Sunday, December 25, 2011
Merry Christmas To You All: Enjoy Some Brother James Brown in Concert as Your Gift Giving, Gift Opening, Holiday Soundtrack
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Forget Braveheart, The Tea Party GOP Should Find Inspiration from The History of the World or Land of the Dead
I wonder if the Republicans in Congress also enjoy playing Darkon?
You can't make this stuff up. In a headline straight out of the Onion, the Republicans in Congress apparently watched the movie Braveheart in order to get the testosterone all hot and bubbling before their vote to deny the American people much needed tax cuts and unemployment insurance for next year.
When I was a kid, my friends and I would pretend to be the main characters in movies such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Rambo, Terminator, Legend, Flash Gordon, or Red Dawn. It was great fun. While we had to improvise and find roles for black and brown people like me, somehow it all worked out.
To paraphrase Conan the Barbarian, those are the things that are best in life.
But, for all of the inspiration that those movies offered me, I never, for once, believed that they were real. Cinema Paradiso: I was playing a role and enjoying a moment of dreaming and detachment.
As they stall, delay, and ruin the holidays for millions of Americans, the Tea Party GOP have not learned that lesson. In a gross misunderstanding of the actual history mirrored by Braveheart, the Republican Party, a club of millionaires, has apparently taken to watching movies in order to get the courage to deny the unemployed the means to eat.
In this postmodern moment gone wrong, the Tea Party GOP are heroes; those dastardly folks who want to help the middle classes, in a time when the plutocrats have free reign, are enemies of "democracy" and "freedom."
I am a student of the politics of popular culture. As such, I always return to a foundational concept. In these conversations, "culture" matters. Culture resonates because it helps to create a sense of community, belonging, identity, membership, and affirmation for those who channel, reproduce, and participate in it.
To point, what does their choice of Braveheart as inspirational fare (and also the second rate, Heat wannabe movie, The Town), reveal about the Tea Party GOP?
I am also struck by the Tea Party GOP's borrowing of white ethnic identity in order to make their political points. Braveheart's Scots-Irish were the original White Trash in the United States who earned their "White" identity by owning black people as property. Doubling down, the Irish Southies, and Roxbury types in The Town, are a 19th and 20th century ideal-typical example of White Trash America.
In all, the Tea Party GOP's channeling of that type of Whiteness (as "authentic" American "New Ethnic" identity)--with its deep hostility to black and brown people--reveals a great deal about their mining of the politics of racial resentment in order to destroy Barack Obama's presidency.
The popular culture game is a fun one. The Tea Party GOP's love of Braveheart is misplaced because of their failure to understand what the text is offering them: ironically, Braveheart stands against the ugly politics of the The Tea Party GOP, and not in support of it.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
A Nation of Men and Not Laws: Historicizing the Ugliness of Newt Gingrich's Plan to Arrest "Uncooperative" Judges
Newt Gingrich is an existentially ugly person. He cheats on women, who are unconscious, laying in a coma. Gingrich loves to get his mic checked, some brain, hot mouth, fellatio, kissing the bishop, from his mistresses because that is "not cheating." It is okay, Gingrich's Catholic faith has saved him from any moral condemnation or consequences for his ejaculatory improprieties. And of course, patriotism made Gingrich, he who is the "political bukkake king," share his hot love juice all over town.
He suggests that black people are lazy, and their kids ought to pick up brooms and mops to learn the value of "hard work." He rewrites history on a whim. Most recently,the Tea Party GOP front-runner is arguing that he would arrest "uncooperative" judges who do not kowtow to the Conservative, Right-wing agenda.
The Constitution cries again. For folks who wrap themselves in the holy robes of the Constitution at every opportunity, Gingrich, and his party of Tea Party GOP ghouls, certainly do rape her every chance they get.
Werner Herzog's Bear, historian, big booty mack daddy, Germanist, and expert opinionator, who is not coincidentally one of WARN's favorite guest commentators, sent this great essay along for your consideration.
Werner is on point again as he locates Gingrich's assault on federalism within its proper historical context.
Good stuff for the holidays.
Germany’s admirably successful post-1945 democracy was founded as and has remained a Rechtstaat, something Germany had not been except for the sadly aborted Weimar Republic. Germany’s tragic history under those who did not respect the rule of law, be it the Kaiser, Hitler, or the Communist party (in the case of the former East) proved the perils of a government that failed to aspire to be a Rechtstaat.
That aspiration is fundamental to a functioning democracy, something that used to be better understood in this country. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine’s (the real one, not the Glenn Beck version) call for American independence, he savagely attacked the institution of monarchy for its tendency towards tyranny. Conversely, he wrote, “In America, the law is king.” Paine wasn’t using the term Rechstaat, but that’s exactly what he was talking about. For him, monarchy tended towards tyranny because monarchs refused to accept checks on their power; they wished to transform their own personal prerogatives into de facto law, any other limits on their power be damned.
This is where Gingrich comes in. He seems to ignore the idea of the rule of law when it comes to the authority of the judiciary. Instead of it being an equal branch of government with the executive and legislative branches, he claims that those two branches can agree to ignore the decisions of the Supreme Court. In essence, he is saying that if he is president and has a Republican Congress, he will simply intimidate the courts into rubber stamping his agenda.
When he made his outrageous statements, Gingrich tried to support them by saying that the courts should not be allowed to countermand the will of the people. That sounds all well and good, until you remember that the courts have long been a bulwark against the tyranny of the majority. Many of the great legal advances in the cause of equal rights in this country have been undertaken by courts who overturned prejudicial laws with majority support. A majority of Southern states would have voted to retain segregated education and bans on mixed marriages at the time of the Brown and Loving decisions, but majority support for the disrespect of a minority’s rights is still unconstitutional and injust, no matter how many people would vote for it.
We do not have the courts to protect the rights of majorities, since their political power in a democracy keeps them safe, yet in Gingrich’s conception, the right of the majority to discriminate, oppress, and mistreat minorities ought to be untrammeled. Make no mistake, that is the real subtext of what Gingrich is saying. The founding political generation of this nation, for all their faults and hypocrisies, had a healthy vigilance of tyranny and despotism, the very things Gingrich’s statements smell like.
Yet this begs a crucial question, namely, how can Gingrich and his ilk advocate a tyrannical abrogation of the judiciary and still claim to uphold the Constitution and the historical legacy of the founders? The answer is simple: Newt and his followers treat the Constitution and the historical record in ways akin to how fundamentalist Christians interpret scripture. Most fundamentalists do not get their beliefs from scripture, rather, they pick and choose scriptural references (often out of context) to prove their preconceived beliefs.
For example, the Gospel of Wealth crowd simply ignores the numerous calls by Jesus to eschew riches and live a life of poverty, but will read and evangelize an entire book based on the obscure Prayer of Jabez from Chronicles because it asks God for riches. The Rick Perry types just love to pray in public, even though Jesus specifically tells his disciples that only hypocrites do so. A hundred years ago the Bible thumpers called for liquor to banned, despite the fact that Jesus used his miraculous powers to transform water into wine.
In regards to the Constitution, the Tea Party crowd loves to talk about the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which says that powers not given to the federal government belong to the states, but have almost zero understanding of what powers the federal government does have. They are searching for something that tells them “states rights,” they have found it, and they will never see it as part of a much larger and more complicated Constitution.
The same goes for the historical record. Gingrich likes to call himself a historian, but instead he is more of a historical theologian. Historians try to understand the past on its own terms, Gingrich, like a good fundamentalist, sees history as a vast orchard to be cherry picked for isolated events to uphold his philosophy. Hence his use of Thomas Jefferson’s firing of judges over two hundred years ago as precedent for his proposal to abolish the Ninth Circuit Court.
Just like the religious fundamentalists who take passages from scripture and divorce them of their context, Gingrich does not ask how Jefferson’s decision fits with larger legal and historical precedents, or even the context in which he made his decision. Here’s the context: in the last days of his political enemy and presidential predecessor John Adams’ presidency, Adams appointed several new judges at the last minute (the so called “midnight judges.”)
This was a pretty obvious attempt by Adams to put a Federalist stamp on the government even after he was gone, and so Jefferson was in fact responding to an act political malfeasance, not simply getting retribution on an established court, as Gingrich would like to do. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the midnight judges controversy and Jefferson’s attacks on the judiciary (he tried to have Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase impeached and removed from office) the concept of judicial review, as laid down by the great Chief Justice John Marshall in the famous Marbury v. Madison case, took hold.
To put it more simply, the historical example Gingrich tries to use to justify his quest to remove judges actually shows how such actions were rejected over two hundred years ago, with two centuries of precedent to support the opposite of Gingrich’s opinion. If Newt were a real historian, who understood history as a process rather than a series of isolated, unrelated events, he might actually know that.
In sum, we have a situation where people like Gingrich, who proclaim their love for the Constitution, are those most likely to rip it to shreds because they revere it as holy writ that substantiates their faith, rather than a living, breathing legal document. It is time that more historians and legal experts sound the alarm, because Gingrich and his ilk would have a Rechtstaat where “the law is king” transformed into a state governed by an extremist political theology ready to destroy any legal or Constitutional checks that stand in its way.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Time to start our Monday with a mea culpa of sorts.
I missed a great conversation in the comments section a week or so ago. I would like to remedy that oversight.
As readers of WARN know, I bump comments up from time to time when the moment so merits. The following conversation about race, identity, and marriage that came following my post on James Earl Jones and "black racism," is very revealing.
A truism: talking across the colorline is difficult. Dialogue online is hard regarding most matters. Dialogue, when one cannot hear the tone of each other's voices, is even more plagued with challenges and shortcomings.
In this example, I will assume good intentions and honesty by all parties involved. Question: are the problematics surrounding "colorblindness" vs. "color consciousness" (and interracial "relationships"), really that great?
Here on WARN, I let folks do their own thing. We are a small and intimate group, and as such, I am not one to play the mean moderator, banning folks, or overly censoring comments. I like to allow people to fight it out when need be.
But damn, I totally missed this one. Too much Christmas shopping, writing, meditating, and being a sexy beast. I am only human. Consequently, I do apologize to you all.
There could something really wicked in the conversation that follows; alternatively, this could simply be folks of good intentions who are walking different paths, and yet, going towards the same goal(s). In all, much to do about nothing.
Let's do the forensics together.
As always, you make the call.
As a white man married to a beautiful black woman I am proud to say I have prodcued four beautiful black daughters but here's the rub --- they have been the victims of Racism by darker skinned blacks alll their lives. I was so excited to meet my black wife and marry her. We planned to raise our kids as black. We went to all the cultural festivals in town and even celebrated Kwanza instead of Christmas. I found myself leaving as much as my irish german catholic upbringing behind as I tried to make sure my wifes black culture was upheld. As soon as the girls got into school the name callinng began- "you look white, you talk white, etc. " Soon we found ourselves moving the girls to private school. Their grades shot up but they found themselves with mostly upper middle class and rich white friends. When the dating began my girls would come home reporting how the black boys were saying "You will make pretty babies someday'there was also constant pressure to have sex. My girls were being treated like sexual objects by there own race. I was angry. I had always wanted them to find black men to marry.
In any case moving to current times my daughter just finished Dartmouth recently. She told us on one trip home she had found the man she was going to marry. When we went up there to meet him not only did I discover that he was White but English at that. He asked me for "her hand" which was very touching to me as a dad. I suppose as an academic I am still a romantic. I took out that time to ask him why my daughter. He said she was increadibly beautiful inside and out but then he went on to name the qualities any man would want in a wife, elegant, carried herself well, educated, frugal with spending and an increadible cook.
I credit that to my wife's mother from South Carolina teaching the girls Low Country Cooking when we would go down there in early summers. He loves and values her as a human not a sexual object. He does not have the hatred I see in so many of her own race mostly darker skinned. The wedding is this weekend my wife sits at our other home computer as I write this putting finishing touches on things. His parents arrive from England in two days. We all plan to be in London for the Olympics guests at our new inlaws home. My beautiful mixed race daughter has done me a man born of immigrant irish and german parents the first n his family to get a degree and graduate degree- real proud. I only wish memebers of the black race could value there own.
Maybe the next daughter will find a good black guy but I don't have my hopes up.I agree that the worst racism is in the race but I see it both ways I see dark skinned blacks as just as cruel , angry and vengeful as others. When my daughter moves to France with her husband (he has accepted a position there) I hope they will find a more balanced society.
Oh Crap rebutted:
Maybe the next daughter will find a good black guy but I don't have my hopes up.
Uh-huh. Your daughters are too good for Black men, and instead should end up with an impregnator/fetishizer like yourself. Right? What if they don't even like men? Who, then, smart feller?
And yet, you whimper and complain about "racism" from all us evil negroes.
You and whites like you are not only part of the problem, your whites-first mentality is foundational to the problem.
If you're ever in doubt why white supremacist impregnators o black women like yourself will never be trusted by us, just look over your post to see what it reveals about your attitude towards us.
Like all white supremacist bigots, you kid yourself that we're too dumb to perceive what is blindingly obvious.
Thrasher chimed in:
Thank you once again for your posts one wonders if anon black wife knows her hubby is a racist? I wish I could email her his comments and she could observe the bigoted who impregnated her...WTF
Friday, December 16, 2011
Help a brother out.
We have a rich and varied audience here. For me, part of the fun of We Are Respectable Negroes are the random folks that chime in from time to time (I learn much from you all, and the many lurkers here should certainly make themselves known too), and the range of readers that stop by the site on a daily basis.
If you are a professional writer you likely have many essays, short stories, novels, novellas, and the like that will never see the light of day. It is not all that different for those in higher ed who have to write articles, books, and reviews, as part of their professional obligations. Like the former, there are occasions where chapters and articles end up in the circular file.
It is a Friday. This is a day to indulge. To point: I have a chapter from a book project that was killed at the last moment by the publisher. Here, I explore questions of black masculinity in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, as well as their overlaps, tensions, and what they suggest about race in science fiction, and speculative fiction, more broadly.
Some of the sections include: "The Birth of the Cool: Star Wars, Mace Windu, and Lando Calrissian"; "The Cool of Star Wars vs. the Sterility of Star Trek"; and "Confessions of a Star Wars Baby."
I was looking through my files and this project lept out at me. Usually, you look at an article or chapter that was thrown down the memory hole, and say to yourself, "good riddance" (at least I do). But, this chapter is different. There is something here that should see the light of day; Following an instinct, I will throw it out to the universe for judgement (acceptance or rejection).
Academics, friends, countrymen, and others, if you know someone working on a book project where this could be of use (written in a tone suitable for an interested lay public as per the editors' request), please forward this one passage, a few paragraphs of the obligatory 25 or so pages, along. I will forward my vita and the full chapter once business, and identities, are confirmed.
Perhaps, all parties involved will find a mutually advantageous and beneficial resolution to a shared conundrum.
Ghetto nerds, please share your thoughts.
In total, Jar Jar became a symbol of the latent racism present in George Lucas’s subconscious. When placed into the context of the other “racist” depictions in Star Wars, the jury seemed to be in: instead of being a harmless space opera, Star Wars was in reality a thinly veiled racist trope. My point here is not to arbitrate this claim (although I do believe that this charge lacks a deeper appreciation of Star Wars as a cultural text), but to reflect on how the Jar Jar Binks controversy illuminates the question of soul in some surprising ways.
Jar Jar Binks represents the antithesis of soul. Although, he is a cgi character “performed” by the talented Broadway actor Ahmed Best, Jar Jar’s energy humbles and lampoons black personhood. Here, he is a bumbling, “Jamaican” inspired “Patois” speaking alien who is dangerously close to the stock race minstrel character Stepin Fetchit.
The question of Lucas’s intentionality is moot: instead, of primary importance is how Jar Jar Binks represents a character archetype, that from at least the 19th century in the United States, onward, was specifically designed to demean the personhood of African Americans as being lazy, bumbling, incompetent, and not fit for democratic citizenship.
In contrast, Star Trek’s Commander Benjamin Sisko stands strong against these forces. This burden is a heavy one, precisely because of how the dominant script for representing black personhood in mass, popular culture, is so negative. As a qualifier, my claim here is a careful one. I am not arguing that Sisko is a response to Jar Jar Binks--as the two characters do not exist concurrently with one another (Deep Space Nine first aired several years before The Phantom Menace). What I am suggesting is that Commander Sisko exists in juxtaposition to Jar Jar Binks. Furthermore, Jar Jar Binks represents the types of cultural representations of African Americans which Avery Brooks, as Commander Sisko, is actively working to negate.
There were many responsibilities thrust upon Benjamin Sisko. As the principle character, and heroic protagonist, this was not unexpected. Moreover, the weight of the Sisko character was in many ways necessary for the narrative to “work.” But, even as judged against the lofty standards of leadership expected from Star Trek’s captains, Sisko’s responsibilities were outsized and exceptional.
He was a single parent raising his only son on a space station in an extremely dangerous, and strategically critical, part of the galaxy. Sisko was seen by the Bajoran people as an emissary--an almost god-like figure. And Brooks’ character was the first captain to be featured on the Star Trek television series during a full-scale intergalactic war. As a testament to his super-human responsibilities, Benjamin Sisko eventually leaves the plane of human existence and lives as one of the Prophets, a group of demigods with the power to alter time and space.
As compared to the other black characters on Star Trek, Sisko was firmly rooted in, and tied to, the history of his people (as both a citizen of Earth, and as a black man) and actively resisted any efforts to be “whitened,” made apolitical, or presented as being “post-racial” in the narrative. For example, Sisko boasted of owning one of the finest collections of African art in the galaxy; he traveled back in time to lead a revolutionary political protest movement during the 22nd century (events which helped to give birth to a unified Earth, and eventually, the Federation of Planets); and in one of Star Trek’s most powerful episodes, he lived the life of a genius black science fiction writer in Harlem whose work was rejected by a white, racist, publishing industry.
Sisko owned his history as a black man. He was also strengthened by it. This history also exacts a price for awareness: Sisko was denied the chance to remain blissfully ignorant of humankind's cruel realities, and how they shape the present and future. As tellingly highlighted by an exchange between Benjamin Sisko, and his soon to be wife (who is also African-American), the latter tells him that we can imagine the past (in this case a holographic adventure in 1950s segregated Las Vegas) as not being racist, because humanity has moved “beyond” the bigotry of its past.
Her implication is clear: Benjamin Sisko is limiting his own pleasure and joy by seeing Earth’s long history of racism and prejudice for what it actually was--as opposed to imaging the past as it should have been. While Sisko eventually surrenders to his fiance’s suggestion, Avery Brooks’ character remains unique among the captains on the various Star Trek series (allowing for Jean Luc Picard’s apolitical and race neutral fascination with the past) by drawing nourishment from his character’s relationship to a historically specific and grounded experience.
If Jar Jar Binks represents the antithesis of soul, Commander Sisko represents the burden of blackness at the site of the politics of representation. The latter is such an obligation that it robs Sisko of the relaxed, cool sensibility that Avery Brooks channeled in his previous role as the assassin and enforcer, Hawk, on the television series Spencer for Hire. In all, the sum effect of Avery Brooks’ obligation to offer a positive representation of black personhood is existentially confining for the character Captain Benjamin Sisko.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The Land of Non-Surprise: Mitt Romney, Candidate for a Nativist Party, Channels KKK Slogan, to Win Over Nativist Voters
Mitt Romney channels a slogan from the Ku Klux Klan that "we" ought to "keep America American" (or its more "polite" cousin, "Keep America, America"). MSNBC reports Romney's repeated use of this phrase. The Right-wing blogosphere cries "foul" and "unfair." Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton issue apologies to Mitt Romney for unfairly attacking his character.
There are two elements to this story that demand exploration.
First, the suggestion that a Republican candidate, one who is trying to sure up his conservative bonafides to a white populist base, would mine the rhetoric of the Klan (or deploy racially bigoted, xenophobic, and resentful sentiment and slogans more generally) is not at all a surprise. In fact, the politics of white racial resentment and white victimology have been central elements in Republican political strategy for five decades.
While folks are centered on the silly and distracting question--is Mitt Romney a racist or in the KKK--they should in fact be focused on the Republican Party's masterful use of a politics of white racial resentment, nativism, and disdain for the Other. Context matters. Consider the circus that is the Republican Party's presidential primary field for the election year 2012, and the policies they have endorsed.
1. Electric fences and moats to kill illegal immigrants;
2. Suggesting that black people are lazy, and their children should serve as janitors in order to develop a work ethic;
3. Wallowed in the filth of Birtherism, and indulged in rank, open bigotry against the country's first black President;
4. Suggested that Muslim Americans should be profiled (perhaps they should carry special cards? or wear a mark on their clothing?) because of their religion and a propensity to commit "terrorism";
5. Include a candidate who leisured at a family retreat named "Niggerhead" and grew up in sundown town;
6. Are beholded to the Tea Party, a faction and AstroTurf group which can trace its origins back to the white supremacist, white nationalist, John Birch Society (the former is also a group whose racist tendencies have been well-documented).
The Republican Party's rhetoric of "real America," "our America," "take our America back," and Romney's Klan-inspired slogan of "Keep America American" is based on a simple premise of "us and them." Patriotism and nationalism have almost always been infused with appeals to white racism. Given that America's history is one where to be American, meant that one had to be "white" in the eyes of the law, this ought not to be a surprise. Black folks have long been the anti-citizen, the group against which immigrants and others triangulate their belonging and group membership.
The symbolic racism indulged in by the Republican Party, especially as seen in their race baiting against Barack Obama, are dependent on a basic understanding that to be "American" one must first and most importantly be "White" (and to a lesser degree Christian). In the post-Civil Rights era, those appeals have to be hidden behind dog-whistles and coded speech.
The second teachable moment in Mitt Romney's channeling of the KKK's slogan is that historically, America is a profoundly racist country. In fact, there was no language with which to stigmatize such sentiments; "racism" was just "the law," or "commonsense," what was a "natural" way of doing things. For example, the Constitution of the United States is an explicitly pro-slavery, pro-white, herrenvolk, Apartheid document. With approximately 3 million members, the KKK was one of the most important civil society organizations in American history throughout the early part of the 20th century. Their "march on Washington" was one of the largest gatherings in the country to date.
The Civil Rights Movement, only four decades or so in the past, is a recent development. For most of the United States' history, to become a naturalized citizen a person had to be of demonstrable, and certifiable, "white ancestry" and "good stock." People of color, and "questionable" whites (Southern and Eastern Europeans), were not "fit" for American citizenship. In all, pluralist, Multicultural America, the one that elected Barack Obama, is a hiccup, a curiosity, and a very recent development in American history.
The nativism, xenophobia, and "polite" bigotry of the Republican Party, with its most recent appeals to white populism, are part of a larger pattern. In much the same way that the Tea Party brigands displayed posters of Barack Obama as a monkey or a gorilla, Mitt Romney may not even know the origins of "keep America American." But, it resonates with his audience.
More generally, Republican candidates who talk about "the pro-America parts of the country," and "real Americans," may not know about the deep relationship between nationalism, white racism, and the murder and exclusion of non-whites from the polity and public sphere. But, the words are warm and welcoming. The slogan excites them. It makes populist conservatives feel good about something; they belong to a community of "special" people, with privileged insight, and an elect commandment from on high; they are the sacred keepers of American exceptionalism and the Founding Father's prescient wisdom.
Ultimately, Mitt Romney's use of the Klan's slogan is not about responsibility: I could care less if he is a dyed in the wool racist or bigot; in fact, I suspect that he likely is not one.
And of course, how can one overlook the irony of a Mormon, a group none too popular with the KKK, channeling one of their most famous slogans.
However, the use of such language is important because of the questions surrounding causality, consequences, appeal, and sentiment. As we work through Romney's KKK turn of phrase, we cannot forget that White supremacy is part of the ether and air that all Americans, across the color line, inhale and breathe. It is part of the country's collective subconscious. An American can no more escape it, than a fish can water.
Consequently, the bigger and more important element here is the type of political work that such historically racist--but in the present--"race neutral" appeals do for Tea Party GOP candidates who are focused on destroying the United States' first Black President by any means necessary. As the late, oft-quoted, Republican political strategist Lee Atwater alluded to, Republicans most certainly cannot call black people "niggers" anymore and expect to win elections. However, Republicans can do everything to remind their white voting public, the conservative heart and soul of their party, that a President who happens to be black, most certainly, is not one of "them."
This is the truth, that MSNBC, in walking back the obvious connection between Mitt Romney, the KKK's racism and nativism, and the political gamesmanship of the Tea Party GOP, is afraid to make clear and transparent.
The Fourth Estate fails again.
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.