Saturday, June 25, 2011

Herman Cain's Race Card Follies



Herman Cain is poetry in motion and a life riot...again. I never thought I would see an upright walking human race card playing the race card as he complains about his detractors. Having witnessed the absurd, I can now say that I have lived a full life.

Herman Cain, Grand High Vizier of the black garbage pail kids black conservatives, gospel singer, and political coprophagist is upset that John Stewart mocked him. Apparently, when he gets called out for flubbing the Constitution, rank bigotry against Muslim Americans, or silly talk about a 3 page maximum limit on all Congressional bills, it is an act of racism. The critical self-reflection rule would seem not to apply, as Cain, in an act of self-delusion that is enabled by his white populist fan base, quite literally "has the complexion for the protection."

Now, I generally loathe the phrase "playing the race card." It is a flat and lazy term that disingenuous colorblind white Conservative racial reactionaries can use to deflect any substantive engagement with how race and racism remain operative in American political and social life.

Ironically, just as Conservatives wield the race card as a crude cudgel to beat liberals, blacks, and others over the head with charges that they slavishly and dishonestly play the victim, in the Age of Obama it is Herman Cain and the Right who are masters of race puppetry and identity politics.

In much the same way that Tea Party GOP Conservatives do with affirmative action and their obsession with "unqualified minorities and women" who are "stealing" opportunities from deserving white men, Herman Cain's race card gambit is a profound act of projection and hypocrisy. Why? The Right constantly and consistently puts unqualified black and brown faces in high places in a game of political tokenism.

Herman Cain, as a self-described "American Black Conservative"--God forbid someone call him an African-American--is race obsessed, all the while calling for a colorblind campaign. On the flip side, the race card is also used by the Right to transform pride by intelligent, link-fate aware, and historically grounded people of color into an act of prejudice.

To point: When black folks overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama for example, many of the bloviators on the Right called this reasoned choice an act of anti-white racism and a priori evidence of automaton-like group think.Thus, a basic question: Who gets to dictate how the "race card " is played?

Here, Colin Powell's explanation of his Age of Obama moment springs to the forefront of my memory as a great counterpoint to Herman Cain's race card paraphilia. Both are black conservatives: the former is a black man who happens to be a Republican; the latter is a race mascot token for the Right.



Colin Powell seems to have a fully integrated personality where his racial self is not maladjusted and rooted in shame at being a black man, an African-American, in America. A victim of racial Stockholm syndrome and a proof of concept for Frantz Fanon's theories, Herman Cain appears disjointed in this regard, where his appeals to being an "American Black Conservative" are plaintive musings for acceptance by his white Tea Party followers, for Cain (unlike "those blacks") is one of "the good ones."

Are Cain and Powell more alike than different? Are both playing the race card, albeit in quite different ways? More specifically, when does pride and joy transcend into unseemly race pandering and race fixation?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why the Democrats Need to Stop Hand-Wringing and Losing Sleep Over the White Working Class Vote

...There will be a lot of white working class voters showing up at the polls next November, and the degree to which they support (or abandon) President Obama could very well make or break his reelection.

In 2008, during his otherwise-solid election victory, Obama lost the white working class vote by 18 points. In 2010, however, things got much worse: Congressional Democrats’ experienced a catastrophic 30 point deficit among the same group. While the first number is a figure Obama could live with repeating, the second could very well prove fatal.

Indeed, if Republicans can replicate that 30 point deficit in 2012—a margin which seems increasingly possible given the recent bad news about the economy—Obama will have little to no room for error among his other constituencies.
The 2012 election is creeping closer. Like a ritual, a perennial in the political ecosphere, the hand-wringing has begun over how the Democrats and Barack Obama can win over the white working class vote.

For example, who can forget how John Dean brayed that the Bubba/Nascar/Walmart/Soccer Mom vote was critical for victory in 2004 or the infectious arguments put forth by authors such as Thomas Frank who painted a scary story of false consciousness in which white working class "values voters" support the Republicans against their own economic self-interest?

And as we saw in Ohio and Pennsylvania during the 2008 campaign, these worries are only amplified by the realities of race and how if a black man who happens to be President can win over the whitopian dreaming Middle America border states with all of their misplaced faith in "guns, God, and religion."

In sum, the question of how President Barack Obama and the Democrats can win the white working class vote in 2012 is a veritable Riddle of the Sphinx standing in the shadow of The Bogeyman. It is also a canard and a distraction, one which is based on incorrect assumptions about just who constitutes "the white working class" and the role of class in voting decisions and partisan behavior.

Thus, there is a basic problem: For all of the allure of "the false consciousness stealing of the white working class vote as the secret of the GOP's electoral gains" meme, the facts simply do not match up with all of the sensationalistic accounts. As recent works such as Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State; Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics; and (most compellingly) Unequal Democracy have demonstrated, a belief in the power of the white working class vote as the Achilles heel of the Democratic Party does not necessarily mean that it is true.

To that end, as I did in "They’re Poor, Scared, Less Educated, and Left Behind: New Polling Data from Gallup on Conservatives and Red State America," let's work through the basic premises and first principles of The New Republic's article "The White Working Class: The Group That Will Decide Obama's Fate" to get a more accurate sense of the political terrain.

Some questions:

1. Who is the white working class? While we may have images of construction workers and rough neck blue collar types interspersed with Roseanne Barr typecast in our collective consciousness, how do we actually define this group? Is "working class" primarily about income or is it about intangibles of taste and leisure...what Pierre Bourdieu famously described as "habitus?"

Moreover, is "working class" just as ambiguous a phrase as "middle class?" A series of words that refers to both everyone and no one? While The New Republic does a great job of painting a potentially dire picture for the Democrats among the white working classes (however defined), there is a complication that must be engaged.

2. In these conversations, who in fact comprises the "white working class" is vaguely and poorly explained. As a substitute for precision, there exists an assumption that this group consists of white Americans who have not earned a college degree. Despite a broadening in access to colleges and universities in the United States, this group constitutes a majority of Americans, with a broad range of incomes, resources, and social capital.

As Larry Bartels deftly argues, "working class whites" is a catch-all phrase that does not stand up to rigor as we try to predict their support (or not) for the Democratic Party. In fact, when one actually uses income as a definition for working class (looking at those families who make less than 35,000 dollars a year) the Democrats have an advantage in support among this group. Moreover, when defined this way white working class voters are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.

3. Forget Joe the Plumber, what the Democrats should really be concerned about is the degree to which the GOP is actually peeling white voters away from the Democratic Party across all income levels. While there may be an image of a white working class guy or poor Christian Evangelical who is drunk on all of this Culture War talk looming in the heads of the Left-Progressive pundit classes (to the degree those appeals hold any real traction for voters), in fact it is among the middle and upper classes that the "values" narrative holds the most purchase.

4. Race wins again. There is a reason that the politics of white racial resentment, "real America" nativism, the mantle of a faux American "silent majority" exceptionalism, and the GOP's Lee Atwater dog whistle politics are the bread and butter of the Tea Party Republican Party: the Southern Strategy works. The gains of the Republican Party over the last few decades among white voters can largely be explained by how it was able to use a backlash against The Civil Rights Movement and The Black Freedom Struggle to flip the Jim Crow South solidly red and Republican.

The myth of the ill-informed, false consciousness possessed, Right-wing Reagan Democrat white working class vote is compelling for a variety of reasons. Primarily, it stands up to the power of personal anecdote--who doesn't know one of those "confused," "angry," "white working class" types who digests a steady diet of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, believes that the AstroTurf, Koch Brothers funded Tea Party is a grassroots movement, and who hates unions and the evil "big government" all the while receiving Social Security, getting a pension, or working as a state employee?

The myth of the white working class vote is also validating to liberals and progressives: "Those white working class voters are just confused; If they could only be liberated from the Right-wing echo chamber their votes would make sense as the choices of reasonable and rational individuals."

These narratives are also seductive...and easier to grapple with than hard questions such as this one: While the Right is plain out wrong on just about every public policy issue relating to the economy and job growth, how is it that they are able to consistently win elections and attract voters from the Democrats?

The puzzle of the white working class and their support for the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama is both fascinating and compelling because it nakedly plays on America's national obsession with race. The struggle against white supremacy and to become a more inclusive and truly democratic society has been one of the central tensions in American society.

Consequently, the echoes of history are strong here: whiteness was created and has worked precisely to smooth over class differences by encouraging white people to ally with one another on the basis of perceived skin color and racial group membership. While the psychic and material wages of Whiteness were grand, they were not always in the service of the Common Good and/or the long-term material interests of the white poor and working classes.

Votes matter. Of course the Democrats should be working to expand their base across all income levels of the voting public. But an obsession with the white working class is a distraction, a political unicorn and Moby Dick sized fool's errand that is energy misspent. In the time of the Great Recession, with an effective unemployment rate reaching at least 20 percent in many communities, the Democrats and Barack Obama need to be on the offensive.

The Republican Party is waging class warfare on behalf of the plutocrats and corporateocracy--and in the name of gangster capitalism--against the American middle, working classes, and the poor. The rape and destruction of the social safety net is the ultimate goal of the contemporary Ayn Rand infused Republican Party.

In the United States, when the top 1/100th of 1 percent of earners make an average of 31 million dollars a year, and the remaining 90 percent of Americans earn 31,000 dollars a year there is class warfare of the few against the many. When worker's wages have been stagnant for 40 years while corporate CEO's enjoy record salaries by outsourcing American jobs overseas there is class warfare of the few against the many.

The Democrats need to 1) forget their obsessive worries about the white working class vote; and 2) focus on the cruel realities of the new economy and how best to communicate their plans to correct it. Given the facts, those should be easy slogans to write and campaign commercials to program. In the time of The Great Recession, the Republican Party has blood on its hands from vivisecting the American Dream. The Democrats just need to show the body. This is a simple plan...and it is theirs to lose and bungle.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The New Public Sphere: Making Videos While Sitting in Your Car and Then Posting Them to YouTube



Yesterday was a bit dark with all of the eliminationism talk. So, let's have a laugh today.

Damn air conditioning! Keeping me fat all these years.

The 21st century is typified by gross narcissism. Facebook, Youtube, blogging, the simultaneously unreal irreality of reality TV, and a 4th estate in which opinion has been elevated to the level of fact and "news," are signs of a sick, faux democratic society. As one more sign of the sickness of the age, folks are cutting promos while sitting in their cars, offering automobile inspired wisdom to the Earth bound masses. Oh once more to the joys and inspiration of the open road. The exodusters would indeed be proud and understanding.

Well, if you can't beat them...at least join them, and get in a chuckle or three along the way.

This brother (who is supposedly a "cleric") from Dubai is a public intellectual of the first order. He is a true intellectual in the Foucaultian sense--not a narrow technician who produces knowledge on a very narrow terrain. No, his reach is broad. His production deep. From musings on sweat and obesity, to using hot chiles and the hot firey sensation they produce in one's excreta as a barometer for wellness and alkaline balance in the body, Brother Cleric from Dubai is one to follow and believe in. He is indeed the new hope.

As further proof of Brother Cleric from Dubai's greatness, he has shed his 9 ugly tummies of toxic waste. Behold and kneel before Brother Cleric!

[Did I just write that? Even I must bow to the absurd every now and then. What the heck.]

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Featured Reader Comment on the Power of Willful Denial (Continued): Of Genocide and the Barbaric and Ruthless Efficiency of the Corporation



Barbaric and ruthless efficiency.

Corporations have no ethics, or friends, or patriotic loyalties. Given that fact, it is tragically funny that so many still pray at the altar of the free market and view the invisible hand as a force that works for the common good.

The bottom line and the dollar is all that matters to the Corporation. From the economies of scale necessary to support the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to the "human traffic management program" of the death camps, ingenuity in the service of exploitation and death dealing seems to know no limits.

For all of our enlightened talk, and the musings of lessons learned in the aftermath of World War 2, I do wonder if civilization has progressed all that much, or if we are only a system shock away from descending into a primal abyss.

On that point, Daniel had a wonderfully reflective comment on today's earlier post that is worth bringing up to the top for more discussion:
What can one take from the Shoah? From Rwanda? From South Africa? From the U.S. and Native Americans? That humans are capable of the most unspeakable horrors, that individual virtue, as important as it is, is typically an inadequate buffer against groupthink and authority (think Milgram), that evil is truly banal (the agenda at Wannsee indicated a morning meeting to discuss the murder of the remaining Jews in Europe and then noted that breakfast was scheduled)? That liberal education is no proof against such evil (9 of the 14 attendees at Wannsee held doctorates)?
Very dense. We have questions of nature or nurture; the shield and inoculation of "education" against evil; and making sense of some of humanity's greatest crimes. I wonder, is humankind more good than it has any reason being, or are these lapses into mass killing the true face of the homo sapien?

Perhaps old Sigmund Freud was right in his Civilization and its Discontents, that we need society and rules to control our most base impulses because we are at the core irrational and monstrous:

On the Power of Willful Denial: Jewish Germans Who Were Not Initially Opposed to the Nazis



Something with which to start Monday (and the week) off.

I bristle at the overuse of the phrase, "they are like Nazis." Nazis are Nazis. Nothing less. Nothing more. Language is power. By implication, language of the above sort is not to be flippantly deployed.

I held that belief when folks were labeling Bush the Second as a Nazi. In the present, I double down in my objections when the New Right Tea Party GOP Conservatives and their bullies attempt to Mau Mau President Obama with like assertions.

In sum, I am carefully try to avoid any allusion to the Nazis because it is so much dynamite and teetering nitroglycerin on a two legged broken stool. Yet, I have watched this clip (and the documentary of which it is a part several times over the last few months) and remain chilled at its cautionary themes, themes which remain as warnings to us all. Thus, my wanting to share The Third Reich with all of you.

We are not islands onto ourselves. When strivers support pernicious policies that hurt their brothers and sisters of the lower classes I think of this clip. When Conservatives support torture or the breaking of the Constitution as a mere convenience to serve their ends I think of this clip. When those who are the Other, such as black conservatives, get in bed with Whiteness because "they are the special ones" immune from racism, marginalization, objectification, or the fist of Power, I think of the broad themes of this clip.

Maybe I am too much an adherent to those themes of linked fate and the collective good to be drunk on the false promises of radical Ayn Randian individualism? Hell, it could be my Blues Sensibility as a Black American which has taught me to run away, far away in fact, from such silly dystopian dreaming. Either way, the tale remains cautionary.

All of us could learn greatly from its lessons.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yes Virginia, There Are Positive Father's Day Songs: I Present to You All, "Patches" by Clarence Carter and "Color Him Father" by the Winstons



Happy Father's Day to you all. On this day, where for many the impulse is to the contrary, it should be reiterated that not all us men folk are rolling stones.

In a panel I once attended, comic book writer extraordinaire Mr. Garth Ennis suggested that those who aspire to be creative for a living--writers, authors, singers, playrights, graphic artists, or what have you--go to the local bar, grab a pint, and just listen to the regulars.

Inevitably, you will learn about the human condition and pick up enough stories to sustain and make better your own work.

In my random travels I have tried to follow through on said advice. It has paid many dividends. I have talked to Nazi skinheads (over beer after telling them I would kill their great grand pappies...long story, apparently they liked my show of strength), Nobel Prize winners, failed musicians, cancer survivors, truck drivers, polygamists, and all manner of folks from many walks of life. I truly have dined with kings and queens, I've slept in alleyways and dined on pork 'n beans, and ultimately my work and life are greatly enriched by all those experiences.

One of those folks I have met during my lazy man's vision quest is Brother Daryl. He is a fixture at Bar Louis in Hyde Park. He is a man possessed of a great range of knowledge and talent. Like a playful cherub he rocks back and forth on his bar seat, to and fro to the rhythmic beat of music for hours at a time while he nurses an ambrosia infused iced tea fit for the gods.

He is genuine if not often misunderstood. He exudes peace. Daryl is also a walking encyclopedia of musical esoterica.

Daryl takes his music seriously. In fact, he almost came to blows over the question, "is there any positive music about fathers?" Apparently so, as he began to sing the song "Patches" at the top of his lungs in his uniquely off key, yet somehow melodic voice, to prove the existence of said odes. And don't get him started about who sings the best version of the iconic song, The Look of Love...I said Isaac Hayes, he yelled "Dusty Springfield." A fight almost ensued. I backed down very quickly.

These Father's Day picks are all courtesy of our resident mix master Mr. Daryl. I hope you enjoy them.

One more for the daddies of the world courtesy of The Winstons:



From Johnnie Taylor. A cautionary tale for the cum droppers who drop trow everywhere and have 5 kids to visit by 4 different baby mommas today:



Please be good to each other on this day. And do remember that families--and fathers--come in many shapes, sizes, forms, and arrangements.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Fun: How Would You Caption This Photograph of Corrupt Clarence Thomas and Honest Abe from The New York Times?

Ethically embattled corrupt mute black golem who sleeps during Supreme Court hearings Justice Clarence Thomas is at it again.

Apparently, he is not content to get kickbacks via his wife for making decisions favorable to her business interests. When not looking at the TV show 24 for guidance on how to write Supreme Court decisions, Uncle Justice Clarence Thomas is getting goodies for a museum that will highlight his relationship to the town of Pin Point, Georgia.

One of the gifts Justice Clarence Thomas has received from a Conservative booster includes a 15,000 dollar bust of President Abraham Lincoln. Together the two cut quite a profile in the above photo, do they not?

Let's play the caption game. Given the kindness and professional comportment of The NY Times, they couldn't take advantage of such a great juxtaposition.

But we can...here are some of my opening parlays:

1. What unintended consequences the emancipation of the slaves has wrought.

2. Clarence, embarrassed, caught once more pilfering chickens from massa's chicken shack.

3. In the foreground, a profile in courage; in the background; a profile in cowardice.

What captions would you offer?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Grognard Military News Roundup and Some Shameless Self-Promotion



I will be on Ring of Fire Radio tomorrow discussing the Republican presidential debate, Herman Cain, and other such matters. It should be good--the interview ran about 20 minutes at taping and we had a good rhythm going.

Here is the first of my military ghetto nerds Grognard roundups for those who are interested in such things. I grew up playing Gary Grigsby's strategy games, Microprose flight sims, and read too much G.I. Joe and military history. The interest as a layperson is still with me years later. These Internets only make it easier to learn things that years ago were confined to a very narrow set of specialist magazines and journals.

As always if you come upon something of interest send it along and I will offer a comment or add it to the list every so many weeks or so. Given the wide range of interests held by the readers of WARN, this could be fun. Let's have at it.

1. The Atlantic has some gems this week. This photo gallery of the do it yourself weapons of the Road Warrior Mad Max Libyan Rebels is a great example of both human ingenuity and foolish recklessness. If necessity is the mother of invention, these rebels are certainly proof of that folksy truism. The photo essay has some cool stuff for the gun crowd (make note of the bullpup design Belgium FN F2000). And how can you not love a guy who disassembles a land mine while smoking Marlboro cigarettes?

The past and future of camouflage is pithily surveyed here. Little did I know that one person, a genius of sorts, is responsible for most of the innovation in camo designs over the last decade or so. Active camouflage, the stuff of Predator is coming. Or is it already here?

2. This is your brain on combat: Neuroscience for Combat Leaders: A Brain-Based Approach to Leading on the Modern Battlefield. The above article also references Dave Grossman's indispensable book Learning to Kill. So it gets extra points from this ghetto nerd.

3. I'd buy that for a dollar! Active vehicle defenses are apparently a go for the U.S. military. The Israelis and the Russians have been playing with these systems which deflect incoming anti-tank rounds a few years. Question: Aren't these systems lethal to the dismounted infantry?

4. The Ipad goes to war. This makes sense given how many field manuals, translation software, and other necessities you could put on one device. And yes, the U.S. military has its own app store.

5. I have always had a good amount of worry about the effectiveness of UAV's as a catch all solution across the full spectrum of air combat needs. Call me traditional, but I am a man in the loop sort of guy. I remember luminary Robert Pape telling me some years back that UAV's were/are the future. This decision was made long ago. Thus, the sea change is inexorable.

Maybe I am paranoid about how easily some of their systems have been hacked, or that a foreign combatant could simply flip a switch and turn the Reapers, Global Hawks, and Predators off? For missions like SEAD, UAV's are quite literally a life saver. But for other duties, and in contested airspace, I remain uncertain as to the maturity of the technology. The Department of Defense would seem to share my anxieties.

6. Back to Libya. How hollowed out is NATO? After a few months of operations the European partners are running low on ammunition, cannot maintain their sortie levels, and are wavering in commitment. Never mind how sad the British navy looks--once the world's greatest force, now she is reduced to borrowing surveillance aircraft from the U.S. and consolidating flight operations with the French on their carrier.

Was NATO always such a hollow organization? Would they have been nothing but a speed pump for the Warsaw Pact? Or is this flaccidity the direct result of the post-Cold War "peace dividend?"

[Random story: my former building super was a crewman on the M60 series of tanks in the late 1970s and very early 80s and he was stationed near the Fulda Gap. I asked him if he thought the U.S. had a chance at the time. He smiled and said their expectation was to hold off the Reds for as long as possible and then beat feet out of there. My super smiled when I asked him about the nuclear land mines...]

7. Some random academic and online finds:

The first is an article that examines letters from African-American soldiers in World War 2 and how black enlistees and officers fought back against Jim Crow under arms; The second traces the rise of the "warfare state" and "how it rests upon two assumptions: that safety can be achieved only through power, that prosperity depends upon the constant pump-priming of the domestic economy through the expenditure of military billions. Both assumptions are false."

The real prize of the week is a serendipitous discovery that comes totally out of left field. Here is an issue of Collier's magazine from 1951 that worked through a hypothetical World War 3 scenario. "Preview of the War We do not Want" has it all: there are nuclear raids on the city of Chicago, saboteurs in Grand Central Station, suicide paratrooper raids over the U.S.S.R., and the occupation of Alaska. Oh yeah, some of the contributors to the issue included Edward R. Murrow with illustrations from the legendary World War 2 comic artist Bill Maudlin.

8. Did you know that China has no plans to wage cyberwar against the U.S.? Yeah, right. Try not to laugh at that one. In an admission of what we already know, the U.S. already has cyberweapons in the toolbox ready to be deployed if necessary. Stuxnet?

9. Don't mess with the Ghurkas. No, I mean never, ever...seriously.

10. Any thoughts on the free to play mmorg military game World of Tanks? Is the grind worth it?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Workings of a Pathologically Narcissistic Mind? Sarah Palin Channeled God in an Email About Her Unborn Son Trig



It is okay to talk to God. When a person hears God's voice responding to them they are certifiably crazy. Question: if a person writes letters in which they pretend to be God are they similarly demented?

Sarah Palin's emails were gangbanged crowd-sourced by The New York Times, CNN, and other members of the 4th Estate. There were no great discoveries (Palin writes at an 8th grade level-- which is of course no surprise). But, there was a fun find that has been the object of some good back and forth online.

While we know that Palin is a lightening rod for controversy, a person who wallows in the slop bucket of white populist mediocrity that is the mouth breathing, knuckle dragging Tea Party GOP crowd, little did we know that she also channels the word of God.

In a letter to friends and family about her then unborn son Trig (a human political prop who she carried around like a football during the 2008 campaign as proof of her Right-wing, fecund womanhood), Palin writes in THE ultimate first person voice as she welcomes her bundle of joy into the world. Not content with this private exercise, Palin emailed her Godly proclamations and wisdom to friends and family.

Question: is this more proof of Sarah Palin's grand narcissism? Evidence of a person whose megalomania and self-importance know no limits? Or is Palin's God email to Trig the act of a loving and compassionate mother? Could it be both?

For your amusement and inspection:

****

Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2008 14:17:11
To:gov.sarah@yahoo.com
Cc:gov.palin@yahoo.com
Subject: Baby

To the Sisters, Brother, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Friends of Trig Paxson Van Palin (or whatever you end up naming him!) :

I am blessing you with this surprise baby because I only want the best for you. I've heard your prayers that this baby will be happy and healthy, and I've answered them because I only want the best for you!

I heard your heart when you hinted that another boy would fit best in the Palin family, to round it out and complete that starting five line-up. Though another girl would be so nice, you didn't think you could ask for what you REALLY wanted, but I knew, so I gave you a boy because I only want the best for you!

Then, I put the idea in your hearts that his name should be "Trig", because it's so fitting, with two Norse meanings: "True" and "Brave Victory". You also have a Bristol Bay relative with that name, so I knew it would be best for you!

Then, I let Trig's mom have an exceptionally comfortable pregnancy so she could enjoy every minute of it, and I even seemed to rush it along so she could wait until near the end to surprise you with the news – that way Piper wouldn't have so long to wait and count down so many days – just like Christmastime when you have to wait, impatiently, for that special day to finally open your gift? (Or the way the Palins look forward to birthday celebrations that go on for three, four days... you all really like cake.) I know you, I knew you'd be better off with just a short time to wait!

Then, finally, I let Trig's mom and dad find out before he was born that this little boy will truly be a GIFT. They were told in early tests that Trig may provide more challenges, and more joy, than what they ever may have imagined or ever asked for. At first the news seemed unreal and sad and confusing. But I gave Trig's mom and dad lots of time to think about it because they needed lots of time to understand that everything will be OK, in fact, everything will be great, because I only want the best for you!

I've given Trig's mom and dad peace and joy as they wait to meet their new son. I gave them a happy anticipation because they asked me for that. I'll give all of you the same happy anticipation and strength to deal with Trig's challenges, but I won't impose on you...

I just need to know you want to receive my offer to be with all of you and help you everyday to make Trig's life a great one.

This new person in your life can help everyone put things in perspective and bind us together and get everyone focused on what really matters.

The baby will expand your world and let you see and feel things you haven't experienced yet. He'll show you what "true, brave victory" really means as those who love him will think less about self and focus less on what the world tells you is "normal" or "perfect". You will grow and be blessed with greater understanding that will be born along with Trig.

Trig will be his dad's little buddy and he'll wear Carhartts while he learns to tinker in the garage. He'll love to be read to, he'll want to play goalie, and he'll steal his mom's heart just like Track, Bristol, Willow and Piper did. And Trig will be the cuddly, innocent, mischievous, dependent little brother that his siblings have been waiting for...in fact Trig will – in some diagnostic ways – always be a mischievous, dependent little brother, because I created him a bit different than a lot of babies born into this world today.

Every child is created special, with awesome purpose and amazing potential. Children are the most precious and promising ingredient in this mixed up world you live in down there on earth. Trig is no different, except he has one extra chromosome. Doctors call it "Down's Syndrome", and Downs kids have challenges, but can bring you much delight and more love than you can ever imagine! Just wait and see, let me prove this, because I only want the best for you!

Some of the rest of the world may not want him, but take comfort in that because the world will not compete for him. Take care of him and he will always be yours!

Trig's mom and dad don't want people to focus on the baby's extra chromosome. They're human, so they haven't known how to explain this to people who are so caring and are interested in this new little Alaskan. Sarah and Todd want people to share in the joy of this gift I'm giving to the Palin family, and the greater Alaska family. Many people won't understand... and I understand that. Some will think Trig should not be allowed to be born because they fear a Downs child won't be considered "perfect" in your world. (But tell me, what do you earthlings consider "perfect" or even "normal" anyway? Have you peeked down any grocery store isle, or school hallway, or into your office lunchroom lately? Or considered the odd celebrities you celebrate as "perfect" on t.v.? Have you noticed I make 'em all shapes and sizes? Believe me, there is no "perfect"!)

Many people will express sympathy, but you don't want or need that, because Trig will be a joy. You will have to trust me on this.

I know it will take time to grasp this and come to accept that I only want the best for you, and I only give my best. Remember though: "My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts... for as the heavens are higher than the earth, my ways are higher than yours!"

I wrote that all down for you in the Good Book! Look it up! You claim that you believe me – now it's time to live out that belief!

Please look to me as this new challenge and chapter of life unfolds in front of you. I promise to equip you. I won't give you anything you can't handle. I am answering your prayers. Trig can't wait to meet you. I'm giving you ONLY THE BEST!

Love,
Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father



Why do Germans Choose to Reenact the American Civil War by Playing the Confederacy?



Why the above clip? Because Werner Hernog's Bear is back, one of our resident experts for all times, and I would do a monster movie infused tag team match with him as my partner ready for a "hot tag" any day of the week as we take on the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania.

The Atlantic Monthly had a particularly sharp and insightful piece on why Germans are fascinated with the Civil War--and when they choose to play, the reasons explaining their choice to reenact the CSA in America's brother on brother conflict. I play in those waters but cannot swim in them. The solution: call up our favorite historian of modern Germany to get his take. As always, he never disappoints.

I really like Werner's essay. I hope you too do. As always please chime in with your thoughts, reactions, and suggestions.

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Chauncey recently showed me a couple of articles about Civil War reenactments in Germany and asked me for my thoughts, which as a scholar of German history I am happy to give. I had heard a great deal about Germans dressing up like the Sioux and living in teepees on the weekend, but never about the Civil War. As in the United States, German reenactors are more likely to dress up in Confederate gray (or butternut) rather than Union blue.

Before hazarding my own analysis as to why this is the case in Germany, there are some basic facts that need to be understood. Germans have a uniquely fraught relationship with their past; to be a good German means to remember the Holocaust and feel some sense of responsibility forcommemorating its victims.

This is not just a matter of lip service. The massive, recently built Holocaust memorial in Berlin takes up an immense amount of space in the center of the city, located between the Reichstag (the capitol, essentially) and Potsdamer Platz (Berlin’s version of Time Square.) Essentially, Germans have chosen to take some of the most central and well-traveled space in their capital city, and have devoted it to remembering Germany’s most shameful crime. It would be as if the center of the Washington Mall were taken up by monuments to the victims of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. (I, for one, would like to see such monuments in such a place.) Even the history before 1933 is often tainted as a precursor to Nazism, especially the period under the Kaisers.

It would be difficult to have any historical reenactments of moments from the German past, because they would be so difficult and politically suspect. Hence the desire to reenact the past of a different country.

However, this hardly explains the attraction to the Confederacy, especially given the fact that many German immigrants to the United States, including prominent military and political leaders like Carl Schurz, fought on the side of the Union. Even among the small pockets of Germans in the south, such as in central Texas, German Americans denounced slavery and the Confederacy both.

One of my German immigrant ancestors fought for the Union despite living in Tennessee. (On the other hand, I should note that German Catholics, like their Irish brethren, served the Union army at lower rates than the general public. That had more to do with not wanting to serve a society hostile to them and retaining white privilege than it did with love of the Confederacy.) Much of this has to do with the fact that many Germans, including Schurz, fled to the United States after participating in the failed democratic revolutions of 1848.

They had reason to fear persecution if they stayed around, and brought their ideals of democracy and equality across the Atlantic.

I get the feeling that modern day Germans are attracted to the Confederacy for the same reasons that the South has had plenty of apologists north of the Mason-Dixon line over the years: the false romanticization of the “Old South” and the depoliticization of the Civil War. In the aftermath of Reconstruction, as historian David Blight has skillfully shown, the commemoration of the Civil War emphasized reunion and the similarities between the both sides, something predicated on excluding African Americans from the story, and literally excluding them from important celebrations, like the 50th anniversary of Gettysburg (It was especially important for the racialized reunion to erase the memory of the black regiments which were absolutely crucial for Union victory) .

Fifty years after the Civil War’s end, its causes and effects had been depoliticized in the public mind. It was simply a “tragedy” without a real cause, a fight fought nobly “brother against brother.” That view has been remarkably resilient, and it colored all the Civil War books I read as a child. (It even creeps into Ken Burns’ famous documentary, especially when Shelby Foote is given free reign to put a romanticizing gloss on events.)

Once slavery’s centrality to the Civil War was removed from the story (and it still is in the minds of most reenactors today) a very southern rendition of the antebellum South began to insinuate itself in the North, and even around the world. This vision of the Old South presented a bucolic, orderly society full of genteel men and beautiful, virtuous women. Their human property did not resent their state, but were loyal and happy. It was a world of cotillions, hoop skirts, and mint juleps, carefree and pleasing. Of course, this is all complete bullshit. (I don’t have the time to get into all the reasons, but the fact that ten percent of the Union army at the end of the war was made up of black soldiers fighting to eradicate slavery, when black people were only one percent of the North’s population, just about says it all.)

In my mind, Gone with the Wind is even more nefarious a film than The Birth of a Nation. The ugliness of the naked racism displayed in the latter is obvious to modern audiences, but Gone with the Wind takes a horribly brutal society and drains away its violence while puffing up the hoop skirts. It presents a seductive idyll, especially for White people who secretly yearn for unquestioned mastery and racial hierarchy.

We tend to think of the romanticization of the Old South as a southern tradition, but it has long been embraced in the north. Although Margaret Mitchell wrote the initial novel, it was primarily northerners who acted in and worked on Gone with the Wind the film. It was a British actress, Vivien Leigh, who played Scarlet O’Hara. As the articles about German reenactors note, it was a popular book and film in Germany as well. Its vision of the Confederacy seems very much alive, and much of the attraction for German reenactors to dressing up in gray and butternut.

I see two deeper reasons for this: modernity and race. As far as the former is concerned, northerners and Europeans living amidst the upheavals and displacements of modern industrial life were and are eager to romanticize a pre-modern society like the Old South, and to eradicate its many problems and brutalities from their minds. That flight from modernity, which has a very strong and troubled cultural tradition in Germany, also explains the Native American reenactments as well. By taking the side of the Confederacy, German reenactors can thus fight the onslaught of modernity, as embodied in the Union army. Of course, seeing the Civil War in this way requires draining away slavery and African Americans from the story.

Race, of course, has a whole lot to do with the idealization of the Confederacy, in Germany as well. Most Americans are unaware of this, but one of the best selling books in Germany last year was written by a man named Thilo Sarrazin, who argued that the immigrants from Muslim countries living in Germany are genetically less intelligent than white Germans. (His more recent comments are even more inflammatory.) A growing portion of the German population is made up of recent immigrants and their descendants, with Turkey being the most prominent country of origin.

Despite recent positive changes, they have been excluded from mainstream German society, and have been the targets of violence. Germans have been very resistant to seeing Germany as a multi-ethnic state; even Chancellor Merkel declared multiculturalism to be a “failure.” I found that statement rather comical, since multiculturalism hasn’t really been attempted! In a country full of people lapping up Sarrazin’s racialized nationalism and blaming all of their problems on racial others, it’s hardly a surprise that many would be attracted to the Confederacy. After all, states like Mississippi and South Carolina included statements about the superiority of the white race in their declarations of secession.

This is not to say that all Germans who dress up like Confederates are hardcore racists. However, we should still be disturbed by such a phenomenon, since it shows how the past can be manipulated in order to support horrible ideas in the present. As a historian, I think we, in this 150th anniversary of the Civil War, need to combat the depoliticized narrative of the conflict which is so easily bent to the most odious political purposes.

We need to stress the centrality of slavery, as well as the agency of the slaves themselves, who did a great deal to bring the institution to an end. We need to stop romanticizing the South, and view it for what it was: not a unique paradise but one of many slave-based staple-crop plantation societies in the New World (just like Brazil, Cuba, etc.) reliant on unspeakable cruelty to its African American bondsmen and bondswomen. We need to remember the Fort Pillow Massacre and other events that show men like Nathan Bedford Forrest not to be noble warriors on horseback, but racist war criminals.

In short, we need to show history in all its bloody reality, not a fashion show drenched in sweet tea. It simply a tragic misunderstanding, the Civil War was a war between two competing visions of America’s future, and the vision that more fully (but not yet completely) embodied the American promise of freedom thankfully won out. The romanticizers and apologists are out in full force, we must get out there and expose their myths.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Doing the Race Hustle: How "Mixed Race" Students Game the College Admissions Process

"But students can now choose from a menu of new boxes of racial and ethnic categories — because the Department of Education started requiring universities this past school year to comply with a broad federal edict to collect more information about race and ethnicity. The change has made it easier for students to claim a multiracial identity — highlighting those parts of their backgrounds they might want to bring to the fore and disregarding others, as Ms. Scott considered doing with her Asian heritage.

So the number of applicants who identify themselves as multiracial has mushroomed, adding another layer of anxiety, soul- (and family-tree-) searching and even gamesmanship to the process."
The racial state is a bureaucracy. Like any other arrangement of power it has a set of rules and expectations that can be navigated, manipulated, and little cracks found to slip over or through. When race, a social construct that is a true lie, a fiction that is real, fixed, and also simultaneously changing is added to the mix, the bureaucratic game can both be simplified ("no blacks need apply") as well as made more complex (colorblind but still color conscious, where last hired means first fired). In theory, the bureaucracy is also supposed to be a consistent set of fixed rules where efficiency and fairness reigns, and the old world customs of patronage and noblesse oblige do not apply.

As The New York Times' "On College Applications a Question of Race or Races can Perplex" explores, the coloured class/middle races seem particularly adept at playing the college admissions game to their advantage. Given that one of the driving impetuses behind the mixed race movement is a desire to claim some sort of white privilege, such leverage makes a great deal of sense in practice.

For outsiders and those not privy to the inner workings of the college admissions process (or how fellowships and other goodies are dolled out) the article in The Times would seem to justify the very unfair--and what on the face of seems very unseemly--role that race plays in how colleges decide who to admit and what types of financial aid and scholarships to award.

For the layperson who is drunk on some half-digested, misunderstanding of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech," the fact that a student must decide which race to emphasize or identify with on a college application seems to clearly disadvantage white applicants.

Moreover, for the disingenuous Ward Connerly bottom feeding types of the political ecosystem, the idea that race matters is one more reason to jettison the whole racial bureaucracy and live a life of colorblind fiction and fantasy. The bottom line of their objections is at its heart a simple one: white folks are somehow losing out in college admissions--and good, hard working white students (and in some circles those "model minority" Asian-Americans) who did everything "right" even more so.

This is untrue for a variety of reasons. First, college admissions are based on a number of variables. And as recent research has found, being the relative of a donor or an alumni with money counts much more than any other factor (once more to the wages of Whiteness). The other issue is the nebulous category of how a given student is deemed "qualified" for a given school (and if they are then going to be offered a seat).

Many Sam and Susy snowflakes believe that they "deserve" to be admitted to a given (elite) institution and that they "earned" it. Sorry to break it to you Sam and Susy Snowflake: the college admissions process does not work that way.

SATs are weak tools for predicting college success beyond the freshmen year. Moreover, the more important goal is how to best assemble a diverse and compelling class of students who can be successful at a given institution. Where everyone is more or less qualified, intangibles carry a great amount of weight.

To point: a working class kid who held 2 jobs and managed a 1100 on her SATs is far more compelling than an upper class kid who had tutors and access to all sorts of support and then proceeds to only score a 1300. A kid from the 'res, or rural Appalachia, or the South Bronx, or a Latino from rural Texas with similar (or even lower) scores is more compelling to many college admissions committees.

Granting all of those realities does not mean that the college admissions process should not be modified. Where race matters it can also be gamed and manipulated. In my time I have seen many versions of the race hustle at work in the college and university admissions process. Here are some of the cons in the "check off your race box game" that I have either witnessed directly or heard about:

  • The rich student from North Africa who decides to identify as "African-American" because they are from the continent of Africa.
  • The white students who check off African-American because human life began on that continent (and they will provide their own DNA tests to prove it...and sue if they do not get admitted).
  • The white South African who checks off African-American. Riddle me that one.
  • The student who claims a black/Hispanic/Native American/Asian relative some two or three generations ago (and whose heritage they do not honor or identify with) in order to get some imagined advantage.
  • The mixed race student who lives and identifies as a white person, but wants to see what they can "get" for being something other than White. Said student gets admitted, is invited to the multicultural student weekend and never shows up, and lives the rest of their college tenure counted in a database as a student of color...always being sure to quickly throw out any mail they get from the Office of Multicultural Relations lest their friends find out they are not a full blooded WASP.
  • The African or Caribbean student who feels no affinity for Black Americans, is admitted on grounds of "diversity" as an "African American," and then makes sure to maintain as much distance as possible from said group.

As The New York Times points out, college administrators and faculty are participants in the racial bureaucracy. They can decide to enable the race hustle. The same personnel can also choose to stand firm on their principles as they work to match up both the spirit and the letter of the law in a long game which sees sincere diversity in colleges and universities as a net gain for all students.

On that point, and in the best spirit of the Notorious B.I.G., I got a story to tell.

In a previous life, I worked on two rather prestigious fellowship and summer training programs for undergraduate students. In that capacity I had to decide who to admit, who to late list, and who to reject outright. These programs were targeted at students from a very specific socio-economic and racial background, groups which were/are grossly under-represented in graduate and professional programs.

One of my easiest criteria for making the first cut was a simple one: Does the applicant meet the admissions criteria? As a standing rule, I would put any application which checked off "other" as their racial identity in the "to be looked at later" file. If an applicant wrote in their own label (Tiger Woods's "Canablasian" for example) or came up with some crazy, bizarre, race hustle identity such as "white, African-American, Polynesian, Native American, whose third Aunt was from Brazil" I smiled and put it in the "down the memory well" circular file.

These choices were made as much on principle--these programs were targeted at students with some sense of linked fate, shared history with, and membership in, a racially disadvantaged group in this country--as for efficiency. To this day, I do not feel that I did anything either inappropriate, or outside of the programmatic rules I strictly adhered to in my role as a gatekeeper in the racial bureaucracy.

Apparently, I was not alone. There are annual meetings which the staff and faculty of these fellowship programs are obligated to attend. In one of the training sessions these very questions came up. How do you categorize mixed race applicants? Do students who check off "other" count? Are they eligible?

I volunteered my rubric. Half the room responded as the Amen! chorus and shared that they too use a similar set of rules. The other half of the room was visibly angry and upset, that this was somehow unfair and penalized students who may identify as white or have a "mixed" background.

Triumphantly, I quoted the regulations governing the fellowship program verbatim. Folks smiled. Others sneered. Talk about a moment where I cut some heads in the best jazz improv session sense.

Thus the paradox of life in the Age of Obama and colorblind, multicultural America: Long live the racial bureaucracy! Down with the racial bureaucracy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Willie Horton 2011 Campaign Ad: "Give Us Your Cash Bitch" Courtesy of Tea Party Affiliated Group Turn Right USA



Once more why I am a bit of a Luddite. Nothing but bad can result from all of the excess computing power folks have on their home PCs.

[Is it that hard out there on the block? Do these brothers so desperately need to get their money that they would embarrass themselves in this way?]

I enjoy deconstructing campaign commercials in my classes. This gem against California councilwoman Janice Hahn is most certainly going to go in the hall of shame along with Carly Fiorina's demon sheep and Dan Fanelli's anti-Muslim suicide bomber racial profiling hit piece.

Please help me out with the semiotics of the Turn Right USA's advertisement as I cannot even begin to make sense of something so obvious. On one hand I want to call this ad genius in its unconscionable level of political pornography, woman hating, and race baiting. But then again I am loathe to dignify something so grotesque with the distinction of genius (is "expert" a better word?). Oh, what a conundrum.

In the Tea Party Right wing imagination, with its corrupted White soul, this is just one more unsurprising when "Giant Negroes Attack" episode served up with a little interracial sex for flavor and a healthy dose of moral panic for seasoning.

Ultimately, I love the myopia of the White Gaze and how it sees all black folks as universal, interchangeable thugs. It makes me feel a bit dangerous and wild--so much so that I may go out and scare some white people tonight. How exciting and fun!

13 Ways that the New Hampshire Republican Presidential Debate was a Monster’s Ball

They say that great trees--like great republics--rot not from outside, but fall apart from within. How did the United States arrive at a place where policy positions held by the lunatic, late night, talk radio crowd of the Right-wing could catapult into a televised debate, espoused by "serious" candidates?

The 2011 Republican debate in New Hampshire was a car wreck where all seemed to crawl out with vitals intact. Nevertheless, it was a freak show where opinions once held as anathema to normal politics were casually given voice by the Tea Party GOP candidates. Here are the top 13 ways of how this night was a Monster's Ball in the worst sense of the American political tradition.

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1. Ayn Rand inspired wet dream. The Tea Party GOP wants to make her dystopian vision of unregulated free markets and a further maldistribution of wealth upward into America's salvation. In total (and despite three decades of evidence to the contrary), the Great Recession will be cured by less regulation and not more, where the State gives more resources to those with the most with the hope that they will somehow "trickle down" to the rest of us. Please don't pee on my head and tell me that it is raining.

And oh yeah, if Ron Paul is to be taken seriously, don't be a person who is sick and in need of emergency health care because you will need to wait for the free market and charity hospitals to develop a fix for what ails as you lay dying on the floor.

2. The American Theocracy is real. God. Family. 23 adopted kids. God. Family. Faith. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. According to the 2012 Republican candidates one must be a person of "faith," i.e. a Judeo-Christian of some stripe, in order to be a "moral" person.

Insert finger into throat and induce vomiting.

Question: if God supposedly wants all of the 2012 Tea Party GOP candidates to win, what will happen when they lose? Moreover, which God was correct in its whisperings in the 2012 Republican candidate's individual ears? Which of these "Gods" was lying? How would we know? Will there be a holy war over this issue? Will fatwas be issued by the losing candidates?

3. The Constitution wept once when the Tea Party GOP candidates--a group who supposedly worship America's founding document as a fetish or totem that should be judged by the magical, divinely inspired intent of the "founders"--gave lip service to the notion of repealing birthright citizenship in order to solve America's immigration problems.

4. The Constitution wept a second time when the Tea Party GOP candidates repeated the spurious and willful lie that America was founded as a quasi theocracy, where Jefferson's "thick wall" between church and state was intended only to protect the former from the latter. The establishment clause apparently does not apply, as America was founded as a Christian republic. Perhaps, the Right-wing Tea Party GOP Glenn Beck crowd is reading too much of that pseudo-historian David Barton's nonsense histories?

5. The Constitution wept a third time when the Tea Party GOP candidates led by Herman Cain supported the argument that there ought to be a loyalty oath to the Constitution that is exclusive to Muslim Americans. Never mind that the Constitution prohibits such tests of religious faith as qualifiers for holding public office. Not content to let Herman Cain grab the theocratic zealot vote, Newt Gingrich doubled down on stupid by connecting American Muslims to Nazis and Communist infiltrators. Uncle Joe McCarthy would indeed be proud.

6. The government is bad. The government is always the problem and never the solution. As America witnessed in the death of a great American city during Hurricane Katrina, all of our contemporary problems at the nadir of empire can be cured by rolling back citizens' expectations of the State that it should act in the interest of the Common Good. In fact, the State's failure should be expected as citizens should never have any sense that the government will act in the collective interest, or for the protection of the weakest and most vulnerable.

7. The truth suffered quite a few black eyes at the hands of the 2012 Republican Presidential Nominees. If you listen to their mouth utterances, the American people overwhelmingly hate Obama's efforts to reform the health care system (in fact the public is quite split). The American people are also very concerned with the budget deficit more than they are with job creation. The bailout of the Auto Industry will lose money and further destroy the U.S. economy. And finally, if Michele Bachmann is to be believed, it is only the liberals and the democrats who pass big spending bills upon getting into office. These are all lies. Apparently for Conservatives, reality is making the real world bend to your ideological priors.

8. America is not an exceptional country. There are some candidates who want the U.S. to model their Social Security system after Chile...a country with one of the worst distributions of income in the world. Question: I thought that the Tea Party GOP never looked to other countries for solutions to American problems? Is there a Latin or South American kleptocracy clause to the Constitution that I overlooked? Is this an auxiliary to the Monroe Doctrine?

9. Clarity and transparency were made sick by the debate's dancing around the issue of gay marriage. So, is it the states or the federal government who gets to decide if same sex marriage should be legal? And if we have a Constitutional amendment in "defense of marriage" does that not trump all of the States' Rights talk on the issue as offered during by the 2012 Tea Party Republican field? What of that inconvenient part of the Constitution called the Equal Protection Clause?

10. Civility towards the President of the United States of America in the body of Barack Obama is truly dead. During the Bush administration there was all this screaming by the Republican Party about the need to respect the Office of the President. With President Obama as President this rule has apparently been jettisoned. According to the 2012 Tea Party GOP first class, Obama is a traitor, a failure, and an incompetent who wants to destroy the United States. He is somehow accomplishing this from within...Obama's killing of Osama Bin Laden conveniently aside. In sum, President Obama is some type of Manchurian candidate who is cuckolded by nefarious foreign powers--and probably his Kenyan father's voodoo African ghost who controls him from beyond the grave.

11. Unions violate the rights of the American people. They are antithetical to freedom of association as protected by the Constitution. The reality that most Americans are no longer unionized, that wages have been flat for at least 30 years in part because of this fact, and that those countries with strong unions have a higher standard of living (and their citizens more happy), is an inconvenient aside. Just remember: unions are taking your freedoms away you loyal patriotic Red State Americans!

12. The shadow of Sarah Palin is indeed long: one must never say the name of she who must not be mentioned lest you be smited. Most importantly, you must kiss the Mama Grizzly's ring and tell all who would listen that she is more qualified, and in fact would have been a better President than that failed, elitist, high-foreheaded, intellectual, rapscallion, uppity black constitutional attorney Harvard/University of Chicago guy by the name of Barack Obama.

13. Just like the legendary Ol' Dirty Bastard, Mr. Herman "shucky ducky Soul Train" Cain is for the children! Wu-Tang forever!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Historian's Epic Fail: John Brown is not Osama Bin Laden

With the official government killing of Osama bin Laden last month, the issue of using violence in a good cause has once again surfaced. "Justice has been done," said President Obama as he announced bin Laden's death by a team of Navy SEAL operatives. Americans reacted, American-style, with bibulous celebrations in Times Square and, more quietly, with feelings of relief and contemplation. Some of that contemplation included the question: Did the United States have the moral authority to assassinate bin Laden, no matter how much evil he had committed?

Personally, I don't have a straightforward answer to that question, but I can tell you as a historian that the connections between violence and terrorism and our country's long history of responding to violence with violence always leads me to think about John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry, Va. (now West Virginia), in 1859, an event that historians believe intensified the sectional controversy between North and South that eventually led to the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. And when I think about John Brown, a radical abolitionist who believed that violence could -- and should -- be used to end slavery in America, I can't help also thinking about the place he raided, Harpers Ferry -- one of the most peaceful, scenic spots in the entire United States.
In the world of advanced academic pedantry, sometimes folks miss the forest for the trees. That would seem to be the case with Glenn W. LaFantasie's essay, "The Thoroughly American Soul of John Brown" which was recently featured on Salon.com.

How anyone can parallel Osama Bin Laden with the Abolitionist freedom fighter Mr. John Brown is beyond me. Moreover, Professor LaFantasie's accompanying question of how and if America is a violent society seems to be a bit uninteresting and obvious. But alas, each academic subfield has its own compelling questions and inside baseball debates that others may not get or have ready access to.

[On a related note, check out the comments section on "The Thoroughly American Soul of John Brown." There is some serious sonning going on where lay-readers and other folks are tearing the good Professor to bits....which is one more reason many academics prefer to play in safer and more secure waters where the Queenberry rules apply].

There is a disturbing tone to LaFantasie's essay, one that is none too uncommon: the love and affinity of black folks for John Brown is viewed as somehow aberrant or a special case.
In our own day, Brown still stirs up controversy and sets people -- especially historians -- at odds with one another. Yet among one group of Americans -- African-Americans -- there seems to be a consensus about John Brown that exists among no other segment of the society. For black Americans, John Brown is a hero, and ever since his death they have sustained their high opinion of him and have elevated him to a place occupied by few whites.
This is myopic because the story of black America is the American story. Ultimately, to track it is to better understand some of the basic questions which this democracy in progress has struggled.

The more obvious problem with LaFantasie's analysis of John Brown's radical freedom fighting and revolutionary work is that his premise is misdirected and underdeveloped: The raid on Harper's Ferry is viewed as a wild eyed provocation against the South; Brown's deeds are misguided; the use of violence to settle political differences is wrong because it exists outside of the State's monopoly on force.

What is missing here is an acknowledgement that chattel slavery is a perpetual state of violence and war against those held in bondage. Simply put, the Southern Slaveocracy--and later the CSA--were military states that practiced daily acts of terrorism against their black American citizens.

One of the early commenters on "The Thoroughly American Soul of John Brown" got it spot on when they observed that there is no hand-wringing over the violence committed by the Allies against the Nazis or the Japanese during World War Two. Those wars are simply viewed as "just." Thus, why all this introspection about the legitimacy of John Brown's violence (which the author characterizes as "abhorrent"), and not an emphasis on context? That John Brown acted in the name of liberating black humanity from the chains and shackles of inhuman bondage?

I am hesitant to say it, but in the eyes of some, even into the present, is black life that cheap? So cheap in fact, that all sorts of mental gymnastics have to occur in order to come to a decision rule for when acts of liberation balance out in the ledger?

John Brown understood the redemptive and necessary power of violence. Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and many nameless others throughout the Black Atlantic also understood the prime directive of agency, resistance and survival. Many folks in the United States--both black and white, North and South--do not want to tell that story.

Thus the irony: the slave owners and slave resisters were all quintessentially American. They could also be quite violent, the former by definition much more so. In a world of simple, flat, binary answers many fear that uncomfortable truth.