Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pedagogical Failures? The Authors We Are Reading in Class Are Mean to White People...



"Joe Feagin is not nice to white people, how is he going to win us over? ""Jane Elliot is mean to white people, what is wrong with her?"

Those are two questions from my class on Race and American politics which I am teaching this quarter. I like sharing these pedagogical moments with you all as so much of what we talk about regarding race and politics here on WARN--and in other moments more generally--can be traced back to what students are learning (or not) in the classroom. We make citizens in our schools; thus, the tin eared responses to white racism in the Age of Obama and a drunken ideology of conservative colorblindness that offers nothing, and masks almost everything, can often be traced right back to those spaces.

As a black guy who teaches courses on race I am always impressed by the candor of my students. Quite a few don't want to engage for fear of "saying the wrong thing." Generally, and with good speed, folks pick up on the fact that my courses are not some version of the Oprah Winfrey Show. I am not interested in having an encounter session. My goals are direct: read the texts, process the claims, and apply the theory.

Public feelings and personal moments of transformation are entertaining; they generally don't have a place in my seminars. Nevertheless, and while only a journeyman, I still remain surprised by the vulnerability and honesty of the white students in my classes. As one of their few non-white lecturers I can become their personal confessor. I am also a flagellating truth teller. Many stay for the punishment and want more. Others run away.

Here, there are a few moments that have repeated themselves. First, white students hate sister Jane Elliot. There is a revulsion at how she brings the heat and holds white folks accountable for their racism and prejudice.

The second is more curious: many students (mostly white, but a few of color) get upset at Dr. Joe Feagin's analyses of white racism as a societal organizing concept. Inevitably, he is described as "mean" to white people. Feagin apparently "doesn't want to win them over."

I smile and respond that the history of white supremacy and the institutional legacies of white racism are not nice. Moreover, some history is just ugly and should be presented as such. Most importantly--and this upsets quite a few white students--few authors in any field sit back and ask "how will my argument make people of color feel? Will it hurt their feelings?" Consequently, why should you be extended the courtesy?

On a meta level I will never stop shaking my head at the vulnerability of Whiteness. Its owners and practitioners have the world oriented around them. Whiteness is one of the greatest inventions in human history. White folks can gain all of the advantages of white supremacy in post-Civil Rights America and can wash their hands of it, all the while being able to play the "reverse racism" defense when the reality of white racism is called out for what it is.

Whiteness seems so durable. Its owners and practitioners so weak. How could this be? Perhaps, this duality is one of the secrets to how Whiteness and white privilege have endured for so long?

The revulsion of some at the truth of white racism is an example of white privilege in action where how dare someone deviate from the white racial frame and turn the lens inward, upsetting White priors, White beliefs, and a White sense of nobility and innocence.

There are also students who pleasantly surprise you with their directness. While some would be offended, I am intrigued by a student who submitted a list of questions to me after a class on race and life chances. He is a bold one; I think he should be commended even as his directness would be off-putting to some.

Said student asked me the following:

1. As a black American, assuming you consider yourself "black" and an "American" are you "thankful" that you were given a "traditional" "non-black" name rather than one that is stereotypically "black?"

2. Do you think having a "black" name would have impacted your career?

3. If you are dealing with a white person who is really ignorant about racism how do you tell them this?

So let's work through this together. How would you respond to these questions? Alternatively, is there something problematic about these questions to begin with? Is said student operating from a position of white privilege where he feels empowered to query a black professor in such a personal manner?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It Only Took a Few Hours Folks: Herman Cain Buckdances, Apologizes to Rick Perry, and Performs Political Fellatio on His White Masters



Herman Cain is no Morehouse man. He never was. Rather, Herman Cain is all balls and no shaft...to quote the immortal cartoon the Boondocks.

Black garbage pail kid black conservative Herman Cain is a clown, an eager slave driver, and exactly what we knew him to always be.

There is no road to Damascus moment here for Cain; he is one who would find a way to explain away a lynching if it were to his political advantage.

Shame Cain. Shame on you. Shame on anyone like you. Shame on your supporters.

[Sorry to break kayfabe and go hard and personal there for a moment. But, that was real and from the heart. Herman Cain reminds me of the type of self-hating negro I was told to always be careful of; never turn your back on them, never, not ever. His ancestors likely sold other black folks down the river while gleefully smiling and counting his duckets for cashing in on Dred Scott.

There are some of us who are so damaged by white supremacy that we will do anything to comport with Whiteness. We talk about "cultural DNA" sometimes here on We Are Respectable Negroes. When I saw and listened to Cain's mouth utterances I heard my godmother in my ear, a black woman light enough to pass but who would never betray her heritage, or as she said it, "honor rapist's blood." That is the cloth I am cut from. I won't and can't apologize, for I am as much my parents' child, as those of other respectable negroes and others who were students of power, and my Irish adopted grandfather who schooled me on the dangers of white trash and their deceptive, trickster, bigoted ways. He also cautioned me that there are "colored folk" as he called them, who are to be watched as well, for to not do so was to put myself at risk of harm.

Just being real folks, as I do when I cut an occasional promo. I do thank you for the indulgence.]

Monday, October 3, 2011

Boy You Best Know Your Place! Herman Cain's Criticism of Rick Perry Gets Him Checked by His White Republican Masters

You might have anticipated that Perry would face a firestorm for being associated with the property, but it's Cain whose remarks are drawing the most criticism from the right. At RedState, Erick Erickson concluded, "It also seems to be a slander Herman Cain is picking up and running with as a way to get into second place." Glenn Reynolds remarked that until now, Cain's "big appeal is that he's not just another black race-card-playing politician." Over at the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis called Cain's remarks "a cheap shot, and, perhaps a signal that Cain is willing to play the race card against a fellow Republican when it benefits him."

The key phrase here is "fellow Republican." Because, you see, no one thought Cain was "playing the race card" when he said in the same program that black people are "brainwashed" into voting for Democrats and suggested that black people who vote Republican are "thinking for themselves." Cain wasn't rebuked by conservatives when he previously suggested President Barack Obama was not "a strong black man," implied liberals were out to commit genocide against blacks through support for abortion rights, and said he wouldn't appoint a Muslim to his cabinet.
Adam Serwer at Mother Jones brings the heat again...

Malcolm X famously asked, "what do you call a black man with a Phd?" His answer? You call him a nigger because that is how the white man sees him.

I wonder what is the corollary to Brother Malcom's sharp wisdom as applied to black conservatives who dare to call out white racism among their Republican brethren?

Once more, we see that black conservatives like Cain, Steele and others are just convenient upright walking racism shields for the Tea Party GOP. They are dispensable. And they best know their place on these matters as rule number one is 1) never call out white conservatives on their racism and 2) no reckless eyeballing or back-sassing against white Republicans:
None of that, in the eyes of the conservatives who cheered him for those remarks, constituted "playing the race card." But when a man who is old enough to recall living under American apartheid gets a little emotional over a piece of land called "Niggerhead," that's where the right draws the line.

Not just because Cain is attacking a fellow Republican, but because he stepped out of the proper role of a black conservative, which is to reassure Republicans that their political problems with race are the inventions of a liberal conspiracy. Cain just ran head first into the brick wall of conservative anti-anti-racism, the attitude on the right that accusations of racism directed at white people are of far greater consequence than any lingering vestiges of institutional racism nonwhites might face.
I do hope that the black pundit class is politically sharp enough to let Herman Cain suffer the barbs of his white masters in the Tea Party GOP. He should not benefit from our habit to rally the troops, leverage linked fate, and defend a person who is actually working against the interests of black Americans simply by virtue of their melanin count--remember the Clarence Thomas debacle?
 
In all, and as I called this over at Daily Kos, Rick Perry's Niggerhead moment and the criticism he is quite rightly suffering for his naked blindness to white supremacy may actually endear him to the Tea Party base. For them, Niggerhead is ultimately one more battle where they must protect their "cultural memory" and "freedom" against those complaining liberals, blacks, and others who have "stolen their America" from them.

In a Republican Party where a significant number of its members believe that the Confederacy was on the right side of history, Niggerhead may actually be a clarion call for conservative rectitude.

The question remains, how low and for how long will Herman Cain grovel in order to get back into the big house where the vittles be tasty and the beds aren't made out of straw and hay?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rick Perry's Newest Problem: His Fond Memories of "Niggerhead" and Growing Up in a Sundown Town

It was a mostly white world. In 1950, the census counted about 900 black residents out of a population of about 13,000 in Haskell County, numbers that have declined steadily. Most blacks worked as maids or field hands and lived in an across-the-tracks neighborhood in the city of Haskell, the county seat, about 20 minutes from Paint Creek.
Throckmorton County, where the hunting camp is located, was for years considered a virtual no-go zone for blacks because of old stories about the lynching of a black man there, locals said. The 1950 Census listed one black resident in Throckmorton County out of a population of about 3,600. In 1960, there were four; in 1970, two; in 1980, none. The 2010 Census shows 11 black residents.
Mae Lou Yeldell, who is black and has lived in Haskell County for 70 years, recalled a gas station refusing to sell her father fuel when he drove the family through Throckmorton in the 1950s. She said it was not uncommon in the 1950s and ’60s for whites to greet blacks with, “Morning, nigger!”
“I heard that so much it’s like a broken record,” said Yeldell, who had never heard of the hunting spot by the river.
And you wonder why black folks had to use The Green Book as a guide for safety while touring this country?

Rick Perry's family retreat was/is named "Niggerhead." The Washington Post's cover story is a distraction of course from more important issues such as a failing economy, Perry's questionable record on jobs and the environment in Texas, and a far-Right leaning Republican presidential field that would combine Ayn Rand with the Christian Taliban. But a distraction can still be instructive and productive.

For the Left and other critics, Rick Perry's Niggerhead hunting camp is more proof that he is a racist and a bigot. For the Right, this story will be greeted as "gotcha politics" and more bias from the "mainstream media." Lockstep, the Right-wing media will revert to form and argue that "all of this race stuff" is playing the "race card" against white people. Who cares anyway since Perry's dad was a Democrat and he originally owned Niggerhead anyway? Predictably, there will be more spin from Conservatives and a recurring blindness to political history, i.e. Southern Democrats aka "Dixiecrats" are now the base of the Tea Party GOP.

And of course, black Republicans such as Herman Cain will be trotted out to dance on the stage while they answer questions about Rick Perry and racism.

All in all, theatrics that are par for the course of what counts as reasonable discourse in the 24 hour opinion driven news cycle.

I would suggest that Rick Perry's Niggerhead family retreat is important in so far as formative childhood and adult experiences impact political attitudes and beliefs. Rick Perry is from the Jim and Jane Crow South and has advocated for secession. He also panders to the Tea Party with all of their "take my America" pleadings and is part of a cultural movement that possesses an almost deranged hatred for the country's first black President. Racism and Conservatism overlap in America; the Conservative political imagination yearns for a return to the "good old days" and is blinded by a myopic White nostalgia for the past.

In all, why should anyone be surprised that there is a Niggerhead skeleton in Rick Perry's closet? Moreover, I would bet that there are many Niggerhead skeletons in many white folks' closets in this country.

We must also be cautious and not paint with too broad a brush, or suggest that Rick Perry is somehow unique in this regard. He is not alone in a willful denial of white supremacy and the Slaveocracy/Jim and Jane Crow/Confederacy's hold on American popular imagination even into the 21st century.

The white racist Southern Redemptionist fantasy and lie that is Gone with the Wind is still beloved by millions of people (all those happy black folks; white people in big houses and fancy clothes; what good fun!). Lady Antebellum is an acclaimed musical group (where are the Auschwitz singers? Or the Trail of Tears emo band?). A significant percentage of Americans do not believe that the Civil War was fought over slavery and the rights of White people to hold Black people in perpetual bondage. The Whiteness of history is glaring. Rick Perry, as demonstrated by his love for Niggerhead, is just one of many Americans who are transfixed by it.

Nevertheless, Rick Perry's Niggerhead moment is teachable history. For that reason it is important.

Rick Perry grew up in a sundown town. As James Loewen exhaustively and masterfully documents, there were thousands of these communities across the country where blacks (and in some cases Jews, Mexicans and other non-whites) were not allowed to live, journey through, or be present in after dark. These towns were often created by racial violence and the wholesale ethnic cleansing of non-whites through murder, forced exile, rape, banishment, theft, and violence.

When we wonder why some neighborhoods look the way that they do, why there are no black folks or other people of color living there, or stand vexed by the intergenerational wealth gap in the United States, part of the answer lies in American Apartheid. Sundown towns were a key part of the Racial State's apparatus and how it structured the day to day lives of all people.

Racial terrorism was a tool of economic exploitation. Because many in White America are loathe to acknowledge the power of structures and institutions as they cling to the lie that is the myth of meritocracy, Niggerhead is a reminder of lived history in the present. Yesterday wasn't even yesterday; it created the present terms of political, cultural, economic, and social engagement.

While some Americans have a limited knowledge of the relationship between housing segregation and the maintenance of the colorline, fewer know about sundown towns and America's history of ethnic cleansing. This history hides in plain sight. It lives on in debates over the racialized names of rivers, towns, mountains, and other public places. It is present when real estate agents refuse to show people of color homes in certain communities. It is the ether and lifeblood of whitopia.

Ignorance of race and racism's historic role in structuring life chances, and basic geographies such as where one lived, married, worked, and traveled, is especially common among the post-Civil Rights generation. This dynamic is especially true for Millennials who would be aghast at the reality of white supremacy as the norm for American history where their imagined multicultural moment is indeed an aberration--a very recent development--and one that works through conservative colorblindness as opposed to a deep and radical engagement with human difference, identity, justice.

Rick Perry's Niggerhead moment will be a short-lived blip on the news radar. Niggerhead will confirm what his detractors already believe about Rick Perry. Niggerhead will encourage his supporters to circle the wagons and double down their support because their "culture" is under assault. Unfortunately, Niggerhead will be a missed opportunity. This could be a teachable moment where White Americans could choose to look in the mirror and see the collective ugliness looking back at them. Whiteness, for most people in America, and indeed the world, was the face of terror. It was ugly and not beautiful.

Folks of all colors should know their shared history; instead it is easier to look away, make up fun fictions, and tell yourself easy lies and platitudes about "post-racial" America.

Remember folks, there is a little Niggerhead in all of us...for some like Rick Perry, a good deal more than others.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Weekend Fun: Let's Talk About Liberal Racism and Barack Obama



I have been silent on the whole liberal racism dust up over at Salon.com and The Nation. The car wreck is good sport. Beyond that, my thoughts would be tangential to the conversation and would just get folks upset.

I never want to get folks upset...

One of the benefits of writing online is that you have a ready set of archives from which to draw. In fact, you are sometimes surprised by the depth of the files and wonder why at times there are issues which just don't move you. In my limited time as an online bloviator, critic, and lay political analyst, I have come to realize that sometimes I have nothing to offer on a topic because--much to my surprise--I have already offered my thoughts on said issue some time in the past.

To point: a reader reminded me of a post I did during President Obama's campaign where I made the following observation about liberal racism. There I suggested:
My friends and I have shared a long running conversation about liberal racism. It is a peculiar beast. Conservatives, who are the most frequently tarred, and with good reason, by the label of being "racist," display a variant of white supremacy born of a willful historical myopia that couches white racism as being a mere "inconvenience" or historical oddity (when in fact white supremacy is the dominant historical narrative in the modern world).
By comparison, liberals are hyper-conscious of race and racial inequality. "Progressive" attitudes on race are central to liberal-left identity.
However, this race consciousness does not immunize them from being active racists or from holding beliefs that are deeply informed by a premise that people of color are inferior, or perhaps stated in a more benign fashion, are merely "different." Here, difference becomes a signifier of a compelling and curious Other.
This Other needs saving, this Other needs to be understood, and this Other needs help. He is pathological and cannot escape the myriad of limited life choices that await him. She is damaged by the dual oppressions of white racism and black male sexism. They cannot overcome racial adversity and white supremacy without our help.
The danger of this paternalistic attitude is that for some self-consciously progressive members of the Left, they, like their conservative nemeses, are also afflicted by a myopia that works to preclude self-reflection. These good liberals believe they have a pass which excludes the possibility of racist thought, speech, or action. Ultimately, these good liberals are incapable of being racists because they are the friends of the poor coloured folk of the world. These good liberals are supposedly our most erstwhile allies...
You see, America is a sick society. We are all deeply afflicted by white supremacy. Black people, white people, brown folk, all of us, have internalized and reproduced this social order. Some of us are more conscious of it than others. A rare few try to speak truth to power so that we can overcome this debilitating social ill by bringing it to the light, by exposing it, and by challenging it whenever we see it.
This divide in experience, how white supremacy impacts us differently, operates in our lives, structures our memories, and gives some more voice than others--and by doing so simultaneously precludes both empathy and sympathy (note the difference) from the empowered towards those less so--is how white supremacy operates as a lived system in this country.
The label of Conservative or Liberal does not make one immune from this sickness, it merely filters and shapes how it is expressed.
As brother Malcolm said, liberals are also invested in this system of inequality and they should own and confront it.
Wow, that feels dirty. Quoting oneself always seems like a low bar. Please forgive me that academic geek moment of critical self-reflection.

But there you have it. The controversy over liberal racism and Barack Obama is about something else all together--what that is I will stay quiet on. But for now, you have my thoughts on that particular beast, of the same genus and phylum as Conservative racism, but just with a slightly different disease profile.

What are your two cents on this liberal racism meme? Much to do about something? Or a bunch of hot air from folks with buyer's remorse who are trying to justify their feelings of upset at President Obama?

Friday, September 30, 2011

If a Political Candidate Said that Jewish Voters were "Brainwashed" Would the Media Bite Their Tongues?



It is in the ether. Brother Cornell Belcher took the words right out of my mouth. Finally, someone has the courage to state the obvious.

One of the reasons I keep returning to how Herman Cain and other black garbage pail kids black conservatives disgustingly suggest that African Americans are brainwashed, dumb, stupid, or zombies (and this why they vote for the Democrats) is because such claims are a slap to the face of our citizenship--a claim on national belonging earned in blood--and the ways in which we have helped to perfect American democracy.

Moreover, the argument by white conservatives and their black conservative lapdogs that African Americans are tricked or bamboozled into voting for the Democrats is doubly problematic because it harnesses the image of black people as childlike and simple--a group not fit for the American democratic project--better suited for a life of toil and labor on the plantation, content to serve White folks (with a toothy grin), as opposed to leading a country.

In turn, this argument reinforces the age old idea that of all groups in America, black folks are not suited for citizenship. When Cornell Belcher asks, "what if Jewish folks were called brainwashed by a political candidate? How would the media respond?" he hits the nail on the head and exposes a racist and white supremacist assumption about black freedom, dignity, and personhood, one which still lingers on into the Age of Obama.

I suspect that if a major candidate dared to suggest Jewish folks were brainswashed all hell would break loose--and rightly so. If a major candidate dared to suggest that white working class voters or Christian Evangelicals were brainwashed into voting for Republicans the Tea Party GOP would become apoplectic just as they did when President Obama meekly observed that some in Red State America are blinded by "guns, god, and religion."

But in America, the white racial frame is the de facto state of normal. Thus, there is silence when the citizenship and political sophistication of black Americans is impugned. Why? Because many Whites (and some others) would take such a claim as a given, a nothing to see here, Star Wars inspired move along moment.

Herman Cain and other Black Conservatives are human puppets who eagerly sit bare bottomed on the naked lap of Whiteness: thus they give a pass for these racist assumptions, as they excuse make and enable a distorted and warped black image of black humanity, an image that is soothing and a good fit for the racial depravities of the White (Conservative) Mind.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Peek into the Id of the Tea Party Republican Imagination: Obama's Racist Black Theology



When I come upon a compelling find on Youtube I like to share it with you all.

Obama's Racist Black Theology is entertaining. It is skillful in how it presents decontextualized information in a manner which validates the priors of its audience while maintaining a veneer of scholarly rigor and critical distance. Great stuff. Even better propaganda for the low information Tea Party Conservative crowd.

There are some real gems here: Little did I know that the movie Independence Day was based upon the teachings of Nation of Islam's founder Fard Muhammad. Nor did I know that Black Israelites were praying for a space ship to arrive on the day of Obama's election in order to carry the elect few off into the cosmos. I smiled at the walk down memory lane that was the ridiculousness of Khalid Muhammad's promo on white folks and Apartheid.

Obama's Racist Black Theology also represents the sickness that is white racism mated with Right-wing zealotry in the Age of Obama. While reasonable folks shook their heads at the Birthers and all of the other assorted crazy talk by Conservatives that the President is a closet Socialist or is controlled by some voodoo magic from his dead Kenyan father, the agitprop antics of the Tea Party GOP and their foot soldiers is no laughing matter.

In fact, 30 percent of Republicans in a recent survey reported still believing that the President is not a United States citizen.

Our society is sick; right wing reactionary politics are a symptom of the disease. Moreover, because conservatism and racism are one in the same in America, the election of the country's first black President has freed both to interact in a synergistic manner where "conspiranoids" and a fantastic combination of Ayn Randian dystopian politics and Right-wing Christian Nationalism work through the old ether of white racial resentment to create an utterly dysfunctional political culture.

The Right-wing populists who lapped at the trough of the Reverend Wright controversy and who daily suggest that white folks are oppressed and losing their country to those Others, are not too distant from the imaginary offered by the Obama's Racist Black Theology video.

Bachmann, Perry, and the rogues gallery that is the Tea Party GOP Presidential field would find much to agree with there.

The lunatic Right and the mainstream Republican Party are both similarly detached from reality (many believe in Christian Nationalism; that God tells them to run for high office; prayer controls the economy; science is trumped by fantasy; and folks like pseudo-historian David Barton have "proven" America is founded as a Christian republic).

Doubling down, the lunatic Right and the mainstream Republican Party also both possess an instinctive disgust and revulsion at the very personhood of Barack Obama. And faith trumps all, such that matters of fact and empiricism are overridden by--what are for all intents and purposes--practical beliefs in superstition and magic on matters ranging from the economy, to tax policy, to science, and foreign affairs.

In reflecting on the Reverend Wright affair it did not matter that few if any of Obama's detractors actually read anything of substance about black liberation theology, or took the time to actually engage in a substantive way with Dr. Cone. Nor, did the Right ever critically reflect on Reverend Wright's truth telling about America's history of abuses both at home and abroad.

Reality is dead. Long live the triumph of ideology, fantasy, and Orwellian doublespeak over the world of facts and reason.

When watching videos such as Obama's Racist Black Theology, listening to Right-wing talk radio, or checking in on Fox News, I am reminded that they offer a caricature of reality which fulfills the fantasies of American Authoritarians.

In all, for that and other reasons I do not envy Obama his job.

Consider for a moment the tasks at hand: Barack Obama has to quadrangulate between rabid conservatives who see him as grotesque and monstrous (both because he is a Democrat and also because he had the sheer nerve to be a black man who ran for the Office of President and won), white liberals who want him to be Shaft or 50 Cent, and none too few black folks with unreasonable expectations that he is a messiah who has disappointed them, leaving Black America a lost/found tribe in the desert.

I wouldn't take that bargain for 1 dollar or a million. Would you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Clansman Would be Proud: Herman Cain Leads the GOP Pack and Deems Black People "Brainwashed"


The one African-American running for the GOP presidential nomination said Wednesday the black community was 'brainwashed' for traditionally siding with liberal politicians.
"African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open minded, not even considering a conservative point of view," Cain said on CNN's "The Situation Room" in an interview airing Wednesday between 5-7 p.m. ET. "I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative. So it's just brainwashing and people not being open minded, pure and simple."
Herman Cain writes history with lightning.

I have written a good deal about Herman Cain. I do not know how history will remember me for my role in calling Cain out for his race minstrelesque routine and water carrying, shoe shine boy, buckdancing role as the human chaff and melanin infused shield against charges that the Tea Party GOP is a movement motivated by white racial resentment.

Perhaps, I will be judged harshly for making him the story of the week back in February 2011 where my short piece on Alternet got him some shine from the Right-wing blogosphere and Fox News. Hell, maybe some will praise me for saying what needed to be said and by doing it unapologetically.

Months later, I still consider him an object of great fascination for he is the embodiment of a darkly tragic, and indeed quite painful part of the African American experience in this country that many are loathe to acknowledge: retreat; assimilation; cowardice; and accommodation as a practical type of surrender in the face of white supremacy is a survival tactic deployed by some who are born the Other.

We are not proud of this fact. We discuss it in quiet whispers and scorn those who chose that path. Nevertheless, this dynamic is real as some long ago realized the utility of white patronage as a means to help navigate the perils of the colorline.

Alas, and without regret, I stand by my controversial claim that Herman Cain is a racial projection from the deepest part of the White Conservative Id. In all, Herman Cain is a "good one," he who does not challenge white folks on racism or dare to speak truth to power.

Although I am very familiar with the Black Conservative script where people of color who do not vote Republican are viewed as being zombies, mentally defective, and "slaves" on the "Democrat Plantation," sitting, waiting for Black Conservatives to play Harriet Tubman as they lead us to the promised land and the Great White Father that is the Tea Party GOP, I still find such an argument loathsome and a rape of history.

Why? Because such claims stand in the face of overwhelming data on the sophistication of black voters and our role in making American democracy whole. And as a practical matter, such arguments by black Conservatives that other black folks are stupid and dumb ignores a basic fact: maybe African Americans as a group have made a rational choice to support the Democratic Party because of its policy positions? No trickery is needed; no slight of hand is necessary.

Herman Cain's pronouncements about black inferiority and lack of political sophistication are the echoes of history. History teaches us again and again my friends, as in the Age of Obama a prominent Black Conservative gives life to stereotypes about the simple mindedness of African Americans and paints a picture of a people not fit for democracy.

This is the irony of all ironies: in post-racial America an African American Tea Party GOP front runner named Herman Cain can channel the worst sentiments of the white supremacist tracts of the 19th and 20th century as he belittles the black community while fulfilling the fantasies of the White Conservative Soul.

Thomas Dixon Jr., author of the racist novel The Clansman (and basis of the film Birth of a Nation) would be proud.

Fate is a trickster. History lives on as it is channeled through surprising totems and oracles such as folks like the Tea Party GOP's best black friend Mr. Herman Cain:

Since the dawn of history the Negro has owned the continent of Africa rich beyond the poet's fancy, crunching acres of diamonds beneath his bare black feet. Yet he never picked one up from the dust until a White man showed him its light. His land swarmed with powerful and docile animals, yet he never built a harness, cart or sled.

A hunter by necessity, he never made an axe, spear or arrowhead worth preserving beyond the moment of its use. He lived as an ox, content to graze for an hour. In a land of stone and timber, he never carved a block, sawed a foot of lumber or built a house save of broken sticks and mud.

With league on league of ocean strand and miles of inland seas, for 4,000 years he watched their surface ripple under the wind, heard the thunder of the surf on his beach, the howl of the storm over his head, gazed on the dim blue horizons calling him to worlds that lie beyond, and yet he never dreamed of a sail. He lived as his fathers lived - stole his food, worked his wife, sold his children, ate his brother, content to drink, sing, to dance, and sport as the ape.

And this creature, half child, half animal, the creature of impulse, whim and conceit, pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw; a being who left to his will, roams at night and sleeps in the day, whose speech knows no word of love, whose passions once aroused, are as the fury of the tiger - they have set this thing to rule over the Southern people ... Merciful God ... it surpasses human belief."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Pedagogical Success? A Supply Side Young Republican Meets the Human Face of the Great Recession



First, I would like to thank the good folks over at Crooks and Liars for giving us some shine on Monday. The love is always appreciated. For those readers new to WARN I wish you a sincere welcome.

As regulars know, I occasionally break kayfabe and write about my failures and successes in the classroom. I learn more from the former than the latter; and of course the former provides far more fodder for humor and laughter than those small victories I occasionally enjoy.

I don't fancy myself one of those change a life by leading a college class type of instructors. Those who teach at the primary and secondary school level have more solid claims on that power than those who teach at colleges and universities. Why? Most of the answer lies in the fact that we live in an age where a college degree is obligatory. Thus, we deal more with snowflakes who are clocking in time for the necessary credits, than we do with young intellectuals who believe that knowledge and learning can be transformative.

All those qualifiers noted, there are still moments where I have to repress a smile as a student has a lightbulb moment. These instances of critical self-awareness can come from growth where before there was weakness and intellectual flaccidity; these same moments can also occur when a student realizes that they played themselves, their priors now dispelled, and basic fictions about how the world works beyond their own ego upset.

Because I am a sadist I like the first, but I revel in the latter...forgive me that trait for I was trained by Jesuits.

This quarter I am blessed with a good group of students. Although many are still finding their way, for the most part they are engaged and curious. I am doubly fortunate to have an arch-conservative as my interlocutor. There is no malice, this student simply asks good questions which proceed from a set of ideological priors that he has yet to realize are not universal. Moreover, my conservative charge has yet to realize that not all opinions are created equal, and that Fox News talking point conservatism is utterly dishonest as it is based precisely on a rejection of empirical reality in the pursuit of a narrow political agenda.

In short, said student is good fun because his questions keep me on my toes.

To this point in class, we have had two exchanges which speak to how the mythologies of American political culture are taken as truths by those more conservatively oriented and that reveal how Conservatism is bankrupt as an ideology, in this, our time of the Great Recession.

The first moment came in our discussing the myth of meritocracy, American exceptionalism, and the Great Recession where he recycled the standard story of how America is a great country of opportunity, the best country in the world in fact, as well as the most productive, innovative, and most dynamic economy that has ever been seen on this planet.

I queried, "how does the Great Recession and the fact that America has decreasing rates of intergenerational mobility, a shrinking middle class, and is solidly subpar in education, health, and many other measures, complicate your narrative of American greatness?"

He replied, taking a pause to reconcile rhetoric with facts, "these problems are just part of the business cycle, and no big deal because they are normal."

My reply, "can we tell those folks who are now structurally unemployed through no fault of their own that they can eat the business cycle when they are hungry? Is there barbeque sauce with that meal?"

My point was a simple one, and one I stress often--the world of theory exists relative to the world of facts...and real people's experiences. If you overlook this dynamic then you are only getting part of the story.

This was just a lead-in and preamble for our most recent "teachable moment."

Homelessness is a frightening concept that most folks of any age would rather look away from than acknowledge. To accommodate this mass societal version of the bystander effect, there are cultural scripts with the standard players of "the deserving" and "undeserving poor," where "those people" are drug addicts or "lazy," and consequently they "deserve" their position in life.

Who, especially among the young with an ostensibly bright future ahead of them, would want to entertain how the myth of meritocracy may leave them one of the working poor, a paycheck or illness away from the street, panhandling on a corner, couch surfing, or living in a car?

Who would want to acknowledge the scary thought that they could be one of the lost generation?

In class, we discussed these dynamics and how the new poor are the formerly middle class, and how/if this will shake up public policy and political alignments in the United States? Given the old joke that a Republican is a Democrat who got robbed, and that a Democrat is a Republican who lost their job, what will the Great Recession hold for the future of American politics and the two party system?

An important detail for context and flavor: The students in my classes run the gamut from working class, to the poor, to the solidly middle class, and also include a sprinkling of the born on the third base of life trustafarians who believe they hit a triple in life crowd. Consequently, our discussions about class and social mobility are almost always quite compelling.

During our most recent conversation, my conservative friend chimed in that the American middle class is not becoming the new poor and homeless, that one can work and make it if they only applied themselves, and that this talk about the new poor is exaggerated and flies in the face of the American dream. It simply can't be true. Impossible.

I shared some data on poverty, the record numbers of people on food stamps in America, and provided some context for the specious argument that the American poor have it well off (and the bigger game of Tea Party GOP Ayn Randian libertarianism on behalf of struggling millionaires) as a frame and meme in defense of austerity for the rest of us while the kleptocrats get to keep all of their wealth.

A student raised his hand and asked if he could comment. He looked to our arch-conservative friend and explained that his father was a construction worker who owned a nice home. They were not rich, but he and his dad were solidly middle class. This all came undone with the crash of the housing market, an illness, and the utter collapse of the economy in the town where they lived. After the savings was gone, and the retirement fund spent, our honest and sharing student explained that he had to move in with a friend's family while his father lived in a van.

The latter's only salvation was the kindness of several strangers, migrant day laborers, who had a small studio apartment which they allowed him to move in to as it became dangerously cold in the fall and winter months.

After this moment of sharing you could hear a pin drop. No response or retort was offered. My conservative friend sat silenced, wheels turning but finding no traction. To his benefit, he was the beneficiary of the great time keeper's charity as class mercifully ended.

I do not know if that was a tranformative moment for this young arch-conservative. Perhaps, it was sustenance for the other students in the class whose families are also struggling in the Great Recession, as from that moment of sharing they knew they were not alone. I simply smiled because I felt that some good had come from that exchange.

I also smiled as that class further reinforced my allegiance to Black Pragmatism.

At present, one of the great divides in American politics during the Age of Obama is an utter failure by those on the Right, and conservatives at large, to have any sympathy or empathy for those less fortunate, who may be different from them, or somehow the Other. Most conservatives cannot imagine that it could be them who is downsized, unemployed, or in need of the social safety net to keep a roof over their head or food in the childrens' bellies.

The irony of course is that most of the Right, and the Tea Party GOP especially, benefit greatly from the social contract and want to keep supports such as social security, medicare, and medicaid in place--but only for folks like them, within their narrow tribe of "real Americans" and those suitably "patriotic" and nationalistic. Others can be damned for they are "unproductive," "liberals," "lazy," or practice/benefit from "class warfare" against the rich.

We shall see if the exchange in my class, a moment where a free market trickle down conservative met the face that is the human consequence and collateral damage of robber baron, dysfunctional unfettered capitalism, will change how a young arch-conservative thinks about politics. It probably will not. But we sensible and reasonable folks who believe that education can serve the interests of the Common Good can hope and dream just a little bit.

Can't we? Or is the die already cast, the roll spent?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Power of The Tea Party Imaginary: Why is This Man Crying While He Sings the Star Spangled Banner?




When you figure out why this man is brought to tears by the Star Spangled Banner, you will finally understand the appeal of the Tea Party GOP.

Moreover, when you figure out why this man is crying you will begin to grasp the difficulties faced by appeals to reason and empirically driven reality in trying to beat back the emotion, faith, and fear based nationalism of the Republican Party.

While it is easy to mock, scorn, and point out the odd mix of Constitutional Fetishism and love of dressing in Colonial era clothing that is common among the Tea Party brigands, the faux populist imaginary of the New Right is actually quite compelling, and thus, it demands a bit of critical attention.

We know a few things about the Tea Party GOP. They are an astoturf organization driven by corporate money working in the interest of austerity policies and the shock doctrine. The Tea Party is made up of Republicans on steroids, and their members' policy positions are simply more extreme versions of Conservatism writ large. Racial resentment and fear of non-whites, immigrants, and any Other drives the Tea Party GOP's political imagination.

In sum, while allowing for these facts there remain two points that have gone relatively uncommented upon.

First, the Tea Party is easily lampooned; however, their songs, folksy misspelled posters, embrace of ignorance as authenticity, and love of costumes are a type of political theater. Consequently--and this is a point that many in the pundit classes and other professional bloviators seem to miss--"the show is the thing." Or as good ol' Jim Ross from the World Wrestling Federation is fond of saying, sometimes "you got to sell the sizzle and not the steak."

Consequently, reasoned discussions of policy and good governance are made secondary to a sense of belonging. For folks who feel alienated, scared, and "want to take their America back" (from "the blacks, the gays, the atheists, the Socialists, the liberals" etc.) a sense of belonging is a powerful salve for alienation and anomie. 

A key point. When the ghouls in the audience at the last three Republican debates howled for murder, death, and in support of hatred towards Americans who happen not to be straight, they were marking out the boundaries of their political community. Their cheers were not those of outliers; they were the id of a community that stood silent in complicity and agreement.

Second, and as I argued elsewhere, the Tea Party with its hostile faux populism is a cult-like organization whose ethos has infected the Republican Party as a whole. Emotion trumps reason. Faith has been mated with ideology to create a worldview that is immune from critical interrogation and intervention. Heretics are burned at the proverbial stake of Right-wing talk radio and Fox News. And ideological orthodoxy is the prime directive, even if it means destroying the U.S. economy (as was seen during the debt ceiling hostage taking by the Tea Party GOP), or believing in fictions such as cutting the federal budget in a time of the Great Recession will magically create economic growth.

The connective tissue of these two observations is as follows. The Tea Party GOP effectively marshals emotion, nostalgia, faith, anti-intellectualism, and sentimentality. They in turn mate these elements with themes of "American exceptionalism," nationalism and "patriotism." This brew is reinforced and sustained by the Right-wing echo chamber and its modus operandi of epistemic closure.

This is a potent mix for reactionary conservatives because the political opponents of the Tea Party and the New Right are effectively swinging at air. How do you land a body blow on ether? To political fictions driven by emotions that are only reinforced by their opposition's appeal to empirical reality? In all, how do you fight an idea...however wrong headed and ill advised it may be?

President Obama's rediscovery of populism will do nothing to reach the extreme ideologues on the Right. That is a given. However, the chaff and distractions that the Tea Party GOP and their puppet masters have created, ones of false equivalence and a magically infused faith based politics that extends beyond the walls of the church and into public policy as a whole, is damnably challenging because of how it mucks up and befouls the public discourse.

How do we reach the low information swing voters who are not equipped to navigate this morass? In the Age of Obama do liberals, progressives, pragmatists, and reasonable conservatives even have the capacity and will to spin effective narratives with which to counter the fictitious, faith based, emotion infused appeals of the Tea Party GOP?

I do wonder...and worry that they may not.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Some Friday Randomness: Keyword Follies Courtesy of StatCounter

I usually try to maintain the trust which exists between those who search these Internets and we who can see the stats on yee old wayward travelers. I will break that bargain today in the interest of a cheap laugh or two and because some of the more recent keyword searches that bring folks to WARN have been gems that demand a communal chuckle...and some group analysis.

The keywords are in green. My observations and comments follow underneath.


Is this research for a paper on intertextuality, gender, critical race theory and historicizing Lacanian psychoanalytic frameworks in B Movies?


I don't know either. Could it be the contrast of the skin, the melanin so dark and like chocolate that you want to eat it up?


At least 10 times a day someone asks this question. Is there some cultural movement afoot I am not privy to, some Kanye West meets Cee Lo black hipster douchebaggery that necessitates having a shag haircut?


You need to get the newest model. It gets at those kinks with great efficiency and enthusiasm.

I hate women who dates blacks

Me too!


Oh God, I was so very close this one time in 1993 and...


Why so serious?


Old girl does be looking good.

Palin the Negro

Airing on Grindhouse Cinema at midnight: Sarah Palin Versus the Wombshifter

Somewhere a guilt ridden young man sits looking at the computer screen, tissues in hand, searching for justification of his inevitable self-abusing onanistic endeavors...


Got to love the effects of globalization.


The very definition of intellectual dishonesty and a path to confirmation bias: searching for the answer to a question which you have already answered in your own mind.


About five dollars and 2 cents.


It's all Obama's fault!


A young scholar in training. Impressive, most impressive.


It could hurt. No really, it could.

The Tea Party GOP: They Cheer Murder; They Cheer Letting Sick People Die; And Now They Boo American Soldiers Who Happen to be Gay



Wow. Rendered (not) speechless.

And I thought Republicans were the "national security" party?

The Tea Party GOP keeps on showing us who they are and will continue to be in the future. The supporters of and audience for the chicken hawk warmonger robust militarists 2012 Republican presidential candidates booed an active duty soldier serving in Iraq. Why? Because he happens to not be "straight."

If you listen to the Republican candidates and their bigoted vitriol towards Stephen Hill, there are two points that have been made immediately clear.

First, this crop of Republicans and their public would have opposed racially integrating the U.S. military in 1948. They are dead-enders, on the wrong side of history.

Of this fact I have not doubt.

Second, the Republican Tea Party GOP is playing for a very narrow share of the electorate. Students of politics know that you run for the fences in the primaries and then go back to the center for the general election. But, and here is the dysfunction of American politics in the Age of Obama, at present the Right-wing rage machine is driven by more than mere partisanship: they hate the symbol of social change and inclusive citizenship that is Barack Obama. There are no apologies or embarrassment for this sentiment.

Moreover, while the pundit classes may talk about how the American electorate may appear to be increasingly "sorted" and "polarized," the embrace of the monster's ball antics of (now counting) the last three Republican debates signals to a divide that is even greater than what the Culture Wars portended in the early 1990s.

A thought. During the Civil Rights Movement and the radical 1960s it was well known that the U.S. government infiltrated Left and Progressive organizations with agent provocateurs who radicalized those groups into taking actions--often violent ones--they otherwise would never have considered.

As I watch the Tea Party GOP further devolve in each of their primary debates, I have to wonder if there are not outside forces pushing them towards the cartoonish levels of political thuggery and mean spiritedness they have demonstrated to this point. Or is the Tea Party GOP just showing us who they are and always have and will be?

I am happy for what I saw as the reveal is an important one. I also weep for what I saw and what it signals about the health of our democracy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Is Barack Obama Clark Kent? Or is He Instead Superman?



Please allow me this minor bit of self-indulgence.

As a ghetto nerd, I am obligated to respond to any news item which purports to connect President Barack Obama with an iconic comic book character. Moreover, a while back I offered the suggestion that Michael Steele, former Chairman of the GOP, was actually the embodiment of the character known as John Henry Irons. I was quite rightly (and quickly) corrected by commentator Heavy Armor that Steele was more akin to the character known as Bizarro Superman.

The meme is back--as 1) it is so obvious and 2) because Superman lives in the collective subconscious for now and forever--and CNN has accordingly picked up the ball and run with it.

I rarely offer polls. They can be fun. So please vote.

So you tell me, readers of WARN and other travelers, is President Obama actually Clark Kent, a weak, malleable, chronic compromiser, a running critique of the whole human race?

Or is President Obama actually Kal-El, the man who we know as Superman, and he is playing a deep game, lest we be afraid of his greatness of strength and fortitude of character?

Please listen carefully to Bill a.k.a David Carradine's soliloquy on Superman. I would suggest that we can easily extend his pithy words to our sitting President.

In all, the differences between Obama, Superman, Clark Kent, and Kal-El are nuanced. They are also a great example of popular culture as politics; thus, popular culture is made into a useful lens for thinking about basic questions of presidential leadership and governance.

From CNN:

Obama: Clark Kent or Superman?

Washington (CNN) -- What did you do over your summer vacation?

If you're President Obama, you've had a bit of a transformation. That is, from the mild-mannered Clark Kent into, well, Superman.

Or something like that.

When we last left this story, President Obama was trying to be the measured adult in the room, compromising over the debt ceiling to get a deal. In the end, it wasn't the "grand bargain" that Obama wanted. Liberals argued that it was awful, too -- chastising the president for negotiating with himself. And Republicans complained that they needed more spending cuts. And, oh, by the way, they still wanted to repeal health care reform.

In other words, an unsatisfactory experience for all.

So when Obama came back to D.C. this fall, the feeling inside the White House was that something had to change. The bad news: Mr. Adult (aka Mr. Compromise) had sunk to new lows in the ratings. The good news: Congress had sunk even lower. Way lower. Then House Speaker John Boehner gave a speech outlining his demands for the deficit reduction "supercommittee."

Top of the list: no new taxes.

Shocking, I know.

That about did it. The White House figured it had no partner for peace. The man who had almost signed on to the grand bargain -- with some tax increases and entitlement cuts -- wasn't about to come back to the table anytime soon.

The next step: play the game.

The president outlined his demand for the debt reduction supercommittee: no spending cuts for the middle class without commensurate tax increases on the wealthy. No proposals for long-term entitlement reform. But there was a catchy bumper sticker: the Buffett Rule. Billionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us.

It's not intellectually satisfying. Nor does it improve the chances for a deal out of the supercommittee that can get anywhere in Congress. It's politics, plain and simple.

In fact, the strategy does one big thing: It reunites the president with the base of the Democratic Party, which finally had something to cheer. When Barack Obama came out swinging this week, threatening to veto any deficit reduction measure without a balance of new taxes and spending cuts, there was joy among liberals. Obama had finally come home.

For the rest of us, well, it was a dismal peek at reality. Who can really fault the White House for playing politics with Republicans who have refused to cut the big deals? After all, the GOP presidential candidates, by and large, are still complaining that Congress agreed to raise the debt ceiling. After Boehner lay down his laws, Obama had to do the same. He could no longer negotiate with himself.

So he joined the game. Maybe it's the opening salvo, and maybe something will come of this kabuki. But there is a final calculation here: if nothing comes out of the supercommittee, the president would be less damaged than the Congress.

As for the rest of us, we're still Waiting for Superman. The real one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The White Racial Frame in Action: Black Folks are Winning in the Great Recession Because Their Unemployment Rate is "Only" 27.4 Percent

Are you always complaining negroes happy now? White folks in suburbia are suffering more than they have in recent memory during this, our time of the Great Recession.

How did you black folks find a way to turn this situation to your advantage? It must be President Obama and his special racial set asides which have helped you all over-perform in this down economy.

So selfish you are...

But more seriously, who writes this sort of tripe? And how can they do it with a straight face?

The white racial frame is real folks. Here is more proof.

From CNBC:

Welcome to the Suburban Depression

The prolonged economic slump we've been in since before the financial crisis really is different than recent recession experiences, especially when it comes to those who now live in poverty.

The official U.S. poverty rate in 2007 was 12.5 percent. Following the calamities of 2008 it climbed upward and kept climbing. By 2009, the rate was 14.3 percent. In 2010 it went to 15.1 percent, according to U.S. Census data reviewed by Pro Publica.

There has not been so large a portion of Americans in poverty since 1993. But this time the growth in poverty is different, hitting whites and suburbia harder than it did during the early 1990s slump. African Americans, by contrast, appear to be doing better.

The poverty rate for whites was 13 percent in 2010. That compares to 12.2 percent in 1993, according to the Census Bureau.

The suburban poverty rate is 11.8 percent, a level not seen since 1967.

African Americans appear to be faring relatively better than they did in the early 1990s. In 1993 the poverty rate for African Americans reached 33.1 percent. Last year it was 27.4 percent.

It's not entirely clear why African Americans are faring so much better in this recession than in the last, at least in terms of poverty. It may be that social and economic progress in the intervening years has left African Americans less vulnerable to economic downturns.

A key factor in the rise in suburban poverty may be the fact that the housing market has played such a central role in the economic slump.

Many suburbs have seen a vast amount of wealth erased by declining housing markets and mortgage foreclosures, resulting in a great deal of economic dislocation. Since white Americans are more likely to own homes than African Americans, this could also explain why whites have fared worse than they did in the 1990s while African Americans have fared better.