Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Report From the Frontlines of the Herman Cain is a Race Minstrel Controversy

I want to thank all of my fellow travelers who have chimed in on the Herman Cain Race Minstrel Affair. I may not have responded to each of you individually. But trust, your support is appreciated and I give love to you all.

I am going to be doing a few more interviews on the radio, as well as online regarding this matter, and then move on. I don't dance or monkeyshine for gold, silver, or attention so I am going to stick with the girl that I brought to the prom. Stated differently, I am going to keep doing what I have been doing damn/despite/because/and regardless of the consequences. As you know I follow the pro-wrestlers' creed: I am me with the volume turned up. I will not deviate from my promise to always be sincere and real. That decision rule--one rooted in my working class roots--has brought me farther than I ever thought possible. With your help, our momentum will keep pushing us forward to bigger and greater things.

In keeping with my love principle, I only felt it fair to ask one of the longtime members of the WARN family who has been out there in the trenches--quite literally--since this dust-up began, to give her account of the events as she experienced them.

Courtesy of our friend OhCrapIhaveacrushonSarahPalin fame...

Note to Republicans: hire some new PR people. The minions you've sent out screaming "Democrat Plantation" at Blacks in an effort to make a dent in the largely Democratic voting bloc are an abject failure. Read on to find out why they are consistently rebuffed, and treated with the all the derision and ridicule a fool deserves.

Still in the Shadow of Uncle Tom: This Week's Political Showbiz and the Race-Based Melodrama That Ensued

I was raised by Reagan Democrat(ic) Moral Majority Christian Coalition parents, both ordained ministers, who were primarily "race people". That is, they saw their own work as the first/only Blacks in their places of employment, our positioning as the first/only Blacks in our neighborhood and their decision to send me to all-white Christian schools as desegregation part 2. Many liberals do not know about, or understand, this aspect of Black conservatism. I do, because I lived it, and am a product of it. I spent three years at Fundagelical U., where I had my first more-than-friends same-sex set of events (oh, the things that go on in those sex-segregated dorms...) My father was emeritus and board member of a Christian college with ties to the New Apostolic Reformation. My first vote was for Pat Robertson.

And yes, I really do have a crush on Sarah Palin.

With those ex-conservative bonafides out of the way, I can say with certainty there's good reason not to trust people like Herman Cain, Unhyphenated-Americans like Lloyd Marcus, and the seven other Black characters on the Tea Party circuit. Their sincerity is in question, due not simply to their skin color, as Chauncey's detractors wish to make one believe, but because of their behavior which fits longstanding patterns of race-opportunism.

Enter: coonery, tommery and minstrelsy--the popular American art form infamous for distorting and misrepresenting Black people in the White imagination. Make no mistake: Race minstrelsy continues in the 21st century.

Ask yourself the following. Do tales of black incompetence, vindictiveness, threats of socio-political instability, and white slavery sound familiar?

Have you ever noticed that Republicans, and with all of their loud wails of being the "party of Lincoln," do not mention the postbellum era of Republican Reconstruction during the years of 1865-1877? Though "Jim Crow" was a character out of blackface minstrelsy, White state's rights conservatives imposed this formal type of racism on all non-whites immediately after the end of the Civil War, with this period of de facto white supremacy being codified into law with the landmark Supreme Court case Plessy vs Ferguson (1896). Furthermore, in many regions of the US, such as the west south, north and midwest, this condition lasted into the late 1970s and sometimes decades beyond.

So of course Republicans don't mention the problematic era of Reconstruction--at least not in their outside voices anyway. Why? To do so would alienate their state's rights, Confederate flag-fetishizing constituents.

Hey you, the voter with all the values! Have some Obama waffles!

For example, the Obama Waffles caricature, based in Aunt Jemima visual rhetoric, is directly out of minstrelsy branding. Black conservatives know this. The Muslim-baiting, McCarthy-lite inside content was even worse. But how many conservatives, outside of one, professional homo-hater Bishop Harry Jackson, have ever dared to speak up against such bigotry?

In addition, have you ever noticed how "these lovers of the Constitution" are silent on Tammy Bruce's almost-daily characterization of President Barack Obama as "Urkel?" What is a reference to a 1990s-era sitcom character that scholars Mary Dalton and Laura Linder associate with minstrelsy stock characters such as Sambo the coon. Moreover, it never made the news when Bruce asserted back in January that she gets to call gays "homos" because she is one.

Of course, we heard a few grumbles from their corner when Jane Hamsher of posted an illustration of Senator Joe Lieberman in blackface. But, I do not recall it making the news at Fox News.

And no maliciousness or death wishes are ever directed at those who wield the epithet "race-pimp", which on the American right is synonymous with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Yet we saw it happen against Mr. DeVega over at Alternet.

Conservative jihadis from the lowliest twitterers to the twits at Fox/Kingdom Holding News Channel seek to silence Chauncey DeVega's so-called "racism" as they are quick to condemn and police the behavior of every Black person outside the conservative fold. Ultimately, a Black man speaking his mind about the behavior of a Black conservative without the permission of white overseers, and without apologies or reservation, is an affront to their White authority.

To White conservatives this is bad behavior. Moreover, it is bad behavior that must be punished. Preferably, with repeated epithet strings like like "you're on the Democrat plantation"; "only Black conservatives (i.e. 5% of Black voters or less) think for themselves"; The KKK is the Democrats Robert Byrd; Nazis are Socialists; Read some Ayn Rand, etc. etc. etc.. We observed this behavior from freeper after freeper over at Alternet.

Nobody with common sense buys their stale old Reconstruction-era hysteria. This is the fundamental issue conservatives have with Chauncey DeVega's article, and his subsequent, rage-inducing refusal to be intimidated by even the loudest, most obnoxious Right-wing bullies.

For Herman Cain's part, he is simply using this as a free publicity grab. He should be thanking Chauncey DeVega and giving him 15% for putting Cain on the cultural map, instead of leaving him to stew in Tea Party obscurity.

At A Crossroads of Cognitive Dissonance: The Left-wing of the Far Right

Despite what the paleoconservatives at Outside the Beltway would have us believe, images out of race minstrelsy are ugly. So is minstrelsy-inspired talk like "Sambo beat the bitch." Who can blame white state's rights conservatives for wanting to distance themselves from this history?

At present, the mainstream state's rights crowd and affiliated Tea Partiers seem to be testing out another remedy.

Armed with language and concepts stolen from liberals, the left wing of the far Right is on the march. They are bringing the conservative movement to a social crossroads.

This week, we saw all manner of state's rights conservatives labeling the entire left "racists" who, like Chauncey DeVega, victimize them with "hate speech". The late 20th and early days of the 21st centuries are apparently moments when the bizarre and surreal have seemingly become the new normal and mundane.

Conservative gays like GOProud attend CPAC. Even Glenn Beck says same sex marriage isn't a threat to America and shouldn't be a priority of the right. Sarah Palin wears the label "feminist" with in-your-face aplomb, and, seeimingly, singlehandedly introduced the concept of "misogyny" to the same right-wing males who have spent the past twenty years denying it's existence. Now, they use the term with relish against anyone who disagree with her policies. The feminists who did not vote for Mrs. Palin are now "the sexists".

Two years ago, no conservative would be caught dead engaging in such leftist Marxist progressive politically-correct anti-liberty speech. Today, it's the norm in many of their circles. However ironic and problematic, given their backgrounds the lemmings cheering on Herman Cain at CPAC are going to have a much tougher time repackaging themselves as mavens of diversity and true inheritors of the mantle of abolitionism and civil rights.

During the Civil Rights era, state's rights conservatives such as the John Birch Society (which bankrolls CPAC) and Ezra Taft Benson (Glenn Beck's favorite), routinely labeled MLK and any other civil rights workers Communists, Socialists, or Marxists. They were in the right-wing gaze people who were unable to think for themselves.

Today, the GOP runs candidates who dress as Nazi war criminals in their spare time. Their gubernatorial candidate for New York sends these emails to friends on the taxpayer dime. Conservative Republicans permit governors to impose Confederate History Month onto the public, and dig in their heels when others allow KKK members to be commemorated on state license plates. A Republican women's organization in South Carolina recently held a "Southern Experience" ball, complete with Confederate generals (Glenn McConnell, R - SC State Senate President), and rent-a-slaves. McConnell's colleague in the senate, Jake Knotts, called other GOP politicians "ragheads".

For me, this grand burlesque of extreme cognitive dissonance has been the week's entertainment. Save for a couple shows on Fox and the usual suspects on the Right-wing side of these Internets, their predictable antics in trying to shut down Chauncey DeVega turned out to be a flop. In a tragicomedy of sorts, conservatives have become the very anti-First Amendment PC police they have spent the past two decades decrying. And it is high comedy watching them try to fulfill this role on the public stage.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Juan Williams Says Chauncey DeVega Committed Black on Black Crime and a Drive-By on Herman Cain

I am glad I avoided this drive-by. This is the new meme folks: liberals are bigots and full of hatred. And of course, Conservatives want to "get past" race.

Insert fingers into throat and induce vomiting.

Oh yeah, Bret Baier doesn't like me either.

Last Update: Chauncey DeVega is a Slave Catcher So Says Herman Cain on The Neal Boortz Show

I am a slave catcher. Wow. And apparently, the Democrats are the "plantation" and liberals and progressives are the forces of white supremacy and the Southern slaveocracy. Stunning.

Wouldn't it be funny if Cain road the road to the GOP nomination on the back of Chauncey DeVega? I guess little people do in fact make history.

What a Day: Chauncey DeVega Says No to Fox News and Also Gets Herman Cain to Say "Race Minstrel" on the Erick Erickson Show

Listen to Uncle Ruckus Herman Cain's interview if you dare as there is some deep racial Stockholm syndrome victimology going on there. Notice how he talks about "white patriots," but diminishes black folks in mass.

This has been a whirlwind few days. I am still processing everything and am appreciative of your support. Regardless of what happens I got a Right-wing conservative talk radio host to quote Transformers: The Movie. Score points for the ghetto nerds with that one. I also had the pleasure of having Hermain Cain quote me calling him a "race minstrel" and "black garbage pail kid." And now I was condemned by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Cynthia Tucker as "sophomoric" and "vicious." It would seem I am moving up to the high rent district with the enemies I am making. Oh the joys of life.

Finally, I was invited on Fox News to debate Juan Williams on the Sean Hannity Show. I politely declined for a variety of reasons. But, if the venue and timing were a better fit I am more than willing to do an appearance...hint hint, if NPR or others want to chat I am ready, willing, and more than eager and able. I am also going to make a surprise appearance on blogtalk radio in a few minutes. Sometimes folks should be careful who they mention as the devil may in fact show up.

Stay strong in the struggle.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Judge Chauncey DeVega by His Foes: I Have Been Rebuked (Again) by Establishment Black Conservative Garbage Pail Kids for Saying Herman Cain is a Race Minstrel

My piece on is now up. Please check it out.
The hits just keep on coming. Is there a glass case full of Black Conservatives kept in storage somewhere that is labeled "break in case of emergency?" First, CORE condemned me. Now, Project 21 is playing the victimology card. Question(s): I thought that 1) Conservatives don't believe in racism; and 2) that legitimate Right-wing types don't believe in playing the "boo-hoo," "we are victims," and "let's boycott" game?

Black Conservatives Condemn Left-Wing Blogger's Racial Attack on Herman Cain

Washington, D.C. – Members of the Project 21 black leadership network are condemning a major left-wing web site's blistering racial attack on black conservative Herman Cain, and once again is asking why the liberal civil rights establishment still refuses to condemn racial attacks on black conservatives.

"I find it shocking and an indictment of Herman Cain's antagonist when he is obviously compelled to retreat to amoral diatribe when valid arguments against Cain's record cannot be found. This tactic is the 800-pound yellow gorilla in the middle of the room that progressives like to pretend doesn't exist," said Project 21 çhairman Mychal Massie. "Where are the usual suspects who are so quick to find racial insult in the acts of the tea partiers?"

Cain, a prominent conservative activist and former corporate CEO, was a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. on February 11. In the wake of that speech, the prominent left-wing web site AlterNet featured a blog post referencing the address that called Cain "a monkey in the window." Cain's speech was called "a version of race minstrelsy where he performs 'authentic negritude' as wish fulfillment for White Conservative fantasies" and "bad comedy." Black conservatives in general were referred to as "black garbage pail kids" who "entertain and perform for their White Conservative masters."

"It would be one thing to critique Herman Cain's politics, but it seems the message was less important than the man. This cowardly, anonymous attack was based solely on Cain's race," noted Project 21's Massie. "It's a problem that all black conservatives face, and it's appalling when such race-based animosity is ignored by the civil rights establishment. Saying nothing will confirm they have a double-standard rooted deeply in a political agenda."

The author of the outrageous AlterNet post is "Chauncey DeVega" — a pseudonym. According to his bio, DeVega's writing has appeared in prominent media venues such as the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly and the Root (a web site run by the Washington Post and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates). DeVega's post was added to the AlterNet site on February 12. He also has another blog hosted by as well as his own web site.

"I call on AlterNet to immediately withdraw and issue a public condemnation of this vitriolic content appearing in their online publication," said Project 21 member Niger Innis, who introduced Cain at CPAC. "AlterNet's mission statement boasts that it is a medium that transcends traditional journalism and is, instead, intended to 'emphasize workable solutions to persistent social problems.' AlterNet also asserts that their content 'underscores a commitment to fairness, equality and global stewardship.' Such virtues are in direct contradiction to the deplorable and irresponsible commentary they have allowed to be published."

Innis, who is also the national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, added: "This is particularly ironic that, after calls for civility in political discourse by many in the media, they would — through their inaction — encourage such socially reckless and racially insensitive material on a prominent left-wing publication."

On July 17, 2010 on the Fox News Channel, Project 21 full-time fellow Deneen Borelli asked NAACP senior vice president Hilary Shelton if his group would "issue a statement condemning those individuals" who target black conservatives for abuse based on their politics. At the time, Shelton replied, "Why, yes, ma'am… Just give us some details." Despite sending him details and a follow-up letter, no condemnation was ever issued by the NAACP.

Project 21 Chairman Mychal Massie repeatedly challenged Al Shaprton, Marc Morial and former D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy to a debate, now tentatively scheduled, with or without them, for February 28 in Washington, D.C., to address the trio's past allegations about tea party extremism. Massie has yet to receive any replies.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives since 1992, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research (

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chauncey DeVega is Public Enemy Number One in the Conservative Blogosphere Because He Called Herman Cain a Race Minstrel

Apparently, a tree that falls in the wilderness does in fact make a noise...especially when you criticize a favorite black conservative son of the Right-wing reactionary class.

It would seem that Chauncey DeVega is a bad boy again. In the past, I have been mean to Sarah Palin. And in the present, my cruelty apparently knows no boundaries as I have hurt the feelings and besmirched the honor of good Conservative lapdog negro hero Herman Cain. In fact, Cain's feelings are so damaged that he has issued a statement on his Facebook page and asked Niger Innis of the Congress on Racial Equality to publicly rebuke me (as well as Alternet) for daring to feature my piece, "Black History Month is Herman Cain Playing the Race Minstrel for CPAC."

Color me pleased. So my friends, the Conservative horde has been unleashed. From Breitbart, the Washington Times, to Hot Air, Pajamas Media, Townhall, and Power Line the right wing echo chamber is beating its drums. Please enjoy my infamy, as I wouldn't be motivated to cause so much trouble if it were not for all of your support.

What next my tribe of respectable negro friends and allies? Should I lay low or join the battle? And what will the reactionary troglodytes of the New Right do next?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Even When I Venture to Explore the Erotic White Supremacy Somehow Manages to Show Its Ugly Face

Can't a brother have an onanistically good time without having the bugaboo of race show up when he least expects it...

And once more, how does it feel to be a problem...or perhaps even window dressing?

Ultimately, the historical power of white supremacy is (contrary to the fantasies held by the post-Civil Rights generation) not that of an outlier. Instead, white supremacy's power is in its ubiquitous nature--the capacity to be both everywhere and nowhere at all.

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?
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...


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 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.


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!


Saraaaaah's marching onnnnnnnn onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn


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.