Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Last Word Part 2: Reverend Al, Melissa Perry, and Goldie Taylor on Herman Cain's Civil Rights Cowardice

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In case you all missed this extended conversation on The Last Word...

I cosign most of what was said there and am curious as to your thoughts. The panelists should have called out Cain's shtick as a professional racism apologist, but in all it was a solid dialogue. Moreover, I think Melissa was on point, but I can't cosign her critique of O'Donnell for asking those questions across the boundaries of the colorline. I get her "discomfort." But sometimes discomfort is exactly what we need when dealing with the walking human problematic and contradiction that is Herman Cain.

I do have one thought, regret, and ownership moment of reflection that I would like to process with you all. Is it my own ego and arrogance to feel like so much of what we are seeing in the punditry's response to Herman Cain are narratives we/you/us/I have developed here on We Are Respectable Negroes as well as on Alternet? Of course, I am not so foolish as to suggest that I have some unique insight into what is circulating in the ether, but I do have frustrated moments where I shrug my shoulders and have to re-evaluate my decision to operate from the shadows.

In all that is a complement to you all for helping me to be ahead of the curve on many of these matters. You should also give yourselves a congratulatory pat on the back and take a moment to tell folks that "hey, we were talking about this stuff about Herman Cain a long time ago!"

From Martin Bashir: Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth is a Portrait in Courage; Herman Cain is a Portrait in Cowardice

Damn. More folks are piling on Herman Cain. His back must be hurting by now.

The legendary Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth passed away this week. Herman Cain, front runner of the Tea Party GOP has retreated time and time again from the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.

The former is a legend and an older god. The latter is a his own admitting to being a free rider in the glorious Black Freedom Struggle.

To my eyes, the funny thing here is that the elder gods like Brother Shuttlesworth have broad shoulders and carry so many on them--including those folks who are not worthy. And yes, that includes people like Herman Cain.

Here, in my thinking about racial apologist and Tea Party GOP favorite Herman Cain, I am reminded of the following parable:

A snake and a dog became such fast friends that they took a vow that they would never separate. So when it happened that one of them was obliged to leave his native land, the other promised to go with him. They had traveled only a short distance when they came to a wide river.

The snake was now greatly troubled."Alas," he said, "you, my friend, can easily swim, but how can a poor snake like me ever get across this stream?""Never fear," replied the dog; "only place yourself squarely on my broad back and I will carry you safely over." 
No sooner was the snake settled on the dog's broad back, than the dog crawled into the water and began to swim. Halfway across he was startled by a strange rapping on his back, which made him ask the snake what he was doing."Doing?" answered the snake. "I am whetting my sting to see if it is possible to pierce your skin."
"Ungrateful friend," responded the dog, "it is well that I have it in my power both to save myself and to punish you as you deserve." And straightway he sank his back below the surface and shook off the snake into the water.

Herman Cain, like his Black Conservative brethren, are those snakes, riding on the shoulders and backs of those who gave them freedom. Ilk of that stripe are always ready to bite their benefactors, supporters, and trail blazers once they get a free ride. Herman Cain is no exception.

Question: Is Herman Cain the inevitable negative externality of the Civil Rights Movement? Are folks like Herman Cain the rank afterbirth that comes from a people who struggled for freedom for so many, and as part of the bargain of success had to bring the unworthy along for the ride?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion: Chauncey DeVega on the Ring of Fire Radio Show Talking About the Three Elements of Tea Party GOP Racism

Sharing as always.

This interview aired a few weeks back on Ring of Fire and is now available online. Hopefully, my bloviating and pretend punditry wasn't exposed too badly. I didn't expect the third element, a guest co-host from the Daily Beast (which was a nice addition), and we hit on an element of racial threat and terrorism on the part of the Tea Party GOP towards Obama that I had overlooked initially.

It is always good stuff when you can have an organic moment from which to pivot during an interview.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Herman Cain Tap Dances While Getting Beat with a Bag of Quarters by Lawrence O'Donnell on The Last Word

I normally don't take much of a liking to watching another black man get taken to the woodshed so thoroughly.

In the case of Herman Cain I will suspend said decision rule. Moreover, to watch a "Morehouse man" get schooled by a white interviewer on his failure to live up the great tradition of that historically black college was priceless.

A few thoughts on Lawrence O'Donnell's ownage of Herman Cain.

1. What was up with the Amen corner for Herman Cain? I know that he has suspended his campaign to go shill for his book, but that was truly odd. Why didn't Herman Cain go to a studio or a quiet room and do the interview. Was Cain's peanut gallery a condition for appearing on the The Last Word tonight?

2. Only some black people are brainwashed. They are apparently not alone given that the majority of people who vote for Democrats are brainwashed. Did you know, anyone who wants to raise taxes on the super rich is also brainwashed? Curiously, Herman Cain offers no comment on if poor and working class white people who vote for the Republican Party are also brainwashed. And of course he repeats the "class warfare" meme and furthers the propaganda line that 50 percent of tax payers now pay 97 percent of the taxes...this newest "fact" was new to me.

3. Herman Cain truly was a self-interested free rider during the Civil Rights Movement. I particularly enjoyed how he, in typical faux populist Conservative fashion, rewrote history so that in his version of events High School students, other young people, and college students were not involved with the sit-ins and freedom rides. This is utter balderdash. Herman Cain chose to be a bystander to history. There is no courage or honor there.

4. Never fear! Herman Cain ain't one of them pesky negro agitators!

Herman Cain's admission that he passively and obediently went to the back of the bus when a white driver told him to was especially telling. The Tea Party audience, and those who fondly remember Jim and Jane Crow will love that little fact. That allusion was a doubling down of Cain's benign memories of segregated water fountains which weren't that bad "because the water tastes the same." The Conservative White Soul with its fondness for the good old days of yee old South was certainly quite pleased with Herman Cain tonight.

He, like many black conservatives benefit from the Black Freedom Struggle, but are professional hit-men and assassins for white Conservatives, only on the bankroll as racism shields and human chaff for the Tea Party GOP. Cain's interview further demonstrated that fact.

5. When confronted on the questionable math that under-girds his grotesque and regressive "9-9-9" plan (a gangster capitalist ploy, one that would make our economy far worse and further increase wealth and income inequality); challenged on saying that the unemployed who are not rich should blame themselves because its their own fault; that gay people choose their sexuality; on the quack science he pledges allegiance to; his avoidance of service in Vietnam; and his backtracking on Rick Perry's "Niggerhead" debacle, Herman Cain shuffled, jived, buck-danced, bobbed, weaved, cakewalked, and banjo played like a traveling carnival performer on a 1 foot by 2 foot sized wooden box right next to the dog faced boy and the man with a shrunken head.

Herman Cain was dancing for food; He knew that if he fell off that box he wouldn't be gettin' no vittles tonight. Cain teetered a few times, and the box shook, but the tap dancing shoes didn't fall off and touch the ground.

6. Am I the only one who noticed Herman Cain's extremely rapid eye blinking, obvious agitation, and on the edge of overt fluster demeanor which suggested that he was about to go Samuel L. Jackson all over Lawrence O'Donnell?

In all, tonight my friend Herman Cain was one part Jim from Huck Finn, mixed with a bit of The Old Negro Space Program, and some George S. Schulyer for flavor. For the racially reactionary White Conservative Tea Party crowd, Cain's performance was their magical negro moment as he is right out of central casting.

Ultimately it is all toot sweet! Herman Cain ain't snuffin' no seeds as he keeps the train rolling and gains more momentum from the rapturous love that emanates from the dark heart of the White Conservative imagination which fuels his presidential campaign.

The inevitable derailment will be fun to watch.

Did You Know that America is Becoming a Cruel(er) Nation?

Blitzer pressed on: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” Someone in the audience shouted, “Yeah!” And the crowd roared in approval.
A characteristic that these exchanges have in common is cruelty. Cruelty is a close cousin to injustice, yet it is different. Injustice and its opposite, justice—perhaps the most commonly used standards for judging the health of the body politic—are political criteria par excellence, and apply above all to systems and their institutions.
Cruelty and its opposites, kindness, compassion and decency, are more personal. They are apolitical qualities that nevertheless have political consequences. A country’s sense of decency stands outside and above its politics, checking and setting limits on abuses. An unjust society must reform its laws and institutions. A cruel society must reform itself.
There have been many signs recently that the United States has been traveling down a steepening path of cruelty. It’s hard to say why such a thing is occurring, but it seems to have to do with a steadily growing faith in force as the solution to almost any problem, whether at home or abroad.
We are the little man behind the stove. We are the miner's canary and the conscience of a nation. Double consciousness is a gift and a burden for we who are the Dark Princes and Dark Princesses of this new/old world. We who are "niggerized" understand existential terror. We are burdened by this insight; we are pained by this reality; we are empowered and made stronger for and by it.

We who are Other have a gifted insight into the nature of power and the meanness of humanity that those of the in-group, in bed with Whiteness, who embody it, swim in its ether, and breath it as lifeblood do not. Ironically, Whiteness practices cruelty with expert ease; its owner-practitioners feign ignorance and live in denial of said fact.

In the aftermath of the monster's ball that has been the Tea Party GOP's debates to this point, where they have ghoulishly cheered murder, bigotry, and death, some have experienced shock and made to feel aghast. The discovery of Rick Perry's "Niggerhead" was also greeted with surprise by some among the pundit classes and public at large. The Nation magazine picked up this thread with its essay "Cruel America."

We who are the Other are not allowed such childish notions of feigned surprise at the meanness on display by the Right, the kleptocrats, and the Tea Party GOP. As I pointed out several weeks ago, the latter is a death cult; a mean spirited and cruel politics is their Eucharist. In all, for those Others who know power and have suffered under it, we are not allowed such naive, willful, and forced innocence. The stakes for us are simply too high to entertain the myopic worldview that is Whiteness and the white racial frame.

Jonathan Schell continues his musings on cruelty with:
We might also draw a connection between these abuses and the current direction of budgetary decisions, in which, as in the readiness to deny healthcare to the dying, a pitiless will to deprive suffering people of whatever aid they may be receiving is evident.
The list of cuts, achieved or proposed, on the right-wing agenda is too long to recite, but recent examples include the astonishing obstruction of assistance to recent victims of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee unless other programs are cut; opposition to extending unemployment benefits; defeat of the Dream Act, which would give immigrant children a path to citizenship; opposition to spending for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) as well as Head Start, and so on.
It appears that no one is so unfortunate that he or she is exempt from spending cuts, while at the same time no one is so fortunate as to be ineligible for a tax cut. Budget decisions do not involve the death penalty, yet for many they are matters of life and death.
America is a cruel nation. She always has been. In many ways she remains so today. In the past America reveled in its meanness without apology, self-consciousness, or embarrassment. At present, many, the Right and conservatives especially so, are blinded by the glare of American exceptionalism and dreams of a shining city on a hill: these are natural reactions for a people who live in denial of America's decline as an empire.

As flag waivers for the American tradition they are cruel too, but conservatives and the Right are able to find ways to make themselves into victims when the meanness of their politics are placed center stage and made transparent.

The echoes of history. Here is one account of American cruelty that speaks back to Rick Perry's Niggerhead nostalgia, his sundown town halcyon dreams of youth, and the howling screams of the Tea Party GOP audience at the death of their fellow man.


Paris, Texas, Feb. 1, 1893.—Henry Smith, the negro ravisher of 4-year-old Myrtle Vance, has expiated in part his awful crime by death at the stake. Ever since the perpetration of his awful crime this city and the entire surrounding country has been in a wild frenzy of excitement. When the news came last night that he had been captured at Hope, Ark., that he had been identified by B. B. Sturgeon, James T. Hicks, and many other of the Paris searching party, the city was wild with joy over the apprehension of the brute. Hundreds of people poured into the city from the adjoining country and the word passed from lip to lip that the punishment of the fiend should fit the crime—that death by fire was the penalty Smith should pay for the most atrocious murder and terrible outrage in Texas history. Curious and sympathizing alike, they came on train and wagons, on horse, and on foot to see if the frail mind of a man could think of a way to sufficiently punish the perpetrator of so terrible a crime. Whisky shops were closed, unruly mobs were dispersed, schools were dismissed by a proclamation from the mayor, and everything was done in a business-like manner.

About 2 o’clock Friday a mass meeting was called at the courthouse and captains appointed to search for the child. She was found mangled beyond recognition, covered with leaves and brush as above mentioned. As soon as it was learned upon the recovery of the body that the crime was so atrocious the whole town turned out in the chase. The railroads put up bulletins offering free transportation to all who would join in the search. Posses went in every direction, and not a stone was left unturned. Smith was tracked to Detroit on foot, where he jumped on a freight train and left for his old home in Hempstead County, Arkansas. To this county he was tracked and yesterday captured at Clow, a flag station on the Arkansas & Louisiana railway about twenty miles north of Hope. Upon being questioned the fiend denied everything, but upon being stripped for examination his undergarments were seen to be spattered with blood and a part of his shirt was torn off. He was kept under heavy guard at Hope last night, and later on confessed the crime.

This morning he was brought through Texarkana, where 5,000 people awaited the train. . . . At that place speeches were made by prominent Paris citizens, who asked that the prisoner be not molested by Texarkana people, but that the guard be allowed to deliver him up to the outraged and indignant citizens of Paris. Along the road the train gathered strength from the various towns, the people crowded upon the platforms and tops of coaches anxious to see the lynching and the negro who was soon to be delivered to an infuriated mob.

Arriving here at 12 o’clock the train was met by a surging mass of humanity 10,000 strong. The negro was placed upon a carnival float in mockery of a king upon his throne, and, followed by an immense crowd, was escorted through the city so that all might see the most inhuman monster known in current history. The line of march was up Main street to the square, around the square down Clarksville street to Church street, thence to the open prairies about 300 yards from the Texas & Pacific depot. Here Smith was placed upon a scaffold, six feet square and ten feet high, securely bound, within the view of all beholders. Here the victim was tortured for fifty minutes by red-hot iron brands thrust against his quivering body. Commencing at the feet the brands were placed against him inch by inch until they were thrust against the face. Then, being apparently dead, kerosene was poured upon him, cottonseed hulls placed beneath him and set on fire. In less time than it takes to relate it, the tortured man was wafted beyond the grave to another fire, hotter and more terrible than the one just experienced.

Curiosity seekers have carried away already all that was left of the memorable event, even to pieces of charcoal. The cause of the crime was that Henry Vance when a deputy policeman, in the course of his duty was called to arrest Henry Smith for being drunk and disorderly. The Negro was unruly, and Vance was forced to use his club. The Negro swore vengeance, and several times assaulted Vance. In his greed for revenge, last Thursday, he grabbed up the little girl and committed the crime. The father is prostrated with grief and the mother now lies at death’s door, but she has lived to see the slayer of her innocent babe suffer the most horrible death that could be conceived.

Words to describe the awful torture inflicted upon Smith cannot be found. The Negro, for a long time after starting on the journey to Paris, did not realize his plight. At last when he was told that he must die by slow torture he begged for protection. His agony was awful. He pleaded and writhed in bodily and mental pain. Scarcely had the train reached Paris than this torture commenced. His clothes were torn off piecemeal and scattered in the crowd, people catching the shreds and putting them away as mementos. The child’s father, her brother, and two uncles then gathered about the Negro as he lay fastened to the torture platform and thrust hot irons into his quivering flesh. It was horrible—the man dying by slow torture in the midst of smoke from his own burning flesh. Every groan from the fiend, every contortion of his body was cheered by the thickly packed crowd of 10,000 persons. The mass of beings 600 yards in diameter, the scaffold being the center. After burning the feet and legs, the hot irons—plenty of fresh ones being at hand—were rolled up and down Smith’s stomach, back, and arms. Then the eyes were burned out and irons were thrust down his throat.

The men of the Vance family have wreaked vengeance, the crowd piled all kinds of combustible stuff around the scaffold, poured oil on it and set it afire. The Negro rolled and tossed out of the mass, only to be pushed back by the people nearest him. He tossed out again, and was roped and pulled back. Hundreds of people turned away, but the vast crowd still looked calmly on. People were here from every part of this section. They came from Dallas, Fort Worth, Sherman, Denison, Bonham, Texarkana, Fort Smith, Ark., and a party of fifteen came from Hempstead County, Arkansas, where he was captured. Every train that came in was loaded to its utmost capacity, and there were demands at many points for special trains to bring the people here to see the unparalleled punishment for an unparalleled crime. When the news of the burning went over the country like wildfire, at every country town anvils boomed forth the announcement.

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 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 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.