Saturday, June 4, 2011

No Small Amount of Complexity: Free Blacks Who Owned Other African-Americans During Slavery

Earlier this week, I offered an intervention regarding African-American Civil War reenactors and how many Americans still hold on to basic misunderstandings about the institution of slavery and the Black Freedom Struggle.

One of our commenters, Nomad, was kind enough to offer some push back on what he saw as problematic, binary assumptions regarding race and the Southern slaveocracy. There, he suggested the common understanding that black slave owners were for the most part benevolent (owning kin folk to protect them from enslavement by whites) was somewhat overstated. Nomad and I dialogued. Subsequently, I went down the rabbit hole and learned some new things about free blacks in the South who owned other African Americans as slaves.

The institution of chattel slavery in America was prefaced on white supremacy. It was a system almost uniformly unique to, and reserved for, Black people in the United States. However, like all social institutions there is much complexity (and times where the exception proves the rule) in how individuals interact with, manipulate, as well as suffer under it.

I am not a historian of the South and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, so those of you who may be please share any insights or additional information that you may have on the subject. I am especially curious as to the reliability of the following accounts, as well as the state of historiography on the subject of free blacks who participated in the slave trade. I would really like to know how accurate Popular Science was--the source of the following information--as a journal of record in the early 20th century.

[There is a separate post to be done on the rise of mass communication, the popular press, and in particular the role of magazines in both maintaining--and eventually tearing down--the Racial State and American Apartheid.]

As I am fond of saying, black folks are like any other people in the range of our humanity: some of us heroic, others trying just to survive, many are greedy, others selfless, and a few truly great and amazing. The following accounts are powerful examples of how we worked to maintain family, but also how black Americans were also property to be traded, purchased on credit and installment plans, and part of the ledger sheet to be accounted for in probate.

Example One: The Trickster Entrepreneur
There was a negro named Nat Butler who lived near Aberdeen, Harford County, Md., who owned a small farm and bought and sold negroes for the southern trade. This sharp and noted fellow would persuade a slave to run off and hide for a few days at a place prepared by Butler, who would in the meantime see the master of the runaway and learn the price he would take for him. If the owner had little hope of recovering his slave and so placed the price low, Nat would buy him and resell him to slave dealers who knew Butler's rendezvous for hidden negroes. His conduct became so notorious that he lost the confidence of slave owners and respect of negroes, who several times tried to murder him.
Example Two: Working hard, and making difficult choices, in order to maintain family
Jim Scott, a worthy colored man of the same county, was a local preacher and an industrious servant. He bought himself, wife and children from his master, Mr. George Amos, giving his own note, endorsed by his white neighbors. He hired out his wife and larger children and himself for ten years and paid off his indebtedness. He offered his son Henry to Mr. Henry Webster of "Webster's Forest" for three hundred dollars for five years, or until he was twenty-five years of age. Another negro in the same region sold his children in order to purchase his wife and set her free.

Dick Hunter, of Laurens County, S. C, was the slave of his wife, and he finished paying for himself long after the civil war. He died in 1902. Dick was first owned by Mr. James Hunter. The master entered into an arrangement with the boy, an intelligent youth, by which the latter was permitted to work for others for wages and reserve a part of his earnings to be applied to the purchase of his freedom, one thousand dollars being the stipulated price. Dick married a woman of color, and had paid six hundred dollars of his purchase money when his master died intestate, leaving no record of his private arrangement with the slave boy. Thereupon Dick was sold as one of the properties of the estate and was bought by a bachelor named Nugent. 

Meanwhile Dick's wife had died and he married another free woman of color. This woman purchased her husband from Nugent, agreeing to pay for him on the installment plan. During four or five years the installments were paid, amounting to several hundred dollars. Then the civil war broke out, and in a little while Nugent died. His estate was claimed by relatives who lived in the west, and contracts between masters and slaves for the manumission of the latter were at that time frowned upon by the law. 
Dick was put upon the block and sold for the second time, bringing fifteen hundred dollars. The buyer was again his wife and she was enabled to make the purchase through the generosity and compassion of a white neighbor, Mr. Clark Templeton, who provided the money. When the war ended this debt was still due Templeton's estate, and Dick did not repudiate it, though doubtless under the law he might have done so. On the other hand, he continued to work and save, and in the course of six or eight years after emancipation he paid the last dollar with interest.
Example three: Beware a woman scorned who happens to own you as a slave
Aunt Fanny Canady was a colored woman of Louisville, Ky., who bought herself and several members of her family. She also owned her husband, named Jim, a little drunken cobbler. One day Fanny went into her husband's shop with fire in her eyes and finger pointed at her husband. She said, "Jim, if you don't 'have yourself, I'm gwine sell you down river." Jim sat mute and trembling, as to send down the river meant to sell to a negro trader and to be taken to the cotton fields of the far south.
Example four: Likewise, if your son owns you as a slave, you had best be appreciative and respectful towards him
Judge William Gasken, who owned the man of whom we have just told, was thrice married, one of his wives being a daughter of Colonel McClure, of New Bern. After his death, one of the slaves, Jacob, became the property of Mrs. Gasken. This Jacob's wife was a free woman, and they had a son Jacob, then a young man and free, of course, as the child of a free woman. Aided by his mother's efforts, he managed to purchase his father at a very reasonable price as negroes were then held. All went smoothly for awhile, when young Jacob did not act as his father thought he should and his parent reproved him with fatherly love. Young Jacob was so disgruntled that he went off to a negro speculator named John Gildersleeve, who was from Long Island and was then in New Bern. This trader bought the father at a high price and at once sent him off south. Young Jacob afterward boasted that "the old man had gone to the corn fields about New Orleans where they might learn him some manners."
Example five: White folks look out for their own. Don't ever forget that chattel slavery in America was the "peculiar institution," one exclusively reserved for Black people
There were instances in which free negroes became the purchasers and masters of transported white people, redemptioners. An example of the purchase by free negroes of two families of Germans who had not been able to pay their passage from Amsterdam to Baltimore and were sold for their passage money to a term of labor, is given in a volume issued in 1818 in Stuttgart. It contains letters written in 1817 addressed from Baltimore to the Baron von Gagern, Minister Plenipotentiary to the diet in Frankfort-on-the-Main. The Germans of Baltimore were so outraged by this action that they immediately got together a purse and bought the freedom of these immigrants. An early law of Virginia is aimed at the same thing, and forbids negroes or Indians to buy "Christian servants," but permits them to purchase those of their own "nation."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Did You Know that Tom Jones was Black? The Black Israelites Share The Secret History of White People with the BBC

Last night I saw X-Men: First Class at a free screening courtesy of Aint It Cool News here in Chicago. I am going back to get more of that goodness this weekend and you all should too.

In the meantime, these Youtube Internets has yielded more lost/found knowledge for our enjoyment.

There is some great synergy here. First, I love the Black Israelites--especially when they fight zombies or make privileged, self-entitled, young white college snowflakes cry. Add them to some Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends, which was one of the best shows on cable at the time (along with Michael Moore's The Awful Truth), and you have a wondrous gem.

I always knew that Tom Jones was a brother. He, along with Emeril Lagasse (who comes from Fall River, Massachusetts and also cooks Hoppin' John Black Eyed Peas for luck on New Years...what other proof do you need!), I have long suspected of passing in plain sight. But, the Black Israelites in their "dropnology" and excavation of hidden histories are also demonstrating how information without context can be quite problematic. Oftentimes, it can often do more harm than good--to all parties involved.

Thus, the "front toward enemy" claymore mine rule of research, teaching, and punditry: take cover and when in doubt make sure that the enemy gets the full force of whatever fire you are throwing out. The Black Israelites's "seminar" with Louis Theroux fits that rubric perfectly.

Earlier this week I shared some of The History of White People. Here is a second dose of Dr. Painter's brilliant historiography. If the brothers in the Black Israelites get a hold of this book they are going to have some real combustibles to work with and folks had best duck for cover when they detonate them:
Jean Baptiste Chardin (1643-1713)--also known as Sir John Chardin--A French Protestant (Huguenot) whose family were jewelers to the court of Louis XIV, traveled routinely to Persian and Indian in the 1670s and 1680s seeking rare baubles for the French royal household...A scientist at heart, he took meticulous notes while racked by constant fear.
Chardin loathed the chaotic Black Sea region, where brigands controlled the highways, often threatening his goods, his freedom, and his life. As he says of Circassians, "it is impossible for them to glimpse an opportunity for thievery without taking advantage of it." They eat with their hands, go to the bathroom right next to where they eat, and then continue eating without washing. Chardin is totally disgusted.

The habits of the Mingrelians (Caucasian people on the northeast coast of the Black Sea) are vile. They "and their neighbors are huge drunkards, worse than the Germans and all the northern Europeans when it comes to drink." Not only do Mingrelians consider assassination, murder, and incest as admirable traits, they steal each other's wives without compunction. The women are not much better; they were too much makeup and their bodily stench overcomes whatever amorous intention their appearance might have inspired. "These people are complete savages," Chardin rails.
Wham. Boom. There goes the dynamite.

As a Friday bonus, here is one more clip from Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends where the irreplaceable Khalid Muhammad offers one of my favorite quoteables of all time on the relationship between white people, fashion, and his choice in pants:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion: Chauncey DeVega on Ring of Fire Radio Discussing Tea Party Racism

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.

Explaining How and Why America is a White Man's Country...

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:

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.

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 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.

In sum, it is great to see a group of African American Civil War reenactors who are taking some control of their own history. Making that legacy come alive is important. But, we cannot abandon the fight in the present for controlling the meta-narrative about our own history, or for liberating our minds and cognitive schema from the muck and mire that is White racism.

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

She's Rolling Thunder: Sarah Palin isn't a "Motorcycle Mama", She is a "Leather Dyke"

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 TouchĂ© 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

A Ghetto Nerd Win: Quick Thoughts on Thor and an Interview with Idris Elba

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,, 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?

Watch the full episode. See more Tavis Smiley.

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!

Heller is profoundly ignorant. That deficiency can be cured with effort. I suggest that he start with some Olauduh Equiano, Philip Curtin, Questioning Slavery and then move forward from there.

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

Stanley Crouch Channels David Horowitz and Attacks Cornel West

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, Grimace look alike Stanley Crouch defends Obama and the "blackademics" against West's charges that the President's policies are contrary to the good of the Black community.

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

Raggedy Race Science Revisited: Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?

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

There, Princeton University Professor and public intellectual Cornel West launched a broadside against President Obama about apparent deficiencies in how the latter has attended to the political interests and needs of the black community--as well as the working classes and poor, more generally--during his first term in office. Predictably, the African American pundit class was up in arms and quickly chose sides. Some rallied to Cornel’s clarion call. Others took up the banner of President Barack Obama.

To my eyes, the beauty of this moment was how some of the big and perennial questions which surround black politics in the post-Civil Rights era (conversations that are often limited to barbershops, hair salons, living rooms, churches, and classrooms), were debated in public—and at least for a moment were central to the national conversation as we collectively negotiate just what Obama’s presidency means for the dynamics of race in America. 

In total, the Cornel West versus President Obama fracas was a great example of the diversity in political thought among African Americans, and one more indicator for outsiders and the uninformed that black folk—like any other group—are not a hive mind that walks zombie-like to the beat of the same political drummer.

It is ironic then, that as a fitting footnote and coda to this conversation, that Herman Cain, self-described “American Black Conservative” and leading Tea Party GOP figure, announced at a rally held on Saturday that he would be running for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election.

Staged in Herman Cain’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, the political theater was indeed grand. Cain strutted to the stage before an almost uniformly White, Tea Party friendly audience. All eyes were glued to this charismatic figure, a black dot in a sea of white bodies, a man who is one part motivational speaker and two parts infomercial pitchman. Cain paused and took in the moment.

History has indeed come full circle. In another century, not too long ago, this would be a scene more akin to a lynching. Where instead of strange fruit ready to be hung and harvested by a blood thirsty rabid crowd of white folks, Cain was greeted with cheers and love by throngs of his Tea Party GOP White Populist devotees. Then, he proceeded to make history: before a live crowd of many thousands, and a national TV audience of many more, Herman Cain channeled all of the energy of Tyler Perry (sans cross-dressing), Meet the Browns, Amos and Andy, as well as Steppin Fetchit, and in his well practiced faux “Southern Negro dialectic” inaugurated the “Awww Schucky Ducky” era of American politics.

When Herman Cain uttered that phrase at the two minute and forty four second mark of his speech, Dignity personified walked out of the room. In total, there are 40 million ways to be Black in America. And just as he did at the freak show carnivalesque Conservative Political Action Conference some months ago, in that moment Herman Cain chose to be a black buffoon for the joys and pleasures of White Conservatives. Sadly it is a script, that like many Black Conservatives before him, Cain knows all too well.

How he chooses to perform his blackness—and do not be mistaken, it is a carefully mediated, honed, and polished routine that is precise in how it fulfills the fantasies of the White Conservative Soul and tickles the delights of the White gaze—is directly related to the grotesque policies that Cain, like many other Tea Party GOP candidates, endorse.

Herman Cain was a leading supporter of the Birther Movement. He wants to further encourage the growth of the corporatecracy and upward maldistribution of the wealth in this country. A self-professed bigot and Islamophobe, Herman Cain is also a religious zealot who in defiance of the Constitution—a document that Conservatives make into a fetish and magical totem—would implement tests of a person’s Judeo Christian faith in order to determine their qualification for public office. Slipping further into “conspiranoid” land, Cain also believes that the reproductive health services offered by Planned Parenthood are part of a genocidal plot to destroy the black family.

Like many Conservatives, he is also drunk on the fiction that cutting taxes and redistributing wealth to the rich will create prosperity for all. Like other Tea Party GOP candidates, a group wallowing in the toxic afterbirth of Reagan’s lie of trickle down economics and the Laffer curve, Cain wants to balance the federal budget on the backs of the poor and working classes through the implementation of a national sales tax and other regressive fiscal measures.

When looked at collectively, black conservatives in the mold of Herman Cain are upright walking human chaff for the most pernicious policies of the Right-wing and Conservatism in the United States. In a perverse play on “the race card” and Conservative victimology, they provide both cover and a defense for charges that these policies are pernicious and harmful to the Common Good, as any critiques of said policies can be summarily dismissed by the Right-wing as “racist.” Ultimately, as I have suggested many times, if you kick over any of the rocks that are giving cover to some of the most extreme policies of the New Right Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama, a black conservative is almost always uncovered.

For example, Herman Cain shills for the wrong side of history as he tries to vindicate the most extreme elements of social and political Conservatism. Clarence Thomas voted against a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act. Thomas also strongly supported the infamous Citizens United case, where he issued an opinion that lets corporations give unlimited secret monies to political candidates. Juan Williams is a snarling attack dog who cries the victim as he works to support defunding NPR and PBS. And finally, Representative Allen West wants to defund Medicare and leave the country’s most vulnerable citizens open to the predatory practices of the private insurance market.

There are a set of noteworthy paradoxes at work in Cain’s presidential run. Herman Cain is all about race, while simultaneously having nothing to do with race. Herman Cain’s blackness is central to his performance, but Black political interests have nothing to do with his policies. If candidate Herman Cain’s antics to this point are any an indication of what is to come, the “Awww Schucky Ducky” era of American politics will be mighty entertaining.

Funny, at the nadir of American Empire we can fiddle while Rome burns, but if Cain has his way, Nero will most certainly be wearing blackface as he buckdances for gold and silver as the country descends into further rot.

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?

And I must ask: Shucky ducky (quack quack)? We have truly entered bizarro world when a Presidential candidate--a black one at that--announces his candidacy to a White Populist "Pro-America" Tea Party GOP crowd with that phrase.

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.

The Apocalypse is Here! Herman Cain is Officially Running for President

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 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.

Measured Wisdom Part Two: Princeton's Eddie Glaude on the Cornel West and Barack Obama Fracas

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

There are levels upon levels of complexity and nuance in the Cornel West vs. Barack Obama fracas. As I hinted at earlier, there is some serious inside baseball going on here that will inevitably come to light--especially as more public intellectual academic types join the rumble.

Some have suggested that the election of Barack Obama was a moment wherein the old guard of the Afrotocracy was forced to face their obsolescence. From Jesse's desire to crush Obama's nuts, Reverend Wright's powerful truth telling, to Dr. West's hurt feelings and wanting to son the President for "not being a free black man," divides between the Civil Rights and post-Civil Rights generation are inevitable. The question remains unanswered if these differences are either healthy and/or helpful to the long, glorious Black Freedom Struggle.

Moreover, the West vs. Obama episode does not signal the end of "identity politics" as some have over-reached in suggesting. As long as there are White people there will be identity politics in this country. As long as there are Black people there will be black politics, black political interests, and a black agenda. And with the "browning" of America race will remain salient, precisely because it is a cognitive map that we use to navigate the world. Ultimately, the "race business" is really a reflection of how deeply white supremacy structures this country's social and political institutions.

Eminent Professor Joe Feagin (an amazing sociologist and all around nice guy by the way who I finally met a few months ago while he was here in Chicago) has some words of wisdom and measured reflection on President Obama's challenge in navigating the perilous straits of being the first President who happens to be black. On his site Racism Review, Dr. Feagin makes the sharp observation that:
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.
The questions surrounding race, identity, group interests, loyalty, and the symbolic power of America's first Black President--and his obligations (if any) to the African American community--are not going away anytime soon. At times, it is necessary to state the obvious. President Obama is not perfect. He is a man who happens to be both black and the President of the United States. He is not a magical salve or a superhero. And as hard as this is for some to hear, Obama's blackness and his presidency are coincidental--and given America's history, almost mutually exclusive to one another.

I have thought much on the following point and am surprised that more have not signaled to it: Obama as a "first" carries the burdens and dreams of so many on his shoulders. Sadly, realpolitik demands that he disappoint even as he blazes a trail forward. Obama is a consummate politician. His success in that milieu is a twisted sort of progress, for in a way he is just like all the others. That my friends is the unintended (or was it intentional?) consequence of the triumph of "colorblind" politics in the post-Civil Rights moment.

In total, disappointment knows no boundaries of color, race, or creed, for disappointment and compromise are the cement of politics both before and after the Age of Obama. That is a reality which will not change anytime soon. We should learn to accept it, even as we push Obama to be more true to the progressive vision he offered during the campaign.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Baby Mama is Revealed: He is Down with the Brown and Loves the Bunda

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.

Sort of reminds me of how reactionary Conservatives discovered racism when I called out black garbage pail kid buckdancing shoe shine boy Tea Party GOP mascot Herman Cain. But, I digress.

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.

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..."

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.

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?