Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Would You Grade the Debut of Melissa Harris-Perry's New Show on MSNBC?

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Here is the big debut.

It is always nice to see new faces in the talking head TV revue. And it is doubly fun to see two folks on today's show that I know personally. As a host, Dr. Perry is still getting her feet under her, and I suggest that she needs to be more direct and forceful--especially as evidenced by the interview with her first Republican guest. Academic types can be a bit pedantic. In all, if I were her cornerman during the big fight, I would encourage her to knuckle up and deal out some real shots. This is especially true when her adversaries are throwing lazy overhand rights that invite a devastating counter-punch.

In total, I think she did well. How would you grade the first episode of Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC?

In addition to Professor Perry, there is another political scientist, really one of THE black political scientists, getting some shine this week as well. Last week, I linked to his work in The Boston Review. Today, Dr. Dawson will be appearing on We Act Radio. He also did a great interview/long form dialogue back in December of last year on Chicago's Another Perspective. For those interested in black politics it is an obligatory listen:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Personal is Political: Black Folks Cry While Meeting Michelle Obama During a Tour of the White House

I know that some will inevitably mock, hate on, and introduce a crude type of realpolitik calculus into their analysis of the video log of First Lady Michelle Obama's surprise visit to a recent tour at the White House. These same folks will be doubly cruel and harsh in their critique of the emotional responses offered by the several dozen black women who were surprised by the First Lady.

Interestingly, while there was some genuine warmth and sentiment offered by a good many of the white folks who met the First Lady, the "thanks," "don't stop," "keep it up," tears, and a sense of close attachment and investment in her presence and success, were sentiments almost exclusive and uniform to the African American visitors. Sure, every person present that day got to meet a celebrity (which is a fun experience); but I doubt if many of them would have risen from the seat of a wheelchair in order to offer proper respect to Michelle Obama. The walk was as much symbolic as it was literal and expressive. In fact, I almost expected a curtsy to be offered by some of the older sisters to our Black American royalty.

Politics is about resources; politics is also about emotion. Oftentimes crude materialists forget that reality. I will admit that I shed a spontaneous tear when one of the elders whispered in Michelle Obama's ear. We can only guess at what was said between them. My imagination tells me that their words had something to do with the long arc of history, and how this elderly black woman, standing before the First Lady, is witnessing something she--and most Americans--once thought impossible.

Consider for a moment the following: for 80,000 days a white man was in the White House as President. At present, for little over three years a black man, his wife, and their kids are living in the White House. Just as many white folks in the South thought that the Apocalypse had come with the return of former slaves, now in Union blue as soldiers and liberators with guns, in watching Michelle Obama greet these guests I can only imagine how some of the most conservative, reactionary, and Right-wing whites and their allies must feel. As Michelle Obama hugs her guests, and black folks cry, there is a sense that history has come full circle.

It is broken, preeminent philosopher Foucault's idea of "disruption" is made real.

To her critics, this scene should not, cannot, and must not continue. Whiteness cannot allow it. In 2008, Barack Obama had the sheer unmitigated gall to run for the Office of the President of the United States of America and to win. His wife (and their dog, how dare he complete the Norman Rockwell photo?) has the nerve to meet and greet visitors to the White House. To them, this is tribalism run amok and one more sign that white folks are at risk, oppressed, and excluded in the Age of Obama.

For better or for worst, black folks have consistently voted for and supported white candidates for President who did not have our full and best interests at heart. Thus, the bargain with the devil that comes with navigating towards full citizenship. This leads to the mystery of why some white folks condemn our pride and joy at the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, and the symbolism of his family living in the White House, but they remain silent at the given and de facto reality that the President of the United States is and has always been white. For the white racial frame this is normal and accepted. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West: in keeping with the rules of nature, the President of the United States must be a white man.

That is the joke, is it not? The President of the United States does not need to be "raced" per se, it simply is a position held by a white person. Privilege is blinding. In watching Michelle Obama at the White House I can almost, note I said almost, understand the existential angst, rage, and cognitive upset felt by those invested in the twins of whiteness and conservatism at the idea of Barack Obama as President. In all, when white folks cry upon meeting a first lady it is patriotism. When black folks cry while meeting Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States, it is something other than "normal" or "acceptable."

These types of retrograde whites do not hate the Obamas personally--although the rage is directed towards them on a personal level--as these reactionaries hate the very idea of black personhood in any position of authority over them. They are the same folks that would rail against a black or brown (or even female) boss who has to sign their time card. Take that upset, multiply it by orders of magnitude, and then one can just begin to compute their hostility (and hatred) towards Barack Obama and his family.

Black Americans are the perpetual other, we are the anti-citizen. If you doubt that fact keep your eyes open for how conservatives and the Right will use, misrepresent, abuse, and lie about the events in this video. You have been forewarned.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It Ain't Halftime in Detroit for Young Black Men: Exploring the Church of the Black Madonna

I have been knee deep in grading, which in turn explains why I have been been light with my posting this week. Things will be back to normal next week.

Black men are the envy of the world, pathologized, perpetually in crisis and at risk, faced with binary life choices of slanging crack rock or having a wicked jump shot, lacking role models, one is President of the United States, and millions are inmates.

I was forwarded this documentary last week and thought it worthy of sharing with you all. In my circles of friends and colleagues we often talk about "the lessons of manhood," and how young black men are not learning them. However, I always offer the qualifier that this country is in a cultural crisis--intellectually, morally, philosophically, financially, and politically--such that pants sagging troglodytes, baby daddies, and baby mamas all flow from the same feted waters as robber baron capitalists, Sarah Palin, Tea Party white nationalists, and shows like Jersey Shore and the various "Housewives from whatever place."

Detroit is a much studied and discussed city. It is a model of deindustrialization and an inverted window into the future that is the opposite of The Jetsons. Ironically, during the late 1960s and 1970s Detroit was in fact the city of tomorrow...but most folks simply didn't realize it at the time.

She is the home of Robocop, a place where both the social contract and social compact have been broken, a community that can't afford to bury its dead, and where private security guards are now employed as one of America's formerly great cities is now a demilitarized zone. In all, for most of Detroit's residents it most certainly ain't halftime. This is doubly true for Detroit's young black men.

The documentary Black Nation examines the controversial Church of the Black Madonna and its efforts to save the young black men of Detroit. After watching the film, I was left wondering are things truly this dire? And channeling Cornel West, how did black people become cast as a problem people, as opposed to a people where some of us, like any other group, may have problems?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Tea Party GOP's Curious Obsession with White Slavery in the Age of Obama

The 2012 primary campaign has repeatedly demonstrated that Republicans are trying to mobilize their voters by tapping into racial anxieties.

Newt Gingrich calling Obama a “food stamp president,” Rick Santorum implying that African Americans are parasites who leach off of white people, and Ron Paul’s old newsletters, which describe black men as monstrous beasts (“giant negroes” who stand ready to attack whites at any moment), are examples of this phenomenon on the national stage. However, Republican candidates for lower office have also pulled a page out of this playbook.

As their subtle dog-whistles escalate into clarion calls of overt racism to the Tea Party faithful, Mark Oxner, Republican candidate for Congress in Florida, has chosen to join the proverbial band. What is his contribution? A campaign commercial featuring President Barack Obama as the captain of a slave ship which is heading for inevitable doom as it sails over a waterfall—and bringing all of “us” down with it.

Mark Oxner’s ad is a marvelous example of right-wing propaganda; it is carefully crafted and rich with provocative imagery. For example, in keeping with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’ recent suggestion that President Obama’s leadership is akin to Captain Schettino's (the captain of the capsized Italian cruise ship Costa Condordia, on which 17 people were killed), Obama is depicted as irresponsible and negligent, abusing the child slaves who are forced to row the mighty vessel.

It is important to emphasize the choices made by the producers of Oxner’s video. They decided to use a colonial-era vessel driven by wind and powered by slaves, as opposed to a modern cruise liner, a steamship, or even an airplane. They chose to cast the children as slaves who are monitored by a whip-carrying overseer. And Oxner’s ad was designed to feature one image above all others—that of children, most of them white, being abused by a gleeful and indifferent black man. The inversion of the expected image, one where a person of color enslaves whites in their own version of the Middle Passage, reinforces the idea that something is unnatural (and inherently wrong) about this relationship of domination and subordination.

Despite the fact that white people control almost every major social, financial, economic, and political institution in the United States, the theme of white oppression by minorities is popular in the age of Obama. And while reasonable conservatives may not believe they will literally be made slaves like the children on the ship, there does appear to be a sense on the Right that whiteness and white people are somehow under siege.

The channeling of these fears is not new. The language of white oppression has loomed large in the American political imagination for centuries. In the 19th century, America’s war against the Barbary pirates was ostensibly to prevent white people from being “enslaved” by Arabs. There was a great moral panic during the early 20th century about white women being sold into slavery by newly arrived European immigrants, blacks, and other "undesirables."

Moreover, the terrifying idea of white people being enslaved or oppressed by non-whites has done potent political work in this country since before its founding. Conservatives have been skillfully mining it for quite some time, and this habit continues into the present. Some in the Tea Party (with their fondness for dressing up in colonial-era clothing in order to signal their fetish for the Constitution) believe they are fighting a tyrannical government led by a “traitor” named Barack Obama.

In addition, the Tea Party has conducted rallies where white people have been referred to as “slaves” of Barack Obama and the federal government. A prominent member of the Tea Party was famously caught with a sign suggesting that Congress is a group of “slave owners” and that the American people were its “niggers.”

History runs deep here: white American colonists also used a fear of being reduced to the status of slaves by the British to rally their cause of “freedom.” This was not an empty allusion. It was potent and direct, as men like Jefferson and Washington knew a great deal about slavery—they personally owned hundreds of black people.

In a perverse twist of history following the Civil Rights Movement, Republican elected officials won over the former Confederacy. As a result, the solid South is now the beating heart of Red State America. Consequently, since the 1960s, the Republican Party has increasingly embraced a neo-secessionist ideology in which the long-standing political consensus brought about by the Civil War is now called into question. In the 2012 campaign, this yearning for the good old days of Jim Crow and the Confederacy is in full bloom.

For example, Republican candidates have argued that basic constitutional protections can be decided on the local level in order to subvert federal authority. Some have even gone so far as to claim that individual states have the “right” to break away from the United States of America. The conversion is so complete, that a significant percentage of Republican voters now believe the Confederacy was right to secede, and that their traitorous state governments were on the correct side of history.

This embrace of the Confederacy and states’ rights is part of a broader strategy to destroy the social safety net, and as a negative response to how over the last five decades American democracy has become more inclusive. A fear of white oppression is also central to this story.

The Confederacy was first and foremost a white supremacist military state. It ruled through violence, terror, and the threat of harm to black people (and whites who dared to dissent). Consequently, one of its greatest fears was that blacks would gain their freedom and seek vengeance on white people.

Leading Confederates such as Henry Benning explicitly warned about the possibility of white enslavement at the hands of blacks. South Carolina’s articles of secession referenced a fear that white people cannot be part of a country in which blacks are the social equals of whites, and that no such equal arrangement could be tolerated under any circumstances.

During Jim and Jane Crow, supporters of segregation and American apartheid also channeled white anxieties about being dominated by black people. Racially and socially conservative whites were fearful that blacks who came of age after the end of slavery would have a sense that they were full American citizens. In turn, this generation of African Americans would be “uppity” and not know their proper "place" in the social order.

Under Jim and Jane Crow, freedom and liberty for whites was viewed as a zero sum game wherein any extension of full rights to blacks meant a restriction on white peoples’ behavior. For the imagination of apartheid America, one which through both law and day-to-day practice maintained separate and unequal spheres of cultural, political, social, and economic life along the color line, black freedom necessarily meant white “oppression.”

With its embrace of the Confederacy and secessionist rhetoric, the Republican Party now owns this history. Conservative icon Ronald Reagan solidified this relationship when he chose to give his infamous racially coded speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi in support of states’ rights—the very location where three civil rights workers were killed by white thugs 16 years earlier.

When Republican candidates proudly stand under the Confederate flag they legitimize white supremacy and Jim Crow, with all of its violence and paranoia. As they muse about how the landmark Civil and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s were threats to white peoples’ liberty, or suggest that the federal government under Barack Obama is coming to take away their freedoms, conservatives draw on a deep legacy of white victimology that has an eerie resonance with that of Jim Crow America.

This language does not exist in a vacuum. It is reproduced, circulated, and reinforced by the right-wing echo chamber. In a moment when conservatives are increasingly isolated within their own media bubble, and many only trust Fox News and conservative talk radio, an alternate reality is created for Red State America. Once more, a fictitious belief that whites are being oppressed by the country’s first black president, and that the United States is a country in which white people are somehow disadvantaged, is omnipresent in conservative media.

Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly bloviated about how white people are abused and held down by Barack Obama, and need a civil rights movement to fight for their rights. He has even gone so far as to suggest that with Obama’s election there will be slavery reparations and other “goodies” paid to African Americans at the expense of whites. In this bizarre vision of America, white people are beaten and abused by blacks as a matter of routine, and “liberals” are actively working to ensure that white people and conservatives kiss the feet of people of color.

Pat Buchanan has famously argued that white people are experiencing Jim Crow under Barack Obama and that they are marginalized and repressed just like black people under the ax handles, fire hoses, guns, and baseball bats of Bull Connor’s thugs during the darkest days of the Civil Rights Movement. And in their fixation on the New Black Panther Party, ACORN, the Reverend Wright “scandal,” and other manufactured controversies, Fox News has created a fictionalized world in which white people are under siege, second-class citizens in their own country.

The white victimhood narrative has paid substantial political dividends. In recent surveys, a majority of white conservatives believe they are oppressed, and a significant percentage of respondents also believe that anti-white racism is a bigger problem in American society than the discrimination faced by people of color. The sum effect of this politics of white victimology is a public policy that is less well-equipped to serve the common good, as shared class interests across the colorline can be sabotaged by right-wing appeals to white racial fears.

We can draw a long line here -- from the aborted interracial alliance of black and white indentured servants during Bacon’s Rebellion in the 17th century, to the populist, labor, and progressive movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, and into the present, when a narrow group of white elites have been able to distract the white working class and poor from their shared class interests with people of color. Race is a canard. Instead of looking to how people of color and white folks have common concerns about economic inequality for example, appeals to white skin privilege and white racial anxiety can be used to derail positive social change. To borrow the language of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the 1 percent has been using racism to divide and conquer for centuries. There is little new about the plutocrats’ game.

Ultimately, the Republican Party’s attraction to the rhetoric of “white oppression” is an example of the classic paranoid style in American politics. For many white conservatives, the election of the country’s first black president created a sense of existential upset. This event combined with a pre-existing set of deeply held fears about “liberal elites” in the media, academia, and elsewhere, who are out to persecute Republicans. The creation of an alternative reality by the right-wing media only enables these paranoid beliefs. Subsequently, racial demagoguery mates perfectly with a politics of grievance, persecution and oppression.

The language of “white oppression” is a deeply historical, catch-all phrase for conservatives, one which signals a sense that something is very wrong with America. It should be a given that American is a white man’s country, a shining city on the hill, never to be eclipsed, where “real Americans” rule forever. Rather than look in the mirror and demand an accounting for the failed policies that brought about a crisis of faith and (perhaps) the nadir of American empire, it is easier to blame “those people,” and create a story of white victimhood than to critically engage the role of white conservatives in making this mess.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

White Tea Party U.S.A.: We Want to Suckle at the Government Tit, But There is No Space for People Like You

Politics is complicated. Human beings use scripts, phrases, mnemonics, shorthand, and catchy phrases with which to make sense of the world. In American politics, there are a litany of such devices that work as heuristics, decision rules, and guides for voting and making political decisions.

For example, "what have you done for me lately?" Or, "the personal is political." "Not in my backyard," is another good one. I have also been partial to the classic "it's not what you say in politics, it's how you say it."

Professional students of politics have had the following drilled into their heads: "congressman are single minded seekers of reelection," and "politics is who gets what, when, and why."

Stories are also useful for thinking through how individuals navigate their partisanship, ideology, and voting decisions. My favorite metaphor for this process has long been that "a Democratic is someone who was robbed; a Republican is someone who lost their job."

In the era of the resurgent Right, where the combination of a black man who is President, changing demographics, a type of practical cultism, and a crisis in confidence and vision by rank and file Conservatives has brought out the worst varieties of reactionary populism, the lexicon of political catch phrases needs to be expanded.

If the New York Times' recent piece on the Tea Party, Red State America, and Right-wing hypocrisy is any guide, we need to add a phrase akin to the following: "I want mine, you can't get yours, and I will be damned if any of 'you people' try to suck on this government tit along with me!"

[I know that is a long turn of phrase. Any suggestions will be dutifully followed through on, and my ugly language amended.]

The NY Times continues:
And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it.

They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.
This ought to not come as a surprise. The American people are notoriously non-ideological. While they may get big ideas in the aggregate, political scientists and students of public opinion have repeatedly found that the masses are indeed asses. Part of this is cultivated by failing schools, a failed mass media, and a Right-wing echo chamber which cultivates an "irreality" of alternative facts, not grounded in empirical reality, and where "faith" takes precedence over fact.

The other component is a combination of political personality types, where the tendency of conservatives to be binary, simple minded, and fear oriented thinkers, makes a nuanced understanding of political matters increasingly difficult if not impossible:
But the reality of life here is that Mr. Gulbranson and many of his neighbors continue to take as much help from the government as they can get.

When pressed to choose between paying more and taking less, many people interviewed here hemmed and hawed and said they could not decide. Some were reduced to tears. It is much easier to promise future restraint than to deny present needs. He paused again, unable to resolve the dilemma.

“I feel bad for my children.”
Once more issues of race and class are central to the American story.

The "white working class," and oftentimes poor whites, have historically supported policies which are to their economic disadvantage because white elites offer the wages of whiteness as part of a bargain in which upward mobility has been dangled like a carrot on a stick. Ultimately, it was easy to climb up when you had a black, brown, or other person of color to use as a step stool, and where the State intervened by offering "affirmative action" to anyone judged to be nominally "white."

Class matters too. White elites are interested in contracting the State and continuing maldistributive economic policies that are to the detriment of the American people. Just as the white middle class was created after World War 2 in order to maintain domestic tranquility through consumerist democracy and citizenship, that model of the public sphere is now obsolete. Economic elites have decided that the rest of us are all surplus labor and excess population--color is coincidental to this process, and if the latter can be used to confuse white conservative populists, and by doing so encourage them to act against their own material interests, then all the better.

In 2012, I promised to clarify my terms here on We Are Respectable Negroes. At times, I use technical language and then embed a link for those who want to dig deeper. Going forward, I want to be more transparent--especially when the concepts are potent and potentially useful to all of you.

Thus, I offer two concepts to make sense of why Red State, Tea Party populist types hate the government, want more of it, resent people of color and those "urban types" who "abuse" the system, and then in turn feel horribly guilty that the type of conservative rugged individualism that
Fox News et al. preaches is a lie--one that the Tea Party Red State rank and file "get" instinctively, but don't have the ethical, moral, or personal courage to reconcile with more sophisticated and self-interested political decision-making.

Students of race have long suggested that white racism hurts white people. Moreover, we have long suggested that white racism is a mental illness and pathology. The ways in which conservatives have been able to mobilize white racial resentment to mobilize white poor, working class, and middle class people to act against their interests in proof positive of this hypothesis:
But Dean P. Lacy, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College, has identified a twist on that theme in American politics over the last generation. Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.

Conversely, states that pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits tend to support Democratic candidates. And Professor Lacy found that the pattern could not be explained by demographics or social issues.

Chisago has shifted over 30 years from dependably Democratic to reliably Republican. Support for the Republican presidential candidate has increased relative to the national vote in each election since 1984. Senator John McCain won 55 percent of the vote here in 2008.
The first concept I would like to offer is "the herrenvolk." This term means "the chosen people" or "master race." In countries such as the United States and South Africa, this historically meant that white people had special rights and privileges which were denied to others.

Specifically, a herrenvolk republic is one where the Racial State dictates that government serves whites as the in-group (through employment, jobs, particular benefits, access to exclusive opportunities, and transfer payments) and these same opportunities are in practice denied on an equal basis to others. This is the natural order of things; there is no cognitive dissonance or confusion on the part of its beneficiaries.

Citizenship is racialized. In the post civil rights moment, citizenship may be "colorblind." But, there remains the expectation that whites as the "middle class," and a protected group, receive certain benefits and protections which are taken for granted as "normal" entitlements.
Here, "those people" are on "welfare," while "people like me paid into the system."

The genius of a herrenvolk society is that even when these accepted norms are under attack, many whites instinctively turn on people of color (as opposed to looking at their brothers and sisters in the elite class who are behind these efforts at retrenchment and austerity). Given the Great Recession and the reality that Red State America will see more of its federal subsidies reduced, there will only be more racial animus and racial resentment towards non-whites as the 2012 elections nears.

The second concept I would like to offer is that of whiteness as a type of possessive investment. As George Lipsitz masterfully outlined some years ago, white skin privilege brings with it certain material, cultural, psychological, financial, and political benefits. These are so commonplace that they remain uncommented upon and uninterrogated. However, white people are keenly aware of these privileges, and in turn, take them as givens.

In turn, most white understand them to be "rights." Consequently, White America will do just about anything to protect these them. In total, Whiteness is an investment that does not like to be threatened with diminishing returns.

Just as Cheryl Harris and others have demonstrated (with their development of the concept that whiteness is a type of property), whites receive any number of benefits from the State--even as the Horatio Alger myth dictates that they deny the existence of such goodies. For example, almost every program associated with the Great Society or the New Deal was either explicitly targeted directly for the gain of white folks or designed to subsidize the white middle class.

In many instances, people of color were excluded by law from participating for equal gain in these programs. In Social Security for example, black people subsidize whites by virtue of the fact that people of color remain in the labor force longer and die younger than their white peers.

Neoliberal and neoconservative political elites sharpened their knives on destroying America's central cities, as well as the black and brown poor and working classes. Now that these surgeons are coming for the white middle and working classes there is panic and crisis. As I have argued elsewhere, there is nothing new in the game. Sadly, the possessive investment in whiteness makes it difficult for white folks to work across lines of race and class with people of color in the shared interests of the common good. At this juncture, it may be too late to correct the toxic habit that comes with being a signatory to whiteness.

The pundits are obsessed with searching for "dog whistles" and other such misunderstood terms. I would suggest that the complementary concepts of the "possessive investment in whiteness" and the "herrenvolk" are much more useful lenses going forward.

I am often misunderstood. I love white people. I tell them the truth when others will not. As such, I echo Daniel Carver when he says, "wake up white people!"

Black and brown Americans, as well as some white folks who are race traitors, political sophisticates, and forward thinkers who are down like Jon Brown, know the score already. Now, you need to bring your brothers and sisters along...if they are able and willing.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Lie with Facts: Christian "Historian" David Barton's Tour of the U.S. Capitol

Why are these people crying? Can you help me understand?

These Internets are great fun.

[Speaking of which, I have a piece up at Alternet where I break down the role of white victimology in the Republican Party, please do check it out. The white racialist crowd have already given me some shine so it should be fun.]

While watching the exegesis for Jon McNaughton's painting "The Forgotten Man," I toured around some of the other videos that Youtube suggested I may find of interest.

In doing so I stumbled upon snake oil Christian approved "historian" David Barton's tour of the U.S. Capital Building. As I pointed out earlier, one of the primary challenges facing the United States in the Age of Obama is the alternative knowledge system created by the propagandists on the Right. When you cannot even agree on the terms of reality, it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to advance policy goals which serve the common good.

"The Forgotten Man" and David Barton are part of a larger system of "knowledge" that finds strength precisely to the degree that its critics marshal empirical reality to critique it. Of course, this is largely a function of confirmation bias, mixed with a sense of persecution, and the paranoid style all mixed up in the Fox News Right-wing echo chamber.

Yet, I remain befuddled by the emotion, the tears, the crying, and the pathos on display in this video (as well as in the excellent documentary Right America Feeling Wronged). Politics is about emotion; but the devotion of many conservative populists to these fictions is ecstatic, bordering religious ecstasy. The Tea Party GOP's folding of evangelicals and the solid south into the Republican Party involved legitimizing faith and the revelatory experience as a type of evidence on par with empirical reality. This bargain brought with it electoral gains, it was also a type of Faustian bargain that drove out the more moderate, reasonable, and grounded voices from the party.

Watching Barton's carnival show, and the interviews with those who paid money to attend a tour led by a professional charlatan and liar (of course they have to have a few obligatory black folks in the crowd) reminded me of an article I read in one of my religious studies classes years ago. An anthropologist had gone to a series of Christian evangelical tent revivals throughout the South and the Midwest. He was particularly interested in the gender dynamics at these events, how they related to the broader public sphere, and the phenomena of speaking in tongues and people "getting the spirit."

After watching women fall out and writhe about on the ground (apparently possessed by a godly presence), he interviewed them. The researcher later realized that their behavior, movements, and answers to his questions suggested that they were in an orgasmic state of bliss. It would seem that there were some solid reasons for why these women--often in sexually unsatisfying relationships with their husbands--would attend these church revivals every evening.

Perhaps, this is part of the allure for the Right-wing faithful who would follow a Barton, Beck, Limbaugh, or attend an event like CPAC? By definition, they are outliers (most folks are not that "plugged into" politics, nor would they attend a rally or meeting) seeking a sense of community, identity, validation, and meaning. Participating in politics with like minded people also gives one a sense of belonging. But, could the allure of the this type of fire-eating, populist conservatism also be the visceral thrill that runs up the participants' legs as they are given access to secret knowledge, and are "saved," made one of "the elect," and find "salvation?"

Ultimately, the opinion leaders in the popular conservative media are (with few exceptions) professional liars. But, I have a special appreciation for faux intellectuals like David Barton. I admire a good con artist; I find mastery of craft impressive. More specifically, he reminds me of my favorite villain, Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars trilogies. The genius of that character is how he never lies. Everything Palpatine tells young Anakin is a fact. However, those "facts" are not necessarily "true."

Those who cater to the petit authoritarians and conservative populists are running the same game. They offer "facts" without context. This is seductive for the Tea Party Conservative Christian Dominionist faithful. It makes them feel "smart." These narratives facilitate their post hoc reasoning, where as I am so fond of referencing, the George Costanza rule for politics is in full effect: remember, it's not a lie if you believe it...especially if you have some "facts" from someone like David Barton or Glenn Beck to back up your self-delusional and willful lie.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Authoritarian Conservative Mind at Work: Jon McNaughton Explains his Painting, "The Forgotten Man"

I have wanted to post a comment about Jon McNaughton's new found fame for his painting of President Obama trampling the Constitution for a week or so. Apparently, being a political "artist" can pay the bills, as his website was crashed and the Youtube "making of"/exegesis/commentary on this most-desired piece of work has received 3.5 million views. Yes. You read that correctly. 3.5 million views. It would seem that Jon McNaughton has gone from art conventions at the Motel Six to eating prime rib at the local Denny's.

One of the most difficult concepts to communicate to undergraduates who are taking their first steps in cultural theory and analysis is that a text--be it a movie, novel, comic book , TV show, etc.--tells us something about the moment in which it was produced. Moreover, aesthetics matter as well. The language of "beauty," "style," and "craft" are implicit value judgments: they do not exist in a social or historical vacuum.

Folks often get caught up on the question of intent, i.e. what did the creator of this cultural text want the public to "get" out of it? Are we being "fair" in how we locate and situate a piece of work in a given political context, and with our analysis regarding the type of ideological work that it is doing? These questions of intent are interesting. They can also serve as distractions from a more rigorous and intensive critical project.

However, there are rare moments when the creator of a text actually explains his or her work. There is no veil to peek through as the author shares the "preferred meaning" with the public. While I am quite tempted to make an effort at deconstructing what is a flat and rather uninteresting piece of agitprop conservative "art," I have always struggled with what to say about the obvious and banal.

[Perhaps, one of you budding art critics can offer some observations about the composition of this painting, its use of color and light, and what you take the semiotics of the image to be? To my eyes, the most interesting aspect of "The Forgotten Man" is that of James Madison trying to cop a feel on Obama's glorious buttocks before he goes ass to mouth on the country's first black president.]

Salon's interview
with Jon McNaughton is more revealing than the art itself. McNaughton's answers to questions about history, race, and the American narrative are a powerful and telling insight into the brand of conservative populist authoritarianism that has beguiled a good number of people in this country.

For example, McNaughton notes on the relationship between the Framers, religion, and the Constitution:
Several of your paintings, like “One Nation Under God” [in which Jesus holds aloft the Constitution, while, at his feel, various American archetypes sit in two groups, Last Judgment-style -- a Marine, a schoolteacher, a farmer and a minister on the left, a news reporter, a professor, a politician, a lawyer and a weeping Supreme Court Justice on the right] draw a strong link between religion and politics. How does that square constitutionally?

I don’t have an issue with separation of church and state. I just believe the Constitution is divinely inspired and our Founders were inspired by God.
The painting features a broken, tired, "Forgotten Man." Apparently, Obama has destroyed him. Here is McNaughton's explanation of this metaphor:
And the metaphor in the Forgotten Man?
The Forgotten Man is the the average American — every man, woman and child — who may not have the same opportunities in the future because of what our presidents have done, which strays from the original intent of the Constitution.

The Forgotten Man is very handsome. Who’s the model?

[Laughs] I’ve got a close friend I use. I’m not ready to reveal him yet.

He’s got that look of abject despair down pat, with those hunched shoulders …

Some people make issue of the fact that it’s a white guy sitting on the bench, like it’s somehow racial. I was talking with an African-American man and he asked why I didn’t make him black or something else. And I said, “Well, if I made him black, then certainly the issue of the painting would have been racial.” If I had made him Latino, then it would have been about illegal immigration. And if I’d made him a woman, imagine what that would have been.
This is a great example of the white racial frame in action. I have seen few better examples of white privilege and the pathological normality of Whiteness than the above explanation for an "artistic" choice.

Question: what the hell is "limited government?" Notice the power of codewords, the compelling nature of simple concepts, and how masterful the Right has been in developing an empty vocabulary which resonates with the mouth breathing classes:

And Obama?
Obama standing on the Constitution represents his taking action against what the Constitution stands for, which, to my mind, is limited government. I wasn’t trying to make fun of Obama I tried to paint him in a very serious manner. He understands the Constitution and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
As Kevin Drum and others have pointed out, the Right-wing establishment has created its own reality and alternative knowledge system. These are the hallmarks of a cult, one with which negotiations in the interest of the Common Good are impossible because the terms of debate (and reality) are not in agreement. Ironically, you can educate and work with folks who are ignorant. The populist conservatives of the present day are not ignorant, they have cultivated a set of tautological beliefs in a closed system where a thing is true simply because they will it to be. Facts be damned. McNaughton's interview is a great example of the George Constanza rule in American political culture: remember, it's not a lie if you believe it.

And what is Jon McNaughton's newest painting? "One Nation Under Socialism." Meh. Insert finger into mouth in order to induce vomiting.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Boston Review and the Future of Black Politics: Irrelevance? Obsolete? Multiracial? Dead?

The Boston Review's January issue focuses on black politics. For those not in the know, the Boston Review is an amazing publication and is one of the last long form newspapers or magazines which brings together real experts to meditate on issues of public concern. In short, the Boston Review is a treasure for those who like to think and reflect on the topics of the day, and to get one step ahead of a very narrow, corporate media driven, news cycle.

The Future of Black Politics issue has the following question on its cover: Is Black Politics Good for America? My response to such inquiries has always been, "is white politics good for America?" As a student of black politics I am always suspicious when "our" concerns are racialized, and those of other folks taken to be "normal" or "mainstream." That assumption explains so much about the challenges which face black and brown communities in the 21st century. I remain puzzled that it has not been more thoroughly interrogated.

Michael Dawson, who I have referenced before and hold in the highest regards, is the editor of The Future of Black Politics series. He has brought together some great folks who are a who's who in political science, sociology, philosophy, and critical race theory. The bench is really deep. Each essay is more than worth considering on its own merits, but here are a few excerpts which are especially prescient given the conversations we have had here on WARN, and the types of puzzles that will have to be worked through as black political elites resolve their roles in an increasingly diverse America.

Michael Dawson, offers a great framework for the essays which follow his introduction. Dawson's following observation about "pragmatic utopianism" is particularly powerful and provocative:
We must “tell no lies, claim no easy victories,” Amílcar Cabral, the Guinea-Bissauan nationalist leader, said of the process of imagining new worlds. We need to understand the conditions from which we must build. So we need a pragmatic utopianism, which starts where we are and imagines where we want to be.
Pragmatic utopianism is not new to black radicalism. King and the civil rights movement combined a utopian image of a very different America, one they were repeatedly told was impossible to obtain, with hardheaded political realism and goal-oriented strategies.
Indeed, King’s Memphis campaign to support black sanitation workers, and, even more so, the Poor People’s Campaign that he was about to launch at the time of his death, were designed explicitly to take on what Walter Mosley has called the “voracious maw of capitalism,” achieve economic justice for all, and in the process build the interracial unity that had been, and remains, so elusive.
Dorian Warren, superstar that he is (I mean that with love), contributes a trenchant observation about the relationship between neoliberalism, vested interests, and black empowerment:
Incompatible and irreconcilable interests among blacks represent the fundamental challenge of 21st-century black politics. While black communities have always had a class divide, its sources have changed. Under Jim Crow segregation, black economic elites depended on black consumers, tethering black capitalists to the larger black community.
Drawing on a term Dawson uses elsewhere, that business arrangement created a sense of “linked fate.” Today, black economic elites not only have sources of income and wealth outside the black community, but their collective interests are at odds with those of the majority of black Americans. There is no going back.
I’m not as optimistic as Dawson about the chances that black political leaders will begin to represent all segments of black communities, particularly poor or LGBT people. It is equally likely that black political elites will continue to engage in processes of secondary marginalization. Indeed things could get worse. After all, black mayors and other mayors of color—in Oakland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and elsewhere—have behaved no differently, and often worse, than their white counterparts in responding to Occupy protests.
Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres develop their previous concept of "political race" one step further and suggest that:
...In each of these cases, blacks and Latinos linked their fates with other disenfranchised groups who share similar economic and social status or worldview, but who are separated from them and from each other by the old scripts of racial division. The goal of these political-race projects is to build constituencies of accountability rather than constituencies for electability.
We applaud Dawson’s critique: the road to political power is not through the electocracy. Rather than focusing on electing more black candidates, black progressives should build political or social movements that assert their authority beyond the voting booth and offer a better vision of what this country could be. But we believe they cannot do it alone. Political race is necessary to change the wind.
Philosopher Tommie Shelby bring the heat with a claim about black political leadership that I am sure many of you will agree with:
Dawson insists that we need independent black organizations if we are to hold black leaders accountable. But black elected officials could be held accountable through elections if we had a more democratic system, one that didn’t give rich people and large corporations undue influence over elections and public policy. This suggests that blacks should join forces with those fighting for a fairer electoral system and campaign finance reform, regardless of their race. We of course need well-run organizations able to pressure government officials.
But again, these organizations can be racially diverse, with each member an equal. Self-appointed spokespersons for “the race” are obsolete—they don’t need to be held accountable; they need to be delegitimized...
Dawson rightly praises King’s pragmatic utopianism, and he recommends a return to the spirit and politics of King’s underappreciated Where Do We Go from Here. But Dawson seems not to have taken to heart the lessons from King’s trenchant critique of black power ideology.
Cultivating multiracial organizations and maintaining black solidarity within them strikes the right balance between utopian aspiration and political realism. Black politics need not be anchored in a set of organizations that blacks control. It can and should be rooted in blacks’ joint ethical commitment to protect each other and to fight for justice and mutual respect.
My thoughts on these matters are mixed.

On one hand, I suggest that we still need vibrant, strong, well-resourced black political, economic, and cultural organizations to argue for the particular, and in many cases, "unique" needs of the African American community given our history and present in the United States. However, to the degree that black folks are still possessed by the glare of the glorious 1960s and the civil rights moment, we are unable to shift gears and deal with current challenges where class often matters more than race in explaining deleterious life outcomes.

In the Age of Obama white supremacy is institutionalized. However, it operates in a race neutral fashion. Old tactics for dealing with racism in the neoliberal, neoconservative, global present are the equivalent of the Zulus charging British Gatling guns, or the horses of the Light Brigade charging headlong into Maxim machine guns. In all, you will have a great story to tell. However, the victory--if it comes--will be Pyrrhic in nature. The white racial frame, the white gaze, and white supremacy are adaptive. In many ways, they are among the greatest inventions of the modern age. Black and brown people, our allies, and others interested in the common good need to shift to full spectrum warfare in order to defeat those enemies. Nothing less will bring continued defeat.

Finally, I am also nervous about handing over the political interests of black people to the ambiguous umbrella term known as "multiracial" alliances. Cooperation does not preclude the pursuit of one's own narrow group interests. However, history has taught many lessons--among them how black folks are often at the vanguard of challenging the system and teaching others how to struggle--only to see African American political interests discarded in the interest of "political expediency" or the "greatest good for the greatest many."

Where do we go from here? You tell me.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Me Love You Long Time, Me So Horny: More than Dog Whistles, Republican Pete Hoekstra Embraces the Yellow Peril Strategy

Getting my feet back under me after the Superbowl.

It seems that at the nadir of the American Empire, the Tea Party GOP is more than desperate. They are using their racial air raid sirens to key in on every fear that white conservatives may possess--this is a good strategy as research suggests that conservatives do in fact have larger fear centers in their brains, and are more prone to hold racist attitudes and have low IQ's.

But, from Gingrich's janitor and lazy black people food stamp president meme, to Santorum's black parasites, to Ron Paul's "giant negroes," the Republican Party is going off of the deep end.

Michigan Senate Republican candidate Pete Hoekstra's yellow peril ad is more than failed satire. It is piss poor reasoning and raggedy argumentation. I am very concerned about the rise of China. I am doubly concerned about how the American people sold themselves out for boatloads of cheap crap from abroad. But, there are better and smarter ways to make such claims, and to develop long-term, intelligent, and nuanced policies to prepare the country for the de facto emergence of China's global power.

In keeping with the slave ship anti-Obama ad, Republicans who are lower on the ticket have apparently learned to dig deep in that old bucket of white racial resentment and anxiety to win voters. If the top tier candidates are wallowing in this mess, it just becomes a prototype for others to replicate. It becomes a political version of Moneyball, or the PSA where the kid learns to use drugs or smoke by watching his parents.

"I learned it by watching you!" becomes a catch-all phrase to legitimate toxic behavior in the public and political spheres.

In all, conservatives are in a state of existential angst. A black man happens to be President of the United States, and America is a falling power and not a rising one. Moreover, as cultivated by the Right-wing echo chamber, black and brown people are oppressing white folks. Consequently, many white conservative populists are at a total loss. A few decades ago black people stopped getting off of the sidewalk when whites approached; it is a slippery slope as such changes in social convention have led to all sorts of madness and upset for the White Soul.

Who knows where this will lead us? Next thing we know, perhaps the nativists and know nothings in the Tea Party GOP will be recycling Madison Grant's racist screeds and stripping Jews, Poles, Italians, and others of their recently earned full Whiteness. Perhaps the Tea Party will form patrols to raid opium dens and save white women from slavery at the hands of nefarious, evil, Fu Manchu Asians?

In the 2012 campaign season the Republicans are still fighting the Vietnam War; during the Age of Obama it would seem that the white racial frame is indeed back to the future.

So sad.

Funereal Solace, The New England Patriots Lose, and Casey at the Bat

The New England Patriots were defeated. They did not lose; they were beaten by a better team.

In the off season, the Patriots need to get a true deep threat, to strengthen their secondary, and acquire some game changers on defense. I did not cry tonight, for I did not expect the Patriots to win. In all, that is what happens when the magic wears off, the gold doesn't glisten as much, and your team is revealed as mortal.

There is a bitter aftertaste. But those millionaires will keep their money; the planet stays in her orbit; and the world keeps spinning.

The New York Giants are the Patriots', Belichick's, and Brady's nemesis. Enemies are good to have...until they consistently beat you.

The seasons are passing by at a steady rate, and the opportunities for revenge will come fewer and farther between. Perhaps, the Patriots and Tom Brady needed to be reminded of just how rare one Super Bowl appearance is for a team or a player. To have lost as many times as they have on the grandest stage of them all, is both an insult and reminder of greatness, as much as it is a slap in the face.

We tell our children fables in order to prepare them for times when all is lost, and life seems hopeless. To point, this evening, as a New England Patriots fan for now, and forever, I am reminded of Casey at the Bat, a story whose wisdom is timeless:
The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.  
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.  
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.  
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

It rained today. It rained hard. It burns. And sometimes, you swing and miss.

Until next year.

Congratulations to the New York Giants and their fans.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Ghetto Nerd Obligatory Super Bowl 2012 Prediction with Vince Lombardi and the Jem'Hadar

Getting ready for the big game. I have the Popeye's Fried Chicken, some Sapporo beer, and a Chimay to open if the Patriots win (a celebration) or lose (a drink of lamentation).

Part of the fun of the week leading up to the Super Bowl is the sport media's efforts to mine every angle in search of a story. We have the obligatory how the Super Bowl reflects American politics stories, the how much more rich is Tom Brady than all of you story, and the human interest vignettes. My favorite, of the bit that I managed to digest, was the NFL network's sitdown with Bill Parcells in which he took out the old white board and dissected the Giants-Pats rematch. His conclusion as to who will win was anticlimactic and not very exciting (the team with the fewest turnovers), but Parcell's expertise is always awe inspiring.

My ghetto nerd New England Patriots fan prediction? Patriots 27, Giants 24. This game has many intriguing storylines: how healthy will the Gronk monster be? The hostility of the fans in Indianapolis, the presence of Peyton Manning, and how much luck he will bring his younger brother Eli. And of course, revenge for the crime of the football century when the Giants robbed the Patriots of a perfect season and championship back in 2007.

Whoever has the ball last is going to win this game. I hope it is Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Patriots enter the arena with nothing; now they have to claim their destiny as one of the greatest teams of the modern era. Good luck guys, you/we are going to need it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The NY Times Probes the Existential Crisis of the Black Church; Eddie Long is Anointed as the King of the Ring

And you wonder why I have no use for the black church?

There are two immediate thoughts that come to mind in watching Eddie Sex Pervert Seduction of the Innocent Long.

First, the affect of the "Rabbi" who is whoring out "his" people reminds me of Tim Wise. I have the utmost respect for Brother Wise, so this is not a comment on any commonality in the substance of his message with that of the snake oil charlatan who anoints Eddie Long as a king. Simply, there is something frighteningly similar about their habitus and style.

Second, it has been said that in the black community the preacher and the pimp are the same cultural figure--they both have a cult of personality, drive expensive cars, exploit women, and wear garish clothing. Eddie Long would seem to prove the point as all he needs is a Bishop Don Magic Juan magical pimp cup to complete the transformation.

In all, the sheeple never fail to disappoint. From their belief that God manifests itself in rock star concert mega churches, to the ego gratification that comes with the cultivated narcissism of being "the chosen people" or "saved," I generally have no use for the mess that passes as religion. While I believe in a Prime Mover/Blessed Exchequer/Crom, the idea that anyone would put faith in a man, as opposed to going straight to the source, strikes me as so medieval. I will take my science is the mind of God, combined with a bit of mysticism and spirituality, and stirred with Richard Dawkins any day of the week, over the "approved" alternatives. But I digress.

On a more serious note, The NY Times has a nice series exploring the continued relevance of the black church as a political institution and social change agent that is worth checking out.

On a lighter, but still very illuminating note, the WWE's Royal Rumble was last weekend. Subsequently, it is fitting to remind ourselves that Eddie Long's shtick (like that of many others in churches, temples, and mosques around the world) is one big carnival act.

To point: Eddie Long's anointment as a savior and king is most evocative of how back in the 1980s, the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase rejected convention and fashioned a championship belt for himself. DiBiase's act of hubris further advanced his heel persona, drew even more heat, and got him fully over with the crowd.

Sadly, those fools who sit in the pews at Eddie Long's church, tithing away their rent money to a criminal, do not realize that they are marks. But then again, maybe the lost souls know that it is all a big con, as they derive some sense of community and belonging from their shared exploitation.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Featured Comment: "To align black people behind policies that are antiblack, in their support of a black president..."

As I occasionally do, there is a comment on my post "The Top 10 Racist Moments of the GOP Primary (So Far)" that merits further discussion. Nomad (who needs to claim his book prize) perennial critic of Barack Obama, and long time commenter here on WARN observed that:
Everything you say is true about the Republican assault on issues of concern to black people:

"the 2012 Republican candidates are stirring the pot of white racial anxiety, this is a means to a larger end—the destruction of the country’s social safety net, in support of vicious economic austerity policies, and protecting the kleptocrats and financiers at the expense of the working and middle classes."

What you fail to mention is that a Democratic president, who "happens to be black", is leading the charge. Clearly racism is being used in a novel way here; to align black people behind policies that are antiblack, in their support for a black president. Diabolical. The irony is hilarious. Tea party on one side of the political divide working against their best interests in their support for the super-rich; and black people working against their best interests in their support for a conservative black president.
I wonder if a similar list of racist moments, albeit intra-racially racist, could be compiled for the enigma in the white house? I'd nominate this moment.
This is a very sharp (and quite rich) observation. Partisanship colors--pardon my pun--how voters assess a given candidate's job performance and efficacy. Moreover, allowing for the historic and groundbreaking nature of Barack Obama's election, the white backlash he has experienced, his ability to code switch as he plays the black authenticity game, and given their long standing loyalty to the Democratic Party, African Americans' support of Obama makes sense. However, has that deep well of support paid any political dividends to the black community?

Certainly, Barack Obama has not engaged in the type of racial triangulation game that is typical of black conservatives like Herman Cain or Allen West (where they signal their acceptability to white people, and White political interests, by playing the exceptional pro-white negro), nor has Obama had a Bill Clinton Sister Soulja moment where he threw a black person under the proverbial bus in order to make white middle America feel comfortable.

[Well, one must ask: does the Reverend Wright exercise in realpolitik political abandonment count in that category?]

I never expected a Black radical to win the U.S. presidency--thus, my qualifier that Barack Obama is a "president who happens to be black, and not a Black president." I knew that he was a corporatist, who in another generation, would have been an Eisenhower-Rockefeller Republican.

So help me out, did folks actually believe that they were getting a black freedom fighter who was going to be the second coming of Dr. King with their vote for Obama back in 2008? And if the choice is between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, what is a better use of the black (brown, young people, poor, working class) vote strategically?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The 10 Most Racist Moments of the GOP Primary (So Far)

One cannot forget that the contemporary Republican Party was born with the Southern Strategy, winning over the former Jim Crow South to its side of the political aisle, and as a backlash against the civil rights movement. This is a formula for a politics of white grievance mongering and white victimology; a dreamworld where white conservatives are oppressed, their rights infringed upon by a tyrannical federal government and elite liberal media that are beholden to the interests of the “undeserving poor,” racial minorities, gays, and immigrants.

In keeping with this script in order to win over Red State America, the 2012 Republican presidential candidates have certainly not disappointed. Both overt racism and dog whistles are delectable temptations that the Republican presidential nominees cannot resist. With the election of the country’s first African-American president, and a United States that is less white and more diverse, the GOP is in peril. In uncertain times, you go with what you know. For the Republican Party, this means “dirty boxing,” digging deep into the old bucket of white racism, and using the politics of fear, hostility and anxiety to win over white voters by demagoguing Obama.

Racism is an assault on the common good. Racism also does the work of dividing and conquering people with common interests. While the 2012 Republican candidates are stirring the pot of white racial anxiety, this is a means to a larger end—the destruction of the country’s social safety net, in support of vicious economic austerity policies, and protecting the kleptocrats and financiers at the expense of the working and middle classes.

Here are the top 10 racist moments by the Republican presidential candidates so far.

1. Newt Gingrich puts Juan Williams "in his place" for daring to ask an unpleasant question during the South Carolina debate. This was the most pernicious example of old-school white racism at work in the 2012 Republican primary campaign. Newt Gingrich, a son of the South who grew up in the shadow of legendary Jim Crow racist Lester Maddox, is an expert on the language and practice of white racism (in both its subtle and obvious forms). He has ridden high with Republican audiences by suggesting that black people are lazy, and their children should be given mops and brooms in order to learn the value of hard work. With condescending pride, Gingrich has also stated that he would lecture the NAACP--one of America’s most storied civil rights organizations--that they ought to demand jobs and not food stamps from Barack Obama.

On Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, under the Confederate flag, in the state of South Carolina, Gingrich defended his racist contempt for African Americans by putting Juan Williams, “that boy,” in his place. During the debate, Juan Williams had gotten uppity and was insufficiently deferential to Newt.

This dynamic was not lost on the almost exclusively white audience in attendance (nor on the white woman who congratulated Gingrich the following day for his “brave” deed). They howled with glee at the sight of a black man, one who dared to sass, being reminded of his rightful place at Newt’s knee. In another time, not too long ago, Juan Williams would have been driven out of town for such an offense, if he was lucky -- the lynching tree awaited many black folks who did not submit to white authority.

The symbolism of Newt Gingrich’s hostility to black folks, on King’s birthday, and the personal contempt he demonstrated for Juan Williams, was a classic moment in contemporary Republican politics. This was the “scene of instruction,” when a black man was a proxy for a whole community, a stand-in for the country’s first black president, as Newt Gingrich showed just what he thinks about Barack Obama, specifically and about people of color, in general. In that moment, white conservatism’s contempt was palatable, undeniable and unapologetic.

2. Herman Cain, in one of the most grotesque performances in post-civil rights-era politics to date, deftly plays his designated role as an African-American advocate for some of the Tea Party and New Right’s most racist policy positions. Most notably, in numerous interviews Cain alluded to the Democratic Party as keeping African Americans on a “plantation,” and that black conservatives were “runaway slaves” who were uniquely positioned to “free” the minds of their brothers and sisters. The implication of his ahistorical and bizarre allusion to the Democratic Party and chattel slavery was clear: black Americans are stupid, childlike and incapable of making their own political decisions, as Cain publicly observed that “only thirty percent of black people are thinking for themselves.”

Doubling down, as a black conservative mascot for the fantasies of the Tea Party faithful, Herman Cain also suggested that anyone who accuses them of “racism” (ignoring all available evidence in support of this claim) were in fact anti-white, and the real racists.

Herman Cain’s disdain was not limited to the black public. He also argued that undocumented immigrants should be electrocuted at the U.S. border by security fences, and that Muslim Americans are inherently treasonous and should be excluded from government. Perhaps most troubling, Herman Cain advocated for extreme forms of racial profiling in which Muslims would have to carry special identification cards.

Racism and anti-black sentiment know no boundaries. Herman Cain demonstrates that some of its most deft practioners are (ironically) people of color.

3. Ron Paul argues that the landmark federal legislation that dismantled Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s was a moral evil and a violation of white people’s liberty. Ron Paul’s claim that the rights of black Americans are secondary to the “freedom” of whites to discriminate, is an almost perfect mirror for the logic of apartheid. Ron Paul’s white supremacist ethic is more than a dismissal of one of the crowning legislative achievements of the 20th century: it is the endorsement of a principle that conveniently allows white people to hate and discriminate in the public sphere at will--and without consequence--against people of color. This “freedom” is the living and bleeding heart of white racism.

4. Rick Santorum tells conservative voters that black people are parasites who live off hard-working white people. Santorum’s claim that “I don’t want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's moneyis problematic in a number of ways. First, Santorum channels the white supremacist classic Birth of a Nation and its imagery of childlike free blacks who are a burden on white society. In addition, Santorum’s assumption that black people are a dependent class is skewed at its root.

Why? Santorum presupposes that African Americans are uniquely pathological and lack self-sufficiency, ignores the black middle-class, and directly race-baits a white conservative audience by telling them that “the blacks” are coming for their money, jobs and resources. There is no mention of Red State America’s disproportionate dependence on public tax dollars, or how the (white) middle-class and the rich are subsidized by the federal government.

5. In keeping with the class warfare narrative, and as a way of proving their conservative bona fides, Republican candidates have crafted a strategy in which they repeatedly refer to the unemployed as lazy, unproductive citizens who would “be rich if they just went out and got a job.” In fact, as suggested by Mitt Romney, any discussion of the wealth and income gap in the United States (and the destruction of the middle class), should be done in a “quiet room,” as such truth-telling stokes mean-spirited resentment against the rich.

Conservatives have an almost Orwellian gift for manipulating language. The financier class is reframed as “job creators.” Programs that workers pay for such as Social Security are equated with “welfare.” Americans who are victims of robber baron capitalism and structural unemployment are painted as dregs who want nothing more than to “live off of the system.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, unions are painted as bastions for the weak, the greedy, and those who hate capitalism.

Race is central here: Conservatives seeded this ground with their assault on the black poor. The invention of the welfare queen by Ronald Reagan became code for lazy, fat, black women who game the system at the expense of hard-working whites. The Right uses the same framing in order to attack immigrants as people who want to destroy the country and steal the scarce resources of “productive” white Americans.

Efforts to shrink “big government” are closely related to the Right’s observation that the federal government employs “too many” blacks. The Republican Party refined its Ayn Rand-inspired shock doctrine and disaster capitalism through decades of practice on black and brown Americans. The racist tactics that were once used to justify the evisceration of programs aimed at helping the urban poor are now being applied to white folks on Main Street USA during the Great Recession.

6. Mitt Romney wants to "keep America America." The dropping of one letter from the Ku Klux Klan’s slogan, “Keep America American,” does not remove the intent behind Romney’s repeated use of such a virulently bigoted phrase. While Mitt Romney can claim ignorance of the slogan’s origins, he is intentionally channeling its energy. In the Age of Obama, the Republican Party is drunk on the tonic of nativism. From remarks about “the real America,” to supporting the mass deportation of Latinos and Hispanics, a hostility to any designated Other is central to the 21st-century know-nothing politics of the Tea Party-driven GOP. Romney’s slogan, “Keep America America” begs the obvious question: just who is American? Who gets to decide? And should there be moats and electric fences to keep the undesirables out of the country?

7. Rick Perry’s nostalgic memories of his family’s ranch, "Niggerhead." You cannot choose your parents (or decide what your ancestors will christen the family retreat before your birth). You can, however, choose to rename the family ranch something other than the ugliest word in the English language.

The world that spawned and nurtured Rick Perry’s Niggerhead was none too kind to black people. Jim and Jane Crow were the rule of the land; it was enforced through violence, threats and intimidation. Moreover, Rick Perry grew up in a “sundown town.” These were communities from which blacks were banished by violence, and where white authorities made sure that African Americans would never again be allowed in the area. The whiteness of memory and nostalgia is blinding. While he has finally dropped out of the race, the Niggerhead episode is emblematic of Rick Perry’s obsession with states’ rights, and a broader fondness for the Confederacy and secession. These are traits he shares in abundance with the remaining Republican presidential candidates.

8. Former candidate Michele Bachmann suggests that the black family was stronger during slavery than in freedom. Her claim is not just a simple misunderstanding of history and the importance of family in the Black Experience. No, she is signaling to a tired, white supremacist, slavery-apologist narrative which opines that African Americans were/are not yet ready for freedom, and could only “flourish” under the benign guidance of the Southern Slaveocracy.

In a moment when states such as Arizona and Texas are outlawing ethnic studies programs, and when the Tea Party and its allies are leading an assault on educational programs that are not sufficiently “pro-American,” Bachmann’s claims are part of a broader effort to literally whitewash U.S. history.

When married to her belief in a willful lie that the framers of the United States Constitution were abolitionists who fought tirelessly to eliminate slavery (in reality, both Jefferson and Washington were slaveowners), and a defense of slaveholding Christian whites who “loved their slaves,” Bachmann’s ignorance of the facts transcends mere stupidity and slips over to enabling white supremacy.

9. The Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidates' near-silence about how the Great Recession has destroyed the African American and Latino middle-class. This speaks volumes about just how selectively inclusive the Republican Party—which markets itself as the defender of the “American Dream” and of an “opportunity society”—really is. During the Ronald Reagan-Politico debate, the Republican candidates were asked what they would do to address the gross and disparate impact of the Great Recession on black and brown communities.

While whites are suffering with an official unemployment rate of almost 10 percent, African Americans have struggled with a rate that is almost two to three times as high. In addition, the black and brown middle-class has seen its income, assets and wealth gutted by the Great Recession, where in 2011, whites have almost 20 times the average net worth of African Americans.

As always, when White America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu…or worse. In that awkward moment, only Rick Perry chimed in and proceeded to recycle the same tired rhetoric about “growing the economy” as a vague cure for all ills. One must ask: how would the Republican candidates have responded if the white middle-class had been devastated in the same manner, and to the same degree, as the black and brown middle-class? I would suggest that for the former, it would be treated as a crisis of epic proportions; for the latter, it is a mere curiosity and inconvenient fact.

Politics is about a sense of imagined community. The Ronald Reagan-Politico debate made clear that while the African American and Latino middle-class is being destroyed, the Republican Party has little concern or interest in remedying such a tragic event. It would seem that the Republican Party’s “big tent” has no room for “those people.”

10. The echo chamber that is Fox News, right-wing talk radio, the conservative blogosphere, and Republican elected officials daily stoke the politics of white racial resentment, bigotry and fear. Ultimately, the Republican candidates would not use racism as a weapon if it were not rewarded by their voters, and encouraged by the party’s leadership. An army travels on its stomach; it needs foot soldiers and shock troops to advance its aims.

From the ugly, race-based conspiracy fantasies of Birtherism to the astroturf politics of the Tea Party to a news network whose guests routinely disparage Barack Obama with such labels as “ghetto crackhead” to the bloviating racist utterances by opinion leaders such as Rush Limbaugh, to the common bigotry on display at right-wing Web sites that use monkey, ape, gorilla, pimp, and watermelon imagery to depict the United States’ first black president and his family, it is clear that racism “works” for the Republican Party. To ignore the attraction of rank-and-file white conservatives to such ugliness is to overlook the driving force behind the Republican nominees’ behavior.