Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lest We Forget that Rick Santorum Supporters are Real People Too

It is easy to demonize one's political foes.

Red state and Blue state; political polarization; epistemic closure; the great sort; "real America." These are catch phrases which obscure as much about political reality as they reveal. Ultimately, politics is about people and their choice (or not) to support particular policies, personalities, and goals.

However, I am always mindful of the lie which is false equivalence: while the volume may in fact be turned way up on both sides of the ideological divide, there is no equivalent on the Left or from moderates to the propaganda machine of Fox News and the right wing echo chamber. Moreover, the sophistication of their eliminationist appeals, and ability to create an alternate reality for their believers, is without peer. This is not a criticism. It is an observation and a backhanded complement.

With Rick Santorum's rise and popularity among the Republican base, it has become abundantly clear that emotion--perhaps as it always has--rules over reason for a significant part of the voting public. Given the psychological predispositions of the most ardent culture warrior conservatives, one either "gets" Rick Santorum's appeal, or is left shaking their heads in disbelief. This is as much a function of how conservative's brains are hardwired, as it is political socialization, and the sources which Republicans trust to give them cues about political decision-making.

In all, politics is about real people--and their foibles, confusion, passion, and personal, local understandings of social reality. On occasion, the "public" speaks back. The Youtube promo by Right Wing Rants in defense of Rick Santorum, and my observations about the latter's race baiting, Christian Nationalism, and hatred of black liberation theology is a great object lesson in the power of the Right-wing media echo chamber.

There is a good amount of sincerity in these two three videos which makes them all the more troubling. Like many voters, Right Wing Rants does not simply accept the talking points from Fox News and their fellow propagandists. As researchers such as John Zaller and others have pointed out, for a political appeal or cue to be truly effective it has to be reconciled and integrated with preexisting beliefs. Pundits and analysts often overlook this fact in their efforts to make sense of the populist conservative political imagination.

The Right-wing media is persuasive because they offer a worldview, an alternate set of facts, and an emotionally compelling narrative which speaks directly to their public. In short, conservative spin doctors have figured out how to sell their ideology as a faith and a lifestyle where the proclamations, edicts, and conclusions are self-evident. This is especially appealing for low information voters.

There is no cognitive dissonance for the true believer: the facts are shaped by the conclusions and the ideological priors. The Left is still mired in a politics which attempts to speak to the head and not to the heart. And for that reason, among others, conservatives have been able to move the country rightward, and the Democratic Party has willing aided and abetted the shift.

All of the Right-wing talking points on race, Obama, white victimology, a skewed reading of political history, and disingenuous colorblind conservative politics are present here. Fascinating and eerie. Once more, politics is about "real people." We forget that fact at our peril. This is the face of the loyal opposition; he may be one voice in the wilderness, but he is not alone...and he will be voting on election day.

Literary Giant Walter Mosley Supports "Space Coon" President Barack Obama

An anticlimactic Oscars; a leap year anticlimactic Black History Month. As they say, if you live long enough you will see just about everything least once.

Recycling is good. Watching the above interview reminded me of one of my favorite posts here on We Are Respectable Negroes where I tried to reconcile Barack Obama with the science fiction imagination, and the idea that he is a "space coon." He ought not to exist; yet he does. Aliens may not have landed in Washington D.C. (or Beijing given how things are going), but for so many Americans of a particular conservative political stripe, an African American president is the functional equivalent.

On a related note, I have been invited to speak at the Worldcon Science Fiction convention here in Chicago. I may or may not attend--on principle I reject the requirement of some conferences for presenters to pay an exorbitant fee in order to give a talk. My reasoning has always been that I am giving a chat or a paper. Why can't you give a brother a discount or a pass? Either way, I am flattered to be on the invite list. Who knows? I may pass the begging bowl around We Are Respectable Negroes. If each visitor gives 10 cents I should get there in short order.

Moving forward, Walter Mosley is a national treasure. He drops some real knowledge in this interview on Democracy Now, and it is worth viewing in its entirety. Mosley is also a great supporter of Barack Obama. To be honest, that fact surprised me. Speculative fiction is driven by radical critique. However, Mosley is also part of a generation which never could have imagined that a man who happens to be black would be President of the United States of America. Therefore, I can understand Walter Mosley's Left realpolitik mixed with love, some of it tough, for Barack Obama.

What is your take on Brother Mosley's support of Barack Obama? Surprising? Disappointing? And for those of you who are fans, which of Walter Mosley's many works is your favorite?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Indifference to Ranting White Teens Online: I Take White Racism to Be a Standing Rule and Not an Aberration

"If it bleeds it leads" is both an observation and a rubric for those who work in the traditional news media. Ultimately, bad news is good news because it ensures that viewers and readers get hooked by the first story of wanton disaster, rape, suffering, or human loss, and stay tuned in for the remainder of the show. Those who write about race online, and especially on blogs (or other types of social media), are often governed by a similar rule: talk about racism, practice some variety of "racism chasing," or search out the newest instance of racial injustice or grievance and the readers and the "hits" will come.

The Internet is a big place. I therefore do not begrudge others their proclivities and/or interests--as long as they allow me the same latitude. Writing online is a game of sorts. You can go for the link bait, be sensationalistic in order to help a post go viral, or parrot what you see and read elsewhere in order to be assured of getting at least some residual traffic. In all, I always try to be myself and to follow my own interests. Consequently, some stories just don't move me.

For example, I have little to no interest in the litany of "stuff [insert random group of fools say online] videos." I just don't. I also do not comment on the New Age race minstrelsy of shows like the Basketball Housewives of Atlanta and other such hot garbage. Once more, there is no accounting for taste. However, there are quite a few folks whose work I do find of interest that are compelled to comment on what appears to be a never ending trickle of (white) people behaving badly videos. This has forced a moment of critical self-reflection as I have come to ask myself, "why do I not find these performances--and yes they are performances--at all compelling?"

My answer to this question is one rooted in cynicism. I take white racism to be a norm and not an aberration. Of course, the United States has undergone a radical transformation from a regime of de facto white supremacy to one where there is a black President, and an increasingly diverse middle and upper class. Since the end of World War 2 and the beginning of the Cold War, American elites have worked at moving social norms away from white supremacy (as it did not serve the country's national interests in the struggle against the Soviet Union). This does not mean that the hearts and minds of white folks (and others) in mass were radically transformed.

As sociologists like Omi and Winant have observed, race and racism are trans-historical concepts which are evolving, changing, and adaptive. If racism and racial ideologies were static, they would not continue to over-determine life chances to the advantage of whites, and to the disadvantage of people of color. And just because the expression of white supremacy is now couched in the rhetoric of "colorblindness" and "post-racial" America, does not mean that it no longer exerts power in the service of the racial state and white Power.

The Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video is instructive. It is a rich example of the dual concepts of frontstage and backstage racism wherein whites as a group have learned to perform a public script of tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism, while keeping their real feelings safe and secure in private. Moreover, the video reinforces Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's observations that one of the ways that white supremacy is reproduced, and its lessons learned and taught from one generation to the next, is through humor and joke telling. I would include online rants and Youtube promos in this same genre and family of performance.

The refrain of "we were just kidding," is a common denial and defense mechanism for white racists in the post civil rights era. It is also a skillful deflection. Instead of being forced to confront their own moral defect of white supremacy, the onus is now put on those who are offended by these displays of racism: the objectors are now "too sensitive," "too politically correct," or denying white folks their "freedom of speech."

Whiteness is skilled (usually, but with some exceptions) at being polite in "mixed" company. Whiteness is also honest and open with its racism around those assumed to be of the same race or ethnicity, or like minded politically. The Internet has broken down these barriers of private and public. The white bigotry on display in the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video happens everyday in this country. It is a common script.

There is a decades-long resource called the General Social Survey which is of great help in explaining my relative indifference to the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video. Emotions matter. However, I am also an empiricist. As such, the General Social Survey is a powerful barometer of how American racial attitudes have changed from the civil rights era up to the present. White beliefs in "biological" or "natural" black inferiority have diminished significantly over the last several decades. There have also been positive increases in a general sense of social and racial egalitarianism, as well as a rejection of de jure racism in employment, housing, and politics.

However, blacks and whites still live hold radically different perceptions of how close America is to achieving racial equality. For example, in keeping with the theoretical framework known as symbolic racism, significant numbers of whites still believe that African Americans are perennial complainers, could "achieve" if they wanted too (just like white ethnic immigrants), and that institutional racism is a thing of the past.

Of particular relevance to understanding the persistence of day to day white racism (in the frontstage and the backstage) as evidenced in both the the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video, and Tea Party GOP's pathological hostility to Barack Obama, is a sense of social distance from, a lack of concern about, and a paucity of shared empathy with African Americans. In short, racially resentful whites do not believe that black people are "real Americans." The latter are somehow on the periphery of the American story as understood by a significant percentage of the white American public.

When the data from the General Social Survey is combined with other findings, the story becomes even more damning and complicated.

Conservatism as a political personality type has been repeatedly linked with authoritarianism. There is now strong evidence that conservatism is linked to racism and low IQ. The popular and much discussed Implicit Association Test has reinforced the power of internalized white supremacy on individuals' decision-making.

As a complement, psychologists have found that whites who subconsciously identify black people with monkey and ape imagery are significantly more likely to support the death penalty for African Americans. And coming full circle, public opinion research on white racial attitudes in the years following the election of Barack Obama suggests a sense that many whites now feel "oppressed" by blacks, that anti-white racism is a great social ill, and that white people are somehow disadvantaged in what they see as a "zero-sum" game of racial progress.

The Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video is a typical story. Whites in the Age of Obama may like individual blacks, but not Black People. White folks have historically loved black culture, but they have possessed a deep disdain for black humanity. The teenagers making racist jokes and rants about African Americans in the above video most certainly have "black friends." Provocatively, I would not be surprised if they emphatically support President Barack Obama.

My what a mess this race-making and racism-undoing business is.

For years, the General Social Survey has contained a wonderfully appropriate question, one which I suggest is an especially accurate and valid measurement of racial progress in the post civil rights era. It asked respondents, "how many friends of another race do they have?" The followup question then asks if they had this person over the house for dinner. Predictably, there was a huge gap between the first question and the second.

My instinct would be that the post-racial generation, as embodied by those two young women featured in the Racist White Teens Go on a Rant video, would answer "yes" to the first question at significantly higher rates than their parents. They would likely expand it to include their "friends" on Facebook. But the second question, the real giveaway, would likely not be too much different. Many post racial, post civil rights white folks love to claim people of color as friends. But, how many of these white folks have had black and brown folks over for dinner? And as I like to ask--and what I take to be a true measure of intimacy--how many of those same white folks have let their friends who happen to be people of color use the bathroom?

You may not be able to add that question to the General Social Survey. But, you can use it as a personal litmus test for friendship, the ties that bind, and the denseness of social ties.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Joyful Hating on The Help's Oscar "Success": At Least I Made the White Lady Eat Doo-Doo

The Oscars were a bit lifeless. We had a good opening montage, some bad audio (am I the only person who heard the feedback that sounded like a cell phone ringtone?), a failed effort by Robert Downey Jr. to break the fourth wall, and lots of Hollywood navel gazing and self-congratulatory rhetoric. At least the public was treated to a performance by the amazing Cirque du Soleil.

The politics of black respectability and representation in relationship to
The Help have been the subject of much discussion. Ultimately, the dialogue has boiled down to one tried, true, and still unresolved question which black cultural workers have had to struggle with for more than a century: what to do about the white gaze? Are there roles that self-respecting black actors ought not to take because they validate white racism, and are too close to such perennial stereotypes as the mammy, buck, Sapphire or coon?

People need to eat, so I will not judge actors who take roles that I find distasteful. Ironically, black Americans are in some ways far removed from the era of Mantan Moreland and Hattie McDaniel. In other ways, those archetypes still hang over black cultural production. In all, perhaps we have reached a moment when there is not an overriding sense of linked fate, and where black folks are not obligated to support African-American cultural workers out of a shared ethic of race pride or belief in a common destiny?

To point, I engaged in a little radical autonomy last evening as I booed any mention of The Help and actively cheered against Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Ultimately, white folks got their cathartic moment as the latter won an Oscar for best supporting actress. But, Meryl Streep's Iron Lady put The Help to sleep. I will be happy with small victories.

The child actors in the Kids Reenact the Oscar Nominees got it pitch perfect. Those white folks who love The Help get to embrace a racism sanitized story that is validating and ego gratifying in the service of the white racial frame. In contrast, African Americans get to make a white person eat doo-doo in a movie. Sad indeed is the state of the Black Freedom Struggle in relationship to the arts in the year 2012. Paul Robeson would be proud...yeah right.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brother X-Squared, Black Militant Freedom Fighter, Predicts the 2012 Oscars

The We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) is proud to bring you the latest installment in our recurring series of interviews with Brother X-Squared, president of the North American Chapter of the Renewed Black Panther Party.

As long time followers of WARNNN already know, Brother X-Squared is a potent activist, black futurist, and visionary thinker. He is also a noted cultural critic in the greatest tradition of African American commentary and letters. It has been many months since our last interview, during which Brother X-Squared revealed his role in the Herman Cain saga, pontificated on the fall of Barack Obama, and made a set of presciently accurate predictions about the Tea Party GOP and the 2012 presidential elections.

In this interview, Brother X-Squared has returned to share his thoughts on this evening's Academy Awards, as well as his unique wisdom on all things political and social, with the readers of We Are Respectable Negroes.

WARNNN: Hello, it has been many months since our last chat. I have tried to phone you, email, and text you, but to no avail. Last time we had an awkward conversation about your role in the Herman Cain brouhaha, and your feelings about my progress as one of your disciples of a sort. Where have you been? Are things okay?

Brother X-Squared: I operate according to my own timetable and not yours. While it has been months to you--and I hear the yearning in your voice for more of my wisdom and knowledge--it has only been the equivalent of hours for me. You use the white man's clock, his calendar, what those evil Caesars and Popes call the "Julian Calendar"--which is actually a way of coordinating their wicked orgies and praying at the sick cult of European barbarism and pagan religion. I depart for a few moments and you have already had your mental mindstate weakened. You have always been mentally flaccid like all of these other lost negroes in America. But, after the instruction I gave you last time, I would have expected that you would show more steel in your thinking.

WARNNN: Pardon me. I greeted you with warmth and kindness. What have I done now? Please explain.

Brother X-Squared: Even in your words you recycle the white man's wickedness. You used the phrase "brouhaha." Break down the origins! Brewing and devil. He who laughs at black people's suffering! Brewing up evil in a cauldron like the natural witches they are!

"Okay." Another evil word used by the twisted forked tongue of the white man. That word is derived from his secret code language called Pig Latin! It was also the language of those filthy Eastern European immigrants who came to America and became "white" by putting their foot on the neck of the proud black man!

These are elementary errors you have committed Brother Chauncey. And while you may be my brother, even though you are confused and your melanin has become drained and weak by cavorting with the white man's civilization and women, I love you as I do all Nubians--even those confused and lost like you. But you are not my disciple. I grant that title. You have not earned it.

WARNNN: Okay then. Where have you been? Are you worried about the 2012 presidential election. The Republicans are in disarray and are showing the true depths of their nativism and xenophobia. In fact, Rick Santorum said that black people were parasites and...

Brother X-Squared: It is clear that you have taken five steps back in my absence. I have no worries. This is all as I have predicted. I was traveling this country. I went to hellish lost cities like Detroit and Flint, Michigan where I have been establishing new chapters of the Renewed Black Panther Party. I also went to Chicago in order to understand the type of weak negroes who would set up that halfrican Barack Obama, a man whose melanin is tainted and diluted by his white mother, as their anointed leader. Sick. Disgusting. I have never been so entertained as when those sad black women visited the White House and fell out of wheelchairs to touch the hem of Michelle Obama's dress as though it was magical.

Rick Santorum was right! The black man in America is a parasite. What has he built? What communities has he created? You sit there begging for scraps from the white man! You are angry because Santorum and Romney and those other foul beasts are telling you the truth about the sorry state of black manhood in America. It hurts doesn't it!

WARNNN: Do you really want to say that Santorum is right? That black people, the children of the Civil Rights Movement, are parasites? Come now, you are being provocative.

Brother X-Squared: My existence as a strong Nubian warrior whose mind state is strong and who asks the white man for nothing is provocative by virtue of its existence. You need to do more reading as the white man tells you the truth even when he lies. There is one devil called Nietzsche--a white fascist who hated black people--who wrote all about these topics and called it ontology. I respect Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. They tell the lost negro to his face what they think of him.

In fact, they are both white supremacists. In my journeys I have uncovered many truths about them. Santorum believes in the Curse of Ham. He thinks that you weak negroes are natural slaves. Mitt Romney is a member of the Illuminati and a Mormon. According to his religion, the black man is a slave in this life and in heaven. Newt Gingrich wants to put you in the fields to learn about the value of hard work by mopping floors and picking cotton! This is glorious!

WARNNN: Please elaborate. I am very confused.

Brother X-Squared: Confusion is a natural state for the black man in America. I am natural melanin reactor. My bronzed and shea butter covered skin amplifies light and converts it into energy which explains why I do not need to sleep and why you spend your time in slumber! Perpetual slaves to the approval of the white man. As I told you years ago, the white man would put a black man up as his pawn. This would be his opportunity to say that white supremacy is dead and also that the white man is oppressed. Elevated Nubians understand this. We call it a dualism or paradox. The paradox of white supremacy is that the white man remains always in charge even as he claims victimhood.

Now, the Republicans can tell you what they really think without apology. And you sit back playing the con game of choose your poison by being in bed with that Obama, who right now is the biggest imperialist on Earth killing black and brown people all over the world and locking up his enemies in secret prisons! I smile and laugh as this country is becoming like that great comedy Mad Max with all of those befouled white people living in filth, or that other very funny movie Robocop.

That last movie is profound. There is a concept called neoliberalism that you should also learn about. A smart white man named David Harvey explained all this years and years ago. I study the white man's wisdom so that I can outmaneuver it. The fall is coming. If you thought those pathetic negroes during Hurricane Katrina were something, you are not at all prepared for what is coming very, very soon. I await it with open arms. From the ashes, Brother X-Squared and the North American Chapter of the Renewed Black Panther Party will rise to create order from chaos.

WARNNN: We missed you. Truly. Since you brought up the subject of movies. Are you ready for the Oscars? I know you are an enthusiastic movie goer. What are your predictions?

Brother X-Squared: There are levels and levels of evil in this year's Oscars. I have forbidden the members of the North American Chapter of the Renewed Black Panther Party to see many of these movies, and have decided that my children and wives will also not be permitted to watch the Oscars. The white man has marshaled such an assault on black people that this is the equivalent of the gatling gun being used on our honorable brave heroic Zulus by those sick British in Africa. The white man has made a time machine and is showing you all what the future holds for black people! The past is the present!

WARNNN: Do you mean that movie The Help, and how it mocks black people's history, while recuperating white people and Jim Crow?

Brother X-Squared: I see. Some of the scars I have left on your mental mindstate have flowered and produced a little bit of knowledge. As a child you comprehend only one part of the puzzle. But because you are a child you do not see the many dimensions of his wickedness. The Help is a sick white movie. White people love to be saviors in their movies.

Even films that look harmless like those hellish Lethal Weapon movies are all about humiliating and demeaning the strong black man. You lost negroes in America who have not found wisdom like Brother X-Squared even participate in your own debasement by acting in such white propaganda films. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are to be ashamed.

They are no models of righteous black womanhood. No true queen would ever appear in such a
film. Even some of your colleagues had the courage to call out that sick white fantasy movie The Help. This is the 1920s and 1940s all over again! In the 1940s, white Hollywood gave that old mammy Hattie McDaniel an Oscar for playing the loyal black pet to that white she devil Scarlett O'Hara in that horrible movie Gone with the Wind.

The 1920s gave you the most evil movie ever made, Birth of a Nation! The white man wrote history with lightning as that evil KKK member President Wilson famously said about that movie with its shucking and jiving black man-ape rapist characters..

WARNNN: I don't see the connection. I get the allusion to the perennial role of maids and servants for African-Americans which white Hollywood is deeply attached to. But Birth of a Nation? Really, I don't see it.

Brother X-Squared: You never will. The other movie the white cultural elites are in love with is called The Artist! It is a silent movie in black and white! The white man loves the past! He loves a time when weak negroes like you knew their place! I see his evil for what it is. The only thing "artistic" about these movies is how they are so good at assaulting the mindstate of lost Nubians. In the year 2012, you have mammy movies and black and white movies that harken back to Birth of a Nation.

There is other evil which is too subtle for simple travelers and journeyman Nubians to see and comprehend. Do not overlook that movie called Tree of Life! What is the tree for the white man? It is a lynching tree! He lynches you right in public. There is another time travel movie called Midnight in Paris by that sex deviant Woody Allen which is going to win too! The white man again shows you how he is going to bring you to the past and make it real in the present!

And the ultimate example of the white man's deviousness--and I so love him for it--is that movie called The Descendants. What is the white man a descendant of, and what are his descendants for now and all time? They are descendants of wickedness. And how did he mark the black man as a slave, by the one-drop rule! A descendance of blood and bondage!

WARNNN: What are your actual predictions? You have clearly thought much about this topic. Divine the white man's wisdom if you would.

Brother X-Squared: Don't mock me. There is nothing divine about the white man or his so-called wisdom. I have seen all of these films. I do not pay the white man money. One of my brothers lets me into the white man's indoctrination centers for free: there are allies to my cause everywhere. Some of my allies are even white! I also bring my own air popped popcorn that I season with sea salt, saffron oil, and peanut essence. I give the white man nothing. I take everything from him that I desire.

The Artist will win best picture. Although that Hugo movie about that pedophile white man and his sex robot are a close pick. The white man, this Oscar that you call him, is self-important. He will not let any chance to humiliate black people escape him. However, the white man cannot escape his own perverse predilections. Hugo will win for best director.

The critics are all over that Jean Dujardin in that Artist movie. They say he is charming. That is how the white man deceives you, though charm and guile. But, they also love that George Clooney. I could care less. The white man is habitual in his evil, he will continue to follow through with The Artist. Likewise for that man who plays all of the Nazi characters. That homosexual acting Christopher Plummer will also win best supporting actor.

WARNNN: Okay, what about the categories which The Help is nominated for, best actress and supporting actress. Are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer guaranteed to win?

Brother X-Squared: Does a cockroach sit up on its back legs and play a fiddle while the overseer counts heads the night before Christmas on the plantation?


Brother X-Squared: You still have not studied your own African folk tales and wisdom. As that white anthropologist Herskovits proved, our Africanisms live eternal, and you can't even harness their power. Pathetic. The answer is yes! An emphatic yes! And those two handkerchief heads will give some tear filled speech that will wash away all centuries of white bigotry, rape, violence, and hostility towards proud Nubian warriors and queens in this country. Please! What an absurdity! But, the fiction will continue. You will see!

WARNNN: Are there any other nominees of note that you would like to comment upon? And have you seen any movies that you would like to recommend?

Brother X-Squared: Midnight in Paris by that sick white man who married his own Asian daughter will of course win. It is written by a race-mixing incestuous pedophile and features a white man traveling around Paris through the use of some type of magic. Typical white tricknology. I wish the white men in that movie had gone to Algeria during that time. Maybe they would not have come back! Now that would be a great movie! That Planet of the Apes will win for its computer generated monkey foolishness. They took a profound movie about powerful black men making the white man into slaves and ruined it.

Now, that technology will be used to uplift the white man by allowing him to project his sexual insecurities onto the screen all over the world. There will be more sick zoophilia movies from Hollywood. Between that sick white fantasy Avatar movie, and the white man's Planet of the Apes, my mental calluses will have to be strengthened so that I can stand strong against the onslaught--weak negroes like yourself do not have the power and will be seduced into debauchery.

WARNNN: Lord. You pour a gallon's worth of knowledge into a cup Brother X-Squared. I am overwhelmed. No current favorites?

Brother X-Squared: Yes, see the movie Rampart. It is about those corrupt white cops in Los Angeles and stars that white man Woody Harrelson. He is one of my favorites. As he had gotten older he has chosen roles which show the true evil of the white man and his culture. The movie is very funny. There are levels upon levels of white thievery, corruption, and wickedness on display. It even features a depraved toe sucking scene, where the Woody Harrelson character sucks on a black woman's feet! Priceless. Rampart also has all types of white sex deviance on display. It is an accomplishment of the first order.

WARNNN: Thank you as always. Will we be hearing from you again? Perhaps more frequently than as of late?

Brother X-Squared: I come and go as I please. If the people request me I shall return. I have much work to do as I prepare for the inevitable fall of this weakened two legged stool of an empire you call America. Be safe Brother Chauncey. My teachings can protect you.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Turnabout is Fair Play: Is Rick Santorum a Tool of Satan?

Americans love to talk about politics in apocalyptic terms. This is a function of a creed that is bathed in religious rhetoric, a belief in American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny as preordained by God, and a long vein of Protestantism and a sense that individuals are part of the Elect few--and by implication that nations follow a similar rule. In all, great nations dream great, succeed greatly, and are greatly paranoid, as they struggle to reconcile their great destinies as part of the long arc of history and the greatness of divine providence. The United States is no different in this regard. In many ways, we are Rome.

Americans are also dramatic and histrionic. The end of times is always around the corner. This has been to the credit and gain of the country, as she fought two great wars and "made the world safe for democracy." It has also been to her disadvantage, as foolish escapades abroad have been sold to the public by elites and yellow journalists using the language of patriotism, imminent threat, and supporting the troops.

Rick Santorum is part of this tradition. He argued that President Obama is Hitler and/or Satan. In his, and other Christian Nationalist Dominionists' eyes, the United States is under siege by the devil. Moreover, the Culture War is not a political abstraction. Rather, it is real struggle for the hearts, souls, and futures of good white folks, those "real Americans" and "Christians," from sea to shining sea.

In keeping with this Manichean logic, Rich Santorum has observed that the secular world is possessed of evil and sin. Universities and academia have apparently fallen to the seductive power of the Dark Prince. When challenged, Santorum has doubled down on his depiction of a world under siege by the devil. There is no retreat as he channels the worst parts of the paranoid and conspiratorial style in American politics.

I am not religious. I do not understand the religiously minded. I do not believe in white bearded deities floating in the sky who make judgments about the deeds--good or ill--of humankind. However, I do take folks at face value and try to work within the frameworks of reality which they have offered. What follows then is an obvious and reasonable question: Is Rick Santorum (and the conservatives of his stripe) evil? Are they under the influence of Satan?

Turnabout is fair play. Progressives, liberals, pragmatists, and reasonable conservatives lose the fight with radical Right wing populists because they want to keep the high ground. Their enemies will beat them over the head with bats, cut them with razors, and unleash mustard gas in order to win a fight. The pitiful Left and its allies smile and inhale the poison because they are content to "occupy the high ground."

Therefore, I engage Rick Santorum and his narrative of good and evil on its own terms. By analogy, when the myth of the liberal media is discussed, few counter-attack by pointing out the fallacy of the premise: as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, we should in fact ask, "what type of media do we have, and granting this fact, what is its ideological bent?"

Mirroring this example, when Rick Santorum suggests that Obama and those foul academics are evil, and the country is under assault by Satan, the question to him should be, "what side are you on?" As Jim Wallis has pointed out in God's Politics, the Right has cooptated Christianity and the language of Christian faith. Despite their hostility to the poor, war mongering, bigotry, and intolerance, the Right is able to maintain a monopoly on the rhetoric of Jesus and his teachings. This is as much a result of the cowardice of progressives, as it is the complicity of the media in circulating and validating a lie.

I have a long-standing interest in the occult. From reading about Nazis and their fascinations with the elder gods and objects of divine power, to Malachi Martin's books on demonic possession, one theme resonates across those disparate literatures. Evil is seductive and expert in seeking out a person's weaknesses. Those who channel the language of good and evil in order to gain selfish power and disparage others are often surprised by the outcome of their deeds and words. This is the hubris of Rick Santorum and his Tea Party GOP brethren. They exist in an echo chamber which is fueled by narratives of Eliminationism, and destruction for those that are not sufficiently conservative. In breathing this ether, Santorum and the American Taliban never ask if it is they who are in fact tools of evil and the devil. To do so is outside their realm of awareness, introspection, or thought.

Satan is a trickster. He lies without lying. And considering the policy positions offered by Rick Santorum and the other Tea Party GOP presidential candidates--a clique which claims that god gave them a personal revelation, and that the presidency was their calling--is it that outside of the realm of possibility to entertain the thought that they are evil, doing the work of Satan, and are the tools of the dark forces which they project onto others?

The myopia of the authoritarian Right is exemplified by the fact that they could never ask such a a self-reflective question. Rick Santorum and his allies' arrogance is a universal claim to good. Their shortcoming is an inability to consider that they could actually be a cautionary future chapter written in the next volume of the Good Book which conservatives always cite to disparage others with whom they judge to be insufficiently pious.

Ultimately, The Book of Job is one of my favorite myths. I wonder, what will the tale of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich be when it is written centuries or thousands of years in the future? Will it be triumphant or tragic? And will they care to even know the difference?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is Rick Santorum's Beef with Black Liberation Theology?

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, we acquire the qualities of the things that we do. Some of these traits and deeds matter more than others. If you were caught stealing as a child, that label may follow you for years to come. Likewise, if you were the kid who pooped in the swimming pool during a field trip in elementary school, and never left your hometown as an adult, that fecal slip could follow you years, or even decades, later.

Rick Santorum is a race baiter. He believes that black people are parasites who live off of whites. His trafficking in the dog whistles and air raid sirens of white supremacy for political gain is not something that can be easily shrugged off. These are habits which speak to Santorum's values, traits, ethics, beliefs, and personality--even if done for short term mercenary political gain. Why? to play such a game involves a choice, one that Rick Santorum ought to be held accountable for. His mouth utterances are not mistakes: they are cold calculations designed for electoral gain among a particular subset of the American voting public.

By playing in the political scatology of white racial resentment, Rick Santorum is stained and marked. This will gain him credibility in some circles; it will be a liability in others. To point, this week Rick Santorum suggested that President Obama is not a "true Christian," is Hitler, a closet Muslim, in league with Satan, and practices a "phony" brand of Christianity.

Do not be mistaken. Rick Santorum is not talking about Barack Obama. He is talking about African Americans in mass, as a means to advance a political end, by triangulating them relative to the country's first black President.

Because he is marked and stained as one who traffics in white racial resentment for electoral gain, I would also suggest that Rick Santorum is a priori assumed to have hostility and malintent towards non-whites. This is a set of values which are central, and not peripheral or coincidental, to his worldview. Racism and racial resentment are part of a bundle of attitudes and values, which in total, constitute populist conservatism at this political moment. Racism is not separate and apart from Republican politics in the Age of Obama. By implication, Santorum's racial animus becomes a standing rule to be disproved, as opposed to an allegation to be demonstrated by the totality of the evidence, and/or as a stand alone empirical claim.

Lest his defenders cry foul, Rick Santorum made that bargain when he got in bed with the devil of white racism and chose to use it for political gain. The burden is his to prove or disprove.

For example, in the days prior to suggesting that President Obama practices a fake version of Christianity, Rick Santorum gave a speech stressing the values of home-schooling. The latter is not necessarily problematic if done because our schools are failing, and parents have the skill and training to do better than overworked public school teachers. However, in the constellation of Santorum's views on American theocracy, Christian Nationalism, and race, his support for such a movement is particularly illuminating and problematic.

The home-schooling movement actually gained strength and credence as a white reaction to school integration and the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown versus Board of Education. White Southerners practiced home-schooling, and established "segregation academies," precisely because 1) they did not want their children going to school with African Americans, and 2) for them to be exposed to teachings which suggested that white supremacy was a social ill, as opposed to a social good.

In his signaling to the Culture War faithful, was Rick Santorum also reinforcing his bonafides as one who is sympathetic to white racists who support school segregation? I do not know. But, given the ugly waters in which he bathes, I would not at all be surprised if this were the case.

Days later Rick Santorum made the following claim about President Obama's Christian faith:
It's not about your jobs. It's about some phoney ideal, some phoney theology — not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology...obviously we all know in the Christian church there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity.
As I have noted here, I believe that the phrase "dog whistle" politics is much overused. However, Santorum's turn of phrase is pregnant with meaning for those who study politics and language. There are two concepts central to Santorum's suggestion that Obama's religion is somehow inauthentic, and by implication anathema to "real Christianity," i.e. white Christian Nationalist Dominionism.

Language has both an implied and explicit meaning. Political speech has power as much because of what is said, as because of how it is stated. Borrowing from folks like Wittgenstein and Bourdieu, Santorum's observation about Barack Obama speaks to his white Christian Nationalist audience precisely because of how it establishes boundaries of community, inclusion, and authenticity. He does not have to explicitly label President Obama a black, traitorous, evil, Muslim impostor: Santorum's audience takes such facts as a given. Consequently, the signal only has to be sent in a subtle and implied way in order to validate what is already taken to be the truth among that speech and discursive community.

As the Culture War (redux) heats up, I am also reminded of the centrality of Christianity and its curious relationship to white supremacy in the United States. As comedian Paul Mooney has sharply observed, black folks don't have the luxury of pretending that race doesn't matter in politics. Ironically, we are both strengthened and damaged by our keen awareness of this fact.

In all, there is no space for a politically sophisticated, aware, and intelligent black voter to not ask the following questions: "how does race play into this election, is this a good white person or a bad one, will they serve my interests, or are they out to hurt us?"

To point, in the year 2012 we have a group of Republican presidential candidates who have at one point or another suggested that black people are monsters, zombies, parasites, natural janitors, addicted to food stamps, prone to laziness, and are not "real Americans." The Tea Party GOP candidates have also argued that that the Confederacy and Secessionists were on the correct side of history, and that the Civil Rights Movement was a tyrannical crime against white freedom.

In addition, some of these Republican candidates practice a religious faith which dictated that black people are natural slaves, that Birtherism is correct, and that there are people, most of them of color, who practice a fake religion. The latter is especially compelling, as this "phony" and "heretical" religion--taken in the context of all that we know about the Republican Party and its mining of white racial animus--is one more wink back at Obama's evil mentor, Emperor Palpatinesque, black nationalist, white folks hating, Reverend Jeremiah Wright:
“You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian.” He continued, “When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you’ve abandoned Christiandom and I don’t think you have a right to claim it.”
As he indicated here, a Christian Faith of liberation and struggle is not "authentic." In that quote, Rick Santorum is explicitly talking about Black Liberation Theology. You see, "those people's" Christianity is flawed, fake, and inauthentic because they dare to imagine a Jesus, a "black man," who speaks back to Power. What nerve!

As has often been alluded to, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Blacks and white do not worship together. As one who is not religious, I nonetheless remain struck by how one group of folks could claim Christ, dress in their Sunday finest, burn black people alive, and then dismember their bodies for sale as souvenirs. Moreover, one should never forget that the KKK was a Christian organization, and that white Christians thought that they were doing god's work by enslaving black people. Likewise, I remain stupified and fascinated by how black folks in the same historical moment could take Christianity and use it as a tool for their own liberation and freedom struggle.

There are some folks who navigate these waters with deft skill. He is one of the pantheon of bad, scary names, such as Alinksy, Fox, and Piven, which white Right-wing propagandists throw about to their knuckle-dragging faithful in order to scare them about the liberal-progressive bogeymen coming to kidnap their babies.

James Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology authored a great essay a few months on "the cross and the lynching tree," where he explored the binary of white supremacy and black faith within the Christian religious tradition.

As we think through Rick Santorum's racist appeals, Dr. Cone made a series of observations which are particularly rich and useful. He notes:
“Many Christians embrace the conviction that Jesus died on the cross to redeem humankind from sin,” he said. “Taking our place, they say, Jesus suffered on the cross and gave his life as a ransom for many. The cross is the great symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation.
Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, the symbol of salvation has been detached from the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings, the crucified people of history. The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the cost of discipleship, it has become a form of cheap grace, an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.”
...Cone sees the cross as “a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” This idea, he points out, is absurd to the intellect, “yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk.”
The crucified Christ, for those who are crucified themselves, manifests “God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the ‘troubles of the world,’ no matter how great and painful their suffering.”
Cone elucidates this paradox, what he calls “this absurd claim of faith,” by pointing out that to cling to this absurdity was possible only when one was shorn of power, when one was unable to be proud and mighty, when one understood that he was not called by God to rule over others. “The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”
Rick Santorum does not believe that God and Christ are critics of power. No, their God is one of the Power, the rich, the 1%, and the elites. In furthering this belief, Santorum and his ilk will only continue to bundle white racism and Christianity in an American Taliban approved script of intolerance and nativism. He is a culture warrior. Said label has always been about race, generational change, class, sexuality, gender, geography, and other markers of "authentic" American identity.

Black Americans can never be part of this story--even if they are Christians. As the anti-citizen they can never find belonging or acceptance; the only thing that Barack Obama can do to win over the Right-wing Christian faithful is to turn himself into a White person. And even then, Obama would have to be the "right" type of White man to win their approval. Barring George Schuyler's science come real, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

Rick Santorum's racist Christian Nationalist appeals have a ready made audience. This same audience is one that would have found a way to justify Jim and Jane Crow and the lynching tree as evidence of Christ's love, divine will, and providence for White people.

Ultimately, the Age of Obama is one of absurdity and surprise. Thus, do not be surprised if a Republican candidate trots out either the Curse of Ham or the blessings of Bartolome de las Casas as the election nears, for racism, plus obsolescence, breeds political insanity.

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.