Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I try to engage in a bit of critical self-reflection whenever possible.
Gene Marks' exercise in white privilege and Internet trolling has been thoroughly demolished for its lazy thinking, arrogance, and deficit of empathy. But, in reading all of the rebuttals to the essay, I have been forced to ask myself a hard question: while it is easy to throw rocks at the town jester for his foibles, are those who are taking Gene Marks to the woodshed any better than he?
For example, I always try to reach out to first generation, low income students once they are in my classes. I have also devoted considerable professional time to grant funded programs which are tasked with improving the post-secondary and graduate school enrollment rates for first generation, low income, and under-represented students. But, is that enough?
The documentary Ebony Towers is a helpful entry point for this conversation. It deftly highlights the struggles to racially integrate colleges and universities in both the U.K. and the United States. While Ebony Towers does not sufficiently play up the role of organizations like the Ford Foundation in establishing Black Studies (a move that was part of a broader plan to deradicalize the remnants of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s), it is however quite sharp in highlighting how access to education has historically been a political act for black Americans.
While "Blackademics" and others are hating on Gene Marks for his piss poor article, what are they/we doing to improve the educational and professional opportunities for poor people of color in this country?
Yes, looking in the mirror can be hard; but, it ought not to be avoided for that reason.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
If I Were a Short, Balding, Mediocre White Man I Would Write an Advice Column For Poor Black Kids in Forbes Magazine
The President’s speech got me thinking. My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city. My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder. This is a fact. In 2011.Forbes magazine has posted a column by Gene Marks, a middle aged white guy, who wants to give advice to poor black kids about how to be successful in America. Of course, these young black kids read Forbes everyday and will internalize his wisdom. There is no poverty porn, noblesse oblige, white paternalism, compassionate conservative masturbation, navel gazing at work here. No. None at all.
Folks are all over his butt already. In fact, Gene Marks is about to become more popular than he has any right to be, both with the conservative, "blacks have bad culture crowd" (who will hold him up as a brave truth teller), and the anti-racist lecture circuit crowd (who is going to use his essay in Forbes as an object lesson in white privilege for years and years to come).
And like flies on shit, black conservative apologists will soon start hovering over Marks' essay as they instinctively rise to defend any assault on either people of color, or the black poor, by the white conservative establishment. Black conservatives are on retainer and are obligated to shuck, buck dance, and jive to earn their keep. Their appearance is imminent.
I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.It is difficult to imagine oneself in the shoes of another person. Empathy and sympathy are difficult traits to practice even under the best of circumstances. I also do not know what Gene Marks' intentions were in writing his Forbes' essay. However, I am mighty curious about the intentions of Forbes' editors in publishing such a problematic piece of work.
It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available. Like technology. As a person who sells and has worked with technology all my life I also know this.
If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities...
Marks is likely a "nice" guy who is so awash in white privilege, class entitlement, and sexism (remember, discourses on poverty are almost always about both race and gender) that it is impossible for him to really imagine himself as the Other; yet, he is so arrogant that he imagines himself capable of understanding all people's experiences, at all times, and in all places. This is the crux of White privilege--a sense of gross universality and normativity, a racial heliocentrism that allows a white person to generalize outward with authority on all things.
If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code. I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online. I would study on my own. I would make sure my writing and communication skills stay polished.Predictably, Whiteness will also make Gene Marks into a victim, as "he is just trying to be helpful" and "how dare those liberals and race pimps tell him that he is wrong!"
Because a poor black kid who gets good grades, has a part time job and becomes proficient with a technical skill will go to college. There is financial aid available. There are programs available. And no matter what he or she majors in that person will have opportunities. They will find jobs in a country of business owners like me who are starved for smart, skilled people. They will succeed.
Two truisms apply here. One, you should write what you know. As revealed by his Forbes' essay, Gene Marks does not know anything of the experiences of poor black and brown kids in inner city America. He has no access to their internal lives, his article also suggests a blinding ignorance of the realities of structural inequality in this country. Two, a fish does not know that it is wet. Despite his lip service to the concept, Marks does not really imagine himself as privileged (as he would have not written such a piece, in the manner that he so chose), or that the life experiences of a self-described mediocre technocrat, one who somehow found himself a columnist for Forbes and the NY Times, are in any way exceptional or unique.
As we saw with Newt Gingrich's ugly suggestions that poor kids should become janitors in order to teach those lazy blacks about the value of hard work, and Rush Limbaugh's observation that poor kids on school lunch programs are greedy street urchins, Marks is a singer in a conservative chorus whose message is simple: you are poor because you are lazy; moreover, poor people want to be poor; poor black kids born to crappy circumstances can do better if they just tried harder...and are smart enough to show some initiative.
President Obama was right in his speech last week. The division between rich and poor is a national problem. But the biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality. It’s ignorance.I do wonder what Gene Mark's advice would be to lazy, dim, anti-intellectual, and entitled white kids (and those of the upper classes more generally) who were born on the 3rd base of life and think they hit a home run? Would his advice be the same for the white rural poor? What would Gene Marks tell the "new poor," those formerly middle class suburban types who are couch surfing, living in cars, tents, or hotels? What wisdom does he have to preach from on high?
Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids. Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.
Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. Yes, there is much inequality. But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.I will let Gene Mark's closing comments stand on their own: they are ugly poetry in motion.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Where Silence Has Lease: "Massa" Rush Limbaugh Wants Black Politicians to Be Sure to Have Their Slave Passes
I wonder if the Right-wing populists who fawn over Rush Limbaugh would find such references so funny if they could actually see a slave pass with their own eyes, or read some of the actual handwriting that attempted to reduce grown adults into children, human property who were limited in the most basic exercise of their rights?
White populist conservatives would probably sneer and reverse this truth-seeking into some twisted claim of "white victimology," and "angry black people," who are "unfair" and "emotional." In fact, there are likely many conservatives, who in another decade would fancy themselves owners of human property, kings of the plantation, where the darkies knew their place, and everything was a Neo-Confederate, Southern GOP, Tea Party wet dream.
Their love of such abuses of history aside does not mean that we ought not to confront conservatives about their fictions at every opportunity, to hold them accountable.
Where is the outrage? My people, my black folks, or are you so tired, the calluses so deep, that you have forgotten how to be upset?
And some wonder, why in America, conservatism and racism are one in the same.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Your shuttle is ready Lord Vader.
By implication, what follows is an uncomfortable question for some.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Kick in the Door: Republicans Should "Ask Osama bin Laden" if Obama's Foreign Policy is Based on "Appeasement"
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
With Dignity Former Slaves Speak Across Time and the NY Times Recycles the Myth of the Black Confederate Soldier
“My name is Fountain Hughes … My grandfather belonged to Thomas Jefferson.” Hughes then begins a wily standoff with his white interviewer, Hermond Norwood, digressing into his opinions about babies wearing shoes (-22:00) and buying things “on time [credit],” decrying the Yankees throwing flour into the river (-11:10) and, finally, declaring he would shoot himself rather than go back to slavery, where “you are nothing but a dog.” (-10:00)
There are some great nuggets here: the fights over memory and representation; the Dixiecrats hold over the WPA and its various artistic and historical projects; the fears of now freed people of suffering retaliation from whites in the Jim Crow South if their stories about the evil ways of white folks were too honest; and how the very idea of "documentary" projects were part of a broader populist turn towards everyday people--as opposed to "great" men and women--and the importance of their life stories and experiences to understanding the grand American narrative.
However, some slaves’ disapproval of the Northern army was genuine. Ward writes of “astonishing empathy” for masters and mistresses and documents touching and deeply humane instances of slaves acting beyond the constraints of bondage, like carrying their masters’ bodies over long distances to be buried at home. Furthermore, in the immediate human context of war, slaves’ interests overlapped with those of slaveholders; they wanted to protect food and livestock from incoming troops not only because they had been ordered to, but because their own sustenance was at stake.
Not to mention the fact that, however cruel and twisted, intimate family bonds existed between black and white throughout the South. Adam Goodheart points out that at the dawn of the war, mixed-race slaves were more likely to join the Confederate effort (technically, the Confederacy never accepted them as enlisted troops but gladly put them to work): ”Human nature is a complicated thing.”
Harriet Smith’s soft, melodic voice conjures up the image of her as a girl, sitting atop a white fence watching the troops go by, surprised by the sight of “colored soldiers in droves,” and filled with wonder when a black orphan girl neighbor (who had had her arm cut off while operating a molasses mill) ran off with one of them. (-:55) (Part 2 of 4, -4:00) Approximately 300,000 black men would serve in the Union army (and thousands would also join the Confederate effort, including Fountain Hughes’s father, who was killed at Gettysburg) but the sight was particularly shocking to all Southerners in the early days of the war.
How much weight do we give to inconvenient facts that stand outside and apart from the consensus on a topic, of the narrative generated by the other data points? Ideal typical cases are handy; there is also much to be learned by those which do not neatly fit into our existing models. Yes, there were a few African Americans who held other black folks as slaves in the South. But, what does this tell us about the institution as a whole? Sure, there may have been a few Blacks, who for their own reasons, tried to find a way to join the Confederate Army. But what does that tell us about the totality of the Civil War, a struggle to defend white supremacy and human bondage as a way of life?
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
The Final Herman Cain Round-Up: the Race Minstrel Meme; Cain as Affirmative Action Baby; Ishmael and Crouch Go Hard
Cecil Peterson had no history with the police. Even on the day the white stranger insulted his mother, Peterson simply wanted to eat lunch. He sat in his usual seat at the counter of the diner on Woodward Street and ordered his usual BLT and coffee. Somehow he caught the stranger’s eye in the squinted way that begets immediate conflict between men. The stranger glared. Peterson was not one to walk away from confrontation, but he knew the implications of glaring back. One should not glare back at a white man. So he looked down. But the two men crossed paths again after Peterson paid his tab and walked outside. And then came the remark. And then came the fight.
Two white Detroit police officers happened to be passing by the diner that September day in 1966. They ran to the altercation and tried to separate the combatants. At that point, according to their formal report, Peterson turned on the officers and struck them “without provocation.” According to the report, Peterson knocked one officer down and “kicked him in the side.” A second police team arrived and assisted in apprehending the “agitated” Mr. Peterson. Medics took the first officers on the scene to the Wayne County Hospital emergency room. The ER physician’s report noted that both officers had “bruises,” though neither required treatment. The white stranger was not charged.
Peterson was twenty-nine, African American, and an unmarried father of four who worked the line at Cadillac Motor Company. He had not previously come to the attention of the state. He had not been diagnosed or treated for any physical or mental illness. Nor had he been held for crimes or misdemeanors. He had limited interactions with white people and preferred to stay close to home. But on that September day in 1966 his life changed along with his identity. He became a prisoner. And then he became a patient.
Either way, Metzl's work is great, and his interview is well worth the listen.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Goodbye Herman Cain. You will be missed.
Unable to weather repeated charges of sexual harassment and infidelity, the Herman Cain train has finally gone off the tracks. Yet, even by the unique and unconventional standards of the 2012 Republican presidential primary field, Herman Cain was a spectacle—and one with a unique advantage.
I signaled to Herman Cain’s potential in February 2011 in a controversial essay on the online magazine Alternet, where after his break-out speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, I described it as a race minstrel-like performance. There, with everything but blackface cork, Cain channeled his dead black grand pappy with a semi-literate Southern drawl, told white folks that racism is a fiction (and that they are in fact the real victims of bigotry in the Age of Obama), and validated a belief that black people like Herman Cain—those who don’t complain, make trouble, or participate in the Civil Rights Movement—are the way forward.
In total, Herman Cain was a fantasy projection and type of racism shield, an Anti-Obama, who could soothe the anxieties of racially resentful white conservatives. While Cain’s shtick did not rise to the level of comedian David Chappelle’s character Clayton Bigsby, black white supremacist; it was, in many ways, a genius performance. He was Sarah Palin mated with the Boondocks’ Uncle Ruckus.
At the time, I was widely criticized for daring to suggest that Herman Cain was channeling such an offensive stereotype. My analysis proved prescient. In time, other observers either borrowed the meme, or were clearly inspired by it.
Unfortunately, many of those who ran with my suggestion that Herman Cain was performing as a race minstrel for the pleasures of his white conservative public, did not understand the depth of the claim. I was not trying to engage in name calling, or to get a snicker from the public, by calling attention to Herman Cain’s racially infused Tomfoolery. Rather, my deeper point was that Herman Cain’s race minstrel performance was a carefully crafted means towards an end.
Herman Cain was the mouthpiece for the unrepentant id of the New Right. He could advocate for the most extreme aspects of their ideology behind a mask of black incompetence, and “down home” mannerisms, that could potentially protect him from criticism. In addition, conservatives could deploy the race card at will to defend their chosen son: Herman Cain was a black cheerleader who could advance some of their most onerous and extreme policy positions.
The Herman Cain New Age Race Minstrel Show ended in the only way that it could. In keeping with the routine, Cain was brought down by his own arrogance and narcissism. He had grand plans and schemes that he could not fulfill. Because the race minstrel was a white supremacist fantasy that embodied fears about African Americans’ citizenship and freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War, he was a bumbling fool, and an incompetent who was not fit for democracy. And of course, the race minstrel lacked impulse control. His libido and craven pursuit of white women—what was an unattainable prize—would be his ultimate undoing.
From his willful embrace of ignorance on matters of foreign policy, a “9-9-9” tax policy cobbled together by secret advisers (and likely borrowed from a videogame), dreams of electrified fences and moats to kill “illegal” immigrants, rampant and almost cartoon-like levels of Islamophobia and Christian nationalism, “whistling Dixie” demagoguing of blacks who are not Republicans as being “on a plantation,” and of course his purported propensity for sexual harassment and adulterous behavior, Herman Cain played the role of race minstrel for the Tea Party GOP with aplomb and zest.
In all, the Herman Cain candidacy was a thing of ugly beauty. Cain began his presidential primary run with the priceless and under-used phrase “awww...shucky ducky,” seasoned it with a spiritual sung at the National Press Club, and offered a funereal oratory for his campaign that concluded with a quote from the Pokemon cartoon series.
Herman Cain caught lightning in a bottle. He combined the worst aspects of Tyler Perry’s various TV and film exercises in black buffoonery, the denigrating humor of Amos ‘N Andy, and the tropes of 19th century race minstrelsy into one show. While some observers will try to divine some deep and symbolic meaning about race in the Age of Obama from Herman Cain’s brief and shining moment in the 2012 Republican primaries, the lesson here, is in fact, more basic. Give people what they want. In this case, the white populists in the Republican Party wanted a black man who told them that they are not racists, Jim Crow wasn’t that bad, and “our” blacks are better than “those other” blacks who happen to be Democrats.
Herman Cain, master of the racial authenticity game, fashioned himself as “a real black man” as compared to President Barack Obama. He reminded his audience of this “fact” at every opportunity. They lapped it up. Sadly for Herman Cain, just as Michael Steele and other black conservatives learned long ago, the love and affection of the White Right is instrumental, and the devotion to their mascots is temporary, with a limited shelf-life.
As of Saturday, Herman Cain was barely the flavor of the month. Black Walnut has melted; Cornbread is now stale; it is time to go home…or perhaps begin a second career as a traveling bluesman and motivational speaker, for Herman Cain’s unlikely saga as a 2012 Republican presidential primary candidate has yielded more than enough material to last a lifetime.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
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.
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.
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."
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.
As an alternative, I would rather listen to Ol' Dirty Bastard reflect about the ladies and their stinky, sexy, feet: