Thursday, December 1, 2011

Their Eyes Are Watching You: The UK's Guardian Discovers Sexism and Racism in the OWS Movement


Their eyes are watching from across the pond. Der Spiegel comments on the embarrassing clown car freak show that is the 2012 Tea Party GOP presidential field. Now the Brits are calling out Americans over racism and sexism in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

What ever happened to American exceptionalism? Dang it. At the nadir of empire, life can be so unfair!

We have discussed the role of race in the OWS movement on a few occasions. This latest piece from The Guardian fits neatly with the pattern established to date: like most "movements" OWS is at first greeted with fascination; then it gains momentum; criticism and push-back follow; the group is then revealed to have the same challenges of negotiating identity, race, and gender as society at large; defensiveness and denial by different stakeholders predictably follows; the show continues to a triumph, collapse, or incorporation by the powers that be.

Without using the language of "intersectionality," Karen McVeigh's essay does a good job of incorporating women's voices as being both gendered and racialized by OWS. Black women's experiences are emphasized in this piece of reporting, without being either ham-fisted, caricature-like, or essentialized. And of course, we have the obligatory picture of a nicely dressed, and if I do say so myself, quite attractive sister, being arrested by the NYPD. OWS is political theater after all, so I won't begrudge The Guardian for its obligatory black and brown person doing the perp walk photograph.

While the whole piece in The Guardian is worth reading, there are two passages that merit particular attention:
At a gathering of Occupy Wall Street activists at a public space in New York on Monday, one young woman spoke of a bruising experience she had suffered the previous day. Angry and upset, she said she had been shouted down while attempting to facilitate a general assembly. There were nods of recognition and murmurs of sympathy from those seated in a circle around her. 
But her battle was not with police officers or security guards. Instead, those who had treated her with disdain were fellow activists, every one of which was white and male.
"It was a really distressing experience having people policing and patronising me" she told the group.
In the aftermath of the eviction from their camp in lower Manhattan, the organisers of Occupy Wall Street are struggling to maintain order at the general assembly, the backbone of its decision-making.
At its heart was an "ongoing crisis for people of colour, women and the marginalised", according to Kanene Holder, a part-time teaching artist from Brooklyn who is active on several working groups. 
"White males are used to speaking and running things," said Holder. "You can't expect them to abdicate the power they have just because they are in this movement." 
One of the defining features of the leaderless Occupy movement – aside from the occupation itself – has been its horizontal decision-making in the form of its Arab spring-inspired general assembly. The simple idea behind it: that everyone has a voice. 
But a quick glance through the paper, television and web coverage spawned since Occupy's first march on Wall Street in September reveals that some voices are louder than others. While images of women as victims have endured, those who speak about the ideas and actions have been predominantly male.
To be a member of the racial in-group, and to have power by virtue of that fact, is so very comforting. As ultimately, what is privilege if not the ability to determine how, and under what circumstances, that a person will be made to feel outside of their comfort zone? Some of us are perpetual foreigners and outsiders in the country that we helped to build, others are default members, never outside of the tribe, their belonging and group membership--and entitlement--without suspicion, never suspect, always reinforced and validated. 
Why would the former ever trade places with the latter, when our moral superiority only goes so far, and it demands so very much sacrifice for gains enjoyed by all, free riders that most are?
[While a truism at this point, I remain surprised that anybody would be taken aback by this dynamic--that white men who happen to be "liberals" and/or "progressives" have internalized an assumption about the universality of their experiences, and natural authority, on most, if not all things. 
This is not an excuse for said behavior; it is simply an acknowledgement of the facts on the ground...one that is a given.]
Apparently, there is also no small amount of white male victimology on display in those moments when white male authority is challenged:
This week marked an important step. On Monday, after a number of women complained of "overly aggressive" men dominating events, OWS has, for the first time, instigated a series of female-led meetings where only women can speak. It was an opportunity for "males to listen and for female marginalised voices to be heard," Holder said. 
The meeting at Wall Street, attended by around 20 women and 15 unusually silent men, was the first such gathering. 
"There is a high level of awareness to include female voices" said Holder, who said the women-led meeting was voted on and agreed to by men. 
At that point, as if to underline the issue, a commotion broke out as a white man burst into the centre of the female-led circle, demanding to speak, and angrily accusing all around him of sexism and racism. 
"I'm allowed to speak," he shouted, as another man tried to usher him out of the circle. "You're allowed to be sexist? To get away with this crap?" 
Holder insisted: "There is a learning curve. It exists because privilege is learned over a lifetime and cannot be erased overnight."
She is much more patient than me. Why must Holder default to caregiver and teacher, engaging in excuse-making for someone else's bad behavior and imperiousness? In all, this is a common dynamic. Black and brown folks are expected to "teach" White people about white privilege, and to lovingly work with them as they process their issues. Where race and gender intersect, these dynamics are doubly enhanced, as the dominant cultural script demands that the needs and demands of women of color are almost always made secondary and peripheral to those of men (of any race).
An honest question from a working class black guy who was taught to know the merits of silence, and of listening, and not always speaking: Is it really that hard for white men, those fully invested in their "whiteness" and "maleness," to shut up and take a knee? 
[Why do those with all of the toys continue to throw temper tantrums when someone else gets a little attention? 
Are the pathologies of race and gender privilege that deep, and subsequently so very difficult to overcome?]
And the final piece, the proverbial money-shot:
Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" about the 2008 election, said: "This idea that, by its nature, left-wing activism is inclusive is a myth. The left is continually plagued by gender problems.
And class, sexuality, race, and other problems too. 

Occupy Wall Street's Women Struggle to Make Their Voices Heard can be read here in its entirety.

Verbal Diarrhea? Toure and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Talk to Each Other for Twenty or So Minutes About Black Authenticity



I will leave this interview between Toure and Dr. Gates open for your comments.

My thought? Sometimes 23 minutes and 33 seconds is 20 minutes far too long.

As an alternative, I would rather listen to Ol' Dirty Bastard reflect about the ladies and their stinky, sexy, feet:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Andrew Sullivan and the Bell Curve Follies: "The Average Mental Age of the Negro Soldier is 10 Years Old"

Internet celebrities and the pundit classes are tussling with one another about the apparent rediscovery of the (rightfully) much maligned book the Bell Curve, and its broader claims about the relationship between race and I.Q.

The story so far: Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast offered some comments on a piece from Alternet regarding the need for pure research, and how one should not avoid uncomfortable scientific findings for reasons of political correctness. Ta-Nehisi Coates chimed in, there he offered a series of great posts on how for some folks these matters are indeed personal, and exist outside of some faux commitment to methodological and scientific positivism. All parties involved have been kind to WARN. Consequently, I decided to do like George Clinton with Parliament, and to just sit back, nod my head, and vibe with the exchange.

A few folks emailed me regarding my opinion on the race-science-I.Q. fracas. I always try to respond when readers have a query--it makes me feel important; and what is blogging if not an exercise in gross narcissism? My thoughts on this matter are as follows.

****

As a member of the hip hop generation who came of age in the 1990s, I thought these matters of race and I.Q. were settled. In the year 2011, I remain surprised that anyone would take such quackery with any measure of seriousness.

Let's take a trip down memory lane for a moment. We should not forget that the Bell Curve was a shocking book at the time of its release, as this explains much of the current upset over Andrew Sullivan's observations about race and I.Q. testing.

In the United States, the period of the early to mid 1990s was highly charged political. Black nationalism was being rediscovered through hip hop, Farrakhan and others were frequently featured on the evening news and the Donahue Show, New York and Los Angeles were sweltering with inter-racial tensions, Buchanan and Duke were flying their racist bonafides as mainstream figures in the Republican Party, and Angry White Men like Rush Limbaugh were blowing up the public discourse.

The Bell Curve hit hard because it was "scientific" (i.e. it had numbers and figures). Moreover, the "finding" that African Americans were biologically defective, supported claims by the Conservatives and New Democrats about social disorganization, the ghetto underclass, black "pathologies," and the undeserving poor. On a macro-level, the Bell Curve was a "scientific" complement to the onward march of neoliberalism, the continuance of the Reagan regime's assault on the State, and Bill Clinton's promise to end welfare as "we know it."

The Bell Curve was also a slap in the face of the black professional classes--as well as politically active and engaged college students--who saw themselves at the vanguard of a new black politics, had helped to bring down Apartheid, and were now rediscovering Brother Malcolm and his claims on racial justice and black respectability.

Ultimately, the race science hustle of the Bell Curve flamed out. The book's methods and data were eviscerated, and its authors shamed by most mainstream social scientists and other researchers. However, the pain caused by that book still remains, as it is part of a long history of pseudoscience which has advanced white supremacy both in the United States and abroad.

As this often comes up in my classes, I shake my head at any claims about the relationship between I.Q. and race. The variables and measures in these types of arguments are specious and poorly constructed. Race itself is a social category with no fixed attributes. Intelligence is contextual. The history of I.Q. tests are so burdened by a foundation of eugenics and phrenology (which included such absurd practices as the weighing of human brains), that the legacy and context of "intelligence testing" should raise an immediate, Mr. Spock-like eyebrow, for all critical thinkers.

There is a slippery slope here. If we are going to entertain some link between I.Q. and race, we might as well keep searching for the Jewish gene for intelligence, or taking posture photos of the entering freshman class at universities such as Yale and Harvard.

As my colleagues who study educational psychology tell me, while extreme outliers on I.Q. tests do in fact "tell us something," the gross aggregate of I.Q. data is a function of education, wealth, access to resources, and cultural/social capital. I.Q. tests measure these variables; they do not capture some universal type of absolute intelligence.

In all, these debates about I.Q. and race are fascinating, in so far as they reveal how so many folks still believe that science is "neutral." To borrow from Foucault, science is part of a regime of truth and knowledge; it serves certain interests, goals, social arrangements, and power. Science as a field, practice, and pursuit, legitimates certain relationships between categories of people, and types of personhood. Science has not been, and likely never will be, a process that is not value-laden.

Or as the legendary W.E.B. DuBois put so well, why should there be any surprise that white scientists would come up with a test that repeated and inevitably showed black people to be intellectually deficient? I call such work "piss poor." DuBois was more kind. He labeled it "utter rot."

As always, history is the greatest teacher on these matters. And these Internets are indeed a treasure trove of information:

1. The U.S. military was deeply involved in I.Q. testing during World War One. Their result was a predictable one: black Americans were ill-suited for combat, cowardly, and not fit to be officers. According to these tests, while white enlistees had an average mental age of 13, blacks were only 10 years old. Reality causes upset here: World War One, the exploits of such units as the Harlem Hellfighters, and non-white colonials in the service of France, muddied up the race-science-I.Q. triad. So how did the white, race science hustlers, get around these findings...

2. Working through the logic of the I.Q. race game is great sport. When black northerners outscored white southerners on these test, the outcome is either conveniently ignored, or an explanation is offered that the I.Q. test is still valid, but the sample is skewed because all of the smart negroes went North while the mass of the negro population is still sub-standard intellectually. In these moments, the white supremacist agenda of the I.Q. race practitioners is made naked and clear: they reasoned backwards from their findings to justify their own in-group superiority. Funny, if the consequences were not so sad.

3. The actual tests from the early to mid 20th century are rich textual examples of how intelligence is local, socially constructed, and a function of other variables--as opposed to something inherent, innate, and fixed. Here is an example of one of the intelligence tests used by the U.S. Army that justified a Jim Crow military (as well as restrictive immigration policies against those Southern and Eastern Europeans judged to be of "undesirable" stock):

Imagine you are in a large examination room. An examiner and demonstrator stand at the front of the room, and orderlies around the room in various places to check that nobody is cheating. Here are the instructions, following which the printed test page is presented to the men being examined.
‘This is test 6 here. Look. A Lot of Pictures … Now watch.’ Examiner points to hand [picture with one finger missing] and says to demonstrator, ‘Fix it’. Demonstrator then draws a finger. Demonstrator does nothing, but looks puzzled. Examiner points to the picture of the hand, and then the place where the finger is missing and says to the demonstrator, ‘Fix it; fix it’. Demonstrator then draws in a figure. Examiner says, ‘That’s right’ … During the course of this test the orderlies walk around the room and locate individuals who are doing nothing, point to their pages and say, ‘Fix them, fix them’, trying to set everyone working. At the end of 3 minutes, the examiner says, ‘Stop! But don’t turn over the page.’
Stephen Jay Gould sums up the results of the test, administered to over one million people:

[T]hree ‘facts’ rose to the top and continued to influence social policy in America long after their source in the tests had been forgotten.
    1. The average mental age of white American adults stood just above the edge of moronity at a shocking and meager thirteen … The … figure became a rallying point for eugenicists who predicted doom and lamented our declining intelligence, caused by the unconstrained breeding of the poor and feeble-minded, the spread of Negro blood through miscegenation, and the swamping of an intelligent native stock by the immigrating dregs of southern and eastern Europe.
    2. European immigrants can be graded by their country of origin. The average man of many nations is a moron. The darker peoples of southern Europe and the Slavs of eastern Europe are less intelligent than the fair peoples of western and northern Europe. Nordic supremacy is not a jingoistic prejudice. The average Russian has a mental age of 11.34; the Italian, 11.01; the Pole, 10.74 …
    3. The Negro lies at the bottom of the scale with an average mental age 10.41. Some camps tried to carry the analysis a bit further, and in obvious racist directions. At Camp Lee, blacks were divided into three groups based upon intensity of color; the lighter groups scored higher …
4. Pushing back is fun. In the 1970s, Professor Robert Williams, a magisterial and accomplished man, turned the tables on the academics and scientists who advocated for the use of I.Q. tests to rank and place children in schools. Featured in a great episode of the sitcom Good Times, the BITCH test (or Black Intelligence Test for Cultural Homogeneity) made clear how these questions of innate ability and smarts are anything but.

Take the BITCH test and see how well you do. Are you a high achiever? Or are you on the lower end of the BITCH distribution?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Non-Mystery and Obligatory Question: What Race is Herman Cain's "Mistress" Ginger White?



High comedy: so Ginger White's business partner preferred to date black men, but she disliked black women's hair. Hmmmm...the plot thickens. How twisted indeed is the intimate relationship between blacks and whites, feet intertwined mid-coitus on the cotton bale, but the mystery of the hair has too much symbolic weight to overcome?

What a sick society we are; white supremacy truly is a poison that has hurt us all.

If the visitor logs to We Are Respectable Negroes are any indication, there are many people who are curious as to the race of Herman Cain's "mistress" Miss Ginger White. As a service, I will try to offer some guidance on this most vexing and pressing issue of public concern.

First things first, there is only one race of people on this blue marble called planet Earth (allowing for hobbits and Neanderthals), and that is the human race.

Clarifications aside, in our contemporary nomenclature while she may be light, bright, and damn near white (as the expression goes), Ginger White is a black woman.

As a student of race, and a keen practitioner of "race science," her features, habitus, and "energy" are dead giveaways to my eye.

Does she claim the tribe? I do not know.

Yes, there is a long history of passing in the black community (as well as in others too).

Could Ginger White play that game and slip by the hypodescent rule, crossing over to whiteness in New Orleans, and dancing at an octoroon ball? Damn straight. Could she go to Latin America or Brazil and reverse the one-drop rule, where any bit of "white" ancestry makes you anything but "black?" Absolutely.

Could Ginger White move to New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles and reinvent herself as a "white woman," turning her back on her kin and people? Yes. It happened all of the time.

Folk wisdom and life experience are also good aids in matters related to the race game. I asked my mother, a black woman from the South, about Herman Cain's habits. She said months ago that he was a womanizer and had an "arrangement" with his wife. I ask moms if she thought Ginger White was black. She laughed and reminded me that a man of Herman Cain's age and social background would see a "high yellow," and "damn near" white woman who had "good hair" as the ultimate prize. He would mess around with a white woman, but Cain would keep a light-skinned black woman as his status symbol.

Commonsense goes a long way on these matters. It can also be easily deceived and tricked. So folks, what clues do you use to win the "guess what box to put this racially ambiguous person in" game? Is it their "habitus?" Skin color? Cues and hints in speech? Other tricks?

And when we play this game, we are often wrong. One, either because said person refuses to acknowledge their racial group, and gets upset when "outed." Or two, our lens is just off, and sometimes we encounter a person whose lineage we just can't place.

Do tell, I bet you have some legendary faux pas to report...all players in the race game do.

A Pitch Perfect Portrait of Narcissism: Herman "the High Achiever" Cain Reflects on His Career and Life



"There is no racism to see here boss! I am shaking the tree, you sees me boss?"

With Herman Cain apparently about to drop out of the race, it is time to have a fire sale. Over the past year I developed a portfolio on the Grand High Vizier of the Black Garbage Pail Kids Black Conservatives. As events develop, I now have to pick some gems from that repository before they transmute into copper.

This interview from the Black Conservative propaganda hit piece "Runaway Slave" is a great distillation of Herman Cain's weaknesses of character. All of the elements that would bring him down are present; all of the elements that would make him appeal to white populist racial reactionaries are also on display as well.

Cain is arrogant, narcissistic, outside of history, and honestly believes that he stands alone, a self-made man. Free rider, Herbie Black Walnut Cornbread Cain, also believes that he is accountable to no one.

Of course, the Civil Rights Movement, and the life and death hard work of black and brown folks, with a few white allies, did not make Cain's success at all possible. Moreover, Herman Cain is the very definition of an "affirmative action baby"--a label that was once worn with pride, but has now been sullied by the Right, a move enabled through a surrender of language by progressives and liberals. While Cain momentarily signals to the old school Conservatism of Booker T. Washington in this interview, he ultimately defaults back to being a race neutral fantasy projection for the White Conservative Soul by its conclusion.

No longer a "raging elephant" or "a runaway slave," Cain is now hobbled by his libido. His channeling of American exceptionalism--as performance art and flim flam artistry in the role of Tea Party GOP candidate--is coming to a close, to now soon be seen exclusively on Fox News.

There are second and third acts in American life. What do you think awaits Herman Cain as he shuffles and dances, exiting stage right, with his sack full of money, and pockets overflowing with duckets? Will he go off into the night, satiated and spent, sleeping off a political bender of sorts while he frolics under the watchful eye of Dionysus and Pan's satyrs?

Or is this just the beginning of The Herman Cain Saga?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Well Lookie Here! Will the Wonders Ever Cease? Herman Cain's (Alleged) "Mistress" is a Black Woman



Cain attempted to get out in front of the news Monday afternoon in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, in which he revealed that the woman will accuse him of an extended affair. According to a preview story posted by the Fox affiliate in Atlanta, the report is scheduled to air at 6 p.m. and will include an interview with Ginger White, a local woman who claims she had a 13-year affair with Cain. The preview promises "records that [White] says back up her story."

On CNN, Cain denied the charge. He acknowledged knowing the woman, whom he characterized as an "acquaintance that I thought was a friend." But he said there was no affair.
[Well damn! I stand corrected. Herman Cain's "mistress" is a black woman. Dude is so old school--he marries a black woman, has a sister for a long term "secondary relationship," and harasses white women. Herman Cain needs to start writing blues songs. Seriously.

I will let this post stand as originally written, for it is a testimony for how wonderfully surprising life can be.]

Time to invoke the mercy rule for Herb Cornbread Bojangles Cain. A month or so back, I offered an over/under for Herman Cain's sexual peccadillo count. For humor's sake, I prayed that at least one of his many accusers of sexual harassment would be a big, fat, white woman (the jury is still out). Now, Mr. Cain's supposed side piece, lover, partner to he who is a sexual dynamo and tyrannosaurus pizza maven and troubadour, is scheduled to appear on Atlanta's Fox News affiliate this evening.

A month or so ago I had a theory about Herman Cain's relationship with Sharon Bialek, the woman who accused him of forcing her head into his lap, and of putting his hand up her dress. I slept on this one because it was missing one or two bits of confirming information. With the most recent accusation, I feel a bit more confident in playing Negrodamus.

When Herman Cain was a lobbyist, he lived apart from his wife for months at a time in a "corporate apartment" in the Washington D.C. area. By itself, this is not a sin; for many people, such an arrangement would be practical. Moreover, these apartments are a perk of the job to be enjoyed.

Herman Cain also kept his wife out of the spotlight (I do suspect that they may have an "arrangement" regarding outside relationships; at present, she is without a doubt, none too pleased with him putting business out in the street). Again, not common for someone running for high office. But by itself, his wife's absence is a factor that is neither a death knell, nor especially problematic, when viewed by itself. However, when you factor in the accusations that Herman Cain has sexually harassed (at least) five women, the plot does become more interesting.

I believe that Sharon Bialek was Herman Cain's lover. One does not generally presume to put their hands up a woman's dress, and to force her head into your lap to perform fellatio, unless there exists a general understanding, some history between you. Cain and Bialek had an intimate relationship, and during the infamous evening when he supposedly assaulted her, the latter was calling in a favor that Cain summarily refused. In fact, there are photos of them being quite friendly and familiar with one another taken some weeks after Cain supposedly assaulted her.

Ultimately, Bialek was pissed at Herman Cain and took the moment afforded by his presidential run to get a bit of sweet revenge. But, here is what I cannot figure: why wouldn't she just come out as Cain's mistress? Was it a fear of ruining her own marriage? Or did Bialek reason that she could do more harm to Cain with the sexual harassment charge?

We are creatures of habit. Thus, at this point in the Saga of Herman Cain, it is anticlimactic to speculate as to Miss Ginger White's race--but with such a name, laughter would immediately and rapturously ensue if she were a beautiful, dark complected, black woman. But, I do eagerly await how Herman Cain and his supporters will excuse-make for this most recent accusation of moral behavior perfectly in character with not at all befitting a "values voter," Tea Party GOP, candidate.

Herman Cain's white populist base gave him a pass for pursuing 5 white women. Will the sixth be the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back? Will the Right's inner racists, and anti-miscegenation credo as projected through the White Racial Id, finally come out to put Herb Cornbread Cain in his "correct" place?

As Limbaugh and other conservative bloviators are so fond of saying about President Obama and the First Lady, me thinks Herman Cain is being a bit "uppity" with his obsessive pursuit of the decadent delights and sweet pleasures of Caucasian yoni...and he is gonna get checked for it, sooner, rather than later.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A New Scooby Doo Mystery: The Washington Post Asks "Why Aren't Blacks Embracing Occupy Wall Street?"


Blacks have historically suffered the income inequality and job scarcity that the Wall Street protesters are now railing against. Perhaps black America’s absence is sending a message to the Occupiers: “We told you so! Nothing will change. We’ve been here already. It’s hopeless.”
The Scooby Doo mystery about the relationship between race and the OWS movement continues...

The Washington Post is jumping on the bandwagon with their own version of the game Where is Waldo?, with an opinion piece by Stacey Patton entitled, "Why African Americans Aren't Embracing Occupy Wall Street."

This penetrating essay, written by a memoirist, citing a comedian named "Alter-Negro" as an expert source, offering up a conspiracy between cable, cell phone, cigarette, and liquor companies to depoliticize the black leadership class in service to the interests of corporate America, commenting on the predatory evils of commercial hip hop, and pondering if the black church has lost all political and moral authority, is a fun read.

It is not a deep political analysis; nor is Patton particularly insightful as she takes a shotgun approach to the relationship between race and OWS.

[A question: who gets to determine the minimum threshold for when the Occupy Wall Street Movement is sufficiently "diverse?" Is there a census, a quota, a barometer, do we have to read tea leaves and chicken bones to know when this magical moment has occurred?]

However, her essay is useful as an entry point for working through why black folks have not flocked to OWS in mass.

Thus, some working working questions and hypotheses:

1. Jaded, well-earned, cynicism. Where was OWS, and the white folks who make up its base, when black and brown people were catching hell this last decade? If OWS is so concerned about a broken economy and a general sense of grievance about austerity and government retrenchment, many, if not most, were deaf of ear to the concerns of people of color, specifically, and the poor, more generally, on such issues as police brutality, predatory banking and mortgage practices, wage stagnation, and a broken labor market. Why should black Americans be expected to ally with people who appeared to be none too concerned with these issues, until they, quite literally, hit home?

2. Exhaustion. Black folks have been either 1) at the forefront of social and political change in this country, or 2) their struggles have served as models for organizing and resistance by other groups. Perhaps, now is the time for white Americans to carry the weight.

3. Common sense. Black folks don't want to go to jail, understand that their interests are not served by a racist criminal (in)justice system, and know that they will be treated differently by police, judges, and the State, than the (relatively) privileged white folks who make up the backbone of the OWS movement.

4. The failure of the black political leadership class. In the post-Civil Rights era, black political elites have struggled with obsolescence. Many are trying to get their shine back by connecting their glorious struggles of decades past to those of the OWS movement. But, are the models of black political mobilization from the 1950s and 1960s going to upset power, and create social and political change, in the Age of Obama?

5. Experience and vision. Black folks have seen this all before. We know that OWS ends with a whimper and not a bang. Thus, given the perils of the economy, a general sense of instability and political malaise, and a wisdom born of experience, many in the black community are getting ready for what comes two or three steps down the road. As Stacy Patton smartly alludes to, since black Americans have long known that the game is rigged, we are not at all surprised by the Great Recession and the new Gilded Age.

White Americans necessarily bought into a lie as they earned the wages of whiteness. Now, the emptiness of the bargain is exposed. White America simply does not have the political maturity, one born of experience and struggle, that is common to black and brown people in this country. Now they are waking up. Perhaps, White America should put on its critical thinking-political swaddling clothes all by itself? Hope may be born from this experience: White folks may not develop a Blues Sensibility, but maybe, just maybe, they can develop a whee bit of an ear for the sorrow songs.

6. A function of numbers. The percentage of a given population who participates in any type of organized political behavior is not large. The percentage of a given population who participates in political behavior that can be described as "civil disobedience" is rather minuscule. For example, social scientists suggest that the tipping point for an idea to become infectious and spread through a society is approximately 10 percent.Yes, just 10 percent.

By implication, allowing for the indifferent, most folks are free riders who assume that this rather numerically small number of voices speak for the mass public. Ultimately, OWS is comprised of a minority of the general population. To expect African Americans and other people of color to participate in mass--what is a minority of a minority--is unrealistic, and a false barometer for how "diverse" the OWS movement actually is.

7. A thought on strategy and realpolitik. Perhaps, OWS is best served by being a group comprised of the upset, momentarily disenfranchised, and alienated privileged classes? Given the deep linkages in the white popular imagination between black people and "unAmerican" political radicalism, perhaps OWS will be more effective precisely to the degree that it is perceived as speaking for the silent majority--a group that by definition excludes black Americans?

How do you explain the lack of diversity in the OWS movement? Or are these concerns based on a false premise, i.e. that OWS is in fact "diverse," but the media and the pundit classes are looking in the wrong places, invested in marginalizing the movement?

What hypotheses would you offer to explain the relative lack of participation by black people, other racial minorities, and the white poor, in OWS? How would you correct this dynamic?

Friday, November 25, 2011

What if Africa Conquered Europe?: Charles Mills Explains How Race is a Social Construct



As I did with Joel Olson, here is another thinker whose work I often discuss.

In my recent posts on Daily Kos (especially), and here on WARN (to a far lesser degree), some readers do not seem to get how race is a fiction, a true lie, a social construct, yet one that is nonetheless real. There is much emotion here--when we call out whiteness and the relationship between race and power, many people believe themselves to be experts because they "possess" a racial identity; this is far afield from having done the hard work and research necessary in order to develop expertise on such topics.

Those who study these questions for a living often get frustrated by how so many in the general public are unable (or unwilling) to grasp these basic priors. We have to do so much work to explain the very idea that power is real; then we have to explain how individuals are invested in social institutions and systems (such as race, gender, class, and sexuality); and finally, now exhausted, the work still has to be done to soothe hurt feelings and clarify how none of this is "personal."

In less than academic-speak I could care less about how people, White folks especially, feel about these basic matters. But inevitably, much energy is spent allowing for personal anecdotes, qualifiers, exclusions, and the "but not me" card, while still trying to explain how macro-level forces, more often than not, operate independent of individual and personal intent.

Ultimately, to correct that gap in understanding (an imperative often colored by a desire to reject the messenger in order to save one's pride, as well as a yearning to live in a cocoon of safe and warm denial), it is both useful and helpful to go to the original citation so to speak, those scholars who we make reference to, and channel, in making claims about race and politics. Expertise should not be based on magic tricks or subterfuge; our Lengua Franca ought to be made naked.

In all, Charles Mills is cool folks for a variety of reasons. First, he is one of the few black philosophers in the game, and he smartly locates race as central to political theory, as opposed to secondary to it. From the great book The Racial Contract, to The Contract and Domination, he is fearless. Plus, Mills has a British-Afro Caribbean accent. In my neck of the woods, he also gets extra points on the authority scale for such a persuasive and cool affect.

True, I am a ghetto nerd academic fanboy of Charles Mills. He is very nice and patient in person. I also find his dry humor, and sharp wit, disarming. Nevertheless, Mills has so much to offer on these matters.

There are a series of lectures with Dr. Mills now on Youtube. For anyone at all interested in a serious study of the relationship(s) between race, politics, and philosophy, these lectures are all worth watching.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Something You Should Read: Joel Olson Keeps On Winning With His Essay "Whiteness and the 99%"

Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. 
This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.
In my research and writing on the relationship(s) between race, power, inequality, and political culture, I often reference Joel Olson's concept of "white democracy." A complement to Joe Feagin's white racial frame, white democracy is a deceptively simple construct, with much explanatory power, and offers a theoretical lens that neatly groups together many other (seemingly disparate) findings.

Olson's piece on whiteness, the OWS movement, and white privilege is meme worthy, and as such, deserves as wide an audience as possible. "Whiteness and the 99 percent" is dispassionate; this is its strength. The essay is also wonderfully transparent as it grapples with white privilege, the Left, and liberal racism, in a way that is provocative, yet accessible.

As I am fond of saying, I don't have time to hold the hands of white folks and do any teaching about how they should get their house in order. Olson, as a member of the tribe, is imminently more patient and kind.

To that end, he smartly crystallizes the problem of white privilege and the OWS movement down to several key points.

Olson suggests that liberal colorblindness does the work of white privilege, and by implication, white supremacy. White democracy is real. The racial state is not an aberration in American history, rather it is the norm. Liberal colorblindness is given life through the white racial frame. This creates a "distorted white mindset" which sees the interests of people of color as "special" and "particular," while the interests of white folks are deemed "normal":
Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it. 
Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement. 
As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.
Olson's latter point is a neat reframing and statement of what critical race theorists and others have described as white/liberal "universalism," wherein the interests of whites (as the in-group) go uncommented upon and uninterrogated because they are a "given." Consequently, the interests of White people, and Whiteness more generally, are not framed in terms of race. The irony is rich: Whiteness and White people do of course have racialized group interests--American history is a testament to this fact--they simply do not name them as such.

Like Olson, I too have similar worries about OWS. I am happy to see organic efforts such as Occupy the Hood, and moves by local groups to make issues of identity and racialized power more central to the OWS agenda. Nevertheless, I remain concerned that white group interests, white experiences, white politics, white understandings of the good life, white history, white humanity, and white concerns, remain normalized by OWS.

To counter this tendency towards a de facto embrace of white privilege as the status quo ante, Olson concludes "Whiteness and the 99%" with a set of helpful questions which challenge the OWS movement to remove their White (and middle class) blinders. He suggests that OWS should:
Occupy everything, attack the white democracy 
While no pamphlet can capture everything a nationwide movement can or should do to undermine the white democracy and left colorblindness, below is a short list of questions people might consider asking in movement debates. These questions were developed from actual debates in occupations throughout the U.S.
  1. Do speakers urge us “get beyond” race? Are they defensive and dismissive of demands for racial justice?
  1. If speakers urge developing “close working relationships with the police,” do they consider how police terrorize Black, Latino, Native, and undocumented communities? Do they consider how police have attacked occupation encampments?
  1. If speakers urge us to hold banks accountable, do they encourage us to focus on redlining, predatory lending, and subprime mortgages, which have decimated Black and Latino neighborhoods?
  1. If speakers urge the cancellation of debts, do they mean for things like electric and heating bills as well as home mortgages and college loans?
  1. If speakers urge the halting of foreclosures, do they acknowledge that they take place primarily in segregated neighborhoods, and do they propose to start there?
  1. If speakers urge the creation of more jobs, do they acknowledge that many communities of color have already been in chronic “recessions” for decades, and do they propose to start from there?
These are challenging questions that could serve as powerful rubrics for decision-making and agenda setting. 
As is my habit, some questions in the interest of sharing:
For those on the front lines of the OWS movement, are Olson's suggestions being heeded? Would they be met with a positive response? Is OWS actively interrogating white privilege?
Or are the knee jerk, "it's about class and not race" ideologues, limiting the conversation, and enforcing their own version of political correctness which marginalizes the broader interests and concerns of black and brown people?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Wealth of Riches for Ghetto Nerds: David Brooks and Star Wars; The New England Patriots, the KC Rout, and Pro Wrestling


Just a little ghetto nerd vanity and sharing.

Esquire magazine has two fun pieces up today, they are are so cool in fact, that after reading them you utter to yourself "damn, I wish I had written that."

1. My New England Patriots opened a can of whoop ass and took the Kansas City Chiefs to Jabroni Drive on Monday Night Football (bonus points for you folks who watched the Rock do his thing, sans any ring rust, during Survivor Series on Sunday). Now, I will admit that I was nervous for a second, as the Chief's backup QB showed some heart and spark during the first quarter of play--unknown variables are always confounding to the game plan--but Brady and the Gronk-monster asserted their will to earn the never really in doubt win.

Esquire's Eric Gillin summed up the game in the following way:
If you're me, if you're from Boston, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant running wild on too many multi-vitamins. The belt is theirs for the taking. But at this point everyone else thinks they're "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, and everyone else is kinda right. The Patriots pull hair. They videotape practices. They give up 400 yards a game, and they don't even really care.
But Tyler Palko cares. 
The jobber completed five of his first six passes. Brady went one for five, including an intentional grounding. Palko drove for three, and Brady fumbled for a fourth straight game. At this point — and this was not very far in — even Ron Jaworski was enjoying it: "This Palko has been unbelievable so far!" Here was the backup, down just 10-3 in primetime, outplaying the MVP and ready to steal an injured veteran's job. Sounded enough like a former professional clipboard-holder out of Michigan to scare the wrestling out of me. 
Is Tyler Palko the second coming of Tom Brady? Of course not. But it was fun for a half hour.
In keeping with the pro-wrestling analogy, I guess Tyler Palko is the golden age of ECW's Mikey Whipwreck.


2. David Brooks is always good sport. On one hand, folks hate on him because he gets to write for the New York Times, go on TV, and they don't. Many also shake their head at Brooks' analyses because he has figured out the first rule of punditry: make big predictions, even outrageous ones, because the public never remembers when you are wrong.

Esquire's Charlies Pierce uses the mighty Star Wars saga, including some well-put allusions to the problematic Prequels, to goof on Brooks' latest essay on the Republican Party and the idea of a "political solar system":
The other day, I jokingly mentioned that David Brooks, soi-disant regent prince of the Island of Misfit Sociologists, gave every indication that he writes his columns from the moons of Neptune. Turns out, I was wrong. As is plain today, Brooks is a native of Tatooine. Not a sand person, surely, nor a vapor farmer, like the unfortunate Owen Lars. Probably not an habitue of the Mos Eisley cantina, either. ("I have the death sentence for boredom on five systems!") Just a guy writing columns for the local daily newspaper in which he explains to sand people, and the vapor farmers, and the derelicts at the bar that there simply is not enough moral consistency in them to make the place more livable, always neglecting to mention that the place is a desert largely because there is no fking water there.
Pierce goes Mandalorian on Brooks here, where he offers comments in bold on the latter's trite observations:
...used to contain serious internal debates — between moderate and conservative Republicans, between New Democrats and liberals. Neither party does now. 
(Yes, here on the planet we call... Earth, I have noticed that Barack Obama has received no criticism at all from within his own party, while the Republicans bristle with internal strife over whether Barack Obama is a socialist born in Kenya or a socialist born in Hawaii. Worse than the Clone Wars, that is.)
The Democrats talk and look like a conventional liberal party (some liberals, who represent, at most, 30 percent of the country, are disappointed because President Obama hasn't ushered in a Huffington Post paradise). 
(The Huffington Post Paradise is on Naboo, where Natalie Portman once tried to bury her career and where everything looks like an old Breck commercial. Arianna Binks provides the comic relief.)
It is worth your time to read Pierce's full piece just for the smile that comes from seeing the photoshopped graphic with David Brooks' head as one of the moons of Tatooine.

Do any of you have any fun finds worthy of ghetto nerd glee to share? Add to the pile if you so desire.

Colin Powell on the Quintessentially American Nature of the Occupy Wall Street Movement



Colin Powell is one of my favorite conservatives who happens to be black. A question: whatever happened to this type of reasonable, pragmatic, reflective, and problem-solving oriented Republican?

I like this interview because Powell hits on a point that is remarkably clear to all those observers who look at the Occupy Wall Street Movement with any type of reasonable and considerate eye. While Cain, Gingrich, and other mouth pieces of the Right-wing want to savage and caricaturize those Americans who "dare" to use free speech in order to call attention to gross disparities of financial, and political power, there is much to suggest that the OWS movement, despite some challenges, does indeed speak for the silent majority.

The OWS movement is remarkably centrist: they want to challenge the robber barons and plutocrats who have destroyed the economy for their own enrichment; they argue that we need to return to an economy that grows the middle class; they hold a belief that gross disparities of wealth and income inequality create social instability; and OWS wants to make certain the promise of a America where there will not be a permanent elite, and that the nation is to stop being one where inter-generational upward mobility is less than that of France.

In all, these are reasonable claims on citizenship, the polity, belonging, and justice.

However, because of the power of the Right-wing echo chamber to reframe reality, reinforce corporatism as being synonymous with the Common Good, and a public that is woefully ignorant of the United States' deep vein of populist resistance, these efforts are savaged as somehow outside of the American political tradition.

This Rightward shifting of the public discourse should be no surprise. It is the result of decades of maneuvering by conservatives to establish think tanks, position themselves in the media, and make neoliberalism a type of common sense gospel where market solutions, tax cuts for the rich, and now "austerity policies" which balance State and Federal budgets on the backs of the poor, are the de facto solutions for times of economic crisis.

Ironically, these policies are a reversal of causality, as they in fact created the Great Recession; consequently, thus, and in no way, can these same broken policies expedite us out from our present morass.

Thinking broadly on these questions, The Guardian UK has a great piece on the political possibilities symbolized by the Occupy Wall Street Movement that is well worth reading.

It follows here:

Anti-Capitalist? Too Simple. Occupy Can be the Catalyst for a Radical Rethink

The Occupy London movement is marking its first month this week. It is routinely described as anti-capitalist, but this label is highly misleading. As I found out when I gave a lecture at its Tent City University last weekend, many of its participants are not against capitalism. They just want it better regulated so that it benefits the greatest possible majority.

But even accepting that the label accurately describes some participants in the movement, what does being anti-capitalist actually mean?

Many Americans, for example, consider countries like France and Sweden to be socialist or anti-capitalist – yet, were their 19th-century ancestors able to time-travel to today, they would almost certainly have called today's US socialist. They would have been shocked to find that their beloved country had decided to punish industry and enterprise with a progressive income tax. To their horror, they would also see that children had been deprived of the freedom to work and adults "the liberty of working as long as [they] wished", as the US supreme court put it in1905 when ruling unconstitutional a New York state act limiting the working hours of bakers to 10 hours a day. What is capitalist, and thus anti-capitalist, it seems, depends on who you are.

Many institutions that most of us regard as the foundation stones of capitalism were not introduced until the mid-19th century, because they had been seen as undermining capitalism. Adam Smith opposed limited liability companies and Herbert Spencer objected to the central bank, both on the grounds that these institutions dulled market incentives by putting upper limits to investment risk. The same argument was made against the bankruptcy law.

Since the mid-19th century, many measures that were widely regarded as anti-capitalist when first introduced – such as the progressive income tax, the welfare state, child labour regulation and the eight-hour day – have become integral parts of capitalism today.

Capitalism has also evolved in very different ways across countries. They may all be capitalist in that they are predominantly run on the basis of private property and profit motives, but beyond that they are organised very differently.

In Japan interlocking share ownership among friendly enterprises, which once accounted for over 50% of all listed shares and still accounts for around 30%, makes hostile takeover very difficult. This has enabled Japanese companies to invest with a much longer time horizon than their British or American counterparts.

Japanese companies provide lifetime employment for their core workers (accounting for about a third of the workforce), thereby creating strong worker loyalty. They also give the workers a relatively large say in the management of the production process, thus tapping their creative powers. There are heavy regulations in the agricultural and retail sectors against large firms, which complement the weak welfare state by preserving small shops and farms.

German capitalism is as different from the American or British version as Japanese capitalism, but in other ways. Like Japan, Germany gives a relatively big input to workers in the running of a company, but in a collectivist way through the co-determination system, in which worker representation on the supervisory board allows them to have a say in key corporate matters (such as plant closure and takeovers), rather than giving a greater stake in the company to workers as individuals, as in the Japanese system.

Thus, while Japanese companies are protected from hostile takeovers by friendly companies (through interlocking shareholding), German companies are protected by their workers (through co-determination).

Even supposedly similar varieties of capitalism, for example Swedish and German, have important differences. German workers are represented through the co-determination system and through industry-level trade unions, while Swedish workers are represented by a centralised trade union (the Swedish Trade Union Confederation), which engages in centralised wage bargaining with the centralised employers' association (the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise).

Unlike in Germany, where concentrated corporate ownership has been deliberately destroyed, Sweden has arguably the most concentrated corporate ownership in the world. One family – the Wallenbergs – possesses controlling stakes (usually defined as over 20% of voting shares) in most of the key companies in the Swedish economy, including ABB, Ericsson, Electrolux, Saab, SEB and SKF. Some estimate that the Wallenberg companies produce a third of Swedish national output. Despite this, Sweden has built one of the most egalitarian societies in the world because of its large, and largely effective, welfare state.

And then there are hybrids that defy definition: China, with its large socialist legacy, is an obvious case, but Singapore is another, even more interesting, example. Singapore is usually touted as the model student of free-market capitalism, given its free-trade policy and welcoming attitude towards multinational companies. Yet in other ways it is a very socialist country. All land is owned by the government, 85% of housing is supplied by the government-owned housing corporation, and a staggering 22% of national output is produced by state-owned enterprises. (The international average is around 10%.) Would you say that Singapore is capitalist or socialist?

When it is so diverse, criticising capitalism is not very meaningful. What you have to change to improve the Swedish or the Japanese capitalist systems is very different from what you should do for the British one.

In Britain, as already physically identified by the Occupy movement, it is clear the key reforms should be made in the City of London. The fact that the Occupy movement does not have an agreed list of reforms should not be used as an excuse not to engage with it. I'm told there is an economics committee working on it and, more importantly, there are already many financial reform proposals floating around, often supported by very "establishment" figures like Adair Turner, the Financial Services Authority chairman, George Soros, the Open Society Foundations chairman, and Andy Haldane, the Bank of England's executive director for financial stability.

By labelling the Occupy movement "anti-capitalist", those who do not want reforms have been able to avoid the real debate. This has to stop. It is time we use the Occupy movement as the catalyst for a serious debate on alternative institutional arrangements that will make British (or for that matter, any other) capitalism better for the majority of people.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A History Too Personal: The Slave Master Forced Her to Drink A "Pint of Piss" as Punishment...



I have a colleague who is an astrophysicist. He is also the only African American in his laboratory, and is quite fond of joking that he is "free of all that identity and race stuff" because he studies the stars, dark matter, and black holes. Of course, race matters in his career path--the STEM fields can be none too kind to people of color and women--but he is spot on in the observation that his work isn't "personal" to him in the same way that research and teaching can be to many folks who are in fields related to gender, race, sexuality, or other matters of identity and power.

Sometimes, one's research can take them to a dark place where critical distance is upset and disqualified. For example, I have read about professionals who study genocide, and the problem of evil, who were quite literally consumed by the darkness of their work. Sadly, the great Iris Chang is one of those people. I was/am also friends with someone who could not escape the demons of his own research on the relationship between genocide and ontology--and took his own life as a result.

At present, my "fun" reading is the The Ruling Race by James Oakes, a classic text on chattel slavery in the United States. Oakes is a master historian, and this work does much to get beyond a narrow and simple depiction of white elites in the South's Slaveocracy. Oakes goes beyond if they were "good" or "bad" people (most certainly many were more of the latter than the former), by highlighting how white slaveowners rationalized that "the peculiar institution" was a cultural, economic, political, and in many cases, religious and moral imperative.

There are sections of The Ruling Race that are just too personal to me; I can certainly reconcile and contextual Oakes' work within a broader literature on Southern slave systems, but I could never do so much, making a living by looking at original source materials where folks like me, my kin and people, are routinely debased, objectified, and subject to gross cruelty.

I do not have the emotional or mental discipline. I hold those who do in the utmost of respect, and with the highest regard.

In the interest of sharing found bits of knowledge, as I often do, here is a particularly potent passage from Oakes' compelling work:

William Pitman shocked even his family when he came home in a drunken rage one night and tied up a young slave by the neck and heels, beat the boy with a vine, and then "stomped him to death." Pitman's children testified against their father, and one newspaper editor declared that the convicted murderer had "justly incurred the penalties of law."

Yet the open condemnation of extreme cruelty standsin contrast to the pervasive silence on the widespread use of harsh physical punishment. Even the best masters accepted whipping as essential to the maintenance of discipline. When William Dunbar found one of his slaves drunk, he had the bondsman "confined to the Bastile." The following day Dunbar "ordered him 500 lashes...in order to draw a Confession from him." The slave acknowledged his misdeed and was promptly chained about the ankles. After several days, Dunbar had the irons "taken off, his leg being swelled, as I intend carrying him up to Point Coupee, where I shall see him if I find an opportunity." Dunbar skillfully employed public punishment in an effort to terrorize all of his slaves. At one point he "ordered the Wench Bessy out of Irons, & to receive 25 lashes with a Cow Skin as a punishment & Example to the rest."

It did not take much provocation for William Byrd to raise the lash. He whipped slaves for not reporting their illnesses, for "laziness," for wetting the bed, for "doing nothing." Byrd branded one slave with a hot iron and put a bit in her mouth. He forced another to take "a pint of piss to drink." That Byrd does to appear to have been a particularly cruel master reinforces the conclusion that physical abuse was not an aberration, but rather a hallmark of slavery. As such, it contributed to the dehumanization of the slaves in the masters' eyes.

Such cruelty followed logically from the nearly universal goal of the slaveholders--material advancement.