Thursday, June 2, 2011
I did this interview with Mike P of Ring of Fire a month or so ago and the video is now online. This went pretty well to my ears. But as I joke, I need to institute a quota on my use of "folks" and "connecting the dots." As always thoughts and suggestions are always welcome.
I changed some info on the sidebar. I procrastinated. But, I finally got around to it. As requested by some of you, I am going to be doing more posts on history, sex, military science, esoteric potpourri and other miscellaneous goodness. Chauncey DeVega moves forward. As does this website.
On a housekeeping note, I am also going to trim down the links list to about 10 web pages. Do you have any suggestions for what to add, and which links to discard? Likewise, the list of favorite posts is getting (at least) halved. So please, offer your suggestions there as well.
I love to share good reads. I also need to clarify some of the terms I use on WARN. As a first effort, I want to work harder on giving an example and explication of the phrase "Herrenvolk republic"--one of my go to bits of Lingua Franca that I deploy here quite often.
A few weeks ago I mentioned The History of White People--a text which is oh so quotable. This post is the first of two sessions based on sharing pithy bits of wisdom from said great book. We often talk of America as a "White Republic." What follows is a sense of why and how that came to be.
Dr. Painter's observations on the roots of that phrase can stand on their own because they capture the spirit and substance of the ether and ectoplasm in which this country inhales, and was/is birthed so well. My friends, do not forget that history's reach is long and deep: when Palin and the other members of the New Right Tea Party GOP talk about "real America" they are signaling to the following:
What a powerful irony. On one hand black folks are quintessentially American. Our music, culture, struggle for democracy, and weight of character and history, in many ways exemplifies the best of what the U.S.A. is and can be. Nevertheless, by tradition and habit, people of color are a perennial Other which Whiteness and the in-group as "real Americans" use to define themselves against.
As politics freed all white people and ideology whitened the face of freedom, "free white males: seemed useless redundancy...During the nineteenth century, when "free white males" was losing its usefulness because fewer and fewer whites were not free, another phrase was coming into use, one with a much longer life, "universal suffrage."The United States was the first nation to drastically lower economic barriers to voting. Between 1790 and the mid 1850's the ideology of democracy gained wide acceptance, so that active citizenship was opened to virtually all adult white men, including most immigrant settlers...
All women, people ineligible to become citizens (Native American Indians and Asians), the enslaved, and free people of African decent outside New England continued to be excluded, as well as paupers, felons, and transients such as canal workers and sailors...In this situation, "universal suffrage" meant adult white male suffrage, though from time to time the definition of white came into question...
The abolition of economic barriers to voting by white men made the United States, in the then common parlance, "a white man's country," a polity defined by race and limited to white men. Once prerequisites for active citizenship came down to maleness and whiteness, poor men could be welcomed into the definition of American, as long as they could be defined as white--the first enlargement of American whiteness.
As they say, "God bless the United States of America." God help her in negotiating her deep contradictions. Tell me my friends, what can we do to save her?
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Honoring African American Civil War Soldiers, But Still Searching for the Myth That is "The Black Confederate"
There is so much right with what these brothers are doing, which is why I will tread carefully in my intervention--one, that as always, is based on my prime directives of the love principle and a whole commitment to Black Pragmatism.
Even while trying to free our minds, there is much gunk and debris nested in the consciousness of those who were once colonized, excluded, made the Other, or oppressed. Consequently, those narratives that serve to legitimate Power are often reproduced by the very same individuals who are resisting it. In much the same way that a fish does not know that it lives in water, black Americans often accept and internalize White dominant scripts, frames, and narratives about both our history and present. Thus, we often see our selves through the White gaze.
When those moments are present and reproduced--especially by black folks who are trying to generate a counter-narrative in the face of White supremacist fictions about the humanity of black people--they are glaring. Consider the following quotation from The Tennessean's piece "Black Soldiers Celebrated as Civil War's Forgotten Heroes," where one of the members of the 13th United States Colored Soldiers Living History Association observes that:
“It was a painful time, yes. But I want people to understand that African-Americans were not all slaves and property and mindless and un-ambitious,” said Norman Hill, a retired executive with the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. “We were strong; we weren’t all just raggedy slaves. These men marched for what they believed in.”For lack of a better phrase, that just hurts. The irony is grand: A black man channeling the ancestors' freedom struggle and expressing how manhood rights were earned, and freedom dues paid, in blood, yet still holding on to a white supremacist fiction of happy lazy slaves on the yee olde plantation, shiftless and weak, saved by the good graces of White civilization and the benevolent hand of the planter class.
When I see speak to, read about, or encounter brothers and sisters who know not the greatness of their legacy and struggle as Black Americans, I like to remind them of the following facts.
Would mindless and un-ambitious slaves have:
1. Created such a sense of peril because of their daily resistance to the slaveocracy that the South was a veritable military state, where it was law in many regions that white men had to carry firearms on Sunday to put down slave rebellions? Or fought back so often and with such fervor that the TransAtlantic slave trade, while a charnel house for its human cargo, was also one of the most dangerous jobs in the world for those crews who ran the floating dungeons?
2. Manumitted themselves by the tens of thousands, risking life and limb to flee Northward, be reunited with family and kin once sold off, or created an indigenous culture of resistance and survival?
3. Hired out their own labor, negotiated the terms of their relationships with their masters, and then lived semi-independently working as skilled craftsmen, who in turn would buy their freedom and that of their kin folk?
4. Upon liberating themselves reorganized the plantations, kicked their former masters of off the land, and in some cases whipped white slave owners as punishment for their barbarous deeds?
5. Instituted some of the most forward thinking and progressive governments in this country's history during Reconstruction? Served in the U.S. Senate and Congress with distinction, only a few years removed from the end of slavery? Become prosperous entrepreneurs, formed black Wall Streets, and created their own vibrant civil society?
6. Had an appreciation for the grand irony of liberating themselves, returning South wearing the Union blue, and quite literally turning their former communities upside down as Jubilee day had come in the form of black men, marching South, and turning the tide of battle against the Confederacy?
Sadly, some black folks are ashamed of their ancestors' struggles. They eye-roll and look down at the ground when that "slavery stuff" comes up. Some are ashamed and feel like they are the "losers" in American history. Or alternatively, that they are heirs to a tradition of defeat and are somehow a lesser people. I never understood those sentiments. Black Americans have triumphed despite unimaginable obstacles, took our freedom through acts small and great, and tried to save American democracy from the wicked inequities of its own poisoned, White supremacist heart. In short, black Americans saved the country from itself--and selflessly did so for the betterment of all people(s).
We must always be cautious, for in this triumph, and in the 13th United States Colored Soldiers Living History Association's effort to preserve that history, the ugly, dead hand of White racism still reaches out, wearing the glove of friendship as it tries to resuscitate Confederate nobility and the lie that is the fantasy of Redemption:
“It’s not just black and white. You might almost say there were shades of gray,” Hill said. Ruffin Abernathy went to war with his owner, Tom Abernathy of Giles County. He served as a cook with the 3rd Tennessee Infantry and later as a surgeon’s assistant. After the war, he requested and received a Confederate pension and lived the rest of his long life as a farmer near Pulaski, Tenn.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans approached the family, hoping to place a military headstone on Ruffin Abernathy’s grave as a belated honor. The family agreed, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs balked, arguing that because Abernathy was a slave, he wasn’t really a soldier. “They said he would be considered more like ‘equipment,’ ” Gordon said.
Instead, the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised money on their own to buy new headstones for Abernathy and 17 other black Confederates in the Pulaski cemetery. Gordon and her family attended the ceremony on Nov. 8, 2009, which featured cannon fire and costumed re-enactors firing volleys over the graves.
The re-enactors offered to present a flag to the family — a Confederate flag.
“I was sort of torn about whether to accept,” Gordon said. “I couldn’t see accepting the Confederate battle flag, but there was one flag they called the Bonnie Blue flag of freedom.”
And so the Sons of Confederate Veterans presented the family with the Bonnie Blue flag, a single star on a bright blue background. A star not unlike the North Star that used to guide escaped slaves to freedom.
“I thought, freedom might mean one thing to them,” Gordon said. “And it might mean something else to me.”
The myth makers of Whiteness and the flimflam artists of the Neo-Confederate, White populist, Tea Party crowd are always looking for The Black Confederate Soldier. Somehow, he/she washes away the formal and treasonous declarations made by the South's leaders. Most importantly, the unicorn that is The Black Confederate Soldier acts as a magical totem who rewrites the basic truth that the war between the states first and foremost hinged upon the South's desire (in the name of economic "necessity") to maintain a formal system of white supremacy and the permanent inter-generational bondage of millions of people, a group whose only crime was to be born black in a country where they had "no rights that a white man was bound to respect."As I have written elsewhere, there is no nobility in either the Confederacy or their misadventure. The stars and bars was and remains a symbol of terrorism, treason, and violence. In total, those individuals who honor the Confederacy are celebrating rebellion and white bigotry. By extension, and across the generations, they have blood on their hands.
Ms. Gordon is a better person than I am, for I would have demanded that the Sons of Confederate Veterans stay far away from my ancestors' memory and the honored dead who struggled to survive, live, and triumph despite the wickedness of the White supremacist State known as the CSA.
History is written in drafts. As Americans of all colors, let's at least make sure that we get this central story--that of the Civil War, race, slavery, liberation, and our unfinished democratic project--correct.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Sarah Palin is a chronic panderer and attention whore. One of the least popular Tea Party GOP candidates, she is always involved in a project of self-(re)invention: From a failed TV series, to a movie extolling her patriotic virtues, and now her motorcycle mama phase, Palin is a grizzly bear that cannot stay out of the spotlight.
On a related note, Chicago hosted the International Mr. Leather (IML) competition this weekend. I had intended to go, attend some panels, and do some interviews, but other events interfered. Nonetheless, it was great to see all of the leather daddies out in force (as well as the curious and surprised eyes of tourists and others not in the know, as a young girl was overheard saying, "Why are all those men dressed as policemen daddy?"). Timing is everything. Such then, that Sarah Palin's desperate photo op at the Rolling Thunder rally signals all sorts of BDSM, kink, and fetish potential on her part.
[Consider, Sarah Palin is all into "bears." Now we see her in leather. Call me titillated, but I thinks that Ms. Palin could be a very naughty girl, the type you don't bring home to mother.]
I wonder what the founder of the Carter Johnson Leather Library would think of Palin's energy? I will have to ask her during our interview, which of course I will be sharing here on WARN.
Palin is such good sport. In honor of IML I couldn't resist using her as an entry point for a fun read on leather, kink, and sex. From Time Out magazine:
That's Ms. Leather Daddy to You
In college, as a member of a military fraternity linked to ROTC, Pony (not her given name) developed an interest in bootblacking—the act of caring for another person’s shoes while they’re in them (and the master-slave aspect that comes with it). Last month, after an exhaustive weekend of competition in San Francisco, the Rockford native was crowned International Ms. Bootblack at International Ms. Leather (IMsL), the world’s largest event for leatherwomen. The win took Pony completely by surprise. “I’m not a leather dyke,” says the openly bisexual titleholder. “I’m a girlie femme who wears pink ribbons in my boots.”
As part of her Ms. Bootblack duties, Pony comes to Chicago this weekend to support and coach the men competing for International Mr. Bootblack, part of the International Mr. Leather (IML) weekend. It’s her third appearance at Chicago’s annual fetish mega-event. Pony will be joined by another IMsL winner, Lamalani, a Seattle resident who took home the coveted International Ms. Leather title. “Coming from a Chinese background, I kind of held everything in and didn’t explore that,” Lamalani says of her fetish. “A lot of it is exploring my physical and emotional boundaries. It’s fun, it’s sexy and it’s hot.”
Pony and Lamalani are part of what they say is a growing community of women interested in kink and fetish. But unlike their male counterparts, leatherwomen don’t have neighborhood taprooms like Touché and the Cell Block to explore their interest. That’s okay, they say, because the leather community has been quick to overlook the typical divides between gay/lesbian and gay/straight.
“I’m bisexual and female, but my master is straight and male, and we fit in at all the leather events,” Pony says. “Because we identify as leather and respect the leather history and community, that respect is always returned to us.” Case in point: At Chicago’s fetish joint Jackhammer, people of all sexual orientations and gender expressions are welcome in the basement playground the Hole, provided they’re wearing proper attire.
Lamalani echoes Pony’s sentiment. “I really think it boils down to a leatherperson’s heart, spirit and energy,” she says. At last month’s Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend (CLAW), “the leathermen were just open arms,” Lamalani says. “They didn’t see me as a woman. They saw me as a leatherperson. Because we are outlaws to begin with, we band together with other outlaws.”
Both women say this spirit of inclusion extends to IML, the second- largest leather event in North America after San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair in September. Although they admit that no part of the weekend is aimed specifically at women, who attend in comparatively slight numbers, the event maintains a strong female presence among volunteers, bootblacks and the infamous vendor mart where women might get their fetish going in live BDSM demos or just man a table. According to Pony, the relative rarity of women gives her an added cachet. “My favorite part is the reaction of ‘Oh, my gosh, a real live girl. Can I touch you?’” she says.
But given that there’s no event geared specifically toward the ladies, why should women bother with IML? “An event like IML is really the alternative sexuality community’s World’s Fair, and everybody’s welcome,” says Pony, who, along with Lamalani and other women, can attend the IML and bootblack competitions, hit key parties like GearBlast and the MAUL Uniform Party, attend the Pantheon of Leather (an awards ceremony honoring men, women and clubs), and play alongside male counterparts. “Just the vendor mart itself is a reason to go,” Pony says. “To be able to buy whatever you need or want and have nobody look at you sideways for it is really quite a feat.”
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Ghetto nerds on the rise again as it seems that we are everywhere, the new Renaissance men and women.
It took me a while to see Thor (by the way the Hangover 2 was so blah I fell asleep during it).
I am happy to report that it was giddy, playful, self-aware, and just fun. I also got to see what the hullaboo by the white supremacist Nordic God wannabes was all about regarding the casting of Idris Elba as the character Heimdall. Non-story--of course--as the mythos of the Thor film is such that people from another dimension/plane of existence/planets came to Earth and were adopted by humanity as gods leaves the white identity nationalist victimology crowd looking silly (as they almost always do) by default.
I am still worried about the bloated potential of the upcoming Avengers movie, but Thor's allusion to the Skrull and the Cosmic Cube are a move in the right direction by creating a threat so great that a super team would be necessary to get the win.
The Independent has a great interview with Iris Elba that is well worth reading in its entirety. He seems like such an arrogant, confident, navigating the world in an unapologetically Black way, brother that I can't help but smile. Iris exudes the cool in a way akin to Miles, it just radiates off the screen. A selection from Idris Elba: 'I'm So Hot Right Now':
He's appearing at a cinema near you now in Kenneth Branagh's comic book adaptation, Thor, in which he plays the Norse god Heimdall. The film is spectacular fun, yet Elba is given relatively little to do. So where are the leading roles? Doesn't someone of such undoubted charisma fancy himself for his own superhero franchise?
"I'd be lying if I said no," he agrees. "The dynamics of a superhero character are just larger. I've got a huge imagination, always had. I read Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk as a kid. (And The Beano, naturally.) So to imagine myself doing all that stuff is a real thrill. Thor is a huge, legendary comic book story and I wanted to be a part of it. Heimdall fighting the frost giants! It's just wicked."
His next film is perhaps the most promising yet. A few days after our interview, he's due at Pinewood to begin shooting Ridley Scott's Prometheus, the director's long-awaited prequel to Alien. The production is shrouded in secrecy, and Scott has even tried to play down its links to the original Alien story, but Elba is giddy about the prospect. "I'm ridiculously excited. I worked with Ridley on American Gangster and he is royalty to me. I was three years old when he first conceived the idea for Alien, but it's timeless. You look at the technology he was thinking about then: the robot characters, the mothership. That shit has lived on in movies, on TV. But Ridley was the first to do it."
By this time the two of us are sitting in a quiet pub – me sipping a Coke, he a Carlsberg – with fewer strangers present to witness my emasculation by association. In common with other alpha male celebrities I've encountered, Elba has the air of an entrepreneur; he's the CEO of his own personal brand. It's not entirely specious to compare him to Stringer Bell in this respect: the striving Bell was in the drugs trade, but his real business was himself.
Business, moreover, seems to be Elba's first priority. He has a nine-year-old daughter with his ex-wife, from whom he was divorced before he was 30, and a one-year-old son from another relationship. Beyond that, he says, "I try not to talk about my personal life. It's unfair for the people involved. Right now, I'm single by choice. It's a busy time, and it's hard to maintain a good relationship when you live in a caravan. Know what I mean?"
If you do want to know more about Elba's emotional insides, I would direct you to his personal blog, driis.com, which features a selection of his musical recordings, under the moniker Big Driis. "I might tell you some stuff as a journalist, but I'll be brutally honest in my music. People will know more about me if they listen to my lyrics."
Chuckle if you must, and others have, but Elba has been a DJ since the age of 14, when he would accompany his uncle and his uncle's sound system to weddings. He spun records to pay the bills when he first arrived in the States, has produced two solo EPs, and can now count Jay-Z, Angie Stone and Pharoahe Monch among his collaborators. His music – an accomplished mix of hip-hop and soul – has appeared on the soundtracks to Prom Night and American Gangster.
"I feel like [Kanye] West when he told [Damon] Dash he was trying to rhyme," he raps on "Take Mine", a hip-hop-literate riposte to his doubters. "2 Black 2 Strong", meanwhile, is as self-aggrandising as anything by West himself: "I'm so hot right now ... I'm a one-man Million Man March movement". There are some sensitive love songs, too, though these are offset by the likes of "Sex in Your Dreams", which begins: "I'm in that zone, bone hard diamond-cutter/ Dick thick, like homemade butter..." and proceeds from there.
Friday, May 27, 2011
In Light of the Obama versus West Fracas Let's Talk About First Principles: What Exactly is a Free Black Man?
Just when I say I am out, they pull me back in.
The gravy train keeps on flowing. Now Brother Cornel and Tavis Smiley are adding some closure to the "Is President Obama Black and Progressive Enough?" battle royal intervention/spectacle of these last two weeks.
In the above interview, Dr. West really did a great job of fleshing out some of his claims--and also displayed some intellectual Aikido and misdirection as he called out the "chattering classes." However, there are/is still a meta-level set of questions hanging in the air, questions that to this point have not been thoroughly explored.
Stated simply: first principles have not been satisfied.
This error in reasoning and argumentation has created an entry point for much of the back and forth bomb throwing on the West-Obama episode that has occurred on many websites...and of course here at WARN.
Ultimately, who gets to play the Black authenticity police?
More specifically, what and who is a free black man? What does it mean in this context to be free? What does it mean to be black? How does masculinity complicate the narrative? What happens when those words--which are laden with such great socio-political weight--are put together? What synergy occurs (or not) in that phrasing?
Help a brother out if you could. Many are building an argument based on notions of authentic negritude which are not being interrogated. Thus, unstated assumptions are taken as matters of fact (and agreement). To my eyes and training this is lazy thinking that we all should work to transcend.
So, let's have some real talk about our priors, first principles, and definitions--especially before convening a drumhead court on the deck of the USS Blackness for the purpose of convicting President Barack Obama of crimes either real and imagined.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Sorry Mr. Heller, Marcus Rediker Demolishes Your Claim that Airlines are as Uncomfortable as Slave Ships
In seminars and conferences a half-cooked or ill-conceived idea is often politely greeted with either a "let's move on" or if there is something to be salvaged, a "let's springboard from there."
My response to the silly and childishly provocative essay by Steven Heller at Print magazine, where he suggests that modern domestic airlines have modeled their seating arrangements after those of the floating dungeon slave ships of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is in keeping with the above protocol.
"A Curious Similarity" is banal. Because both the hellish slavers and Southwest Airlines both face an efficiency problem does not make the situation at all comparable. One could point out Heller's epic fail at length, but the best and most compelling ownage was the pithy comment on Print's website that:
Sorry, you trivialized it.
That’s like saying Auschwitz is like summer camp. Hey! They both had bunk beds!
You should thank Gawker for sending traffic your way. Congrats, you’re famous!
But, we can jump off from his foolish proposition and land somewhere more substantial and worthy of our time. I have mentioned Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship: A Human History in previous posts. That book is devastating and the stuff of horror movies. His lecture--which is embedded above--captures the power of his work and is inexorable in pulling the listener into his prose.
Know your history folks.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?
Neatly tied together here, Stanley Crouch has chimed in on Cornel West's critique of Barack Obama. Interestingly,
While it was little discussed at the time, a year or so ago failed academic and bomb throwing polemicist David Horowitz attempted a beat down of Dr. West in a screed called "Hurricane West: Cornel West and American Radicalism." While possessing some pithy prose, Horowitz's assault was predictable and fit perfectly with his Right-wing victimology, conspiranoid fantasies of a Left-wing plot to destroy America.
To my eyes, what is funny/compelling/unintentionally ironic about Horowitz's vicious 2010 hit piece on Cornel West is that in many ways it is a mirror of Crouch's NY Daily News column of a year later.
There, as viewed through Horowitz's lens, President Obama is a dangerous Socialist Progressive anti-American who is in bed with and enabled by Cornel West's activism and ideology, where the latter is a fraud and con artist--he is apparently also an "academic entertainer" and a walking black stereotype:
There is no other explanation for the ability of a shallow, vain, and trivial intellect, a comrade of anti-Semites and violent racists and a friend to America’s enemies, to attain the cultural eminence that Cornel West has achieved....Cornel West can be seen on the one hand as a progressive version of the Stepin Fetchit stereotype — absurd in his stumbling efforts to impersonate an intellectual and to wear the mantle of a prophet of social change. But Cornel West is also the archetype of an American radicalism that has set out to destroy the American experiment, and whose favorite son now occupies the White House as its commander-in-chief. Viewed as a historic force that has conducted a 50-year assault on America’s institutional values and standards and that has driven America’s cultural decline, the progressive Left is a movement that masks malice towards its own country as a love for the world’s powerless and oppressed.To Stanley Crouch, Cornel West is an out of touch activist type who is a huckster and academic circus freak who plays the over-educated fool for trinkets and gold:
Serious black intellectuals privately dismissed West many years ago as no more than an academic loudmouth with a good show business game. He has perfected a variety of poses - from academic to conciliator to rapper - that are intended to give the impression that a very substantial mind is mulling over something and will soon drop some rhetorical bombs that will blow away all nonsense. A staple figure in American comedy is the pompous, educated fool, drowning in narcissism. West has long fit the bill; Harris-Perry finally exposed him for those who didn't already know.I hinted at this before, but will be even more direct at present. There is big money to be made in making sure that one gets their 30 seconds of air time on the Obama-West fracas. I don't want to scream that Horowitz, Crouch, and others are haters per se, but I would certainly whisper the suggestion at a decibel level high enough to hear.
The public intellectual controversy game puts money in the bank and butts in the seat. Thus, why so many want to suckle at the teats in order to move up to the lecture circuit, talking head "A-list." Those who sit in the pews of the Church of Black Authenticity Fighting Over President Obama's Politics need to be mindful of how in their worst moments the chattering classes and the Fourth Estate are (often) playing a game of Three Card Monty on the public.
In sum, the opinion leaders and taste makers do not necessarily care about the common good or the interests of the common man or woman for self-interest is their over-riding principle. We should all be mindful of that fact lest we find ourselves exposed, exhausted, and distracted in this time of national peril.
The Irony of the Black Freedom Struggle's Victory is That We Created a Generation Who Has the Luxury of Not Being Black
I have met so many black folks younger than me who identify as being anything other than what their racial selves actually are. Instead, these young people are "Hispanic," "mixed," "White-identified," "multicultural," "part Indian," or something else. I smirk, because in another age, not too long ago, they too would be up on the auction block with no qualifier given. And for the record none of them could pass the brown paper bag test. Riddle me that one...
In the present, these same folks have the luxury--because of the blood struggles of their ancestors--to run away from blackness. History is laughing, is she not?
I love me some Dr. Akbar. Each week or so I am going to be sharing some of his wisdom for those who are tempted to write off our "Afrocentric" brothers without engaging the knowledge which the best and brightest of them bring to the game.
My rediscovery of Dr. Akbar is pleasant and brings on a laugh or two (or three). As a young college student who was dragged with great resistance by his mentors to the Black Man Think Tanks and other such events across this country, I never would have imagined that in my later years I would come to appreciate the hidden truths and knowledge I was exposed to in those spaces. At the time, I thought those events were spaces of reified black masculinity and tired tropes born of obsolete people searching for relevance.
Now I realize that many young people of color, especially those born in the post-Civil Rights moment, are not equipped with the mental and spiritual armor necessary to deal with the psychic burden of blackness--especially as strength can often be turned into weakness by the forces of backstage and frontstage racism.
The multicultural dreams of their parents, peers, popular culture, teachers, and mentors have left them naked and vulnerable before the continued onslaught of structural and impersonal racism. Using a military analogy, old school bigotry was the massed firepower of artillery and the machine gun at the Somme. Modern racism is asymmetrical warfare that beats you with a thousand little cuts backed up by a single JDAM dropped at high altitude from a B-2 stealth bomber that you never hear or see.
My mentors left me prepared to deal with both types of attack. For that gift I am thankful...however belated I may be in offering love and respect.
The last few weeks' conversations about Obama, race, authenticity, and identity can all draw a direct line back to Dr. Akbar's brilliant observation about the trap of freedom and racial self-identification in the glow of the Civil Rights Movement's many successes.
It would seem that race as lived practice and identity in the Age of Obama is indeed a paradox, one that we are still sorting out. Is linked fate and a keen sense of what "black is and black ain't" a blessing or a curse? Is Cornel "blacker" than Obama? Is Cain a "real" black man? Is President Obama a Black president or is he a man who happens to be black? What do we owe to our children and to each other in teaching these lessons?
I am still groping for an answer. Perhaps, we can help each other find one together.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Lisa Lampanelli is white. She is also one of the most existentially and physically unattractive white women I have ever seen. What then to the hypothesis that whiteness equals beauty?
Apparently, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. If Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa's "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?" is to be believed, it is an empirical "fact" that can be arrived at through the scientific method.
When this story circulated about these Internets last week I did not comment on the big ballyhoo the resulted because it was uninteresting and a bit "meh" to me.
While I understood the hurt feelings, feelings by themselves are not a substitute for reasoned engagement (on that note, his colleagues and students are taking Kanazawa to the woodshed as they should). Moreover, I found it more problematic that Psychology Today quickly deleted the piece and through it down the memory well. That was cowardly, but they are in the money making and not the truth telling business.
Ultimately, Kanazawa's work is piss poor science and I did not feel the need to put on my wading boots. The argument as outlined suffers from problems of construct validity (is Kanazawa actually measuring "beauty" or something else entirely? Are his variables accurate? Are objective measures of beauty as gathered by subjective interviewers reliable or consistent?). The model that he offers is also misspecified (are the relationships between the independent variables correct?). I am not a stats head, but even I could catch those pop up fly balls.
The measurement of beauty is an interesting project and certainly worth exploring. But, and here is Kanazawa's critical error, the concept of beauty is laden with history and socio-political baggage. The notion of beauty is socially constructed and not a fixed or real thing; beauty legitimates certain regimes of truth; and like the race science of an earlier age validates the assumed superiority and assumptions of those who are both creating and administering the test. While trying to reduce this to a scientific puzzle, Dr. Kanazawa, a professor at the esteemed and prestigious LSE, should have known to pick up a few history and social science texts--and consult with his colleagues who study the history and philosophy of science--before endeavoring to explore the relationships between race and science.
[The fact that an Asian brother is conducting research that validates the beauty of white women--and what that says about internalized white racism and the power of Whiteness as normativity--is another dynamic that demands comment, one I will leave that to others.]
The idea of whiteness as THE beauty standard is centuries old. It was created at the nexus of the imperial and colonial projects to rationalize and justify the exploitation of the world by Europeans. The idea that whiteness equals beauty is exposed as a patent lie when the normative philosophy and race thinking underlying the assumption is exposed on its own terms.
To point, the following selection on the relationship between whiteness, beauty, and science from Nell Irvin Painter's great book, The History of White People:
White asks, "Where shall we find unless in the European, that nobly arched head, containing such a quantity of brain...?" The mention of brain leads to a physiognomy of intelligence that recalls Camper's facial angle; White continues, "Where the perpendicular face, the prominent nose, and round projecting chin?" He ends with a soft-porn love note to white feminine beauty that incorporates the fondness for the blush found in many a hymn to whiteness. White and Thomas Jefferson shared with many others this enthusiasm for the virtuous pallor of privileged women. White asks, "In what other quarter of the globe shall we find that blush that overspreads the soft features of the beautiful women of Europe, that emblem of modesty, of delicate feelings, and of sense? Where that nice expression of the amiable and softer passions in the countenance; and that general elegance of features and complexion? Where, except on the bosom of the European woman, two such plump and snowy white hemispheres, tipt with vermillion?"
Sadly, even in the 21st century there are many people who belong to the colored races of the world that both consciously and subconsciously embrace the idea that whiteness is de facto beauty.
It is funny then, that some may scream and howl at the offense committed by Professor Kanazawa, but how many of said protesters believe on a deep and existential level that he was actually correct? Thus, no small amount of Fanon mixed with Freudian projection is the 800 pound elephant in the room that few want to engage.
“Awww Shucky Ducky!” Herman Cain Plays the Black Buffoon as He Announces his 2012 Presidential Campaign Run
Staged in Herman Cain’s hometown of
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Race Minstrelsy Redux: Herman Cain Announces Presidential Campaign with Eminently Quotable Catch Phrase "Shucky Ducky (Quack Quack)"
Dignity walked out of the room at the two-minute forty four second mark of this video. Frankly, when will Herman Cain finally break out the burnt cork and just get it over with?
With Obama's presidential victory we saw one glass ceiling shattered. Akin to the three minute mile, with Cain's announcement, the shucky ducky (quack quack) barrier in American politics has finally been broken.
I am at a loss for words. The absurdities of race in the Age of Obama continue once more.
Wow, the semiotics of Cain's campaign video are not that deep at all. They are grossly superficial. Color me a bit underwhelmed.
[Question: With all of that cowboy imagery, is Herman Cain channeling black George Bush meets an unknown character from the Mario Van Peeble's movie Posse?]
So it begins. This will be comedy gold as the CPAC Borneo man mascot black conservative sock puppet for the Tea Party GOP officially enters the race.
In the midst of all this joy, I do have a little pain related to Cain's announcement that I would like to share. Zora, one of the founding members of this blog, called me this morning and said that Cain's success is all my fault. She suggested that Cain rode Chauncey DeVega's calling him out all the way to Fox News, and that he should have paid me 15 percent for all the free publicity.
I responded that "history is made by little people, and by often random happenings." Moreover, there is nothing that I could do to prevent the overflowing of the fetid toilet water of the Tea Party GOP from which the Cains, Thomases, and Keyeses of the world emerge.
Even I cannot fight the laws of physics.
The black garbage pail kids conservative menace will always be with us. They will remain the stuff of high comedy. And I will forever enjoy throwing quarters, pennies, and dimes at them while they buckdance for the entrainment and pleasure of the White Conservative Imagination.
Life is good. Yes it really is.
Friday, May 20, 2011
The End is Near! Nevermind Harold Camping's Warnings, Mr. Ghetto's Walmart Video is a True Sign of the Apocalypse
The end of the world is here! No, really it is...at least if you believe Christian evangelical snake oil salesman Harold Camping. But, the portents were not in scripture or in secret signs only discernible to the elect. In its infinite wisdom God sent messengers and prophetic wisdom in many forms. The Mr. Ghetto's Walmart video is one such hint that the end is indeed near.
[Question: What an utterly obvious name? Where is the irony? The creativity? The wit? Dude is from "the ghetto" and rhymes about Walmart. Thus, our failed emcee is "Mr. Ghetto" with a song entitled "Walmart." Is this dearth of ability in our wordsmith the inevitable result of the No Child Left Behind Act? By the way, I offer no comment on those mud duck video vixens...
To my common refrain: once more Daniel Patrick Moynihan is proven right, each and every day, in ways both small and large.]
I don't know if you are going to jump out of your clothes tomorrow and ascend into heaven. I am practical. Thus, I am more worried about all of the planes, trains, and buses that will be driver-less tomorrow than the status of my eternal soul come Saturday at 6pm EST.
But won't I/we be a sucker(s) if Rapture comes tomorrow and I wasn't out tonight eating filet mignon, taking a few sisters for a ride on Space Mountain, and then bringing a select few back home to fry some chicken for me topless in a fantasy that is one part Anais Nin and two parts Pablo Neruda. Oh the erotic possibilities of food and sex. I will be doubly sure to adequately indulge all of these base impulses this evening, as it may be my last night on Earth.
Who knows? Maybe the joke is on all of us non-believers who are not "rapture ready?" We could in fact already be in Hell, and "hip hop" such as the Walmart anthem are our eternal torment--minstrel hop, crap rap, mass culture's version of Dante's Inferno.
This is likely my final post on the Cornel vs. Obama battle.
These Internets are such a source of surprise and wonder. While we lament the decline of the Black public sphere, acknowledge the reality of the Black counter-public, and embrace the hard truths of the black superpublic, much good has come from an expansion and overflowing of Black genius and the diversity of thought in our community towards the direction of audiences that may not have (in other circumstances) been exposed to it.
To point: Crooks and Liars has a great interview with Princeton University's own Dr. Eddie Glaude, Chair of the Department of Af-Am studies, where he adds some nuance to Cornel West's critique of President Barack Obama. This brother is tight and on point. He is also the author of the amazing In a Shade of Blue (for those curious as to how I came upon my embrace of Black pragmatism look no farther than Brother Glaude's amazing, efficient, and sharp work).
Next to American Theocracy, Democracy Inc., Black Visions, A Nation Under our Feet, The Slave Ship, All the World is a Ghetto, The Black Fantastic, and Democracy Remixed, Professor Glaude's In a Shade of Blue is one of my favorite books of the last few years. I don't shill for products on this site, so take my endorsements as real talk--these are works you all need to read.
In the following interview Dr. Glaude does a great job of discussing the hows and whys of Cornel West's position, and what it signals to about the terrain of, and discourses surrounding, contemporary Black politics.
Listen to Dr. Glaude's great interview here on The Majority Report.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
A Voice of Reason: In the Shadows of Barack vs. West, Joe Feagin Explains Why President Obama Must Be Ninja on All this Race Business
Over at The Nation, Melissa Harris-Perry, also a Princeton professor, is very critical of West for his personalizing attack on Obama’s heritage and whitewashed background, even as a hypocritical West himself has lived in a mostly white world since adulthood, especially as a professor at elite white universities. However, like several others, her critique is almost entirely about West’s own life and personal situation, but she mostly ignores West’s on-target structural critique of Obama’s (obligatory?) selling out to corporate America.
Indeed, West is correct that working class and strong progressive, especially independent and forthright black, Americans have very few prominent voices in the top ranks of the Obama administration, including just one cabinet member not from the political or economic establishment. What the critiques of West leave unsaid is that what West is focusing most on how individual black success in U.S. politics, as for Obama, has not meant significant advances for black Americans as a group, nor for Americans of color collectively.
Indeed, what is missing from West’s own critical analysis is the next obvious question: Why does the “not independent” Obama play up to the interests and issues of the dominant white elite and larger white population? This is not a character flaw, but rather about the foundational reality and continuing strength of the white racist system. That is the elephant in the room that not even West calls out.
As I and my colleagues have argued before, black candidates for state and national political offices, like President Obama, cannot adopt, even occasionally, a black counter-framed perspective on the action necessary to deal with the extensive discrimination and severe socioeconomic problems faced by black communities and other communities of color, and expect to win. Even in part, black candidates cannot articulate what they will do to deal with extensive racial discrimination and related racial problems if they are elected, yet when white candidates tell white communities what they will do for them, almost no one accuses them of “playing the race card.”
In contrast, black candidates need only to touch on issues of developing anti-discrimination and desegregation programs for black Americans and other people of color, and they are often called out as biased or extremist...
White candidates and elected politicians regularly take action openly benefiting white communities. Although Obama has not ignored the needs of communities of color in his presidency, he has had to take modest action, and that quietly, to benefit the black community, such as on improving funding for black colleges.
Arnie was creeping on his wife. The love child's baby mama is a woman of color. When I saw her picture I said "damn." Arnie, dude, you can do so much better.
But alas, Governor Schwarzenegger's peccadillo is my chance to post some classic Conan, Arnold in his prime, chasing the punani and boasting about his orgasmic prowess clips. I could care less about the governator's adultery. I am a ghetto nerd 1980s baby who just loves him some of the Terminator.
Crom would be proud of your recklessness Arnold. Yes, he would. But next time, find a queen worthy of your super sperm.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Internacine Negro Warfare for White Spectatorship: Apparently Cornel West is the New KKK Because He Criticized Obama
Shameless self-promotion: I will be on The Ed Schultz radio show tomorrow (Thursday, May 19th at 2pm eastern time). The saga continues. Please send me some love so I bring it correct.
On the internecine negro dustup of the moment: See what happens when you black folks put your business out in the street? This Cornel vs. Obama mess is a spectacle akin to the battle royal in Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man. The White gaze is real. Predictably, now we have professional pontificates abusing the language of "racism" and suggesting that Brother West is akin to the KKK--the largest domestic terrorist organization in American history. Why? Because he, a black man, dared to criticize another black man.
Cornel didn't hang any strange fruit. Nor, did he kill some thousands of African Americans across one hundred plus years. But the goal posts for white supremacy--with its ruthless enforcement of the Racial State's regime of dominative racism--have apparently shifted in the Age of Obama.
The sharks smell blood. They love to see some crabs in a barrel fighting it out. Sadly, it seems that some black folks who ought to know better are willing to feed the 24/7 media monster until its belly is full and bursting at the seams.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Cornel West Goes Hard on the President: I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men...
Hat tip to Ta-Nahesi Coates for this one.
It would seem that Cornel West is none to pleased with Barack Obama. I have nothing but love for Brother Cornel and count him as a family and personal friend. But the portrait he paints of Obama--and unintentionally of himself--in this piece by Chris Hedges is devastating, just damning, for lack of a better word.
“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation.Dr. West is pissed and personally hurt by what he perceives as disrespect by the President, a man he advised, campaigned for, and of whom he was an early supporter. President Obama and his retinue are upset that Dr. West is being a bit impolitic and calling him out personally. Thus the tragedy of the base--one that is especially great for those Progressives who elected Obama into office.
When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome.
Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.
“He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” he says. “He’s got two homes. He has got his family and whatever challenges go on there, and this other home. Larry Summers blows his mind because he’s so smart. He’s got Establishment connections. He’s embracing me. It is this smartness, this truncated brilliance, that titillates and stimulates brother Barack and makes him feel at home. That is very sad for me..."
He cannot be what you want him to be. This was predictable. That reality does not make it right. But in a country where "left,""liberal," and "progressive" are still dirty words, and democracy has been replaced by a corporatocracy, no true radical will ever likely don the cape and crown of the Presidency. Sorry.
Some of what Brother Cornel sons Obama for echoes the conversations that we have had here on We Are Respectable Negroes. Funny, when your own criticisms of Obama's attitude, blackness, and identity are mirrored by a 3rd party it sort of feels unseemly.
Consequently, I think I am going to take a moment of "critical self-reflection" and meditate on what is out of bounds, and perhaps not even accurate, regarding how we triangulate blackness (and a commitment to black America) with President Obama and his policy decisions.
Am I alone, or do you all get where I am coming from?
Newt Gingrich is an existentially ugly person.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Why not? I will make you
relatively unknown except in this part of these Internets famous as an object for derision and mocking lesson in white privilege.
In the classroom, instructors are subject to the perils of student evaluations. Despite one's best efforts, talent, hard work, and quality teaching, many snowflakes take it as an opportunity to retaliate for their own willful ignorance and laziness. But, those evaluations do often contain pearls of wisdom that are useful as one perfects their craft. When you submit a journal article or a book proposal you get lots of feedback too. Again, there is a chance for pettiness (especially if the reviewer has figured out who you are and has an ax to grind), but in total, the experience is productive and helpful.
I have often thought it would be great if students could record video journals where they try to to explain what their take away is from the reading, a day's lecture, or a seminar. The disconnect between what is intended by the teacher and what is received by students would likely be great.
"Racism on Liberal Side," is a powerful example of the very concepts which the literature on Whiteness and white privilege is grounded upon. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts at hand, no small amount of ignorance on the realities of race, power, and institutions, and the entry point into Dannyruxspin's rant is the bogeyman of "racism"--a concept he clearly does not grasp.
The myopia of whiteness on display is blinding. It is also both instructive and gratifying to see concepts written about in the abstract proven true (even by those who would deny their existence and saliency).
But I must ask, why is whiteness so unsettled and upset when confronted? It holds all the cards, but is so reflexive and easily threatened. Please, can you help me understand this paradox?
Saturday, May 14, 2011
The Joys of Politically Incorrect Humor and Why Black Folks Got to Stop Being Mean and Angry All The Time
Blogger has fixed its gremlins and gotten the ghost out of the machine...fingers crossed.
Some good things are happening this weekend: I will be on Ring of Fire Radio today--Saturday, May 14th--talking about my piece on white privilege and the now hobbled Birther Movement. Mike P is cool people and has had me on quite a few times, so please check out the show either online or live on the radio.
I also have a piece that is featured on Alternet. One of my friends challenged me. He said that I am "just" a race man and am pigeonholing myself, if I want to do the pundit thing one day I need to show some breadth. My Alternet piece on the systemic strategy of historical revisionism by Conservatives is my effort to show that there are many styles in my dojo. Tell me what you think pro and con if you get a chance.
Black folks can be a grumpy bunch. We are always looking for something to gripe out, some racist bogeyman to chase down, or some crisis, real or imagined, to immerse ourselves in. The faux controversy over Telemundo's "racist" "Afro-Monkey" comedy skit is one such moment. Although there is no accounting for taste--and I freely admit that I am a proud Negro who still doesn't eat fried chicken or watermelon in mixed company--we need to confront an uncomfortable truth.
Oftentimes the most impolitic aspects of popular culture can be the most pleasure filled. While we may decry the ideologies at work in a given text, we are often at an impasse because the rules of political correctness do not always govern the intangible rules of pleasure and joy.
How many hip hop feminists for example publicly decry "misogyny" in rap lyrics but privately play the most provocative and politically incorrect music for their own entertainment (or booty tapes)? How many black folks decried Amos and Andy or Good Times, but secretly pulled down the shades in their houses and reveled in the laughter and joyous release provided by those "less than convenient for the project of black political empowerment" TV shows?
We are a people like any other. We are ugly. We are beautiful. We are grand. We are petty. Our art and music can be brilliant. It can also be grotesque. In all these cases, the agents on this stage of life are no less black and authentic.
Just like Hoyt said in Training Day, when you can balance the smiles and cries you will have figured out the streets. In parallel, I would suggest that when one can balance the complexities of black life as a preeminently human condition (while simultaneously struggling to negotiate the riddle of Black Respectability) you will have figured out one small part of our Blues Predicament.
Remember folks, it is okay to laugh. The Black Superpublic has made our private joys public. While there are many reasons to deny the pleasures of inconvenient humor, sometimes we just have to give in to the smiles...