Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Racial Aikido: The Genius of Mitt Romney's "Barack Obama is a Lazy Negro Who Ain't Working" Ad Campaign

Well played Mr. Romney. Very well played indeed.

Mitt Romney's "Barack Obama Isn't Working" campaign is a genius political move. Less clumsy than the infamous Willie Horton ad, it is a more elegant and refined racial appeal for a slightly more civilized "colorblind" age.

As such, Mitt Romney's suggestion that Barack Obama is "not working" deftly draws on a set of stereotypes from the American popular imagination where black people, and black men in particular, are depicted as lazy and not self-sufficient. This is one of the core attributes of what social scientists have termed "symbolic racism."

This stereotype is central to contemporary right-wing political discourse, and can trace its lineage back to the Southern Strategy under Richard Nixon, and through to Ronald Reagan's mobilization of anti-black sentiment with his allusions to "welfare queens" and "strapping young black bucks" who buy steaks with food stamps. As part of this pattern, the 2012 Republican campaign has featured such onerous moments as Rick Santorum's suggesting that black Americans are parasites who live off of white people, as well as Newt Gingrich advising young people of color (because they are especially lazy and pathological) that they should be janitors in order to learn a "work ethic."

The polite and more refined bigotry that drives Romney's "Barack Obama Isn't Working" campaign is more careful than that of his Tea Party GOP brethren. However, it still plays off of the same sentiments and crude racial stereotypes about African Americans. Moreover, Romney's more "polite" racism resonates because it exists in a right-wing imaginary that considers Obama a "Socialist," wallows in birtherism, and has marshaled faux populist zeal in order to mark out clear boundaries of civic belonging where to be a "real" American requires that a person be White. In all, the right-wing echo chamber is unapologetic in its use of racial stereotypes, mobilization of white racial resentment, and outright race prejudice. Romney can fly above the racist fray, but still benefit from how such attitudes have helped to prep the political battlefield for his success.

Romney's devious narrative about President Obama's lack of success, incompetence, and implied laziness is masterful on a number of levels.

1. The claim that Barack Obama isn't working has a veneer of plausible deniability. Romney claims that the slogan is "historical" in nature, borrowing from Thatcher's anti-Labour campaign in the United Kingdom during the late 1970s. Through this logic, there is no racial animus at work; racism cannot possibly be present in the suggestion that Barack Obama isn't working because the slogan is inspired from events both decades ago, and in another country.

In the United States, and given how the color line has structured American life, operates in the country's collective subconscious, and provides a set of scripts which impact our perceptions of one another, the wellsprings of Romney's slogan are of little importance.

Question: would there be an equivalent silence if a politician campaigning for high office suggested that his Jewish rival was cheap? Or that his Asian-American competitor for the same office was devious, sneaky, or untrustworthy?

I would suggest that the precarious position of blacks in American society makes them uniquely vulnerable to the use of racial appeals in political discourse.

It is also important to note how language involves both the transmission, reception, and circulation of ideas between a speaker and the audience.The repeated suggestion that a black man "isn't working" signals to deeply held biases that link together the black body, black personhood, and stereotypes about poverty, work ethic, and respectability. A listener, or in this case a voter, does not have to be conscious of how these concepts motivate his or her behavior. As research on racial attitudes and political behavior has repeatedly demonstrated, white voters "get" these racial cues and are quite responsive to them--conservatives and right-leaning independents especially so.  

2.  Any effort to call out Romney's use of racial stereotypes would play into the politics of white racial resentment and white backlash that came in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. The associated and invented language of "the race card" and "reverse racism" are based on a premise that white supremacy is a thing of the past. Since the election of Barack Obama, the right-wing media and other elites have been able to push this narrative even further--white people are now oppressed, and despite all available sociological data that suggests otherwise, anti-white racism is now a plague upon the land. To attack Romney's campaign slogan is to fuel the howls of white victimology.

3. In the age of conservative "colorblindness," racism is defined by intent. This is a function of the personalization of race prejudice wherein racist social structures and institutional arrangements of power are conveniently ignored. Racism is universal. It is no longer a sin unique to white people. Consequently, the intent behind a person's words and deeds trump both the context and consequences of their actions. If Romney were to deny that his ad was "racist"--which Romney would most certainly do--one of the evasions would be that "he did not intend it that way." The same deflection would be flipped around on the critic who pointed out the problematic nature of Romney's appeal to Obama's imagined laziness in order to win over white voters. In keeping with the colorblind/reverse racism script, Mitt Romney would now become a victim, as the act of calling someone a "racist" in post-Civil Rights America is a bigger sin than racism itself.

4. Accidents and coincidence. Mitt Romney's choice of a slogan that leverages one of the most pernicious and deeply rooted stereotypes about black men in American society (next to the myth of the black rapist) is no accident. Romney did not personally select the language "Obama Isn't Working." His consultants (a cadre of psychologists, marketing experts, political advisers, and focus groups) perfected the language, visuals, and narrative of Romney's campaign ad. The way that the campaign mines white animus and stereotypes towards the country's first black president, while skillfully playing along the edge of being an overt racial appeal, is a delicately choreographed balancing act: this grace does not come without much practice and reflection.

Mitt Romney's "Obama Isn't Working" campaign is a racial smart bomb aimed at white Independents (and other right-leaning fence-sitters). Ultimately, Mitt Romney is vulnerable on many issues such as his gangster capitalist roots, insincerity, aloofness, religion, the Tea Party GOP's failed economic policies and obstructionist behavior. Romney's flank is also exposed because he is the nominee for a political party that is possessed by Culture Warriors whose views are outside of the American mainstream. These are weaknesses to be exploited.

However, I would suggest that folks not sally forth and engage Romney regarding the racial invective present in his "Obama Isn't Working" campaign theme. To do so, would be to fight on Romney's chosen terrain. Nor would such an engagement offer up many political gains. The cause would be noble; the battle would still be lost.

Once more Mr. Romney, well played, very well played indeed. You are a worthy foe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Does President Obama Look "Presidential?" Considering the Problem of Unconscious White Racial Bias in the 2012 Race

Time to get our rhythm back. I hope your holiday was restful. Mine was interesting. I was reminded of the fact that I am a "civilian" and not a bad man (I knew that, but having it reinforced was useful), I saw Men in Black 3 and Bernie (both are good fun, the former had some particularly pleasant surprises), and many comment worthy news items came and went without an intervention because Memorial Day weekend is not generally a time during which folks spend that much time on these Internets.

As such, we are going to do some catching up this week. I have an obligatory comment on the "white working class men who hate Barack Obama" meme, as well as some more begging to do for our collective effort to raise funds in order to buy some slavery artifacts on EBAY (we can do better folks, much better). I have learned one thing from my virgin foray into fund-raising: repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition is how one gets the change out of pockets.

Last week, there was an interesting item in The Wall Street Journal by Andrew Roberts that explored the idea of "looking presidential." What signals to a voter or a public that a given person is the "right" type to be President? Is it height, name, speech patterns, confidence, style, personality, or some combination of all of these traits? Alternatively, does a person begin to look more "presidential" in hindsight, where the longer one holds the office, the more that the public adjusts their expectations of the position to fit him?
What does it mean to "look presidential," and why does it matter? An enormous amount of the media coverage of presidential candidates is focused on whether or not he (or, very rarely, she) "looks presidential." 
Grow up, America! Has the great democratic system of the Republic really come down to choosing leaders not on the basis of what they say, or even the way they say it, but on the way they fill a suit while saying it? 
Looking presidential can be broadly translated to mean being around 6 feet tall, relatively slim and broad-shouldered, and having a full head of preferably pepper-and-salt-colored hair and a ready, winning smile. It isn't being only 5 feet 6 inches tall and slightly balding that makes me want to blaspheme at the TV screen whenever I hear approving talk of Messrs. Romney, Perry and Huntsman "looking presidential." It's because I'm a historian—and where would the United States be if she had always adopted such blatantly look-ist criteria in the past?
And yes, I said "him," as gender is very much a key part of the equation in how authority is assessed in these United States.

I understand Roberts' desire to elevate oneself above such "petty" concerns as race and gender in working through how a person can look "presidential" (or not). However, this is insufficient for a critical examination of such a question as it applies to President Obama. In all, Roberts' choice to ignore race is an example of the white racial frame in action (who needs to talk about race stuff?), and an object lesson in the failure of colorblind politics (we can just pretend that Obama is just like all the other presidents). 

For example Roberts writes:
Yet surprisingly few great American presidents have "looked presidential" (Ronald Reagan and JFK being the obvious exceptions). A much larger and more interesting number looked the part but never made it to the White House. Think about it: John McCain, John Kerry, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Adlai Stevenson (despite baldness), Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater (very much), and even Al Gore until he opened his mouth—they all could have come from central casting. Even Thomas Dewey might have qualified until he was fatally described as looking like "the little man on the top of the wedding cake".
Ultimately, in his efforts to be race neutral, Roberts ignored one of the most important variables influencing how Barack Obama is assessed by the American people: Obama's race is symbolically potent for voters across the color line. Such an omission is willful--however well intentioned--and not accidental.

It is a given that much of the opposition to Obama is purely partisan. By extension, in the United States, political ideology is in turn influenced by racial attitudes, feelings, sentiments, and anxieties. Some love Obama because he is a person of color; others despise him precisely because of that fact. 

What to do when much of that hostility is rooted in unconscious bias? Can a black man look "presidential" when on a deep social, cultural, and cognitive level many in the public are incapable of seeing a non-white person as being a "real" American? What does this hold for the 2012 election, when Obama now has a record to be assessed against?

They say once you go black you never go Black. Unconscious racial bias may suggest an alternative decision rule: you ain't had it right till you did it White...and once you had black you go running back to White.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Zombies are Real: Man Shot and Killed While Eating Face of His Victim on Side of Highway in Miami

Some "light" fare while you all enjoy the holiday weekend.

As a ghetto nerd, I am also an expert on zombies. This is one of our core competencies. I have a novel (and associated screenplay) I am writing about the rising of the dead. One of the basic plot details is that State authorities will try to hide the initial outbreak in plain sight. They will simply report the killing and eating of human beings by zombies as random acts of violence.

This subterfuge will work at first; but the outbreak spreads exponentially. Consequently, when 4 zombies create 16 more, and then 256, and so and so on, the obvious truth will be impossible to conceal. The police and military will be able to stop small scale outbreaks. I also do not foresee a Battle of Yonkers type engagement with hordes of the undead. The U.S. military is simply too expert at killing large numbers of people who gather out in the open--MLRS, cluster munitions, claymore mines, canister shot, gunships, artillery, and good old fashioned machine gun fire would devastate a large group of zombies. 

There are a few complications though: 1) the outbreak will spread so fast that it will be difficult for the military and police to mobilize effectively; 2) most American military power is forward deployed and not available for civil defense (think 9/11 on a far larger scale); 3) there would be civil uprisings and mass hysteria, making the zombies the least of the military's worries; 4) if containment can be achieved an area can be swept and cleared, however the battle space (if you can call it that) will be so kinetic and ill-defined that such control may not be possible. In short, I think we would be screwed. Alas.

I closely monitor these stories in the media, and over the years have compiled a long list of seemingly unrelated incidents of human cannibalism.

For example, this week it was reported that a man ate at least 12 people in the Yunnan province of China. In Miami yesterday, a naked man was shot and killed while eating the face of another person next to a busy highway. 

They are coming to you get you Barbra us. I would have my bug out bag prepped and ready folks. Here are some documents that may be of assistance. But, if you don't have access to a U.S. Army or Marine fireteam and their organic weaponry, the manual may be an entertaining distraction while the world goes to hell around you.

Here is the original story that was posted on the Miami Herald website. They have since changed it, adding details about "cocaine psychosis," and that the officer shot at the assailant at least 6 times before he finally dropped him.


MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami police shot and killed a man on the MacArthur Causeway Saturday afternoon, and police sources told CBS4 they had no choice: the naked man they shot was trying to chew the face off another naked man, and refused to obey police orders to stop his grisly meal.

The bizarre shooting happened shortly after 2 p.m., when police responded to a 911 call about two naked men fighting on a bike path along the Causeway, which was packed with traffic on a busy holiday weekend.

Miami police have not confirmed the details of what happened next, but sources close to the investigation told CBS4 News that officers found one man gnawing on the face of another, in what one police source called the most gruesome thing he’d ever seen.

The fight was taking place at the causeway exit near the Miami Herald building, and amazed officers tried to stop it, ordering the man making a meal out of the other man to stop.

Sources told CBS4 that the man refused to obey, and continued his attack. Investigators sharing limited details about the confrontation, saying only that the two men were fighting and the officers felt they had no choice but to take deadly force.

“During this confrontation an officer did discharge his weapon striking one of the individuals, said Det. Willie Moreno, spokesperson for Miami Police.

But the sources close to the investigation say that dry recitation of the facts apparently doesn’t go far enough. They said the man still would not give in to police commands, so officers fired again.

“That individual has lost his life right now,” Moreno said.

With the attacker dead, lying nude on the pavement, officers and paramedics were able to get to his victim and rush him to Jackson Memorial Hospital. Police sources say the man had virtually no face and was unrecognizable.

Police have shared no information about his identity or condition.

Once the bizarre confrontation came to an end, police were left with the task of figuring out what had happened. The investigation forced the closure of the causeway from Miami Beach to Miami, and also closed an exit to the causeway from I-95.

The investigation snarled traffic for hours and delayed thousands of motorists until ways could be found to get them off the causeway.

Police have had little official to say about the details, and have not released the name of the cannibalistic attacker.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion: Chauncey DeVega is on the Radio Three Times This Weekend

As always, I am sharing news so that you can be brought to your knees--suffering in pain as you try to follow along with my horrid news analysis, commentary, and hellish voice.

Cue self-deprecating drums.

More seriously, you have three opportunities to get a dose of my respectable pimp juice. The good folks at The Ed Show have invited me to do a live radio interview today at approximately 2:30pm EST. Check out his website in order to find out how to stream it in real time. Saturday, I will be on Ring of Fire radio. Mike P is always giving WARN love. I appreciate him for that. To my ear (and I am my harshest critic), our interview is one of the best that I have ever done. He and I were improvising off of each other and our convo went to some unexpected places. Please check it out. 

Sunday, I will be on Joshua Holland's radio show. He is one of the head muckety mucks over at Alternet. I have a piece that I have been working on these last two days--thus my light posting on WARN--which we will be discussing. My newest long form essay explores white victimology, black crime, mobs, and racial violence. I like it. Hopefully, it will resonate and perhaps go viral--either as a function of praise or disgust.

Please share these links with your friends, and on your websites, Twitter, and elsewhere. We are Respectable Negroes is growing. I owe it all to you. And I will always acknowledge that I am only as good as you folks push me to be.

Thank you. 

Here is a random breaking kayfabe professional wrestling moment. This is the visual that I always keep in my mind in order to stay on point: never be the Shock Master. Repeat. Never be the Shock Master:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Are These the New John Browns? "I am not Trayvon Martin." White Anti-Racists Talking to Cameras on Youtube

Reverend James Reeb. Jonathan Daniels. Andrew Goodman. Michael Schwerner. Viola Gregg Liuzzo. John Brown. These are the names of white folks who lived ethical lives and placed themselves in harm's way for the freedom of Black Americans. They also died trying to save white America from its own self-destructive racial wickedness.

In the Age of Obama, the Internet, and post-Civil Rights America, where have men and women of this type of iron will and principle gone? Are they on the lecture circuit? Occupy Wall Street? In the academy? Doing community organizing? Working silently in the shadows?

The nature of white supremacy and the Racial State have most certainly changed and evolved. One does not necessarily confront institutional white supremacy and meta racism with the same strategies and tools that forced down Jim and Jane Crow. Styles do makes fights; perhaps, there is no better example than considering people's movements and how the State and market democracies are vulnerable (or not) to them.

My concerns are not limited to white anti-racists. The same questions can be extended to black and brown people. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, there is a desire to buy into the myth that all of our people marched with King, stood up to white power and Bull Connor, wore berets and leather with the Panthers, or hunkered down with Brother Robert Williams.

The reality is that most people, in any society where collective action occurs, are free riders who benefit from the blood, sweat, and tears of others. But, these same folks do not want to be left out of their generation's defining struggle--just like the many adult children who find out either during a deathbed confessional, or organizing the deceased's estate, that their dads lied about fighting in World War 2.

Many African Americans discover a similar truth. Mom and dad were not at the sit-ins.  Perhaps for fear of going to jail, losing their jobs, or other practical concerns, they were on the sidelines. Nevertheless, they/we/most of us benefited while not contributing though direct action.

I hold a key appreciation for the idea that "the political" is an expansive concept that is not limited to formal political behavior. Yet, and as I have grown a bit older, I have become increasingly suspicious of a tendency to embrace the symbolic, and often the trivial, as constituting purposive politics which substantively challenges arrangements of power and resources.

"Hoodie" politics. Wearing multi-colored rubber or plastic wristbands. Clicking "like" on a cause that will circulate around Facebook. Posting a comment on a blog. The Stop Kony campaign. All of these examples involve making one individual feel like they are participating in a grand struggle. There is no risk, demand, threat, or cost. Thus, can it really be considered substantive political action?

A broadly inclusive public sphere is integral to a healthy democracy (these behaviors can in fact be "pre-political" or serve as a barometer of the public mood; we must also be careful to note how there is also a rich history of debate societies, salons, pamphleting, and public rallies that online spaces are a direct descendant of).

However, my ultimately worry is that for a whole generation these online acts may constitute the limit(s) of their political engagement. There is a double bind at work here as well. On one hand, the major organs of power which influence the day-to-day lives of those born in the neoliberal age that came into being in the 1970s are profoundly anti-democratic. The banking, finance, military, marketing, as well as the commercial and industrial actors who constitute the global superclass, could care less about a given person's vote, sit-in, "approved" protesting, or the like.

Moreover, the sleight of hand is that while they have disdain for democracy, these same agents benefit from the illusion of participation and legitimacy. Thus, the need to create alternate spaces for "democratic behavior" like social media and the Internet. The illusion and spectacle of shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent are cousins to this phenomenon: Americans can "vote" for the winners in a meaningless human freak show; but their votes in the "real world" are a choice between two bankrupt and moribund political parties, an act that has little transformative power over the forces which impact the contours of their society.

The young woman in this video offers up a smart and sharp reflection on race, white privilege, and the lazy thinking that motivates much of the liberal shared empathy crowd who believe that slogans are a challenge to power.

Is this the best they/we/us have to offer? Talking into a camera on Youtube is the new face of politics in the 21st century? What type of politics come from a virtual public sphere that is all chatter and no action in the real world?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Are Names Destiny? Of Race and Media Framing: What if Trayvon Martin had a "White" Name?

Last week, the drip, drip, drip, of evidence surrounding the Trayvon Martin case became a deluge. George Zimmerman's hunting and killing of Trayvon Martin has been a national play, one that I described as a farce and tragedy, which reminds us of how the United States is still in many ways a country that is "separate, hostile, and unequal."

The divides in public opinion about the guilt and respective innocence of Zimmerman and Martin are screens upon which differences in race and life experiences across the colorline have been projected. Interestingly, the most obvious element in this narrative about justice and the color line has gone little commented upon.

Yes, Martin's killing by Zimmerman is "about" race. But, race works in ways that are both subtle and obvious. Trayvon is blessed or cursed--depending on one's own point of view--with a "black" name. Names may not be destiny. But, as social scientists have demonstrated, they do tell us something about class, race, community, neighborhood, social capital, families, aspirations, norms and culture.

Consciously or not, individuals make judgments about one's relative worth or personhood based on their names. These judgments are also implicitly about belonging, national identity and citizenship--for an object lesson in this reality, one does not need to look any farther than President Obama and the conspiranoid Birthers.

For example, researchers at the University of Chicago sent out resumes with "black" sounding names and "white" sounding names to prospective employers. The former were imminently qualified with Ivy League pedigrees and great job experience. The latter were former felons with fewer skills. Not at all surprising to students of race, white privilege, and racial inequality, the white applicants were contacted for job interviews at a far higher rate.

In a complementary example, there is a social psychology experiment in which participants are given a story to read about a young woman with a child who goes shopping at a store for batteries.

There are two versions of the story offered. In one, she is a black woman (as indicated by her name and other clues); in the other story, the protagonist is a white woman. The other facts of the story are identical. When asked identical questions about the narrative(s), respondents envision the black woman as a welfare queen, a thief, and irresponsible. The white woman is noble, a single mother trying to do the right thing by her kids, and a good person.

Framing has been critically important in how various public(s) have responded to the Martin-Zimmerman saga.  

The Right-wing media depicts a black, man-child, giant negro, thug ready to rape and kill at will. Here, Zimmerman is a noble victim. The mainstream and "progressive" media offers a different depiction of events. There, Trayvon Martin is an innocent person walking home with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea who is killed by an overzealous racist vigilante.

These divides are 1) significant because conservatives are motivated in their political worldview by racial animus in ways that others are not and 2) self-fulfilling where these disparate views of reality and political events are self-reinforcing, and self-perpetuating.

The story is the thing. As an experiment in perception and framing, I have removed any overt signals to either the race of Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman. Moreover, I have renamed Trayvon Martin "Dale Hill." To my eyes and ears this is a very "white" name. I thought about playing around with the genders of Martin and Zimmerman--but parsimony and efficiency ruled out such a counter-factual.

I have also updated the story based on the new information about the investigation that has been made available these last few weeks. My framing of the story leaves out certain incidental facts, emphasizes other bits of information, and of course has a particular narrative.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cultural Studies in a Time of Crisis? A Call for Essays on Tyler Perry's Body of Work

Something fun to start the week...

Just because one can do a thing, does not necessarily mean that they should do a thing.

My research interests are centered broadly on race and popular culture. In fact, one of my main questions involves race and representation in mass media, and how those narratives both legitimate and reinforce  racial ideologies and "common sense," as well as tell us something more broadly about hierarchies of power in American society.

Given those interests, I have concluded that Tyler Perry's body of work constitutes one of the most pernicious, befouled, racist, and "ugly" depictions of black humanity that I have ever seen. As such, his "art" and role in the black culture industry is more than deserving of study.

Those qualifiers noted; proceeding from the love principle; and giving respect to folks that are working on this proposed project, I do have to wonder about how we explain our efforts at knowledge generation to those outside of our small world--assuming that we ought to feel obligated to (which is an unsettled question).

In addition, this dilemma is a nice segue back to the controversy over at The Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks back regarding a vicious and ill founded editorial about Black Studies and the quality of the dissertations written in that field.

Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and one of my favorite ghetto nerd man crushes, has a great story about how scientists are often incapable of communicating with the general public about the importance of their work. There, he explains how one of his colleagues was unable to explain to a government committee why Congress should fund a particle collider that would have been revolutionary in the capabilities it would have granted the scientific community.

During the hearings one of the representatives begged for a story, some excuse to give this researcher and his team the money for the project. Sadly, the scientist was unable to offer up a pitch that went beyond techno-babble. Predictably, the funding was denied. Dr. Kaku had a great suggestion: all his colleague had to say was that this machine would enable humanity to understand the mind of God as we took one more step closer to deciphering the most basic secrets of the universe.

Don't be mistaken. A collection of essays on the coonery and buffoonery of Tyler Perry is not going to help us understand such profound matters. This collection is also privately funded and subject to the free market (and how a niche audience will choose to embrace such a book or not). But, to those in academia, writers, and others who work in narrow disciplines, how do we "sell" our work to outsiders?

Ultimately, is how we approach such matters the difference between "specific" and "universal/general" intellectuals? Which of the roles should we strive to fulfill?

Here is the call for submissions. Perhaps one of you will forward a proposal.


CFP--Essays on Tyler Perry; Abstracts 6/15/2012 and Essays 11/1/2012

full name / name of organization:

Critical Perspectives on Tyler Perry--Book Collection

contact email:
Call for Papers
Critical Perspectives on Tyler Perry
An Edited Book Collection
Due Dates: 6/15/2012 (abstracts); 11/1/2012 (full essays)
For over a decade now Tyler Perry has entertained popular audiences with live, televised, and filmed performances of signature characters, including his most recognizable character, Madea. While some of his films have sparked public controversies about aesthetics, race, and respectability (or what some have described as the retrogressive and embarrassing nature of his work), Perry’s influence in contemporary media culture is undeniable. For instance, prior to his film career, Perry success on stage (ticket sales, video recordings of the plays, and merchandising) provided him with an estimated $150 million dollars a year. Not only has Perry has directed, produced, or starred in at least one film a year, his role in the television industry is increasing at a comparable rate. He is reportedly working to launch his own network, Tyler TV. Perry is at the center of aggressive media empire and production studio that has released over twenty commercially successful films and videos about parenting, marriage, morality, incest, domestic violence, and trauma in black families.
In light of these facts and the limited critical attention attributed to Perry, we are editing an anthology to examine his role in contemporary media culture. The essays in this edited collection will explore his work from a variety of critical and industrial perspectives by examining his self-presentation and public image as well as the films, television shows, theater performances, reception history, and academic and popular critiques and debates about his work.
Suggested essay topics can include (but are not limited to):
Christianity and Perry's films
Perry and trauma
The Madea films and the cinematic history of black men in drag
Oprah Winfrey and Perry
Television networks and Perry
The television shows (Meet the Browns, House of Payne, etc.)
Perry and "Black Aesthetics"
Perry and genre
The Boondocks “Pause” episode
Black Femininity/Masculinity
Perry’s stage career
Perry’s films and conventions of melodrama
For Colored Girls (2010)
Please submit abstracts (500 words maximum) along with an academic bio and contact details to by June 15, 2012. Final papers will be 6000-7000 words and should be submitted no later than November 1, 2012. Please address any questions to Karen Bowdre, TreaAndrea Russworm, and Samantha Sheppard to the e-mail listed above.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Caught Up in Chicago's NATO Fever: I was Just "Detained" for Being "Suspicious." My "Crime?" Sitting on a Bench at Navy Pier and Feeding the Geese

There is a pre 9/11 America and a post 9/11 America. After that day a new lexicon came into being. The Patriot Act, warrantless wire tapping, GITMO, and the Department of Homeland Security were birthed in this moment of our “great national derangement.”

In all, the national surveillance apparatus was turned inward on the American people in ways that were unprecedented.

For example, as The Washington Post documented in its series Top Secret America, the 30,000 or so employees who listen in and monitor emails and phone conversations, do so both largely out of sight, and out of mind, of the average citizen. And that is the trick is it not? Power is an abstraction until you encounter it personally.

Chicago is in the grip of NATO fever. Police are everywhere. Helicopters and fighter jets are in the sky. The roads are being closed and public transit diverted. The city is in the midst of a spectacle. Before the city unofficially hunkers down for the weekend, I decided to go to Navy Pier—tourist trap, beach, convention center, Ferris Wheel spot and people watching place—and sit, read a book, and feed the birds.

I love animals. I am the guy who has a special voice for when he meets a new doggie friend. As one of my friends observed, while she gets all excited for babies, I could care less, as I immediately focus in on our canine friends. I am the guy who saves old bread for birds. I keep it in a plastic bag, a partial concession to my OCD (there is something fulfilling about watching the bread pile up), so that once or twice a month I can feed the pigeons that wait by the 'L' stop mocking the humans who are forced to rush to and fro in our middling work-a-day routines. 

But my real joy is the fantasy of raising a bird army that I could use to conquer the world. For that I need geese and seagulls. I go to Navy Pier in order to recruit them.

Over the course of several years, I have gotten pretty good at making friends with the geese. I imagine they know me as "He the human with the tasty garlic bread and barbecue potato chips." My bird foot soldiers are pretty cool. The geese will eat out of my hand. They even follow me when I go to sit down on the benches near Lake Michigan.

I would soon discover that this hobby and habit of feeding birds at Navy Pier, in a city deep in the throngs of NATO fever, can be a “suspicious” and dangerous thing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Another Right-wing Perpetual Political Priapism Over Reverend Wright

Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.
Larry Elder will be paid 25,000 dollars for two weeks of work as an "articulate black" figurehead for a race baiting anti-Obama smear campaign. I always told you that being a boot black, lawn jockey, grinning from ear to ear, black conservative political coprophagist was extremely lucrative. Now you have third party confirmation of said fact.

[I cannot help but call attention to the racial micro-aggressions at play here as well: the favorite assumption being that black people are by definition inarticulate and stupid, thus the need to mark "articulate" as a qualifier.]

The NY Times has something for everyone today. For the Trayvon-Zimmerman crowd there is a piece on the Sanford, Florida police department's incompetence. White nationalists can get riled up about this story on declining white birth rates and the genetic/racial annihilation of those who we are presently categorized as "white." History buffs can learn about Brother Doctor King's forgotten manifesto and his call for President Kennedy to revisit the Emancipation Proclamation.

The item that will be getting the most attention is an expose on the plan by a cabal of Right-wing consultants and their billionaire sponsor to revisit Reverend Wright and his connections to President Obama. Unlimited Resources of one person determined to game the political system for personal gain. Super Pacs. White racial resentment. Conservative demagoguery. Slick media production values to dupe the mouth-breathing public.

All of these elements are present in “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.” I would like to believe that this complementary strategy--the dirty boxing--to Mitt Romney's more refined Barack Obama is a traitor, treasonous, and does not love America tactics, would be all balls and no shaft. To point, who would be compelled by this sort of claptrap?
The metrosexual black Abe Lincoln has emerged as a hyper-partisan, hyper-liberal, elitist politician with more I than a bit of the trimmer in him. He's not only unable to command our country's greatest concern, the economy but he also finds himself sputtering in foreign affairs, engaged in bumbling, crude attempts to inject social issues and class warfare into this election and utterly unable to make a positive case for why he should president.  
Yet we still "like" him. 
This crumbling of the Obama phenomenon, properly exploited and explained, should have a devastating impact on the elusive independent, who doesn't pay all that close of attention but knows thin are bad and feels that it could get a whole lot worse. 
But, they still "like" him.
The answer: millions of people. The practical puzzle then becomes are these voters already predisposed to vote for Romney anyway? Or will these types of racial appeals push right-leaning Independents in battleground states over the edge?

The architects of this Reverend Wright Gate 2.0 anti-Obama black animus strategy are also well aware of their vulnerability to "the race card." Here is their proposed shield and immunizing agent:
The instant response liberals give to any attack is to deem the attack as racist. In the case involving an African I American president, even more so. We have two ways to help mitigate that potential. First, include an extremely literate, conservative African American in our spokesman group. Our recommendation is Larry Elder, a prominent ABC talk radio host in California. We have discussed our approach with him in confidence and he immediately understood and "got it."

Larry was considered a potential U.S. Senate candidate in California during the last cycle. Mr. Elder will be in addition to ]oe Ricketts, Brian Baker and any other members of your group who would like to help spread the message. We have also had very tentative talks with a group of African American business leaders who could get substantially behind this effort. We will continue those talks only after concept approval. 
The second way we will lessen their ability to attack from a racist angle is to carefully utilize a series of focus groups. First, on the storyboards, then on a rough cut of the final film, making fine-tuning adjustments in wording and visuals to increase the impact, while lessening any elements that could reasonably be deemed "racist."
The NY Times is reporting that the principal agent involved in this proposed campaign is already flip-flopping as he offers denials and repudiations of its content. Smoke and mirrors as they got caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

But, I do have to ask one question: Is the Right-wing Black Conservative bench so thin that the best clown their white handlers can summon up is Larry Elder?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More Questions Than Answers: Zimmerman Shot and Killed Trayvon Martin from "Intermediate Range." How Does This Complicate His House of Lies?

You guys are a smart and interesting bunch. Perhaps, you all can help me answer a few questions about the newest information released regarding George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin.

1. U.S. News is reporting that Martin was shot and killed from "intermediate range." There are a few folks with military and police backgrounds who comment here on WARN. Could you please explain to me what distance is considered intermediate range?

Some online resources here and here offer up this criteria:
"In near-contact wounds, the muzzle is not in contact with the skin, but is very close. In this case, the powder grains do not have a chance to disperse and leave a powder tattooing. The entrance wound is surrounded by a wide zone of powder soot, and seared, blackened skin. In intermediate-range wounds, the muzzle is held away from the skin but close enough that it still produces powder tattooing." 
"In forensics there are four types of gunshot wound: Contact wound - The muzzle of the gun was applied to the skin at the time of shooting, Close Range - The muzzle of the gun was 6-8 inches away from the skin at shooting, Intermediate Range - The gun was 8 inches to 3.5 feet away, and Distant - The gun was over 3.4 feet away at the time of shooting." 
2. Does anyone else find it problematic that Zimmerman, who detectives suspected of lying and offering multiple versions of the events that fateful evening, claimed he was struggling on the ground and had to shoot Trayvon from close range because of imminent threat. Does the coroner's report complicate this version of events?

3. Where are George Zimmerman's injuries? He refused treatment at the scene. The video taken in the police department shows someone walking quite easily and without assistance, not roughed up, and certainly not with any visible signs of head trauma. Moreover, Zimmerman went to his "family doctor" for care. Suspicious? Curious? 

4. I was hit in the face with a baseball bat in elementary school. My nose was not broken, but it bled so much that it filled up several towels--I mean thick, ketchup-like, life fluid--and was swollen for several days. Is Zimmerman's diagnosis of a "closed fracture to his nose" at all believable?

5. Trayvon Martin only had one slight abrasion to a finger. If Zimmerman was pummeled by Martin, as he so claims, wouldn't his hands show some damage? Cuts, bruises? a fracture? I am not a badman by any stretch of the imagination. But on one night I had to fight for my life against an armed gunman. I got very lucky, but the shots I gave him to the jaw hurt my hands for days later. If Martin went all in as Zimmerman claims, I would have to imagine there would be visible injuries to the body even post-mortem. What am I missing here?

6. Finally, Trayvon Martin is recorded on tape screaming for mercy. If Martin is taking Zimmerman to the wood shed, why scream for help? Could it be that Zimmerman shot Martin from "intermediate range" in a fit of rage, unbalanced because of his meds, agitated, and simply killed the teen in cold blooded execution style murder?

George Zimmerman Got His Butt Kicked by Trayvon Martin...and Yes, Zimmerman Still Deserves to be in Prison

The medical report released by George Zimmerman's doctor indicates that he suffered injuries to his face and head on the evening in which he shot and murdered Trayvon. The coroner's report on Trayvon Martin's body indicates that there was bruising on his knuckles consistent with being in a scuffle. Zimmerman was also on medication which can cause agitation and mood swings.

Predictably, for those who believe that Zimmerman is a martyr and victim, this new information will be taken as "proof" of his innocence. I am more interested in how those who championed Trayvon Martin respond to this newest bit of information. Will they rally? Or has Zimmerman-Trayvon fever already been expended?

I have never been one to leave a battle once it has been joined. My concerns about these types of highly charged symbolic politics and cause celebres have been consistent--what happens when the 24 hour news cycle has exhausted itself? It is typical that folks are on to the next one so to speak; they enjoy being part of a bigger spectacle and "movement;" but, matters still remain unresolved.

Walter Lippman observed decades ago that the "newspaper man" is most interested in selling exciting stories. Editors and publishers frame stories for maximum appeal--as opposed to a deep and compelling pursuit of the truth. This is no less true in the age of new media and cable news.

In all, I would suggest that the deliberations surrounding George Zimmerman's murder trial should be focused on proximate and distal causes, the chain of events which led him to hunt down and kill a person, one guilty of no more than walking down the street.

The immediate cause of Trayvon Martin's shooting by George Zimmerman was a fight and scuffle in which the latter was clearly being bested by a superior pugilist. The second proximate cause, and the one most important here, was George Zimmerman's refusal to follow the police dispatcher's order to remain in his vehicle. The more macro level and prime element of causality in Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin is a society that devalues the lives of young people of color, deems them always suspect (on an almost existential level) of crime and criminality, and empowers honorary whites--and those acting in the name of white authority--to shoot down and kill black men on a whim.

I would hope that the jury is capable of applying a bit of common sense as they work through this chain of events. I would also dream that the members of the jury can practice a bit of empathy, putting themselves in the shoes of an innocent teenager walking home at night, being stalked by a racially obsessed stranger who is intent on (quite likely) doing you harm. You fight for your life, you see that this faux-cop vigilante has a gun, terrified, you try to get control of the weapon lest he kill you. Too slow, there is a noise. You look down. Scared, extremities weakening, getting cold, adrenaline wearing off, you realize that you are going to die.

Your murderer George Zimmerman is shocked that guns apparently really do in fact hurt and kill people, he acted on his fantasy, playing Dirty Harry, but it is you who are dead. Zimmerman will be nauseous in the days to follow as he reflects on that night. Your parents will be scared and then heartbroken as your body lays unclaimed in a morgue on the slab. Zimmerman's defenders will rally, sending him hundreds of thousands of dollars for he is a stand-in for their aggrieved white victimhood in the face of "black crime" and "young hoodie thugs."

Trayvon Martin had every right to stand his ground in self defense. George Zimmerman instigated this whole deadly scenario. But history teaches us that in the United States black people do not have such a right to self-defense. From the Black Codes, Jim and Jane Crow, slave passes, racial profiling, and now to "stop and frisk," standing order number one is that African Americans must submit to white authority until given permission otherwise. The most basic rights of political belonging and citizenship, freedom of movement and safety in one's person, are contingent and circumstantial for black Americans.

George Zimmerman will walk free--do not be confused, he is not innocent by any stretch of the imagination. I hold little hope that the jury is capable of thinking through the steps which led a vigilante to kill an innocent person beyond the most immediate and final act, where self-defense by Trayvon Martin is interpreted as violent, unwarranted assault by the George Zimmerman faction, those who idolize him, and wish they could have acted as he did that faithful evening.

The question remains: what will the defenders of Trayvon Martin do now?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

White Criminal of the Week: White Police Officer Assaults Fair Maiden, Kicking Her in Pregnant Belly!

Stop the presses! We have been so overwhelmed with reports of White Crime that it is impossible to give proper attention to this most earnest and wicked plague that has beset itself upon this country from coast to coast. Could it be the economy? A cultural flaw? Poor behavior that is trickling down from the criminally inclined white role models and elites in government, finance, and religion to the rank-and-file members of white society? We at WARN are flummoxed by the deluge.

While preparing to share tales of white debasement that include mothers prostituting their daughters, white neo nazi murder suicides, domestic terrorists running for public office, and international tales of intrigue where white American licentiousness has even infected the good people of Great Britain, this latest bit of scandalous news came into my humble hands.

One of our white crime watchers has been following our mantra: if you see white crime report it immediately!

Our society is only as safe as we respectable people make it; we must stand in the gap against the tide of a white society that is devolving before our very eyes!

While we may be prepared for common white thuggery and rapscallions, what can we do when those entrusted with  protecting the public and enforcing order are corrupted by their own inner demons? Who protects us when white police run amok, murdering, abusing, and killing good Americans at their own leisure?

White police across the country have long demonstrated a propensity for perverse violence. Their deeds have included sodomizing men with plungers and electrocuting the genitalia of "prisoners" with tasers. And how can we forget the vicious assassination of an unarmed elderly black man in his own home by the white police sworn to serve and protect the public.

As is true with many positions in local government, it is a given that many white police have benefited from an old boys network where information on exams and positions in the constabulary are passed down from generation to generation. These incestuous hiring practices have clearly made the public less safe and encouraged white incompetence.

But the brigand-like assault on one of our fairest sex, a pregnant woman who was kicked in the stomach and beaten by Jerad Wheeler, a white police officer in Georgia, is epic and deserves it own place in the annals of white crime and cowardice! When will good people rise up against white skullduggery and wanton crime! When will we scream from the streets and the mountaintops that enough is enough! The monster even abuses harmless and vulnerable family pets! Evil is as evil does!

Once more, what shall we do with the white people?

When Dekalb County, Ga., police officer Jerad Wheeler tased her brother, Raven Dozie started crying and demanding to know why. Wheeler kicked the heavily-pregnant woman in the stomach. While he is now under criminal investigation, his superiors on the force squelched an internal affairs complaint and explicitly approve of his conduct.
"What kind of a human being kicks a pregnant woman? I mean, forget whether or not it is a police officer that is supposedly protecting people," Dozier's attorney Mark Bullman said. Dozier filed a complaint with the DeKalb police department's internal affairs unit, but it was never investigated. Instead, four supervisors and an internal affairs detective signed off that Wheeler's use of force met policy. ... Fleischer filed an open records request and found two more use-of-force complaints against Wheeler within the last nine months. In all three cases, the victims were not the focus of the original police incident.
Wheeler was accused of twisting a 53 year-old woman's arm in 2011. This January, he shot a family's chained dog after showing up at the wrong home on a call.

Let it not be said that WARN and its white crime watchers ever practice the social evil and sin of race prejudice. The wickedness of white crime is such that it has brought all people down to its most low level.

Social hygiene and respectability demand that the fetid waters be drained--even if a few of our noble negro citizens were also incidentally swept up in the tide of ferocious white destructiveness and befouled--justice must be served.

Two sad souls have been tempted by the vices and delights of white crime. Pray for them my brothers and sisters.

1. Ray Woods allegedly tied 89 bags of heroin and cocaine to his penis. When cops found him out, he reportedly urinated all over himself.

 2. Jesse James Thomas, arrested March 28 for public drunkenness, Thomas was wearing a sombrero when he jumped on an officer's parked patrol car screaming his name, according to an account in the Sacramento Bee.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Matters of Insubordination: Could a Military Coup d'etat Happen in the United States?

BILL WASIK: Let us begin with the most straightforward approach. Would it be possible for a renegade group of military officers, or the officer corps as a whole, to simply plot and carry out a coup d'état in the United States?

EDWARD LUTTWAK: If somebody asked me to plan such a coup, I wouldn't take on the assignment.

CHARLES DUNLAP: I wouldn't either. [Laughs]

LUTTWAK: I've done it for other countries. But it just wouldn't work here. You could go down the list and take over these headquarters, that headquarters, the White House, the Defense Department, the television, the radio, and so on. You could arrest all the leaders, detain or kill off their families. And you would have accomplished nothing.

ANDREW BACEVICH: That's right. What are you going to seize that, having seized it, gives you control of the country?

LUTTWAK: You would sit in the office of the Secretary of Defense, and the first place where you wouldn't be obeyed would be inside your office. If they did follow orders inside the office, then people in the rest of the Pentagon wouldn't. If everybody in the Pentagon followed orders, people out in the military bases wouldn't. If they did, as well, American citizens would still not accept your legitimacy.

RICHARD KOHN: It's a problem of public opinion. All of the organs of opinion in this country would rise up with one voice: the courts, the media, business leaders, education leaders, the clergy.
Trolls can lead to productive conversations. Here is a fun follow-up from our early to and fro about the insubordinate behavior of General McChrystal and his lack of respect for the Office of the President. How we began discussing Mitt Romney's empathy gap, and ended up talking about national security, the military industrial complex, and U.S. foreign policy, I am unsure. But, as you know, I roll with the punches and improvise when appropriate and necessary.

I have mentioned this essay from Harper's a few times here on WARN. I assign it in my introductory American Politics courses as a way of getting students to think about our country's cultural, social, and political institutions. Could there be a military coup in the United States? What would it take to be successful? Would the officer class go along with it? What of the average rank-and-file soldiers?

My answer has always been as follows: why does the military need to have a coup when they effectively run the show anyway? Moreover, the United States is a thoroughly militarized society from the bottom up (and has only seen the walls between the military and civilian life become thinner and thinner with the post-Cold War up-gunning of local police departments, and Patriot Act national security era).

Unlike Japan in the Tokugawa era--when the average citizen knew that the country was first and foremost a martial society--Americans are blindly ignorant of this fact. But then again, the average rank and file plebian also thinks that the United States fights wars in order to export "democracy" (as opposed to create "free markets" to exploit, and to maintain exclusive access to resources) and that Al-Qaeda attacked on 9/11 because they hate "the American way of life" and our "values."

Alternatively, a brief and cursory look at American popular culture--from video games, to blockbuster movies, to TV shows--reveals how militarism is valorized, socialized into the body politic.

Operationally, the puzzle is an interesting one. Which units would actually defect? Given how geographically dispersed and forward deployed the U.S. military is, do they actually have the line infantry and other assets to actually conduct operations in a hostile domestic environment? Never mind COIN or MOUT in a major American city.

Here is another wrinkle: most of the Army's forces are based in the South, what if a Turner Diaries style neo-Nazi white nationalist wet dream came to pass?

In all, I would rather war game a zombie outbreak.
The military is one of the United States' most "respected" political and social institutions. Given the right mix of circumstances, a failing State, an exhausted public, and creeping inverted totalitarianism I could envision the American people clamoring for a "soft coup."

To point, here is one particularly tasty passage from Harper's "American coup d'etat: Military thinkers discuss the unthinkable" that seems to echo my sentiment:
WASIK: Let's get back, though, to the subject of crises, whether real or contrived. It seems as though the American public wants to see the military step in during these situations. A poll taken just after Hurricane Katrina found that 69 percent of people wanted to see the military serve as the primary responder to natural disasters.

DUNLAP: People don't fully appreciate what the military is. By design it is authoritarian, socialistic, undemocratic. Those qualities help the armed forces to serve their very unique purpose in our society: namely, external defense against foreign enemies. In the military we look to destroy threats, not apprehend them for processing through a system that presumes them innocent until proven guilty. And I should add that if you do try to imprint soldiers with the restraint that a police force needs, then you disadvantage them against the ruthless adversaries that real war involves.

WASIK: Then why do so many Americans say they want to see the military get involved in law enforcement, “peacekeeping,” etc.?

DUNLAP: Americans today have an incredible trust in the military. In poll after poll they have much more confidence in the armed forces than they do in other institutions. The most recent poll, just this past spring, had trust in the military at 74 percent, while Congress was at 22 percent and the presidency was at 44 percent. In other words, the armed forces are much more trusted than the civilian institutions that are supposed to control them.
What do you think folks? Could a successful military coup happen here in these good ol' United States? Or did it already happen at the end of World War Two and the public was asleep at the wheel?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Empathy Wars: Mitt Romney and the Republican Party's Bully Politics

This is not rocket science.

Mitt Romney likes firing people. Mitt Romney drives with terrified family pets on the roof of his car. Mitt Romney assaulted a gay student while in prep school. Mitt Romney tricked a blind teacher, apparently one he "liked," letting the man walk into a glass door. He is a bully. Mitt Romney is also the presumed Presidential nominee for a political party of unapologetic bullies. Ergo he is a near perfect leader for the Tea Party GOP.

American politics in the Age of Obama is beset by deep divides in partisanship, ideology, and political values. These debates are about more than policy. They have devolved into disagreements about the very nature of empirical reality, facts, and science. For example, is global warming real? Do tax cuts for the rich pay for themselves as they trickle down to the rest of us? Can one cut a country's budget in a time of deep economic crisis and somehow miraculously produce economic growth? Is Barack Obama a United States citizen? Is the President a closet, Muslim, Manchurian candidate Socialist? Are white people "oppressed" in America?

As cultivated by the Right-wing media echo chamber, Democrats (and those "evil" progressives) are not just wrong on almost every major political and social issue. No, they are treasonous, deserving of death and extermination, and want to destroy the country.

The diametrically opposed worldviews of conservatives and liberals are also a function of differences in biology, brain structure, and political personality types. For example, researchers have discovered that the fear centers of conservatives' brains are over-developed. This in turn makes them highly susceptible to anxieties about social change, threat, and creates a hostility towards those people who conservatives perceive to be the Other.

Moreover, conservatives tend to be deferent to authority and hierarchy, fearful of change, closed off to new experiences, possessed of a binary world view, attracted to simple moral appeals ("right and wrong"; "good guys and bad guys") and highly intolerant of ambiguity. These traits are a formula for authoritarian thinking, which as the book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics demonstrates, has a broad impact on public opinion regarding such topics as immigration, privacy, women's reproductive rights, national security, gay marriage, and matters of race and racial inequality.

In all, these differences in political worldviews can be crystallized down into one key divide: conservatives and liberals are radically different in how human empathy impacts their political decision-making.

The University of Southern California's Ravi Iyer incisively demonstrates this divide with the following chart:
The more empathetic a liberal is, the more likely they are to be interested in politics. The opposite holds true for conservatives: the less empathetic they are, the more likely a given conservative is to show interest in political matters. This is a damning reveal; it explains much of the Ayn Rand, dystopian, destroy the social safety net, one against many, politics of the Republican Party. By implication, those who show little empathy are rendered grossly incapable of even working through how either the Common Good or the Good Society should be values in the political calculus of governance, citizenship, and leadership.  

The Republican Presidential primary season has provided ample evidence of how the GOP, a group I have described as a death cult, has become a  party possessed by a deep lack of empathy.

For example, during the debates audience members laughed at the prospect of uninsured people dying. They mocked a gay soldier who was serving his country abroad. It was also suggested during their debates that Muslim Americans should be openly harassed and racially profiled (not one candidate intervened or suggested this was unconstitutional) and that undocumented citizens should be deported and/or the United States surrounded by electric fences.

And most recently, black people have been described as parasites on white America. And "inner city" children, what is code for black and brown youth, should follow through on a Dickensonian fantasy as they pick up mops and serve as school janitors, in order to learn the value of hard work

The policies of the Republican Party are demonstrative of a deep deficit in empathy. The poor are surplus people who are "unproductive," a "drain" on American society, and who leech off of the rich and "normal" Americans. The social safety net should be destroyed as "entitlements" like Social Security and unemployment insurance, encourage laziness and sloth. Support for hungry children, public education, the unemployed, and the poor should be cut to ensure tax cuts for the rich.

While income and wealth inequality is at record highs, inter-generational mobility is stifled, and the middle and working classes are being eviscerated, it is in fact the wealthy who are being held under siege by "class warfare."

The Republican Party has been practicing "bully politics" at its best since the election of President Obama. 

The Republican leadership has proudly vowed to destroy his presidency at any cost--even if the country suffers because of it. The Republican Party has worked to obstruct legislation at every turn--even popular bills supported by the public. There is a concerted effort to destroy the public's confidence in government with the hope that anger and rage will be distributed equally at both parties--as opposed to those in the Republican Party who are most responsible for these impasses in procedure and voting (even opposing legislation they previously supported in order to spite President Obama).

The foot soldiers of the radical political faction otherwise known as the Tea Party have prided themselves on holding the country hostage (as they did during the debt ceiling crisis), repeatedly demonstrating that zealotry holds precedence over good government and the public interest.

Richard Mardouk, who defeated Senator Dick Lugar in Indiana last week, summed up the bully politics of the Tea Party GOP perfectly when he stated that a lack of compromise " the definition of political effectiveness. The fact is you never compromise on principles. If people on the far left have a principle they want to stand by, they should never compromise. Those of us on the right should not either. Compromise may come in the finer details of a plan or a budget. We are at the point where one side of the other will win this argument. One side or the other will dominate."

Ultimately Mardouk notes, "what I've said about compromise and bipartisanship is I hope to build a conservative majority in the United States Senate so that bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government, reduce the bureaucracy, lower taxes and get American moving again." 

Compromise is their enemy. They must bend others to their will not through negotiation, moral and ethical clarity, or persuasion, but through hardheadedness and intimidation. Compromise is not give and take, or political horse trading: it is forcing Democrats to always agree with Republicans

Mitt Romney, bully, is a perfect candidate for a political party of bullies, a collective both refined and gross. The policies offered by the Republican Party are a one against all, state of nature mix of Ayn Rand's love of personal selfishness and unbridled corporate greed. Here, the government should be drowned in the bathtub and the social safety destroyed in order to transfer more resources to the rich.

Radical libertarianism, deregulation, and a free market unmoored by any restrictions of common sense, humanity, or reason will separate the weak from the strong. The rest of society be damned in this Mad Max view of Americans' obligations to one another and the social compact. We are all just individual agents, lacking any rights of citizenship which cannot be secured and protected by radical free market capitalism, the bankers, financiers, and plutocrats.

This America, the one of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party's dreams, is a bully's paradise.

Mitt Romney, prep school bully of the weak and vulnerable, corporate raider bully who takes pleasure in terminating employees, nominee of a political party of bullies and "real Americans," and he who wants to be President of the United States, has made it abundantly clear that empathy is not a public virtue to be cultivated or encouraged.

What does that mean for the rest of us who don't get to sit at the cool kids table or have enough money to hang out with Mitt Romney and his exclusive clique?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Unintended Consequences: Is Racism a "Mental Illness?" If So, are White Racists a Protected Class of Citizens?

Is racism an illness? Psychiatrists and psychologists are debating the issue. The forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders, due for publication in August 2012, will include a chapter on identifying and assessing pathological bias. This is the form of racism that could lead supremacists to violently and randomly maim or massacre those of another race. 
Meanwhile, a team of British psychologists recently announced they had stumbled upon a secondary use for Propranolol, a commonly prescribed medication for high blood pressure. They claim it could cure implicit bias, or the form of racism that can even occur in people “with a sincere belief in equality.” Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that implicit racism is fundamentally founded on fear, and the drug acts both on nerve circuits that govern automatic functions, such as heart rate, and the part of the brain involved in emotional responses. 
Thinking of any form of racism as an illness is very troubling. Historically, psychiatrists, psychologists, the medical establishment and lay people have all agreed that the roots of racism are cultural or societal — a set of beliefs and behaviors that are learned and, as a result, can be unlearned. If it were to ever be declared an illness that can be treated, racists would no longer be legally or ethically responsible for their actions. Just imagine it: a medical justification for discriminating against, or even killing, those of another race.
Whenever I can read about drapetomania in Time magazine, I am at peace for the day.

Maybe, they will be putting Propranolol in the water along with Flouride? 

Question: will the Tea Party and the Libertarians protest at this "infringement" on their freedoms, another sign that "big government" has run amok?

Ultimately, we must ask is racism a mental illness? Apparently, the APA is moving closer to including such a personality disorder in the newest edition of The Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders (DSM-V), the bible for psychologists and other mental health professionals.

Like President Obama has on gay marriage, my views have "evolved" on this issue. 

When I was in my glorious college days as a young black radical in training I would have lept up and down in joyous agreement with the proposition that racism is a mental illness. 

Over the years, I have come to be of two minds on the subject. This schism has developed because of my deepening appreciation for the complex, twisted nature of post racial, post civil rights, colorblind racism. It has also been nurtured because of my own cynicism about how power has historically worked through biopolitics, as well as the various scientific and social institutions that have (more often than not) done the work of white supremacy in the West--as opposed to being a weapon for a radical insurgency against it.

I am torn and puzzled. For example:

1. Racism is an idea born of the 17th century. It is relatively recent, always evolving, and changing. Not coincidentally, psychology as a discipline was also a product of roughly the same epoch. But, by fixing racism as a mental illness, are we enshrining in stone a set of recent, modern, and contemporary behaviors that are not universal or biological?

2. What do we do with ethnocentrism, prejudice, and good old fashioned bigotry? How do we categorize in-group and out-group anxiety, hostility, or animus? Are these mental illnesses too?

3. Matters of law and civil rights. If racism is diagnosed as a mental illness, are its "victims," and those "ill" with it, covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act? Can they be made exempt from lawsuits and civil actions for discriminatory acts against people of color? 

4. A wrench in the plans. Given the growing research on political personality types and brain structure, we have learned that those of lower intelligence tend to be more racist because of a fear of change, the unknown, and the Other. There is a great overlap here as conservatives also show a high level of overlap and correlation with the same cohort, and are thus more likely to exhibit similar "racist" behaviors. It is not that all "conservatives" are racist; however, racists tend to be overwhelmingly conservative. 

By implication, is one of the major political parties, and those who are its most ardent supporters, mentally ill? If true, this could warm the deepest parts of many liberals' and progressives' hearts as it validates what they instinctively know to be correct. But, is such a "diagnosis" limiting in the long run? What of the idea that white racists choose such an orientation and worldview? 

I shudder at the proposition that the Southern Strategy and the "real America," "take our country back" Tea Party types are mentally ill. They have agency. This cadre and faction have chosen to embrace white racism and bigotry as preferred electoral strategies. As such, White racial reactionary populists should be held accountable and not made into victims or pitied.

5. Social scientists and others have expended much energy on advancing the proposition that racism is prejudice plus power. In short, they have argued hard that in this society, at this moment, only those who are socially constructed and categorized as "White" can be "racist." If the DSM-V includes racism as a mental illness, are white folks--white racists in particular--being made into an even more protected class of citizens? 

To point: What do we do with Colin Ferguson, a black man, who killed six white people on the Long Island railroad during the 1990s? Would he have received protection as a person "mentally ill" with racism under these new rules? Or would Ferguson still have been given 200 years in prison for his crimes?

Fate is a trickster. Declaring racism as a mental illness was the stuff of howls, cheers, claps, and keynote addresses and plenaries back during the glory days of the the Afrocentric movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Apparently, in the year 2012,  the inherently (mal)adaptive and genius nature of white privilege and white supremacy is at work once in the service of pathologizing and excuse-making for racism.  

In all, she is a thing both so ugly and simultaneously beautiful: racism remains one of the greatest technologies of the modern age. Her inventors must be smiling from beyond the grave.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who Owns History? Maybe We Do. Let's Start Fundraising to Liberate Some Slavery Artifacts from Ebay

I have received some supportive emails regarding my suggestion that we pool our modest resources in an effort to buy some of the "collectibles" from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and centuries-long slaveocracy here in the United States that are for sale on Ebay.

I am leaving the fundraising widget up for a month. Hopefully, if enough of us throw in one dollar, a quarter, fifty cents, or the like here and there, we can make a go at this on a small scale. 

Here are some thoughts to this point. 

1. A few of you suggested using Kickstarter. I will be talking to some colleagues who are activists, non-profit types, and also do grants development. If we get some interest here, it will be easier to see if we can get more parties involved. I think we have stumbled onto a cause that deserves a larger platform. We shall see how the practical side of our hopeful exercise works out.

2. I have created a fund-raising account that maxes out at 1,000 dollars. That was arbitrary. If we do not get enough money together to win an Ebay auction (I would like us to purchase the child slave manacles; there are also other items available such as slavery "tags" which are less expensive), I will donate the money to the ASPCA,  the World Wildlife Federation, or a local, Chicago based animal rescue group. 

3. I was contacted by one of the folks at the Jim Crow Museum. They made a suggestion regarding how to authenticate these objects. I will do my best to confirm that any slavery artifacts we purchase together are not reproductions or counterfeits. 

4. The account is hosted on Paypal. Once we get this up and running, I will post proof that the monies were used as promised. 

I have never requested monies here on We Are Respectable Negroes. Hopefully, we can take this great idea and develop it together towards a positive end. This is all of our history. But as I wrote earlier, there is something horribly amiss and distasteful about these sacred objects, stained with blood, memories, and the spiritual energy of the ancestors, being reduced to curiosities and kitsch. 

Please share a link to our fundraising project with friends, colleagues, and others who may be interested. If you share this on Facebook, Twitter, or your own blogs and websites (the widget can be shared by clicking on "copy") we can get the ball rolling asap.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Who Owns History? Slavery Artifacts for Sale on Ebay; Let's Buy Some and Make Sure They Have a Proper Home

Extremely Rare Mated Set of Two Small Child's Size Slave Hand-Forged Rattle Shackles & Made for the Slave Trade
c. 1800 19th Century, Set of Two, Small Child's Size Slave Shackles, Hand-forged Iron, With Internal "Rattles," Choice Very Fine. 
This impressive set of child size slave shackles are African made for the Slave Trade, although also found located in the United States from time to time. These are described as being, "crab-shaped rattler leg shackles," on page 20-21, in the book, "THE ART AND HISTORY OF BLACK MEMORABILIA" by Larry Vincent Buster. They measures 6" x 5.25" with an opening of 4.75" x 2.75" and 8" x 5.25" with an opening of 4.75" x 2.5". 
Based on the circumference of the openings these were of size to be used on children. The oddly-shaped hand-wrought devices contain lateral "pockets" that contain pieces of metal that rattle as the wearer moves about so that his or her location could easily be determined by the sound of the rattle being made. Each has a pair of small chain links attached at the top. One shackle was placed on each leg and a chain threaded through the attached rings, secured with a lock. A museum quality, important historical pair of Child's Size Slave Shackles, having a natural patina that would be excellent for display. (2 items).

One of my favorite episodes in the history of genre television was an installment of the much beloved Alien Nation series which ran for a few years in the early 1990s. Alien Nation, a not so subtle play on the phrase "alienation" focused on how a race of extraterrestrials struggled to assimilate into Earth society after their slave ship was stranded here. Upon arrival, the Newcomers became a metaphor through which to explore racism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice. Yes, it could be overwrought and hackneyed. Alien Nation was also wonderfully sharp and incisive.

To point, there was an episode of Alien Nation which was centered on how one of the Newcomers' high elders was disgusted by the ways that the artifacts of his people were sold to human collectors. Ultimately, the material culture of his civilization was reduced to a fetish object, one utterly disconnected from the legacy of blood, struggle, loss, and triumph which produced it. Their chains, shackles, restraints, religious icons, and other artifacts were reduced to kitsch. No historical weight or context was present beyond that which could accrue novelty, and points for uniqueness, for those who owned such intimately personal objects.

In all, popular culture is oftentimes a stand-in for sociopolitical struggles in the "real world" (as opposed to the pure imaginaries through which we pursue the politics of pleasure and fantasy). But, what to do when history becomes quite literally the playful, curious, and "interesting" objects of collectors and curators who may (or may not) have any personal connection to those things they covet?

We all "own" history. However, some of us are more connected to particular histories than others may be. Black Americans are part of a diaspora. Much of our shared historical and cultural experience is framed by a narrative of disruption caused by the Middle Passage, and the many moments of destruction it entailed, and necessitated. Ironically, blacks in the New World are also an example of generation and creation--where modernity and new civilizations were created by the movements of millions of people from one hemisphere to another.

Whole cultures and peoples were made by the Black Atlantic. Peoples were also destroyed. Peoples were (re)invented. As such, material objects and artifacts were both lost and found. While it should be no surprise, I am nonetheless moved that some of them would turn up for sale on Ebay.

A slave manacle collected in Marrakesh, Morocco, possibly 18th century.Weight about 4 lbs, larger ring about 5" x 3-3/8"inside diameter, smaller ring about 3" x 3".The keyed lock is functional. 
We are listing new selections of rare and hard to find ethnographica, please see our other eBay auctions. 
We have operated Coyote's Paw Gallery online for many years and have owned brick-and mortar galleries since 1984. We sell at The Traditional Flea in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on weekends- come see us if you're around. We are experienced packers and can ship worldwide- overseas customers, please contact us before bidding with any questions about costs or customs. 
We guarantee the descriptions of our items to be accurate.We work for the best possible ratings as eBay sellers, if there are any concerns about items purchased, we'll do as much as possible to make sure the transaction is mutually satisfactory- this does NOT include buyer's remorse!  
If anything is not 100%, contact us before leaving feedback. Thank you for viewing our auctions-
To my eyes, there is something horribly amiss when slave manacles, chains, and other objects of torture are reduced to "collectibles" on Ebay (and other sites), where they will become the property of  the highest bidder.

To me, the personal is, and will always remain, the political. Because this is a first principle, I have a proposition to offer. We Are Respectable Negroes is a small to modest site by Internet standards. That having been said, I think we can do something important in regards to owning a small part of history, and seeing that a few material objects find a proper home. 

Thus, I am thinking about creating a Paypal account or other means through which we can offer up some small monies towards the cause of buying one of these artifacts. If each visitor to WARN offered up a quarter, or perhaps even a dollar, this could be accomplished in a day or so. 

Can we buy back some history and donate it to a worthy museum or collection? I would like to believe that we can. I will leave it up to all of you. Do post a comment and indicate what I should do to this end.  I will follow through appropriately.