Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Annotating White Conservative Internally Inconsistent Foolishness: Barack Obama's Racist Easter Church Service



It seems that Reverend Wright was not enough. The Right is trying to generate another Obama "racist" Pastor scandal as a lead into the 2012 election.

Race really is a set of cognitive maps and a perceptual screen for understanding and interpreting the world. Some on the Right see bigotry and anti-white animus in this video. By contrast, I hear and see a learned, reflective and measured man. I am no church goer for I have no use for religion. But the learned and nuanced reading of American culture and life offered by Pastor Wallace Charles is enough to even tempt me to have a sit down in this brother's pew.

Conservative talk radio website WRNO's essay, "Obama's Church Choice for Easter Based on Race" is telling not because of how it plays to white Conservatives' fears of America's first Black President. Likewise, it is not shocking that the New Right hate President Obama because they demonstrate that ugliness at every opportunity. Rather, what is insightful here is that the paranoid imagination of the Tea Party GOP holds no pretenses of internal consistency in their criticism of the President. The end goal of destroying the President much be reached at any and all costs--style, wit, and intelligence in presentation be damned.

[An introductory question: Riddle me this. So Barack Obama is a closet Muslim not born in this country, but he goes to racist Black Christian Churches? Please help me understand.]

Let's play the annotation game and expose the Tea Party GOP's nuttery as channeled by Conservative talk radio website WRNO. My comments follow in bracketed italics.


****

Obama's Church Choice for Easter Based on Race


It may sound a little callous and abrasive to even be suspicious of Obama's choice of churches for Easter Sunday 2011, but given the climate of the media bias so overwhelmingly in favor of casting Obama in the best light possible, the regular media professionals can't be trusted to actually do some basic reporting.

[Note the early wink to the myth of the liberal media that is embraced by Conservatives. This is a great deflection because it immediately establishes an observation that can be easily disproved as an indisputable fact, i.e. there is no liberal media: A corporate media dominates the 4th estate. By starting with this lie, Conservatives are free to transmute Right-wing opinion based news, i.e. Fox, into fact based journalism.]

Shiloh Baptist Church was that it was founded by freed slaves during the Civil War. There was no mention that this was the first Presidential visit to Shiloh, nor any mention that this inaugural visit could be more than a coincidence.

[A good dog whistle is deployed here. God forbid that a Black man would dare to go to a church founded by Americans seeking their freedom in an era of overt and violent white supremacy. I thought that Conservatives would run to this history as they channel a childish version of the GOP as "the Party of Lincoln." Instead, and especially when it relates to the first Black president, Conservative pundits abandon their own principles (to the degree they possess any) to take a specious political shot. Because Obama dared to attend a church founded by Americans who took their freedom and demanded that this country live up to its democratic potential, he is slurred as somehow being too "pro-black" and thus is by definition "anti-white."]

Was there no mention that this is a predominately black church because the media didn't want the American people to know that our President chooses his church based on race? I'm reticent to openly guess at the media's intentions, but when flattering facts are reported and unflattering facts are omitted, we have no choice but to fill in the blanks.

[Sunday is the most segregated day of the week in this country. White folks go to one set of churches. Black and brown folks go to others. That having been said, the idea that President Barack Obama chooses a church based on its racial composition is a glaring example of the normativity of whiteness and the blinding glare that is White privilege. So White Presidents can go to any church, however uniform in their composition, and that choice goes uncommented upon. Why? Because whiteness allows white folks to make choices free of the calculus or stigma that is race making in practice. This is the ultimate privilege of whiteness in America, and one that Obama as a black man can never access.]

It's understandable that the President hasn't been too eager to jump back into church life given that the one and only church our President has ever joined in his life is one of the biggest political sandbags he carried through the 2008 campaign.

[Naked signaling to Reverend Wright, a human noose that the Right literally tried to hang around then candidate Obama's neck. Also, this passage hints at the erroneous belief, and once more to whiteness as normality, that White folks' churches are imagined by many as being spaces free of politics. Insert fingers into mouth and induce vomiting.]

One has to dig into the blog notes from various reporters to piece together the content from the sermon. Aside from the First Couple being honored guests, Pastor Wallace Charles Smith also announces that his 4 week old grandson is attending church for the first time, and a pool reporter noted an interesting perspective on the infant...

Pastor Smith talked about how his baby grandson's gurgling is actually "talking" because he is saying 'I am here ... they tried to write me off as 3/5 a person in the Constitution, but I am here right now ... and is saying I am not going to let anybody from stopping me from being what God wants me to be.'"

The pastor hears American institutional racism in a baby's gurgle? Do most people with infants hear Constitutional bigotry in their baby's gibberish? Did any mention of the 3/5 clause or racism in general make it into the Easter service you attended? Is this pastor's amazing leap from a baby bark to white oppression another coincidence to add to the list, or has he established a pattern of race baiting and white bashing in the past?

[These folks don't have a sense of humor or irony. Once more to the power of the colorline to limit the White Conservative soul's ability to empathize across divides of race and to accept that their life experiences and perspectives may not be that of others. This is typical of the Conservative political personality type. Nevertheless, it is still jarring to see it so nakedly displayed. Black folks are a Blues People. We can't run away from our history, because blackness is politicized in the womb. And yes, there is something prophetic and triumphant about the thought of a black child in the year 2011 as heir to a triumphant lineage of survival and success. Perhaps some possessed of Whiteness don't get that fact.

Just as when Conservatives threw a collective fit when Michelle Obama dared to suggest that America has done people of color wrong for centuries, and thus the election of her husband allowed for a new feeling of pride, the WRNO hit piece mines the fool's gold of symbolic racism to inspire their mouthbreathing racially resentful audience (see the attached comments on the website if you want to see the political scatology the contemporary Right wallows in). Blacks folks (and other people of color to varying degrees) are perpetual outsiders in Conservatism's conception(s) of what it means to be American. As enshrined for centuries in law or more recently in Palin's gutteral and shrill war cries of "Real America," to be White is to be a full and equal member of the polity.]


No great research team was needed to uncover what comes next. The fact that a YouTube search immediately grants the answer only underscores how astronomically inept/lazy/biased the media can be.

This is in fact another pastor who sees racism around every corner, preaches white hatred, and equates talk radio with the Klan, specifically mentioning Rush.

[Ah the joys of white victimology and white oppression. It is a new/old day in American again.

So, is this the same Rush Limbaugh who describes Barack Obama's supporters as savages and walking human debris? Or says that Liberals and those others who voted for Barack Obama actually did so because they wanted to create an America in which white people shine the shoes of black people? Is this the same Right-wing talk radio that routinely offers Eliminationist rhetoric where liberals and those not sufficiently Conservative are to be killed, possessed of a mental illness, and ought to be expunged from the body politic by any means necessary? No connection to the spirit and ethic of white bigotry and violence is present here. Nope. Nothing to see here. Move along.]


While this pastor is a little less flamboyant than Jeremiah Wright in both tone and wardrobe, the evidence is in: Obama prefers and actively seeks out these churches, race is our President's primary motivation on a variety of decisions, and the media will actively provide cover for minority racists as long as it fits their narrative.

[Damn minority racists they are everywhere, hurting good white folks and limiting their life chances!

Never forget, black churches are sites of conspiracy making and strange religious practices where white folks are burned in effigy and America is routinely besmirched by ingrates who should be happy the slave ship dropped them off in the United States. Thus, we need a secret video to reveal these hidden truths of black political malfeasance and treason. Why? Because President Obama is a race obsessed, "Traitor in Chief" who hates white people, wants to oppress them, and is pathologically attracted to these cult like hives of anti-white scum and villainy. Once more, the Right signals to a basic premise: the White Racial Frame cannot accept that a black man is President.

This is doubly ironic given that Obama is both remarkably race neutral and hyper-vigilant in being a President who happens to be black and not America's first black President. Sadly, he cannot win for losing. If Obama does not talk about race the Left and the Black pundit classes skewer him. When he wakes up in the morning the White Tea Party GOP Fox News echo chamber condemns him for being black and having the nerve to breath air. Dude can't win for losing.]

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm Free, White, and Twenty-One: The Real Origins of the Tea Party GOP's Addiction to Birtherism



As John Street smartly offers, popular culture is politics and politics is popular culture.

We have got quite a few new visitors to WARN this last week (join the movement folks, we love and need you all to keep growing) . I offer a "hello" to our new readers, and an "I am glad you still here" for the people that have been following the machinations of Chaucey DeVega and family from the very beginning a few years back.

I must apologize. I have not done a critical reading of a popular culture text in some time. I am going to get back to that beloved habit very shortly as I enjoy it a great deal. But, a brief detour back to my professional bread and butter seemed well timed given all of the recent talk of birtherism, Donald Trump's front runner status, and the Tea Party GOP's allegiance to the nonsense thinking embodied by its cabal of potential 2012 candidates.

If I were impolitic, I would simply say that those Conservatives who subscribe to the belief that Obama is not eligible to be the President of the United States by the status of his birth were rank bigots who suckle at the poisoned teats of the wrong end of history as they masturbate with their own feces in an odd projection of self-loathing and simultaneous dominative racism.

[Did I just write that? Damn and wow! Sometimes I surprise even myself with those turns of phrase.]

But given that more than a plurality of Republicans believe that the President is part of some Manchurian candidate-like conspiracy which was elaborately planned decades ago you/I/we need to take this Birther mess more seriously. On the surface this is the paranoid style run amok and is thus nothing new. Digging a little deeper, the obvious fact that the Birther meme is about race, difference, and Whiteness at the turn of the 21st century becomes more apparent. However, if you get to the heart of the Tootsie Roll pop, Birtherism is all about the pathology of the White Conservative Soul and also the synergy of a few key facts that often go under-discussed.

Primarily, Obama is a black man who happens to be President. This is unsettling to many white folks--as well as to their coloured colonial administrators. Even more telling: the vitriol directed towards President Obama is not just a function of White American anxiety at the time of a declining empire.

Sure, economic insecurity and realistic group conflict are part of the story. But, there is more going on. Here, I would make two interventions. First, the hatred by the New Right towards President Obama is not only about policy (to the degree that Conservatism can even be decoupled from White supremacy) but also speaks to symbolism: the White Racial Frame cannot accept that a person of color, a black man, is the leader of The Free World and resides in the White House. This is an upset that many of The Greatest Generation and their Conservative spawn cannot countenance. Nope. Not ever, as to be White is to be quintessentially "American" in their eyes.

The second point is a bit more pointed. While Shelby Steele and others smartly suggested that then running for office Barack Obama was a compromise candidate and a "mixed man" who could please white Americans because he did not carry the baggage of slavery and racial comeuppance (like Jackson or Sharpton were imagined to by some). Thus, voting for Obama was a get out jail free card for some white folks and a potentially transgressive act. But, there was a deep problem in Obama's success for other White Americans, the very same core group who would later form the core of the John Birch infused Tea Party GOP.

Barack Obama is unapologetic in his life accomplishments. Regardless of what one thinks of Obama's policies, he is no dolt. President Obama may be too generous to his foes, but the President is without regret or doubt about his intelligence. This explains why the mediocrities of Red State America flock to Palin and her many distinguished life failures for these Tea Party GOP brigands seek not a philosopher king, but rather an intellectually bereft political Whore of Babylon who validates all of the short comings inherent in White Populism. Thus, President Obama gets tarred as "uppity" or "elitist" because, and I give my foes no parlay here, he is better, and more accomplished, than the typical proles of the Tea Party GOP ever could be.

The World, the Flesh, and The Devil is spot on in signaling to this reality. Brother Belafonte is unapologetic in his dignity and plain speech. The film itself captures all of the fears of interracial intimacy held by Tea Party GOP. The truth speaking of Inger Stevens' character is almost a direct channeling of the politics of White racial resentment that drive the Republican Party. For what is all of this "real America" talk, if not a signal to the inviolate and inalienable rights that are imagined to come with Whiteness?

In total, the Tea Party GOP may indulge in talk about Birtherism, xenophobia, rewriting history textbooks in Texas, banning ethic studies in Arizona, secession, nullification, and States' Rights, but the New Right is really about a fierce protection of the psychic and material wages of Whiteness.

The World, the Flesh, and The Devil's money shot that to be "free, white, and twenty-one" sums up the driving mantra and reason d'etre of the Tea Party GOP quite perfectly. Does it not?

I have come to a long and difficult conclusion regarding the White Conservative Soul's antipathy towards President Barack Obama. At first, I thought it was "just" policy and ideology colored by white racism. Now their disdain is becoming even more apparent as the Right and many Conservatives have made it plain that they hate the basic fact that President Obama's exists. At first I did not want to write such a thing. Now, the reality demands that we speak truth to power.

Life isn't fair. It simply is. We must not run from--but instead directly towards--this uncomfortable truth.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter is Mudfoot From Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Laid Out in a Charity Hospital on Medicaid



Happy Easter folks. May you enjoy mixing and matching Jelly Belly jelly beans and creating new flavors to titillate the senses and scorch the soul.

When viewed with adult eyes the cartoons that populated our collective childhoods often betray (un)intended subtexts. Case in point: I don't know when it happened, but a few years ago Tom and Jerry became intolerable to my eyes. The levels of violence were simply too much for me to behold and I had to look away. In fact, I would rather watch Takashi Miike's Audition than sit through Jerry's twisted machinations of how to best destroy poor old Tom the cat. And as I related to the Tea Party GOP brigands, the Smurf's episode where those Marxist blue proles were infected by an STD that drove them to bite each other's behinds was beyond subtext--it was naked, unapologetically so...pure and simple.

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids does truly belong in the pantheon of adult themed cartoons that teach children the realities of living in a cruel world where bad things often happen to good people.

To point: The most awkward "mom and son viewing TV together moment" of my adolescent years was The Cosby Show when Rudy--so innocent for so long--had her "woman's day," the Cosby Kids episode that dealt with teenage pregnancy takes second place. I will never forget how my snow day was ruined as I watched New York's Channel 11 six in the AM broadcast of this painful moment, the hurt made more memorable as the Cosby Kids on that day aired after a particularly satisfying episode of Battle of the Planets. Two hours of Robotech helped to soothe the pain. But the scar would always remain.

Poor Mudfoot. He lived in a shack. He was a squatter. On more than one occasion he found himself physically debilitated and at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. And all of this happened to Mudfoot before President Obama's healthcare reforms. Life is so unfair. So cruel. Yes, it is.

My friends, please eat. Be merry. Enjoy your friends and family on this day. Even if things are hard, reflect on what you have as there are many folks who would envy your relative largess.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Of Black Pride and White Prejudice: Can A White Man Kick the Truth to a Young Black Youth?



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

Conservatives and the Tea Party GOP find great humor in depicting President Barack Obama as a monkey. Thus, it is no surprise that Marilyn Davenport, an elected member of the Orange County California Republican Party's Central Committee (and a Tea Party acolyte), was caught last week sending out racist emails about President Barack Obama that depicted him as a chimpanzee (while pressured to resign, to date she still refuses and cries that she is a "victim.") This is not the first of such racist escapades by Conservatives. Since at least 2008, The Tea Party GOP and its supporters have been obsessed with depicting Barack Obama and his family as being either subhuman or savage.

From signs at Tea Party rallies that portray the President of the United States as an "African witchdoctor," to Palin rallies where her supporters mocked then candidate Barack Obama for being a "monkey," to a series of emails that recycled tired and hackneyed stereotypes of black men as pimps and the White House as a watermelon patch (implied to include the obligatory piccaninnies), Republicans and the Tea Party GOP have flown the flag of white racial resentment with great zest and zeal.



Critics have lambasted these episodes as merely constituting moments of poor judgement by misguided individuals. Conservatives have won the language wars in America. Thus, they have succeeded in introducing such nonsense phrases as reverse racism and white oppression into our vocabulary. The result of this move has been that voices who dare to utter sharp truths about the centrality of white racial resentment in the heart of contemporary Conservatism have been kowtowed by the big lie that is false equivalence: "George Bush was mocked as a monkey or gorilla too, so what is the difference?" For deniers of the obvious racial invective underlying the attacks on Barack Obama, the "they did it too" defense has become a convenient redoubt.

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.

The history here is quite rich. Black Africans were imagined by white Europeans as being part of a different species that was not quite human. In fact, respectable European anthropologists and scientists hypothesized that black people were the result of copulation between humans and apes. As a complement, white European biologists constructed the "chain of being"--a metaphorical tree of human types where Europeans were "naturally" at the "top" and black Africans (because they were closest to beasts) at the "bottom."

During the three centuries of slavery in the United States and the struggles over Reconstruction and against Jim and Jane Crow, images of black people as gorillas and apes were used to alternatively depict African Americans as either childlike and simple--or like the Irish before they earned their Whiteness--as violent brutes who were unassimilable and by implication a threat to the White body politic.


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.

Jumping forward to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the violent impulses that are legitimated by depicting black Americans as apes and gorillas continues to this day. Researchers have found that test takers who are first shown pictures of apes are more likely to subsequently exhibit anti-black sentiment. In a second, and even more chilling example, white men were shown comparable videos of police brutality against two individuals, one black and one white. In contrast to the white victim, after being shown pictures of apes, the test takers felt that police violence towards the black suspect was justified.

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.

As an additional data point, public opinion surveys suggest a deep divide where Tea Party Republicans show even higher levels of anti-black sentiment than baseline Republicans, two groups where such sentiments are not at all modest in their scale. Echoing and reinforcing these beliefs, the mouthpieces of popular Conservatism such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, suggest that white people are oppressed and that Obama's voting base are "savages" and "walking human debris." In total, the opposition against Barack Obama is premised on both ideology and racial hostility. If the New Right's cries of States' Rights and Nullification are dog whistles, the cartoons of black people as apes and monkeys are clarion calls to the sick racial id that drives the White Conservative Soul.

The portrayals of America's first Black President as an ape or gorilla are racially explicit examples of a broad assault on his legitimacy and authority. In the eyes of contemporary Conservatism, Obama is not fit for the Presidency because he is not one of their tribe. This belief is reinforced by a deep notion that his blackness places him outside of being fully American...and perhaps even the human family. In a moment when the election of America's first black President has resulted in a rise in militia activity, a record number of assassination threats, and a resurgence in the popularity of White Nationalist organizations, these caricatures of Obama as a monkey or ape are matters of the most utmost and dire seriousness.

Let me be specific, careful, and precise. My claim is not that the Marilyn Davenports of the world (and those on the Right and elsewhere) who find these images funny are going to personally indulge in racially motivated violence. However, the energy they channel, and the history which the white racial reactionaries of the Right draw upon for aid and comfort, does legitimate the worst and not the best of America's national character. Because humor reflects social norms, as well as legitimates (and also at times subverts) conventional wisdom, it is a potent force for both good and evil.

I do not know Marilyn Davenport personally. But I do understand her type. They may not hold the noose in hand, or personally light the fuse that sets the fire, but "backstage" bigots of that stripe would not run from the lynching tree. Instead, they would watch in mass and take a picnic (as many thousands of white folks did) as the ruinous energies channeled by the dark heart of Whiteness ran their inexorable course and strange fruit was made to hang by the town square. They hide their unrepentant ugliness behind humor and laughs. Yet despite their best efforts, the guffaws are based on a deep seeded prejudice which they cannot easily or long mask.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sacrilegious Sunday: George Carlin on Why He Worships the Sun and Not God


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

Damn Dirty Apes! The Evolution of Prejudice as Scientists See the Beginnings of Racism in Monkeys



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

Of Liberal Racism, Afghan Violence, and the Response to Pastor Terry Jones Burning a Koran

"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."
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.

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

Shameless Self-Promotion: Chauncey DeVega on the Burt Cohen Show

Sorry for my absence this week.

A damn good piece was written on the Koran burning and the mess in Afghanistan that was lost in the innards of Blogger--maybe Crom did not want me writing on such things? And of course I had to deal with some mess regarding our friend the tax man. Ultimately I surrendered, and decided to simply exhale and bow to the absurd, just like Picard did with the Bringloidi in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Life moves forward. I just heard from Brother X-Squared and he is going to bless us with his thoughts on all events current and historical in the very immediate future, but at a time of his choosing. Dude has been hard to find. When he finally contacted me, Brother X-Squared relayed that he had a surprise that would leave me devastated. I am frightened, but remain intrigued.

The second installment of the Black Pride/White Prejudice series is also ready to jump off next week, so be on the look out. I would also like to thank you all for participating in our poll on those sad sad souls, the garbage pail kids of American politics--those who are otherwise known as black conservatives. If the results are any indication you all are a mean bunch. Do you not have any empathy for their plight as victims of white racism?

On a different note, I did a great interview with the one and only Mike Papantonio, host of Ring of Fire Radio. He was an early supporter and one of the first to give me some national shine. For that I will always be grateful to him.

I also had a chance to do an impromptu segment on The Burt Cohen Show. This was a long form interview and involved a bit of breadth that I am still getting used to. Cohen is a gracious host and has had some great people on his show--Noam Chomsky comes to mind--so I felt complimented that Burt would think to invite the humble and lowly Chauncey DeVega to chat in his house.

I get better as the show goes on and as I find my traction. Your thoughts are appreciated. Suggestions are always welcome. If you need a cure for insomnia, my monotone voice is always the answer. So listen and fall into the open arms of the gentle ups and downs of my voice. Embedded for your convenience:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Of Black Pride and White Prejudice Part One: The Implicit Association Test



Language wars...

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 zip coon conservatives, in the Age of Obama there is a notion that they too are oppressed as black folks--however little their sense of linked fate is with their kin. In the era of the Great Recession, Fox News and the bloviators on the Right-wing paint a world in which white folks are oppressed, experiencing a suffering equal to or greater than the darkest moments of Jane and Jim Crow. And perhaps most absurdly, bankers and corporatists were somehow imagined as suffering under power when the tax cuts for the richest 5 percent of Americans were on the proverbial chopping block...before Obama and the Democrats caved as is their habit and gave the plutocrats their way.

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.