance for adherents to promote that view.

Jeff Antley, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust, is organizing the secession ball in Charleston and a 10-day re-enactment of the Confederate encampment at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the war were fired on April 12, 1861. He said these events were not about modern politics but were meant to honor those South Carolinians who signed the state’s ordinance of secession on Dec. 20, 1860, when it became the first state to dissolve its union with the United States.

“We’re celebrating that those 170 people risked their lives and fortunes to stand for what they believed in, which is self-government,” Mr. Antley said.


Those willfully ill-informed Right-wing neo-secessionist nostalgia mongers wacky kids are at it again. As detailed in the NY Times, it seems that the Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning gala events for 2011 to correspond with the 150th anniversary of the South's treasonous deeds.

First random thought: Who would've thunk that in the 21st century the Lost Cause would still have purchase and appeal?

Second random thought: It must be my northern Yankee blood that blinds me to the permanent pain of the South's defeat.

For some, this ideology involves play acting in historical reenactments. For others, the Lost Cause is a way to signal to the lost dreams of Jim Crow white supremacy and the "good old days" when black and brown folk knew their "rightful place."

History does political work. As a corollary, memory is a function of power, selective forgetting, and intentional remembering to advance certain ends in the here and now.

It is no coincidence then that the New Right and elements of the Tea Party GOP are deploying the dog whistles of "our America," "state's rights," "nullification," and "intercession" as they attempt to mobilize their largely older, racially resentful, frightened, white victimology possessed, and extremely conservative base. It is also no small coincidence that these factions yearn for a white washed (if not wholly White history) in which America returns to her "founding values."

Not ironically, the symbolism and convenient language of the Lost Cause and the Confederacy are a near perfect fit for the Tea Party GOP and the New Right in the Age of Obama.

Conveniently, the founding values that the Tea Party GOP pledges allegiance to do not include the white supremacy that was the beating heart of the U.S. Constitution--and the ultimate reason for the South's leaving the Union. For the white gaze that is the Lost Cause and New Right, the role and centrality of black folk to American history is a mere inconvenience at best and a footnote at worse. That people of color, and Black Americans in particular, died and struggled to help perfect this country's democracy is an impossible thought, one anathema to the white racial frame and the Tea Party imagination.

I do not know if the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their related ilk are good people or bad. In fact, I could care less. All I want is a little honesty in how American history is taught and remembered. Is it so much to ask that as these (presumably) white folk (and their obligatory token Republican negroes) dance about in period clothing, smiling as they imagine antebellum life in terms of Gone with the Wind on yee old plantation with happy piccaninnies and doting mammies, give some thought to the many thousands dead, the millions of black folk whose full humanity and freedom was denied by the society that the Sons of Confederate Veterans venerate?

I won't disallow the White Soul its pleasure in celebrating Jim Crow and the Confederacy. I can only hope that those who celebrate a centuries long tradition of treason, slavery, rape, exploitation, and death own the blood on their hands. Why? Because a person cannot truly celebrate a thing without taking ownership of all its aspects...good and bad alike.

Is that too much to ask?

The New York Times' story "Celebrating Secession Without the Slaves" can be found in its entirety here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Wildfire" Reviewed: The Walking Dead has Officially Jumped the Zombie Shark

Never would I have imagined that one day I would write the following: The Walking Dead television series on AMC is too positive and bright--that it problematically keeps hope alive in a way that the original source material never suggested possible.

Like most ghetto nerds, I was excited that The Walking Dead comic book series was going to be adapted for television. I was even more excited that it would be on the esteemed AMC network and helmed by Frank Darabont of Shawshank Redemption fame. But alas, be careful what you wish for, as it may indeed come true. While some are gushing over The Walking Dead television series I have reserved judgment. By nature, I am not a curmudgeon. I also reject the worst tendencies of those residents of snarky nerdville to reject all that the "mainstream" has discovered about our secret loves, rites, and rituals as the bandwagon saddles up, eager to take on any and all passengers.

In practice, I see a broader audience as a pragmatic good that can bring more attention to a given creative property. That caveat now having been noted: The Walking Dead television show is adequate. It is not great. At this very early point, in its surrender to the conventions of television (and perhaps even to the Twilight series soap opera demographic) The Walking Dead has to this point lost so much personality that the show is nothing more than a mere echo of its source material.

For some not so devoted members of the mainstream, the newbies with virgin eyes to the series, that reality is fine...perhaps even preferable. For devotees such as myself, The Walking Dead television series is a lost, great, missed opportunity.

The challenge of divergent forms overshadows The Walking Dead as its approaches next Sunday's season finale. The original material is a comic book. Print media, the graphic novel in particular, allows a reader to digest material at a pace he or she sees fit. As visual story telling with text, comic books are a unique union of words and action. As legends of the graphic arts Scott McCloud and Will Eisner so thoroughly detail, comic books engage the reader by allowing our imaginations to fill in the gaps between panels, provide voices and details to the transitions between scenes, and create meaning where there is only empty space.

In addition, the graphic novel is not limited by the inconveniences of budget or scale: if you can dream it, you can draw it. And most important to our meditations on the questions surrounding what is lost in transition from the page to the screen, comic books are wonderful at communicating action (just consider all that can transpire in a few panels of a comic book's page) and limited by the efficiency of words (how few can generally be written on the page). As different storytelling mediums, television and film do not share these relative limitations.

Frank Darabont and Robert Kirkman have been honest regarding these artistic and practical comprises. To point: Fans of the original medium should allow a broad leeway as the writers and producers of The Walking Dead negotiate the difficult process of translating page to screen. Moreover, fans of the comic should not expect a literal translation as the page is merely inspiration for the AMC series. Nevertheless, The Walking Dead has a beating heart, a set of relationships between the characters, a set of guiding principles, and dare I suggest a personality, that as of Sunday's episode "Wildfire" the series is now woefully lacking.

Thematically, The Walking Dead is about many things. Hope and loss; the pain of a new normal; hopelessness and survival; how real people--you and me--deal with the heretofore unimaginable. Perhaps most importantly, The Walking Dead is about "the walking dead," that (as I and others have written here) in keeping with the conventions of zombie literature the survivors are now the Other, and in Robert Kirkman's award winning comic series, that the survivors are the real and true "walking dead."

Ironically, in the new AMC series where conventions of profitable episodic television melodrama override adherence to the source material, The Walking Dead perhaps ought to more rightly be called "The Walking Living"--two different shows; two different artistic and thematic sensibilities; and the latter not in keeping with the best of what The Walking Dead as a television series could in fact be.

Per our tradition, some thoughts, Easter eggs, and questions. Beware, there are spoilers ahead:

1. Okay. So Merle is going to be The Governor? I like the nice signal to the comic book offered by the amputation of his hand. This is good stuff that mirrors Rick's eventual suffering...and Michonne's revenge. But, the early introduction of Merle as The Governor seems unnecessary as it is a clear telegraph to a substantial future plot development.

2. There is some nice symbolism at work. The American flag, now simultaneously both a symbol of hope and lost dreams is featured prominently in the background of The Walking Dead. In "Wildfire," Jim is dying in the Winnebago--another symbol of the open road, Route 66, and long gone Americana--the flag is a fitting accompaniment to his delusional and dying moments.

3. The Walking Dead comic book has established some pretty good common sense rubrics for survival. The characters maintain a constant watch, are strict with noise discipline, and are mindful of swarms and "herds" of zombies. Where are these common sense rules in the television series? Dale was always perched on top of the RV. Now, that chair it too often vacant. Moreover, the show went to great pains to establish that the blood is toxic. Why then be so careless this week? Hitting bodies in the head with a pickaxe, fluids flying about, and no fear of contamination?

4. The zombie infection is 100 percent fatal. It is also 100 percent communicable. Would you really not immediately kill a person who was bitten? And would you leave said person tied up against a tree, just to reanimate and become a threat? Sorry. Don't buy it.

5. Second melodramatic television concession unnecessarily soap operaesque moment--Andrea holding her dead sister until she reanimates. Foolish. Unbelievable. Insert finger into mouth in order to induce vomiting.

6. Why have a large group of people just to whittle them down to a few key characters? Why the Red Shirt effect in The Walking Dead? Let's cut to the chase and skip the teasing.

7. Gas. Supplies. Food. Clean water. Basics. These folks drive too much and worry too little.

8. Second point. Is this bring your kids to zombie Atlanta day? What is the logic here? No one guards the vehicles, all folks exit, and they could be easily surrounded as they try to gain access to the CDC. As zombie lore (and common sense point out) cities are death traps. Avoid them. And if need be, send a small group, not the entirety of your group to what could be a fubar zombie brain eating buffet. This is poor writing that damages the believability of the characters involved...especially Rick and Shane.

9. Two thematic points. First, the device of character gets bitten and we all go to Atlanta to find a cure suggests an adventure of the week model. The writers create a problem, the protagonists go on a quest to reaffirm their humanity to the viewers (and each other) and a problem is overcome...or a new one encountered. I always found this to be tedious, piss poor writing that only exhausts a keen and sharp viewer. Darabont needs to avoid this pitfall. He is better than that.

10. Second point. The Walking Dead comic book is about hopelessness and the unforgiving nature of the real. If there were a cataclysm tomorrow, a pandemic of the type shown in The Walking Dead, you/me/no one is likely to get the big reveal/satisfying answer. Kirkman expertly teased this in the comic book, by having a "scientist," likely the basis of the CDC researcher in tonight's episode suggest a "cure" that turned out to be a lie. Folks, there is no cure. We don't know the disease vector of the zombie plague. There will be no epidemiologist present to conduct a seminar on the zombie apocalypse. Our prime directive is survival. Ultimately, as long time readers of The Walking Dead know, there will be no deus ex machina moment in which all questions are answered.

This sad truth is the beating heart of the comic book series. While I cannot divine the future, if the first season of AMC's version of The Walking Dead ends with a grand reveal of what should remain a MacGuffin, the series will have truly jumped the proverbial shark into mediocrity. In that instance, The Walking Dead will become something quite different from its award winning source material. That my friends, would be a horrible shame.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be Like Water: Happy Birthday Bruce Lee

Happy birthday Brother Bruce Lee.

"You want to learn the way to win, but never to accept the way to lose." What wise words to live by.

There are some heroes that we can not imagine growing older as their flame would diminish tragically for they are meant to burn brightly and in youth. Michael Jackson, a Peter Pan figure, would fit this mold. By contrast, Brother Bruce Lee had much more to teach and the intensity of his flame would have only gained more focus had he not been taken from us so soon.

In which directions would Bruce Lee have grown? What mountains would he have climbed? We can only guess, but as with all of our legends, their early passing provides an opportunity for dreaming and contemplation that only magnifies the greatness present.

Once more, a nod of acknowledgment to the elder gods.

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: Muhammad Ali on the KKK

Hope your turkey day was good. I also hope you didn't go out and act the fool for some cheap, made in China garbage from Walmart or boutique Target.

Ali's famous speech before the KKK is just a little weekend thinking project for those so inclined.

As I have often shared, Muhammad Ali is one of my few heroes. I love him because of his complexity, not despite it. While Ali is one of the elder gods who I do so admire, I do not lionize him. And yes, there is a difference.

For those who lived through the tumultuous moments of Ali's career as a living, breathing, figure of no small controversy, what are you thoughts about his canonization in the 21st century? For others--and especially for those that watched the Thriller in Manila documentary from which the above clip is taken--how would you respond to those who portray Ali as a bit of an anti-hero--a man whose motives and intent are secular and not divine, a real person, who is capable of both good and bad?

Ultimately, was the greatest really "The Greatest?" Or was he a man who made choices because of his handlers' whims, a consummate pragmatist and performer, a hero who is far less than we imagine him to be?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Of Michelle Obama's Patriotism and Sarah Palin's Ignorance of History

A note for the Sarah Palin Tea bagger GOP cadre members--a white man wrote the following editorial so you know it must be true.

I am and have been transparent in my disdain towards Sarah Palin. She took stupid all the way to the bank; is a succubus of, and lightning rod for, the worst sort of Right-wing populist know-nothing nonsense; and is an expert performer of a particularly noxious type of rural blackface. Apparently, Palin follows through on the New Right's due diligence in her new "book" and includes an obligatory attack on Michelle Obama's patriotism and the then soon to be First Lady of the United States' honest comment that, "for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback"

Michelle Obama was pilloried by the Right for daring to suggest that America had long erred in its treatment of non-whites, and that as an American of color she could now be fully proud because the country seemed to finally be living up to its radically inclusive and democratic potential.

As has been repeatedly demonstrated, the myopia of whiteness knows few limits. The myopic whiteness of Conservativism knows even fewer. As the 2008 presidential campaign reinforced, the White Conservative Soul is wedded to the idea that there is just one American story, one American experience, and one approved nostalgia laden narrative. The realities of white supremacy as foundational to a country where supposedly democratic citizenship was bounded by race (and gender, as well as class) is simply too much to bear.

In short, conservatives need the good lie. It is a tale of a perfect America allows them to sleep easily at night. Unfortunately, not many Americans are afforded that luxury.


"Attack on Michelle Obama Shows Sarah Palin's Ignorance of History"

By Richard Cohen

When I was 11, my father thought it was time to show my sister and me the nation's capital. I have only vague memories of that trip - the heat, the expanse of the White House's grounds, the Jefferson Memorial. I do remember we took Route 1 through Baltimore (no I-95 yet) and it was there that I saw my first sign with the word "colored" on it - a rooming house, I think. This was 1952, and the United States was an apartheid nation.

It is Sarah Palin who brings back these memories. In her new book, she reportedly takes Michelle Obama to task for her supposedly infamous remark from the 2008 campaign: "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." Instantly, Republicans pounced. Among the first to do so was Cindy McCain, who said, "I have and always will be proud of my country." It was a cheap shot, but her husband's selection of Palin for the ticket and plenty of cheap shots from Palin ("death panels," etc.) were yet to come.

Michelle Obama quickly explained herself. She was proud of the turnout in the primaries - so many young people, etc. Evan Thomas, writing perceptively in Newsweek, thought - as I did - that she was saying something else. He dug into her senior thesis at Princeton - "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" - to find a young woman who felt, or was made to feel, "more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before." This was not a statement of racism. This was a statement of fact.

It's appalling that Palin and too many others fail to understand that fact - indeed so many facts of American history. They don't offer the slightest hint that they can appreciate the history of the Obama family and that in Michelle's case, her ancestors were slaves - Jim Robinson of South Carolina, her paternal great-great grandfather, being one. Even after they were freed they were consigned to peonage, second-class citizens, forbidden to vote in much of the South, dissuaded from doing so in some of the North, relegated to separate schools, restaurants, churches, hotels, waiting rooms of train stations, the back of the bus, the other side of the tracks, the mortuary, the cemetery and, if whites could manage it, heaven itself.

It was the government that oppressed blacks, enforcing the laws that imprisoned them and hanged them for crimes grave and trivial, whipped them if they bolted for freedom and, in the Civil War, massacred them if they were captured fighting for the North. And yet if African Americans hesitate in embracing the mythical wonderfulness of America, they are accused of racism - of having the gall to know more about their own experience and history than Palin and others think they should.

Why do politicians such as Palin and commentators such as Glenn Beck insist that African Americans go blank on their own history - as blank as apparently Palin and Beck are themselves? Why must they insist that blacks join them in embracing a repellent history that once caused America to go to war with itself? Besides Princeton, Michelle Obama is a graduate of Harvard Law School. It's hardly possible that she is not knowledgeable about the history of African Americans - no Ellis Island for them, immigrants in their colorful native dress waving at the camera. Should she forget it all simply because she went to Ivy League schools - be thankful for what she had gotten and the hell with the rest? Why should she be more grateful than Cindy McCain?

Sarah Palin teases that she might run for president. But she is unqualified - not just in the (let me count the) usual ways, but because she does not know the country. She could not be the president of black America nor of Hispanic America. She knows more about grizzlies than she does about African Americans - and she clearly has more interest in the former than the latter. Did she once just pick up the phone and ask Michelle Obama what she meant by her remark? Did she ask about her background? What it was like at Princeton? What it was like for her parents or her grandparents? I can offer a hint. If they were driving to Washington, they slowed down and stopped where the sign said "colored" - and the irritated Palins of the time angrily hit the horn and went on their way.