Saturday, February 12, 2011

Black History Month is Herman Cain Playing the Race Minstrel for CPAC



In the immortal words of Megatron in Transformers: The Movie, Herman Cain's speech to CPAC really is bad comedy. As you know, I find black garbage pail kids black conservatives fascinating not because of what they believe, but rather because of how they entertain and perform for their White Conservative masters. Ultimately, I simply cannot resist their tasty double-dipped Oreo goodness...

When race minstrelsy was America's most popular form of mass entertainment, black actors would often have to pretend to be white men, who then in turn would put on the cork to play the role of the "black" coon, Sambo, or Jumping Jim Crow. Adding insult to injury, in a truly perverse and twisted example of the power of American white supremacy black vaudevillians would often pretend to be white in order to denigrate black people for the pleasures of the white gaze.

Herman Cain--an ironic name if ever, and one more suited to a tragic figure in a Harlem Renaissance era novella--is not "blackening twice" as some race minstrels chose to do.

[Unfortunately, the attendees at CPAC are not the butt of some type of joke where the white man wearing the cork is really a black man in secret.]

Instead, Herman Cain's shtick is a version of race minstrelsy where he performs "authentic negritude" as wish fulfillment for White Conservative fantasies. Like the fountain at Lourdes, Cain in his designated role as black Conservative mascot, absolves the White racial reactionaries at CPAC of their sins. This is a refined performance that Black Conservatives have perfected over many decades and centuries of practice.

Let's consider the routine. First, Cain enters the stage to Motown music. Then Cain feigns swimming after rolling up his sleeves to show them his black skin and how he is a hardworking negro (not like those other ones). Cain bellows in a preacher affected voice and channels the folksy negro down home accent of his late grandpappy. In the money shot, Cain gives the obligatory "black folks who are not Republicans are on the plantation" speech to the joyous applause of his White benefactors. And he doubles down by legitimating any opposition to President Barack Obama as virtuous and patriotic regardless of the bigoted well-springs from which it may flow.

In total, CPAC is a carnival and a roadshow for reactionary Conservatives. It is only fitting that in the great tradition of the freak show, the human zoo, the boardwalk, and the great midway world's fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a Borneo man, a Venus Hottentot or a tribe of cannibals from deepest darkest Africa or Papua New Guinea on display. For CPAC and the White Conservative imagination, Herman Cain and his black and brown kin are that featured attraction.

We always need a monkey in the window, for he/she reminds us of our humanity while simultaneously reinforcing a sense of our own superiority. Sadly, there are always folks who are willing to play that role because it pays so well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Quick Thought On American and Global Affairs: Isn't It Ironic That?


Working on some things here...but in the meantime my friend Werner Herzog's Bear of the website I Used to be Disgusted, Now I try to be Amused, has come up with something pithy, sharp, and sardonic that deserves some shine. The following is really meme worthy--at least in my humble opinion--so please circulate it widely. A question: What would you add to the list?

Isn't It Ironic That?

Some of the same people who use the political system in this country to impose their religious views of abortion and homosexuality on everyone else in this country are those doing the most fear mongering about the Muslim Brotherhood?

That many so-called "libertarians" who decry national parks and health care reform as "tyranny" maintain support for an authoritarian ruler like Mubarak?

The same people who weep over the loss of "traditional values" are among the loudest cheerleaders for the biggest destroyer of traditional values yet invented: unfettered consumer capitalism.?

That the same people who are constantly spewing paranoid rhetoric about "the government" want to burn Julian Assange at the stake for unmasking the government's lies and hypocrisies when it comes to foreign policy?

Many academics who use their research to defend and praise the disadvantaged have no sympathy whatsoever for the downtrodden adjuncts in their own departments who are criminally underpaid?

The Pope who constantly chides Europeans over their lack of morality covered up horrible crimes by his own clergy?

A man like Rick Perry, who has never been anything in his entire life except for a politician, can make a career out of attacking government.? (Here's an idea Rick: we'll take you up on it and let you give up your wasteful government job.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Black Men Love Beckies: Pepsi Max, Black Harpies, and the Joys of White Women


If Mad Men has taught me anything, it is that in their chosen vocation, the dream merchants do few things unintentionally as they cultivate the desires of citizen-consumers.

It is almost assured that there will be much overreaction and hand-wringing over the racially clumsy and stereotyped laden Pepsi Max Superbowl ad. But, said response does not mean that the spot itself is not worthy of some critical engagement.

There really isn't too much to offer in terms of meta-analysis for this spot. Perhaps, this is why the advertisement just seems so lazy. The commercial deploys the "Sassy Mammy"/Sapphire stereotype: the over-bearing, neck-snapping black woman (and lest we not forget that stereotypes persist because they are rooted in some reality that folks choose to reproduce or not...see Tyler Perry and others) which persists even into the 21st century. As the obligatory target for said "sista's" overbearing harpiness, Pepsi Max features an emasculated black man and his obligatory object of lust--the always beguiling and sexy white woman. In turn, Black man's kryptonite is left unconscious by Sapphire..and his big, black, wide, can. She and her man then beat a hasty retreat.

If we don't retreat in the face of what seems to be such a grossly flat text, the semiotics of the Pepsi Max commercial can become (at least potentially) quite interesting. Could there in fact be more going on in the implications of the advertisement (and what it is signaling to in the collective political subconscious) than in the spot itself? Is a focus on reception more illuminating than an exclusive examination of the text's visuals and narrative?

For example, check out some of the running comments on the advertisement here. White privilege and the normality of whiteness--as always--are on fully display. Because you know, "why can't it just be about a man and his overbearing wife?" and "why do you always have to bring race into this stuff?"

But then again, I may have unnecessarily donned my racism chasing shoes because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

"What if Famous Filmmakers Directed the Superbowl?" is Way Better Than the Real Game That Was Pittsburgh Versus Green Bay



To my eyes, the the Superbowl was blah. But after watching Slate's great video, the question remains: What if George Lucas directed the Superbowl?

Your thoughts? Who are the Sith? Who are the Jedi? And would the level of sadness and "suckitude" equal that of Phantom Menace?

Or if being really provocative: What if Spike Lee directed the Superbowl? In such a happening, what would our eyes have been treated to in that most entertaining of counter-factual no prize events?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superbowl Sunday Reflections: Don't Forget Doug Williams



Black professional athletes may still be a bunch of million dollar slaves, but Doug Williams was/is still THAT DUDE. I remember going to the barbershop that week and all the folks were still talking about Doug Williams' amazing performance. And not to be forgotten, this was still in a moment when respectable folks could publicly muse about the intellectual ability of black quarterbacks and their perceived lack of the acuity necessary to run a sophisticated NFL offense. How things change? (Or do they?)

Enjoy the game folks, I am more interested in the commercials than the teams playing (my beloved Pats done messed up again, but at least Tom Brady is the unanimous MVP...thank the fates that piece of human debris Michael Vick didn't get one vote from the press for that most high acknowledgment. There appears to be some little amount of justice in the world).

Have fun. Be safe.

Friday, February 4, 2011

American Pimp Does Black History Month



One day, far in the future, I will write the book Pimpin' and Reconstruction: Reflections on African American Deviance and Resistance in the Post Civil War South.

Just a quick reminder of sorts, that Black History is made by real people, some heroic, others despicable, and many who are just content to stand by the sidelines of history. We are "blues people." But, black folk are also everyday people. For my dollar, the luxury to be the latter has always been the real goal of the Black Freedom Struggle.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cornel West Brings the Funk of Black History Month to the Late Late Show



Cornel West, member of the high council in the Matrix films Black public intellectual, philosopher, and scholar performs his effortless genius negritude once more (and this is the paradox, like other great professionals he is so polished and practiced that the difficult is made to look easy).

As I am learning, interviews for a popular audience are difficult to do because personality has to be balanced with communicating complex facts in a setting that is not generally amenable to a college or university lecture. Some folks can do this effortlessly (like Professor West) and other amazingly accomplished scholars not so well (see Professor Nell Irvin Painter's painful interview on the Colbert Report as an example).

I always pay close attention to the great performers of the pundit and intellectual classes. Why? One, I admire anyone who is a master of the craft. And two, many of the skills exhibited by the most engaging and incisive intellectuals who ply their craft in public life are transferable to the classroom. While many of us who make our living in the library and in front of students are indifferent to the art of teaching as a performance, for those of us who ponder such things a great interview is a gold mine of professional riches.

Brother West and Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson put on a master clinic in the art of the interview. While the complexities of Black History Month in the post-racial Age of Obama cannot be reduced to 20 minutes, both gave as good as they got and offered us a good many gems to improvise around.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What is Politics? What is Political? A Hybrid Open Thread on the Egypt Uprising



Let's play this as a hybrid open thread of sorts...

The pundit classes are chattering away on the street-level events in Egypt. I choose to demure. For now, I am just sitting back and enjoying the ride so to speak as Mubarak and 30 plus years of U.S. policy get's shaken, rattled, and rolled. My thoughts on the uprising in Egypt are also more meta-level than policy oriented. I have been increasingly struck by the question of "who watches the watchers?" and how the American media is 1) framing the event and 2) how "experts" of questionable expertise are trotted out for their obligatory 30 seconds of analysis where they offer unqualified observations in the service of very narrow policy agendas.

On an existential level the crisis in Egypt is about politics. This is an observation to which a superficial reader would reply, "and so what?" But, the idea of "politics" and what constitutes "the political" is laden with assumptions (of culture, time period, and social location). By implication, these assumptions go uninterrogated and unreflected upon. Moreover, I would bet dollars to donuts that most Americans (and people elsewhere) could give you examples of things that are political, but would struggle with providing an actual definition of politics.

This is an important exercise if we are going to offer a critique of how the American media is covering the crisis in Egypt. For example, if one watches Fox News there is an implicit narrative that the protests in Egypt are an example of "abnormal politics." If one watches Al-Jazeera the frame is one where the protests are an ideal example of politics as action--regular people are fighting for their share of power against an oppressive State.

For folks in political science this is a basic debate--and one that can become quite heated. In the discipline there does exist a broad agreement on what constitutes politics. However, it is on the margins, in interdisciplinary spaces, and where questions of power, culture, and identity are at the forefront where the "politics" in political science can become very contentious.

A question then: Of this less than exhaustive list, which definition applies most directly to the events in Egypt?

Politics is about how societies negotiate the distribution of power, resources, and access to private and public goods;

Politics is essentially the study of power and authority;

Politics is about who gets what, when, how, and why;

Politics is the study of the large N: institutions, public opinion, mass behavior, and international relations.

Or is the Egyptian uprising an example of some other type of politics (or even a phenomenon entirely apart from Western notions of the idea)?

The floor is yours.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Towards a Unified Theory of Blogging: What if Sarah Palin were Black? The Sequel

I have been considering doing a series of posts where we work through a "unified theory of blogging." Yes, that sounds pretentious. But, fancy titles often mask simple questions.

For those who write online (either as bloggers or freelancers) what are your greatest hits and misses? And how do you decide when an idea has gone stale and should best be left by the proverbial roadside of abandoned articles/books/chapters/and blog posts?

These questions speak to the problem of immediacy in the 21st and late 20th century news cycles. With the rise of the Internet, the primacy of soft news, and the death of print, the now is yesterday--attention spans have been shortened with deleterious consequences for the public and the role of the 4th Estate as gatekeeper and watchdog. Great articles often go neglected because they missed a narrow window of opportunity. Inversely, mediocre articles often receive an out-sized amount of attention because the timing was perfect.

In the spirit of sharing, here is one of my pieces from the archives. Last year I imagined "What if Sarah Palin were Black?" This post took on a life of its own. Like a friendly zombie, What if Sarah Palin were Black? has been born, died, and resurrected several times.

I wrote a follow up to that piece and never shared it. Why? Because while Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving she 1) receives too much attention and 2) what was a fresh and novel idea can lose its special quality when one goes back to the well once too often.

But what the hell? Like a Director's cut of a DVD that restores footage that was perhaps best left on the editing room floor, here is the sequel to What if Sarah Palin were Black? Was this a good idea whose moment has past or is there still mileage to be gained from a counter-factual that attempts to expose the normativity of whiteness and white privilege through the lens of the Wasilla Wonder?
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What if Sarah Palin were Black: The Sequel

Sarah Palin is the queen of white conservative victimology. In the aftermath of The Arizona Massacre she has combined her unrepentant narcissism, egomania, and craven lust for media attention--and the money that it brings--into a parade of self-pity.

Not content to lay low, earlier this week Palin doubled down by appearing on Fox News where she further pleaded her case for martyrdom: a detour into bad political theater that would be funny if the bloodshed in Arizona were not so tragic.

Once more, and as has been true throughout her career, Sarah Palin’s mediocrity is rewarded without consequence. This is just one more example of white privilege in action:
Palin’s actions do not blight her whole race; just like Jared Loughner's actions don't throw into question whether white men can be trusted with guns (compared to, say, attacks by Muslims, etc.). By extension, Palin's despicable behavior is in no way taken as a comment on white women as as a whole. In the United States, women of color are afforded no such luxury. They are marginalized both because of their gender and their race.

Ultimately, to be a member of a racial minority in a society where Whiteness is the norm is to be collectively linked to strangers. For example, when white men go crazy, commit acts of political violence, try to kill police because Glenn Beck told them to, behave irresponsibly, or act with poor judgment, it is neither a comment on Whiteness nor on white men as a group. No, it is the deed of one person--an individual who has the privilege of embracing the "I" as opposed to the "we" of collective blame and responsibility.

As W.E.B. Du Bois famously asked, "how does it feel to be a problem?" Because of the shield that is Whiteness, white folk--and Sarah Palin in particular--have rarely (if ever) had to ask that question. For a moment, we shall remedy that oversight. With Sarah Palin’s victimology parade in mind here is a thought experiment.

Just as Tim Wise did in his essay “What if the Tea Parties were Black?” let’s play a game of fill in the blanks.

I will start
:

If Sarah Palin were black, Fox News would have demanded that the F.B.I. prosecute her for sedition and inciting political violence.

If Sarah Palin were black, the Right-wing would be calling for Black political leadership, as well as the Democratic Party, to both condemn her and renounce any future relationship with the former Governor from Alaska.

If Sarah Palin were black, she would be publicly denounced for being a vacuous, narcissistic, self-centered, "diva" that is not fit for public service and who cares more about her own fame and fortune than she does the common good or the victims of The Arizona Massacre.

If Sarah Palin were black, her behavior would be used as a launching point for discussing how Black leadership is in crisis. In fact, a major news network would air a whole series on how black women are failing their communities and how Palin is emblematic of a larger trend.

If Sarah Palin were black, the Right would be lambasting her for not embodying the Conservative principles of "personal responsibility."

If Sarah Palin were black, Glenn Beck would have already linked her to his imagined cabal and tradition of violence among "Progressive-Liberal-Socialists." On his blackboard there would direct links from Palin to Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saul Alinsky, the Black Panther Party, Angela Davis, the Tides Foundation, The Symbionese Liberation Army, and The Weather Underground.

If Sarah Palin were black, Rush Limbaugh would have said that her behavior is one more example of how liberalism is a "mental illness," that liberals are a "cancer," and that progressives should be "destroyed."

If Sarah Palin were black, she would be persona non grata after The Arizona Massacre and run out of the public square on a rail.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: Hagler Versus Hearns--"You Are Too Young For This Fight. Violence Like This Could Hurt Your Soul..."



As we do on some Saturdays, let's reflect on that sweetest of sweet sciences.

With all the dust-up regarding Amy Chua's "Tiger Mom" thesis on Chinese mothers and their "unique" parenting skills, I have been thinking about my formative years. My parents were not perfect (whose are?) Nevertheless, in my humble opinion they did a good deal right. Sometimes this was intentional (my dad telling me that you can have any woman you want if you make her realize how beautiful she is). Other times the life lesson was accidental and unintended (my mom waiting outside in the rain for 8 hours to see Return of the Jedi with me, simply because she promised to do so months before).

Ultimately, there is no universal manual for how to be a good parent. Doctor Spock may help some. But, advice about the aggregate does not necessarily help you raise your own kids given their own unique souls, personalities, needs, wants, dreams, and desires. As a qualifier, I do not have children. But if I have taken any of what I learned from my mom and dad (as well as those of my dearest friends), the lesson seems to be that you have to let folks find their own way--even while you guide them through ownership of their errors, misdeeds, and mistakes.

Thus, to the destination signaled to by the legendary Hagler-Hearns bout...

My dad was a funny guy. He left porn around the house for me to find because he was worried that I read too much and wasn't chasing the ladies enough. In fact, one of my fondest masturbatory memories was finding Black Tail in Prison Volume 6 on top of the VCR one Monday morning. By the way, the fight he had with my mom that evening regarding the corruption of my soul is a close second for my funniest memory of all time.

I was also allowed to read whatever I liked. Why? Because knowledge is power. Moreover, I could see whatever movie I wanted to as long as I gave my parents a report about its content. Likewise, there were no restrictions on what music I listened to as long as I could explain its aesthetic qualities--either positive or negative--to my parents.

I was also allowed to watch classic Eddie Murphy era Saturday Night Live. Lest we forget that before he sold out and made movies for the preteen set, Eddie was THAT dude. I will never forget coming into the den that evening while my parents were watching the legendary skit in which Eddie Murphy pitched over sized diaphragms in a faux infomercial. My mom yelled at me to go back to bed because the skit was too adult for me. My dad said, "let the boy stay, it's just sex."

Some months later I wandered to the den again. It was about midnight or so and the fight between Hagler and Hearns was on the TV (to this day I do not know how he got that next evening bootleg in an era well before pay-per-view). I was wide-eyed and excited. Wearing my GI JOE pajamas I sat down in the recliner and announced that I am going to make some of that old-school, cook on the range top, Jiffy Pop Popcorn and watch the fight.

Pops looked at me. He calmly (yet sternly) said, "You are too young for this fight. Violence like this could hurt your soul. If you watch this fight you will get old before you are ready."

I was annoyed and quite frankly pissed off. I could do whatever I wanted to, but I couldn't watch Hagler-Hearns? Give me a break! To a preteen who thought he was older than his years this was the worst of insults. Looking backwards from 2011 and watching the Hagler-Hearns fight with adult eyes I think my dad may have been right. Such is the wisdom of age.

You tell me: was pops right to shield a set of young and innocent eyes from the drama that was Hagler-Hearns? And how would you less than tiger moms and tiger dads have handled said situation?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Featured Comment: Who Gets to Define Racism? The Victim or the Perpetrator?



On the post "Howard Stern's Ownage of the "Sarah Palin Tea Party Battle Hymn," Thrasher wrote:

Yes I can define (racism) by inserting a number of conventional definitions However I always reserve the right to define reality from my personhood as a Black man in USA where the articulation of this offense does not have to shaped or fashioned using the paradigms of the ruling class (read white folks or those educated and influenced by the ruling class)..


When Black folks rely on the lexicon and tools of engagement defined by the ruling class than we engaged in making excuses for racists like Stearn and others.. Tragically for some of us Unless we insert and employ their (ruling class) verbiage or tools our concerns are not acknowledged or recognized. I reject such an approach especially when racism is on the table...

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I have a few other readers' comments in the queue to bump up. But Thrasher's observations on the nature of racism caught my eye because in the Age of Obama they are quite prescient and lead to no small number of important questions.

One of my formative experiences in graduate school was attending a lecture by noted scholar James Cone of Martin and Malcolm in America fame. In that lecture, Cone mentioned how some of the most difficult students to work with on questions of racial inequality and white supremacy are black and brown folk. Because they often translate lived experience into a universal and generalizable data point, the move from the personal to the scholarly can be a bit rough.

Thrasher's comment brought me back to that moment. What is the definition of racism (or sexism, or homophobia, or any of the other assorted "isms" that are now part of common speak)? Who gets to decide? Is there one definition? Or are there many? Is "racist" as overused and misapplied a word as "misogynist?"

Moreover, we must necessarily tread towards realpolitik in these explorations: What is the relationship of one's definition of "racism" to power? For example, conservatives embrace an insincere colorblind politics where to even discuss the realities of racial inequality is somehow "racist." By comparison, there are many liberals and progressives who would assert that to in fact not have an open conversation about the realities of race is itself racist.

Like many of you, I can offer an academic, dense, and complicated definition of the concept. But, I am curious as to how you balance the point of view of the aggrieved (the politics of feeling and emotion) with the politics of detached intellectualism, positivism, and a belief in the merits of specific historicism.

And yes, I am being intentionally provocative.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Dark Twisted Fantasy: Barack Obama's State of the Union Speech Channels "America: Violent to the Bone"


In lieu of writing a post that would fall down the Barack Obama State of the Union media rabbit hole, I offer the speech that I wish the President had given tonight. The following is a dream...my dream and maybe yours. If President Obama gave a version of the following promo from Glen Ford and the Black Agenda Report it would be both high comedy and tragedy. The collective pundit classes would die of a stroke. And the Tea Party GOP and Democrats would have a moment of bipartisan unity as they grab the torches and run Obama out of town.

Either way, the result would be grand sport and entertainment.

Listen to America: Violent to the Bone or read it at your leisure.

Question: In your personal alternate reality--one where Barack Obama is a man with cojones, heart, and true grit--what do you wish the President had said in the State of the Union address tonight?

Second question: Does President Obama understand that if you continually stand in the center of the road you are going to inevitably get hit?

America Violent to the Bone

The gruesome murders in Tucson, have prompted a huge chorus of establishment voices to call for a ratcheting down of political rhetoric, lest the more mentally unbalanced among us become unhinged, as is thought to have been the case with the Arizona shooter. At times like these, it is considered unseemly to put such tragedies into a larger context of American violence – a bit like going to a funeral and mentioning that lots of people died on the same day as the dearly departed – which would be a crude and boorish thing to do. The problem is, many of the mourners in this virtual national funeral procession have already brought their own agendas to the sad occasion. The rich and powerful believe it is their privilege to preach over the bodies, in order to properly spin the victims into the hereafter. And that means that the rest of us must also treat the sad occasion as a political event. And so, I will.

Lots of people do die from the violence that America’s political system engenders, tens of thousands every year here at home, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, around the world. The U.S. is uniquely violent among the rich nations of the planet, and that is because of its fundamental political history and social and economic arrangements. American class and racial structures are not only the fruits of great historical crimes of horrific violence, they also require unending applications of violence in order to sustain the prevailing social and economic order.

Therefore, when those who have grown rich from organized violence, who are the same people who have made America, in Dr. Martin Luther King's words, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, today,” start talking about ratcheting down the rhetoric so as not to encourage violence, it is time for us to do the opposite. We must become fixated on violence, hyper-conscious of the violence that is inflicted on our own communities and on peoples and nations around the planet, by the people who benefit from what Dr. King called the triple evils: racism, militarism, and materialism. Put in other terms, that's white supremacy, U.S. imperialism, and rule of the rich.

Those who profit from the existence of the triple evils are the fountainheads of the great violence that afflicts our nation and world. It is no wonder that the most racist political organizations, like the Tea Party, are also the greatest fomenters of domestic violence. They are political heirs to the slave master, who could not have existed without daily application of the most extreme violence to the slave. The militaristic and imperial American state fosters a mass culture of violence that saturates the society at large, inculcating disrespect for human life in general and absolute contempt for the lives of non-Europeans the world over. And the values of the rich – most especially the Wall Streeters that exercise complete hegemony over the machinery of government and the communications apparatus – are those of the mass killer, because the rich few can only remain in power by being prepared to murder the many who have nothing.

So, by all means, let's examine violence in – and from – America. And then let's ratchet up the intensity of struggle against the real culprits who profit from a culture of violence.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Howard Stern's Ownage of the "Sarah Palin Tea Party Battle Hymn"



Sometimes I just can't resist the sugar high that is The Wasilla Wonder.

Howard Stern's interview in Harlem with Barack Obama supporters is still my favorite demonstration of the dynamics of mass public opinion in America that I have ever witnessed. Stern's analysis of the song "Sarah Palin (Tea Party) Battle Hymn," is a close second. Here, Howard owns Palin with a commentary that sharply echos Richard Hofstadter's award winning book Anti-intellectualism in American Life.

Irony of ironies/random factoid: Did you know that The Battle Hymn of the Republic is actually based upon the abolitionist song John Brown's Body?

As I have said many a times here and elsewhere, Palin is the queen of a cult of mediocrity where stupidity is a clarion call under a Right-wing banner of false populism and "anti-elitism." Her supporters--as highlighted by the Sarah Palin Battle Hymn--are showing us who they always are and have been. Never forget: music speaks to a collective unconscious, a shared imaginary, and a common sense of symbols, signs, and meanings. We may be tempted to laugh at this homage to Palin, but it reveals the naked truth(s) of the worldview held by the New Right and aggrieved "real" Americans.

For your enjoyment, here are the Sarah Palin Battle Hymn's lyrics:

She's a cold blast from Alaska ingrained with common sense,
She's not a Harvard lawyer but she knew what the Founders meant.
A cold blast from the north that freezes Congress in their tracks,
With God and the Tea Party, she's gonna take it back.

Sarah Palin, she won't listen to their bunk,
Sarah Palin coming South to hunt some skunk,
Sarah Palin – she'll throw 'em all in jail,
And when she gets to Washington, it'll be cold as hell.

Sarah has the wisdom to walk through an open door,
She's stomping out the wretches where the evil lies in store.
She will scrub the floors and sweep the riff-raff into cracks,
With God and the Tea Party, she's gonna take it back.

Sarah Palin, she won't listen to their bunk,
Sarah Palin coming South to hunt some skunk,
Sarah Palin – she'll throw 'em all in jail,
And when she gets to Washington, it'll be cold as hell.

SPOKEN WORD:

Congress pats themselves from some new bill they just passed
I watch as my freedom slowly runs through an hourglass
They think they spend our money better than we do
But they can talk until they're blue and old
'Cuz if they ever gave us anything
They always wanted something in return . . . Sarah knows!

OPERA-STYLE:

Saraaaaah's marching onnnnnnnn onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

CLOSING DEDICATION:

I'd like to dedicate that to the Tea Party and all the patriots.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reflections on the Use and Abuse of Eliminationist Speech: Do Conservatives Really Want to Kill Liberals and Progressives?



Something to think about for the weekend. And many, many questions.

The aftermath of The Arizona Massacre has sparked much discussion about political speech and its relationship to violence. For example, one of the phrases tossed about by the pundit classes as they try to make sense of Tea Bag John Bircherism and its relationship to the Right-wing echo chamber is "eliminationism": the idea that some members of the body politic ought to be destroyed or "eliminated."

These efforts to link Right-wing bloviating by the types of Beck, Limbaugh, and others to the concept of genocide is an intuitive and not too far leap of faith: on conservative radio, television, and websites, liberals are routinely called "cancers," "traitors," "mentally ill," or "a disease." Ultimately, the language of violence is a lingua franca of sorts among the leadership classes of the Right because 1) it works to unite them as a tribe; and 2) it leverages their authoritarian personalities for the purposes of partisan cheer-leading.

But, I have a few concerns and considerations...

Primarily, eliminationism speaks to the literal murder, destruction, and removal of whole peoples. And certainly, there is a violence of speech by the Right that is now so utterly common it is taken for granted. But, do we more responsible folks want to massage that observation into what is a historically specific concept that may or may not apply to the United States in the 21st century?

Moreover, in a country that has actually practiced eliminationism as both a matter of national policy (Manifest Destiny and the genocide of native peoples), and as an informal enforcer of America'r racial order (where pogroms against black Americans in such places as Tulsa and East St. Louis were not uncommon) do we want to abuse said idea in order to rebut the vitriol vomited forth by the Tea Party GOP?

These are open questions where the answers are dependent upon how one reads the intent underlying the eliminationist speech offered by the New Right Tea Party Republicans. Are Beck, Palin, et al. simply playing with words in order to marginalize and demonize their opposition, but in fact hold no actual intent of bodily harm?

Stated plainly: Is the new Right's hatred of liberals and progressives just a metaphor for something else?

Or is there a type of protofascism at work (as displayed by mainstream conservatism's fetish for Nazi-talk) in the rhetoric of the Right in which the real end goal is in fact the literal murder of their political opponents on the Left?

In the mainstream media's yearning for false equivalence where the rhetoric of Conservative and Liberals, Democrats and Republicans, somehow is imagined as relying equally on an appeal to violence, these questions are rarely asked. Let's remedy that oversight...if even for a weekend.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In Defense of Sarah Palin's Honor: Chauncey DeVega is a Racist! At Least Says the Free Republic

A few days ago, one of our greatest hits went viral thanks to the good folks at Balloon Juice.

For the record, We Are Respectable Negroes was playing with the "what if x group were black..." counter-factual long before it became so old school and tired (in fact, for a meta-level take on that question in the 2008 election check out our much overlooked "Nigarro Universe" series if you want to read something fresh that you may have missed out on the first time around). But given that memories don't live like people do, our new/old post is going around these Internets once again.

As folks who write professionally know, one of the fun (and at times disturbing) moments is when you see your work quoted or referenced. While it can be annoying when readers go postmodern and (re)read meaning into your work that was not intended, it is still--at least for me--par for the course. However, what I do find head-shaking is how readers, both ideological allies, but more often foes, attribute things to your personhood and character based on one data point/article/or blog post. That both makes my day because folks are paying attention, but it also makes me want to serve up a big glass of shut the fuck up juice ask those interlocutors to be more reasonable and reflective.

Apparently, the good folks over at the Right-wing mainstay the Free Republic don't like me because I have been "mean" to Sarah Palin. But unlike George Bush, I am happy to be called a racist. In fact, I am going to say "Chauncey DeVega is a racist" three times a day to keep my teeth white (extra points if you get the joke).

But as always and once more I must ask the following: Why aren't good, smart, reasonable conservatives publicly embarrassed by Sarah Palin?

Is the tribal like support of her by the Right some ideological dingleberry of the authoritarian personality where Palin is like Hitler's lover Eva Braun, the idealized whiteness of femininity mated with the herrenvolk, fascist New Right Tea Bagger Conservative imagination? Please help a brother out in finding an answer.

[Random comment: Damn! I do impress myself sometimes: "Ideological dingleberry." I just pulled that out of the ether...or was that my behind? And wasn't that quotable as smooth as frontage and scissoring with a newly waxed Brazilian half-Indonesian Surinamese goddess on a pair of silk sheets covered in bubblewrap and bathed in baby oil? Be prepared. My jade stalk is now ready for sacred union with the most blessed yoni.]

The Vox Right-wing Populi must now be given their chance to speak. Thus, here are some choice reactions to my post "What if Sarah Palin were Black?"

1. People simply have to move beyond tribalism.

2. She would be a credit to blacks.

3. The website is called “We Are Respectable Negroes”? Good grief. The less said, the better. Maybe just, “Get a life!”

4. WOW..........What's that guy been wallowing in to make him so foul and bizarre? If what he was saying had any validity, why would he be saying it? After all, if Palin is so dumb, folksy, baby daddy'd, ignorant, unsophisticated, and not black, yellow, or red, then why waste the ink and narrow thought?

5. If Sarah Palin were black [or if she had a mixed-race husband] she... would have almost exactly the same support on FR. It’s only to the far left that race still matters. Conservative America doesn’t care.

6. Wow! What a racist bastard!

7. If Sarah Palin were black ... She never would have had to endure the massive invasion of her privacy, the daily calumnies, the insults to her intelligence, the questioing of her competence and attacks on the sincerity of her beliefs which she has had to endure every day since being selected as a vice-presidential nominee.

8. If Sarah were Black... she would NOT be reading articles written by a BIGOT named Chauncey.

9. Someone was very niggardly measuring out this guy’s intelligence.

10. Black and conservative? She’d be shat on even worse than she is now. Black and liberal? She’d be president right now.

11. Sarah Palin is also, last time I checked, a WOMAN. Not only is the Left racist, they are also misogynist.

12. **The website is called “We Are Respectable Negroes”?** Read a bunch of the comments after that article... after cleaning off the keyboard, I’ve come to one conclusion..If that’s the way they want to think... I want Nothing to do with any of them.

13. She does have a “mixed-race” husband: Todd (and therefore all of her children, as well) are part Eskimo.

14. Chauncey de Vega is a racist.

15. You must have had to look hard to dig up this obscure blogger who obviously has serious personal problems. I doubt anybody waits breathlessly to hear from him (yes, I looked Chauncey up and was surprised to discover that he was a him, not a her).

16. If Palin were Black and as circumspect as Obama and had Obama's team, she'd be president. She wouldn't need to be that much different than she is in her personal qualities. She'd just have to learn to make the noises the mainstream media wanted to hear and keep quiet the rest of the time and she'd be thought a genius. If Palin were a typical African-American politician, she'd find a constituency, but not get any further than, say, Congresswoman. Certainly, Palin's already shown that she has more on the ball than Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson-Lee or Carol Moseley Braun or Eddie Bernice Johnson. But even a trashy blogger may hit on something once in a blue moon: If one likes Sarah and Bristol and feels for Bristol's problems, one would probably go easy on the Black illegitimacy thing, right? Say that these things happen in all kinds of families and not go out of one's way to stomp on that?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pedagogical Failures: A Hagiography for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?



I do some great impressions. My personal favorites are Mick from the Rocky films and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not content to rest on my past performances, I always try to innovate. For Mick, I push the limits and imagine that he could have cursed out Clubber Lang with the most racially, angry white (black) Irish bigotry infused speech possible. With Brother Martin, I alternate between an inflection that is one part car salesmen turned preacher, and one part preacher turned pimp.

Did I just offend?

I often share stories about the perils, mischievous joys, and unexpected ironies of being a black working class guy tasked with teaching classrooms of majority white students about the relationship between race, American politics and popular culture. As I once hinted at, and fellow traveler Gordon Gartrelle once alluded to in a comment some years back, I am no keeper of sacred flames or idyllic truths.

This speaks to both temperament (kid gloves are just not my style) and pedagogy (I do not believe that teachers should allow students to remain in the dark, laying with the other troglodytes in Plato's cave). On Dr. King's birthday my priors almost always inevitably lead to a moment of reflection where I ask the following question: Should we tell complicated, rich, and nuanced stories about a man who did great things? Or alternatively, ought we stick to the official script and tell a flat story that fits within America's mythology, one that offers a vision of King's life which is more appropriate for School House Rock than for a college classroom?

To that end, let's take a trip down memory lane. For those who have already taken this walk please enjoy it once again...as I never tell the same story the same way twice. For those new to the journey, please indulge me as I spin a tale.

As I have shared before in my not frequent writings on teaching, I have found myself in some interesting dilemmas. I have shown videos featuring Fleece Johnson and the Tossed Salad man when discussing The New Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex. I have also used Paul Mooney and Dave Chappelle to discuss the normativity of whiteness and how race is a social construct. Of course I love to deconstruct the unedited version of Nelly's legendary Tip Drill video when discussing gender, the black body, commercial hip hop, and the pornographic imagination.

While some colleagues and friends have enthusiastically suggested that I should put the comfort of students first, and to "meet them where they are," I reject said position. Why dilute a claim that can make for an exciting and intellectually productive exchange? And how better a way to improve one's skills as a teacher, scholar, and thinker, than to salvage what has on occasion become a metaphorical car wreck?

For me, Dr. King is not off limits. Nor is he safe from critical inquiry and demystification.

Some years ago my students and I were having an interesting exchange about mythologies of resistance and The Civil Rights Movement. There I offered a much simplified version of Dennis Chong's argument that the free rider problem is operative in a person's decision to participate in a mass movement (or not). There are numerous rational and self-interested reasons to opt out. Why did so many black folk (and their allies) choose not to? Conversely, why did the vast majority of African Americans choose to not publicly participate in the war against Jim Crow by taking to the streets?

Our exchange was productive until I named that which should not be named. As an example of a grossly oversimplified--and oftentimes flat-out wrong understanding of history--I pointed out how Rosa Parks was not a tired little old lady with hurt feet who decided to sit down on a bus, a moment from which the Civil Rights Movement magically sprung. She was a trained advocate, resister, and activist who chose to exercise real agency in a decision to stand against power. Moreover, Rosa Parks was not the only person to ever be arrested for "the crime" of refusing to sit in the back of a Jim Crow bus. In fact, she was chosen for this act of political theater precisely because of how she modeled black respectability.

Light match. A firestorm then erupted.

One young sister accused me of lying. When I showed her the relevant part of Eyes on the Prize she then become even more upset and proceeded to stomp out of the room to collect herself...all the while muttering that "I killed her heroes." A compatriot said, "that wasn't true, impossible! The Civil Rights Movement didn't happen that way!"

Not one to stop in the face of weakness, I pushed harder. I asked, "what do you know of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? What about Malcolm X? The Black Panthers? Angela Davis? Ida B. Wells-Barnett?" They recited their approved histories of great men, heroes and villains, and quotes taken out of context.

I probed, "what makes these people great? Were they perfect or imperfect? Were they like you and me, or were they otherworldly and divine? What practical lessons can we take from their struggles?" Surprised they looked at each other. I pushed harder: "What about Dr. King's womanizing and adulterous behavior, does this make him any less an important figure, any less monumental and courageous?"

Second explosion. Tears and more anger.

Curious, I asked a flummoxed student to explain the rage. He replied, "we aren't ready to know these things! A racist could hear what we are talking about and use it against Dr. King and black people!" I suggested that we ought not to limit our truth seeking because of what others may do, and that Dr. King as a figure, a 3 dimensional person, is made more complex, his radical Christianity and humanism made more complicated through an examination of the totality of his behavior--as opposed to the "official" Dr. King who is a two dimensional Civil Rights approved mummy or ventriloquist doll.

Ultimately I asked, "Should we not seek out complications in the world around us? Is that not why you are in college?"

Always one to push harder and turn the knife, I spoke plainly and asked, "Should it matter that Brother King was caught on tape mid-coitus moaning that "I am fucking for God!" and "I am not a negro tonight!"

More upsetness. More anger. And no small amount of shock.

On Dr. King's birthday I reflected on that day in the classroom. When not far removed from that moment by years and months I thought it was only youth and innocence which explained my students' inability to come to terms with certain truths, to complicate their stories and understandings of history. But in watching the ritualistic worship of Dr. King on Monday, my sense is that many adults, folks much older than their late teens or early twenties, would have responded in much the same way. Their words may have been different. But the sense that a hero was violated would have quite likely been the same.

This is not a sentiment which is confined to black folk. For some, the fetish object is a reverence for a childish, divinely inspired view of the Framers and the Constitution. For others, it is a pantheon of heroes of whatever ideological camp, political movement or people's struggle that they choose to identify with. Some have the myth of Reagan. While others have the myth of Martin. And more than a few tightly embrace Brother Malcolm.

I understand the need for true lies. I also understand the role of these true lies in a given community's myth of origin. But on a more basic level what explains the need of some for simple heroes? Am I so twisted and strange that the failings and complexities of those who do great deeds makes them more tangible to my eyes? That I am reminded that these heroes are real people who made choices...some for good and some for ill?

On this day after Dr. King's holiday I am curious: How do you like your heroes? On a pedestal too high for you to reach, or at eye level where they can inspire you directly?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Double Dose of Ugliness: Giving Voice to Sarah Palin's Know-nothing Brigades and The Tennessee Tea Parties Want to Whitewash the Constitution



Like clockwork, the reactionary Right-wing keeps it classy.

After my previous post on Sarah Palin's dog whistle use of the phrase "blood libel," I thought it only fair to give equal time to her supporters. As I tell my students, as folks try to work towards common solutions in the interest of the public good, we should treat the worldview and demands of the opposition with sincerity and honesty. Thus, we are obligated to let the Tea Party Populists New Age John Birth Right Wing reactionaries exercise full agency as they speak for their own issue positions.

In keeping with said commitment I offer you the above documentary. Right American Feeling Wronged is an insightful look at the bleeding heart of Palin's Know-nothing brigades. As a complementary piece of the puzzle, the following story details the struggle by the Tea Party and the New Right  to "correct" the narrative that is U.S. history. Once more, the New Right shows us who they always have been. And one cannot help but smile when the White Soul displays its own unrepentant narcissism and myopic ugliness.

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Tea Parties Issue Demands to Tennessee Legislators

NASHVILLE — Members of Tennessee tea parties presented state legislators with five priorities for action Wednesday, including “rejecting” the federal health reform act, establishing an elected “chief litigator” for the state and “educating students the truth about America.”

About two dozen tea party activists held a news conference, then met with lawmakers individually to present their list of priorities and “demands” for the 2011 legislative session that opened Tuesday.

Regarding education, the material they distributed said, “Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”

That would include, the documents say, that “the Constitution created a Republic, not a Democracy.”

The material calls for lawmakers to amend state laws governing school curriculums, and for textbook selection criteria to say that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”

Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another."

“The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed, to everybody — not all equally instantly — and it was their progress that we need to look at,” said Rounds, whose website identifies him as a Vietnam War veteran of the Air Force and FedEx retiree who became a lawyer in 1995.

The group also wants the state legislature to reject key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as “an insult to Constitutional principles.”

The activists also said they want legislators to either start the process of amending the state Constitution to provide for the popular election of the state attorney general or to create a separate position of solicitor general who is directly elected by voters and with much of the litigation authority now vested with the attorney general.

In Tennessee, the attorney general is appointed by the state Supreme Court. The group’s printed material says the attorney general has reflected “views of the U.S. Constitution that conflict with those of the people of Tennessee.” It specifically says the current attorney general, Robert Cooper, has rejected “the call of the people and the General Assembly” to join with other states in contesting the constitutionality of “federal mandates, including ‘Obamacare.’”

The priorities also include terminating state subsidies for unfunded or unconstitutional federal mandates, and “enforcing constitutional law.” Later Wednesday, the Tennessee Health Care Campaign said repealing the federal health reforms would mean repealing protections the law gives consumers against insurance companies.