Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Thinking Project: Muhammad Ali's Storytelling Prowess and Peter Gruber's Wisdom on the Merits of Selling a Story

Some more weekend randomness for you all...

We have talked much about the sweet science and my personal hero the one and only Muhammad Ali. I came upon the above interview while reading broadly--race men and race women need to do so as nothing frustrates me more than a retreat from the "classics," "the dead white men," and a holding on to a provincial intellectual terrain that goes for the familiar, and not the "traditional." Life ain't fair and we have to know the wisdom of all and the ofays, as well as our radical and revolutionary takes on all things. Embrace that fact. Do not retreat from it.

Muhammad Ali is not a perfect man. But he was a visionary. If we are honest with ourselves, one sees that Ali was a bit of a mercurial villain who played race politics to his own gain...especially if you reflect on his bouts with Foreman and Frasier. That is not the official line. But, it is of oh so much import if we are to understand the man, as opposed to worshiping the legend. For me at least, the former is far more compelling a story.

As a complement to this discussion, Peter Guber's book on presentation and communication is very useful. If you are a teacher you are an entertainer. If you give presentations at conferences and/or in boardrooms you are an entertainer. If you are a story teller by habit or necessity Ali and Gruber will help you.

As my grandmother, she who was a griot extraordinaire, told me years ago, the dates don't matter, get the facts right and embellish, enhance, and shift the narrative to fit your audience. If you can do that you are a winner. Or alternatively stated, always work to sell ice to an Eskimo. Master that skill and people will give you money. To this point, grandmother has not been proven wrong yet.

That decision rule will never fail you. It will always serve you well.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Of Eddie and the Cruisers and the Random Tapestry of Life

It is okay to dance in one's office to some blue eyed soul seasoned music, no?

Friday is here and there is lots of good ghetto nerdness to be had this weekend. I was going to see De La Soul in concert but slept on buying the tickets. Thus my having to find other (mis)adventures. The world is indeed small. While looking at Aint It Cool News for information on Sucker Punch (a movie that seems damned to either brilliance or inane tomfoolery pretentiousness), I came across an interview with Michael Pare, who is in the current movie Lincoln Lawyer, but most important to my purposes also appeared in the 1980s B classic flick Eddie and the Cruisers--a film that was an anchor of my childhood and teen years.

What is a little factoid that is one more kernel to help those so inclined figure out who the man behind the kayfabe mask that is "Chauncey DeVega" really is.

[What a sentence that was. It was almost as joyous and smooth as Eros lube on a plastic sheet wrapped around 3 curvaceous sisters exhausted by my mix of vigorous yet tender, empowered by yohimbe root and ginseng thrusting.]

Eddie and the Cruisers was the reason that my father finally gave in and purchased a VCR from Crazy Eddie's electronics store (if you are not from the tri-state area I cannot even begin to describe the sheer madness that was the Crazy Eddie experience). Apparently, one of his closest friends and fellow travelers in the world of almost famous, yet highly respected musicians, was Mr. Michael Antunes: he was the featured sax player in The John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band, which was in turn the actual group Eddie and the Cruisers.

Lord have mercy. I was dragged to the theater more times than I can count to see this movie. Mr. Antunes would call the house and update my father on his adventures. My father would repeat them to me...again and again. In fact, I can recall him being no happier than when he would go see The John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band live and sit in on a set or two (as this was his one degree of separation from Hollywood "fame.")

The world is funny. Without Eddie and the Cruisers I would not have been able to watch Star Wars hundreds if not thousands of times. Without Eddie and the Cruisers I would not have stopped playing guitar (at which I was horrible) and picked up the alto saxophone, which I in turn dropped for two Technic 1200s and a mixer. Without Eddie and the Cruisers I would not have gotten serious about hip hop and popular culture. And for better of for worse I would not have gotten into radio, studied the things that I did, and have the life I do at present.

Now my life is quite far from perfect and there are many hurdles still to be overcome. But I follow the Captain Picard rule from the great TNG episode "Tapestry," in which he chooses to fight the Nausicaans and live with the consequences of that impetuous choice, rather than play it safe and end up a dull, pitiable man.

Pray tell my respectable friends and co-travelers on these Internets, what seemingly innocuous event or random choice made during your early years was in hindsight out-sized in its impact on who you became (or are becoming) as an adult?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Armchair Sociology: The Burger King Bikini Brawl, Black Feminity, and the Social Determinism of Ghetto Names

I am fascinated by the ways of the urban troglodyte (or as I more affectionately call them the "ign't" classes). Given that the emphasis on exploring the notion of black respectability was the founding impetus behind starting WARN, my curiosity regarding these matters should be taken as a given. But, I am always surprised when these explorations of race and class often bump up against the expectations held by some black folk that we ought not to air our dirty laundry. Moreover, that any critique of the ghetto underclass (a term I still use and embrace) and a support for the notion that economic disadvantage ought not to equal a poverty of the mind, soul, or spirit, is somehow unfair or mean spirited. In short, to borrow a phrase from Michael Gerson, my rebuttal has, and will always be, that we must never embrace the soft-bigotry of low expectations.

Those qualifiers having been noted, we holders of the flame of black respectability still need to be able to laugh without shame or embarrassment at both our own foibles, as well as at the stupidity of our social lessers. To point: The Burger King Bikini Brawl is my happy pill of the day. It is a given that fast food restaurants are notorious for bringing out the worst in folks (and please, don't get me started on the mayhem which inevitably ensues every Popeye's Eight Piece Chicken Holiday). But this episode is doubly fascinating because of how dense it is with opportunities for sociological analysis.

1. The mayor of Blacktown has commented on this crudely. Brother Malcolm has done so eloquently. But, what is the state of black womanhood and femininity today? And is it even fair to talk in such broad terms? Would Weber and Durkheim want us to be narrow and more specific, and to explore how local constructs of masculinity and femininity are in conflict with broader social norms?

2. Sociolinguistics. What is our young heroine saying in the first portions of the clip? I know I am not alone in noticing that what was once called "African American Vernacular English" has become something else. What it is, I do not know. After trying my hand at translating the first portions of this clip, I now understand why the DEA is seeking experts in "ebonics."

3. The life chances and economics of names. Our champion caliber bikini brawler's name is "Kimesia." The wisdom of Freakonomics and applied economics in regards to "ghetto names" would seem to apply here. As noted in the article, "First Names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble?" :

Gyimah-Brempongand Price (2006), for example, use the Scrabble score of a person’s first name as a tangential explanatory variable (their key independent variables measure skin hue) in regressions trying to explain age at incarceration and length of sentence. In the majority of their specifications, a higher Scrabble score is associated with either an increased hazard of criminal activity or a longer sentence."

Ultimately, names may not be destiny in all things, but names certainly do reveal something about social capital and life chances.

What other bits of data were you able to tease out of the Burger King Bikini Brawl video? Is there something to be said about intersectionality? Group behavior? The parenting styles of various ethnic/racial/economic cohorts? Or is this just another example of the alternative cultural norms and conflict resolution styles of the urban poor, where any criticism of Miss Kimesia's behavior is really a function of high minded bourgeois norms of class and respectability that are outmoded and unfair?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Randomness: Of Babe the Blue Ox and Making Sense of Teaching Evaluations

Moving on from Cain for a second. I occasionally share bits of the random things I read on the bus. When something strikes me as compelling I dog ear the page and promise myself that I will post said tidbit that evening. Usually, other things interfere. But, as I sit here reading my evaluations (and yes, another post on pedagogical failures is forthcoming) I thought of one of my favorite comic book characters and his profound and understated "thought bubble" wisdom.

I rarely shill for a product of any sort, but Fables is a must read. With both long time devotees of the medium and non-comic readers alike, I have not shared this title with anyone who has not fallen in love with it.

Babe the Blue Ox is wise. His words resonate as I try to make sense of how Mrs. and Mr. Snowflake Millennial understand the world (and the responsibility they have for their own learning). All told, there is no problem that Babe the Blue Ox cannot illuminate and make clearer to those who bow before him.

The Progress that is Black Mediocrity and True Freedom: Herman Cain is not too Fond of Muslim Cancer Surgeons Saving His Life

There is an old joke that goes as follows:

What does a white man with a penny hate more than anything else? A black man with a nickel. The Herman Cains of the world would give that white man their last five cents just to make him happy.

Like Sarah Palin, Herman Cain is the gift that keeps on giving. Consequently, whenever I am going to move on and post an essay on pedagogy, sex, African American history, or comic books, Uncle Ruckus opens mouth and inserts foot.

This feels so dirty that I am loathe to even write it: Tea Party GOP presidential candidate was relieved to find out that his cancer surgeon was not a Muslim. Wow. Rendered. Speechless.

Yes, I just wrote that sentence. As long time readers of my work here and elsewhere know, I have little use for religion as I find it a net negative for society. Nevertheless, I believe in intellectual honesty and some adherence to a modicum of consistency in argument and thought. To point: I can only imagine the histrionics that would ensue if an American Muslim dared to suggest that a Christian by virtue of faith was somehow unqualified to be a surgeon. I must have been asleep that day in school, because I have always believed that there were no litmus tests of faith for employment or office-holding in this country. Likewise, I did not know that there were special medical boards exclusive to Muslim Americans where standards were systematically lowered.

There is a deep irony at work here in the sheer resplendent stupidity of Herman Cain's deep and sincere Islamophobia--Brother King suggested that the arc of history is long and true. He also dreamed of a day when true equality would exist between the races. Cain, despite his fond yearning for a return to Jim Crow America, is proof of the radical vision at the heart of the Black Freedom Struggle.

How? True equality is the ability to be mediocre, dumb, bigoted, foolish, and possessing the special qualities of a turd that cannot be polished. In his pandering to the religious Right, Herman Cain has demonstrated that he is just as common--in the worst ways possible--as the other Tea Party GOP ilk with which he lays.

History looms large over Cain's comments. As Herman Cain certainly knows--because he is a proud "Morehouse Man"--Black folks in America have always had to be 10 times as good, to get half as far, as white folks. Barack Obama's America has apparently changed that calculus. Ultimately, Black Archie Bunker Uncle Ruckus Herman Cain's most recent episode of verbal diarrhea has demonstrated that the collective mediocrity of African American Black Conservatives is rapidly approaching that of their white brethren.

That is progress my friends. Yes, it is.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

He's So Prolific! Muammar Gaddafi: Fashionista, Financier of Farrakhan, Friend of the El Rukns, and Connoisseur of Women

I spent my weekend at the C2e2 convention here in Chicago. It was a good time. My talk went extremely well (I always try to bring it; thus why I go last on a panel whenever possible). I saw some great costumes, got an autograph from Bill Willingham of Fables fame, and made some preliminary forays into collaborating on a book project. C2e2 also reminded me of my early socialization into the lifestyle that is ghetto nerdness.

I have many fond teenage and childhood memories of going to comic book, Star Trek and science fiction conventions, often held in dingy, dilapidated hotels before the mainstream embraced Comic-Con and other such gatherings. In those same years, my interest in military affairs began to develop. As a child of the Cold War, G.I. Joe, Rambo, Ronald Reagan's America, and the Cold War, we ghetto nerds of the hip hop generation couldn't help but have some interest in things that go boom and which cost billions of dollars in the name of "national defense."

There were interventions aplenty during Reagan and Bush the Elder's reign--much to the delight of a young hawk and militarist in training. I vividly remember Iran-Contra and the Right's defense of Oliver North as an American "patriot." While the fiasco invasion of Grenada was a vague memory, the bombing of Libya was my proverbial baptism by fire: I remember staying up all night watching ABC News, learning about F-111 and A-6 strike aircraft, and getting drunk on a bit of TV news war porn as the "experts" scrambled to come up with compelling angles.

Top Gun would come next. The rest is history. And of course, we black and brown ghetto nerds had to invent an on screen character during our reenactments in order to feel included in the Hollywood military industrial complex homo-social fantasy that was Top Gun.

Thus, my fascination with Muammar Gaddafi has percolated and aged, like a fine wine, over these many years. Like Kim Jong-il, he is one part James Bond villain, and two parts thorn in the behind of American power. By comparison Saddam Hussein always seemed horrifically terrifying. To my eyes, Gaddafi was always more of a character, a guy who would throw a great party and later regale you with stories of his exploits both real and imagined.

As a policy matter, I am of two minds on the intervention in Libya. I believe that Obama, if he were to go down this road, should have acted earlier when Gaddafi's forces were on the run, as opposed to now when the lines are more settled. I am also not a fan of a decades-long mission where our pilots will be performing a series of perpetual left or right hand turns, flying in circles over a foreign country for little appreciable gain. Nor, do I think the American people understand that there have been boots on the ground for weeks--commandos, combat air controllers, parajumpers and others who are doing the requisite targeting and recon work for the air assault. But alas, an intervention of indeterminate length and possessing a vague goal has begun. Let us send well-wishes to our warriors such that they return home safely.

As an avid Gaddafi watcher, here are some fun and random stories about our intrepid dictator to complement the mainstream media's coverage of Operation Odyssey Dawn:

1. He is so prolific! Muammar Gaddafi invented a rocket shaped car designed to revitalize the Libyan auto industry by producing a vehicle that would provide unprecedented protection to passengers in the event of a collision.

2. He is quite a ladies man. From being cared for by a buxom Ukrainian nurse, to personal bodyguards who are so compelling their habitus and sexuality alone would distract potential assassins, Gaddafi is that dude. In fact, Muammar has so much game that he invited 500 models to an Italian villa for an evening confab. While any other man would have enjoyed an evening of decadent and lascivious delights that would have shamed Caligula, the leader of Libya instead chose to give said women a lecture on morality and the virtues of Islam. Talk about game and self-control. There is no better way to make a woman want you, especially a goddess, than to ignore her charms. Trust for I know it be true, he who has bedded beautiful Sikh sisters as well as sexy Tamil queens...all in the same day.

3. Know your history. Muammar's connections to Chicago are deep. In fact, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan's line of personal health products were started with some 5 million dollars in seed money from the good dictator.

4. But be careful. Connections to Gaddafi were apparently used as a pretext in order to trip up the local Chicago community organization and street gang the El Rukns. Their leader Jeff Fort along with other El Rukns are serving decades-long prison sentences for a range of "terrorist" activities including a purported plot to blow up the (then) Sear's Tower, assassinate Americans, and commit other subversive deeds.

5. Gaddafi is mighty dapper. Make careful note of his range of clothes and how he can innovate for any occasion. For my dollar, Gaddafi is so fashion savvy he should have his own show on the Style Network or perhaps a guest appearance on Mad Men.

6. Judge him by his enemies. Gaddafi was the target of a CIA disinformation campaign in the 198s0s. The men in black circulated all manner of lies and half-truths on Gaddafi's mischief making around the world. They also hit Gaddafi below the proverbial belt, suggesting that he was impotent, a cross-dresser, and insane. Now that is just unkind!

So my friends and fellow travelers, do you have any other Gaddafi factoids to add to the list? What are your thoughts on President Obama's Barbary coast (mis)adventure?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Sarah Palin Becoming the New Al Sharpton?

A few things.

I have a feature piece on the front page of Alternet. I asked if I could call Clarence Thomas a "black golem." The editors obliged. I am pleased. But more seriously, I was kindly pitched to develop something on Herman Cain, my favorite Uncle Ruckus black conservative of the moment, and how he made light of Jim Crow a few days ago in order to win points with the white tea bagger crowd. So please check it out.

I am also going to be doing my thing at the 2nd annual C2E2 convention in Chicago. So, you can find me there if you are so inclined.

And now on a more substantive note...

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Al Sharpton is a friend of mine. You Sarah Palin, are no Al Sharpton. Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

We have dissected Sarah Palin quite a bit, from entertaining a counter-factual in which she were black, to working through how Palin performs "rural blackface." But, Politco's piece on "Palin Becoming Al Sharpton" is a new high in Palin Studies.

[Wow, I think I just coined a phrase. What exactly would the field of Palin Studies look like? What would be its foundational texts and principles? What are its epistemological priors?]

A broke clock is right twice a day. Thus, it is rewarding to see conservatives more publicly calling out Palin for her crass anti-intellectualism and know-nothing appeal. She has made stupid a brand name and is an Eva Braun figure for the worst Right-wing tea party knuckledraggers. The Tea Party GOP is up against a generational wall and is going for the low hanging fruit of naked racial and ethnic reactionary politics. Palin was/is the cheap sugar high and linchpin for that effort. Hopefully, the grown ups will reign in the kiddies on the New Right and get them to act responsibly. But, I won't be holding my breath.

An attempt to link Palin to Sharpton resonates for the Right because black activists, of any stripe, are de facto "race pimps" in the conservative imagination. Conservatives have no small amount of disdain for folks who attempt to speak truth power. They also have no real amount of love for black folks. Thus, race pimp is a powerful word in their slogan filled, talking point lexicon along with "Dred Scott" and "personal responsibility."

But, what exactly is a race pimp? And aren't white racial reactionary conservatives such as Buchanan, Beck, King, Barbour et al. also race pimps...of a far more dangerous stripe?

I do not know if linking Palin to Sharpton is more of an insult to the former than the latter. Nevertheless, the full piece on Politico is well worth checking out in its entirety.

A choice selection from the full essay:

Palin defenders say she has good reason to be dismissive of elite critics — she has outpaced their low expectations at every turn. And while intellectuals may disdain identity politics in theory, in practice nearly all successful national politicians in both parties succeed in part by striking a populist chord — catering to the pride of targeted groups and giving voice to their grievances. So far, Palin has been uncommonly effective at channeling the anti-Washington, anti-establishment energy powering the right since Obama’s election.

But Palin’s skeptics said a successful presidential candidacy would need to be buoyed by genuine policy vision, not merely grievance. For now, however, Palin’s appeal is largely rooted in the sympathy she’s gleaned from her loudly voiced resentments toward the left, the news media and the GOP establishment.

“The appeal of conservatism is supposed to be people taking responsibility for their own actions,” said Labash. “But if you close your eyes and listen to Palin and her most irate supporters constantly squawk or bellyache or tweet about how unfair a ride she gets from evil mustache-twirling elites and RINO saboteurs, she sounds like a professional victimologist, the flip side of any lefty grievance group leader. She’s becoming Al Sharpton, Alaska edition. The only difference being, she wears naughty-librarian glasses instead of a James Brown ‘do”...

Over two years later, Mac Donald, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, said of Palin: “She is living up to the most skeptical assessment of her.”

“Practicing identity politics completely undercuts the idea that you don’t have to be white to govern whites or black to govern blacks and that gender and chromosomes are completely irrelevant job qualifications,” said Mac Donald. “It’s just a total rejection of a very important principle which is that race, gender and class don’t matter.”

Asked specifically about Palin’s attempt to woo women through her “Mama Grizzlies” appeals, Mac Donald sighed and complained about “the feminist strain” among even conservative females.

“A lot of women have it, unfortunately,” she said.

Voicing the conservative ideal, Mac Donald said: “The public should stop wanting to see itself reflected in a leader. There is something narcissistic about that. It’s really irrelevant if a political leader has any affinity with my life. The only thing that should matter are ideas, experience and executive ability."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Of Nuclear Meltdowns in Japan and the Story of Prometheus

Like you, I too sit holding my breath as we await what seems like an inevitable nuclear conflagration in Japan. Perilous moments bring both great heroism and heady questions. If fate is just, there will be songs sung in honor of the Fukushima 50--samurai of the nuclear age. And sociologists and anthropologists will continue to muse on about Japanese respect for order and discipline even in the face of a horrible disaster long after these events have passed.

But in this moment, I keep wondering if the human race has either the maturity or wisdom to master the nuclear Djinn which we unleashed from its bottle decades ago. Thus, my thinking back on the story of Prometheus. Given the happenings in Japan it seemed appropriate. No?

"The Story of Prometheus" from Old Greek Stories by James Baldwin:

I. How Fire Was Given to Men

In those old, old times, there lived two brothers who were not like other men, nor yet like those Mighty Ones who lived upon the mountain top. They were the sons of one of those Titans who had fought against Jupiter and been sent in chains to the strong prison-house of the Lower World.

The name of the elder of these brothers was Prometheus, or Forethought; for he was always thinking of the future and making things ready for what might happen to-morrow, or next week, or next year, or it may be in a hundred years to come. The younger was called Epimetheus, or Afterthought; for he was always so busy thinking of yesterday, or last year, or a hundred years ago, that he had no care at all for what might come to pass after a while.

For some cause Jupiter had not sent these brothers to prison with the rest of the Titans.

Prometheus did not care to live amid the clouds on the mountain top. He was too busy for that. While the Mighty Folk were spending their time in idleness, drinking nectar and eating ambrosia, he was intent upon plans for making the world wiser and better than it had ever been before.

He went out amongst men to live with them and help them; for his heart was filled with sadness when he found that they were no longer happy as they had been during the golden days when Saturn was king. Ah, how very poor and wretched they were! He found them living in caves and in holes of the earth, shivering with the cold because there was no fire, dying of starvation, hunted by wild beasts and by one another–the most miserable of all living creatures.

“If they only had fire,” said Prometheus to himself, “they could at least warm themselves and cook their food; and after a while they could learn to make tools and build themselves houses. Without fire, they are worse off than the beasts.”

Then he went boldly to Jupiter and begged him to give fire to men, that so they might have a little comfort through the long, dreary months of winter.

“Not a spark will I give,” said Jupiter. “No, indeed! Why, if men had fire they might become strong and wise like ourselves, and after a while they would drive us out of our kingdom. Let them shiver with cold, and let them live like the beasts. It is best for them to be poor and ignorant, that so we Mighty Ones may thrive and be happy.”

Prometheus made no answer; but he had set his heart on helping mankind, and he did not give up. He turned away, and left Jupiter and his mighty company forever.

As he was walking by the shore of the sea he found a reed, or, as some say, a tall stalk of fennel, growing; and when he had broken it off he saw that its hollow center was filled with a dry, soft pith which would burn slowly and keep on fire a long time. He took the long stalk in his hands, and started with it towards the dwelling of the sun in the far east.

“Mankind shall have fire in spite of the tyrant who sits on the mountain top,” he said.

He reached the place of the sun in the early morning just as the glowing, golden orb was rising from the earth and beginning his daily journey through the sky. He touched the end of the long reed to the flames, and the dry pith caught on fire and burned slowly. Then he turned and hastened back to his own land, carrying with him the precious spark hidden in the hollow center of the plant.

He called some of the shivering men from their caves and built a fire for them, and showed them how to warm themselves by it and how to build other fires from the coals. Soon there was a cheerful blaze in every rude home in the land, and men and women gathered round it and were warm and happy, and thankful to Prometheus for the wonderful gift which he had brought to them from the sun.

It was not long until they learned to cook their food and so to eat like men instead of like beasts. They began at once to leave off their wild and savage habits; and instead of lurking in the dark places of the world, they came out into the open air and the bright sunlight, and were glad because life had been given to them.

After that, Prometheus taught them, little by little, a thousand things. He showed them how to build houses of wood and stone, and how to tame sheep and cattle and make them useful, and how to plow and sow and reap, and how to protect themselves from the storms of winter and the beasts of the woods. Then he showed them how to dig in the earth for copper and iron, and how to melt the ore, and how to hammer it into shape and fashion from it the tools and weapons which they needed in peace and war; and when he saw how happy the world was becoming he cried out:

“A new Golden Age shall come, brighter and better by far than the old!”

...The next thing that Jupiter did was to punish Prometheus for stealing fire from the sun. He bade two of his servants, whose names were Strength and Force, to seize the bold Titan and carry him to the topmost peak of the Caucasus Mountains. Then he sent the blacksmith Vulcan to bind him with iron chains and fetter him to the rocks so that he could not move hand or foot.

Vulcan did not like to do this, for he was a friend of Prometheus, and yet he did not dare to disobey. And so the great friend of men, who had given them fire and lifted them out of their wretchedness and shown them how to live, was chained to the mountain peak; and there he hung, with the storm-winds whistling always around him, and the pitiless hail beating in his face, and fierce eagles shrieking in his ears and tearing his body with their cruel claws. Yet he bore all his sufferings without a groan, and never would he beg for mercy or say that he was sorry for what he had done.

Year after year, and age after age, Prometheus hung there. Now and then old Helios, the driver of the sun car, would look down upon him and smile; now and then flocks of birds would bring him messages from far-off lands; once the ocean nymphs came and sang wonderful songs in his hearing; and oftentimes men looked up to him with pitying eyes, and cried out against the tyrant who had placed him there.

Monday, March 14, 2011

He's Back..."Colorblind" Herman Cain Plays the Race Card Banjo While Stumping to Republicans in New Hampshire

Sometimes they make it all too easy...

Once more, Herman Cain proves true my observation that Black Conservatives are indeed the garbage pail kids of American politics. Like an expert at Three-card Monte or a proverbial "race pimp," Herman Cain expertly dealt from the bottom of the "race card" deck during a fund raising appearance before Republicans in Nashua, New Hampshire. There, Cain explained that white people should not have buyer's remorse over the election of Barack Obama, America's first black President. Instead, Cain suggested that (white) voters should realize that:

"...there are some people who will say, 'I'm not going to vote for another black guy because this one didn't work out.'
"And my response is, 'Well, what about those 43 white guys you put in there? How did they work out?' "Don't condemn me because the first black one was bad."

The levels of hypocrisy demonstrated by Cain and his supporters in this moment are so glaring as to almost not merit comment for they are so utterly obvious. Presumably, Conservatives are colorblind. Yet, race is central--as it was in his minstrelesque CPAC speech several weeks ago--to Cain's performance. Again, Herman Cain suggests that he is "one of the good ones." Ultimately, Herman Cain is not like "those other blacks over there."

For a political ideology that ostensibly embraces individualism and rejects the politics of group identity, grievance, and victimology, it is ironic then that Cain has to signal that he is a different type of black man from President Barack Obama. That Cain needed to explain to a Republican audience that black folks are individuals, and not a nameless, faceless, horde of negritude that all walk lockstep like zombies is frightening to say the least--and a damning indictment of those that Cain would call political allies.

This is a twist on the trope where a white person slurs people of color in mass and then says to his or her "black friend" that no offense is meant because they are "a special one." Black Conservatives are garbage pail kids precisely because they smile with glee and acceptance as they are being patted on the head because of their status as "exceptional negroes." What Cain does not understand is that he is currying favor with a public which has demonstrated time and time again that they look upon black Americans with what can most politely be called racial resentment and hostility, and in the worst cases, naked bigotry.

The evidence that the New Right and the faux populist reactionaries of the contemporary Republican Party are awash in an ether of racial animus is legion. From the signs at Tea Party rallies where the President is cast as a monkey or a witch doctor, to racist emails sent by prominent Republicans, to a refusal by Republican Party leadership to condemn the xenophobic and obnoxious birthers, and a support for the Jim and Jane Crow tinged States' Rights movement, race is certainly central to popular Conservatism.

The above proposition becomes "check and mate" when public opinion data from sources as varied as the New York Times, Newsweek Magazine, the Pew Research Center, and the University of Washington all indicate that the Tea Party GOP is racially homogeneous, more likely to believe that black people are not hard working and are less intelligent than whites, that too much is made of "racial discrimination," and that white people are oppressed in America.

As a rebuttal to the charge of racism, Cain and other Black conservatives provide a smokescreen where they exonerate and protect White conservatives from any charge of racism in their hearts, deeds, spirits, or acts--despite the decades of evidence to the contrary. The Conservative pundit classes and the Right-wing rage machine will respond predictably: these facts are red herrings and distractions because the opposition to President Obama is based purely on differences of principle and policy, and never upon race.

This is a false dichotomy. The almost apoplectic hostility to President Obama by the Right is rooted in how the symbolic power of having a person of color as President is an existential upset to the White Conservative Soul. Their rage at Obama is inspired both by race and policy. They hate President Obama because he is a Democrat. And moreover, they doubly reject President Obama because as a black man he had the unmitigated gall to run for the presidency...and to win.

Black Conservatives are vexing in this regard because they deny the role which they play in contemporary Conservatism's race-baiting politics. For example, the Michael Steeles of the world play the buffoons and toadies who will bring the "fried chicken" and "potato salad". While the Juan Williams clique play the attack dogs who bare their teeth and attack "racists" at NPR and in the "liberal media" at large. And Herman Cain plays the loving apologist and embodiment of White conservative fantasies.

Herman Cain ended his trip to Nashua, New Hampshire by telling a story about how in the darkest hours of Jim Crow, he (then a high school student and ranked second in his class) was denied admission to the University of Georgia because of his race. Rather than embrace "bitterness" or "rage," Cain explained how "rather than get mad or lose faith in America...That experience inspired me to continue and believe in those beliefs that my parents instilled in my brother and I.”

I will not judge the many individual paths that people took to victory in the Black Freedom Struggle. Nor, will I comment about how there were some souls who played the free rider while others struggled, died, and faced unimaginable hardship while working to perfect American democracy for all. But I do find it curious that Herman Cain, rather than be enraged at the forces of political and social conservatism that denied him the full fruits of American citizenship, now chooses to lay in bed with them.

As opposed to expressing rage at racial injustice, Cain and others of his clan choose to express anger and consternation toward black and brown folk who are not Republicans--the ancestors and heirs to a struggle that won contemporary Black Conservatives their freedom--who they describe as still being on "the Democratic Plantation" or as "slave catchers" that run down "free thinking" black people. Once more, this is a tragic play on the stage of American life where in an oddly racialized version of Stockholm Syndrome, Cain and other Black Conservatives play the quislings to their White Conservative masters.

Denied a blues sensibility and sense of linked fate with other people of color, black garbage pail kids Black Conservatives will keep tap dancing to this tune because it is one of the few songs they know by heart. As the 2012 election approaches, they will continue to do so ever more enthusiastically.

Featured Reader Comment: "What Cultural Phenomena Coalesced to Make Us Not Only Aware of Our Whiteness But Also Uneasy in Its Overwhelming Presence?"

I guess my question is: what cultural phenomena coalesced to make us not only aware of our whiteness but also uneasy in its overwhelming presence and the way it asserts its privileges? Your thoughts?

I have promised to bump up interesting comments more often. Leslie M-B's comment is well worth following through on that policy. And of course, I am always open to a good conversation about Whiteness and white racial identity.

The color-line and the "race problem" are almost always framed as "what shall we do with the black/brown/red/yellow people?" As Ethiop offered a century or more ago, I have always preferred the alternative formulation: race (and racism) are problems for and of white folks. Therefore, the correct question should be, "what shall we do with the White people?"

In my own writings on race and American politics, I have tried to crystallize the problem that is Whiteness in the following way. Whiteness is property, privilege, normality, and invisibility. Ultimately, Whiteness is the ability, in this society at this time, to determine how and when one will experience discomfort. Thus, the memes of reverse discrimination, white "victimhood," liberal "racism," and white conservative "oppression," when Whiteness is even a tiny bit unsettled or its primacy challenged. In total, its status quo ante is dominance.

By implication, for signatories to Whiteness it is the greatest of contracts, one where a person gets all of the benefits, but retains both the cover of ignorance and (im)plausible deniability (thus the difference between "White" and "white" when discussing the relationship between Whiteness, power, and white racism).

Leslie M-B's observation demands to be parsed a bit more specifically and carefully.

Are (all/some?) White folks aware of their whiteness? Are White folks uneasy with its presence? Do they deny its privileges?

I have two interventions to offer. First, that so many in the West and elsewhere, of all racial backgrounds, have so internalized what Joe Feagin has termed the white racial frame, that they are utterly incapable of confronting that 1) Whiteness is power and 2) is just one way of being--and which ultimately serves the interests of one group over another. Instead, they idealize Whiteness as their unstated goal and barometer of assimilation, acceptance, self-worth, and humanity.

Second, there is a reluctance by many to call Whiteness what it is--a world organizing, philosophical, moral, ethical, economic, and epoch defining framework in the service of White supremacy. Whiteness cannot exist without dominance of Whites over "subordinate" racial groups. Thus to Noel Ignatiev's powerful observation, that Whiteness must be destroyed if we are to have a just world.

Can Whiteness and White people be salvaged? Your thoughts?

The Week Begins Well: Oprah Winfrey the Mammy, Oprah Winfrey the Religious Icon

Here is a twofer for you: Salon writes about Oprah Winfrey as a religious figure; the Mayor of calls out Oprah Winfrey as a mammy figure.

Let slip the dogs of war...whenever you write about the most high priestess of daytime TV Oprah Winfrey, there is always upsetness. This rage is equivalent to that hypothetically expressed by devout Catholics if one spat on the divine robe of the Pope and then fed said person some mystery meat filled tacos before sending him to an unclean squatter toilet filled with snakes in the rural environs of India...without baby wipes.

It would seem that fate works through serendipitous timing. My disdain for Oprah Winfrey, she who builds schools abroad (and not here in the States) because Africans appreciate learning and education--as we black Americans do not--is well known. I have always said that Oprah is the emotional surrogate for white suburban womanhood. She, like the mammy figure of yore, is asexual and lives to serve (white, female) others. One would hope that Oprah learned a lesson when she endorsed Barack Obama, and subsequently her suburban sisters damned her for "choosing" race over class, as she supported a black man over a white woman (in Hillary Clinton). But, I will not hold my breath.

When the Mayor of Blacktown shares a thought in common with me, what is an act of living collective consciousness that proves the idea that the spirit of a given age does indeed exist, and is not a fiction, I have no choice but to smile. And to share said moment with you all. These are indeed interesting times my friends. The week has begun well...oh yes, it has.

Courtesy of

"Oprah: Gospel of an Icon": Worshipping at the church of Oprah Winfrey

In the past quarter-century Oprah has become shorthand for self-help: a spiritual guide, a confessor and a warm shoulder for her adoring American public. Now in the final season of her revolutionary daytime talk show, Oprah's pronouncements have become the Word to live by for a staggeringly diverse audience. In fact, you could argue she is a religious leader for an America increasingly skeptical about organized religion.

It's an idea that Kathryn Lofton explores in "Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon." Assistant professor of American studies and religious studies at Yale, Lofton sees religious preaching methods in the way Oprah hosts her show, as well as a formulaic, sermon-like approach to every topic -- whether it's healing the wounds of sexual abuse or what new exfoliating cream you should buy. Oh Oprah, who art on television, tell us how to live a good life.

Salon spoke to Lofton over the phone about Oprah's message, the daytime guru's own skeptical views of religion, and what our love of Oprah tells us about the American hunger for help and guidance.

What was it about Oprah that made you think of her in the context of American religious history?

Within these very corporate formats of daytime television, extraordinary forms of suffering were being confessed to and described. There's a great book about Oprah by Eva Illouz, "Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery," and Illouz points out something that I dig into, and that is the strange way in which the extremity of human despair -- not merely estranged spouses, we're talking stories of people coming home and seeing that their spouse has murdered all their kids and then themselves -- are being dealt with in the same way as these topics that are seemingly shallow. Good glasses for a spring party, best new strategies for boyfriend wear. This exposure of human need at 4 p.m. on a weekday afternoon made me think, "What is this thing?" We're so accustomed now to reality programming and a whole spate of shows spun off from Oprah, but, as a scholar of a religion, I think it's one of our jobs to be cued into how people manage pain, and the idea of evil, or whether or not we live in a just world.

What is Oprah's religious background?

Oprah talks about a Baptist church that her grandmother took her to in Mississippi. She tells an anecdote about how she was a successful young churchgoer and was asked to preach in front of that audience and was a very good girl who memorized scriptural passages. Then in her adulthood, she has some criticism of male figures in the church and the dominance of male authorities and it seems that by the time we get to the '90s, it's circulating that she's no longer a member of the church but she continues to use Christian idioms in her conversational speech. She says, "Jesus lives." She'll say, "Amen." She'll occasionally sing lines from obviously Protestant hymns, but she claims now that she's no longer interested in organizational religion, and she's more interested in a personal relationship with God. Indeed, she has around her a large collection of spiritual purveyors of a wide variety: Buddhist, Hindu, Unity Church. Every flavor of the contemporary, spiritual rainbow is welcomed into her studio.

What does our reverence for Oprah say about our culture and religion in America today?

I think it says that most Americans see very little that is contradictory about connecting consumption and spirituality. I think it also shows that no matter how anti-establishment, or anti-authoritarian, or freedom-hungry Americans claim to be, they are also, always, hungry for help. Hungry for recognition. Hungry for guidance in the mad excesses of the American material world. Hungry for someone to limit their choices a little, and offer some discriminating preferences on your behalf.

If Oprah is a preacher, what is she telling us? What is her gospel?

Her gospel -- her good news -- is you. The good news is that if you take hold of your life; if you discover (as she says) your best life, anything is possible. Of course, this good news is translated not only through her exhibition of you -- you through her audience members, guests, columnists, message board commentators -- but also through the unending rehearsal of her. The good news is her revelations about her best life -- lived, she says, in service to you.

Why do you think so many people who shun religion are comfortable looking to Oprah for "spiritual guidance"?

Precisely because she says she doesn't seem typical in her authority. Because she represents -- in her race and gender and origins -- being utterly outside established power. Also, she isn't preaching to sell you something singular. She says, over and over: I am here to let you be you. My answers are mine, and they made my struggling life something fantastic to share. You're not joining a group, you're just finding your inner fabulous. This is appealing to people who associate religion with controlling authority, rigid dogma or social adherence. This is a religion for those who don't want to be religious, but want to feel revelation.

You connect Oprah to early traditions in American evangelical preaching. Not just her charisma and eloquent speaking ability, but less obvious connections. Can you explain that?

I connect her to two figures -- George Whitefield, a prominent 18th century minister, and Charles Finney, a 19th century minister -- who weren't merely interested in spreading the gospel but also eliciting conversion. There's an idea that a gospel is true if the purveyor is willing to talk about how it's made. Oprah does that every time she does a show about "Oprah without makeup" or a confession about her weight gain -- this is her showing the strings of her own construction.

The other tradition I connect her to is the emergence of women as evangelical preachers, who always had to be conscious that they were being somewhat insurrectionist to the Word by even being out in the public. Oprah tries to appeal to an audience that wants to see a successful and capable woman without being too perfect. She can't be too obnoxious in the face of the conservative domestic idea that we still have for women. So Oprah isn't married nor does she have children because if she had those things and was also trying to be Oprah, her audience would be uncomfortable. That she is free to minister only to them and is not responsible to a domestic life actually puts her in a long line of preachers with similarly ambiguous lives.

What do you think of Oprah after spending so much time scrutinizing her?

I think that I'd be doing a great disservice to her work if I don't emphasize that her viewers take from her inordinate comfort and a life that they describe as asking too much of them. The second thing that I think about is the extraordinary American fact of her. She talks about this a lot too, and this is where she becomes a great subject for me. She is an indication of the American dream. I'm interested in how that dream is unbelievable, extraordinarily powerful, and possibly corrupt.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein

Whenever I come across a gem I make a mental note to share it. An essay by Albert Einstein, legendary ladies man, thinker on the race problem, and genius numero uno, seemed quite fitting given the political moment of the last few weeks.

In the aftermath of the Right's continued assault on organized labor and the American Middle Class as manifest by Governor Scott Walker's skulduggery in Wisconsin, I have been wondering if we have finally reached "the crisis moment" (as legendary political philosophers Michel Foucault and Slavoj Zizek would describe it). Or stated differently: is this time of rising corporate profits and record unemployment, an inflated stock market, and the continued gutting of the social contract, one in which the New Right knuckledraggers of the Tea Party brigades and the detritus of the Reagan Democrats will come to see that they are in fact with "us" and not "them?"

Ultimately, pragmatists (of which I count myself), moderates, progressives, liberals, and reasoned conservatives need to wake up and realize that the Tea Party GOP assault on collective bargaining, efforts to silence dissenting voices at NPR and PBS, and the Right-wing's big lies of "liberal racism," "birtherism," and "White oppression" are all tied together. The Tea Party GOP is playing a long, deep game. The other side is left in the dust, hand-ringing and confused, as they try to take the moral high road to no where. As I have long said, it is time to put on the brass knuckles and fight back. But alas, it may be too late as the battle is in its denouement.

Thus, Albert Einstein's brilliant explication of his own political beliefs seemed quite appropriate. Here are some select excerpts from his classic essay Why Socialism?

Please share, consider, and reflect, as Einstein's words speak eloquently to our troubled times.


I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil...

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the "free labor contract" for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present-day economy does not differ much from "pure" capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an "army of unemployed" almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Thursday Tickler: Which is Funnier? Drunken History's Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln or Mike Tyson Does the President's Speech?

How naughty...a Thursday tickler. That sounds like the cousin to a French tickler but without the freedom fries--bonus points if you get the joke. I wonder if Northwestern University would allow me to demonstrate such a device?

Here is a good laugh to start the day. The absurdity parade continues this week where real life is indeed stranger and more surreal than fiction (and which I will offer comment on shortly). We have the "Muslim McCarthy Hearings," Tea Party GOP resident hypocrite in chief Newt Gingrich's excuse making that patriotism made him cheat on his (then) wife, and of course the big lie hooga mooga tricksterism that resulted in the ousting of one of the head muckety-mucks at NPR. Damn, I can still turn a country English Grey Poupon infused phrase that is one part Grady from Sanford and Son mixed with a bit of Pudd'nhead Wilson. Twain would indeed be quite proud.

What absurdities would you add to our list of Thursday Ticklers?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Rotten Heart of White Conservatism or Are White Americans Oppressed?

"A working class white guy, a working class black guy, and a rich white CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies. The CEO reaches across the table, takes 11 cookies, and then turns to the poor white guy and says, "Look out for that darky, he wants a piece of your cookie."

Premise: White people in America are oppressed. Problem: If white folks are losing, I can't even begin to imagine who is winning.

Over the weekend CNN featured an article which examined the question of how and if white Americans are oppressed in the Age of Obama. As of today, that story has almost 8,000 comments and has been shared on Facebook by 46,000 people. Voices as varied as Tocqueville, Myrdal, Hacker, Dubois, and others have long observed that race is America's national obsession. It predated the country's founding; was a crucial problem at the heart of America's "democratic" origins as a slaveocracy; and even after the Civil Rights Movement, the slaying of de facto state sponsored racism in the form of Jim Crow, and the election of the first non-white President, the bugaboo of America's racial project remains well and alive in to the 21st century.

However, because some folks may feel a thing to be true--here being a sense that Whiteness is under siege, especially as perceived by racially resentful and some grossly entitled white Americans--does not make it so. Just as the left and progressives proceed from the big lie that is the myth of "the liberal media" when they rebut Fox News on those terms, a conversation about White oppression necessarily begins from an inversion of history. As the bastard child of opinion journalism where standards of fact and credulity have been thrown by the wayside in the interest of higher ratings, the narrative of white oppression is one where the emperor truly has no clothes. In short, the meme of an America where whites are oppressed is utter balderdash because the argument itself is based on a lazy, tired, and easily exposed fiction.

Consider the following inconvenient facts.

1. CNN's article suggests that White America has not and does not think of its interests in racial terms. Thus, the White Conservative, New Right backlash in the Age of Obama is somehow novel. It is a new phenomenon in this country's history. While an uncomfortable fact for many to acknowledge, America is a country founded as a formal white supremacist republic from the bone of its traditions down through to the sinew and muscle of its laws and creed. Moreover, the struggle for a multiracial democracy is in many ways contrary to the American political tradition.

2. White America has long cried that it is being oppressed and is under siege. First, white people were oppressed by slaves who had the unmitigated gall to want their freedom (and those horrible abolitionists and others who aided them). Then, White America was oppressed by those pesky Civil Rights types that wanted to bring down Jim Crow and shatter the tradition of States' Rights. White America had to suffer another insult and oppression when various people's movements have sought to expand the republic's exclusive democracy beyond those nominally male, straight, and middle class.

3. A violent, white ethnic backlash greeted the gains of the Civil Rights Movement when Dr. King and others turned their sights northward. By extension, the narrative of white folks as victims has long circulated in this country because it pays political dividends to those who deploy it. The psychic and material wages of whiteness are profoundly insecure in the minds of those who possess those out-sized, unfair, and unearned life chances by virtue of the chance of birth. When those undue privileges are imagined as being under threat, that realization can easily spawn Right-wing reactionary movements such as anti-government militias, the Tea Parties, the John Birch Society, Councils of Conservative Citizens, and the Ku Klux Klan.

4. Perhaps most importantly, the narrative of White oppression in the Age of Obama overlooks a basic historical trend in the United States: Whiteness keeps on winning. It is dynamic, multifaceted, adaptive, and all encompassing. In the same way that the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Jews were assimilated into Whiteness in the 20th century, there are racial groups who are not considered White today that will be embraced with open arms by Whiteness in the America of tomorrow.

In total, the election of Barack Obama and the decade(s) long decline of American empire have brought to the forefront a reality that radical scholars and thinkers have long suspected of being true, but is now impossible to deny: the White Soul is in crisis.

Whites as a group have controlled in an anti-democratic fashion (and continue to this day) every major social, political, and economic institution in the United States. Yet, if one listens to Beck, Limbaugh, and the New Right Tea Party's "real American" brigades, one would think that white folks (who on average have at least ten times the wealth of blacks and Latinos) are being asked to sit on the back of the bus under the heavy thumb of Jane and Jim Crow. To be so withdrawn from reality, Whiteness and the White (Conservative) Soul must draw on pathological levels of narcissistic entitlement, privilege, and historical myopia that collectively merit an entry in the DSM-IV.

By metaphor, the politics of White oppression and white racial resentment are the embodiment of the spoiled brat at the birthday party. The kid has everything and does not even realize it. But, when asked to share (or if another child gets a gift or some small amount of attention) a temper tantrum inevitably ensues.

This is the new face of White supremacy in the 21st century. It does not wear a hood or formally deny one the opportunity to rent an apartment or get promoted at one's job. And as a wink to its sophistication, the new racism against whites framing works through its lie by borrowing the language, icons, and symbols of the Civil Rights, women's, and multicultural movements of the 1960s. In these language wars, aided and abetted by the Right-wing echo chamber of Fox News and the Right-wing blogosphere, liberals become fascists and racists, while Conservatives and Republicans hold the flame of anti-racism and social justice. Sadly, few if any reasonable folks raise voices of protest for fear of offending "the silent majority" and consequently suffering the slings and arrows of conservative demagogues.

Practically, the new/old racism of the New Right Tea Party GOP proceeds from an unstated assumption that to be in power is to be White. To be qualified for any job, anywhere, is the norm (thus the ugly language of "qualified" minorities, women and why the pundit classes and the White public never asks if a white man is "qualified" for his job). Glaringly, the new racism of White oppression works from a foundation that to be white is consequently to be in a natural position of authority and responsibility. And most pointedly, to be a "real" American is to be White. Thus, the Right's obsession with Barack Obama and his Kenyan father, and the belief held by a majority of Republicans that the President is not born in this country naturally follows from said toxic premise.

History is not without a sense of humor. The White Soul is both easily distracted, as well as misdirected, in its energies and anxieties. In addition, the White Soul is not very sophisticated politically. Consequently, the question of White oppression is designed by the Right to veer onto the third rail (borrowing from the subway analogy) in American politics instead of asking hard questions about class inequality in the 21st century and how the top 20 percent of Americans now possess 90 percent of the wealth. As White elites have been doing for centuries (since at least Bacon's Rebellion in the 17th century), they are expertly practiced in how to best manipulate the White Soul.

Rather than ask if everyday white people are being "oppressed," not by their black and brown brothers and sisters or immigrants, but instead by the rich, the forces of globalization, and the financiers, the mass media leads white conservatives (and many white folk in mass) by the nose onto well-trodden, familiar territory where the ice is thinnest. As the Great Recession has proven, this move makes full and feeds the belly of Whiteness temporarily, but this feasting on the scraps of racial resentment leaves the White Soul empty in the long term. To our collective detriment as Americans, neither impulse serves the common good or brings us to a great, undiscovered country.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Government Medical Testing On Humans Revealed: Maybe They Really Were Putting Saltpeter in Church's Fried Chicken?

Attitudes about medical research were different then. Infectious diseases killed many more people years ago, and doctors worked urgently to invent and test cures. Many prominent researchers felt it was legitimate to experiment on people who did not have full rights in society - people like prisoners, mental patients, poor blacks. It was an attitude in some ways similar to that of Nazi doctors experimenting on Jews.


Conspiracy theories are one of the common ways that the aggrieved and disempowered make sense of the world. Consider then: the hip hop generation came of age in the aftermath of the failed revolutionary dreams of the 1960s. During the 1970s and 1980s, those dreams had morphed into something else--gangs like the Bloods and Crips; street preachers who held the flame for Afrotopia and its deep wells of Afrocentric wisdom; and keepers of sacred truths who had once been soldiers "in the struggle." These decades also spawned conspiracies of the Illuminati, Timberland's corporate symbol as the lynching tree, Snapple iced tea company endorsing chattel slavery, and the agitprop myth that is the Willie Lynch letter.

In my hometown there was one such brother--a former Black Panther who would monologue and grandstand at city council meetings, harangue guest speakers such as Amiri Baraka and Bobby Seale when they would give lectures at Yale University, and preach the hidden in plain sight truth of such books as Behold a Pale Horse at barbershops and hair salons across the Elm City. Almost inevitably, Public Access TV would eventually become his home in The 4th Estate.

There, our brother would find some small amount of fame and validation as he spun wondrous tales of the truth behind the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the attack on the USS Liberty, cloning experiments at Yale, the role of the Rockefellers and the Bilderbergs in shaping global political economy, how the U.S. government routinely experiments on its soldiers and citizens, and the omnipresence of the national security and intelligence state.

I would often smirk at his stories when my father would insist on (re)introducing us time and time again (necessitated because our secret keeper's memory was long damaged by drugs, Agent Orange, as well as too many years immersed in old books and archives). At the time, I do not recall if my dismissal of his wisdom was a function of youthful naivete and patriotic dreams cultivated by too many viewings of Red Dawn. Alternatively, my immediate dismissal of his arguments could also have been born from a fear, much like that experienced by the residents of Plato's cave, when they are shown that the shadows on the wall are not real.

As he got older, and I came around less and less, our street preacher would excitedly share his newest discoveries with me. In later years I discovered that our "spook who sat by the door" (as my mom affectionately called him) was in fact affiliated with the Panther 21, that he did have an FBI file, and was actually targeted by Cointelpro. It would seem that just because one is paranoid, does not in fact make one crazy.

This week the U.S. government admitted some long held truths that were hidden in plain sight. For those in the know-- that the powers that be, "those trusted" institutions would experiment on black and brown folk, inmates, the poor, mental patients, and others similarly judged to be expendable--is not a revelation. That is the tragedy of consumer-citizen in the age of cynicism, spectacle, and illusion. Nothing surprises us anymore. Thus, we raise no howls. Nor do we make any protests.

Some of the information detailed by the Associated Press include the following cringe inducing vignettes:

-A federally funded study begun in 1942 injected experimental flu vaccine in male patients at a state insane asylum in Ypsilanti, Mich., then exposed them to flu several months later. It was co-authored by Dr. Jonas Salk, who a decade later would become famous as inventor of the polio vaccine.

-Government researchers in the 1950s tried to infect about two dozen volunteering prison inmates with gonorrhea using two different methods in an experiment at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. The bacteria was pumped directly into the urinary tract through the penis, according to their paper.

-Researchers in the mid-1940s studied the transmission of a deadly stomach bug by having young men swallow unfiltered stool suspension. The study was conducted at the New York State Vocational Institution, a reformatory prison in West Coxsackie. The point was to see how well the disease spread that way as compared to spraying the germs and having test subjects breathe it. Swallowing it was a more effective way to spread the disease, the researchers concluded. The study doesn't explain if the men were rewarded for this awful task.

Yuck. And double yuck. This begs the question: what conspiracy theories held to be absurd in the present, will in the near future be revealed as true?

I know I am not the only ghetto nerd and respectable negro to occasionally dip my toes in the pond that is hidden history. Pray tell my fellow blues people, for we as students of power and history intimately understand that things are not always as they seem.