Friday, April 22, 2011
Something to think about over the weekend...
Navigating the colorline in the Age of Obama, a moment where there is racism without racists, is tough work. Race is as much a socially constructed reality, as it is a cognitive map. Race, like gender and sexuality, is also a set of scripts which we follow both consciously and subconsciously as we try to make sense of our positions in the world. These scripts are often mentally demanding and intellectually frustrating because they are not always transparent or consistent.
As I hinted at in my first posts on Black Pride and White Prejudice there is a yearning by some for consistency and equivalence in all things. But yearning does not make a thing true--or in this case equivalent.
For example, the mocking of George Bush as a monkey is not the same as labeling President Obama a gorilla or an ape. The eliminationist rhetoric of Right-wing talk radio and Fox News has no equivalent on either the Center or the Left. The Tea Party GOP can mine white racial resentment and xenophobia in ways that the contemporary Democratic Party simply cannot given its electoral base. Disparities in power have rendered the suggestion that there is a bogeyman called "black racism" false because basic priors are not satisfied. Like "white oppression," reverse racism is an oxymoron: it is one more example of Conservative New Speak that panders to white victimology, and thus should be soundly rejected.
The finger pointing practiced by the "they do it too, why can't I!" crowd is done in the defense of matters both trivial and substantial. To the former, some white folks want the freedom to use the word "nigger" in common discourse because "the blacks" do it too. To deny white folks their freedom to indulge in ugly, hateful speech is taken by some as a burden, and one more example of a "racist" double standard that penalizes them. This is patently absurd, but somehow it echoes throughout the racial id of Whiteness--most particularly for the post-Civil Rights, hip hop generation.
Nevertheless, there is a kernel of an idea here that ought to be explored.
Clockers offers a powerful example of this dilemma. As long time readers know, my contempt for street pirate, ghetto urchin, troglodytes is transparent and unapologetic. But is there a contradiction present, where I or another member of the tribe could offer the truth to a young brother or sister gone astray, yet a white person doing the same thing would potentially be labeled as "racist?"
Race is a powerful script in this context. One of the most damning consequences of white supremacy in America was not the obvious harm done by formal and informal systems of social inequity that rewarded Whiteness and marginalized those outside of it. Rather, one of the most significant and understated tragedies of America as a herrenvolk republic, was how the religion of white supremacy created a color line that to this day limits our full humanity, as well as demands a psychic debit where it is still difficult to engage in some inter-racial "real talk" without carefully dancing around the third rail that is race in American life.
So how do we categorize Harvey Keitel's tough love sermon to Mekhi Phifer in Clockers? Is it racist or not? Do we judge racism by words as opposed to intent? Do the origins of the exchange matter more than than how the exchange takes place? Or is this exercise in qualifying white racism and prejudice more about the relationships between the agents involved than the structures in which they are embedded?
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Pedagogical Failure? More Notes on Being a Working Class Black Guy Teaching Whiteness Studies to Young Earnest Snowflakes
As I sit here pondering the ethical conundrum of reading the results of the Implicit Association Tests submitted to me by my students (I told them I don't want to know about their biases as some things are best kept private), a quick essay seemed a good cure for my temptation.
These last few weeks have provided a proverbial gift basket of examples which demonstrate the connections between academic work and "the real world." The problem: I do not know if my students realize that they often demonstrate the validity of the very theories which they at times are so earnestly trying to reject.
For context, it is helpful to highlight the cognitive schema which the post-Civil Rights, colorblind, Age of Obama generation uses to make sense of the world: for harm to occur there must be hurt feelings and mean words; we live in a world where individuals trump structures; blame to specific agents must be assigned, if no agents are to found, no ill deeds have occurred; and that these conversations on race and power are really about "good" people and "bad" people, as opposed to institutional relationships and historical ownership of unearned advantages.
This clinging to the core mythologies of American individualism, in an era where there is racism without racists, can be tedious to shatter. But the ability to quickly break through this internalized mythos has become old hat, easily accomplished with a modest amount of effort.
As those who have read my pieces on college teaching have discovered, I can be a bit of a provocateur in the classroom. Because I delight in unsettling assumptions (and here I cannot wait to assign some of the late Dr. Manning Marable's book on Malcolm X), I have to be careful about how I go about clipping the snowflakes' wings: I want them to have a controlled crash where they leave my seminars as one of the walking wounded, stronger and better off for the experience. I don't always need to cause a state of intellectual combustion where like the robot Nomad in Star Trek an undergraduate overloads and get trapped in a fitful feedback loop.
My courses on Whiteness Studies often accomplish this perfectly. First, these courses create a necessary discomfort where majority white students have to confront that they will be the topic of conversation. This is doubly wonderful because white students--and white men in particular--often bristle at having to talk about issues of race with (insert look of shock and horror) a black man. I try to frame this experience as one that is therapeutic and positive, where to paraphrase the wonderful Jane Elliot that white folks are going to get to experience for a few weeks what black and brown folk go through their entire lives in this society. Many will not like it.
Once we get through the preamble, and a bit of awkwardness, things tend to go well. I have been blessed to generally have a good and earnest group of sincere students who want to engage. For that I am grateful. The few who are utterly resistant to all this talk about white privilege--and how whiteness is a type of property made real by the State and fiercely policed and protected by White society--do so with smiles and not with hostile eye rolls or disruptive posturing. Yet in their relative acceptance of what the scholarship on Whiteness has to offer, some students unintentionally demonstrate the validity of the very arguments which they are at times loathe to accept.
In the interest of shared professional development and reflection, here are three gems from the semester so far as offered by some of my students:
1. "I find the Implicit Association Test very problematic. The good and bad words as well as associated images could have been swapped with others and I would have gotten the same result. Ultimately, it is more of a psychological test than a bias test."
[Priceless. There was almost a Star Trek Nomad moment as we watched a video clip where the creators of the test served up some ownage to a white test taker who used similar logic to explain away the findings of the IAT.]
2. "Some of the readings are quit mean and harsh. How are these authors going to convince anyone about their findings if they are so hard on white people? This isn't winning any friends or allies. These authors should be nicer to their audience and not hurt anyone's feelings because two wrongs don't make a right."
[Quick tongued Chauncey DeVega's response: The sociologists, historians, political scientists, and other folks who we are reading are not very invested in being nice. Nor, am I. White supremacy isn't very nice. So why should we/I/they be nice in how we confront it?]
3. "Prof., you are pretty clear in your political leanings and opinions on these matters. I have read some of your work online and in print. I am not saying you have a bias, but why aren't we reading more things written by white men as opposed to women and minority writers and scholars? "
[Confused and surprised by the question sort of response: Everything you read in almost every other class is written by white men. You get that, right?]
These three examples are just the tip of a very deep iceberg whose mass is hiding under the water waiting to sink any ships that are careless enough to pass too close. Pray tell my fellow travelers do you have similar examples from the classroom or the dreaded "real world" which you would like to share in salon?
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
No Laughing Matter: The Tea Party GOP's Depictions of President Obama as an Ape are Motivated by Violence and Hate
I do not give safe harbor to such lazy thinking. The depictions of President Obama as a monkey or ape are no laughing matter. They are rooted in more than a deep antipathy towards the idea of a black man being President and the accompanying upset which this reality has caused for the White Racial Frame. In fact, while the Marilyn Davenports of the world and the other assorted Right-wing mouth-breathing ilk who traffic in these images may be in fierce denial of the demons that lurk in their collective self-conscious, research in cognitive and social psychology has indicated that these images are prefaced on a deep hatred of Black people.
Ultimately, caricatures which link Barack Obama to apes and gorillas are integral elements of a centuries long project of White racial violence against people of color in this country and abroad.We cannot forget that Colonialism and Imperialism were predicated on a belief in the superiority of Europeans over other peoples of the world. To legitimate this project, a narrative which naturalized superficial human differences as deep, intractable, and impossible to overcome had to be created.
By depicting black people as subhuman primates a two tiered system of citizenship was legitimated where separate but equal was understood to be common sense, and mass violence by whites against a not quite equal and fully human racial Other was accepted practice.
The Tea Party GOP's love of depicting Barack Obama as an ape or gorilla is not simply an outlier or interesting curiosity and artifact of "old school" racism. Rather, it is a stark example that serves as the connective tissue tying together much of the "take America back," "real America" narrative which drives the contemporary Tea Party GOP imagination. Consider: at least 50 percent of Republicans believe that President Obama was not born in this country. And serious attention is given to the premise that America's first black President is somehow controlled by his dead father's Kenyan voodoo politics or that Obama himself is a Manchurian candidate, and some type of Mau Mau who wants to kill white people.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
On the most segregated day of the week, when the lemmings flock to their megachurches, tithe when they cannot pay their own light bill, riot and kill when their holy books are desecrated, claim that god told them to invade Iraq, and/or speak in tongues at the altars of TD Jakes and Pat Robertson, some laughter seems both needed and necessary.
My God has a sense of humor, thus I don't think that Crom or The Most High would mind this classic Carlin routine as if we cannot laugh at the absurdities of life--and religion especially for those of us critically minded but not necessarily of the religious mind--how can we get through the day?
Friday, April 15, 2011
Tax Day Analogy: The American People are to the I.R.S. as Christopher Walken is to Zangaro in The Dogs of War
The Dogs of War seems oh so fitting on this day.
General Electric and other mega corporations pay no taxes while the rest of us have to stomach the burden. In the age of globalization the plutocrats and banksters go overseas and screw the American people, yet get all of the benefits of belonging to the American polity--while having none of the burdens or responsibilities. The top one-hundreth of one percent of the U.S. population earn 27 million dollars a year, while the remainder earn an average of 31,000 in the same time period. We are truly a "unique" nation my Tea Party GOP American exceptionalism obsessed friends...yes, indeed we are.
Alas, this is the 21st century United States in the age of declining empire and a creeping, inverted totalitarianism.
Rant away my respectable negro friends and allies on this April 15th if you so desire. My sentiments are with you.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Of Black Pride and White Prejudice Part Two: The Problem on the Planet is White People; You Want Freedom You are Gonna Have to Kill Some Crackers!
Is racism first and foremost a sin of the heart or is it a force that shapes social structures and works to reinforce and legitimate the power and domination of one group of people over another?
The first installment of the Black Pride and White Prejudice series explored the Implicit Association Test and the divergent responses of the test takers to their results. White folks were visibly upset and/or in denial that they demonstrated a strong preference for white people. By contrast, the African Americans who took the test were quite proud that their results demonstrated a deep and abiding belief that black is indeed beautiful and good.
In my classes and workshops I show students a series of videos such as the one above--which was a non-story generated by Fox News in order to play to its racially resentful and anxiety driven audience--as well as the now much discussed clip of the New Black Panther Party "intimidating" white voters in Philadelphia. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, these examples are particularly useful because at first glance they are clear demonstrations of "black racism." Students--be they black, white, brown, or other--roll their eyes and offer anticlimactic shrugs: Of course the people in these videos are racist, look at what they are saying about white people! Imagine if a white person said such things, there would be an outcry!
But once more to power--and its absence by either the New Black Panther Party or Professor Kamau Kambon. Do unpleasant words equate to racist deeds and acts? Moreover, does the political theater of the New Black Panthers or the Black Israelites constitute a real threat to the individual or collective life chances of white Americans?
To paraphrase the movie Kinsey, a bargain was made with the triumph of the Civil Rights movement that in multicultural, pluralist America, racism would be everyone's sin or it would be no one's sin. This introduced a logic where an absurd new speak with its "reverse racism" and "white oppression" could be introduced into the collective lexicon without so much as a shrug. In fact, the Age of Obama was ushered in with a momentous speech on race in which the soon to be President equated black victimization by white supremacy with white resentment at having to be forced to make some small amends for this most basic sin at the heart of American democracy.
Ultimately, I would suggest that our efforts to apply "the golden rule" to interactions across the color line fail in a most way because a vast disparity in social privilege, wealth, and opportunity has created a system in which the premise underlying the principle (that there is some equivalence of position and expectation of behavior on the part of the agents involved) is upset. Or stated differently, the roll reversal game does not apply here. And yes, despite the protests of some, there are indeed things that can be said by people of color to white folks across the boundaries of the color line that are not at all equivalent when said in reverse.
Once more to the reality that just like White people, black and brown folks can be prejudiced, bigoted, mean spirited, or the like...but they can not be racist in this country and at this point in time.
The privilege that is Whiteness is also an ironic burden. White folks have the unique position of being able to actualize prejudicial thoughts and deeds because they live in a society which provides them the motive, means, and opportunity as a group to shape their psychological projections into a concrete thing.
While some may label the New Black Panthers and Black Israelites of the world bigots, they do not have the power to transform their verbal darts into real blows of power which for my dollar is one of the key litmus tests that separates white racism from black intolerance.
Are my boundaries for dividing black prejudice from white racism set too high, or are they in fact too low?
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
On the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War 80 Percent of Republicans Admire the Leaders of the Confederacy
Time to cue up Glory on yee old DVD player as today is the 150th anniversary of the war between the states. Apparently, treasonous secession still echoes as a fond memory of a noble Lost Cause in the eyes of many Americans. As highlighted by a new CNN poll some 25 percent of Americans say they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union. 40 percent of Southerners (quite predictably) hold this view as well.
Moreover, in a telling inversion of their party's historical role in the war to save the Union, 80 percent of Republicans idolize the leaders of the Confederacy. This is doubly ironic given that approximately the same percentage of Republicans admired Northern leaders during the Civil War.
The neo-secessionist longings of the contemporary Tea Party GOP are on naked display with their flippant use of the language of nullification, secession, States' Rights, and "Second Amendment remedies." The Lost Cause ideology and the neo-Confederacy movement have always been a type of white identity politics. Sometimes these appeals are transparently about race. At other times they are coded as dog whistle politics laced with moronic screams of "limited government" and/or "personal responsibility."
In the Age of Obama there are few Conservatives who are courageous enough to own that their ideological disagreements are grounded in a deep racial hostility and antipathy to America's first black President: apparently, the White racial frame can tolerate no such upset to its equilibrium. By comparison, the treasonous Confederate ilk who contemporary Republicans have so much admiration for--the former being a lot which should have been strung up by every lamp post and in every town square (as opposed to the gentlemanly peace offered by Grant to Lee at Appomattox)--were much more honest about the nature of their bigotry, and sense of what a right and correct racial order would look like.
For those who still believe that the Civil War and the South's rebellion were not first and foremost about the maintenance of white supremacy and the slaveocracy need to look no farther than the immortal words of the Confederacy's Vice President, Alexander Stephens:
Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
These are the leaders that the 21st century Tea Party GOP admire. I would like to say that I am shocked and amazed. But given how Barack Obama's election has led the Republican Party off the cliff and into the mouth of madness, I am not at all surprised by their hopeful dreams of a bygone Confederate yesteryear.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Psychologists have long known that many people are prejudiced towards others based on group affiliations, be they racial, ethnic, religious, or even political. However, we know far less about why people are prone to prejudice in the first place. New research, using monkeys, suggests that the roots lie deep in our evolutionary past.Are we just naked apes?
Social psychologists have apparently taken a large step towards uncovering the origins of human prejudice by administering the Implicit Association Test to monkeys. And yes, I did just write that sentence.
I am a fan of the IAT and find myself in agreement with a growing literature which suggests that it is a powerful tool for mapping the subconscious origins of human prejudice. However, I am suspicious of how the IAT applies to our monkey cousins. Moreover, while sociobiology offers some compelling insights into the evolutionary origins of human behavior, I am skeptical that it can richly illuminate the complex--and quite modern--system we have come to describe as "racism." Ultimately, I am not prepared to call Dr. Grewal's findings piss poor social science...but this monkey racism business veers damn close to the proverbial open fetid urinal of ideas.
There is a deep tendency to normalize the worst of our species' behavior. The barbarism of war, the viciousness of pogroms and death camps, and the general capacity for humankind to be quite thoroughly rotten, demands some explanation. It simply cannot be that there is a banality of evil unique to the human psyche which exists as the dark flip side of self-awareness. Rather, there must be some biological explanation, some clue that locates these impulses in the deepest recesses of human evolution. By implication, if one discovers these wellsprings, behavior can be explained. We must be cautious here: the urge to explain is often quite problematic because it is one step away from excuse making and the rationalizing away of responsibility.
A narrative that naturalizes race prejudice is problematic in any number of ways. Primarily, it flattens what is a complicated phenomenon (racism) and conflates it with something all together different but nonetheless related (prejudice). Adding a further complication to this puzzle is how a sense of group position, hierarchy, ethnocentrism, as well as in-group vs. out-group identification are certainly integral for a full understanding the "house that race built," but in and of themselves only give a partial picture of a complex set of social and political forces.
These variables are necessary and perhaps even sufficient conditions for racism. However, they do no constitute racism in and of themselves. Racism is a recent invention born of the 16 and 17th centuries. In the light of the Colonial and Imperial projects, white supremacy provided a way of rationalizing a project of global usurpation and wealth transfer from the prosperous parts of the world to a resource poor Europe. To make the racial contract real involved the generation of philosophical, scientific, moral, ethical, religious, and political "truths" that normalized European dominance of the world as the natural order of things.
Stated differently, "white" Europeans, those formerly Irish, Italian, British, French, and others had to come to America where they killed indigenous people and enslaved black folks in order to become White. To do so effectively, they had to create regimes of knowledge that made these endeavors both "right" and "necessary" in their eyes.
[Keeping in mind that racism and prejudice are different things, how do we reconcile the following problematics: If "prejudice" and "racism" are so "natural" why did it take so long for Europeans to codify the former and transform it into the latter? Where was this "naturalized" racism in other populations at other times across history?]
Social systems assign values to different types of people(s) and personhood(s). By implication, racism was made by man and can be undone by man. There is nothing natural about it. And while I am sucker for any monkey related news items, the premise that monkeys can tell us anything new or insightful about "racism" leaves me a bit cold.
Some choice excerpts from Scientific American's, "The Evolution of Prejudice":
Mahajan and her team also devised a method for figuring out whether the monkeys harbor negative feelings towards outsiders. They created a monkey-friendly version of the Implicit Association Test (IAT). For humans, the IAT is a computer-based task that measures unconscious biases by determining how quickly we associate different words (e.g. “good” and “bad”) with specific groups (e.g. faces of either African-Americans or European-Americans). If a person is quicker to associate “bad” with African-American faces compared to European-American faces, this suggests that he or she harbors an implicit bias against African-Americans.
For the rhesus monkeys, the researchers paired the photos of insider andoutsider monkeys with either good things, such as fruits, or bad things, such as spiders. When an insider face was paired with fruit, or an outsider face was paired with a spider, the monkeys quickly lost interest. But when an insider face was paired with a spider, the monkeys looked longer at the photographs. Presumably, the monkeys found it confusing when something good was paired with something bad. This suggests that monkeys not only distinguish between insiders and outsiders, they associate insiders with good things and outsiders with bad things.
Overall, the results support an evolutionary basis for prejudice...the behavior of the rhesus monkeys implies that our basic tendency to see the world in terms of “us” and “them” has ancient origins...
Friday, April 8, 2011
Let it not be said that I am unfair to my political rivals. Just like the brother from the ACLU who defended the KKK's right to privacy in Texas, I may find you abhorrent and your words foul, but I will stand up for your Constitutionally protected right to say them.
"Jones’s burning of the Koran was daft. But it did not directly cause “the tragic, deadly violence” in Afghanistan, as one Pentagon spokesman claimed. To suggest that it did, to argue that Jones has “blood on his hands”, as the New York Daily News put it, is to overlook the fact that there is an important bridge between words and actions. That bridge is us, people, the audience, the public, who are possessed of free will and thought and who must make a decision about whether, and how, to act on the words we hear. The idea that words lead directly to action, that the image of a burning Koran in the US leads inevitably to violence in Afghanistan, is to cut out these middle men and present speech as an all-powerful force that dictates world events.Such an outlook is dangerous for two reasons. First because there would be no limits to the curbing and policing of speech if we all bought into the mad notion that it can directly cause other people’s deaths."
I am hard on American conservatives. As measured by the foolishness of the Tea Party GOP they have certainly fallen from grace in the Age of Obama. While I was no great champion of his ideas--especially on the Civil Rights Movement--I could at least respect the intellect of the William F. Buckleys of the world. Heck, I could even tolerate Bush the Elder. I am not a "liberal" or "progressive" as those labels are casually thrown about in our contemporary political discourse. Thus, why I scoff when I am labeled as such. Those titles come from an honorable lineage. And there is no shame in them. But, I am an unapologetic Black pragmatist. My ultimate commitment is to the truth, be it moral, philosophical, scientific, or political.
Because as of late I have been focused on beating up the New Right's lemmings, the buckdancing Herman Cains, and the other mouth breathing troglodytes who comprise contemporary Conservatism as a political movement, I have neglected one of my other favorite intellectual curiosities--liberal racism. It has been a long time since I have seen a classic example of liberal racism, one that is inspirational enough to motivate a response.
For the uninitiated, liberal racism is part of the same cosmology as (conservative) racism. However, while the latter thrives on an insincere language of colorblindness, often naked appeals to racial resentment, and is predicated on an unapologetic embrace of white privilege and maintaining a herrenvolk republic at any cost, the latter works differently. Liberal racism embraces the soft bigotry of low expectations, where one tolerates conditions for others they would not for themselves, is afraid of speaking the truth about the ghetto underclasses and their often pathological and self-destructive behavior(s), and is possessed of a sense of racial superiority born of noblesse oblige, as opposed to a relationship prefaced on an equal power relationship between agents.
Both are ugly. Both are pernicious. They are merely different sides of the same coin.
Traditional white supremacy and conservative racism are cognitive maps for ordering the world. Liberal racism does the same work for its practitioners. And neither are limited by the stopping power of water as they frame how individuals think about the nature of political life, both at home and abroad.
The Telegraph's critique of how some on the Left responded to the riots in Afghanistan last week--a murderous rampage which supposedly occurred because of "Pastor" Terry Jones' decision to burn a Koran in his "church"--is a spot on vivisection of the perils of liberal racism. Just as we saw some of the worst examples of multicultural and pluralist excuse making in the aftermath of the Muhammad cartoon debacle, a moment when folks gave in to threats of violence and were tolerant of political thugs (who ironically benefit from free speech, but will not allow others to practice it), there are some who are engaging in an odd form of the White Man's Burden in which liberal racism mandates that we engage in excuse making and cultural relativism as we try to make sense of wanton violence.
In total, liberal racism demands that white folks and the West deal with the Other as "little brown brothers and sisters," as opposed to equal human beings with agency, reason, and who should be held culpable for their deeds.
By implication, I won't let a conservative pat me on my head as though I am a child. Nor will I let a liberal racist do so either.
The meaty parts of Brendan O'Neill's "Pastor Terry Jones is no more to blame for the Afghan violence than Martin Scorsese was for the shooting of Ronald Reagan" follow:
And the second problem with the “blame Jones” brigade is that it lets rioting Afghans off the hook. It says they’re not really responsible for the bloodshed they unleashed; Jones is. There’s a great irony here, because many of the commentators who make this argument do so in order to express their apparently enlightened and cosmopolitan sympathy with beleaguered Muslims in Afghanistan, yet in the process they patronisingly depict Afghans as overgrown children, as attack dogs almost, who hear a command or see an offensive image and act on it, robot-like. Modern-day liberal pity for Muslims would seem to be a comfortable bedfellow of the old-world colonial outlook: in both instances Third World people are treated as hapless, helpless creatures who must have their eyes and ears shielded from dodgy ideas.The consequences of taking this approach to the Koran controversy are potentially dire. Just as in the Muhammad cartoons controversy, Western liberal politicians and thinkers are giving Muslims a licence to feel offended, a licence to go crazy; they are effectively legitimising violent responses to offensive images by saying: “It’s understandable. This is what happens when we fail to respect their culture.”
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
The classroom ought not to be disconnected from the real world. For those of us who study American politics the election of President Barack Obama has provided a neat laboratory for proving much of our theorizing both correct (the institutional constraints on the office; Obama's continuation of the Imperial Presidency) and wrong or outmoded (say bye bye to the Bradley Effect). If you teach courses on racial politics, President Obama has made for boom times. His inauguration unleashed all of the worst elements of the white racial id and reminded us once more that for all of the heady glow of "post racial this" and "post racial that," race (to borrow a phrase from Cornel West) does indeed still matter.
Ultimately, race, and its associated language of "oppression," has and continues to be an American obsession. The language through which race is made real also continues to be abused and misapplied. As we have seen in our recent discussions of black
To point, one of my favorite exercises in my classes on race and ethnicity involves asking folks to define terms. When we talk about "race" what do we mean? How is "ethnicity" different from or complementary to race? What is nationality? How is personal agency important, but also contextualized by social norms, values, institutions, and structures?
The responses always vary. They are colored by one's own investment in theses categories, allegiance to flat narratives of "colorblind politics," and exposure to the literature on the subject. Because for many students these are normative and personal constructs, they are often loathe to acknowledge that 1) there are actual definitions for these terms; 2) said definitions may upset their deeply held priors about the nature of the world; and 3) that privilege and power are real. Thus, some have an unfair advantage by mere luck of birth and not because of innate talent or ability.
In one of my favorite potentially productive pedagogical moments, I invite my students to take the Implicit Association Test. We then discuss their results and watch the Dateline NBC special on the psychological origins of racial attitudes. Inevitably, when we get to the section on Black Pride (at having a positive self-image in the face of, and despite living in a society where whiteness is normalized) and White Shame (in having a strong affinity for other white people) the class splits. Many white students want to construct a parallel narrative where these results are envisioned as morally, ethically, and politically equivalent. Black students stumble in explaining that pride does not necessarily equal dislike or prejudice for those not of the tribe.
My answer is simple. It is also one that I repeat often: These discussions of race and racial inequality are about power and not about color. That is the central paradox. In this country, at this time, and as a function of its history, it is Whiteness and white folks with the unique institutional, social, economic, and historical power to be racists. Black and brown folks can be prejudiced jerks. But they cannot be racists.
As I am quick to offer, "Sorry Suzy Snowflake, racism is your unique cross to bear and the historical burden of your people to negotiate and make right."
I am curious as to your thoughts on the IAT test, as well as the bigger question of what distinguishes black pride from white prejudice? Are they the same? Are they different? Do they both spring from the same tainted origins? Do both black pride and white prejudice result in the same socially deleterious outcomes?
This should be a fun conversation. And if I play my cards right, each example will further muddy the waters just a little bit.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Molefi Asante's Ownage: Are Black Conservatives Actually Victims of An Insidious White Racism that Praises Black Incompetence?
Check the poll on the sidebar...
There are folks who remind you that are just a neophyte in the game. They are the Ric Flairs and Shawn Michaels of the world sonning an up and coming worker inside the squared circle; John Hope Franklin demonstrating how much history that you do not know (over and over again); Foucault confusing a seminar of first year grad students; Rakim, Jay, Ghost, or Biggie leading a cypher that destroys a Southern crap rapper; or the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church telling Henry Louis Gates Jr. that the Ark of the Covenant and its meaning to Ethiopians is a matter of faith and not proof.
Writing for Joe Feagin's great website Racism Review, Professor Molefi Asante, noted scholar of race and political thought, summed up in elegant and dense prose what I have been trying to communicate for years--much of white racism and patronage towards black conservatives involves a deep and almost pathological projection of what Whiteness wants to believe that black folks is, are, and were. Thus, my oft made illusion that the Herman Cains, Michael Steeles, Juan Williams, Alan Keyes, and the other assorted black mascots of the New Right are race minstrels.
Ultimately, styles make fights, and when I take on black
He is a pro, decades deep in the game. I am a early journeyman. So much to learn, so much.
To point: Who would have thought that popular black conservatives are actually victims of an insidious form of enabling white racism? I am still working this one out because I am afraid to concede that self-hating, racial opportunists may actually be afforded the title of "victim." But Asante's point is so sharp and deft it has already cut me several times.
From "Two Classes of Racism in Two Keys":
There are two general classes of racism that continue to confound most thinkers on the subject because of their subtlety. I have called them racism that praises and racism that blurs, both are equally common and dangerous in modern heterogeneous industrial societies such as the United States.
Racism that praises is a special variety often seen in arenas where white incompetence meets black incompetence. It is particularly true in the cases where the white incompetent holds a position of power or authority and can therefore confer upon the black incompetent a mark of recognition of some type. It is one incompetent praising another as if this is an indication that the praiser is not racist. This is usually done when the praisee is not only incompetent but malevolent against black people. It is the phenomenon that we often see when whites, that are racist, praise right wing or reactionary blacks for opposing equal rights, human dignity, or African resistance to discrimination. They are out front showing that they are as tough on black folks as the most rabid racist. The common parlance used to be “uncle toms” but I believe that the term has limited resonance with contemporary thinking about how racism works. In effect, these black people are victims of an insidious form of racism promoted and prosecuted by white Uncle Sams and Aunt Teresas who believe that they are showing that they are not racist by showering the malevolent and incompetent black with praise. This is the foulest example of racism that praises.
...To say that you do not see me as black is to deny a big part of my identity; it is in fact to claim that if I were black in your imagination certain “other” ideas would haunt our relationship. You know, black is this and black is that, and black can be that, but alas, I do not see you as black. To say that you do not see someone’s color or biology is not a compliment, though it might have been posed as such because of the latent racism, much like the racism by praise where a white person thinks that by supporting black incompetence she is in fact supporting black people, freedom, equality or something, when in fact she is demonstrating a high degree of racism...
Thursday, March 31, 2011
They're Poor, Scared, Less Educated, and Left Behind: New Data from Gallup on Conservatives and Red State America
Gallup has released some new polling data which suggests that America is become more and more "conservative." Political scientists and others have long discussed how the electorate is polarized and that voters are "sorting out" by party affiliation and ideology. The results of this are plain: the noxious tone of our political discourse; the naked appeals to eliminationism by the Right; and a sense that the other side isn't just wrong, no, instead they are evil.
Using Gallup's information, The Atlantic's Richard Florida generated some great graphs which showed that the march of Conservatism across America is correlated with a number of variables including religiosity, poverty, education, and the income level of a given state. All in all the data is compelling. But it is not surprising. Moreover, there are also a few qualifiers to Gallup's findings that America is becoming a more "conservative" that need to be highlighted.
1. Primarily, it has long been noted that Americans are not very ideological--here meaning a coherent schema of political values and beliefs that is internally consistent. While the American electorate is certainly passionate (the ear damaging shrill tones of the White populist Tea Party being people's evidence number one), they do not necessarily hold beliefs that are stable across issue positions.
2. The survey asks respondents if they self-identify as "Conservatives." Again, this is open to slippage as many people for a variety of reasons may label themselves as such. But, these same individuals may vote for the Democrats or identify on issue positions as being more Left/Progressive. And on specific issues (a set of data points that give a better sense of the real lay of the political land) the positions and personalities of the New Right Tea Party GOP are increasingly unpopular.
3. While the media is fascinated by the frame of "Red State versus Blue State", the real action is occurring on the county and regional level where the central cities are becoming more blue and the suburbs and rural parts of many states are becoming more red. Hence the notion of a "purple America." Quite simply, Americans are living in communities where their values are reinforced. Thus the irony that in an increasingly globalized world, with instantaneous information available at one's fingertips, a good number of people are seeking similarity and confirmation, as opposed to a richness of diversity in ideas, values, and beliefs.
However, the Atlantic's analysis is spot on and frighteningly prescient in the following observation.
Conservatism, at least at the state level, appears to be growing stronger. Ironically, this trend is most pronounced in America's least well-off, least educated, most blue collar, most economically hard-hit states. Conservatism, more and more, is the ideology of the economically left behind. The current economic crisis only appears to have deepened conservatism's hold on America's states...This is the formula for a reactionary politics that does not serve the collective good. Here, the tail wags the dog and the most frightened, least resourced, and most backward voices rise out of the polity. Elites who have long been disconnected from the masses manipulate this anxiety into a politics that serves to gut the social safety net and chase down the chosen bugaboos of the Right--the "evil" unions, "liberals," "intellectuals," teachers, Muslims, immigrants, racial minorities, gays and lesbians, "overpaid" public employees, and/or anyone who is not a "real American."
Liberalism, which is stronger in richer, better-educated, more-diverse, and, especially, more prosperous places, is shrinking across the board and has fallen behind conservatism even in its biggest strongholds. This obviously poses big challenges for liberals, the Obama administration, and the Democratic Party moving forward.
But the much bigger, long-term danger is economic rather than political. This ideological state of affairs advantages the policy preferences of poorer, less innovative states over wealthier, more innovative, and productive ones. American politics is increasingly disconnected from its economic engine. And this deepening political divide has become perhaps the biggest bottleneck on the road to long-run prosperity.
In the end game, the authoritarianism infused White reactionary Tea Party AstroTurf politics of the New Right are the road to inverted totalitarianism--an order that rises out of a failure of democratic politics, a collapsed and exhausted economy, a triumphant corporatism, and the false promises of popular Conservatism.
Conservatives and the Right-wing echo chamber will be crowing about their success in light of Gallup's findings. They will scream that Conservatism is on the march and that Gallup's polling data is a vindication of their ideas. Those who live in the reality based world can easily foil those claims. But, the cries of victory will appeal to the true devotees nonetheless. Sadly, the foot soldiers of Conservatism do not understand that they are winning a Pyrrhic victory, one which indicates a deep and systemic rot in this country, as opposed to a triumph of ideas and values that can lead us through the decline of empire and towards a brave new future.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The Young Ones Don't Have Friends They Have Associates Revisited: On the Wisdom of Fresh and the Seduction of the Innocent
A clip from Fresh seemed appropriate given the earlier post on the calculating and coordination-game behavior practiced by children born to the ghetto underclasses. In light on Dr. Small's hypothesis, I wanted to quickly revisit the chess and life analogy so deftly used in that film. I wonder is there a bit of nobility in the fact that black folks in this country--and those who have historically suffered (and fought against) power--have to grow up earlier than the children of the privileged? Or in that necessity is there a bit of tragedy where many of our young folks learn "what it means to be a problem" early on, and are thus robbed of the freedom and innocence that ought to come with childhood?
I am at a loss. On one hand the strength of black folks in America is our ability to manage smiles and cries along with a deeply held, tragicomic sense of irony. However, I worry that as a function of our understanding of the ways in which life can be fundamentally unfair, many of us harden our children in order to give them the magical armor necessary to do battle in a world that was not necessarily designed for their success.
Are my worries misplaced or are they both necessary and reasonable?
Ol' Dirty Bastard is for the Children: In the Culture of Poverty the Young Ones Don't Have Friends, They Have Associates
...We interviewed about forty to forty-five students in each school. We interviewed some of the mothers, fathers, teachers, staff; almost no difference. The reason? In both schools, the students did not trust anybody. The students expressed a great deal of reluctance to admitting that they had best friends. Many said, “I don’t have friends, I have associates,” and the reason had to do with the extraordinarily high levels of violence in both neighborhoods.Damn. How did we stoop so far to Gomorrah? What can be done to recover?
If you look at how sociologists typically study networks, there is no finding more universal than the idea that homophily, similarity determines everything. So people tend to have friends who resemble them. So if I am eleven, you like soccer, I like soccer, we become friends because we both like soccer, this kind of a thing. There was almost none of that. Instead, the children were extremely strategic and instrumental in how they thought about their friendships.
One, they thought about friendships who could protect them if there was a problem, and this was the boys and the girls. Second, they were strategic about even forming friends. So one eleven or twelve-year-old boy, for example, said, “You know, before I decide to be friends with somebody, I watch them. I just watch them for months and months and months to see what they are like. Because I want to see if there is a problem if they are going to come in and have my back.” An extremely strategic and really disturbing way of thinking about friendship. Now these are ten, eleven, twelve-year-old children. This is the time in your life when you learn how to form friendships with others. You learn trust, you learn effective social relations.What can we expect of these children when they are twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, forming romantic relationships, trying to form effective relationships in the workplace?
It is going to be extremely difficult because, my hypothesis is that the high levels of distrust developed early on in response to violence are going to have an impact in their later lives. Now there is no way to think about this question without thinking about some aspects of what is called culture. Now, again, notice it is not culture about values, I mean that is just the wrong way to think about it. It is really a cultural response to a violent environment. Anybody in that same kind of environment would develop this sort of bunker mentality, that you have to protect yourself first.
Monday, March 28, 2011
More Pathologies of the White Conservative Soul: Did You Know that Socialist Thought Has Crippled Black America?
As I have said many a times, the White conservative soul is quite ill. It is filled to the gills with the poisonous crack rock that is the politics of white racial resentment and victimology. In turn, this addiction is enabled by black
In their broken record-like performance, popular black conservatives hit all the talking points as they smile, grin, shuffle, and legitimate a narrative in which Black Americans are dumb, stupid, on a "plantation," and incapable of making well-reasoned political choices. By implication, white people, and conservatives in particular, are endowed with a special wisdom and agency that black Americans are not. The premise from which the black conservative imagination flows is excreta filled because of its utter disdain for the Black community. The implications for their parroted Right-wing dogma are just as vile precisely because the well-springs are so befouled.
Even given the low standards of intellectual rigor common to the Right-wing echo chamber, I always try to find a kernel of fact or historical truth in their utterances. John Rossomondo's piece, "Socialist Thought has Crippled Black America" (where he as the good, noble, white "father" offers resplendent insights into the "pathologies" of Black people) is an epic fail even by the Right's low standards.
Some choice excerpts:
Leading black conservatives lay blame for black America's rampant poverty and other ills squarely at the feet of the socialist orientation of black leaders such as Al Sharpton.Beyond what is an obviously piss poor reading of history, there is so much wrong here.
They say the black intelligentsia’s rhetoric has created a defeatist and demoralizing climate that has robbed millions of black Americans of hope and has sentenced them to an impoverished existence..
Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, says Marxists have worked hard to exploit blacks for the past century and divide them from the rest of society...
“The biggest tragedy in all of this is that the blacks did not know the poison of socialism and communism,” Innis says. “And they were led to believe it was the only alternative for fighting Jim Crow and pushing back against segregation...”The black elites’ Marxist dialectic has pit white versus black and rich versus poor, and has disempowered countless black Americans in the process by promoting collective hatred and jealousy.
“It has really hurt the black community because the real uplift in this country is through individual initiative, activity and entrepreneurship,” says Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., a prominent conservative black minister and Tea Partier. “This mindset that you are owed something and everything has to be the same for everybody is a very dangerous and insidious attitude that has crept into the black community.”
Nowhere in Rossomondo's piece is there a signal to the realities of white supremacy, the power and influence of structures, the intersections of race and class where capitalism was used as a bludgeon to under develop Black America's economy, or the realities of the Racial state--in either its color conscious past or its colorblind present.
Even more absurdly, in the racial imagination of contemporary conservatism it was somehow super powered black villains such as the dastardly Jesse Jackson and the maniacal Al Sharpton who created a two tiered labor market, slashed the federal budget, and implemented racist bank lending practices which red-lined neighborhoods to make them ineligible for VA and FHA loans.
Conversely, John Rossomondo's race baiting essay ignores the deep traditions of capitalism and entrepreneurial behavior by black Americans from slavery to freedom where bonds people rented out their own labor and worked independently of the plantation as mechanics and artisans, to the importance of such legendary figures as Madam CJ Walker, or even to the near present where the Civil Rights Movement was struggling for equality in the consumer's republic.
Moreover, the idea that black resistance to white supremacy is somehow morally equivalent with white racism is the most problematic of the many fictions offered by the race baiting, yellow journalism of the Right. A belief in equal culpability is so historically myopic as to be dim. Nevertheless, the lie of false equivalence has become one of the key tenets of conservative victimology because it fuels the Right's specious and laughable claims that white people are somehow oppressed. Sadly, the big lie that equates black anger at white supremacy with white resentment (at being forced to deliver in some small ways on a metaphorical check stamped "insufficient funds") has so seeped into the neo-liberal, post-Civil Rights dialogue, that even President Obama in his vaunted 2008 campaign speech on race was forced to kneel and kiss said ring.
In total, the Right's deployment of the phrase "black Marxist intellectuals" is a catchall laden with buzzwords designed to scare and frighten the White Conservative soul. Those "crazy negroes" are fifth columnists and Socialists who cannot be trusted--a frame echoed by the charges that President Obama, a die hard corporatist, is somehow a "Socialist." Those "intellectuals" are also high foreheaded, book reading "elitists" who dare to think that they know better than the White populist, "real American" tea baggers such as the mama grizzlies and Joe the Plumbers. And most frightening to the racial id of the White Conservative Soul, as kin to the "giant negroes" which haunt the darkest recesses of the White racial id, those black Marxist intellectuals are interested in redistributing America's resources, getting reparations, and stealing the "well-deserved" monies of good, hardworking white people to give them to the undeserving masses of brown and black folk.
I have a simple request. If popular black conservatives are going to play the role of a succubus riding the chest and whispering into the ear of their White conservative masters as they lay intertwined in an intimate embrace on top of the soiled carcass which was the common good and the American middle class, that black conservatives at least make an effort to tell better lies, and to obfuscate history with more deft aplomb, as it would make for better sport.
Black Americans are a blues people. With that comes an appreciation for the ironies, tragedies, and triumphs of this country. We are also radical in our commitment to justice and equality. But in no way are we traitors to the American tradition. If anything, black Americans loved a country which did not love us back, and worked, died, and struggled so that the promise of democracy would be made whole for all.
And while this will be news to some, Conservatives are not the exclusive flame holders or guardians of American liberty. As exemplified by the muckraking tone of pieces such as "Did You Know that Socialist Thought Has Crippled Black America," the Right, already teetering on the wrong-side of history, is poised to fall into its maw as they lean over to take one more hit of the crack like, meth-infused drug that is white racial resentment. I only hope that they fall gracefully and do not reach out for a saving hand as I am loathe to interfere with gravity's inexorable pull.