Friday, August 12, 2011

Post-Debate Friday Right-Wing Theocracy Watch Mashup: Rick Perry's Prayers; Roger Ebert's Rebuttal; Kevin Phillips' Warning; and Frank Zappa's Ownage

One of the joys of all this tricknology is that you can clutter your pages with all sorts of videos, text, and music. I haven't fallen victim to that impulse in a few years, so please allow me to indulge myself today...

Sinclair Lewis famously wrote that "when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." The unapologetic Christian Nationalism of the Tea Party GOP and its cadre of potential 2012 nominees, a crumbling economy, and a people hungry for existential meaning on a ship of state that feels rudderless and a bit nihilistic, are a nasty mix that could in fact lead us there.

The alarm has been sounded before, and will continue to be rung. To point: here are a few clear voices for us to consider and reflect upon as we work through America's inverted totalitarianism and slouching towards Christian Dominion Theocracy.

How could we forget Frank Zappa's broadside against the Christian Right when he owned their butts on national TV?

Kevin Phillips, historian, journalist, and political scientist, called it clear a few years back during the latter years of Bush the Junior's regime, that America would be brought down by a wicked combination of radical religion, imperial overstretch, debt, and energy dependence:

But my favorite of the bunch has to be the always humble and charming Roger Ebert. Just as the most high and fate took Muhammad Ali's physical gifts and his propensity for gab to teach a lesson about the Great One's other gifts, Ebert was robbed of his verbal powers of speech so that he would find a gifted pen and a "new" voice.

Good stuff from his Sunday essay "The Error of Political Prayer":

There are vertical prayers and horizontal prayers. Vertical prayers are directed heavenward. Horizontal prayers are directed sideways at others.

It fills me with misgivings when a possible Presidential candidate warms up by running a "prayer rally" in a Texas sports stadium.

A prayer "rally?" I can think of words like gathering and meeting that might more perfectly evoke the spirit. Prayer rallies make me think of pep rallies. Their purpose is to jack up the spirits of the home team and alarm the other side.

Of course the other side has its own pep rallies, presumably leaving it to God to choose sides. That is why team prayers before a game strike me as somewhere between silly and sacrilegious. No infinite being can possibly care if Illinois beats Michigan. No God worthy of the description intervenes in the drift of a field goal kick.

It is sometimes said America was founded as a Christian nation. It was specifically not founded as a Christian nation, or the nation of any other religion. The founding European settlers were refugees from Christian nations, and had experienced quite enough at the hands of state religions. The separation of church and state is central to our democracy. It is impossible to conceive of any of the Founding Fathers approving of prayer rallies in connection with political campaigns. That is equally true of Fathers who were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, atheist, deist or agnostic.

The rally convened by Texas Gov. Rick Perry was, like many such meetings, a free concert featuring rock and C&W singers. If prayer and only prayer has been offered, the attendance, I suspect, would have been smaller. Its purpose was achieved not so much inside the stadium as outside--so that they could pray horizontally at us.

Such prayer strikes me as unseemly. Your religion is a matter between you and the god of your definition. The eagerness to convert outsiders strikes me as one of the aspects of a cult. I believe the low emphasis placed on conversion by Jews is admirable. If you want to become a Jew, you go to them. I believe religions should convert by attraction, not promotion. Respect for other beliefs, or the lack of beliefs, should be at the heart of religions.

The separation of Church and State has rarely seemed more threatened. Many political leaders seem opposed to it. Some would translate their religious beliefs into the law of the land. Candidates are being asked to sign a "pledges" designed primarily to embarrass those who do not sign them. A self-respecting candidate would explain that he will make his own pledges, for himself, by himself.

I have not taken a liberal or a conservative position. I have not spoken as a believer or a non-believer. What I've written is Civics 101. I wonder that no political leaders of either party have had the nerve to question the rally in Texas.

There are not two sides to the separation of Church and State. There is only this: They must be separated for the health of our democracy. Americans are of many faiths and none. Our laws must apply equally to all. If your God doesn't agree, does that mean He accepts instructions from you? Are you content with such a God?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Inconvenient Facts: The Whiteness of Memory in "The Help" Versus the Ugly Realities of Jim and Jane Crow America

Stockett’s novel presented a vision of segregation in service of a feel-good story, but the film version of The Help is even more distant from the virulence of American racism. Its villains, Junior League bigots who wear smart little suits to cover their scales, are so cartoonish that viewers won’t risk recognizing themselves or echoes of their behavior in them.
The heroines—a privileged, liberal, white Mississippi woman named Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) and two black domestic workers, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (a particularly good Octavia Spencer)—are much easier to identify with. The project that brings them together, a secret oral history of maids’ lives in Jackson, may spotlight the domestic side of racism.
But other than a mention of unenforced minimum-wage laws and a scene of the aftermath of Medgar Evers’ murder, the movie is disengaged with the public legal framework that let white women treat their white servants dreadfully in private. In The Help, whether you’re black or white, liberation’s just a matter of improving your self-esteem.
I took in a few movies yesterday and saw quite a few exuberant movie goers leaving The Help all excited and comparing the book to the film. There were middle aged and older black women who were pretty quiet and sat on a bench talking about the movie. I also saw a group of twenty and thirty something year old women full of giddy excitement as they enthusiastically mused about The Help's "transcendent," "empowering" themes and characters. I reserve judgment about The Help as I have not and will not see it: but after reading about the movie, talking to folks who have read the book, and listening to the trusted reviews of black women who called The Help "loathsome," I will take a pass.

Like Captain America: The First Avenger and X:Men: First Class, The Help appears to be one more data point in which the white washing of history and nostalgic memory are ways of dishonestly negotiating racial realities in post-Civil Rights, Age of Obama America. As always, and as I am so fond of saying, once more politics is popular culture and popular culture is politics.

Alyssa Rosenberg continues in The Atlantic with her sharp observation that:
Indeed, the movie, which necessarily sacrifices some character development in the name of space and speed, also conspicuously cuts out powerful illustrations of racial violence. While we get soft-hued flashbacks to Skeeter’s memories of Constantine, the black woman who raised her, there are no such flashbacks to the violent, unnecessary death of Aibileen’s son.
In another scene, Yule May, one of Minny and Aibileen’s friends, is arrested for stealing a ring from her employer. The shot shows white police manhandling and cuffing her, but when they swing at her head with a baton, the impact of the weapon against her skull is cut out of the frame. An incident of racial violence that illustrates the cost of the main villain’s quest for separate bathrooms for African-American servants is left out of the movie entirely. Even a notably gory miscarriage scene from the book is reduced to a blood-soaked nightgown and an artfully smeared bathroom floor visible only for a moment.
One way to deal with the “shitty things” in our past that Louis C.K. refers to is to downplay their existence and persistence; to cover them up in candy-colored dresses and the memorable sight of Allison Janney, as Skeeter’s mother, in a turban; to tell us that Medgar Evers was murdered but to show us John F. Kennedy’s funeral instead. The film’s timidity shows that we’re not even close to eliminating racism in America. While Skeeter may have Richard Wright’s Native Son and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in her bedroom in Mississippi, The Help is a pastel ghost of those predecessors.
The Whiteness of memory involves a necessary a flattening of history. Often, in the white savior genre, black agency is made secondary to the opportunity of white folks to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of history. While the Other is included, the White gaze necessitates the centrality of whiteness--and a reframing where the evils of white supremacy are a device for good white folks to show that white supremacy was an aberration and not the norm governing American social and political life. A sideshow in our own freedom struggle, Black people's agency is muted as a mere means to the ends of the recuperative project that is Whiteness in "colorblind" America.

In my conversations with folks, especially younger, "post-racial" United Colors of Benetton types, about the intersections of race, politics, social, political, and cultural life in America there is 1) a deep avoidance of the role of institutions/structures and the impact of power on their life chances; and 2) a misunderstanding of Jim and Jane Crow as something so long ago, and just an inconvenience that was overcome by a bunch of people marching with Dr. King.

As hinted at by some of the reviews of The Help, there is an avoidance of the true depth and evil of white supremacy in segregated America and how the colorline ordered life from the cradle to the grave--where one could buy clothes (or even if a black person could try them on before purchase), walk on a sidewalk, or be buried upon dying were governed by racialized law whose primary intent was the "preservation" of "social order" through the oppression of African Americans and the false elevation of Whites.

Moreover, the laws governing Jim and Jane Crow were signals to social custom, guidelines for day to day life practices, and a normative project for how the races ought to be situated relative to one another. In black and white, when presented in stark relief, they upset the fuzzy nostalgia of the flattened history offered by the white savior genre of popular films of which The Help is apparently part of.

For your consideration, some inconvenient examples of the Racial State in practice, most pointedly taken from laws governing some of the more common aspects of life in these United States:

Pool and Billiard Rooms It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards.

Cohabitation Any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve (12) months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred ($500.00) dollars.

Juvenile Delinquents There shall be separate buildings, not nearer than one fourth mile to each other, one for white boys and one for negro boys. White boys and negro boys shall not, in any manner, be associated together or worked together.

Mental Hospitals The Board of Control shall see that proper and distinct apartments are arranged for said patients, so that in no case shall Negroes and white persons be together.

Barbers No colored barber shall serve as a barber [to] white women or girls.

Burial The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons.

Amateur Baseball It shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race.

Circus Tickets All circuses, shows, and tent exhibitions, to which the attendance of...more than one race is invited or expected to attend shall provide for the convenience of its patrons not less than two ticket offices with individual ticket sellers, and not less than two entrances to the said performance, with individual ticket takers and receivers, and in the case of outside or tent performances, the said ticket offices shall not be less than twenty-five (25) feet apart.

The Blind The board of trustees shall...maintain a separate building...on separate ground for the admission, care, instruction, and support of all blind persons of the colored or black race.

Promotion of Equality Any person...who shall be guilty of printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine or not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both.

Fishing, Boating, and Bathing The [Conservation] Commission shall have the right to make segregation of the white and colored races as to the exercise of rights of fishing, boating and bathing.

Telephone Booths The Corporation Commission is hereby vested with power and authority to require telephone maintain separate booths for white and colored patrons when there is a demand for such separate booths. That the Corporation Commission shall determine the necessity for said separate booths only upon complaint of the people in the town and vicinity to be served after due hearing as now provided by law in other complaints filed with the Corporation Commission.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why I Loathe The Tea Party GOP Brigands and How Sadly, Sometimes "Regular People" Do in Fact Make History

What democracy has brought us. Is this the face of excellence in responsible leadership and politics?

I had a moment of clarity while sitting in an airplane, reading, somewhere over flyover America the other day. As I have written about here and elsewhere, I find the Tea Party to be one of the most pernicious, dangerous, and disturbing elements in American political and social life. A few of us were sounding the alarm about their mischief when the tea baggers first emerged as a movement several years ago.

Some suggested that they were a flash in the pan, and should best be ignored. I hate being correct on such matters, but I rightly argued that the New Right is a symptom of a bigger malaise and a deep, existential crisis in American public and social life. The tea bagger's mischief making and brigand, economic terrorism during the debt ceiling fracas is their ejaculatory moment, one to be followed up by more blind groping and trouble making in the months to come.

Even while sounding the alarm, one should maintain perspective.

The bigotry and anti-intellectualism of the Tea Party GOP are centuries old. Bachmann Palin and crew are mere updates of the 19th century Know Nothings. Their evolution as 21st century John Birchers is old wine in a new bottle: the Tea Party GOP New Right alliance is just a festering boil on the ass of America, one that has long been there and occasionally needs to be lanced.

In reflection, I am also none too moved by their racism. Me and my tribe of Respectable Negroes are experts by necessity in the various flora and fauna of White Trash America. From the Southern redneck lynching tree Jim and Jane Crow variety of North Carolina, to the anti-busing, angry white ethnic rock throwing restrictive housing covenant signing PWT of Boston and Rhode Island, my kin folk have been fighting with and busting those skulls for generations. We give as good as we get.

Echoing James Baldwin's The Ways of White Folks, we have a gifted vision for seeing the Tea Party GOP for what they are, and thus can deal with them accordingly.

In all, it is the out sized influence and emergence of the Tea Party GOP at this key moment in the decline of American Empire which ultimately gives me pause. The use and abuse of the language of "patriotism" and a dishonest, although not new, manipulation of the icons and imagery of the Founding and American Exceptionalism are other signals that something is very and deeply wrong in this country.

Moreover, how the Tea Party GOP so casually rapes The Constitution is chilling. The Tea Party GOP's belief in their own radically democratic possibilities (where facts are inconvenient as the tea baggers are a top down organization and funded by the Koch brothers) and the reinforcement of this meme by the Right-wing propaganda machine is head-shaking in its effectiveness.

In sum, it is the synergy of these variables where the risk for all Americans of good conscience and the Common Good lies.

Don't get it twisted: I am all for the little guy. In fact, the politics of the subaltern and how regular folks find ways to fight Power has long animated my interest in race, popular culture, and American politics. Regular people can and do make history all of the time. Herein lies the danger of Right-wing populism: regular folks are often manipulated and tricked; false consciousness is real; and we do not all have the equal capacity, ability, or expertise to lead well...or even govern beyond our own narrow and petty self-interest.

To point, why I call (and will continue to do so) the Tea Party GOP a faction. They are the very definition of the Federalists' worries. Nothing more and nothing less.

As a qualifier, I do not believe that every freedman or runaway slave was a perfect person, that the foot soldiers in the Civil Rights Movement were motivated by purely selfless ends, nor do I suggest that the suffragettes at Seneca Falls, or labor organizers at Matewan and elsewhere were gods and not men. But, collectively they were on the Right side of history. By contrast, the Tea Party GOP is on the wrong side of history as they fight to destroy the social safety net in the interest of the very political and economic forces that have gutted the American middle class and ushered in a new Gilded Age.

Here is the crux. Most folks want to make history, to be something more than an anonymous name, or one of the unknown masses. This want has been refined and polished by the dream merchants on Madison Avenue and nurtured by the Facebook reality TV show culture of (very) late capitalism in 21st century America. In this world we can all be famous, even if we are in fact utterly mediocre.

The sale of products are secondary to the sale of lifestyles, emotions, sentimentality, and feelings. These frameworks have been skillfully applied to politics. Obama's "hope and change" was one side of that coin. The Tea Party GOP and their rage machine is the other. The lie of false equivalence cultivated by a 24 hour news cycle which elevates all opinions and beliefs to the level of reasonable discourse is the ether that the Right-wing echo chamber both lives in and is ultimately dependent upon for sustenance and circulation.

But, what if the little guy is not fit, nor prepared or trained to be more than that anonymous soul in the back of the crowd, finger raised, testing the winds to see which way he or she will go? What if he or she is working in the interest of Power as opposed to against it? What if this person, moved by the language of "democracy," "take our country back!" or some half digested treatise written in another time, by a man or woman long dead and now recycled by Glenn Beck, does not even realize that they are being gamed by the System?

Writer Martin Booth has a great observation that rings so true in these matters. From his book A Very Private Gentlemen, where the protagonist anti-hero observes that:
These were people who could not make the tiniest mark on history, could not affect their world--the village, the parish--no matter how they tried. The best they could hope for was to share vicariously in others' petty achievements. Their ambition was to be able to say, 'Him? I knew him when he bought The Glebe,' or 'Her? I was with with her when it happened,' or 'I saw the car skid, you know. There's still a hole in the hedge: a nasty corner: someone should do something about.' Yet they never did and if I were a betting man, prone to taking a gamble, I should wager tyres still squeal on the bend, doors dent of a frosty morning.
The New Right Tea Party GOP are these folks elevated to prominence and given just enough power to believe that they have the right and privilege to alter destinies and make history. Normal politics and good sense be damned by their jihad and yearnings for ideological purity.

Participation for participation sake in a democracy has never appealed to me. The rabble of the Tea Party GOP have fulfilled the prophetic worries of The Framers regarding the perils of mass democracy and have gummed up an already broken system.

Because the Tea Party brigands play with concepts and ideologies they have little understanding of in either the macro-historical sense (e.g. a government's budget should be run like a household...or a pizza company), as a practical matter grounded in reality (there will be no real consequences for a debt default and this controversy is inconsequential political theater), or that can go beyond shallow talking points and Right-wing memes ("job creators" or "cut, cap, and balance"), no good can come of them, except as a barometer for the existential crisis the United States is experiencing as her position in the world is challenged and reevaluated.

The Tea Party GOP fancies themselves the heroes in the debt ceiling debate and free of responsibility for the financial storm their economic terrorism and hostage taking directly helped to unleash on the American people. In reality, they are villains. And like most villains, the Tea Party GOP imagines that they are good and noble, and maybe just a little understood. Sadly, we will all pay for the Tea Party GOP's little exercise in dysfunctional democracy, as they prove once more that the lumpen rabble are often best left to the footnotes, a sideshow in history.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

For Ghetto Nerds and Military Grognards: Seal Team Six Shootdown Military Roundup

My sympathies go out to the families of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. As I occasionally do with military issues, here is a good roundup of some of the stories related to the topic that I have found useful and/or of interest.

1. Sebastian Junger's above interview with CNN was one of the few dialogues on the topic that did not veer into histrionics ("My God! How could a helicopter in a war zone with our super soldiers on board actually get shot down!"), overreach sensationalism ("This event is a referendum of the whole Afghan war and every strategy therein"), partisanship (more proof that Obama sucks), or high tech war porn navel gazing by Monday morning quarterbacks ("Incompetents! I would have done xyz as opposed to abc").

Junger offers a key insight: what's going on in country where the strength of the insurgency is apparently so great that elite infantry, i.e. Rangers can be overwhelmed and need emergency relief from a backup force?

2. The Seals are getting all of the shine since the kill mission on Bin Laden. The media forgets that the Joint Special Operations Command consists of units from across the military. The families of the Air Force Combat Controllers, and the helicopter pilots and crew of the CH-47 (who were not members of the famed Nightstalkers as was previously reported), as well as the Afghans on board should also be acknowledged for their loss. And we had best not forget the military working dog, a four legged friend that lived to serve, who was also killed in the line of duty on Saturday.

3. The shoot down was apparently part of a "missile trap" of sorts, a coordinated effort by an insurgency that knows how to work PR. Don't forget that Al-Qaeda has been teaching its franchisees the RPG shoot down a helicopter trick for sometime, going at least back to Somalia.

4. Seal Team Six is a small group within a very tight community of special operators. This loss will impact recruitment, training, and promotion. If the numbers are accurate, Seal Team 6 lost at least 10 percent of its personnel in one incident. One hell of a hit by any count.

5. The special forces are quiet operators. I wonder how they and their families feel about all of this attention? This report from NPR explores the relative surprise felt by outsiders to that community's routine, day by day approach to the human losses that inevitably come from action in the line of duty.

6. Context: the late night raid which Seal Team Six was providing backup for is part of a highly secretive "Kill/Capture" program in which thousands of such missions have been completed in recent years.

Here is some great coverage of the program courtesy of Frontline.

7. In the classic Star Trek episode "Space Seed" Kirk and crew reflect back on the latter part of the 1990s, the era of World War 3 and The Eugenics Wars. Although, the Trek universe has retconned those events, i.e. tried to explain how said events did but also did not happen as originally recorded, with the Global War on Terror and U.S. special forces operating in at least 120 countries, was Star Trek onto something? When historians look back on these decades will they refer to them as World War 3? How will historians and political scientists frame the deepening ties between the CIA and the Department of Defense where the leadership of both agencies exchanged roles with one another a few months back?

8. This is a bonus. C.J. Chivers is a war correspondent whose book The Gun on the history of the AK-47 is just a great exploration of how one piece of material culture can be a lens through which to view the history(ies) of the 20th and early 21st centuries. No ifs, ands, or buts. A must read. This interview on his experiences in Libya, friendship with slain photojournalist Tim Hetherington, and how Chivers, a former Marine, balances his tactical knowledge of combat with a principled and critical distance from the events he covers as a reporter, is a powerful example of stalwart principle in action.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Age of Obama Chronicles: The First Black President May Be a Failure, But at Least We Got a Black Cleopatra in a Summer's Eve Commercial

As Rome burns, some fun for us on a Monday. I got something good coming on Wednesday that should both equally offend the Herrenvolk real America types, as well as provide some affirmation for those already in the know.

We may be in the midst of the haunting of President Obama by the Tea Party GOP and a day where the Chief Executive tried (and failed) to give an FDResque fireside chat on a sick economy in the middle of the summer, but it is still okay to laugh. Moreover--and file this under the rule of unintended consequences in postracial Age of Obama America--there remains much to celebrate: it took decades, but the Afrocentrists have finally won a key fight in the overlapping terrain of the public imagination, consumer culture, and historical memory.

While Elizabeth Taylor was the source of much grumpiness for her portrayal of a "white Cleopatra," and others have complained that Angelina Jolie is "too white" to play Cleopatra in an upcoming movie, and always allowing for the space Negro/Egyptian coolness of Sun Ra and the funkiness of George Clinton and P-Funk, I for one never got the deep investment in the Afrocentric dreaming for Mother Africa...and the fixation of some on making Cleopatra a woman of color.

As was explained to me by a Professor of Classics some years back, she was a rather plain and hook nosed, inbred, Greek woman. Political acumen aside, I see no reservoir of "strawnggg black womanhood" to be drunk from or celebrated there. In a world where some folks need to wear their affirmations on t-shirts, fictions too provide comfort. But then again, as a black man in America I am the envy of the world [insert snark].

In the Age of Obama, the Strong Black Woman of Mother Africa and Cleopatra is an icon and motif for Summer's Eve douche. Better than Lysol, but still not too healthy for the ecosystem of the yoni, we can at least be happy with our small victories.

Sister Shahrazad Ali would indeed be proud.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Debits of Whiteness: Of the Tea Party GOP's Racism and the S & P's Credit Downgrade of the United States

More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.

Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon.
The Tea Party GOP got what they wanted. Their game of economic terrorism has resulted in one more step towards economic calamity for the American people. The austerity recession is here, if not already fully arrived.

The other shoe has fallen as well: although America's AAA credit rating made it through two world wars and a Great Depression intact, it could not survive the country's first black President. The Tea Party GOP can sit in the corner, smugly smiling now, as they prepare to carve up Barack Obama just a wee bit more as the 2012 election approaches.

Let us be frank and state the obvious...a reality that so many in the mainstream media are loathe to admit: The Tea Party GOP and its highwayman want to destroy President Obama because he is a Democrat. But, they despise him because he is Black.

The intransigence and obstructionism that the President experienced at every turn, especially as seen in what is almost always a routine decision to raise the debt ceiling limit, has been--pardon the pun--deeply colored by the bugaboo that is white racism.

My claim is not one that is lacking in nuance, where it is "only" white racial resentment and hostility that drives Right-wing, Tea Party GOP opposition to Barack Obama. In a moment of extreme political polarization ideology is made to trump all. The Right-wing rage machine has made compromise, normal politics, and reasonable discourse all but impossible. Race, as the third rail in American political and social life intersects all of those variables. Thus, White racism is a sweetener of sorts that amplifies an already high stakes game of political poker and brinkmanship.

Noted historian David Roediger, echoing the magisterial W.E.B. Du Bois, introduced the phrase "wages of whiteness" into the vocabulary of those who study race, politics, and American history. His pithy turn of phrase (and what is a rich concept) has been infectious. The framework was subsequently expanded to include the idea that white skin privilege brings with it unearned material, economic, psychological, and legal resources/benefits/gains to those classified as "white" in American society. Thus, the "wages" of Whiteness.

The racial resentment and hostility of the Tea Party GOP towards President Obama has now introduced a flip side to that concept. In order to destroy a President, the Tea Party GOP was driven by both racism and partisanship to wreck the American economy and hold the people of the country hostage in a time of the Great Recession.

Here, Whiteness has become a debit--one, to the tune of billions or perhaps even trillions of dollars--as the impact of the Tea Party GOP's reckless behavior, driven by racial hostility and animus, reverberates out across the American and world economy.

Once more, the pathological nature of Whiteness hurts all things and all people across the fuzzy divides of the colorline. There is no escaping it. Even for those deeply invested in its permanence.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Buchanan's "Boy"; Obama the "Tar Baby": Forget the Amateurish Racism Chasing, You All Need to be Reading This Piece on Tea Party Confederates Instead

Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics.

Some folks have their underwear all up in a bunch over Pat Buchanan calling President Obama a "boy," and the dual foot in mouth moment in which Representative Doug Lamborn called B-Rock a "tar baby."

Let's take a moment to exhale folks. And perhaps it is because I accept the utter disrespect that the Right and the Tea Party GOP hold for President Obama (they might as well just call him THE word that runs through their collective imagination every time he comes on TV), but many of us just need to slow down.

This is all chaff. Moreover, and lightning will strike me for suggesting the following, but Uncle Pat is Uncle Pat, and his mouth utterance was just one more example of feigned brotherly familiarity with Al Sharpton. Doubling down, Representative Lamborn chose a perfect analogy to describe the debt ceiling shit sandwich Satan bill enema for everyone in America who is not rich or a corporation.

To digress, I would have greatly preferred if President Obama were a Br'er Rabbit. Alas. We cannot always get what we want.

I would suggest that our collective attention should primarily be focused on the disaster capitalism and shock doctrine policies of the Tea Party GOP, and the planned destruction their debt ceiling win will bring to the country's economy. But, if we are going to do some critical analysis let's look to something more prescient and wise, with some real explanatory power and teeth for locating the Tea Party faction in the proper historical and political moment.

Salon has a great essay from Michael Lind who simply mercs the Tea Party by combining a great interpretation of history with a compelling argument about their inherent racist bonafides (there is a dissenting argument here which is also worth considering). The Tea Party are neo-Secessionists. We/Us/You here at WARN have sounded that alarm before. It is nice to see that folks are picking up on what is in the ether, hiding in plain sight.

The most telling passage from "The Tea Party, the Debt Ceiling, and White Southern Extremism" is the following:
In light of this recent history, it is clear that the origins of the debt ceiling crisis are to be sought, not in generic American conservatism, but in idiosyncratic Southern conservatism. The goal, the methods and the passion of the Tea Party in the House are all characteristic of the radical Southern right.

From the earliest years of the American republic, white Southern conservatives when they have lost elections and found themselves in the political minority have sought to extort concession from national majorities by paralyzing or threatening to destroy the United States.

The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 asserted the alleged right of states to "nullify" any federal law that state lawmakers considered unconstitutional. This obstructionist mentality led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832, when South Carolina refused to enforce federal tariffs. Civil War was averted only when President Andrew Jackson, a Southerner himself, forced the nullifiers to back down.

In 1820 and 1850 the South used the threat of secession to force the rest of the United States to appease it on the slavery issue. In 1861, the South tried to destroy the United States, rather than accept a legitimately elected president, Abraham Lincoln, whom it did not control.

Following defeat in the Civil War, the former Confederate states regrouped as "the Solid South," a one-party region, first Democratic and now Republican, that has tended to vote as a bloc in national affairs. The South sought to block the federal civil rights revolution by a policy of "massive resistance" to court orders ordering racial integration. Some Southern states went so far as to try to abolish their public school systems rather than integrate them. It is hard to avoid seeing a link between this racist rationale for privatization and modern conservative plans to scale back Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, relied on disproportionately by black and brown Americans and low-income whites, while increasing taxpayer subsidies to private retirement and healthcare accounts enjoyed mostly by affluent whites.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Your thoughts?

Monday, August 1, 2011

In the Aftermath of the Debt Ceiling Debacle: What if Barack Obama’s Presidency was a Children’s Fairy Tale?

Barack Obama's debt ceiling plan is a big shit sandwich an unsatisfying as well as disappointing compromise for the American people. I used to think that the President was playing a game of 3 dimensional chess with the Tea Party GOP. I still have faith that the dude I voted for will one day reappear. Alas, perhaps a chronic compromiser and thinking person simply cannot understand the type of irrational zealotry which motivates the abnormal politics of the tea bagger Right-wing in this country.

In these matters, one cannot forget a basic life principle: We teach people how to treat us. The President has taught his opposition that he will give away everything to gain comparatively little. Ultimately, there are many lessons in the debt ceiling debacle, lessons both for adults and children. Moreover, Barack Obama and his journey to this point are also ripe material for thinking through how we explain the "real world," with its ups and downs, to our youngest citizens.

As a ghetto nerd, I love a good fairy tale. They teach readers lessons about how to deal with life's disappointments, pain, hurt, loss, and sorrow. Fairy tales also teach us lessons about civility, hubris, and how to be successful while also being graceful. In sum, what are ostensibly stories that are "just for kids" can have meanings and wisdom that span the ages, helping us all to make sense of the world.

In trying to make sense of Barack Obama's presidency to this point, one year before the election, I have decided that a series of fairy tales would be the best way to creatively process the journey of a man who was heralded as a savior, but succumbed to outside forces and temptations, and to this point, has lost his way.

Each week or so there will be another installment from some of WARN's guest contributors. If you like how it is going by all means send in your own Barack Obama fairy tale, it can be a continuation of what we are starting here, or a stand alone piece.

Let us begin.
Barack Obama, the Crown Prince and Special King Who Lost His Way (and Found It Again?) Part One

Barack Obama was a special child. He grew up surrounded by a loving family who told him that one day he would do great things. He was a lad of destiny. Coming of age in lands close and far, Barack Obama learned the ways of many peoples. Even if they picked on him at first because he was different, they all came to realize that Barack Obama was a good and earnest young man. They would always teach him their wisdom.

With his mother’s love and blessings Barack Obama returned to the land of his birthright. He was told that he would one day be King...but only if he worked really hard and made good choices. How this would happen he was not sure. Raised as a humble boy with little gold, all he could do was be his own person, and strive for better things in life.

Barack Obama had an advantage over others though. He always sought out people who could teach him things that he did not know before. Barack Obama was especially bright and won all of the ribbons and prizes in school. He adventured across the land every chance that he got. Barack Obama would win every battle he fought as a child and also as a young man because he used his natural gifts and tried harder than all of the others to succeed.

Barack Obama knew that he would always find victory if he applied himself and used his special talents.

He soon grew up to be a man. One day he met a fair and beautiful woman who would be his bride. She would always tell him the truth and make him strong where he was weak. They would have beautiful children and a wonderful family together.

Sadly, there was a cloud hanging across the land. Bush the Younger had locked many people away, gave the people’s treasure to his closest friends, and used fear of war with strangers to keep the people obedient and quiet. He was also fond of lies. The farms had stopped being prosperous and the people were going hungry. Many in the kingdom were afraid. They loved their king out of fright for what could happen if the evil hoards from other places came to invade their country. Others knew something was wrong. Few people had the courage to say so in public.

Tired of his Empire, Bush the Younger chose his successor. McCain the Fallen Knight was to be the next King. He was a good man at heart. But he liked power too much and would do anything to be in charge…even if it meant walking away from what he truly believed in his heart.

The people of the kingdom reached out to Barack Obama and asked him to be their Leader. He knew his destiny and said yes. The people were gaining courage and wanted Barack Obama to be their King more and more as the days went by. Bush the Younger was such a petty tyrant, wasting their gold and killing children in foolish wars, that the people wanted nothing more than to be free of his evil rule.

Barack Obama was a young man. To help govern the kingdom and to give him advice he chose an older member of the council. Biden the Outspoken was to be his advisor. Now, McCain the Fallen Knight was confused and worried. He needed help if he were to be the next King of the land.

Scared, he sat outside and looked up at a tree on the hilltop. In a flash of light a Sorceress appeared. Her name was Sarah Palin and she told McCain the Fallen Knight that she would help him beat Barack Obama. Although he did not know her, McCain the Fallen Knight listened to his friends who whispered in his ear that Palin the Sorceress would help him destroy all foes near and far.

Barack Obama and McCain the Fallen Knight fought many battles. The people of the kingdom were divided about which champion to support. One day Palin the Sorceress distracted McCain the Fallen Knight. She wanted to rule the kingdom and would do anything, even if it was wrong and dishonest, to defeat Barack Obama. McCain the Fallen Knight was upset and angry at Palin the Sorceress for such misdeeds. While they fought one another, Barack Obama came at them both in an act of great courage. Because she was a coward, Palin the Sorceress pushed McCain the Fallen Knight in front of Barack Obama just as his flaming sword came down true and just.

Barack Obama was a merciful and kind man. He looked into McCain the Fallen Knight’s eyes. He could see his sadness and weakness. Barack Obama told McCain the Fallen Knight that he would be spared. He should go home to his desert home and beg the people for forgiveness. Palin the Sorceress then cried magical tears that blinded Barack Obama. When he raised his sword to smite her, she had already disappeared. The air smelled of sulfur and smoke.

Barack Obama was made King of the Land by his people. They were excited by what they thought was change for the better.

Sarah Palin the Sorceress had other plans though. She went to the Tea Party Troll who lived under a bridge in a town far away from the capital of the kingdom. He was angry that he had been ignored for so long. To survive he ate mushrooms grown in the dark and would gobble up any travelers who came too close to his rickety bridge.

The Tea Party Troll would take their screams and put them in a magical box. He would open the box every day, over and over again, for his joy and pleasure. The voices told him that he was a good man and that everything which he did was right. He grew to love the box for all time.

The Tea Party Troll hated Barack Obama because of his bright and magical sword. He resented how smart and sophisticated the new King was. The Tea Party Troll was also enraged that Barack Obama was handsome and had traveled the world. The Tea Party Troll had never done such things and despised any person who looked different from him or knew how to speak the fancy words in those things called books. Palin the Sorceress told The Tea Party Troll that she would return soon to help him get his revenge.

She offered advice to The Tea Party Troll. Instead of eating and killing the people who crossed the bridge, he should use the magic box to trick them. If he did this, The Tea Party Troll would become popular. Everyone who listened to the box grew angry. They came to hate their new king Barack Obama even if they could not explain why.

To great applause and love Barack Obama was made King. He walked away from the joyous crowds to enter the great Ivory Tower and White House where all the Kings lived. At the door a man in gray appeared. He was the eldest of the old, and head of The Wise Men who had advised Kings for decades upon decades. Barack Obama bowed his head and was very polite. The Gray Man told the new King that he could not bring his flaming sword into the Ivory Tower and White House. It was tradition that he would have to forge a new sword from what was left to him by the King who came before him. That seemed unfair to Barack Obama. But being a respectful and confident man, he surrendered the flaming sword to the Gray Man who smiled upon taking it.

Barack Obama entered into the great place from which he would rule the kingdom. He walked up to a resplendent box that sat in the middle of the room. Here were the materials with which to forge a new sword. He opened the vessel. Bush the Younger had left him nothing but a few broken pieces of metal and a dull handle. What could Barack Obama do with such things?

The door immediately opened and The Wise Men entered. The Gray Man asked him what would be the first task. Now the King, Barack Obama closed the great box before anyone could see what was inside. The people were plagued by many illnesses. He told Biden the Elder and The Wise Men to send the land’s greatest knights to ride out on a quest to find a cure for all the sicknesses that ailed the people.

The Gray Man smiled. The Wise Men and Biden the Elder asked the new King why they would send their greatest warriors on such an errand when so many had died on like adventures before, and the people needed work and were hungry now.

Barack Obama told them that was his decision. It would stand. The people would be happy if he brought them such a gift. The Wise Men and Biden the Elder clapped in agreement as they were forever loyal and obedient.

Palin the Sorceress listened intently as her minions relayed the new King’s plan. She immediately looked into her pot of ugly poison and conjured up a vision of The Tea Party Troll. He was hungry. Palin the Sorceress told him of her evil plans and how together they would destroy Barack Obama the King. Happy and pleased beyond belief, The Tea Party Troll began to laugh so loud that villages for miles and miles around heard his bellows as the earth was made to shake...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Debt Ceiling Follies: The Tea Party is a Faction That Has Betrayed The Constitution, Why Doesn't Anyone Have the Courage to Call Them Out as Such?

An opening question: Is the Tea Party GOP trying to force President Obama's hand into using the 14th Amendment to resolve the debt ceiling morass they created? Thus, adding more fuel to their narrative that he is illegitimate and should be deposed from office?

The debt ceiling debacle is like giving yourself a prostate exam. A few years back, I fondly remember listening to Dr. Dean Edell answer a caller who asked how to perform said procedure on himself. The good doctor said it was possible, but it was not at all easy or particularly pleasant.

There are multiple levels of political mania at work in the Tea Party GOP and the free market fundamentalism jihad and suicide game they are playing with the American economy. On one hand, watching Speaker Boehner being neutered by his own zealots is great sport; the ascension of Michele Bachmann is also a fun spectacle as she lays in wait, sharpening her knives; when Conservative Right-wing low information voter populism runs amok I always enjoy the car wreck...except when I (and all of you) are potentially the collateral damage. But alas, this is serious business and the adults in the room have given in to the impetuous brats in the Tea Party wing on the Republican Party.

Normal politics is dead. The Republican Party (with the help of the Koch brothers) made the monster. Now they are trapped by it.

There are two ironies at work here regarding the Tea Party's gambit and hostage taking.

First, while the Tea Party GOP are Constitutional fetishists, they have a deep and profoundly childish understanding of said document. In fact, their policy goals are more in line with the Articles of Confederation than the United States Constitution they onanistically worship, while they sit, self-satisfied, rubbing themselves with the political feces produced from their own fat and bloated guts.

Second and most pointedly, the Tea Party brigands are acting like the very definition of a Faction as outlined by The Federalist Papers. Their policies are counter to the Public Interest and speak to how the framers were quite properly worried about the out-sized power of small groups in a democracy to work against the Common Good in the pursuit of their own narrow agendas.

I wonder if the Tea Party GOP highwaymen understand the beauty of that fact? History is a great teacher, as she always is. The Federalist Papers echo in the debt ceiling debate and I am curious, as I often am about such things, why a talking head among the pundit classes does not call out the Tea Party for the Faction they are? It would make for a clear and easy talking point that would ether those trolls.

I won't even charge--this time--for the suggestion.

Some words of wisdom from Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay from The Federalist Papers Number 10:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects...

The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.

When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

John McCain Channels Chauncey Devega: The Debt Ceiling Holy War, Tea Party GOP Free Market Fundamentalism, and the Power of Lies

You know things are bad when John McCain agrees with Chauncey DeVega is the voice of reason. Last week I ran a featured piece on Alternet where I worked through the relationship between the Tea Party GOP's blind faith in the unprovable and how said group's delusions have colored their strategy in the impasse over the debt ceiling.

Although it feels good to have been ahead of the curve in stating the obvious regarding the brigands in the Republican Party, I do wish that I were wrong, and that reasonable and rational voices would have prevailed by now and put an end to the debt ceiling morass. Sadly, Conservatives and the Republican Party are held hostage by a monster of their own making.

How is all that "take our America back" talk feeling right about now I must ask.

Then again, chaos and economic destruction could actually be the real plan of the Right-wing and Conservatives..a little disaster capitalism shock doctrine treatment for America and its first black President served up with a little Chianti and a side of fava beans.

In the interest of sharing my piece follows. You will need to click on the jump link to read all the way through. Share and comment as always. I am working on a followup for next week and your input is always appreciated.


Debt Ceiling Holy War: Why Do Conservatives Have Unshakable Faith in Ideas That Are Totally, Demonstrably False?

The Republican Party is holding the U.S. economy hostage. While the American people overwhelmingly support a solution to the debt ceiling impasse that includes a mix of tax hikes on the rich and cuts to the federal budget, the Tea Party GOP is deaf to their concerns. Moreover, even though President Barack Obama is willing to make painful concessions on entitlement spending—a move that hands the Republican Party a practical win—the Tea Party GOP remains intractable in its refusal to support even the most minimum of tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.

The American people, the world’s financial markets and the pundit classes remain perplexed by the Republican Party’s dangerous brinkmanship. Why would they risk financial armageddon? What is the practical gain to be had from such irresponsible behavior? Is this a ploy to undermine the Democrats before the 2012 election?

Observers remain befuddled because they have failed to connect the dots between the Republican Party’s intransigent stubbornness and a populist brand of conservatism where the world of facts has been made secondary to the intoxication of faith.

Consider the following: faith is based upon a belief in that which cannot be proved or demonstrated by normal means. Faith is also immune and separate from tests of empirical proof. Not to be overlooked, the contemporary Republican Party is home to the Religious Right. Consequently, the primacy of “faith” as the decision rule in political decision-making is both a perfect and logical fit for conservative populism.

When coupled with conservatives’ penchant for authoritarianism, their adherence to simple moral scripts, and a either/or binary world view, the allures of faith mated with fiction are irresistible to the Republican Party. Thus, the idea that politics should serve the common good for all is truncated and superseded by the pursuit of a common good that is only for the faithful, the few and the ideologically pure.

This cognitive framework colors a wide range of the Republican Party’s policies.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Human Face Behind the Destruction of the Black Middle Class and the Racial Wealth Gap

The national conversation about the racial wealth gap is developing nicely across the press and these Internets. The discourse has, or will soon take a negative and predictable turn (assuming that it has not already). But for now, and as I wrote a few days back, the salon has been welcome and long needed.

To my surprise there have been some bright spots where the State's role in the systematic destruction of the black economy has been discussed. And of course, brother Ta-Nehisi Coates is hosting a good back and forth on the issue over at The Atlantic.

In the analysis of macro-level social structures and political economy, the human element is often lost or forgotten. When we discuss the housing crisis and the Great Recession, it should always be foregrounded that the millions of homes foreclosed upon are not just empty vessels and write offs on a bank's ledger sheet.

No, they are the places where people's hopes and dreams were once invested, and where said possibilities have now died. When we talk about the economic reality that white folks on average have at least 10 times the wealth of blacks and Latinos, this is a story of dreams deferred and unfair advantages accrued elsewhere: in total, an epic tale of lost human capital and trillions of dollars never earned or accumulated, a heavy drag on American prosperity and progress for all.

Ultimately, there are real people made to suffer by the evisceration of the black middle class. Here are some of their stories. Never forget, however frightening or scary the thought may be, they are you, and we are all potentially them.

Black Economic Gains Reversed by the Great Recession

BALTIMORE (AP) — Growing up black in the segregated 1960s, Deborah Goldring slept two to a bed, got evicted from apartment after apartment, and watched her stepfather climb utility poles to turn their disconnected lights back on. Yet Goldring pulled herself out of poverty and earned a middle-class life — until the Great Recession.

First, Goldring's husband fell ill, and they drained savings to pay for nursing homes before he died. Then Goldring lost her executive assistant job in the Baltimore hospital where she had worked for 17 years. The cruelest blow was a letter from the bank, intending to foreclose on her home of almost three decades.

Millions of Americans endured similar financial calamities in the recession. But for Goldring and many others in the black community, where unemployment has risen since the end of the recession, job loss has knocked them out of the middle class and back into poverty. Some even see a historic reversal of hard-won economic gains that took black people decades to achieve.

Goldring remembers her mother taping the window shades to the wall so no one could see them stealing electricity. She remembers each time she sat on the curb with her three brothers, surrounded by her family's belongings, waiting for a new place to live. Sitting on those curbs, she promised to always pay her bills on time.

Now, after finding herself poor again, "the only word I can say is devastated," says Goldring, 58.
"For me to live that life we were so comfortable in, we never had to worry about finances, we always had money where I can help my kids and my grandchildren — to go to calling my daughter to borrow $100 because I can't pay a bill …" Goldring's voice trails off as she struggles to hold back tears.

Economists say the Great Recession lasted from 2007 to 2009. In 2004, the median net worth of white households was $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute. By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860; the median black net worth had fallen 83 percent to $2,170, according to the EPI.

Algernon Austin, director of the EPI's Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, described the wealth gap this way: "In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents."

Since the end of the recession, the overall unemployment rate has fallen from 9.4 to 9.1 percent, while the black unemployment rate has risen from 14.7 to 16.2 percent, according to the Department of Labor.
"I would say the recession is not over for black folks," Austin says. He believes more black people than ever before could fall out of the middle class, because the unemployment rate for college-educated blacks recently peaked and blacks are overrepresented in state and local government jobs that are being eliminated due to massive budget shortfalls.

Maya Wiley, director of the Center for Social Inclusion, says the anti-discrimination laws passed in the 1960s took decades to translate into an increase in black economic security — and that was before the recession.

"History is going to say that the black middle class was decimated" over the past few years, Wiley says. "But we're not done writing history."

Goldring was born and raised in Baltimore, and her mother was single for much of Goldring's childhood. At 16, she dropped out of school and went to work cleaning hotel rooms.

"That's when I first met white people. Some of them would stay a month at the hotel. They would have all their children with them," she remembers. "I thought, one day I'd like to hang out at a hotel."

She didn't know any middle-class people in her all-black neighborhood. "Where we lived, everyone struggled. We just struggled a little harder," she says. "If the lights stayed on for a whole year, if we didn't get put out, I thought we were doing really, really well."

At 21, pregnant with her second child, Goldring decided to get her GED. Then she went to community college, got a degree in secretarial work, and began a career.

She met her husband in 1983. He had a steady job as a heating and air-conditioning installer, and owned a brick two-bedroom home in Morgan Park, a leafy, integrated neighborhood.

With two incomes, money was not a problem. He liked to travel. She had never been out of Maryland.
"I thought, 'Is this how rich people live?'" Goldring remembers. "From where I was to where I ended up, it was way different."

Her husband had been married before. As a condition of the divorce, his daughter's name was added to the deed of the house. After Goldring's husband died in 2007, Goldring took out a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, with a 6.5 percent interest rate, to purchase the house outright.

Everything was fine until her hospital "restructured" in 2009. Her boss, a senior vice president, was transferred to the corporate office. Executives were now sharing secretaries. A few months later, they let Goldring go.

No more family vacations. No more trips to the mall. No more filling the grocery cart.

But what Goldring misses the most is her checkbook. Her unemployment payments arrive on a debit card.
"Just being able to pull out my checkbook and pay a bill, even though there might not be much left in there," she says. "I really miss that checkbook with my name on it."

Whiteness is Not Benign (continued): Beware of the White Man!

A quick followup to my post from yesterday. Did you know that many cultures actually developed a word for the "white man" as Europeans came into contact with their own? And no, its meaning was not too flattering as "white man" spoke directly to an experience of cultural exploitation and imperialism.

These brothers are doing some truth telling. No? Are there any other songs of a like bent that you would add to the track listing on a perhaps never to released compilation entitled, "Whiteness is Not Benign"?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Reminder that Whiteness is Not Benign: Of Warnings About White, Middle Class Domestic Terrorists in the U.S. and the Norway Massacre

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has repeatedly cautioned that Right-wing Conservative extremists would be among the groups most likely to commit an act of mass violence in the United States. Their most recent warnings have come in the form of a training tape which is part of the "See Something, Say Something" program.

This production has garnered much attention as Conservatives are appalled at its seeming suggestion that the person most likely to conduct an act of domestic terrorism in the United States would be a middle class white person. In an eerie coincidence, days after the release of the video a white man in Norway committed an act of Right-wing, Christian Nationalist inspired domestic terrorism that killed 76 people. What was an apparent validation of the DHS's prophetic warnings.

Each time I sat down to write something about the Norway Massacre and the DHS report, another American right-wing bloviator would produce a stupifying mouth utterance regarding the tragedy in Norway that would give me a moment of head-shaking pause. When they keep piling on, it is hard to produce something timely, as the target keeps on moving.

I routinely listen to Right-wing talk radio in order to gather intelligence on the opposition. And as expected, their commentary on the Norway Massacre has followed a predictable script in which the responses by Beck, Levin, Savage, Cunningham, et al. are, as always, no less detached from reality. In their land of make believe, Anders Behring was a liberal, he was not a Christian, and any effort to link him to the faith is an intentional smear of the Judeo-Christian community. And funny if it were not so tragic, the Right-wing deploys the same arguments used by liberal critics of profiling in the case of racial minorities, to defend themselves against such an "injustice."

And of course, Rush Limbaugh is doing a dance where he connects all evil in the world, here being the soul searching that Norwegians are doing in the aftermath of the Anders Behrings' murder spree, to President Obama because he is "an enabler" of terrorism and an "America hater."

The reaction to the Department of Homeland Security's warnings about Right-wing violence and the "See Something, Say Something" program is powerful not because of the obvious: Given the seditious political atmosphere ginned up by the Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama would such worries about domestic terrorism really be that unexpected or surprising?

Rather, the response by the New Right to the Department of Homeland Security's initiatives is a damning reveal of the myopia of Whiteness and the degree that in the American political and social context, the two can be separated from one another.

If the very same warnings had been issued about Muslim Americans, a member of a different racial minority group, or even "liberals," the Right would have jumped to defend the report as necessary and to be heeded in a time of terror. There would hearings on the matter.

Following the logic of the Right-wing playbook, only traitors would boo hoo about racial profiling and the trampling of their Constitutional rights. If you have nothing to hide why be so fearful?

The Right's reaction to the DHS and the Norway Massacre speak to an additional pathology of Whiteness. The shock and awe by racism deniers and white victimologists, that a white person, a white middle class man especially, would ever be a priori suspect of a crime is a mirror for the gross narcissism of the White Soul. Whiteness never imagines itself as anything other than benign, kind, non-threatening, wholesome, and good. Criminals and terrorists are "those people." Whiteness sees itself as perennially decent, moral, and just.

By definition, Whiteness can never be the stuff of terrorism, threat, or violence.

As Toni Morrison so sharply argues in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness in the Literary Imagination, Whiteness and White people have been sources of terror for black and brown people, both here and around the world.

For many, the White Man is a frightening thing; he is to be run from; he brings death and destruction; the bogeyman is not some amorphous figure, historically he was a white man brandishing a gun or whip, wearing the colors of Imperial Power, the hood of the Grand Cyclops, or donning a business suit and carrying an ID for the World Bank. The White Man's Burden was never benign...regardless of how it was framed and mythologized.

Moreover, in the American experience it is verboten and anathema to call attention to the fact that the largest terrorist group in the history of the United States was the Ku Klux Klan, a civil society organization that killed thousands of African Americans and others in its one hundred plus year reign of terror. It is equally inconvenient to call to light that white people have systematically terrorized people of color (the genocide against our indigenous brothers and sisters; the slaveocracy; Jim and Jane Crow; racial pogroms in cities such as Tulsa and East St. Louis) in the pursuit of the psychological and material wages of Whiteness, and that the Racial State's reign of terror was a central feature of American democracy, and not an aberration from it.

Whiteness finds this hard if not impossible to process. Many white folks, however benign or good or otherwise socially progressive, often have a hard time accepting that White people are perceived as dangerous by many of their fellow Americans. Liberals and others may respond to such realities with cultivated guilt and shame; Conservatives respond with rage, pleading feigned victimhood, and denial.

In these matters, I am left grappling with a set of meta level questions.

Although they are an ocean apart, are the white terrorists, the McVeighs, the Tides shooter, the Hutaree militia, the Birther Tea Party 9/12 party political thugs and seditionists, part of the same collective political subconscious, an outgrowth of the same ether and spirit of an age? Is the right-wing echo chamber in the United States, with its eliminationist "commonsense" notions that liberals are a disease to be destroyed, a cousin to the echoes and chorus which fueled the Norway Massacre?

Ultimately, are Anders Behring and the white middle class domestic terrorists that the Department of Homeland Security has warned the American people about a function of the same pathological Whiteness?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

So Old School: Michael Dawson Takes Heads as The Mainstream Media Finally Discovers the Black and White Wealth Gap

These economic trends bear potentially dire political consequences. Public opinion data collected by my colleagues and me over the past 20 years demonstrated that black disillusionment with the prospects for racial equality had grown from the early 1990s to the point that by 2005, four out of five blacks believed that racial equality would not be achieved in the foreseeable future. After two decades of growth, this percentage declined by 30 percentage points by October 2008 and the eve of the election of Barack Obama. For the first time since we started collecting data on this question, more than half of blacks believed that racial equality for blacks would be soon achieved or had already been achieved.

This relative level of euphoria was short-lived and plummeted with the onset of the economic crisis. Once again, half of all blacks believe that racial equality either will not be achieved in their lifetimes or not at all within the U.S.

The combination of blocked roads to social mobility, continuing economic crisis, the near unanimous belief among blacks that racism remains a major problem in the United States, and the consequent widespread and growing despair about the prospects for racial equality provide the grounds, if not the inevitability, for an ever more volatile and conflicted racial landscape.

It was great to see the always kind, brilliant, and gracious Professor Michael Dawson taking some heads Ghost Dog style in today's NY Times as part of its series on the perils facing The Black Middle Class.

The Great Recession has brought questions about the extreme wealth inequality in the United States to the forefront of the national conversation on the economy. Once the stuff of old Lefties, it is a pleasant surprise--nevertheless tragic because of the macro level changes and destroyed lives and careers which have brought these issues front and center--that a basic threat to American democracy is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Or stated as a question: When one group has such a disproportionate percentage of resources, in a political system driven by interest group politics, how does their out-sized influence in a post-Citizens United era game the system against the Common Good and the "rest of us" in the service of an increasingly narrow political agenda?

Economists have long studied the increasing gap between the haves and "the have nots" in America. While their analysis was technical, and thus mired in the stuff of gini coefficients and income percentages by cohort as adjusted for inflation, the mainstream media is finally making their work more accessible for a general audience.

Sociologists and political scientists have long thought that the public didn't "get" how extreme disparities in wealth and income were a social ill because our political culture does not have a language with which to discuss class. After all, Americans are not Europeans with all of their fancy third parties, and where "Socialism" and "nationalized health care" are not bad or evil words.

Even more vexing, it seems that a class based politics that speaks honestly about wealth inequality and the income gap remains hamstrung by a logic where voters, especially Conservatives, look at the rich (as opposed to their own families and communities) as proxies for their own immediate economic well-being and the general direction of the nation's economy. In total, the poor and working classes often choose policies that work against their own immediate economic self-interest, and that of the country as a whole.

Given the latter, I am not hopeful that America will see a radical departure from its uncritical, corporate-consumerist model of citizenship. However, perhaps the Great Recession will force a little bit more critical reflection by an occasionally attentive public on these broader economic issues.

Moreover, returning to Dawson's sharp commentary on the perils facing the black community in a time of debt ceiling hostage taking by the Tea Party GOP on the black middle class, I am pleased again that there is some public conversation about the relationship between race, wealth, and politics.

Unfortunately, this is a perennial chat among students of race and politics. Whites have on average at least 10 times the wealth of blacks and Latinos; single white women in their peak earning years are worth approximately 40,000 dollars, black and Latino women about 5 dollars; in the time of the Great Recession the black middle class has seen its average worth fall eighty-three percent to approximately 2,000 dollars. As the great Black Wealth/White Wealth pointed out, upper class blacks are just as likely to fall down the economic ladder as poor and working class whites are to move up it.

In total, the racial wealth gap has existed for decades and is the result of structural policy decisions made by white elites and the federal government. As coverage of the divide gains traction in the days leading up to the debt ceiling vote (MSNBC even had a feature on this "new" story today), how will the media's frame on the story develop?

Some questions and possibilities:

1. Will the long racist history of the VA and FHA home lending programs, as well as redlining be discussed?

2. Will the chattering classes discuss how federal policy created the ghetto and thus systematically devalued the communities which black and brown folks were most likely to find themselves? Is there going to be a mention of "sundown towns" and the efforts of whites through pogroms and other acts of violence to destroy prosperous black communities in places such as Tulsa, Oklahoma?

3. Will there be a discussion of discrimination in mortgage and bank lending practices that continue to the present, and which put blacks, Latinos, and Asian-Americans into exotic mortgages, with higher interest rates, and thus at greater risk of default, than whites with comparable credit profiles?

4. Will there be a discussion of how when Social Security was established it explicitly excluded large segments of the labor force from benefits because African Americans were concentrated as domestics, farmers, and other laborers in the Jim and Jane Crow South, a class of laborers not included in that benefits program? And even more pointedly, that because of racialized disparities in health care outcomes, blacks effectively subsidize the Social Security payments of white folks because they die earlier and work for more years of their life, unable to retire at a reasonable age?

Historically, the media frame about blacks and the economy has been a racialized one. Poor black and brown folks are depicted by the media as the undeserving poor, as lazy, or welfare queens, irresponsible, and possessed of a questionable morality. The black middle class and their accomplishments are denigrated and always under question as they are the product of "affirmative action" and are "unqualified" for the positions which they have earned.

In the Age of Obama, where white racial resentment is naked and driving the Tea Party GOP, I shutter to think that there may be a segment of the public that sees the racial wealth gap as a non-issue, and perhaps even a good thing, as "blacks" and "minorities" shouldn't be doing too well in a time when White America is struggling.

Alternatively, as Sean Hannity did on a recent radio show, the dishonest and insincere Right-wing will throw the racial wealth gap in President Obama's face as more consternation creating fuel for their perennial question: What has President Obama and the Democratic Party done lately for blacks? Why do they even support him?

Of course, the Black Conservative banjo players will be brought out to back up this chorus.

In sum, race is the modality in which class is lived in America. More evidence then why a white unemployment rate of 8 percent is a crisis, and an under and unemployment rate for blacks of some 20 or more percent is accepted as "normal." Thus, the job death hemorrhage that has afflicted blacks for several decades is not worthy of mainstream media coverage. It is the norm.

I come full circle in these reflections on wealth and race back to the late (and great) Dr. Manning Marable, a friend and colleague of Professor Michael Dawson. I was lucky to have broken bread with them together years back, just as my journey was first beginning. Trust, they made quite a positive and wonderful impression to say the least.

The late Dr. Marable powerfully suggested that the wealth and race gap in the United States was not an unlucky coincidence. It was the result of policy decisions where the racial state, what was America's herrenvolk creed in practice, systematically underdeveloped Black America.

I know that the puzzle of the black/white wealth gap will not be framed in such a way--where it is accurately portrayed as a continuation of long and deep structural policies and State policy--by a mainstream media that is just learning how to have a reasonable discussion about class.

But a brother can hope just a little bit, can't he?