Friday, January 6, 2012

A Chappelle Skit in Real Life: Introducing Robert Traynham, Self-Hating Black, Gay, Former Aide to Rick Santorum

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Where do they find these people?

Here, we have a gay man who defends Rick Santorum, a man that is an open homophobe, theocrat, and bigot who compares gay and lesbian Americans to sex deviants that have intercourse with animals.

Here, we have an African American who defends Rick Santorum, a man that is a race-baiter who suggests that blacks are lazy parasites on White America.

Fanon would have so much fun with Robert Traynham.

Question: are folks like him just professional mercenaries who will take any position because it pays well? Or, and these questions may not be exclusive of one another, is Traynham just self-hating, working for a political agenda that devalues his personhood in a neat act of self-flagellating guilt?

In all, the human capacity for self-delusion boggles the mind. I do not know if Robert Tranyham is loathsome, tragic, or both.

Racial Resentment, White Novelty, and the Tim Tebow Phenomenon



ESPN has a great discussion on its website about the Tim Tebow cult of personality.

I am a Patriots fan. I loved watching Tebow get owned by Tom Brady. I also believe that Tebow is grossly overrated, and his popularity is a function of Christian Dominionist born again shtick and the "novelty" of a white quarterback with a "black" style of play. In many ways, Tebow is the Eminem of the NFL, with the latter being imminently more talented. Alternatively, we can suggest that Tebow is to black quarterbacks who play at HBCU's as white girls who are "thick" are to black women with the same physiques. One is "exotic"; the other is "ordinary" and "typical."

In all, the ESPN round table hits on a number of issues, and while they over read "racism" and "racial resentment" into the Tebow debate, the panelists are spot on in that a black quarterback who played like him would not get any of his shine.

Is Tebow the great white hope? And what does this tell us about race and sports--what should be the greatest of all meritocracies where none of these questions of identity ought to matter--but where the real world offers no such comforts?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Racial Misunderstandings: A Black Woman and a White Woman Sit Down to Talk About "Gone With the Wind" and...


In recent months, we have talked a good amount about historical memory and how race is a variable in our shared--yet often different--understandings of American life. For some, these matters are intensely personal, for others they are asides, and for many more, a cultivated naivete about the centrality of race in this country's long struggle towards full democracy is a luxury afforded only by white privilege.

I have alluded to the book a Country of Strangers on a few occasions. It is a good text, not particularly rigorous, but very readable, "journalistic," and full of great stories about how real people negotiate (or not) the color line in America.

With all of the back and forth about the Republican Party regarding its embrace of the Confederacy and the Lost Cause as a way to mobilize conservative white voters against Barack Obama, we must also acknowledge how this literal whitewashing of history by the Right would not be so compelling this process was gross and obvious in its bigoted hostility towards black and brown people.

While the Tea Party GOP uses dog whistles, and at times naked appeals to white racism to motivate their voters, electoral calculus in the post Civil Rights era demands some feigned effort at color blindness and race neutrality. As I have pointed out previously, conservatives who are motivated by racism in their hostility towards Obama, specifically, and "liberals" (as "race traitors," the imagined advocates for the interests of people of color) more generally, need some chaff, a convenient out, so that they can continue to feel like good people.

Few people want to be labeled as active racists--even if their political worldview and decision-making are animated by white racism on a semi-deep, yet not quite subconscious, level. The following exchange detailed in A Country of Strangers between two friends--one white and one black--about the movie Gone with the Wind captures the willful ignorance of the Tea Party GOP faithful on these matters.

Just as I suggested about Santorum's and Gingrich's public(s), Right-wing white populists are not necessarily pernicious racists. Rather, they simply subscribe to a type of common sense that is based on excluding people of color, and on the assumed superiority of Whiteness, White values, White dreams, White hopes, and White politics as the very definition of what it means to be "American."

Is the white woman in the following situation a "racist?" Perhaps, but only a "passive" one such that her assumptions, lack of asking questions about her own universal "I," and lazy thinking about a shared life experience with others who happen to not be white, is her shortcoming. However, this type of ignorance is a short stones throw away from the type of prejudice and bigotry that is the foundation for Birtherism, and all of the American exceptionalism, nativist, "Real America" talk that is the Esperanto of the New Right.

Do tell me. Am I onto something here? Or am I being too hard on an otherwise well-intended woman, one who is simply blinded by the gaze of whiteness...so much so that she is unable to see how race is central to the full personhood and humanity of people, even her close friends, who may not be white?

In all, this is an epic face palm moment:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa and Beyond: For the Tea Party GOP "Common Sense" Racism is the Road to the White House

The 2012 Republican presidential field, a hydra which self-destructively feeds on itself, had one more battle royale in Iowa. Fighting to a standstill, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul bloodied each other. While the Tea Party GOP is still a house divided, their leading candidates share a common, uniting, go to issue: hating on the blacks makes for good politics; it pays substantial political dividends.

As Iowa demonstrated, be it Gingrich's yearning to have lazy black and brown kids pick up mops and brooms as janitors in work houses, Romney's nativist Klan inspired opines to keep "America America," Santorum's appeals to a belief that African Americans find sustenance by stealing from hardworking white people, or Ron Paul's assertion that the Civil Rights Act (with its bringing down of Jim and Jane Crow) was an unfair intrusion on white people's "liberty" and "freedom," the Tea Party GOP remains addicted to the crack rock of dog whistle politics.

Decades after the founding of the Southern Strategy in the 1960s, the old school remains the true school. Ultimately for conservatives, demagoguing the negroes can still help stir up support among the white populist faithful.

Precision matters here. Research on public opinion and political behavior has demonstrated that not all conservatives are racist. However, racists are much more likely to be conservative--and to identify as Republicans.

Social scientists, historians, psychologists and others have developed an extensive vocabulary to talk about the lived politics of the color line. These terms include such notable phrases as symbolic racism, white racial resentment, the white racial frame, in-group and out-group anxiety, ethnocentrism, prejudice, realistic group conflict, colorblind racism, systems of structured inequality, racial formation, and front stage vs. backstage racism.

In thinking through the politics of race at work in the white conservative political imagination, this seemingly disparate terminology is connected by a common thread. Race and racial ideologies are ways of seeing the world, of locating people and individuals relative to one another, and are a cognitive map for making sense of social relationships. While shocking to outsiders, the type of racism played with so casually by Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Paul and other conservatives is a type of "common sense" for their public.

For example, the audiences that cheer Romney's speeches about a country that is lost, one led by an anti-American usurper, are not necessarily "bad people." They are motivated by a sense of belonging, and made to feel special by virtue of being "real Americans," part of a special tribe anointed with unique insight and wisdom by their oracles.

Likewise, those who embrace Gingrich's habit of stereotyping "inner city blacks" as lazy, unmotivated, and criminal, probably identify as "compassionate conservatives," or "good Christians." There is no intended malice on their part. To them, "everyone knows" that these observations about black and brown people are "true."

Rick Santorum's Iowa speech on the nature of black people's greed and degeneracy is an especially instructive example of this broader pattern:
"It just keeps expanding - I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don't sign up more people under the Medicaid program," Santorum said. "They're just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That's what the bottom line is."
He added: "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."
"And provide for themselves and their families," Santorum added, to applause. "The best way to do that is to get the manufacturing sector of the economy rolling again."
"Right," responded one audience member, as another woman can be seen nodding.
There are several elements at work here.

First, poverty in America is racialized. The image in the public imagination is of black welfare queens, or illegal aliens birthing "anchor babies" who live off of the government tit, profiting from food stamps and the generosity of the American people. The white poor rarely, if ever, enter the picture. Second, black people are in a parasitic relationship with white Americans (Santorum's "someone" else). In sum, black people are "lazy," and a dependent class, unable to take care of their families except for the generosity and benevolence of white people.

The most powerful part of Santorum's appeal to his white audience in Iowa is the implication that black people are receiving some type of "reparations." For Santorum and the Tea Party GOP, blacks are plagued by "bad culture" and are existentially prone to poverty. Therefore, in a country where labor, capitalism, and citizenship are inexorably connected, blacks are outside of the political community.

In the age of Fox News and the Right-wing echo chamber, one cannot forget how the conservative imagination is constituted as a dream world: it is a mature fulfillment of some of the most sophisticated propaganda in the post World War 2 period.

In this imagination, it does not matter that whites are the majority of America's poor.

It does not matter that most people on public assistance and welfare in Iowa are white.

It does not matter that there is a deep history which explains how conservatives have spun a fiction about black and brown poverty while ignoring structural economic inequality, and how many of the policies endorsed by the Tea Party GOP in the name of economic austerity and punishing people of color (who are coded as "the poor" or "unproductive citizens"), also disproportionately harm the white working and middle classes.

This local type of common sense helps to explain the feelings of defense, denial, and injury that many white conservatives exhibit when challenged about the racism of the Tea Party GOP and the Right-wing establishment. While the leadership and media elites from which they take their cues skillfully play the race baiting game, rank and file Fox News conservatives simply feel aggrieved at the suggestion that anyone would take their common sense understandings of the world to be racist, bigoted, or based on false understandings about the nature of racism and white privilege in the Age of Obama.

In the same way that a fish does not know that it is wet, the politics of nativism, an authoritarian-like embrace of the politics of us and them, and a fear of the Other, are so central to contemporary white populist conservatism, that they are taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of the world.

Moreover, politics is essentially about the creation of an imagined community. The stump speeches about evil liberals who hate America, the cheering of dying cancer patients who lack insurance, the booing of gay soldiers, and the numerous fictions about the economy, science, the Constitution, and public policy more generally are taken as divine gospel. These fictions are standing priors for contemporary conservatives which help to mark out the boundaries of their political world.

During an election year, and as a function of a highly polarized 24 hour news environment, it is a given that the incumbent president will be the target of vicious attacks by the out party. By implication, the election of Barack Obama, America's first black president, has amplified all of these tensions. The election of a member of the racial out-group has made the stakes especially high for white conservatism. Obama is anathema to the Tea Party GOP soul, the living embodiment of a world turned upside down, for no man who looks like him could ever be leader of the free world, where whiteness is inseparable from being "American."

By implication, there is a short line from the white racial appeals of Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, Romney and others directly to President Obama. He has been called "the food stamp president" and a "ghetto crackhead." Obama is stained by the Birthers who say he is not an American citizen. The appeals to American exceptionalism are naked arguments that a black man like Obama cannot help but be outside of the "normal" political culture of this country. It has also been implied that President Obama is a perpetual "they," a member of a marginalized group who by association is lazy, anti-white, unqualified, and an "affirmative action baby" that somehow managed to steal a presidential election and win the popular vote.

Many may laugh at such a formulation. However, the Tea Party GOP, Iowa voters, and others who clamor to participate in the Republican primaries, would take such claims as common sense knowledge. For people of color, the outsider, the Other, and those who are not (in their eyes) "quintessentially American" (and thus have to prove their authenticity to the white conservative gaze), this is not your country.

You people may have built and improved this country, but it is not yours. For the Tea Party GOP and the populist conservatism of the present moment, you people are just guests. They will remind you people of that fact at every moment.

Why? Because it is common sense. Didn't you know that?

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Racial Futures Prediction Market Game: What Will the Black Misery Index be in 2012?



If it bleeds it leads.

Bad news is good news.

Who wants to hear the good news, when the bad news is so much more compelling?

While slick, sharp, coherent, professional, and emotive, Colorlines' "The Year in Race" makes me tired. Existentially. Yes, the stakes are high for people of color in the Great Recession. We have experienced proportionately greater losses in terms of employment, the housing market, wealth, life spans, and inter-generational social mobility, than have white Americans. This reality is a signal to the permanence of race in this country. It is also a reminder of how far we have yet to go as a people.

But, are things really that bad? Are there no high points, or moments of joy and success, to celebrate going forward?

I am not suggesting that we should engage in some pie in the sky, self-aggrandizing denial--as truth telling should always be our first commitment, "the prime directive"--but rather, that there must be room for positive thinking and balance in our perspectives.

Developing a metric for community happiness can take many forms. Some would use life chances and develop a mathematical model based on income, wealth, lifespan, and social capital. Others would talk to folks and do elaborate public opinion surveys where they ask respondents to describe their hopes for the future, and "if things will be better or worse in the years to come for your children?"

I am a dreamer. I also think there is something to be said for "soft" or intuitive measurements of happiness and progress.

My question: what do you predict the Black Misery Index (our "B.M.I.") will be for the year 2012?

If "1" is joyful bliss, and "10" is utter misery, where will Black America (and people of color more generally), rate in the upcoming 12 months? And if the truism holds that Black folks are the miner's canary, a barometer of sorts for the well-being of the United States at large, what is the calculi for how the Black Misery Index relates to that of the country as a whole?

Ultimately, is there a special rubric, an exception rule for Red State U.S.A. and the Tea Party GOP, where black and brown people's suffering means that everything is going right for Whiteness and the White Conservative Soul?

For example, I would suggest that those moments in the hellish prisons of Goree Island and in the slave ships of the Middle Passage rate a "10" on the scale. The moment of Barack Obama's election and his inauguration and swearing-in would score a "1."

The great and wonderful project known as Reconstruction would be a "6." Yes, on the surface one could rate it a "3." But, any accurate measure must account for how Reconstruction has been grossly mischaracterized in the public mind, as well as the pain of a radically inclusive democratic project born, and then too soon retroactively aborted, by white supremacy and its ugly violence. To my mind's eye, wonderful things temporarily earned and then stolen away require a special accounting.

In all, the prediction game/futures market is a wonderfully personal and imprecise science that reveals much about who we are as individuals and our ability to generalize (or not) outward to that of society as a whole.

Yes, the white gaze can be utterly disingenuous as its yearns to celebrate the end of racism, to inaugurate a post-racial America despite all evidence to the contrary, and to find a way to emancipate itself from the burdens of history (as well as the blood that it has on its proverbial hands in both the present and the past). This creates a natural, intelligent, well-founded, and reasoned tendency among people of color (and smart forward thinking white folks) to emphasize the challenges ahead, as opposed to the demons slayed, the victories won.

And of course, there is a Black racial misery and grievance industry--one that will exist for as long as there are people who are nominally considered "African American." We need the Black racial misery and grievance industry...even in the year 2012. As often as they are wrong, their clarion calls remain a useful and necessary alarm.

But for a moment, let the metaphorical hair down, and feel free to celebrate (or not) the successes of black and brown people in the year 2011

I know that you have it in you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Some Queen for the New Year: Thank You and Well Wishes in 2012



One more year is past. I hope that all of you are happy, safe, relaxed, and sufficiently medicated--be it on life, Jesus Juice, or Red Stripe...the latter being my drink of choice tonight.

This has been one hell of a year, both good and bad. Let's lean on each other in the New Year, stay strong, and keep building.

Thanks for all of your support, helping WARN grow, providing me the opportunity to learn from our conversations, and a platform to engage other pursuits. More good things are coming, I feel it in these increasingly old bones.

But seriously, I love you all--in a cyber platonic way--and appreciate those voices who have been here from the beginning, those folks who have found WARN recently, and the good number of folks who lurk.

The average blog lasts only a few months. We beat that a long time ago, and while we have a long ways to go, the momentum keeps growing.

I have several goals for the year, and with your help, we will get there together. This is the time for resolutions: besides my "academic" goals, in 2012 I want to nail down a book contract for Chauncey DeVega and We Are Respectable Negroes, do more interviews, go on TV, and get a regular radio spot going. Lofty goals. I aim high. If I lose, it won't be for lack of shooting back or a lack of ammo.

Once more, I thank you all--friends and enemies alike. Together, you keep me on my toes, humble, and honest. Sometimes, there is a temptation to write for comments, dance for gold, and follow trends for attention sake. I try really hard not to do that.

As I said years ago, continue to say often, and will do my best to stay committed to going forward, I am me with the volume turned up. If you ever feel or think that I am following trends, "selling out," or getting lazy and betraying my commitment to Black Pragmatism, please call me out. Trust me, in this world the temptations are many, we need truth tellers to keep us on point.

May the force be with you.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Compassionate Conservatism? An Open Letter to Newt Gingrich From the Child of a Janitor



I write this for little girls and boys like her...

Newt Gingrich has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a horrible human being. Therefore, his repeated comments about the black poor, and “inner city” communities, where people “don’t have a work ethic” are not at all a surprise. Time has demonstrated that “compassionate conservatism,” an oxymoron if there ever was one, is not particularly kind, just, or humane.

As demonstrated by his Wednesday editorial on the website Human Events, Newt Gingrich is apparently wedded to the idea that young black and brown kids should have the “privilege” of becoming janitors in their schools in order to learn about the value of “hard work."

There are any number of problems with this argument. Primarily, Gingrich is recycling the ugly and deeply racist belief that black people are inherently lazy: poor children who don’t see people around them working apparently grow up to be lazy adults, who are on welfare, dependent on the state, and have no understanding of how to put in an honest day’s work. He gives no consideration to the stigma that child janitors would experience, and the taunting and bullying that would inevitably result from being one of the students who carries a pail, mop, or broom around their school.

Newt Gingrich is also blindly ignorant of the issues surrounding structural unemployment in poor inner city communities, and where it is not a deficit of work ethic or drive, but a lack of desperately wanted job opportunities—especially for young people—that drives urban poverty. Given the Right-wing’s assault on unions, and the social safety net, more broadly, Gingrich’s smearing of school janitors as an enriched and craven class of greedy public employees is just more red meat for an agenda that wants to destroy the American middle and working classes.

In all, Newt Gingrich is offering up a Dickensonian fantasy of workhouses in which African American wastrels and street urchins learn the value of hard work from benevolent white folks like him.

Of course, Newt Gingrich’s children, and those of the moneyed classes who he represents, would never be asked to pick up a mop and broom at their schools—as their kids’ responsibility is first and foremost to prepare and study for college, and the bright future which awaits them.

And I must wonder, what lessons have the children of the financier class, the trust fund baby and inherited money types who brought about the Great Recession, been taught about the value of hard work from observing the destructive behavior of their parents during this time of economic calamity?

Over the years, I have developed a pretty thick skin regarding these matters. However, there is something particular offensive about Newt Gingrich’s repeated insistence that poor black kids become janitors in order to learn about the merits of “hard work” that demands engagement. It would seem to his eyes that janitors are disposable people with easy jobs. Moreover, to him, a janitor's job is so simple that anyone, even an elementary or middle school student, could do it well.

As the refrain goes, the personal is political. I am the son of a janitor. I try not to break kayfabe, or to drop the mask too often. Nevertheless, sometimes it is necessary to speak up for yourself, as well as for the many other people who may not have either the privilege, or opportunity, to speak truth to power.

In that spirit, please take this as an open letter of sorts to Newt Gingrich (and the particular brand of compassionate conservatism that he represents).
****

My father was a hardworking man. He was not perfect. He took his job seriously and worked for many years as a janitor. He did this with pride, integrity, and self-respect. My father rarely took a sick day, and worked in this job for several decades, retiring only in his late 70s. Work meant a great deal to him, and he would eventually pass away about a year later. I warned my father that without a sense of purpose, and isolated from the many people he befriended at his job over the years, that he would not last long. I was (sadly) proven correct.

These are not details designed to elicit a tear; they are details of a full life, the human experience that stands behind words such as “janitor,” “teacher,” “unions,” and “working class.” These are perennially good titles, now transformed into slurs, by people like Newt Gingrich and his conservative brethren.

My father was a boss, a confidante to his coworkers, and advisor to the men and women he affectionately called his “crew.” His work was at times dangerous, involved long hours, and a good amount of responsibility.

No elementary, middle, or high school student could do my father’s job.

Growing up, I was embarrassed that my father was a “lowly” janitor. His job title was technically “senior maintenance supervisor.” I used that whenever I had the chance. When one’s friends are the children of doctors, lawyers, and white collar professionals, you learn to improvise.

There would be many awkward moments, when my father, the janitor, would have one of his three or so pagers go off in the company of my friends. We could be at a bowling tournament, a movie, or a birthday party, and inevitably one of those beepers would ring.

Those who did not know the facts of the situation would ask if “he was a doctor.” I would answer “no, my father just has an emergency that he has to take care of.”

Unlike in Newt Gingrich’s twisted dream, janitors and their families are not rich. My family had good Christmases, an occasional vacation, and nice Sunday meals. My father’s pay kept me in nice clothes, indulged my hobbies, and helped me (with some hefty student loans and grants) to go to college. My father’s work, in combination with my mother’s, kept us comfortable. We were not middle class, or even solidly working class by most measures. Somehow, we were okay.

A janitor’s job is also about personal relationships. I will not pretend that my father’s position as a janitor at a large Ivy League university was typical. He made sure that I met interesting people; I could take the day off of school, follow him around, and go to the library. He would leave me with different professors or graduate students so that I could talk to them about politics, history, or philosophy. Because my father worked there for many decades, he was part of the university community. My father took that role seriously.

For example, there were many occasions when he made sure that international students had a place to eat and go for the holidays (at times, this welcoming space was our home). My father, the janitor, was a union man and took great pride in how he always fought for the rights of the part-time staff—a group that he felt was always “getting a bum deal.”

When people needed jobs, oftentimes young men who were recently released from jail, or career ex-cons, they could come to my father. He would size them up. If they passed his personal test of being honest and direct about their situation(s), my father would go with them to human resources, vouch for their reliability, and put them on his “crew” so that they would learn how to do “right.”

My father also had some fun times at his job. He loved to talk about how, on one afternoon, he had to show a student from rural China how to use an American style toilet. My father joked that “the young man made it this far, I didn’t think using one of our toilets would be so complicated.”

There were sad times too.

On more than one occasion my father, a janitor, had to take up a collection for a student to send home to their family, to help them buy a ticket if there was an emergency, or to subsidize the funeral expenses for one of his crew, or the part-timers, who didn’t have his years of seniority, and pay.

No child could do that job.

My father only wanted me to get a job where my hands would be clean, and I would not have to pick up other people’s messes. I have, fingers crossed, more or less gotten that far. It has taken some years, and a bit of growth. But now, I am finally proud to be the child of a janitor. Those millions of us who were taken care of, provided for, and raised by working class folks such as maids, home health care workers, and janitors, have much to hold our heads high about.

These people are the real “job creators” in this country: they pay bills, provide for their families, and donate to churches, mosques, synagogues, and charitable organizations.

Working class people like my father help to sustain communities and neighborhoods.

Whenever Newt Gingrich and his brand of 1% percent plutocrat conservatives besmirch the working people of this country, people like us and our kin, we need to speak up. There is no shame in our lineage. And all of us need to say thanks, to acknowledge those janitors, maintenance people, and the like who work in our schools, office buildings, apartment complexes, and take care of our aged and sick parents and relatives. They deserve our respect; unfortunately, they rarely receive it from the American people.

Once more, I am proud to be a child of the working class. Are you?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Notes on Historical Memory: "The point isn’t that American slavery is the exact moral or material equivalent of the Holocaust..."

The point isn’t that American slavery is the exact moral or material equivalent of the Holocaust, but that our country’s “original sin” has not been fully, culturally processed.
A man with a wide smile appeared next to our table, seemingly out of nowhere, and introduced himself as the restaurant’s manager. We chatted about the proper pronunciation of “crawfish,” and the differences between the gumbos made on the bayou and in New Orleans, and when the subject turned to the Cabin, I asked him how it felt to run a place that used to house slaves.
“It’s history, and that’s all there is to it,” he said. “It’s not something we dwell on, or push out there for people to see. It is a touchy subject. We just want people to have a nice time when they come here, and to enjoy the food and the history. This is a place where everybody feels welcome."
Salon has a provocative and wonderful feature by Peter Birkenhead about the tapestry that is historical memory, the slave-holding South, and contemporary conservatism. We have spent a good amount of time this past year exploring these issues, and have worked though such topics as role-playing games as a means to "explore" chattel slavery historical tourism and slave cabins,black Confederate soldier.
Why We Still Can't Talk About Slavery seems like a fitting complement to a year-long conversation.
In all, it would seem that many of us have no use for such a flattening of history:
Later that day, at Destrehan, a former sugar plantation a few miles down, the guide neglected to mention that it was the site of the largest slave revolt in American history.
When I asked Angela da Silva, a professor of black history at Lindenwood University, and owner of the St. Louis-based National Black Tourism Network, for her thoughts, she said, “Jesus coming down off the cross couldn’t get me to stay in some gentrified slave cabin with a jacuzzi in it. The misery and pain that happened in those cabins … This is about shame.
People who own these places want the history to go away. But it won’t go away. And until we as black people insist on the story being told, no one has any incentive to change their business model.”
As Birkenhead beautifully details, the rise of the New Right and the Tea Party, the Republican Party's fetish for the Confederacy, its Lost Cause ideology, and embrace of States' Rights and nullification have brought questions of historical memory to the forefront of the public discourse during the 2012 presidential primary season.
Moreover, the literal white washing of the history of a traitorous Confederacy, what was a military state dedicated to racial tyranny, and a willful lie about the benevolence of whiteness, loom large in the Conservative political imagination. Those dreams are amplified and made more imminent when a black man is President of the United States, because for the populist conservative, neo-Confederate crowd, nothing could be more of an abomination.
For Tea Party GOP conservatives, the rhetoric of American Exceptionalism is inexorably tied to a Gone With the Wind, Redemption, race and reunion narrative. This tale has no use for such "inconveniences" as chattel slavery, white supremacy, the genocide of indigenous people, and racial pogroms.
The Reconstruction-era South didn't invent dishonesty, but its response to America's defining trauma has become a foundational lie, supporting an ever-growing edifice of false history. It’s a lie so big no one will forcefully challenge it, a lie that’s too big to fail. In the sesquicentennial year of the Civil War, the “stars and bars” fly over state capitals, proclamations are issued that honor the Confederacy without mentioning slavery, and commuters drive to work on highways named after white supremacists. And appeals to wounded pride and the lost values of imagined pasts are an everyday part of our political culture.
This should come as no surprise. Adults who dress up in Colonial era period clothing, believe that the Constitution is divinely inspired, and take the metaphor of "a shining city on the hill" as a get out of jail pass for America's shortcomings both at home and abroad, have little use for such facts. Selection bias, Fox News, and an embrace of a fantastical view of political and social reality, protects the Tea Party GOP faithful from any experience of cognitive dissonance.
Birkenhead concludes Why We Still Can't Talk About Slavery with a powerful point. He is spot on in many regards. But, Birkenhead commits a common error, where even in offering a robust critique of the lie that is the "popular" embrace of a neutered and "harmless" Confederacy--where millions of people were killed, tortured, raped, torn from family and kin, reduced to items in an inventory, or property to be taxed on a ledger--he uses the "universal I," a common sense judgement of who "we" actually are:
If America is a family, it’s a family that has tacitly agreed to never speak again — not with much honesty, anyway — about the terrible things that went on in its divided house. Slavery has been taught, it has been written about. There can’t be many subjects that rival it as an academic ink-guzzler. But the culture has not digested slavery in a meaningful way, hasn't absorbed it the way it has World War II or the Kennedy assassination. We don't feel the connections to it in our bones.
It’s hard enough these days to connect with what happened 15 minutes ago, let alone 15 decades, given the endless layers of “classic,” “heirloom,” “traditional” “collectible,” “old school” comfort we’re swaddled in. But isn’t it the least we could do? What is the willful forgetting of slavery if not the coverup of a crime, an abdication of responsibility to its victims and to ourselves?
Who is this "we" that do not feel the connections to slavery in our bones? Why must United States history, and the idea of shared (and manufactured) community, almost by definition exclude black Americans? I know that I feel slavery in my bones and spirit. Our struggle and triumph in the face of almost unimaginable White barbarism is a legacy to be honored. And when I think of the fact that my grandmother's grandmother was likely born a slave, the connection to "the peculiar institution" is pretty deep in my blood and soul.
In all, America wants to forget on its own terms, because to fully acknowledge the centuries of chattel slavery in this country, and almost a century of Jim and Jane Crow, may actually require an acknowledgement of debts due. As I have long suggested, it is not the financial or monetary compensation for harm done to black Americans both in the past, and to the present by Whites and the Racial State, that is necessarily the deal breaker. No, it is the acknowledgement of wrong doing, and the simple words "I am sorry, we were wrong," that are at the root of why reparations are a non-starter in the United States.
An apology doesn't "cost" a thing, but for Whiteness (and many White people), it seems to be prohibitively expensive.
Because we all know that the sins of the father (or mother) are never passed down to the son or the daughter. Ironically, the privileges of whiteness, materially, economically, psychically, and politically, can be accrued with interest (and with no accountability at all) for centuries without end.
That is one hell of a bargain.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some Shameless Self-Promotion and a Dose of Pastor Manning: Chauncey DeVega Will Be on The Ed Schultz Radio Show Tomorrow Afternoon



As always, just sharing when you can get a small dose of my bloviating, faux-expertise, efforts at punditry. I am scheduled for The Ed Shultz radio show Wednesday at 2:30pm EST where I will be chatting with one of WARN's friends, Mr. Mike Papantonio, host of Ring of Fire Radio.

2011 went by quickly. Tomorrow, I am going to be doing a postmortem on the role of racism in the Tea Party GOP, as well as spending some time dissecting Mitt Romney's efforts to paint Obama as unAmerican and illegitimate.

To tide you over, here is a new promo from the one and only Pastor Herman Manning. This brother is a great performer. He changes his position(s) on Beck, Palin, and the Tea Party's bigotry every broadcast. There is no consistency here--except for his laser focus on Barack Obama as an agent of the devil, a man who apparently plotted to kill his own grandmother, is a secret C.I.A. agent, and is not a U.S. citizen. Manning's deep dedication to that one meme is his genius.

Like they say, a broke clock is right twice a day: Manning is spot on in his analysis of the Tea Party and how the New Right's pining for a second American Civil War is part of a bigger gambit by corporate interests who want to bring America fully into a state of "inverted totalitarianism."

He is also quite lucid in his suggestion that Right-wing media elites are marshaling their mouth-breathing goon squads, stirring the pot of white racism for the 2012 election, and in an act of desperation, will "come home to the truth" of how Obama is not eligible to be President.

Given the clown car that is the 2012 Republican Presidential field, the paranoid style is the only style--enabled by white racial resentment--they have left to play, as the Tea Party GOP's issue positions are extremely unpopular with the mass public.

Check me out tomorrow. And do wish me luck.

What Do They Call a President Who Happens to be Black? If You Are Fox News You Call Him a "Ghetto Crackhead"



Malcolm X famously asked, "what do you call an educated negro with a B.A. or an M.A., with a B.S., or a PhD?" The answer? "You call him a nigger, because that is what the white man calls him, a nigger."

Decades later, his wisdom endures.

Malcolm's observation captures the pain experienced by many African Americans, when during their coming of age moment (either before or after the talk about how not to get shot by the police during a routine traffic stop), they realize that being "young, gifted, and black" is not, all things being equal, sufficient for success in America. Malcolm's words also capture the sentiments felt by any black person whose confidence has been described by their managers or peers as "threatening" or "arrogant."

His wisdom also explains the moment when black professors walk into a room for the first time and their students look at each other in shock, wondering if this teacher is "qualified" to teach them; Malcolm's wit also captures the frustration and insult felt by any black or brown person who has been presumptively assumed to be a janitor, maintenance worker, or mail clerk at their job, when in fact, their titles are actually "manager," "director," or "vice president."

Malcolm's comment on the arrogance of white racism also speaks to collective memory: it conjures up family stories of men and women trained as doctors, engineers, and lawyers, but who had to work as Pullman Car porters, maids, and home health attendants because Jim and Jane Crow America was by definition, a system designed to choke out the social and economic mobility of the African American community. Both then and now, white racism does the work of class inequality.

African-American veterans of World War 2, "the Greatest Generation," were denied the fruits of citizenship given by the United States government to their white peers. Black Americans fought fascism abroad. But, at home they were denied access to the GI Bill, and the FHA and VA home loan programs that helped to create the American middle class. In practice, these programs were what Ira Katznelson famously described as "affirmative action" for white people.

The "Double V" campaign would continue against American Apartheid. The Black Freedom Struggle in the face of such stern and deep opposition would eventually triumph. This is an American success story, one which the popular imagination conveniently overlooks.

On the public stage in the present, the lack of faith in black expertise, ability, genius, and competence is on full display whenever the ugly phrase "qualified minority" is uttered by one of the faux populist Right in order to demagogue, and mine the waters of white racial resentment, for cheap political gains.

As the folkism suggests, African Americans have had to do ten times as well, to get half as far as whites. In the post-Civil Rights moment, that margin has diminished quite a bit. Yet, there is more than ample evidence that whiteness still pays great dividends to its owners and beneficiaries in such areas as the housing market, jobs, wealth and income inequality, inter-generational mobility, access to health care, and life chances (more generally).

It is a given that Fox News has no love for President Obama. To point, on the Hannity show last week (and without retraction or apology after the fact), Brent Bozell, of the conservative media "watchdog" group, Media Research Center, described President Barack Obama, "as a skinny, ghetto, crackhead."

This moment was an object lesson on the white racial frame in action, and the truth of Brother Malcolm's deep understanding of the pathologies of white racism, where any black person, however accomplished, intelligent, and gifted, is de facto seen as "less than," a "nigger," as a person who is not equal to even the most mediocre and lowest of white people.

Black people and black humanity are forever suspect, under watch, and viewed as less than by many in White America. To the white gaze channeled by Brent Bozzel, we are perpetual criminals, deviants, over-sexed, libidinous, dangerous, and pathological. These sentiments are a function of the "wages of whiteness," the psychological investment in white supremacy, and white superiority, spoken to perhaps most famously by W.E.B. DuBois more than a century ago.

I am not surprised by Bozzel's mouth utterances. Because they are propagandists, Fox News displays a double concentration and distillation of the impulses and anxieties which drive contemporary conservatism and the Tea Party GOP. In all, if conservatism and racism are one and the same in America, the election of a black man as President has created such cognitive upset that naked racism is the inevitable excreta, an expected outcome.

The suggestion that President Barack Obama is somehow evocative of a "ghetto crackhead," is part of a larger constellation of racial slurs, appeals to white racial anxiety, dog whistles, and open bigotry. To this point in his term, it has been suggested that Obama is not a citizen of this country. He faked his undergraduate grades at Columbia, and his success at Harvard Law was the result of "affirmative action." President Obama entertains black thugs at "hip hop barbecues." He is unqualified to be President, is "lazy," "incompetent," and "in over his head." Michelle Obama is a mirror of President Obama's shortcomings, a black radical in drag, who has never been proud of this country.

Furthermore, as offered by Palin, McCain, Fox News, and most recently by presumed presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Obama is outside of the American political tradition, a man who does not understand the country's greatness and is actively working to destroy it. Race is the connective tissue between all of these paranoid and ridiculous claims. Barack Obama is a black American. We are the perpetual outsider and the Other. Where other groups' "Americanness" is presumed, Black Americans, despite our contributions to all that makes this country unique and great--and as a people who forced her to live up to the promise of the democratic creed and the Constitution-- are marked as perpetual anti-citizens.

This pandering to the worst parts of the White racial id, contemporary populist conservatism, and the Fox News public, are textbook examples of symbolic racism.

The personal is political. The rage machine that presumes the worst of Barack Obama, precisely because he is not white, is old hat. Black folks have known that game for centuries. We did not need to read Thomas Jefferson's racist tract, Notes on the State of Virginia, in order to grasp the deep wells of anti-black sentiment which are the beating heart of America's political culture.

My surprise at the claim that President Obama shares anything in common with a "skinny, ghetto, crackhead" is rooted in its absurdity. Obama is human. He is imperfect. I often disagree with his politics. Obama is a man. He is nothing more, nothing less. But a crackhead? Impulsive drug user? A hype? Nope. Not ever. Obama's personhood and habitus, his relaxed and effortless black cool pose (even if some do not possess the cultural framework and lens necessary to perceive it) is obvious--and unapologetic.

The inability by some on the Right to see Obama's full and dignified black humanity, as opposed to a default of black drug use, criminality, and omnipresent, irrepressible "niggerdom," is the source of my hurt. I must ask: If the white conservative imagination can frame a man of Obama's abilities, poise, intelligence, genius, life accomplishments, and talent as a skinny, ghetto, crackhead, how do they see the rest of us?

And we wonder why the colorline persists.

Ultimately, as Obama derangement syndrome has continued to demonstrate, white folks need to get their own house in order; the problem of white supremacy, especially on the Right, is a sickness that only they can cure through intense dialogue and therapy with one another.

If the best and brightest of Black America are just felons and drug users in the eyes of populist conservatives, what of the legions of working class, hard working, regular folks? How do Tea Party GOPers see black bus drivers? Black teachers? Black janitors? Black attorneys and investment bankers? Black parents? Black people who are either no more, or no less, mediocre than the vast majority of White Americans?

I am not sure if I want to know the answer.

We are everyday people. All of us. Sadly, white conservatives such as Brent Bozzel, see all black people as drug addicts and crackheads. Nothing more. That is black humanity in their eyes. White pathology is real. Last week, Fox News proved that fact (again).

They are who we have always known them to be. Ugly. White. Racists. Do keep it classy Mr. Bozzel, for every time you sell your wares, you do the rest of us a favor.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas To You All: Enjoy Some Brother James Brown in Concert as Your Gift Giving, Gift Opening, Holiday Soundtrack



Happy holidays to you all.

No Black Peter this year, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bobby the Brain Heenan do Santa, or exposes on the hellish experiences of a Christmas Story's black actors.

Nah. Just some JB.

The permed one is no longer with us, having departed five years ago on this date...could the Church of James Brown be making a return? The bass is rumbling in the background, his unintelligable utterances echoing closer, so who knows?

As you get ready to go out, have folks over for some yard bird, to watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones, or perhaps play some video games as a new family tradition, enjoy this concert from 2005 and get your good foot on.

Have fun, be safe, and I wish you all well.

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.

Those movies also contributed to my having some pretty deep nerd and geek "street cred" if you would.

As followers of WARN know, one of my favorite erotic memories was making love to a beautiful queen while I was dressed as a Jedi Knight; I have also ravished a goddess who was adorned as a very sexy and curvaceous Sailor Moon.

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?

A surface reading would suggest that the Republican Party imagines itself to be a group of freedom fighters. In their machinations, drowning the government in the bathtub--and cutting off benefits necessary to stay one step ahead of homelessness--is a courageous act in the defense of "freedom."

The mental gymnastics necessary to sustain such a belief are beyond even my abilities.

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.

As conservatives search for inspiration in support of their dystopian agenda, there are other more suitable film options available. What about Soylent Green, Robocop, or Rollerball? Those movies offer a Corporatist universe in keeping with the Tea Party GOP's dreams. The Road Warrior could fit neatly as well, for House Speaker John Boehner is a passable Humungous.

Wall Street would validate the Tea Party GOP's money over people ideology, and the lie that is trickle down economics. And of course, Blazing Saddles has a classic hostage taking scene that mirrors the Tea Party GOP's approach to governance.




But, if I had to suggest one film (and given my love of zombies, this allusion is an obvious one), the Tea Party GOP are right out of George Romero's Land of the Dead because they live cloistered away in the luxury of Fiddler's Green, while the rest of the world goes to hell in a hand basket.


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.

****

When Chauncey kindly asked me to write about Newt Gingrich’s claims that if he were elected president he would use his powers to send out federal marshals to arrest judges who disagreed with him, he thought that my expertise as a historian of modern Germany would be relevant. It is, in fact, but in a different way than many folks might suspect. The German language has a wonderful and well-known precision, and one of its best words is Rechtstaat, one that is less known on these shores than Shadenfreude or Zeitgeist, but full of similar explanatory power. Rechtstaat literally means “law state,” but more precisely, it means “a state governed by laws.” The implication, of course, is “a state governed by laws, not by people.”

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

Let's Play the Racial Referee: Honest Disagreement or Subtle White Racism?



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.

Your thoughts?

Let's do the forensics together.

As always, you make the call.

*****

Anon wrote (with my excerpting/selective quoting noted):

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 Book Chapter Find a Home: "The Politics of Black Masculinity in Star Wars and Star Trek"



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.

Surviving Jar Jar Binks and the Burden of Being Commander Sisko

The controversy surrounding the character Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace brought the question of race to the forefront of the Star Wars phenomenon. In newspaper editorials, magazine articles, and online, a range of cultural critics and others took aim at the character of Jar Jar Binks. He was savaged as a racial caricature, a modern day performance of digital blackface, a contemporary Steppin Fetchit that was nothing more than a tired, hackneyed, race minstrel.

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.