Friday, March 16, 2012

More Culture War Nostalgia: Khalid Muhammad Says "They Didn't Die Hard Enough!"

Kill them all!

Khalid Muhammad possessed amazing oratory skills, skills that still resonate across the years. Performance is not power. In following up on our conversation about Farrakhan and the Culture Wars, I had to return to Khalid Muhammad's legendary promo where he suggested "killing them all!" Here, "all," is white people.

It is easy to dispense with, ignore, and mock 1980s Black Nationalists such as Khalid Muhammad. For me, the more interesting question remains, what is the social context which made such voices resonate, what are the demographics of race and power that would compel some black and brown folks to support such rhetoric?

At the time, Khalid had "juice." With the wisdom gained by time, he is revealed as a clown. What does this mean? Were young folks like me who were captivated by him just desperate and weak? Caught up in the performance? Or was their something to his particular vein of Black Nationalist agitprop that was compelling across the generational divide?

As I have come to understand years later, bluster and words and rage and witty word play are not power. For that reason, I laugh at white conservatives' fears of human props such as the New Black Panther Party. The latter and their kin bark and snarl. They do not kill anyone. They do not have real power. As a group, and trust, many white Americans who are ignorant of their own history do not understand this most basic of facts, it is they who comprise the largest group of terrorists in United States history.

For example, "riot" is a word that was originally and almost exclusively used to describe anti-black violence by white people. The KKK is the largest terrorist organization the United States has ever known, with approximately 10,000 black people were killed by White Americans under the regime of lynch law.

Ultimately, a black man or woman pleading for the murder of white people is an "entertaining" curiousity; in reality, the history of black humanity in the United States has been one of peace and acceptance. Black people have never killed white people in mass...even when such retaliation and struggle could have been easily justified. African Americans have only wanted to be accepted as full and equal citizens. This was done through protest, pressure, resistance, the politics of respectability, service, and civic virtue as a means of advancing a claim on American expectionalism (and ownership of that creed).

In all, I still wonder why any white American would ever be afraid of jesters such as Khalid Muhammad or the New Black Panther Party. Is power that insular, narrow and precarious?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Featured Reader Comment: Just What Do We Know About Young People's Attitudes About Race and Politics?

I do think middle school, high school, college kids think about race (to the extent they think about it at all) differently than someone my age, your age, or generations before did, but if you engage them I just can’t believe that they’d say race doesn’t matter. I also can’t buy that kids are tapped into any idea of the “market” and its “invisible hand.” I might be willing to concede that market speak is so pervasive that maybe they’re taking it in from the ether, but I would expect that more from young white kids with “conservative” parents (yes I’m stereotyping a bit) than young POC.
In an earlier post on nostalgia, the Culture Wars, and Minister Farrakhan, "ellemarie" offered a great comment that deserved to be bumped up for more discussion. There is a temptation to generalize from anecdotes, personal experience, and our own memories, about how other people feel regarding the state of race and politics during the Age of Obama. As ellemarie reminds us, my/your/our local opinions about young people's political attitudes, in general, and those of young people of color, specifically, vary greatly depending depending on our own social locations.

I am an empiricist: through rigorous, disciplined, methodologically sound, and nuanced means, I believe that there are answers to be found for most sociological questions (if we choose to ask the right ones). There is a practical aspect to this as well. We can actually go out and talk to people about what they think about politics. Unfortunately, researchers often do not take the attitudes of young folks on these matters seriously.

There is also a resource and social capital issue here as well--those who are older are in the position to impose their attitudes and beliefs onto young people. However problematically, "young" people are not viewed as "real" political actors; as the logic goes, their political attitudes are unsettled, so why pay attention to them?

There are interventions (and answers) to consider on these matters. As seen in the above video, Professor Cathy Cohen (founder of the Black Youth Project) has done some great research on young people's political attitudes. Her newest book, Democracy (Remixed): Black Youth and the Future of American Politics, is full of surprises about how race, class, and other identities are reflected in the opinions held by high school aged students.

The Applied Research Center also completed a report called, "Don't Call them 'Post-Racial'" on young people's political attitudes in the post racial, post civil rights, colorblind era. Their nationwide focus groups compiled a wealth of information. Most notably, young people of color know that race remains an obstacle to their life chances. However, white respondents tend to talk in vague generalities about racism and do not see it as a huge problem. This is not at all surprising. Decades of research have repeatedly found that white respondents of all ages tend to minimize the day to day realities of how racism impacts people of color.

White folks also tend to raise the bar very high for what constitutes racism, and are relatively detached from the lives and experiences of brown and black Americans. Both groups may "get" to varying degrees that racism exists. Yet, the litmus test(s) for if "racism" exists are extremely personal. Ultimately, racism is about mean people and hurt feelings, as opposed to trans-historical forces that are operative in the present.

Interestingly, young people across the colorline share an inability to think institutionally and structurally about power and social inequality in American society.

Knowledge gained through systematic and rigorous research is valuable and necessary. Personal stories still matter. Anecdotes can be a first step in theory building as we try to reconcile what the literature suggests about a thing, and what our instincts signal as real and true to us. The "I" can be a beginning. It should not be an end for good social science. In total, stories still matter.

For example, I have encountered students who are in the midst of a crisis in democratic vision: overwhelmed and exhausted, they simply do not care about politics. How do we take this anecdote and generalize a claim about the public at large? Can we?

I have also met students who proudly proclaim that the government should serve the rich, the elite, and "the 1%." When I challenge them on the basic idea that "one person, one vote" should be foundational to a healthy democracy the majority of students are silent. It appears that they cannot think outside of the framing and conceptual framework offered by neoliberalism, with its market logic of "efficiency" and "profit maximization" at all costs--the human consequences be damned.

Citizens are merely consumers. Tragically, it would seem that many young people cannot think outside of that box.

Do share an anecdote. Perhaps, we can build a theory around it? Are the young people--those in their high school and college years--in your life more (or less) politically engaged than you remember yourself being at that age?

There is an old theory that divergences and intensity in public opinion reflect the political issues of a given moment. To my eyes, the stakes are pretty high as we try to find our way during the time of the Great Recession and a declining American Empire. Occupy Wall Street is a response to this feeling. Ironically, the language of Red State/Blue State, and a narrative of polarized politics is so commonplace, I do wonder if young people who are coming of age in this moment are just numb to it all.

Share a story if you feel so inclined. Should we be hopeful or terrified about the political attitudes of young people regarding race (and other matters) in the Age of Obama?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The 1990s are Back: Refighting the Culture Wars as Minister Farrakhan Visits Berkeley

The Republicans have rediscovered the Culture War narrative. Derrick Bell is smeared for his work to make Ivy League faculty more diverse. Minister Louis Farrakhan is back in the news for a recent speech at UC Berkeley which has been described as "controversial" and "anti-Semitic."

We are back in the 1990s again. Did the election of President Obama open a hole in the space time continuum, and the present is now collapsing into the past?

I hear so much of my own voice from years past here:
But members of UC Berkeley's Black Student Union said the overall message was inspiring.
"What I got out of it was how we as black students can take our education and utilize it to build the black community back up," said Stephan Montouth. "We're looking at the minister's statements in terms of how to empower the black community not all of the other controversial things that he may have said in the past."
There is a certain appeal to Farrakhan that goes beyond his commonsense message of black empowerment, self-sufficiency, and uplift. When you are one of few students of color on campus, are made to feel marginalized and peripheral (note: if black and brown students at UC Berkeley feel that way, I must wonder what their response would be to a far less "liberal" environment) his unapologetic strength is really compelling. To see someone with the nerve to talk back to white folks, in their own house, and on their dime, is intoxicating. When you are 19 years old, such performances are easily confused with real power.

We have a tendency to romanticize the past; to do so is very human. But, I would still dare to suggest that there was a cultural and political vibrancy about the late 1980s, and mid to late 1990s, that is absent today on college campuses (and in our culture more broadly). There were protests over campus diversity. At my alma mater, we staged walkouts and sit-ins over establishing a Black Studies program. There were death threats against students of color and the obligatory crisis of the week. My friends and I imagined ourselves in the racially pornographic movie Higher Learning--always under siege and existential threat. It was exhilarating.

In those years there was also the Million Man March; I would proudly wear my "The Juice is Loose" t-shirt (with kente cloth for extra provocation); UMOJA, the Black Student Organization, renamed its leadership positions after those in the Black Panthers. We rocked Carhartt hoodies and black Timberlands while listening to great hip hop, and would watch Farrakhan, Khalid Muhammad, Leonard Jeffries, and Dr. Frances Cress Welsing on The Donahue Show.

The hip hop generation (of which I am a proud member) was post civil rights. Temporally, we came after that moment. But we still reached back to the mythos of the glorious 1960s as a reference point. Generationally, we also were not "racism fatigued." Given Rodney King, the L.A. Riots, the racial tensions in and around New York, cultural and opinion leaders like Farrakhan, Spike Lee, Public Enemy, Jesse Jackson, and the new wave of black public intellectuals like Cornel West, Bell Hooks (and others), to be in college, and a person of color at this moment, meant that to some degree you had to be politically engaged.

Pity those black and brown students who opted out--they would be written off, disappeared in the minds of those who fashioned themselves more "radical." We had little use for free riders. I was also fond of telling such cast offs of their untouchable status directly to their faces.

The Facebook/Helicopter Parents/Obamakids generation, those who were born in the 1990s, are located in a bizarre post-racial moment, where the market and neoliberal policies have robbed them of the vocabulary to describe the type of hegemonic power they are suffering under. Moreover, they have so internalized the language and logic of "the market," that while this generation knows something is wrong, most do not know what to do about it. Ultimately, this generation is experiencing a deep crisis of political vision and meaning.

In the 21st century, race and white supremacy continue to shape life chances and opportunity structures. But, racist, neoconservative, "colorblind" politics have transformed those who identity these social realities into the new bigots. With the browning of America, the rise of the global superclass, and the destruction of the American working and middle classes, the struggle against racism appears to be increasingly irrelevant. Ironically, I would suggest that a race critical lens has never been more central and necessary to understanding the forces arrayed against the People and in service of Power.

Perhaps the invitation to Farrakhan, and being open to some of what he represents, signals a new political awakening on the part of some black and brown students. But then again, those who have the opportunity to indulge in a bit of "radical" politics while in college, are likely just as tempted to discard such political romances when they get a job, have a mortgage, and need to conform in order to move ahead in an increasingly perilous economy. When you are 19 it is okay to dream. The trick then becomes, how do you sustain such dreaming as an adult...and turn it into action?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Critical Pedagogy: "White" Scholars Who Work on "The Race Issue"--Interviews with Tim Wise and Leon Litwak

These Internets are amazing. Although I am "only" in my (fast disappearing) thirties, there is something neat about being able to actually watch the author(s) of a given book explaining their work online. For those of the Youtube/Facebook generation, they take this ability as a given. Little do they realize how such a recent innovation, to be able to hear the literal voices of those whose written voices you were heretofore limited to imagining in text, adds a wonderful nuance to scholarship.

The Internet also makes it easy to do research on an author. You can immediately find out their personal story, as well as demographic information. Not that it should matter--but if we are being honest it most certainly does--but there have been many moments when I looked up someone's info and found out that he or she was not who I had thought them to be. Those "damn, I thought they were black," or the "all these years I assumed she was white" moments still occur.

We all work from a particular set of life experiences and social locations. Even for empiricists who ostensibly believe in positivism, the personal does find its way into one's research, scholarship, and writing. For my buck, it is better to know such things beforehand as they are a value added that appears between the lines of a given text, offering context, color, and influencing a text's unstated assumptions.

To point, Tim Wise is a friend of WARN. Whenever I get a chance to shill for one of his essays (the newest on Derrick Bell and Obama is great by the way) I do so. He is also a great speaker, one who is generous and patient with his audience and hosts. The above interview offers a narrative for his life's work, views on social justice, and shares some great insights on critical pedagogy.

Leon Litwak is an amazing historian. There is a denseness and rigor to his work that is awe inspiring. In considering the role of voice in scholarly writing, Litwak's command of the language is intensely personal and intimate. His speech is no less so. Take note of Litwak's observations about white racism and their fear of "uppity blacks." Sounds familiar does it not, as we work through white conservative hostility to the country's first black President?

Both Dr. Litwak and Time Wise are white. This fact is coincidental while also being deeply relevant to how audiences, peers, students, and the general public respond to their work. An anecdote proves instructive here.

I teach courses on race, American politics, political culture, and popular culture/cultural studies. The students in these classes include those who are deeply invested in the material, indifferent, find it intellectually interesting (and thus a "puzzle" to work through), and some who are highly resistant to even considering how American society is structured in social inequalities. Across these categories, there is one unifying moment that speaks to how race remains significant even for a generation that was taught to be "post-racial."

When the students in my classes discover that we are reading "white scholars" in a seminar on "black" or "minority" issues there is a moment of pause. Part of this is a function of their own intellectual development, where many undergraduates have not figured out that research and academia are professional vocations which consist of disciplinary fields that influence how we go about organizing knowledge. The professional need not always be the personal or the political--to play on a phrase--for many academics their research is an interesting puzzle that they have decided to focus their work on.

[I would even go so far as to suggest that for those working in identity politics, that some of the most provocative and incisive work comes from those who are not personally invested in the game. Yes, that is an impolitic thought; it may also be quite accurate.]

Students of color have been mixed in their response. Some are excited to find out that there are white scholars doing rigorous and interesting work on issues of race, power, politics, history and society. Many are especially positive in their response to folks like Tim Wise, because he echoes and validates all of the things that black and brown folks have been saying about white racism for years. Other students of color are annoyed that in their eyes, even in discussing "their" history, white folks are at located at the center of the narrative.

They ask, "why does a white person have to recycle what black and brown people in this country have been saying for centuries for it to be taken seriously?"

By comparison, socially engaged and intellectually curious white students appear validated. A white scholar working on these issues gives them currency and license to participate in the conversation. Other white students are made to feel defensive, and are upset that they are forced to confront the fact that yes, there are white people who are critical of white supremacy.

Moreover, this "race stuff" is no longer just a "black thing." It becomes a matter of critical importance which they now have ownership and responsibility over. Folks like Wise and Litwak neutralize the deflections offered by Whiteness even as they simultaneously arouse them. Such moments of defiance, upset, cognitive dissonance, and fear are wonderful things to behold. From said disruption, there is a chance for real learning.

What have been your experiences on this matter? Can you teach "black" while using "white" authors? For those who have had to organize a class, do you perform a personal inventory of the types of voices included on the syllabus?

Do those outside of a social or demographic group have a particular insight that those within it do not possess? How do we do this calculus? Whose voices do we privilege?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Joy of Invented Language: What the Hell is "Racialism?"

What Kennedy wrote of Matsuda was equally true of Bell: By claiming that being a member of a minority group automatically connotes a certain and superior worldview, he argued, she “stereotypes scholars.” The CLS racialism simply inverted pernicious white stereotypes about black people: Instead of being inherently inferior, they were inherently superior.
Language changes over time. It is an act of invention that reflects social norms, generational change, technological developments and new ways of understanding mediated reality. For example, before 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq words such as "IED," "UAVs," "counter-insurgency," "Predator" and "Reaper" were not in common use.

American political culture has reflected a similar evolution/devolution in language. The phrase "political correctness" has been radically transformed from its original meaning by the Right. The post-civil rights era has also brought such Orwellian newspeak as "reverse racism" and "the race card." These are empty phrases that are easily deconstructed and revealed for the conservative, neoliberal, political work which they do--"reverse racism" is a paradox and non sequitur; "race card" involves the assumption that white supremacy and racism are shared sins across the colorline, and that identifying social inequality rooted in racial bias is somehow a greater sin than racism itself.

One of the newest words in the contemporary public discourse is the word "racialist." It has old roots in the race science eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the last two to three decades, "racialism" (or its cousin "racialist" or "race realism") has been adopted by "polite" white supremacists such as David Duke, the Christian White Nationalist identity movement, and the human biodiversity crowd. In the recent Breitbart inspired muckraking about Derrick Bell and President Obama, "racialist" has circulated throughout the Right-wing blogosphere and media. Most of the conservative public which is using this language has not thought critically about its deployment--they are simply parroting the talking points of the day as offered by the Right-wing media and blogosphere.

However, I was surprised to see this vague and ill defined word, one which I suggest is an onerous and subversive way of calling black and brown people racists, used by Salon's Gary Kamiya:
As befit his racialist ideology, Bell was also a consummate race-card player. His academic career consisted of a long series of racial confrontations with the institutions he worked for. After being hired as an avowed racial token at Harvard, Bell left for Oregon, where he became the first black dean of a non-black school. But he resigned his deanship when the faculty voted against giving tenure to an Asian woman. He then went to Stanford, where a bizarre incident unfolded. Many of the students in his constitutional law course complained about his teaching, saying it was disorganized and excessively politicized.
I am a fan of Kamiya. He is usually a very careful and considerate writer. There is a real danger here: once such language circulates, it becomes part of the public discourse, and opinion leaders use such phrases in the context of a given type of commonsense, where "racialist" is just one more addition to an already muddy vocabulary that already fails to adequately capture the complex nature of race and white supremacy in the decades which followed the 1960s. Kamiya's use of such language is also problematic because once a centrist adopts the language of the fringe, it gives words such as "racialist" and "racialism" both currency and legitimacy.

He continues:
At the same time, Obama was not a racial bomb-thrower. As Sugrue notes, Obama’s racial views were not yet fully formed, but Obama never subscribed to Bell’s crude racial essentialism and guilt-card playing. If he had been forced to openly state whether he agreed with Bell’s racialist theories, he would have been caught in a bind, trapped between the racial solidarity that was expected of him and the universalism he was inwardly inclined toward. But he was not forced to.
So what exactly is a "racialist?" What is "racialist" thinking or behavior? Is racialist just another way of conflating those who understand the empirical reality that "race matters," it over-determines life chances, and that American society is one structured in many different types of inequality (race, class, gender, and sexuality) with white bigotry and hate?

Teach me something. Please help me understand what all this "racialist" mess is all about.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Derrick Bell Fallout (Continued): Fighting for the Full and Equal Rights of Black People is Most Certainly Anti-White Racism

In full hazmat suit and knee high waders, I have been picking through the cesspool that is Breitbart conservative Right-wing demagoguing regarding the late Derrick Bell and his "relationship" with President Obama. For folks who are familiar with Dr. Bell's work, were lucky to have met him, been mentored by him, or know anything about Critical Race Theory and Critical Legal studies, the idea that he is some type of dangerous, fire eating, anti-white bigot radical is a joke.

But then again, the vicious efforts by conservative white populists to smear Barack Obama by any means necessary have never been about the world of facts or reason. If the coverage on Fox News and throughout the Right-wing mediascape is any indication, the hug seen around the world--when Dr. Bell and Obama embraced during a rally at Harvard some twenty or so years ago--was the equivalent of a matter anti-matter explosion for the white racial frame.

Ultimately, as Brother Malcolm pointed out years ago, there is nothing more threatening to the White racial imagination than an educated black man. Two of them hugging (accomplished, brilliant, dignified, and professional) boggles the conceptual framework and cognitive map that Whiteness uses to navigate its social reality. Rapscallion and troublesome negroes such as myself cannot help but love such upset, anger, and confusion. Whiteness is so powerful; yet, it is so very precarious.

There are several right-wing websites that maintain an enemies list of evil, dangerous professors and "intellectual types." In a manner akin to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of these sites even maps out the nefarious networks of the Political Left who are undermining American society. I kid you not. There is something menacing about such lists, even if open source. Thus I must ask: why keep an "enemies list" if you are not going to do something about the people included in such a compendium?

In their propagandizing the latest manufactured controversy about the usurper President Barack Obama, several conservative sites have circulated a list of Dr. Bell's racial crimes and grievances against Whiteness. These "bigoted" and "hateful" screeds, which Barack Obama is also guilty of through the ideological osmosis which occurs via hugging, include the following:
  • “Despite undeniable progress for many, no African Americans are insulated from incidents of racial discrimination. Our careers, even our lives, are threatened because of our color.”
  • “[T]he racism that made slavery feasible is far from dead … and the civil rights gains, so hard won, are being steadily eroded.”
  • “[F]ew whites are ready to actively promote civil rights for blacks.”
  • “[D]iscrimination in the workplace is as vicious (if less obvious) than it was when employers posted signs ‘no negras need apply.’”
  • “We rise and fall less as a result of our efforts than in response to the needs of a white society that condemns all blacks to quasi citizenship as surely as it segregated our parents.”
  • “Slavery is, as an example of what white America has done, a constant reminder of what white America might do.”
  • “Black people will never gain full equality in this country. … African Americans must confront and conquer the otherwise deadening reality of our permanent subordinate status.”
  • “Tolerated in good times, despised when things go wrong, as a people we [blacks] are scapegoated and sacrificed as distraction or catalyst for compromise to facilitate resolution of political differences or relieve economic adversity.”

I agree with every one of these statements. I guess I am a dangerous "radical" too.

Here is where the divides of life experience, training, vocation, and upbringing as influenced by the colorline are most revealing: I do not know many black folks who would not take Dr. Bell's claims as givens...if not anti-climactic. I also do not know many people of color generally, and few white folks, who would also not take such observations as basic for anyone that has studied American history.

There is a great irony here for those of us who appreciate Dr. Bell's sense of humor, and share his belief in the ability of speculative fiction and storytelling to highlight deeper truths about power, society, and politics.

Consider: Breitbart, a wicked and rageful white man creates controversy from beyond the grave about a black man who is President who had some peripheral relationship to a "radical" black professor who has the Vulcanesque power to mind-meld with all he touches. Conservative minions and yellow journalists--who are being willingly manipulated by the dead puppet master's spirit--then discover a secret film called The Space Traders (which was hidden in plain sight on HBO). In a twist worthy of The Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man," Space Traders is actually the key to understanding Barack Obama's deep hatred of white people and his plot to enslave them.

Fate is a trickster. Professor Bell is likely laughing at these (very predictable) Right-wing shenanigans and related foolishness from beyond the grave. He couldn't have written a better story about the permanence of white racism, and how even in the post-civil rights age, Whiteness damages the ethics, morality, and cognition of its owners and signatories.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dead Breitbart Uses the Late Derrick Bell to Smear the Living President Obama

The conspiranoid thinking of the Tea Party GOP with its Birtherism, Obama derangement syndrome, and other assorted pathologies, is the rank afterbirth of conservatism during the moment that is late capitalism. This madness leads to a propensity to believe in the absurd. For example, the Tea Party GOP Right-wing media's most recent effort to slander President Barack Obama.

Breitbart, a Right-wing bomb throwing demagogue and bully who dropped dead because of rage (and likely because of an addiction to pills and cocaine), is reaching from beyond the grave to smear President Obama by virtue of his association with the late, great, Dr. Derrick Bell. In this latest machination, Breitbart's supplicants are using a two decades old videotape of Obama at Harvard to further their meme that the (now) President of the United States hates white people. This story only has traction on Fox News and in the Right-wing mediasphere--what is more proof of their alternate reality, a sociopolitical life lived in a state of epistemic closure; yet, a reality which is self-sustaining and real for its members.

If you try to confront madness with reason you will only become frustrated and crazy. I am willing to take that risk. My commitment is that deep.

For the faux populist Right, and folks such as Rick Santorum and his allies, "higher education" is a refuge of the commies, homos, queers, drug users, elitists, coloreds, hippies, secularists, liberals, and their assorted ilk. Consequently, how can any patriotic God fearing American not oppose such a wicked cabal?

I smile at this hostility because it grossly exaggerates the power that academics and others have to influence their students, and society as a whole. After watching Fox News or reading World Net Daily, I am made to feel like a member of The Legion of Doom, as opposed to a struggling lecturer. My power is presented as being outsized; rather than that of he who only has power over office supplies, notepads, pins, and yellow Post-It notes. I wish that critical and engaged scholars could change the lives of students in mass. Sadly, that the reach is far shorter than what most imagine it to be.

At this juncture, I am left wondering is the hostility of conservatives to those who teach for a living a function of a base, centuries old, anti-intellectualism? Some type of misplaced class snobbery? Do they hate Obama primary because he is black? Or could it be that many conservatives hate President Obama because he is an educated black man? And this fact terrifies them? Are the Culture Wars just a carry over from a group of people who lost the Enlightenment and now want to burn witches and kill heretics in the year 2012?

I offer the following hypothesis. Approximately 30 million or so Americans are functionally illiterate. This includes those who cannot read, those who cannot fully comprehend the meaning of a sentence, and those who cannot read well enough to complete a job application. When coupled with the Right's assault on public education, the outcome is clear: an uneducated, ill-equipped, and unsophisticated public, one whose ignorance is cultivated, is primed for conservatism and a politics of class and racial resentment.

This same public will consistently work against its own class interests in service of advancing a culture war, "values," narrative. They are moved by emotion, and the Manichean politics of the New Right and the Tea Party crowd, precisely because populist conservatism deemphasizes reasoned decision-making and instead emphasizes emotion, religion, and crude identity politics.

I would also suggest that the conservative public hears the names of these "scary" college types, but they do not have the capacity to even understand (beyond the most superficial meanings) the arguments presented by said authors.

Ironically, Breitbart, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and the assorted Right wing propagandists, while skilled in offering up a type of political rhetoric for those who "want to feel smart," actually encourage glibness and stupidity. Even more funny and unexpected, the very figures they attack are some of the best thinkers which America has to offer. In all, the enemies list of the New Right is the foundation of a solid syllabus for any person who wants to think critically, and in doing so, to ask difficult questions about power, institutions, and politics. Ultimately, (and excluding the dead Austrian economist that Glenn Beck masturbates over) New Right, anti-Obama conservatives, are putting on blast some of those very people whose theories have the capacity to undo their agenda.

Since Barack Obama's ascendance, the Tea Party GOP has engaged in witch hunts against scholars such as Saul Alinsky, Frances Fox Piven, Richard Cloward, and James Cone. The newest targets are Derrick Bell, Charles Ogletree, and Noel Ignatiev. Any of these thinkers' works could form the basis of a great reading list on issues related to race, class, labor, gender, religion, and wealth inequality: I suspect the irony is lost to those on the populist Right.

In keeping with this theme, who do you think should be added to the troglodyte Right's list of verboten thought?

I would add Robin Kelley, Judith Butler, Michelle Alexander, James Loewen, Patricia Hill Collins, and Henry Giroux. What scholars would you add to the enemies list, those folks who could cause the Fox News crowd to stroke out?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This is the Point at Which I Swerve You: Loving the Rock's Boston History Themed Promo on John Cena

I would like to thank the kind folks over at Salon for featuring my piece on Rush Limbaugh and the Crisis in White Conservative Manhood (Crooks and Liars also gave it some love which is always appreciated) The piece is running about 12,000 views as of today...that ain't bad for a little armchair psychologizing of the Tea Party GOP's number one bloviator. I will also be on Ring of Fire Radio this weekend. The always supportive Mike Papantonio asked me to sit in for a few minutes. Of course, I accepted the generous invitation.

Consequently, there are some new readers here at WARN. I welcome you all. Do come out of lurking and introduce yourselves. By way of introduction, I am an unapologetic ghetto nerd. Blogging is an exercise in self-indulgence and narcissism. I try to write about issues of public concern, but I am ultimately beholden to my own interests, odd predilections, and hobbies. In short, you never know what you are going to get: for me, that is the fun of talking to different folks about random and varied topics both online and in person.

Wrestlemania is in the air. I had drifted away from the WWE's programming the last year or so. But as always, in the build up to Wrestlemania, things got interesting with the rise of "new"talent (CM Punk), the return of the greats (Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, and Chris Jericho), and the feud between the one and only Rock and that guy who goes by the name John Cena. The Rock is an amazing talent. We know this. But, his promo on Monday's Raw which managed to break the fourth wall by winking at the audience in the first segment, play around with the movie Back to the Future and racial identity (just what would the Framers do if they met the Rock?), and end by talking about Paul Revere's famous ride was genius.

Boston was an excellent prop for some highly entertaining storytelling through the devices of physicality, dexterous speech, and athleticism.In all, the Rock's promo was so solid that it rivaled the Revolutionary war revisionism in my favorite episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

[Perhaps some intrepid soul will do a drunken history version of the Rock's rewrite of U.S. history? Could be fun...]

Those of us, we old time, smart marks who lived through the Attitude era were really and truly spoiled. Little did we realize what we were witnessing. Beyond the goodness of the Monday Night Wars, and early ECW, the mid to late nineties (into the first few years of the 2000s) was a golden age. Kayfabe had been broken; but, we still believed. There were performances like the Rock's on almost every show.

Is anyone else looking forward to Wrestlemania? Am I the only ghetto nerd excited to watch Cena and the Rock do the dance? The Rock has to drop the bout to Cena because Dwayne Johnson does not need to win. Nevertheless, the match should be a classic.For my ghetto nerd wrestling compadres, did we simply outgrow professional wrestling? Or has the product changed so much that it in fact left us, those who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s?

Rick Santorum Compares Defeating Barack Obama to Fighting the Nazis in World War 2

When I was about eight or nine years old I decided to cook dinner for my parents. We had a really nice, old school, gas oven. At the time, I had also watched many hours of Julia Child and was deep (or so I thought) into the study of the culinary arts. My palate was ready. I knew that I could make mom and dad a nice meal.

Subsequently, I took some of my allowance money and went to the local butcher. There I spent about thirty or so dollars on ingredients for stuffed peppers. I got the best cuts of ground beef, peppers, spices, and other necessary items. I cooked all day long. I stuffed the peppers generously, used some orange sewing string to secure the pepper tops back on, and cooked them at a high heat in the oven.

I was proud of the result. For thirty dollars--1980s bucks, a not insignificant amount of money at the time--I made a meal that could have been far better prepared for about 5 or so dollars. My mom praised me. My father, who was quite good in the kitchen (as his father was a cook on a tramp steamer), kindly suggested that I needed some breadcrumbs and olive oil to "wet" the dish and bind it together. They ate it. Smiled. And encouraged me to keep trying. In reality, my dinner was horrible. My parents really loved me: they ate this putrid dinner without complaint.

Rick Santorum's speech to his supporters on Super Tuesday was the equivalent of my childhood effort to cook for my parents. His speech was full of red meat for the Tea Party GOP base; it was comfort food for his public. However, Santorum's feast was gag worthy to those of us with a more refined palate.

Working through the entirety of Rick Santorum's speech (and Romney's was pretty close in its level of offensive rhetoric as well) is unnecessary. In all, Santorum's Super Tuesday address to his supplicants was a ham-fisted job that hit all of the obligatory Culture War talking points: Obama is a usurper; the United States is under siege by the President; "small town," "white" America is the "real America"; the strong wall that is the separation of church and state is fictitious, and the Constitution, the framers, and the United States are divinely inspired. Even allowing for these rhetorical flourishes, Santorum offered one utterance that is particularly worth highlighting:
But the greatest generation was the greatest generation not because they had greater -- greater character or courage or perseverance than those of us today. The greatest generation was great because, when freedom was at stake, they rose to meet the call to defend this country.
We’re at a time in this country when freedom is at stake and you are all blessed, as I am, to be here at a time when your country needs you, to be here at a time, like the original founders of this country, who signed that Declaration of Independence, to be here at a time when freedom was at stake and people were willing to go out and do heroic and courageous things to win that victory.
This passage reveals the deepest sentiments felt by the Tea Party GOP and the reactionary Right in the Age of Obama. The use of the words "courage" and "courageous" are pregnant with meaning. Courage implies risk, harm, the moral and ethical high ground, as well as danger. In this speech, Rick Santorum is signaling that the simple act of handing out fliers, calling potential voters, or canvasing a neighborhood with posters, puts his boosters in existential peril. Normal politics is made a crusade because the Obama administration are thugs.

Moreover, the most risk free political actions--Santorum's supporters are in bed with Power and not resisting it--are elevated to the heights of martyrdom. For outsiders looking in, this premise is absurd; for those who support Santorum, are Tea Party types, or reactionary conservatives, this rhetoric creates community and resonates as a type of common sense. The supporters of the New Right see themselves as the equivalent of sojourners, freedom fighters, and/or as abolitionists freeing slaves. The pundit classes use the language of the "enthusiasm gap" to both summarize and obfuscate a simple idea: Santorum's Christian Nationalist conservative brigands believe that they are on the right side of history; the facts can be damned.

In their eyes, the differences between Left and Right, Democrats and Republicans, are not marginal, coincidental, or negotiable. For Santorum and his folk, defeating Barack Obama is a call to arms, one rooted in the apocalypse, and an eschatological narrative that is heavy with political and existential gravity. Quite simply, Barack Obama is the devil: he must be beaten at any cost.

Santorum's channeling of the "Greatest Generation" is integral to his brand of religion infused conservatism, nostalgia, and Right-wing American Exceptionalism. As seen in movies such as Saving Private Ryan, the notion of the Greatest Generation is a lie based upon its own self-sustaining truth, one that does not have to be subjected to critical inquiry. Many Americans accept the idea of a Greatest Generation just because it is--what "real" American could ever challenge the historical myth of those great veterans who fought the Nazis and made the world safe for democracy?

People like true lies. Why? Because they make them feel good, safe, and comfortable (and isn't feeling good the whole point of politics in an age of spectacle and illusion?)

Some basic facts about World War Two are helpful as we try to reconcile Rick Santorum's appeals with the historical record. Consider the following:
  • World War 2 was a global military conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945 which involved nearly all the nations of the world;
  • World War 2 involved approximately 50-70 million casualties worldwide on both sides of the conflict;
  • The Soviets lost almost 25 million military casualties;
  • The United States lost almost half a million people;
  • About 3 million or so people were killed in the death camps;
  • 300,000 people were killed by the Japanese in Nanking;
  • About 2 million people were killed during the Battle of Stalingrad;
  • Approximately, 185,000 people were incinerated instantly, and/or either died later, from the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Does Rick Santorum really want to suggest that defeating a popularly elected American President is akin to defeating the Axis powers? What leaps of faith are necessary to sustain such a premise? And why does the mainstream media continue to give Rick Santorum and his fellow Republicans a pass for such ill founded and specious rhetoric?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Giving the People What They Want? Of Slut Shaming and What if Rush Limbaugh were Black?

I try to give folks what they want. I also try to respond to the chorus that is public opinion whenever I feel the moment and the timing are right.

As of late, the keywords that have brought folks to We Are Respectable Negroes have been--as always--an entertaining lot.

To those who found themselves here in a roundabout way, I do not know anything about black shag haircuts. I also have no interest in discussing Michelle Obama's booty, or in negro penises and white teachers. However, I am working on an essay about racism and The Walking Dead. I do not know if pimps fall in love. My knowledge of such matters would suggest that a pimp's love is quite different from that of a square or a lame. I do have to admire the grammar of he or she who is searching for "white wife with brown child is a subtle message; she is a black cock slut."

Quite a few folks are also curious about the following counterfactual: what if Rush Limbaugh were black? I have not done a "What if?" in some time. Following my "What if Sarah Palin were Black?" (and Time Wise's epic "What if the Tea Party were Black?") I have demurred. Those events are like the Secret Wars in the Marvel comics, or G.I. Joe's silent issue. They are unique, money to be spent on special gifts.

Times change. So let's float the premise. What if Rush Limbaugh was black? Would the response to his misogyny towards Sandra Fluke be any different? I have a more provocative intervention: What if Rush Limbaugh remained white, but Sandra Fluke was black, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American? Allowing for the impact of sexism on life chances, and the hegemonic nature of patriarchy, Sandra Fluke is still a white woman. She benefits from whiteness; as a white woman Sandra Fluke is also part of a protected class. If you doubt the latter, see people's exhibit number one: Missing White Woman Syndrome.

What do you think? And how would you tweak the scenario?

Monday, March 5, 2012

More than Slut Shaming: Rush Limbaugh and the Crisis in White Conservative Manhood

The 2012 Republican primary season has featured many head-scratching moments. From audiences that cheer the macabre and the cruel, a fratricidal nomination process in which the front runners seem intent on destroying one another, and a collective descent into madness where the most fringe Right wing values such as nativism, conspiratorial Birtherism, old fashioned white racism, and puritanical Christian theocratic identity politics are on full display, it seems that the bizarre has become the new normal.

Since the election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party GOP has embraced a kamikaze-like politics in which they are willing to destroy the proverbial village in order to liberate it. This appetite for destruction has reached a fever pitch during the last few weeks. Rick Santorum and the Republican Party have called for limiting women’s reproductive rights under the guise of defending “religion” from the “tyranny” of the Obama administration. A Federal Judge was caught forwarding an email to his friends suggesting that Barack Obama’s conception was the product of drunken sex between his mother Ann Dunham, and a dog. And Rush Limbaugh launched a viciously misogynistic attack on Sandra Fluke, a private citizen, who dared to testify before Congress in defense of a woman’s right to have equal access to birth control.

On the surface, these incidents appear to be unrelated. They are simply the desperate graspings and mouth utterances of an increasingly fringe and desperate Republican Party which is determined to defeat Barack Obama by any means necessary. However, these events are all symptoms of a bigger problem. In the Age of Obama white manhood—and a particular type of conservative white masculinity—is frightened, unsettled, and terrified of its obsolescence. White (conservative) masculinity finds itself in an existential crisis.

For outsiders looking in, the idea that white manhood is somehow imperiled, would in all likelihood, appear absurd. While non-Hispanic white men are only twenty percent of the American public, they control every major social, political, and economic institution in the United States. In addition (borrowing the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement), “the 1%” are almost exclusively white men. White people have at least twenty times the wealth of people of color: white men possess the overwhelming majority of these resources.

However, from the point of view of embattled white manhood, the situation is very much in doubt. If we reverse our perspective, or “turn the map upside down” as young Marines are trained to do in Officer Candidates School, the sense of crisis being felt by white conservative men is made all the more clear.

The election of Barack Obama has challenged a type of racial self-centeredness and narcissism, what is less precisely known as “white privilege,” which has historically put whiteness--and white men--at the center of all things. The white racial frame assumes white dominance as a given: for many, the symbolic politics of a black man, his wife, and children living in the White House, and doing so with grace and dignity, is simply too much to bear. This reality is an upending of their world, an affront to a very narrow sense of what the “American tradition” is, and what the limits of “common sense” actually are.

White people will no longer be a majority in the United States by the year 2042. China is an ascendant power; the United States is in decline. Women have continued to gain socially, politically, and economically—one is even Secretary of State, and a few heartbeats away from the Presidency. Gays and lesbians are winning their full and equal rights as American citizens. The United States elected its first black president. And ironically, while black folks and other people of color have seen the decimation of their middle class, and levels of unemployment approaching 30 percent or more, it is white people, and white men in particular, who are most pessimistic about their futures and economic security.

At its root, conservatism is ultimately about resistance to social change. When imperiled, conservatism becomes reactionary. In the extreme, conservatism yields to its most base authoritarian impulses. As outlined above, the social and political changes of the civil rights and post-civil rights era are a dagger at the heart of contemporary conservatism--and the electoral coalition that has grounded the Republican Party since the 1960s. The maddening politics on display in the 2012 Republican primary are a response to this reality.

For example, public opinion surveys and experiments by researchers have repeatedly demonstrated a close relationship between the idea of who is “American,” and a belief that “Americans” are “naturally” white. The courts and United States’ immigration policy have reflected this idea, where until the 1950s, a person had to be of “white stock and ancestry” according to the commonsense norms of the “average” white person in order to be eligible for American citizenship. Therefore, if we grant that the national identity of the United States is tied to “white,” “masculine,” confidence and power (see: conservatives’ love of cowboy politics and the “swagger” of men such as George Bush) the rise of China imperils American Exceptionalism as an ideology, one which is inseparably linked to both race and nation.

Citizenship in the United States is gendered—the Constitution had to be amended in order to give women the right to vote. Citizenship is also racialized—Jim and Jane Crow white supremacy were formal systems of racial hierarchy that deemed black Americans as second class citizens, and where any white person, regardless of their mediocrity and low accomplishments, were judged to be better than the most gifted, genius, moral, and brilliant person of color.

Race and gender also intersect. (White) manhood has defined itself by controlling access to women’s bodies. Historically, white manhood has also been validated through efforts to dominate and control the bodies of people of color: in particular, those of African Americans. The American rituals of racialized violence, political exclusion and oppression, discrimination in the labor market, and the violent spectacle of the lynching tree, were/are means through which conservative white masculinity, specifically, and white identity, more generally, were validated.

We cannot forget that power is about more than controlling people’s bodies. Power, is also about dictating the contours of people’s life chances. The retrograde and fringe efforts by Republicans and Christian Nationalists such as Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh, and others to deny women their reproductive rights is a direct heir to a type of white manhood (and phallocentric politics), that validates itself through the control of female personhood. The white racial resentment which is the currency of the contemporary Republican Party also draws from this same wellspring.

My claim is not that there is something new about the current crisis in conservative white manhood during the Age of Obama and the Great Recession. For example, during the 1990s, movies such as Falling Down and the rise of “the angry white man” were signals to a sense of upset and malaise in which white men (and white people more generally) were believed to be under assault by immigrants, people of color, gays, lesbians, feminists, and “liberals”--all of who were enabled by an “oppressive” multiculturalism and agenda of political correctness.

More recent films such as Fight Club were efforts to work through the meaning of white manhood in an era of globalization, the rise of the service economy, and the decline of “blue collar” American masculinity. Nixon’s silent majority, and Reagan’s New Right, “working class,” white electoral coalition, were also backlashes against the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement, and a belief that white American masculinity was imperiled

Looking back more broadly, the United States struggled with what it meant to be white, male, and American during the great waves of European immigration and World War One during the early part of the twentieth century. It also worked through changing norms of white manhood as the country transitioned from one that was predominantly rural, to one that was urban, during the same time period. Ultimately, these are old questions that are still with us, and which are reoccurring, resisted, and renegotiated by succeeding generations of white men—as well as women and people of color.

The contemporary Republican Party’s return to the decades-old language of the Culture War is an effort to capture the lie of a past, the myth of the Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet America that never was. This America was one of conservative, white, heterosexual, male dominance. From the point of view of conservatives, the gays, women, the poor, and the minorities knew their place. The long history of resistance and defiance by oppressed and aggrieved populations to this racial and social order is overlooked in favor of a comforting lie that puts whiteness, and white middle class masculinity and manhood, at the center of social reality. In the white conservative imagination these identities were triumphant, safe, and never in doubt or challenged.

When Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh and their allies suggest that women should be denied reproductive rights, or that they should put aspirin between their legs in order to avoid pregnancy, white conservative manhood is reaching back to this fictive past. Likewise, when conservatives indulge in Birtherism, or wallow in white racism in order to delegitimize President Obama, they are reaching back to this lie of a dreamworld. To outsiders looking in, the claims by Pat Buchanan and Charles Murray that white civilization is under siege and in decline appear to be some type of agitprop theater, what is silly-talk that no reasonable person ought to take seriously.

However, for a particular type of white conservative the threat is absolutely real. The coarseness of the political rhetoric in the Age of Obama, and the Republican Party’s embrace of the most fringe elements of the Right-wing imagination, is largely driven by a desire to protect conservative white manhood and masculinity at any cost.

For them, American civilization is inseparably and irrevocably tied to whiteness, and a very narrow, “traditional” understanding of what is means to be a “man.” Therefore, by this calculus, the suicide bomber politics of the contemporary Republican Party are not insane—rather, they are the necessary and desperate actions of a people who believe that they are facing demographic suicide. The question then becomes: how far will conservatives go to protect a world in which white men and their sympathetic allies (such as Stockholmesque women like Sarah Palin and her “grizzly mom” brigades) are at the center of all things?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

(Non)Racist Federal Judge Says that "Mutt" Barack Obama's Mother Had Sex With a Dog

"Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.
"A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?'" the email joke reads. "His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"
And folks wonder why black people don't trust the police and the courts?

The news media have caught the vapors over Chief U.S District Judge Richard Cebull's suggestion that President Barack Obama's now deceased mother was a lustful white woman who was so drunk that she had sex with a dog and conceived the country's first black President. Some have dressed this "joke" up by using the language of "bestiality" to describe the implied sex act, an effort at humor which suggests that intercourse across the colorline is akin to coitus between different animal species. Let's be clear: Cebull found it funny to argue that Ann Dunham was such a drunken wanton slut that she would allow a dog to put his penis inside of her vagina to the point of orgasm, and said canine would ejaculate and conceive President Barack Obama.

Despicable. And let's not make prettier this ugliness in order to make it slightly more palatable.

As I alluded to regarding the high school students who made a Youtube video rant disparaging black people, much of the real action in regards to white supremacy in the colorblind age is in "the backstage." Emails, private jokes, humor, comedy, social media, and the Internet are the primary terrain(s) upon which post-civil rights era white racism is circulated. As one of modernity's greatest inventions, white supremacy is adept at using technology to advance itself--radio, postcards, magazines, film and TV have all been vehicles for teaching, learning, and reinforcing the notion of a racial hierarchy in which whites are dominant and non-whites are naturally subordinate.

The defense, "I was just kidding" is one of the first layers of white victimology and deflection that colorblind racists deploy in the Age of Obama. As an object lesson in this strategy, and the twisted logic that reactionary conservative white supremacists use to run away from their bile--as opposed to owning it (a move that I respect)--Cebull stated the following in defense of his misogynistic attack on Barack Obama's mother:
The judge acknowledged that the content of the email was racist, but said he does not consider himself racist. He said the email was intended to be a private communication."It was not intended by me in any way to become public," Cebull said. "I apologize to anybody who is offended by it, and I can obviously understand why people would be offended."
"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull said. "I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama."
Apparently, racism is secondary to political intent. Cebull does not realize that his brand of conservatism is inseparable from white racism. This is not a surprise. As Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul have demonstrated, racist appeals are expected from the Tea Party GOP in the 2012 election cycle, and racism is inseparable from "normal" politics for the reactionary populist Right. Nevertheless, this pattern ought to remain troubling for decent minded and reasonable citizens.

He is in good company. There are many United States Justices and Judges who have openly shared their white supremacist bonafides and disdain for non-whites. For example, my favorite is Justice Taney's decision in the Dredd Scott decision where he observed:
Yet the men who framed this declaration were great men… high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting. They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery.
They spoke and acted according to the then established doctrines and principles, and in the ordinary language of the day, no one misunderstood them. The unhappy black race were separate from white by indelible marks, and laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.
A close second is Justice Sutherlan, who in the Thind case established the limits of American citizenship as (almost) uniquely limited to "whites" when he decreed that:
What we now hold is that the words 'free white persons' are words of common speech, to be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the common man, synonymous with the word 'Caucasian' only as that [261 U.S. 204, 215] word is popularly understood. As so understood and used, whatever may be the speculations of the ethnologist, it does not include the body of people to whom the appellee belongs.
It is a matter of familiar observation and knowledge that the physical group characteristics of the Hindus render them readily distinguishable from the various groups of persons in this country commonly recognized as white...It is very far from our thought to suggest the slightest question of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation.
Cebull should either resign or be removed from the Court. Yes, the notion that justice is blind has been exposed as a lie many times before, as race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality have all been empirically demonstrated to be variables that impact decisions of "guilty" or "innocent." But ultimately, following this reveal, Cebull he has no credibility as a neutral arbiter of the law.

Many observers have suggested that Cebull should step down because there is no way that a person of color could come before him and expect equal treatment. My objection is a broader one. White supremacy, as well as racism, prejudice, and bigotry more generally, are part of a larger worldview and cognitive schema. A judge who holds beliefs like Cebull is also quite likely to be a person who has many other parochial, retrograde, and prejudicial views regarding matters of public concern. This reality should give any citizen cause, pause, worry, and concern, before entering his court.

White racism hurts people of color. It also hurts white folks too. We compartmentalize these shortcoming at the risk of hurting the public good. Cebull should step down not because he is a racist; rather, he should resign because he has demonstrated a shocking lack of the wisdom, vision, and forethought worthy of a public servant. Racism is not a narrow problem. It is a general defect of character which suggests that many other deficiencies are bubbling beneath the surface. The sooner we start thinking of white supremacy in those terms, the sooner our society will see it for the evil and social ill that it is.

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.