Sunday, October 23, 2011

Victimology and the Failure of a Father's Parenting Skills: An Open Letter to Amber Cole, High School Fellatio Artist

At times one must issue an obligatory comment...

Apparently, a teenage girl named Amber Cole was recorded performing oral sex on a teenage boy. Apparently, said teenage boy's friend recorded the event and posted it on the Internet. Apparently, this is a matter that has transcended the private and crossed over into the realm of public concern.

In the age of the Internet I yearn for the good old days of my youth.

Back in the day we only had young girls who would have sex on the roofs of portable classrooms while the whole school watched. We were disgusted and laughed at our friends who caught the clap in the 5th grade and described in horrid detail how their "privates were clogged up." Without cell phone cameras and the Internet, we had no choice but to be creative and hide in the closet and watch while our friends did the deed with willing young ladies.

Can it be that it was all so simple then?

The Amber Cole episode is the latest manufactured moral panic and hysterical moment, a temporary stopping point while the Internet and mass media wait for the next missing white woman story.

The Amber Cole episode is also revealing of a culture where everyone is a victim and no one takes responsibility for their deeds. Amber Cole is not a death row inmate about to be executed for a crime she may not have committed. I am not Amber Cole. You are not Amber Cole. Amber Cole is not a tragic figure who symbolizes the lost generational possibilities of black youth and how black women are marginalized in American culture and society. Hip hop did not cause Amber Cole to have oral sex in a gym; nor did the rise of social media and the Internet cause the young auteur filmmaker to record his boy getting some brain. Boys will be boys; Boys should also be held accountable for their choices.

In all, Amber Cole is a story about a teenage girl, who like many teenagers, made a misguided choice to have sex with someone in a public place and was caught mid fellatio, on her knees.
Young people make poor choices--that is part of the luxury and curse of youth.

If we are to "scale-up" and generalize from teen sex to more troubling social ills, the most problematic aspect of the Amber Cole blowjob debacle is how her father, a supposedly responsible adult, makes excuses for his daughter and casts blame on every party--except himself--for her "adventurous" sexuality.

What type of home environment and parenting would produce a young girl who has sex in a public school gym? What did he teach his daughter about love and relationships? Did he have a real talk with Amber Cole about sex and her emerging sexuality? About the emotional, physical, and financial consequences of having sex?

Children often fail their parents. Parents often fail their children. In the case of Amber Cole, I suspect it may be more the latter than the former. The cliche is "that it takes a village to raise a child." As a a public service, I offer my version of the talk that Amber Cole's dad should have had with her about sex and relationships. There are likely millions of Amber Coles in this country today. Many of them do not have responsible male role models in their lives. The following is also an open letter to them.



As a teenager you are growing up very fast. At times you are going to feel like you are an adult, at other times you are going to very much feel like a child. Being 14 years old is an awkward age; in a perfect world you should have the protection of your family and elders while you figure out where your life is going in the future. You are also going to have the freedom to make some choices that could follow you forever. So let's be real. Your friends are either having sex, thinking about it all the time, doing some combination of the two, or lying and exaggerating about how much sex they are having.

I am not going to lie to you. Sex feels good. It feels really really good with the right person and when you are in the right frame of mind emotionally and physically. I am not going to lie to you. You can have sex without being in a relationship, you can have sex with yourself, and love and sex don't necessarily have anything to do with one another. I know that is an unconventional thing to say to a teenager, and pardon my stereotyping, perhaps especially so to a young girl, when society sells you a bill of goods about love, relationships, dating, and romance, and then compellingly packages those lies in bad movies and poorly written R&B songs.

Americans are fascinated with sex but are really immature about sexuality. Sex is all around you and you are going to feel a natural impulse to want to experiment. These yearnings and feelings are nothing new. Teenagers and young adults have been having sex without their parents' knowledge or approval for thousands and millions of years. In fact, I think most parents prefer not to know how the erotic awakening of their sons and daughters is proceeding.

The difference today is that you have far more opportunities to get into trouble with sex. The internet and social media are new inventions that create a false sense of intimacy between people (remember just cause you text someone or send them messages on Facebook does not make them your "friend" in real life), and for many communities there really isn't any shame at having sex with multiple people and getting pregnant out of wedlock. In fact, those poor choices, especially when they are made by poor women with few resources, are valorized as the actions of "strong women," when, in fact, they are poor choices that reveal anything but a strength of wisdom and commonsense.

You are going to have sex at some point. You are probably already having sex or doing "sexual" things already. That is okay. Of course, you need to play safe. At 14 or 15 or even 18 are you necessarily ready for the emotional, physical, and psychological consequences of sex? The answer is no. But I am also a practical person.

So, before you let someone put their penis inside of you, or other parts near you, in your mouth, or elsewhere, ask the following: Would I want to be connected to this person forever if I got pregnant? Do I know where his or her penis or vagina was last night? Would I be ashamed if my friends or family found out I was butt naked and carrying on with this guy or girl?

Those questions and moments of reflection can prevent a good many poor decisions on your part. Will you always do the right thing? Of course not.

I am an adult and have made many questionable choices. Some nights it felt good in the moment, and she was sexy and gorgeous in the right light and with a few drinks in me, and the next day I said "what the hell was I thinking!" The difference between an adult and a teenager is that I have the resources to clean up after myself and to fix any problems I may get into without going to the state welfare office or my mom and dad or other relatives.

You do not have that luxury. Consequently, you need to be much more careful with who you have sex with at such a young and vulnerable age. You also don't have the emotional maturity and life experience yet to figure out all that comes with, well for lack of a better word, fucking someone else. There are folks in their 30s and 40s and beyond who still get all twisted up emotionally by someone who knows how to please them sexually. If grown folks confuse a great orgasm with love, imagine how vulnerable you are at such an early age in the game?

Amber, the following is something that your dad really should have told you. And if he did, you should have paid much closer attention to his words.

Young men and teenagers will say anything to have sex with you. They will promise you the world...the scary part is in that moment said Lothario probably means it because those words will get him one step closer to being inside of you. Amber, you can't fuck your way to love. He will not love you if you have sex with him. Sucking on his penis will not get the poison out and make everything between the two of you better.

If he tells you to have sex with him to "prove" that you love him or "he will leave you" that is a cue to get your things and go. Never let him "just put the tip in" or "try it raw for a few minutes." Trust me, once you get to that point he is not going to put a condom on. You will not want him to. He will not want to. So don't go there.

I don't want you to be afraid of boys and developing a relationship that will one day blossom into something substantial. In fact, one of the worst things that parents can do is to give their kids a guilt complex about their sexuality and create a sense of shame about what is a very natural and human desire. In the black community, I see this a good deal where heavy handed moralizing, hyper-religiosity, and a real fear that young girls will become teen moms, creates a culture where parents' prudery and fear actually encourages their daughters and sons to make poor decisions about sex. This baggage follows many of our young people into adulthood and they never develop a full and healthy attitude about their sexuality.

Amber please be smart. Do play safe and enjoy life. Finally Amber, always keep in mind that sex has little at all to do with love.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Beyond Niggerhead: Watch the Documentary "Banished: American Ethnic Cleansings" Before the Copyright Monster Takes It Down

Video streaming by Ustream

The ugliness of Whiteness is a bunch of thieves who should own their history. They benefit from wrong but can wash their hands of it with innocence and denial, where the greater umbrage is that someone would dare to question the origins of their self-made myth of uplift and righteous individualism.

When Rick Perry's Niggerhead "scandal" broke a few weeks ago, I suggested that the more interesting element to the Washington Post expose on his family retreat and racist nostalgia was that he heralded from a sundown town.

While a few folks signaled to this hidden history--where black Americans were forcibly expelled from their homes and communities throughout America--most among the pundit classes went with the simple frame where racism involves mean words, a bogeyman still lingering like a crazy grandma under the stairs or secreted away in the closet...even into the Age of Obama.

The documentary Banished is a real gem. It explores the ethnic cleansing of Forsyth County, Georgia and the material, psychological, and material consequences of that crime which linger into the present some hundred or so years later. The history is the present: when sociologists and economists discuss the causal variables that explain a wealth disparity in America where whites have 2 dollars for every 10 cents that black Americans possess, they need to look no farther than the events documented in Banished.

White racism involved the systemic denial of opportunities for wealth creation and wealth accrual by black Americans. The Racial State subsidized the enrichment of whites as a privileged class in a zero sum game which involved the denial of the same opportunities to all citizens across the colorline. Perhaps, one day policy makers will be able to have a reasonable and mature conversation about justice--reparations in this case--where making communities and people financially whole will be understood for the public policy imperative that it is.

Do check out Banished before the copyright monster comes and takes it down.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Toure (Again) on MSNBC: Herman Cain is a "Coon" Who Acts Like Flavor Flav

I like Toure. I have read some of his work on hip hop. But, I bristle when I see folks doing a reach and trying to force punditry and insightful commentary. Yes, Herman Cain is a race minstrel. But, the real point of using that line of attack is not to engage in name calling. The real point is that Herman Cain's racial shtick is a means to an end, one which is very pernicious and an affront to the Common Good.

Folks are picking up my meme but don't have a real grasp of its nuance. That is very, very frustrating as borrowing without citation is one thing, but if you are going to do an homage at least innovate while staying true to the substance of the original work.

I am not "hating" on Toure for getting his shine. But, I arch my eyebrow when I know that I have cut promos on Herman Cain which are ten times better, sliced down to the bone and through the joints like Ogami Itto's katana, and where the material is 100 percent original.

Just "keeping it real" as we used to say a decade or so ago. I feel like I won. I also feel like I lost at the same time.

Now, back to other things...

Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery: Did Time Magazine Copy Chauncey DeVega's Takedown of "Race Minstrel" Herman Cain?

Cain is a clown. You see it in the way he constantly mollifies white audiences with self-effacing, racialized comedy that borders on minstrelsy (referring to himself as “black-walnut ice cream” or suggesting that the Secret Service call him “Cornbread”). You see it in his stunning gaps in knowledge and understanding of foreign policy and domestic affairs. He says if you don’t have a job, don’t blame Wall Street, because it’s your fault, which in a crippling recession with historically high unemployment numbers means he’s either frighteningly blind or offensively ignorant. This is not a man of serious intellect or realistic solutions or admirable character. This is a buffoon.
I curse my semi-anonymity. At times I feel like a professional wrestler or MC who more well known folks copy in order to get over, yet remains unknown except for a small circle of true fans.

Again, I have no choice but to smile with satisfaction because I was way ahead of the curve on Herman Cain's race minstrelesque routine, calling him out almost a year ago, well before others were keen to his gimmick. I took a good amount of heat for being a truth teller. Hell, I was even condemned by a Pulitzer prize winning journalist for daring to state what should have been abundantly clear to any thinking person.

In all, my refined ownage of Herman Cain is copied but never replicated. I do not know if I have a special insight into self-hating negroes and their genus and phylum; perhaps, I just have a pithy way of describing their nonsense and calling attention to what is circulating in the collective political subconscious.

To point: Toure, author and cultural critic, has a piece on Time Magazine's website where he goes hard at Herman Cain. In doing so, he innovates with language, going old school by using a word--unctuous--that I have never heard before (curse me my public school education). What is familiar, eerily so, are the notes that he hits in his essay, Is Herman Cain the Most Unctous Black Man Alive?

Toure calls Cain a clown, a race minstrel, focuses on how he performs a type of degenerative blackness, benefits from the soft bigotry of low expectations, and is the worst embodiment of what Conservatives imagine affirmative action to be as a policy.

Is this just a coincidence? Or is Toure's essay a loving homage to my long running series of critical essays on Herman Cain? I will never know.

As the founder of Herman Cain Studies, I do have some advice for those who are majoring in the subject. Your critiques may have all of the elements that I have modeled: the focus on Cain as a performer; his channeling of minstrelsy as a racist fantasy figure for white conservative's dreams and aspirations; and how he celebrates ignorance as a black buffoon. But, you are missing a few important details.

One, you have to talk about how Herman Cain dances. The dancing is both literal and metaphorical. It is dancing nonetheless. Ultimately, a piece on Herb Cain's race minstrelsy without a reference to either buckdancing, standing on a box and dancing for money, shuffling and cakewalking for the entertainment of white conservatives, or just the general phrase, "shucking and jiving," is incomplete.

Second, there is another element to Herman Cain's performance that has been hiding in plain sight. As of today, no one has hit on it. As the founder of Herman Cain Studies, I am forced to push the field forward by making an appropriate intervention in the near future. And finally, no critique of Herman Cain, written now or ever, will match the beauty of the following paragraph:
In total, CPAC is a carnival and a roadshow for reactionary Conservatives. It is only fitting that in the great tradition of the freak show, the human zoo, the boardwalk, and the great midway world's fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a Borneo man, a Venus Hottentot or a tribe of cannibals from deepest darkest Africa or Papua New Guinea on display. For CPAC and the White Conservative imagination, Herman Cain and his black and brown kin are that featured attraction.
When Routledge or Norton publishes an annotated volume or short guide to Herman Cain Studies I would like that passage from my essay Black History Month is Herman Cain Playing a Race Minstrel for CPAC, to be the entry under "Chauncey DeVega."

We have gone over these waters many times my friends. Am I being too sensitive and a bit egocentric on these matters? Or are folks taking my playbook and running with it?

(A Preamble to) the Most Racist Thing I have Ever Seen: Did You Know that Asian Americans Eat the Most Watermelon?

Stereotypes persist because in some way, however small, they are true. This is an accurate observation, so broad, that it defies Weber's model of ideal-typical cases. Why? For all the examples of a stereotype that may be true, there are many more that invalidate the rule.

One of the persistent stereotypes of black folks is that we love watermelon. The racist white gaze of the antebellum period conjured up this notion. It continued onward into the future where whites lessened the gross blow over time; but the stereotype still persists. There are black folks who proudly announce that they love watermelon without any shame at all--to hell with anyone who tells them otherwise.
I for one am one of those black folks who won't eat watermelon in mixed company. Now, I will make an exception for Friendly's restaurant and its "wattamelon ice cream roll"--what heaven it is--but to sit down, chow down, and eat some watermelon (with the obligatory fried chicken) in public? Nope. Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

Our tax dollars are hard at work folks. Apparently, the USDA has determined that watermelon is most popular among our Asian brothers and sisters. Riddle you that one. Forget the model minority myth, it should be the eating more than all others watermelon myth that in fact stigmatizes our East Asian brothers and sisters.
We also cannot forget the income variable and its relationship to watermelon consumption:
You tell me. Do stereotypes persist because they are true? Or do they persist because they are not true...but remain true enough to validate erroneous priors and make the in-group feel good about themselves?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday Humor: Faster than a Bowl of Chitlins, Richard Pryor is "Super Nigger"

I am stuck knee deep in midterm papers, grading furiously in an effort to make an escape (which explains the light tempo to my posts this week). In these moments I need a laugh. On a Thursday, the day before Friday, I suspect a laugh may raise your spirits too.

I remain surprised that the critical literature on African American humor and comedy is so underdeveloped. One would think that given how comedy is a voice for the subaltern to speak back to power (through satire, the carnivalesque, or the grotesque) that there would be many books and articles on the topic.

Save for Mel Watkin's book and Lawrence Levine's chapter-long treatment in Black Culture and Black Consciousness the scholarly work on African American humor remains thin. Thankfully, folks are starting to step up and fill that gap. Laughing Mad was released in 2007. Laughing Fit to Kill came out in 2008. I have just began working through the latter: it is a solid work with a nice balance between theory, criticism, and aesthetics.

Super Nigger moves me because Pryor's playful routine exposes the idea of black folks being written out of the script as superheroes by the white gaze, and one that some people of color internalize, where the very notion of being a "super human" is outside of the realm of possibility for a people judged by white racism to be anti-citizens (at best) and subhuman (at worst).

With Pryor's genius comes a comedy with multiple levels of tension, joy, and tragedy. Here, the character Super Nigger is still a "nigger"--even though the phrase and its power are ostensibly reversed through the use of code switching and black vernacular English--who is unable to "see through whitey." Moreover, he is still vulnerable to a little boy (that in the context of the routine is coded as white) who dares to call him "Super Nigger." This exchange is rich with double meaning and possibility because our protagonist is in fact named Super Nigger, but how dare one call him a "super nigger."

The appeal of Super Nigger is that he can enact a fantasy held by so many black folks historically, where grown adults were reduced to "boy" and "girl," or "auntie and uncle" as they worked as caregivers, maids, drivers, and Pullman car porters who had to feign deference to white folks of any age, be they older or younger, in the cradle or the grave.

Super Nigger is the very definition of the super hero as a projection and a fantasy figure for the collective subconscious: he can whoop that little white boy's behind and put him in his place without fear of retribution.

In all, Richard Pryor was the definition of genius. He made everyone before him obsolete; Pryor was the standard by which all comedians to follow would be judged. Richard Pryor was also amazingly self-reflective. For example, he was the master of the word "nigger." He manipulated it, exposed it, twisted it, and ultimately rejected its use as one of the most ugly words in the English language:

Many folks work "blue" for the sake of cussing and talking about sex. Pryor worked blue as a means of telling a story and being nakedly human.

What are your favorite Pryor routines? And is there anyone who comes close to taking his crown?

A bonus for the Age of Obama, Richard Pryor on the differences between black women and white women:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Please Get His Name Out of Your Mouth: Black Tea Party Favorite Allen West Suggests that Dr. King Would Oppose the 99 Percent Movement

“But when you talk to these Occupy Wall Street gangs, they’re all over the place. It’s like a shotgun as opposed to a precision-guided munition.”

He also dismissed protesters’ claim that Wall Street is responsible for the nation’s economic woes and high unemployment. He also disputed Obama’s contention that Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported the Occupy protesters.

The economic troubles are the responsibility of “Washington, D.C., and the policies thereof,” he maintains. “And when you talk about the unemployment rate, it’s very simple. We have just hit a thousand days under President Obama. The unemployment rate was 7.8 percent when he took over. The unemployment rate now is 9.1 percent. The unemployment rate in the African-American community is almost 17 percent.

“It has nothing to do with Wall Street. It has everything to do with the failed policies coming out of the Obama administration.

“Martin Luther King Jr. would not have backed these types of protesters. He had a focus, a message. He was divinely inspired. I don’t know what the inspiration is for these individuals.”

West was asked whether Obama’s stated support for the Occupy Wall Street movement ultimately could lead to violence on the part of protesters.

“I’m very concerned about class warfare rhetoric,” he tells Newsmax.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s memory has become a cheap industry and prop that anyone can buy a share of--no sacrifice, wisdom, honesty, or sincerity required.

As I pointed out in my essay on Dr. King's sexual peccadilloes and how folks want a perfect man as opposed to a heroic figure who also happened to be human (a point that met with pearl clutching rage, denial, and vitriol over at the kumbaya party that is Daily Kos), we need to have a serious conversation about who and what Brother King stood for in life and death.

I can shake my head at how Glenn Beck and the Tea Party GOP have tried to appropriate King's radical vision in a desperate ploy to capture him for their team. My standards and expectations are so low for the Tea Party GOP and reactionary right in the Age of Obama that there is little which they can do to surprise me.

But perhaps I expect too much from black folks who are the direct descendants and beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe, I give Dr. King's daughter and son too much credit as folks who can speak both for his legacy and in his stead. And it could simply be that I don't have much use for the counter-factual which is the "what would Dr. King say or do?" game.

But in all, the way that black conservatives working at the behest of the Tea Party GOP abuse his legacy is just dishonest, a lie, a cold misappropriation of history, and an act of willful ignorance.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is the exhalation of righteous frustration at the corporateocracy and a broken economy which views all of us as surplus labor. It is true that you cannot recreate the past; political strategies of protest and intervention have to change to fit the battle of the moment. But ultimately (and while still evolving), the sentiments guiding the Occupy Wall Street movement are in the best tradition of Brother King's struggle and legacy.

Let us not forget that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed while fighting for the rights of union workers, the working class, the poor, and against what would eventually mature into the austerity policies advocated for by the forces of neo liberalism and the Tea Party GOP, where the federal budget is balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable, and the upper classes can benefit from the largess of the State while having to put few, if any, resources into the collective pot.

Shame on you Mr. West, as ideology clearly overrides principle and a commitment to the truth for the myth makers to whom you pledge allegiance. If Dr. King were alive today, the Tea Party GOP, with their rank hostility to "class warfare," and a belief that poor people have only themselves to blame if they are not rich, would hate him. In all, "Socialist" would be the kindest thing that West and company would throw in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's direction.

History speaks back; it does not support Allen West's sad and dishonest distortion of events:

It isn't the Reverend Wright Scandal (Yet): Herman Cain's "Liberal" Black Church Problem

Herman Cain has vaulted to the top of the polls as a Republican presidential candidate, but there’s one audience that may prove tougher for him to win over: his hometown church.
Cain, a conservative who recently said African-Americans were “brainwashed” into voting Democratic, is an associate minister at an Atlanta megachurch that has been a stronghold of liberal activism and is led by a pastor who cites Malcolm X as one of his influences.
Cain is a longtime member of Antioch Baptist Church North, which sits near the former college and home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The church, founded by freed slaves 134 years ago, boasts 14,000 members and an operating budget of more than $5 million. For years Antioch has hosted a “who’s who” of civil rights activists as guest speakers, including Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young.
Antioch’s powerful senior pastor, the Rev. C.M. Alexander, doesn’t share Cain’s political philosophy, Atlanta clergy say. But Cain and Alexander are so close that Cain sang “The Impossible Dream” for the pastor’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Atlanta businessman-turned-presidential hopeful is well liked by many members of his church, though some disagree with his politics, Antioch pastors say.Cain’s piety may be just as fascinating as his politics, interviews suggest.
“He’s a real person who is more complicated than the sound bite you may have heard from him,” says the Rev. Fredrick Robinson, a friend of Cain’s who was an associate minister at Antioch before leaving to form his own church.
At Antioch, Cain has had to share the pews with fiery critics of the Republican Party like Joe Beasley, a man born to sharecroppers who once said he’s been called the “N-word” more times than he can count.
I have some pieces forthcoming on Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, and other goodness in the next few days, but in the meantime I thought that I would offer my obligatory observation on the Tea Party GOP debate in Las Vegas.

In all, it was a joy to watch. We had apples and oranges, pandering to the religious Right, allusions to the "fact" those who are not "godly" and religious have no character and are thus unfit to be President, and of course the obligatory rantings and lies about "Obamacare" and the evils of "regulation." Ron Paul also brought the truth on Ronnie Raygun--what was a priceless moment.

Herb Cain did okay. True, dude did get beat up and couldn't answer questions with any directness or sincerity beyond his shallow talking points. But, there were no gaffes as major as not knowing what neoconservatism is, or being forced to walk back his joke about killing people with electricity and his super border fence.

However, yesterday's story on CNN about Herman Cain's church family is going to get him in trouble sooner rather than later. I am not religious. Moreover, I do not "get" the black church. As a result, I do not have a proverbial dog in the fight in conversations about black religiosity.

That having been said, I marvel at how black folks love to let all sorts of people into their churches, video cameras on, dvds ready for sale, and Youtube on blast. To this point, Herman Cain has gotten the exceptional negro "who is a "credit to his race" pass by anti-black, racially resentful Tea Party GOP Conservatives.

But the question remains: At what point will Herman Cain slip up and reveal himself as a Judas goat, too much an "authentic" negro for their liking? Cain danced the dance when he dared to critique Rick Perry's Niggerwood memories and had to eat crow when Limbaugh et al. fried the bird up and forced him to swallow it with moldy molasses and under-cooked hominy grits. He got a pass for that transgression and was able to earn some forgiveness by dancing in the chalk outlined box and promising not to backsass in the future.

But for how long will Herman Cain aka "Cornbread" be able to keep up the routine before his blackness becomes a liability, a trait that is inconvenient and uncomfortable for his white Conservative masters?

Jesse Jackson.

Malcolm X.

Social justice.

In all, CNN's "The Liberal Church of Herman Cain" connects him to the great rogues gallery of black liberalism and anti-white sentiment that stands boot on the throat of White America, oppressing them at every moment...gleeful at the sound of white surrender and victimhood.

How long my friends until Fox News and the Right-wing blogosphere jumps all over this interesting tidbit of information?
Cain accepted the offer and brought a group of worshippers along with him to support Robinson’s small church, the pastor says.
Cain’s views on race aren’t simplistic, Robinson says. Cain says he doesn’t think racism is a huge obstacle for blacks, but Robinson says Cain has privately told him it’s a problem and once even complained about “the good ol’ boy” network in Georgia Republican politics.
“He knows there’s racism in the tea party, but he’ll never say that because they are his supporters. That bothers a lot of people, but he plays to that base not because he’s a sellout but because he’s a politician,” Robinson says.
Fate is a trickster. Fate also has a sense of humor. Will she be laughing soon?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Battle of the Iron Mics: Herman Cain's "Imagine There's No Pizza" Versus Eli Porter's Epic Rap Freestyle

Now that my friends is funny: the absurd has now become commonplace.

Question: is Herman Cain a feeder? Is he into sploshing?

Somewhere, way off in the future, a Chinese scholar will write his epic book The Fall of the American Empire. In said yet to be written text, there will a footnote akin to Suetonias's allusion to Tiberius's love of having young boys "crawl between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles.

Said footnote will reference Jim Crow apologist, he who electrocutes "illegal aliens," gospel singer, player of Sim City and lover of pizza Mr. Herman Cain. Lacking context, future generations will wonder if Herman Cain was literally all of these things, or if these were phrases and metaphors lost to the ages and thus now made indecipherable to contemporary eyes.

He does not stand alone in his gospel timbre greatness. There are other internet signing sensations who demand to be compared to Herman Cain. While he will never become the Tea Party GOP front runner (although he is the subject of an epic documentary), I cannot resist the question of questions, the battle of the ages, and a rumble for all time. If you were a judge on American Idol, who would you vote the winner in a battle between the legendary emcee Eli Porter and pizza magnet Mr. Herman Cain?

You make the call.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Real History: Dr. King was a Prophet, He was also a Plagiarizer, "Sexually Athletic," Unpopular, and a Genius

In his 1991 memoir, Breaking Barriers, journalist Carl Rowan writes that in 1964 congressman John Rooney told him that he and his congressional committee had heard J. Edgar Hoover play an audiotape of an apparent orgy held in King's Washington hotel suite. Over the sounds of a couple having intercourse in the background, according to Rooney, King could be heard saying to a man identified as Abernathy, "Come on over here, you big black motherfucker, and let me suck your dick."
What a great visual and a funny story.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial was dedicated today. As a country, we can breath a collective exhalation as racism is finally dead, Dr. King's dream achieved, and a Black President, the goal of the long Black Freedom Struggle has been elected. The memorial is a symbol of America's great triumph over white supremacy.

Of course, those are narratives best suited for a flattened version of history, one more fit for children and the willfully ignorant than for truth seekers and truth tellers. A country needs its lies, mythologies, and fictions. A country should also take account of how far it has come, while also realizing how much work remains. In all, history is the thing of cowards and free-riders (Herman Cain for example) who create fictions of their participation in righteous struggles (how every black person has relatives who marched with King and The Movement).

The reality is that most folks stand aside and watch history happen around them. Moreover, in reflecting on the evils of the past, no one is ever responsible ("my family never owned slaves"; "we were immigrants who came here after slavery"), it was always "those people" and never us. Most folks were good, the bad were in the minority, shadows who hovered in the closets and alleyways of our collective memory. When there is goodness everyone wants to own a piece of it. Where there is bad, most run away from how it benefited them. Lies are comforting things--especially when we convince ourselves that they are true.

I like my heroes will all of their complications and not despite them. Like all Americans, and black and brown folks in particular, I owe Dr. King and the other freedom fighters in the movement a debt that I can never repay. This is a given that should always be acknowledged. I also celebrate Dr. King's legacy as a real man, a thinking man, a loving man, and a flawed man.

He yelled "I'm fucking for Jesus!" and "I am not a Negro tonight!" while displaying his "compulsive sexual athleticism" with multiple women in one evening. Brother King was a shrewd strategist and provocateur who shamed white America by exposing its violent ugliness and hypocrisy. Dr. King plagiarized portions of his dissertation and speeches. He was also a calculating master of realpolitik. And of course Dr. King was prophetic as he faced down death: I cannot help but to honor a person who meets fate with their eyes open. In our shared black vernacular, Brother Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was "real folk."

As Americans engage in a little hero worship today with the dedication of Dr. King's monument, let's not forget that he was one of the most unpopular people in America (with a significant percentage of whites, and no small number of blacks) at the time of his death. Let us also not forget that the United States government harassed, threatened, and undermined the Civil Rights Movement. The FBI was particularly obsessed with Dr. King as they famously urged him to commit suicide in order to save face for his various peccadilloes and "indiscretions."

When I look at the Dr. King memorial I think of those efforts to destroy him, and how unpopular he was while alive. I love him even more for his perseverance in the face of such opposition. We should honor his greatness and full humanity; on this day and all others Dr. King's memory deserves more than childish platitudes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Masses are Asses: Herman Cain's "9-9-9" Plan is the Ringtone Rap of 21st Century Politics

And at every turn, he stresses his business background, noting that at a recent debate fellow Republican candidates dismissed his 9-9-9 tax plan as politically dead on arrival.
“Politicians put together things that will pass. Businessmen put together plans that solve the problems,” he said.
Indeed, Cain’s 9-9-9 plan seems to have put him on the map. Following the rally in Jackson, Cain bolted off the stage and shook hands with onlookers, including Linda Fowler-Cole, who had wandered over after a shopping trip to Lowe’s and was wearing a T-shirt with an oversized picture of Obama “I heard the 9-9-9 guy was here and I came to take a look,” the Democrat said. “I like Obama, but that 9-9-9 is catchy.”
In Bartlett, Tenn., Cain drew a number of black supporters who were excited at the prospect of a conservative African-American of his stature.
“To me he represents what Martin Luther King was talking about when he talked about his dream,” Reginald Tooley, a 49-year-old physical therapist from Memphis, said. “With hard work and self-reliance you can do anything you want.”
Cain says he has been buoyed by support from regular folks.
“You just don’t know how much this encourages me, the fact that you all came out tonight,” he said in Waverly.
“You see, this is what the folks in D.C. don’t get because they don’t come out here to meet with you.
The masses are indeed asses. While political scientists such as Converse, Stokes, Campbell, and others said much the same thing in a more sophisticated manner, my pithy one liner has a bit more zing to it.

We had black folks crying on election night because Barack Obama was going to pay their rent and buy them gas. During the campaign there were black folks in Harlem who confused Obama and McCain's policy positions during interviews. Not to be excluded, we had the low information, upright walking mouth breathers who flocked to Sarah Palin.

And now, we have corn bread black walnut black garbage pail kid black conservative Herman Cain whose "9-9-9" plan has caught the ear of the masses.

Herman Cain should cut a check to the "rent is too damn high!' brother because he totally stole his (rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, emphasize words, simple slogan) gimmick.

All I have to offer is a sigh. Sunday, Herman Cain is on Face the Nation. The memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will also be dedicated on that same day. Given this coincidence of events, I shudder to think of the foolishness that will come out of Herman Cain's mouth on Sunday.

Brace yourselves folks, Herman Cain is a consummate performer. He cannot, will not, and is existentially incapable of, letting such an opportunity pass without performing a special buck-dancing routine for his Tea Party GOP masters.

You have been forewarned. Be prepared.

Featured Reader Comment: Reconsidering White Privilege and White Angst During the Great Recession

Mr. Devega,
Your "spoiled kid at the birthday party" analogy does not seem apt. If the white people that you readily lump together as an operating unit feel pessimistic about their prospects, how does it follow that the reason for their pessimism is some good that's come to minorities? It seems to me that one could logically conclude from the cited statistics that minorities have a healthier, more realistic outlook than white folks. But the assumption that a person's unease over a lost job or house is based on his or her feeling that somebody of another race might be doing better does not appear to be founded in these statistics.
Michael Henry Grant
Like you all, I am a product of my upbringing. During my formative years, I was lucky to have had Black, Hispanic, white, and Native American brothers and sisters as my teachers from kindergarten all the way through to high school and college. In talking with one of my dear friends today--while I was watching the Chicago bomb squad blow up a suspicious package at the Metra station near my house--we reflected on how our childhood was pretty unique by all accounts. We grew up in a very segregated town; but the town was small, and most folks had friends from a range of backgrounds. At the time it was awkward. In hindsight, the experience was a blessing.

Somewhere along the way, I remember being told that how one asks a question has a direct influence on the type of answer they receive in return.

Occasionally, I feature readers' comments. I do not do this as much as I should. I plan on improving on this shortcoming in the future. Michael's question is an opportunity to self-correct.

I do not have a ready answer to his observation: I am more than willing to admit that sometimes I come up short, as hyperbole and language can override rigorous theory building and empirically grounded truth telling.

Therefore, I reach out to you.

How would you all respond to Michael's post about white privilege and my analogy--one I am willing to reconsider by the way--that relates white victimology to a spoiled brat at a birthday party?

I am curious as to your answers given that I learn much from the readers of WARN. I am also a sucker for any correspondence that ends with "respectfully." Condemn me my upbringing.

In all, I guess I am my father and mother's child, an old soul, one who is a sucker for formality.

Please share, is Michael on to something? Is white rage not necessarily about black and brown success? During the Great Recession how do we balance race and class in our discussions of national anxiety and fear?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who Won the Fight? Bill O'Reilly Takes on the Tag Team of Cornel West and Tavis Smiley

There is a poll up on the side bar.

O'Reilly versus West and Smiley is fun to watch. Who wins?

I follow the logic of professional wrestling: whenever you have a handicap match the person who is outnumbered only has to hold his own to win the match because the audience expects two people to always be able to beat up one person. O'Reilly, on his own turf here, proves that rule to be true. In his fracas with Cornel and Tavis just finishing the race counts as a win.

Why did O'Reilly best them?

Cornel is too smart to be able to effectively confront stupidity and talking point demagoguery. Consequently, his punches don't hit because they are too subtle.

Tavis is playing the bad cop who does not get into the fight until Brother West throws the opening punches. Moreover, Tavis would have been more effective in the studio, one on one, and within an arms reach of O'Reilly--folks, never underestimate the importance of personal, physical distance as a variable in a debate. Trust me, it matters a great deal.

O'Reilly only has to be a bully and deflect because his arguments are basic, simple, direct, and lack any degree of nuance. This linguistic strategy is why the Tea Party GOP and other low information voters are so easily persuaded by the bloviators on Fox News and Right-wing talk radio. Conservatives are driven by an authoritarian impulse. They also like simple answers which reinforce their binary worldview. O'Reilly is the strong man and guiding light which they are instinctively attracted to; thus, it is very difficult if not impossible to win over his audience.

I have an open invite to go on Fox News. I have refused for fear of falling into the same trap that was sprung on West and Tavis. I still study and watch and prepare for the future as other's missteps are to my advantage. To this point I have learned that when you deal with Right-wing Conservatives you go hard; you also go all in.

There are no half-steps, feints, or teasing a move or opening gambit in their dojo.

Cornel and Tavis are infinitely smarter than me. I also know that they like their attention and getting some shine. But going on O'Reilly was an error on their part, as a person should never enter the devil's house unless fully prepared to take it to the limit, and to go to dark places they have never visited before.

Liberals, Progressives, and reasonable Conservatives still don't get that fact which is why they lose the messaging game.

Red Tails is the Best Movie About the Tuskegee Airmen Ever Made...

Just got in from a screening of Red Tails and thought I would share. The film is being released in January 2012.

Red Tails is better than any other movie made to date about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. Given the competition that is not a surprise. Is this a problem? Absolutely not.

Anthony Hemingway, John Ridley, Aaron McGruder (of the Boondocks) and producer George Lucas have combined to deliver a fun and more than serviceable (as well as very respectful to the subject matter) movie about the awe inspiring Tuskegee airmen. With a full cast of marquee actors such as Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., and a range of folks from HBO's The Wire, the movie is overflowing with familiar faces.

Red Tails is George Lucas's long in the making vanity film about the all African American 332nd Fighter Group during World War 2--a time when Jim and Jane Crow segregation was the law of the land, and "separate but equal" was thought to be a military and social necessity. The movie is corny. It is predictable. There are no surprises here with the plot or character development. And for those folks who possess even a passing familiarity with the Tuskegee Airmen's story and the "Double V" campaign by black Americans for victory abroad against fascism, and at home against white supremacy, Red Tails is a very much by the numbers movie.

Consequently, Red Tails features the obligatory scenes where the black airmen stand up to white bigots and "earn" their respect. There are moments of esprit de corps where the black airmen reflect on the need for race pride, dignity, and excellence in the face of white racism. The Tuskegee airmen are the perennial underdogs, who along with a few self-interested white allies, earn their shot at the big time and deliver brilliantly. The Germans are one dimensional stock villains. As is now obligatory (and quite problematic) in movies about black servicemen in World War 2, there is an interracial love story where one of the African American protagonists falls in love with a beautiful white woman and race is curiously omitted as an obstacle in their relationship.

We know that George Lucas loves speed. To point: the dogfights are thrilling, chaotic, and visceral as they embody a love of machines that began on the screen back with American Graffiti and continued through to Star Wars (a potential Easter egg of sorts: the soundtrack and effects were still being finalized, but sounds borrowed from the pod race in Episode One are used during the dogfights). As a bit of a grognard and gear head, to my eyes at least, George Lucas employed some solid military consultants as the planes don't float like u.f.o.'s--they have real weight and gravity as they move across the screen. Red Tails also features some nice details in the insignia and nose art of the Tuskegee Airmen's Warhawks and Mustangs, as well as the Luftwaffe's BF 109s and FW 190s. Together these little touches give an air of authenticity to the film.

In all, Red Tails is a mix of the 1990s World War 2 movie Memphis Belle, and such classics as Twelve O'Clock High and The Flying Leathernecks. Consequently, the nostalgia level is turned way up, and the dialogue is both self-consciously and unapologetically aware of its own melodrama. As a result, there are several times when the film force feeds nationalism and patriotism down the audience's throat.

I will forgive George Lucas and the other folks who worked on Red Tails that aesthetic and narrative choice. For a variety of reasons, Black Americans (and other people of color) never got their corny, jingoistic, nostalgia laden mass market World War 2 movie (Windtalkers excluded). Now we have it in Red Tails.

Given that America is a country, exhausted and made cynical by an imperial misadventure in Iraq and a losing war in Afghanistan, will the movie do good business? While many potential movie goers may be turned off by a film that is not Saving Private Ryan, there are likely others who yearn for a return to a simple story of good guys and bad guys, and where the lines of right and wrong are clearly drawn.

I choose to forgive Red Tails' flat history, two dimensional characters, and predictable plot. It took decades, but we finally have a technically competent, compelling, World War 2 action movie where black folks are treated with respect, dignity, and not as sideshows to our own history (and acknowledging the obvious example here: the excellent movie A Soldier's Story is a different genre of film than Red Tails).

Ultimately, Red Tails is more than the sum of its parts. It is a good movie, certainly not perfect, but satisfying.

I would like to thank you George. As a life long Star Wars fan and unapologetic ghetto nerd, you have earned back some of my love. It is appreciated and respected. I may not forgive you the misstep that was The Phantom Menace, but with Red Tails you showed me that you still have heart.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

From the Boo Hoo White Privilege Files: In the Great Recession Whites are More Pessimistic About their Futures than Blacks and Latinos

Two years before the height of the financial crisis, Friedman worried aloud about how earnings had failed to keep pace with inflation in recent years. "If we continue along our current trajectory," he said, "many of the pathologies that we have seen in the past, in periods of economic stagnation"--for instance, rising anger directed at immigrants and minorities--"will once again emerge."

In Detroit, Dave Miller and his friends wrap their anger in a code word: "subsidation." It's a 50-cent synonym that rests on the tongues of Macomb County's white working class like sour milk. They don't use the "N" word. For a five-figure salary and overtime, Dave protects lives and property in a black neighborhood, but he will talk your ear off about "welfare cheats" and the essential unfairness of affirmative action. "It's a generational apathy," he says, "and they keep getting more and more [apathetic] because they don't have to work."

Dave and his family know whom to blame for their economic plight. They blame white neighbors who borrowed to buy big houses they couldn't afford and then walked away when the payments grew too expensive. They blame a government "welfare state" that punishes workers like Dave and rewards minorities.
I love White victimology; such a sad and vulnerable people Whiteness has produced.

Black Americans are a people born of the absurd: tens of millions of folks taken from a continent, imprisoned in floating hellish dungeons, brought to a "new world," killed and murdered by the millions (again), exploited as slave labor in the world's "greatest democracy," who then create a new culture of their own while simultaneously gifting white America with our voice, insight, heart, intelligence, creativity, blood, martial spirit, and wisdom, and then struggling to enhance and improve the country's democracy while forcing the Constitution to live up to its fullest ideals for the benefit of all peoples. Talk about exhausting work.

As the Atlantic Monthly's essay, "Why Whites are More Pessimistic About their Future than Minorities" highlights, it is no surprise that black folks are a hopeful people. We have a blues sensibility--one that is tempered with a coal-forged cynicism, that possesses a good deal of hopeful dreaming, and which features no so small amount of enduring hardheadedness and common sense.

But in a moment of declining fortunes, anxieties, and worries that is the Great Recession, one that is impacting people of color disproportionately, white folks have found a reason to be especially pessimistic.

This mix of White pessimism, White angst, and White victimology is one of the great breaches and divides in experience across the colorline, one that certainly cannot be empathized with, and that doubly deserves no sympathy.

Channeling Paul Mooney for a second, I am white folks' best friend because I tell them the truth. Like most people of color, I am also a student of Whiteness. I know and understand things about Whiteness that those who are bathed in it, who clutch it with red knuckled fervor like heirloom family estate pearls during a midnight hold up, and that desperately police and protect it as property, do not. I am not particularly unique in this regard. The Other, the brother-sister outsider, he who is the little man behind the stove, knows these things out of necessity and survival.

Yet, at times I still remain puzzled by the wizable ways of Whiteness and White folks: how can a group of people who are the protected class in this country be so afraid and fearful? White people control every major social, political, economic, academic, scientific, financial, and cultural industry in this country, and have for centuries, so why the insecurity?

I have playfully alluded to this phenomenon as the spoiled kid at the birthday party syndrome. He or she has every toy imaginable but throws a tantrum the minute some other child gets a gift or just a whee bit of attention:
Working-class whites, in other words, are already more prosperous and secure than working-class minorities, but they're less optimistic because they don't believe they're climbing anymore--they're simply trying to hold on to what they've got. Whites today seem to think that the middle-class security their parents and grandparents achieved may be crumbling beneath them. Minorities seem ready to accept the idea that their ascent, while steeper at the moment, will nevertheless deliver them to the middle class someday.
Whiteness has worth and value. White Americans have at least 2.00 dollars in wealth for every 10 cents that blacks and Latinos possess. The GI Bill, and racist practices in hiring and bank lending which rewarded white Americans, and punished people of color, created the white middle class and suburbia. In all, historically, and at every turn, America has been a White Republic that has rewarded the collective mediocrity of white people. That is a bitter pill for some to swallow. It is also the truth:
Dave. Who is white, and who thought, finally, he'd made it. Who broke his back for a dream--a pension, a getaway cottage, security--that seems to be wavering in the Lake Erie haze.
He grew up in Detroit, where the upward mobility of the American middle class could be seen every Friday afternoon. Factory workers, driving cars they'd built, crowded I-75, heading north to their cottages.
That was the deal that Dave Miller signed up for when he dropped out of Wayne State University and followed his dad into the firefighting ranks. The deal was supposed to include decent wages, health insurance, tuition, retirement, mortgages, and maybe, with overtime pay, a boat and a house on the lake--a physical reminder that hard work still pays like it always did.
Blacks folks have had to always be better to get half as far; our excellence has been earned. Sadly, many do not survive the gauntlet. Perhaps, white pessimism is caused by the fact that white folks have farther to fall. Thus, there is great insecurity (for some, perhaps there is a realization that Whiteness and White privilege are an emperor and empress without any clothes; what are frauds perpetrated on the white masses).

Moreover, perhaps this insecurity is further fueled by living in a moment when a black man is President of the United States. If the white racial resentment and bigotry of the Tea Party GOP is any indicator at all, this symbolic change is unsettling to many, and for a significant few, unconscionable and unimaginable.

However, and here is the paradox, black and brown folks may have a shorter distance to fall than white folks in the time of the Great Recession, but the consequences for us are much greater when we take the tumble, as we have much more to lose, and fewer resources to cushion us when we hit the ground.

My ultimate worry is that as Whiteness sees its gains and property under threat, and the white working class realizes the economy is a zero sum game, how long will it take for resentment and disappointment to turn to anger and violence...and towards whom will it be directed?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

For Folks Smarter than Me: Can a Regression Analysis Predict the Success of Herman Cain's "9-9-9" Plan?

A question for folks smarter than I am on these matters...

We have a diverse readership here on WARN. I have chatted with a few of you via email and in other contexts and know that there are some quantitatively oriented and trained social scientists among you.

In the interest of transparency, I can read the math and the stats. I can provide some takeaway on what they convey or not. I can also do a pretty decent sniff test on a funky looking model--but that doesn't mean I can tell you exactly what is wrong and how to do the math by hand to smoke it out. In those instances I say "you need to go talk to that person down the hall."

Today's New York Times piece on Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan--or as I like to call it the "no, no, no" plan--had a very revealing passage. We now know that the author of said policy briefing is not an economist, he is actually a hedge fund financial manager type, but the following passage really struck me:

In an interview, Mr. Lowrie said he had a bachelor of science degree in accountancy from Case Western Reserve University. On his Facebook page, he describes his political views as “free markets.” Mr. Lowrie said he had been inspired by two well-known proponents of supply-side thinking: Arthur Laffer, often considered the father of the concept that lower tax rates help pay for themselves by generating additional economic growth, and Jude Wanniski, who promoted the idea among politicians. Mr. Lowrie became involved with the Ohio chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization supported by the billionaire Koch brothers.
The plan could have major economic and political challenges: It might result in a substantial revenue loss for the government and shift the tax burden toward lower- and middle-income people.In an interview, Mr. Cain, a math major in college, said he had asked Mr. Lowrie to do a “regression analysis” that would allow the government to eliminate all existing taxes, including those on capital gains and estates, and collect the same revenue from just three streams. “The number came up to be 9 percent,” Mr. Cain said. “And that’s how we came up with 9-9-9.”
Mr. Lowrie, who met Mr. Cain at a conference sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth, dismissed the notion that his own understanding of economics was limited by lack of a Ph.D. “I don’t list myself as an economist,” he said. “I have an accounting degree, and I’m an investment adviser. I’ve never hung out in a faculty lounge.”
A former staff member for Mr. Cain in Iowa described his and Mr. Lowrie’s relationship as “buddy-buddy,” adding, “They were just like two executives palling around together.”Their plan has drawn fire from both right and left. Conservatives are wary of a national sales tax, concerned that it would create another, easily increased method of taxation. Among the critics are The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Bruce Bartlett, an official in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, who contributes to the Economix blog for The New York Times.
First, anything that has to do with the much misunderstood Laffer Curve gives me pause. Second, anything having to do with the Koch Brothers should raise a huge red flag amongst folks concerned with the Common Good. But, the statistical lingo which is designed to impress lay people begs an especially good number of questions.
1. Given all of the variables in a nation's economy can you actually use a basic (or even simultaneous) regression model to "predict" economic outputs like GDP? In addition, during last night's debate Herman Cain bragged about "dynamic modeling," i.e. including assumptions about U.S. economic growth as a constant in the model. How reliable is dynamic modeling? How does one factor in the ups and downs of the economy to date, and are said predictions at all reliable out past a given time horizon? Is this some type of weighted variable?
2. Statistical modeling is useful to the degree that it gives you a better answer than a guess would have produced otherwise. If a basic regression analysis has revealed the genius of Cain's 9-9-9 plan, why are there ever business cycles, or ups and downs, or system shocks like the Great Recession? How and why do these models fail? And when have they ever been successful at making accurate predictions?
3. Does the ecological fallacy apply to econometrics? I primarily work with cultural texts and theory. But I have always been suspicious of grand models that purport to make predictions about the economy. Is this suspicion misplaced?
4. Finally, is Mr. Lowrie qualified to be offering these types of analyses? When he says, "“I have an accounting degree, and I’m an investment adviser. I’ve never hung out in a faculty lounge,” I get more than a bit worried. Are you?

Real History: The Political Economy of Black Hair and Jim Crow Barbershops

Black barbers seemed to infuriate their antebellum critics because they appeared to have traded their racial pride for a good livelihood, which explains the recurring charge that barbers had surrendered their manhood, when in fact they served as the breadwinners within their household and beyond...
For inclusion in a true middle class. These members of the black middle class fiercely guarded their recently won status, and segregation rebuked their self-image as nothing else did. Hence, they attacked black barbers even though it was a commonplace that integrated or black-only shops would fail. From the point of view of the black elite, black barbers acted contrary to the interests of their class more than of their race. Only a tiny minority of African Americans possessed the wherewithal to patronize middle-class establishments, while the majority remained stuck in menial jobs that placed them at the beck and call of white employers.
While the anecdote rings odd (and I would not at all be surprised if the story was ultimately proven untrue), Herman Cain's teachable moment about being refused service in a black barbershop has some deep historical roots.

Black barbershops and hair salons have been identified in almost worshipful terms as one of the few remaining autonomous, indigenous, and private spaces in the black community. There, black folks are able to talk free of the white gaze; black barbershops and hair salons are symbols of black self-reliance and economic independence.

Of course, the reality is much more complicated. Koreans, Egyptians and others have come to dominate the at 9 billion dollar a year market for black women's hair care (alarmingly, black Americans spend approximately 500 billion dollars a year on personal care products, what is half of their total buying power). Black barbershops are booming despite the economy, while black hair salons are closing down and their stylists going to work for "mainstream," i.e. white beauty parlors. In all, as Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair suggested, if you need a barometer for the mental, financial, and social health of Black America look no farther than our barbershops and hair salons.

As we moved from slavery to freedom, black barbershops and hair salons were reflections of that journey. Consequently, Jim and Jane Crow hovered over those contingently black spaces. One cannot forget that white racism was both de jure (the law) and de facto (a set of social codes and norms). It was a cradle to the grave system that governed every social interaction between people of color and whites--and yes, even those which occurred in barbershops.

Sharing as is my habit, the book Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom does a great job of working through the complex and rich history of black barbershops in the Black Public Sphere, and what it reveals about race and race making.
Most black barbershop owners felt that they had little choice but to hold on to their white customers, which would be unlikely if they integrated their shops. Several tried opening "equal rights" barbershops, only to meet with failure. In Philadelphia, a handful of black-owned barbershops did manage to serve an integrated clientele, but white prejudice forced the overwhelming majority of black barbers to serve one race exclusively. The option of serving black men seemed poor business to most.
This animus toward black barbers reflected, in part, a concern that their businesses legitimized segregation. At least one white editor confirmed his argument by citing the refusal of black barbers to serve African Americas as a justification for segregation. According to the editor, businessmen, regardless of their color, turned away certain people simply because "the best paying class of customers can be retained by excluding those who for any reason are objectionable to their fastidious notions."
Traditional, "old school" racism is largely fixated on notions of contamination, threat, and impurity. The act of cutting a person's hair is profoundly intimate and personal. For the racial imagination of Jim and Jane Crow (and even today) the following are potent images: a black man has a razor at a white man's throat while giving him a shave; a black barber's hands touching a white woman's neck and hair; the clippers and shears that were used on a black person's hair potentially "befouling" a white person's pristine and racially uncontaminated personage. Jim Crow laws removed many of these dilemmas. Informal social conventions solved the rest.

During the post-Reconstruction era black barbers had to skillfully negotiate the colorline. They were upwardly mobile and skilled technicians with the capacity to be leaders for the race. However, white folks had the money. Black folks as a group did not. The market was a monopoly of sorts where the former group demanded that they would be served exclusive to all others. Here, racial integration was not a path to economic success for black barbers.
Convinced that the survival of their businesses and hence their middle-class status was at stake, black barbers thwarted anti-discrimination laws with ingenuity and the help of sympathetic judges. Some barbershop proprietors in the District of Columbia made black customers wait unduly long for service and posted exorbitant prices, such as "Haircut $30, Shampoo $40" with an addendum below promising "a liberal our regular customers."...When black men in the District of Columbia won lawsuits against local barbershops, they received only token damages, which in tern led black barbers there to be more assertive of their right to refuse service to African Americans.
One of the city's barbershop owners went so far as to take out an advertisement in the Washington Bee, a black newspaper:
Preston's Pension Office Barbershop, first class in every particular.
Devoted Strictly to White Trade.
The rumor that this shop has been serving any colored trade is false in every particular.

The personal truly is the political. Sometimes this is quite literal, where bodies are (in what we call "bio-politics") made an object of power. In other instances the observation is more general, where the rules governing personal interactions reveal a society's larger macro-level social and political dynamics.

Historically and into the present, the black barbershop possesses both of these traits in abundance.

Please share. What is the state of affairs in the black barbershops and hair salons in your communities? If they are in fact a thermometer for the health of Black America, what is her prognosis?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Real History: The Jewish Community in Selma Alabama Reflects on the Civil Rights Movement

Inspired by recent events, this week I am going to do a few posts on the real faces and real stories of the Civil Rights Movement years.

Herman Cain's defense of his craven non-participation during the height of the 1960s resistance to Jim Crow is a great entry point for reflecting on the fact that history is complex and not the stuff of 5th grade history class. Consider the historic lies that Dr. King was popular, that Civil Rights for black folks were embraced by most whites, and that all African Americans were noble warriors in a grand struggle of liberation.

Most people, on both sides of the colorline, were bystanders who wanted to stay out of the way of history.

This interview with some members of the Jewish community in Selma, Alabama brings to the forefront a number of issues. First, it points out how in-between peoples such as Jews who were still earning their whiteness in the 1950s and 1960s had to make a hard choice.

Would they be heroic? Would they be moral cowards?

Two, it challenges a uniform story about Jews and Black folks as "natural allies" (a premise I have always found problematic). And perhaps most provocatively, the Jews of Selma apparently forgot the lessons of shared historical suffering and empathy: their immediate financial, reputational, and personal safety trumped any sense of linked fate with black folks, a people like them who had also been oppressed.

True, there were heroes and there were villains in the Civil Rights moment and the long Black Freedom Struggle. But they were outliers. Most folks were just on cruise control as the world was changing around them.

None too different than today it would seem...

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Pain of Herman Cain: How a Chance Encounter at an African American Barbershop Helped to Create a Black Conservative

All aboard the Cain train!

Brother Cornel West told CNN that Herman Cain is smoking the metaphorical crack pipe. Boyce Watkins used Herman Cain as an object lesson in black on black racism. Professor Eddie Glaude, polite as ever, said that Herman Cain practices "political chicanery." Elder god Reverend Lowery called Herman Cain a butt-licking coprophagist...but he said it using nicer words. And Harry Belafonte just eviscerates Herman Cain and his Tea Party GOP handlers.

What fun. The irony of course is that the more Herb Cain is criticized by African Americans for his role as a professional racism apologist the more popular he will become with his White Conservative reactionary audience and sponsors. Call it the black conservative patted on the head by their white masters corollary to Newton's third law of motion.

I have been reflecting on Herman Cain's story about being denied service at a black barbershop because they could not use the clippers on an African American and still keep their white clientele. That moment is very telling both for what it reveals about Herman Cain's psyche and also for the larger macro-level phenomena it signals to.

Historically, the socio-political interests of black Americans have been racialized. Group interests have served as a powerful variable in the political calculations of African Americans because the reality of white supremacy has been one where we have not had the luxury of buying into a narrative of wide eyed, pie in the sky Whiteness enabled individualism.

We got our butts kicked as a group; our individual merits mattered little to the slaver, Jim and Jim Crow, or the "racism without racists" post-Civil Rights milieu. For example, members of the black middle and upper classes use the social and economic status of their less well-off relatives, friends, and community members as variables which influence their political decision making. Why? The hold of black strivers on the ladder of success is tenuous. In addition, the stale, flat narrative of the black poor and black underclass that dominates the popular imagination is instead one that is real to us: said folks are our brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, and other kin, either fictive or blood related.

Black Conservatives like Herman Cain fit perfectly into this story because one of the variables that over-determines a sense of linked fate with other African Americans (and by implication their political orientation) is how deeply embedded they are in the black community. Black conservatives tend to have fewer attachments to African American social institutions (political associations, neighborhood groups, fraternal organizations, and of course the obligatory barbershops and hair salons) . Consequently, black conservatives are less likely to have a sense of group affinity for and with other African Americans.

In all, the black utility heuristic is not in play for the Cains, Thomases, and Steeles of the world.

The image Herman Cain paints of his barbershop encounter, assuming it is in fact true (and I have serious doubts as he is playing a blackface version of the Horatio Alger myth) is doubly sad because in that one moment he was ostracized from one of the few black spaces which remain in America, and said locale in the black public sphere was still governed by the white gaze and its power to marginalize and do harm to people of color.

Perhaps it is my love of theoretical physics and chaos theory. Or maybe I have watched the Star Trek TNG episode "Tapestry" too many times, but I wonder how that one moment impacted Herman Cain's future political attitudes and life trajectory? Would Herman Cain have become a different person, an upright and proud Morehouse man, instead of a professional racism denier and enabler of white supremacy, if one of the brothers had given his woolly head a proper cut?

I present two possibilities:

1. Herman Cain, a young man raised by a family who did not believe in the merits of the Civil Rights Movement, and which saw Dr. King and others as "outside agitators," had years ago decided to smile and grin in order to get along with white folks. The haircut moment had nothing to do with the man he would become in the future. Cain already believed that it was much better to lay down with the lions as a pet sheep than to dare resist and perhaps suffer harm (or risk being a difficult to digest meal).

2. Herman Cain, embarrassed by seeing black men humiliated by whites in their own barbershop, became disgusted with black people as a whole--and thus convinced of his own "uniqueness" as an "exceptional negro"--decided that he had shared few traits with the "common black." Instead of being angry at the white men who humiliated the black barbers, Herman Cain lashed out at African Americans everywhere. They are a pitiable people in Herman Cain's eyes, so why have anything to do with them?

I do have a thought that I need your help reasoning through: Why didn't Herman Cain, a product of Jim Crow and a man who should be familiar with the depth of the informal black codes and rules of racial comportment in the South, just find another black barbershop where he would be welcome?

Moreover, Cain's choice to buy his own clippers is also telling. There is an argument that black conservatism is actually none too far ideologically from black nationalism. In another person, at another time, with a different history, could Herman Cain's barbershop pain have resulted in him becoming a Black Nationalist as opposed to a race traitor who serves as a human parrot for racially resentful and bigoted White Conservatives?

The possibilities boggle the mind...