Friday, July 6, 2012

New Age Race Minstrelsy Strikes Again: 6-Year-Old Black Child Rapper "Stars" in Viral "Booty Pop" Video

As a rule, I try not to give degenerate low culture such as the "Booty Pop" video a broader platform than it deserves. I am also breaking a second rule in that I usually do not use profanity: this video featuring six-year-old Albert Roundtree Jr. is pure fuckery.

The past ain't even past, it remains alive long into the present. Booty Pop is a 21st century version of the centuries old racist archetype known as the picaninny.
Picaninnies as portrayed in material culture have skin coloring ranging from medium brown to dark black -- light skinned picaninnies are rare. They include infants and teenagers; however, most appear to be 8-10 years old. Prissy, the inept and hysterical servant girl in Gone With the Wind (Selznick & Fleming, 1939) was an exception. 
She was older than the typical picaninny, but her character was functionally a picaninny. Picaninny girls (and sometimes boys) have hair tied or matted in short stalks that point in all directions; often the boys are bald, their heads shining like metal. The children have big, wide eyes, and oversized mouths -- ostensibly to accommodate huge pieces of watermelon. 
The picaninny caricature shows black children as either poorly dressed, wearing ragged, torn, old and oversized clothes, or, and worse, they are shown as nude or near-nude. This nudity suggests that black children, and by extension black parents, are not concerned with modesty. The nudity also implies that black parents neglect their children. A loving parent would provide clothing. The nudity of black children suggests that blacks are less civilized than whites (who wear clothes). 
The nudity is also problematic because it sexualizes these children. Black children are shown with exposed genitalia and buttocks -- often without apparent shame. Moreover, the buttocks are often exaggerated in size, that is, black children are shown with the buttocks of adults. The widespread depictions of nudity among black children normalizes their sexual objectification, and, by extension, justifies the sexual abuse of these children.
We have a black President, but we also have a global popular culture in which the most debased images of black humanity are a type of currency that stands in for our personhood.

The black superpublic is made real...again. If anyone would like to defend the Booty Pop video as innocent, harmless entertainment, please do so. I need the laugh.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What is the Common Good? Why the Supreme Court's Ruling on Obamacare is an Opportunity for a National Civics Lesson

In civics class we learn that federal courts decide whether laws passed by Congress and the state legislatures are constitutional. Therefore the federal courts are the guardians of our Constitution. That is certainly true, but it not the whole story. In fact, the most important function of the federal courts is to legitimate state building by the political branches...

Some have called Roberts' opinion statesmanlike, putting aside personal ideology to apply the law. Others have called it clever, handing conservatives an ideological victory while giving Democrats a policy result they like. My own view is that the Court as a whole performed the traditional function of federal judges in our constitutional system. The political branches sought to build out the American state and change the terms of the American social contract. The Court legitimated this result, but set new ground rules for politics going forward.

What does the decision mean in terms of constitutional doctrine? Much will depend on who wins the next several presidential elections.
As expected and fitting given its importance, the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (the "ACA" or what conservatives have derisively labeled "Obamacare") has generated much national discussion. For all of the partisan hackery, hysterics, bloviating, right-wing madness and appeals to a Civil War, as well as orgasmic histrionics, there are some really smart people, who are saying some really smart things about the Supreme Court's decision--and what the debates surrounding the Affordable Care Act tell us about American politics and political culture.

[There is so much good stuff out there on this issue; please do send in your reading suggestions as well.]

The Supreme Court's decision upholding the ACA is a lightning rod for the deep divides of party and ideology in the United States where one person's belief that it is reasonable, long overdue, and ethically justified to provide a modest extension of the social safety net through the ACA, is another person's tyrannical decision by "big government" to usurp their individual rights and liberties. These fractious moments--if folks can get past the yelling and reason interfering with emotion--are actually opportunities to conduct a national civics lesson.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Trevion Davis vs. Trayvon Martin: Is "Racism Chasing" the Slot Machine of Blogging and Online Media?

CBS Atlanta 46

A few months ago the great John Scalzi of Old Man War fame, and author of the new book Redshirts, generated quite a bit of controversy with his essay Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. I am usually not a fan of working through the complex realities of race, power, and politics, via analogy. In my experience, such examples, when used to simplify complex social realities, flatten more than they reveal. That qualifier having been offered, John Scalzi's piece was quite spot on in how it discussed, in a novel manner, the realities of white privilege in post civil rights, Age of Obama, American society.

Yesterday, I took the bus to the casino in order to escape the heat afflicting Chicago. I love slot machines. I also love people watching on the bus. When done together, both bring me to a happy place...especially so if I end up winning a few dollars at the casino. This, the randomness of the slot machine, and learning to surrender to it, is a cathartic and zen-like experience for me.

When I returned home I looked online to catch up on the latest controversy of the day.

As a "black blogger" (I am still trying to figure out exactly what that means), many of the stories which are forwarded to me revolve around matters of racial injustice. Some of these news items are important and deserve more attention. As we saw with the Trayvon Martin murder, the Internet and the independent media/blogosphere can do a good job of shaping the public discourse towards a positive end. I am always keenly on the lookout for such  moments, causes, and opportunities.

However, some news items where the topics just happen to coincidentally involve a person of color, as opposed to revealing something substantive about the relationship between the color line and power, just leave me shrugging my head in disbelief. 

For example, the cause of the day is the shooting of Trevion Davis by the Atlanta police--while the former was robbing an innocent person's home. An important detail: this teenager was armed with a replica gun and pointed it at the officers before he was shot and killed. My motto here is a simple one: if you live a life of crime the wages of sin are death. It is readily apparent that given his life vocation, Trevion Davis was killed because he was a street pirate who just happened to be black, violent, criminal, and stupid. 

[Who knows? Perhaps, my disinterest in such stories is a function of home training and common sense.] 

I understand how a given public can be deeply suspicious of the police--this is especially warranted given how police authority has been used to harass, kill, wrongly arrest, and beat innocent people, many of whom are members of marginalized communities. Nevertheless, I can only respond with consternation at the excuse-making and denials by Davis' family in response to his death. As my mother says, you know what your kids are capable of; don't act surprised when the seeds you have planted bear fruit.

Those of us who are "race men" and "race women" have to be very cautious about how we expend our very limited political capital. Like any people, not all of our folks are noble, perfect, valorous, or good. We hurt ourselves by claiming tragedy and victimization where the matter is crystal clear, and is really about agency and personal responsibility. The infantalization of African Americans, be it by white conservatives or white liberals, or as in the Trevion Davis case by black opinion leaders, is damaging to our pride and dignity as a community.

This brings me full circle. As WARN has grown over time, I have become increasingly interested in the meta level rules that govern social media, the blogosphere, and online communities. By analogy, the garden variety racism chasing embodied by the faux controversy that is the Trevion Davis shooting, reminds me of the recent day I spent playing the slot machines.

There is really no rhyme or reason to winning at the slots. You put your money in, push a button, and win or lose. However, there are various strategies that can be used if one wants to be less unsuccessful and to maximize the return on their investment. Likewise, there are tried and true strategies that can be used to drive traffic, get attention, and rise in prominence online.

Let me be clear. I am not discounting the skill, ability, gifted sense of timing, and creative talent which distinguishes the best online writers and personalities from the vast majority of average players. I would never do such a thing. However, I am compelled to ask how do we balance the formula--if there is such a thing--for being "successful" online with a commitment to truth-telling, rigor, and intellectual honesty?

Thus my question: is racism chasing the slot machine of blogging? 

Here are some suggested slot machine strategies. Do they parallel those used by successful bloggers and other online writers? If so, what does it suggest about the role of digital and social media media as a means of influencing and shaping public opinion?


Slot Machine Tip #1 - Each spin of a slot machine is entirely random.

Slot Machine Tip #2 - Slot machines pay out less than they take in.

Slot Machine Tip #3 - Don’t fall for slot machine myths. Slots don’t get hot or cold, and wearing your lucky red blouse isn’t going to increase your odds of winning. The slots don’t care how many times you play, what you’re wearing, or the temperature of the coins being inserted. They’re going to give you an equal chance of success or failure on each spin.

Slot Machine Tip #4 - Anyone who promises to share a winning slot machine system with you is either lying or delusional. There is no such thing as a winning slot machine system, because all slots are designed to take in more money than they pay out.

Slot Machine Tip #5 - Know when to stop playing. Before you walk into a casino, figure out how much money you can afford to lose. When that amount is gone, it’s time to call it quits for the day. If you lose your predetermined amount and still find yourself headed to the ATM machine or the Western Union office, there’s a distinct chance that you have a gambling problem.

Slot Machine Tip #6 - Learn the rules of the game. Some slot machines can be confusing at first, so take the time to examine the rules printed on the machine. How many lines need to be activated? How many coins can be played on any given spin?

Slot Machine Tip #7 - Don’t play progressives.

Slot Machine Tip #8 - Playing maximum coins doesn’t matter in the long run.

Slot Machine Tip #9 - If you want to lose less money, play the lower denomination slot machines. You’re going to lose more than you win on any slot, but playing the lower denomination games means you’ll be putting less money in on each spin. While the overall return on cheaper slots is less, it’s still surprisingly easy to bust out while chasing a payout on a five-dollar machine. Stick with nickel or penny slot machines and you’ll be playing for hours.

Slot Machine Tip #10 - Always use a slot card (also known as a player’s card). While using a slot card doesn’t increase your odds of winning, it will allow the casino to monitor how much you play and possibly make you eligible for comps such as free meals and hotel accommodations. Registering for a free player’s card only takes a few minutes, and you can end up saving money in the long run, especially if you’re a frequent slots player.

Slot Machine Tip #11 - Stay away from video reel slots.

Slot Machine Tip #12 - Play in casinos with the best payback percentage.

The next time you visit a casino, be sure to keep these slot machine tips in mind. While you may still end up losing money, the advice provided in this article will ensure that you’ll be able to play longer and smarter than those around you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Class Now Trumps Race in America: Have Conservatives Gotten the Memo Yet?

Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, issued a strong warning to anti-poverty advocates at a forum on social connectedness at the Aspen Ideas Festival Saturday, urging the audience to get beyond talking about poverty and race and start thinking about social mobility and class instead.

"Those two conceptual moves, framing it as poverty and thinking about it as a matter of race, have a very deep history... and I think both politically and analytically that's an almost fatally flawed framework," said Putnam, the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, in response to remarks from co-panelists Anne Mosle, vice president of policy at the Aspen Institute, and Mario Small, chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago.
For most of American history race has overdetermined life chances. Social capital, life spans, health, wealth, and rates of inter-generational class mobility were all impacted by the color line: here, white Americans received a de facto leg up by virtue of their skin color; black and brown folks were penalized by their status as racially marked individuals whose citizenship was contingent and not full.

Robert Putnam, elder god, and author of the foundational book Bowling Alone, is now complicating this narrative. Along with one of his heirs apparent, the University of Chicago's Mario Small, they are suggesting that class now appears to be trumping race in determining one's life trajectory. If black folks have long been maligned as the poster children of the ghetto underclass, Putnam suggests that macrolevel changes in American society are now beginning to impact white people in similar ways.
"You say poverty to most ordinary Americans, most ordinary voters, they think black ghettos," he continued, whereas over the last couple of generations "class, not race is the dominant -- and becoming more dominant -- dimension of difficulty here."

"Relatively speaking, racial differences controlling for class are decreasing while class differences controlling for race are increasing in America," he said. "Non-white folks with a college education are looking more and more like white folks with a college education and white folks who haven't gotten beyond high school are looking more and more like nonwhite folks who haven't finished high school." 
This is a complex story--and one that will be the subject of much discussion in the near future--as it unsettles many of the long standing assumptions held by social scientists, and experts in public policy, about the nature of poverty in America.

It is clear that America's economy has contracted, and thus put its most vulnerable workers at risk. Consequently, the de facto subsidies used by the submerged state to keep white semi and unskilled labor solidly among the ranks of the middle class have long been disappearing.

Black and brown folks were made victims of neoliberalism, and its gangster capitalism ethos, many decades ago. Urged on by the Republican Party through its skillful deployment of the politics of racial resentment and the Culture War narrative, the white working and middle classes sneered and mocked "the welfare queens" and "ghetto underclass" for their "shiftlessness," poor decision making, and "decision" to not abide by "traditional family values." Thus, the ghettto underclass were "surplus" citizens who "earned" their status as second class citizens.

As Charles Murray demonstrates in Coming Apart, the language and political logic of "surplus," "pathological," and "non-productive" citizens is now being applied to the white poor and working classes. One can never forget that globalization, the Great Recession, and Ayn Rand capitalism takes no prisoners. It is simply a matter of who these elites come for first in the interest of profit maximization. In the United States black and brown folks have historically been the most vulnerable groups. Therefore, their position made them the most precarious and expendable.

Here, the miner's canary got ethered; instead of feeling empathy for the bird, the white guy (perhaps an ethnic who just earned his racial bonafides) holding the cage smiled, happy that it wasn't (yet) him...fate is indeed a trickster as he/she is now laying dead in the bowels of the cave.

America is increasingly a bifurcated society of the haves and have nots, where the rich have seen record corporate profits and growth in income during the worst economy since the Great Depression. Simultaneously, the poor, middle, and working classes have been financially eviscerated as the Great Recession cut away all of the metaphorical fat and left only the toughest muscle and bone. Inevitably, this would impact the body politic across the color line where economic Darwinism would leave some black and brown folks, and many whites, in a strong position, while casting off the others onto a human waste pile.

While respecting Putnam's and Small's prescient insights, I am concerned about how a downshifting of race as an overarching variable for framing the relationships between social capital and upward mobility could imperil our ability to explain broader changes in American political economy. Race and class have historically operated (and continue to do so) as interlocking variables in American social life. To abandon such a foundational understanding is too bold a move and one that comes with great risks.

America is organized as a racial state. While it has evolved, this fact has not changed. In a capitalist society, one where whiteness has been protected as property by law and social convention, those norms run deep. They are not easily discarded. Moreover, as an empirical matter, there is a substantial body of data which details how being born black in America negatively impacts your standard of living, chances at getting a job, return on investment in higher education, makes you more likely to be harassed by the police, die at an earlier age, subject to disparate treatment by the criminal justice system, and face unfair burdens in both housing and lending practices.

As a complement this reality, the following two examples are damning and devastating arguments in favor of a nexus of class inequality through the machinations of race and white supremacy in practice.

First, as the book Black Wealth/White Wealth compelling demonstrates, a poor white person has a better chance of moving to the highest income bracket in a lifetime than a black person born at the top of the income scale has of remaining there. In fact, a rich black person born to the upper class is more likely to fall to the bottom rungs of America's income pyramid than they are of remaining there--as compared to a white person born into the same cohort.

Second, while the Great Recession has hurt the middle class in America, white folks have maintained (if not increased) the amount of wealth they have relative to black and brown Americans.

It is a given that most Americans have been hurt by this economic catastrophe. And of course, capitalism is "creative destruction." But, if class is increasingly less important for determining life chances, it seems odd that on an aggregate level that white folks now have at least two dollars for every ten cents which African-Americans hold in wealth--a differential that has increased during the time of the Great Recession.

Robert Putnam's and Mario Small's argument(s) that race is now trumped by class is sweet music for those of us who have long yearned for interracial, cross class alliances, that break the color line in the pursuit of shared social justice and political struggle. The real world often interferes however. The wages of whiteness are real, sweet, and tempting. They are made even more so when imperiled.

For example, white working class men still support Mitt Romney even though they admit that Obama will do more for people in their class position. Although they are doing much better than black and brown folks in the Great Recession, the white working class is more upset, angry, threatened, and negative about the future.

If they possess any construct validity at all, Whiteness and White Racism are ultimately about maintaining a sense of group superiority over people of color. American history has repeatedly demonstrated that Whiteness is the "complexion for the protection." As such, Whiteness is remarkably aspirational and long sighted. To point, White people--good noble race traitors aside--have consistently chosen racial affinity over class alliances across the color line.

Why? Because White elites have compensated the White masses, not always well, for doing so.

This pattern continues into the Age of Obama. The Tea Party GOP is a White Nationalism political party that mines anti-black and brown affect, as well as white racial resentment, to encourage many white Americans to sell out their substantive economic interests in exchange for a superior position in the country's racial order.

Consequently, the members of the White Right are paid the psychic wages of Whiteness as they suck at the tit of  "real America," "Christian," "god and country," sloganeering.

Professors Small and Putnam have demonstrated that the milk of this source of material nourishment is drying up. The sad irony then becomes that many White conservatives (and others who are overly White identified) that are wedded to their position in the racial order will keep sucking away, ever more desperate for its life force, and made more paranoid (as opposed to less) that a black or brown person will want a taste of that shriveled political breast from which the psychic and material wages of Whiteness flow.

Mario Small and Robert Putnam are likely correct that class is soon to eclipse race as both a determinant of life chances and predictor of social mobility in American society. The unfortunate reality remains that broad swaths of the American public have not yet gotten the memo.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Whenever Conservatives Complain About "Obamacare" You Should Sing The Tea Party GOP Diarrhea Song

The Supreme Court decision upholding President Obama's health care reform bill has provided an opportunity for the ideologically crazed, professional liars, faux Right-wing populists, conspiranoids, and propagandists to play their assigned roles in America's latest national drama. 

Representative Jean Schmidt runs around in a fit of political-religious orgasm and ecstasy in a mistaken celebration of the Affordable Care Act being struck down. Tea Party "Christian" evangelicals, channeling their own selfish remix of Jesus Christ's gospels, lay prostrate on the ground and pray that the Republic is saved from the tyranny of having to modestly extend health insurance to the sick and the needy. Republican governors are threatening a constitutional crisis by refusing to implement President Obama's Affordable Care Act. 

Not to be undone, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann engage in their typical mouth utterances as they call out for the Tea Party Mushroom People to mount up on their Hoveround scooters, put on Colonial era clothing, gather up yee old sword canes, and take the fight for "liberty" and "freedom" to that black usurper in the White House and his treasonous political bed mate Chief Justice John Roberts.

In total, these histrionics are just the latest examples of a long habit where the Tea Party GOP proves itself time and time again to be full of bullshit bovine scatology.  

Of course, everybody poops. But, the response by the Republican Party (and conservatives in mass) to the Supreme Court's upholding of the Affordable Care Act is so overflowing with political fecal matter that they have earned their own unique version of the famed Diarrhea Song.

What follows is my gift to them.

The Tea Party GOP Diarrhea Song
When Mitt Romney flips and flops about things he once endorsed

Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When the Tea Party moans and growns while collecting Social Security and Medicare 
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh open up their mouth holes and tell their daily lies 
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When your friends who watch Fox News believe that they are well-informed  
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When your relatives talk about death panels at the family barbeque
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When Sarah Palin with her head full of stupid bloviates
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When the Right-wing echo chamber says that insurance is a crime cause you won't go bankrupt from a broken leg 
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When Republicans cheer sick and dying people cause they find it funny 
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When the New Right talks about States' Rights and picking up their guns to get that black guy 
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When Republicans talk about Dred Scott and how health care reform will lead to Civil War 
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
When you try to watch Fox News or listen to Right wing talk radio and it makes your tummy burst  
Diarrhea chh chh chh, Diarrhea chh chh chh
In this, our time of the great Right-wing derangement, singing The Tea Party GOP Diarrhea Song may be the only way to maintain your peace of mind when faced with the sociopathic and vitriolic madness of folks determined to view the expansion of basic human rights, and the social safety net, as a type of enslavement and oppression.

The Tea Party GOP Diarrhea Song is a populist project. We all know the truth behind the lyrics; at one time or another we have all experienced it. In the spirit of crowd sourcing, do feel free to add your own verses to this version of The Tea Party GOP Diarrhea Song as we find a way to speak truth to power by raising our voices together.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Another Ghetto Nerd Reprieve from Supreme Court Obamacare Discussions: The Recliner of Rage vs. Robotech; Triumph the Comic Insult Dog vs. Weiner Circle

What a sharp inversion of the standing norms which surround black masculinity and geek culture.  

If you had your own recliner of rage, could record a promo, and post it here on WARN (hint, hint), what would you rant about?

I am going to be trying out a few new features here on WARN over the summer to see if they gain traction. One of these will be an advice column; I am also going to be posting interviews with interesting folks--some you know, others I will be introducing you to--from various realms such as education, entertainment, the pundit classes, pro wrestling, and the like.

As a young ghetto nerd I loved me some Robotech. I remember the morning it premiered on three, yes three, TV stations at once. Interestingly, I was immediately struck down by an odd illness that came upon me with such speed that I was forced to stay home that day from school. What a coincidence!

During the three or so years that Robotech aired on TV, I had many lurid Ghostface bed humping dreams about Lynn Minmay, Lisa Hayes, and Miriya Sterling. In a game of "fuck? marry? or kill?" I would have to kill Minmay, fuck Lisa, and wifey up Miriya. Yup, that sounds about right.

With blessings come curses. While it has democratized information, the Internet has exposed and made accessible much of the sacred knowledge that was/is ghetto nerd culture. We do not have arcades anymore because many people prefer to play games online. Professional wrestling's secrets were revealed, and the mysteries of the "rag sheets" made obsolete by online forums, where kayfabe went to die. Sadly, there are no more marks above the age of 10 years old anymore. 

For example, G.I. Joe: The Movie was a project surrounded by rumors at the time of its airing. We ghetto nerds of a certain age remember that Duke was killed in the movie. We would swear, under oath if need be, that such an event had transpired! Funny thing, it would not be until years later that all was revealed: Duke had in fact died, but the ending was changed to accommodate the tender sensibilities of younger viewers. 

Robotech was also the topic of similar rumor-mongering...but these were naughty rumblings from the shadows and netherworlds. Apparently, Robotech contained scenes in which Rick Hunter made sweet love to Lynn Minmay. Talk about masturbatory fodder. Many ghetto nerds would search in places both high and low (and by low I mean nasty, dangerous, bootleg anime, kung-fu, and porn shops near Times Square in New York) for said footage during the 1980s and early 1990s.

We never found it...until now:

Damnable Internet. Some myths and fantasies remain magical and perfect precisely because they are ephemeral. These same myths and fantasies are usually ruined when made real.

A bonus Conan O'Brien moment...

Although I am boycotting Weiner Circle because it is a new age blackface race minstrel show where black women shuck and buck for the pleasures of white folks, in one of the city's most segregated neighborhoods, I had to laugh at this classic moment from Triumph the Comic Insult Dog which was recorded here in the Windy City a few weeks ago.

The politics of pleasure are oftentimes politically incorrect. Embrace the sensation; do not run away from it.

Ghetto Nerd Reprieve from Supreme Court Obamacare Discussions: Tyler Perry to Make a Sci-Fi Film. How Should Madea Go to Outer Space?

"I love sci-fi, I love the Alien movies and the Alien franchise," he tells Black Film. "I was very disappointed with Prometheus, but I love that whole franchise. Those are my favorite movies. I’m actually working on a sci-fi movie right now."
There is nothing more entertaining than watching Michele Bachmann Queen of the Stupid Mushroom Tea Party People rambling on about the tyranny of "Obamacare" and the "activist" John Roberts.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presided over a fundamentally conservative and careful ruling regarding President Obama's healthcare reform package; this is the very model of what a traditional, if not strict constructionist (despite Scalia's complaints) view of the Court as an institution should be. 

Yet, the Tea Party GOP howls and complains about a bill that helps to protect people from bankruptcy if they suffer a broken leg because the faux populist New Right are in fact radicals who want to transform American society against and outside of the country's tradition of consensus/centrist liberalism. 

Ultimately, Chief Justice Roberts wisely decided that to overturn Obamacare would be the third act in a series of extremely Right-leaning decisions following Bush's election in 2000, and then on to Citizens United, which would mark what was once a highly esteemed and respected political institution, as a partisan branch beholden to a Tea Party GOP libertarian political agenda. If he overturned President Obama's very reasonable and centrist healthcare reform bill, Roberts' reputation would be damaged almost beyond repair: his vanity and ego would not allow such a thing, for the historian's pen can be deadly and sharp.

Beyond those observations, We Are Respectable Negroes is a safe harbor. Yes, I could drive some traffic by discussing the Obamacare decision; I am not a good business man. Like George Costanza's father, I do not follow trends. As such, this post is the extent of my comment on this matter. There are so many fun news items circulating around these Intertubes which deserve discussion. How can I ignore them?

To point: Tyler Perry is making a science fiction movie. Yes, Madea, she/he who had a cameo in the reboot of Star Trek, is going to outer space in her next movie.

[I have seen Prometheus three times now--I have so much to say about the movie, but I sense that the moment has passed. If you disagree, please do request that embargoed post and I will post it.]

If Tyler Perry's not so unique brand of coonery and buffoonery were to morph genres from new age race minstrelsy into science fiction or space fantasy what type of movie should he make? Given that Madea is Perry's most popular character, is there a way to incorporate his cross dressing transvestite self into a movie that satisfies the ghetto nerd crowd while also making the less sophisticated lumpen black proletariat Sunday church going set happy?

My suggestion is that Tyler Perry should do a movie where Madea meets either the Leprechaun or the Space Jockeys from the Alien universe. Alternatively, Madea could be in a sequel to the Flash Gordon movie. Imagine the possibilities! Tyler Perry could also be added to Return of the Jedi as one of Jabba's dancers in the inevitable special edition 5.0 that will be released in 2022.

The indispensable website IGN had some fun with Perry's sci-fi possibilities as their commentators offered up the following suggestions. Do add to the list.

  1. It's gonna be about a woman abused by her husband and how she overcomes the space
  2. Then leaves her abusive husband in Cloud City. Travels to a distant planet and she falls in love with the kind strapping young lad that can bullseye womp rats in his T-16.
  3. Diary of a Mad Black Alien.
  4. But not without the help of her snarky Auntie Mama who's gonna help her get her groove back and teach her about respecting herself, in space, where she'll meet a real alien. Don't miss the heartwarming semi romantic comedy with random moments of drama this summer in, You Go Girl, To Space.
  5. Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Madea
  6. Tyler Perry: "Scott, I have some pointers for you. The movie needed.. More black people. In fact, take out all the white actors except one skinny bitchy white actress, and some white actor no one knows. Have the main character be abused by her husband, then move in with her mother, and then moves into a giant space station complete with a black church to get away from her husband. Now, here's where it gets really thrilling. They find out that the white actress is really an evil alien from the planet Caucatia and they sent all the black people to earth because the aliens are all evil racist white devils. So the woman goes back and rounds up all the blacks and browns and mocha's and semi grays to return and kill the evil white devil racist queen. They all eat churches chicken and watermelon together at a big ass table with some fat black man dressed as a woman. The end."
  7. Madea is the new ernest. Only thing left is madea saves halloween. Tyler perry sold out his character big time. I'm surprised he didn't dress in drag when he appeared in star trek.
  8. Tyler Perry is disappointed with Prometheus? I'm sure Ridley Scott is disappointed with Madea's family reunion-goes to space-goes to jail- goes to school-stays at home-blah blah blah. And for one, this whole Madea thing was already done way before Perry by a man called of Ernest P. Whirl. Even the titles of Perry's movies copy Ernest, let alone the whole Cross dressing, foul mouthed, and ornery old woman bit.
  9. Six black youths, an intellectual male, a pothead male, and a jock male, as well as a whorish female, a sweet virgin female, and an angry sassy female, all win a contest to go in space. When there, they discover everything is not as it seems. Aliens are on the ship, there to steal the LCD that one of the black youths brought, because it's a source of great power on their planet.
  10. Some will fall, some will learn to love, lessons will be learned, alien asses will be kicked, the cycle will repeat.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Show Me the Money: Of Slavery Reparations, Foot Baths, Hugs, and North Carolina's Eugenics Program

Commenter Makheru Bradley's helpful observations about the decision by Republicans in North Carolina to deny the survivors of the state's decades-long eugenics program is a nice connection to our goings back and forth in this post about the neutrality of the law and the existence of institutional racism.

Law is a social construct. While some may appeal to concepts such as universal or natural law, I have always been of the mind that this social glue does not transcend time and space. In all, the law is a particular arrangement, of a given society, located in a specific moment in time.

By implication, if a society is structured in inequalities of race, class, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality then its laws will reflect those arrangements of power. The law is a channeling of Power, the ability to normalize certain behaviors, to mark other behaviors as deviant or aberrant, and works to protect certain classes of people from the consequences of their actions: there is a reason that the gangster capitalists on Wall Street who stole billions (and wrecked millions of lives) are "white collar" criminals, who may in a perfect world do a few years in a country club prison, while the guy who steals a television can end up in jail for years or decades.

The former group (and those of their class) make the law; the latter live in a society under statutes and dictates that the first group designed.

For the victims of North Carolina's tyrannical eugenics program, whose justice claims were denied by the Senate Republicans, and that have seen their appeals ignored by the courts, what would justice look like?

Apologies are symbolic acts which do not have any monetary value--and yet are nonetheless resisted (see the many white folks' grumblings about Clinton's quizzical and weak apology to Africans for the enslavement of black Americans). However, apologies do have some amount of moral currency. But, can you take moral currency to the bank and cash it in? Can a person transform the moral high ground into fair compensation for the resources and inter-generational transfers of wealth denied your community by the self-interested and vicious acts of others?

In  Makheru Bradley's allusion to the Tulsa race riots, he signaled to those larger questions. During the red summers of the late 19 teens and early 1920s African American communities were subjected to organized, white mob violence which was aimed at destroying the political economy of Black America in the post World War One era. 

Looking back almost 100 years, and evaluating the future resources destroyed by those pogroms and riots, the black-white wealth gap in the 21st century is clearly related to these acts of economic mass destruction. Ultimately, if the goal of white mob violence in the 20th century was to hobble black people in the decades going forward, it would appear that such a plan was extremely successful. 

I have watched the above video about the Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots many times. I am repeatedly saddened, as the ancestors of those black people who were driven from their homes, and killed by white thugs, seem resigned with having a church service, and a monument constructed to "honor" the suffering of their people. I also cringe when watching similar moments of racial "healing" such as the ceremonial foot washing by white folks of the ancestors and kin of the African Americans who were driven from their homes and communities in acts of mass ethnic cleansing. 

Empty hands, and an "I am sorry," are materially inconsequential gestures. Apologies have little meaning if you are not willing to transfer resources back to those who were unjustly stolen from. Show me the money! 

Aggrieved peoples around the world, from countries such as Israel, to some First World and indigenous peoples, and including nations like South Africa, India, and elsewhere, have been compensated for group disenfranchisement and suffering. I acknowledge that slavery reparations are a non-starter in the United States for this or any other lifetime. This is not a dismissal of the legal or ethical grounds of such a claim. It is simply an acknowledgement of racial realpolitik. Ironically, the election of the country's first Black President was the last nail in the metaphorical coffin of what is/was a very legitimate and legally sound project. 

Nevertheless, I must still ask why are so many African Americans content with symbolic hugs and quasi-apologies that come with no substantive or material transfer of resources? Is this a symptom of exhaustion? Are folks just that broken and beaten, where symbolic acts are all that they feel justly entitled to?

I would argue that African Americans do not need hugs and a foot bath. We need individuals who are willing to use every legal means available both domestically and internationally to advance our justice claims.

Where are such men and women of courage? Have the lions been culled from herd?

Alternatively, please do teach me something. Are the courts so rigged, and Power so omnipresent, that such efforts are just so much wasted energy? 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sucks to be You! North Carolina Republicans Vote Down Compensation for Victims of Forced Sterilization

Once more, our political culture has proven itself to be sick. In a healthy democracy the social compact is respected. Political ideology is trumped by the common good. Divides of party are superseded by decency and common sense. With little fanfare, last week the Republican Party in North Carolina demonstrated that such basic understandings about government (and the golden rule in society at large) are to be disregarded.

For many decades, from at least 1929 to 1974, North Carolina public health officials enforced a Nazi-like eugenics policy which dictated that thousands of "undesirables"--poor men and women, racial minorities, the mentally retarded, and the developmentally impaired--would be sterilized, often without their consent.

North Carolina apologized for its eugenics policy in 2002. While no amount of money can make a person whole after suffering such a horrible violation, in 2011 it was suggested by the state's Eugenics Compensation Task Force that the living victims of these programs should be given the quite modest sum of 50,000 dollars. Last Thursday, along a party-line vote, Republicans in the North Carolina Senate rejected even this most basic of gestures towards compensatory justice.

Their decision is one more example of white conservative populism run amok, where it works to promote a particular and narrow ideology (usually mobilizing the cold and distracting language of "budgetary concerns and priorities") over the common good and human decency. Moreover, even working from within a framework of "principled" conservatism--one that is pragmatic and utilitarian--I would suggest that there is little if any philosophical basis for such a cold and cruel decision.

The Right obsessively shrieks about "tyranny" and "big government." However, the Republicans in North Carolina's Senate do not consider forced sterilization by the state a great crime against personal freedom and liberty. 

Conservatives constantly crow and complain about fiscal responsibility and excess government spending. If they followed a simple economic calculus, these same Republicans would realize that a payout of 50,000 dollars is small, and thus preferable, when compared to the millions of dollars the plaintiffs will likely be awarded in a class action lawsuit. 

Rule of law and the social contract were also disregarded in this case. Ideally, the law is a means to arbitrate disputes in the interest of finding a mutually agreeable solution that should balance both the private and public good. This is especially true when the parties to a crime are still alive: these justice claims are not being made against an entity or agents centuries-past and long ago dead. As such, the compensation could do something for the victims in the present. It would be immediate and material as opposed to a hollow apology given to folks who are long since dead and gone. Applying a different model of governance and decency, the Republican members of North Carolina's Senate decided to spit in the face of healing and community.

Assuming they are not irrational monsters, why would these Republicans choose to deny the victims of the state's eugenics policies any compensation for their pain, suffering, and violation of human liberty?

The victims of these policies were the Other. The black female bodies which became the symbols of this crime and violation are already marginalized. The black female voices who gave testimony about North Carolina's crimes against humanity are to be muted in the conservative political imagination. Both as women, and as people of color, these types of bodies are to be regulated and disciplined by the state, and in particular by white men. This is the core sentiment driving the Right's simultaneously prurient interest in women's sex organs, fear of female sexual agency, and a perverse desire to control women's reproductive choices.

These feelings resonate doubly when the body is black and female for she then becomes the ideal-typical "welfare queen" who has motivated conservative policy initiatives since at least the 1980s. On a very basic level, the political imagination which the Republican Party in North Carolina draws upon for logic and inspiration wants to see black and brown female bodies regulated by the state. Forced sterilization is just a less subtle aspect of a broader desire.

There is a second motivation here as well. While its advocates deploy "race neutral" rhetoric about small government, as well as individual freedom and liberty, in the United States contemporary conservatism is also very much motivated by white racial resentment, white victimology, and hostility to people of color. Together, these attitudes form a bundle of beliefs that cannot be easily separated from one another. This is especially true for the petit authoritarians who comprise the Tea Party New Right.

Because conservatives mine white racial resentment for political capital, the real issue in this dispute about forced sterilization is the ugly "R" word, the evil beast known as "reparations" for slavery. 
“You just can’t rewrite history. It was a sorry time in this country,” state Sen. Don East (R) told the Associated Press. “I’m so sorry it happened, but throwing money don’t change it, don’t make it go away. It still happened”...“If you could lay the issue to rest, it might be one thing. But I’m not so sure it would lay the issue at rest because if you start compensating people who have been ‘victimized’ by past history, I don’t know where that would end,” Sen. Austin Allran (R) told the AP.
[An observation. By this logic, the past should be let go and left unaltered--except when the Tea Party GOP wants to rewrite history and science textbooks in order to serve a Christian Nationalist agenda in the present.]

Social scientists have conducted focus groups and experiments which have demonstrated that white participants consistently support reparations for past social injustices such as slavery when it is an abstract idea. Yet, when the example is contextualized, and applied to the United States, the same white folks reverse their opinions. The Republicans in North Carolina have channeled this energy, but with far less hypocrisy and contradiction.

Their ugliness is naked and transparent.

In essence, they turned to the poor, the disabled, the marginalized, and in particular at black and brown women, and said "it sucks to be you!"

This gross selfishness, betrayal of the social compact, and hostility to "surplus" people who are not "productive" in the Ayn Randian whiteopia dream of the Tea Party GOP is one more data point in the bizarre play that is post civil rights, Age of Obama America. Ultimately, an ethic of care and concern, and a respect for justice, are trumped by political ideology and the Right's efforts to construct a historically myopic and blameless whiteness.

And they wonder why many folks say that in America today conservatism and racism are one and the same.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Ethnic" Myths and Agitprop Foolishness: Confronting the Historical Fiction that is the Willie Lynch Letter

This speech was said to have been delivered by Willie Lynch on the bank of the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1712. Lynch was a British slave owner in the West Indies. He was invited to the colony of Virginia in 1712 to teach his methods to slave owners there. 
[beginning of the Willie Lynch Letter] 
Gentlemen. I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First, I shall thank you, the gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. 
Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies, where I have experimented with some of the newest, and still the oldest, methods for control of slaves. 
Ancient Rome would envy us if my program is implemented. As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious King, whose version of the Bible we cherish, I saw enough to know that your problem is not unique.  
While Rome used cords of wood as crosses for standing human bodies along its highways in great numbers, you are here using the tree and the rope on occasions. I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree, a couple miles back.  
You are not only losing valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, your animals are killed. Gentlemen, you know what your problems are; I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them.
"Ethnic" myths cut both ways across the color line.

Behind Dr. King, Brother Malcolm X, and Barack Obama, Willie Lynch is probably one of the most discussed and recognizable figures among the African American public. While the first two are lions of the Black Freedom Struggle, and Obama is President of the United States, good ol' Mr. Lynch was a white slave owner who insidiously mapped out a master plan that continues to divide, conquer, and oppress black America into the 21st century.

His reach is long. In fact, I cannot go one year without a black student bringing up Willie Lynch. I rarely go one month without hearing his name mentioned at the barbershop or on the bus by someone earnestly trying to make sense of the day-to-day challenges facing black Americans.

However, there is a problem here: Willie Lynch and his infamous speech are fictions, smart examples of political propaganda that came into being during the latter part of the 20th century. 

As I alluded to regarding the myth of "No Irish Need Apply," for those black folks seeking an explanation for their own particular historical and political predicament does it matter if the Willie Lynch Letter is a fraud?

I used to believe that the Willie Lynch Letter was true. While I was going through my "conscious black man" phase in college, an upperclassmen friend sat down and dropped the secret wisdom contained in the Willie Lynch Letter on all of the younger brothers who were hanging out in his campus apartment playing Spades. It was really illuminating. All of the structural, political, economic, and social ills facing black people in America could be traced to this one devious white man who outlined a plan centuries ago to make black people disorganized, servile, and weak. Profound. This was the racial version of Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology cult. 

Thankfully, I had some great professors who did not accept nonsense thinking and easy solutions. One of these saints was an older Afro-Caribbean scholar who was known for being a tyrant--he threw whole groups of students out of class for wasting his precious time; would humiliate fools with ease; and if you came to him seeking knowledge he would do his best to train you up like Pa Mei did The Bride in Kill Bill.

I shared the Willie Lynch Letter with him during our independent study course Slavery in the New World. He looked at the document curiously and then suddenly became disturbed. I asked him what he thought. His reaction was akin to that of a robot being confronted with bad data. He stood up and walked out. We would get to talk next week when he had an answer.

Seven days later my professor calmly and seriously told me that this document is utter garbage. I asked "how?" and "why?" He explained that part of the joy of being a historian and a social scientist is that you can actually use your brain to answer questions. 

He proceeded to take out a pile of documents and a map. He told me to read the letter aloud. I did. Thus the obvious problem, the language is not written in 18th century English. My teacher then produced a map. He had underlined the passage in the Willie Lynch Letter that gave a hint as to geography and the location of the author's plantation. Again, the narrative did not match the facts. As an example of archival research, he produced records of the plantation owners in that area, a census, and other materials in order to determine if Willie Lynch actually existed as a person in the West Indies. None could be produced. Finally, how could Willie Lynch who supposedly gave this speech in 1712, know about Frederick Douglas, a figure in the 19th century? Was Willie Lynch a time traveler?

In all, my mentor explained that people want simple answers. As such, they seek out conspiracy theories in order to make sense of their lives. It is easier to believe in white trickster slave owners who have genius intellects than to accept a basic principle: people are rotten, they are barbaric, and will exploit each other whenever they get a chance.

Chattel slavery was just a global example of white European barbarism. Willie Lynch was not necessary. White slave owners did not need him to refine the industrial scale production of the plantation because they had agricultural journals and conferences where all aspects of the chattel system could be discussed.

Nevertheless, the Willie Lynch Letter remains both powerful and influential because it resonates with the target audience. What do we do with such true lies? Does the seductive power of the Willie Lynch Letter rest in its ability to describe the social challenges facing many in Black America, and to provide some clarity and meaning for those who feel overwhelmed and lost?

If so, should our empirical standards interfere with the explanatory power and psychic validation offered by a cultural myth? 

Just as many white folks would feel a personal affront at any critical engagement with the hard times white ethnic myth, there are many African Americans who would become personally upset and hurt if the Willie Lynch Letter was exposed for the "true lie" it is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The "Hard Times" Mythologies of White Ethnics: Exploring the Fiction that was "No Irish Need Apply"

Memories don't live like people do.

Communal memories are transmitted through stories. These stories in turn take on a veneer of reality; they are our personal ways of making sense of our identities as a member of a family, kinship group, community, or neighborhood. Because some identities are more socially salient than others--race for example--we hold onto these stories tightly. They are often not held up to critical rigor or inquiry. At times, we willfully lie to ourselves. Sometimes the bigger truth being appealed to by a narrative, one that is couched in the language of historical memory, is used to explain away its factual inaccuracies.

In our conversation about Michelle Obama's ancestor Melvinia, and the white washing of rape and racial violence in Rachel Swarns' essay in the NY Times, I alluded to the hard times mythologies that are common to white ethnic immigrants in the United States. My intention was not to suggest that "white" immigrants--many of whom had not yet "earned" their whiteness--did not experience difficulties upon arrival in this country. Rather, my observation was that the Horatio Alger, "pulled up ourselves by the bootstraps" without any government assistance story is both 1) ahistorical and 2) is part of a larger narrative, one that is mostly a great fiction, and which does the work of conservative racial politics in the post Civil Right era.

[In many ways, the "assimilable" striving European white ethnic is the forefather and foremother of the model minority myth that is currently assigned to Americans of East and South Asian decent. In all, if "we" worked hard and succeeded despite all of the obstacles in front of us, why can't "the blacks" just do the same?]

The white ethnic hard times myth is also a wonderful example of white privilege, as well as the myopia of the white racial frame, because while the Ellis Island set's various difficulties can be recited by rout, there is never any mention of the obvious: these immigrants could be grandfathered into whiteness. This is a unique and singular advantage in American society.

One of the most common white ethnic myths is that signs and job advertisements which read "No Irish, Need Apply" were common in 19th and early 20th century America. This trope signals to the idea of white Irish oppression in America, that they somehow were excluded from the labor market and polity, and then through hard work and diligence made it into the middle class despite all of the hatred and obstacles they faced as a people. While the memory may be true, crystal clear, for those who swear these signs and listings were commonplace, the historical record would suggest otherwise.

Richard Jensen has a great article on this very issue. His work is an object lesson in rigorous, empirically grounded, social history. Jensen concluded that for all intents and purposes these signs and postings were either extremely rare or simply did not exist in the United States.
The Irish American community harbors a deeply held belief that it was the victim of systematic job discrimination in America, and that the discrimination was done publicly in highly humiliating fashion through signs that announced "Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply." This "NINA" slogan could have been a metaphor for their troubles—akin to tales that America was a "golden mountain" or had "streets paved with gold." But the Irish insist that the signs really existed and prove the existence of widespread discrimination and prejudice.

The fact that Irish vividly "remember" NINA signs is a curious historical puzzle. There are no contemporary or retrospective accounts of a specific sign at a specific location. No particular business enterprise is named as a culprit. No historian, archivist, or museum curator has ever located one; no photograph or drawing exists. No other ethnic group complained about being singled out by comparable signs. Only Irish Catholics have reported seeing the sign in America—no Protestant, no Jew, no non-Irish Catholic has reported seeing one. This is especially strange since signs were primarily directed toward these others: the signs said that employment was available here and invited Yankees, French-Canadians, Italians and any other non-Irish to come inside and apply.

The business literature, both published and unpublished, never mentions NINA or any policy remotely like it. The newspapers and magazines are silent. The courts are silent. There is no record of an angry youth tossing a brick through the window that held such a sign.
In addition, there is scant evidence for discrimination against the Irish in the labor market of the 19th century. 

If anything, the opposite was true:
Regardless of their growing status, something intensely real was stimulating the Irish Catholics and only them. The NINA myth fostered among the Irish a misperception or gross exaggeration that other Americans were prejudiced against them, and were deliberately holding back their economic progress. Hence the "chip on the shoulder" mentality that many observers and historians have noted. As for the question of anti-Irish prejudice: it existed but it was basically anti-Catholic or anti-anti-republican. There have been no documented instances of job discrimination against Irish men.
Was there any systematic job discrimination against the Catholic Irish in the US: possibly, but direct evidence is very hard to come by. On the other hand Protestant businessmen vigorously raised money for mills, factories and construction projects they knew would mostly employ Irishmen, while the great majority of middle class Protestant households in the major cities employed Irish maids.

We know from the experience of African Americans and Chinese that the most powerful form of job discrimination came from workers who vowed to boycott or shut down any employer who hired the excluded class. Employers who were personally willing to hire Chinese or blacks were forced to submit to the threats.

There were no reports of mobs attacking Irish employment, even during sporadic episodes of attacks on Catholic church facilities in 1830s and 1840s. No one has reported claims that co-workers refused to work alongside Irish; this powerful form of discrimination probably did not affect the Irish in significant ways. On the other hand the Irish repeatedly attacked employers who hired African Americans or Chinese.
As someone interested in political culture, and how racial ideologies are created, reproduced, and circulated in the United States, Jensen's following observation is especially insightful: 
Historians need to be critical. Because a group truly believes it was a victim, does not make it so...Historians engaging in cultural studies must beware the trap that privileges evidence derived from the protests of self-proclaimed victims. Practically every ethnoreligious group in America cherishes its martyrs and warns its members that outsiders "discriminate" against them, or would if they had the opportunity. 
Talk about a powerful intervention...

The hard times white ethnic myth was matured and grown in a moment of white backlash towards the Civil Rights Movement during the 1970s. As I mentioned here, the same political moment that produced neoliberal-neoconservative "small government" dogma, post-Bakke white grievance politics, the Southern Strategy, and Reagan's mobilization of white racial resentment with his "welfare queens," gave birth to a fictionalized narrative of white ethnic suffering.

The embrace of a shared history of oppression across the color line (the Left multicultural approach) was coopated by a conservative, right-wing colorblind racial politics that sought to eliminate the unique grounds and historical circumstances upon which African-American justice claims in this country were/are based. In a perverse twist on the empty, politically correct, and intellectually dishonest mantra that "we cannot rank oppressions," a generalized fiction and mythic history of white ethnic hard times became a way to neuter discussions about white supremacy.

Roots Too by Mathew Frye Jacobson provides some very helpful context for the politics of white ethnic revival and its relationship to the Right's racial agenda:
Here Glazer spelled out what he later called the "ethnic pattern" of American social development, a presumed group-by-group succession of "newcomers" for whom the voluntary European immigrant stood as a prototype. Like Kennedy's rendition a few years earlier, this America was "a nation of immigrants," with all of the celebrations and erasures the image entailed. The historical weight of incorporation by slavery or conquest was of little account in this model, as all groups could expect to proceed along roughly the same lines of acceptance, mobility, and success as had the great waves of immigrants from Europe beginning in the 1840s.
Jacobson continues:
On the contrary, though the ethnic lens has repaid progressivism by making visible many historical truth and themes, the way in which the ethnic history of various European groups is typically narrated has ultimately contributed to the nation's steady movement toward the right in the decades since the Nixon presidency.

...the narrative of European immigration--whether striking Slavic miners, ghetto-bound Polish meatpackers, or Yiddish-speaking ladies' garment workers-has largely been a narrative of down-troddedness, sometimes of pluck, often of revolt, but never, ever, of privilege...this bootstrap mythology, complete with its striking patters of self-congratulation and erasure, has become standard fare as white Americans seek "to define themselves out of the oppressor class," in Micaela di Leonardo's phrase, to "construct a blameless white identity."
Historical memory does political work here because it privileges certain political goals and ideologies over others.

The recycling of the NINA myth is an effort to salvage an ethnic identity for a contemporary parasitic Whiteness which for its owners is explicitly marked by the absence of either "race" or "culture." Whiteness is privilege, property, and invisibility. Whiteness is also a vessel that can harness white ethnicity to do its bidding in the service of maintaining white dominance over the racial order. In sum, myths of white ethnic suffering become counterweights to justice claims in the polity by people of color.

As Chris Rock and other comedians have bitingly alluded to, everyone wants to be black, but no one wants to really be black. Likewise, those who are racially privileged in the "post-racial" present love to play with the idea of historic oppression and exclusion, but they do not want to confront the realities which stand behind those experiences.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Slavery, Race, and Reunion: The NY Times White Washes the Rape of Michelle Obama's Ancestors (Again)

Why would any person honor rapist's blood?

In an effort to write the Obamas, who are de facto American royalty, back into a larger post-racial narrative that ostensibly makes some white folks feel more comfortable about having a black President, such a move seems par for the course.

In 2009, the NY Times featured a very problematic story about how genealogical researchers had reconstructed Michelle Obama's family tree. There, the NY Times detailed how one of the First Lady's ancestors was a child slave--and in all likelihood repeatedly raped by her white master. Just as was done in Saturday's Meet Your Cousin, the First Lady: A Family Story, Long Hidden by Rachel Swarns, the realities of power and exploitation under the chattel regime were conveniently overlooked and (quite literally) white washed away.

Family tree DNA research is in vogue: networks such as PBS and ABC have found it a compelling means to craft a narrative about a shared "American experience." Given the country's demographic shifts, and the election of its first black President, there is a coincidence of interests who are deeply invested in furthering a narrative of multicultural America, one where it is imagined that we are all in one way or another related.

In this racial project, the color line is broken in some deeply dishonest ways which do nothing to challenge power, illuminate deeper truths about racial inequality in the United States, overturn white privilege, or challenge the Racial State.

For example, Henry Louis Gates Jr. can discover his Irish roots. Tina Turner can find out she is not significantly related to the Cherokee. Latino stars and starlets can find out about their "exciting" Anglo-African-Indigenous roots. Asian Americans can find out about their long history of respect for education, family, and the arts.

And white ethnics can have their "hard times," "we suffered too just like the blacks so why do they complain?" family mythologies validated too.

Because the President and First Lady are the symbolic leaders of a country in which black people were the very definition of the "anti-citizen," less than human, property, and not fit for inclusion in the polity, the DNA citizenship project's goals are robust. The discovery of Michelle Obama's white ancestors--while no surprise to her family--is a way for white folks to find kinship with "own" her. Ironically, this will do nothing to soothe the anxieties of reactionary white conservatives--to them she is a black woman who has no business being in the White House except as a chambermaid.

Likewise, President Obama may be "half-white." Nevertheless, he is the blackest man alive (despite all efforts to distance himself from policies that would assist the specific and particular challenges faced by African-Americans in the Great Recession) for the Tea Party GOP and the racially resentful, reactionary white public. Race is a double bind for the President. Obama's whiteness is a means to excuse-make for their racism; Obama's blackness is a means for white bigots to overtly disrespect and diminish him.

Swarns' essay on Michelle Obama's family (and white relatives) is an exercise in violence through the use of contemporary, politically correct language. When she massages away stories of rape, trauma, and human exploitation in order to further a master frame and narrative that wants to amplify the juxtaposition of the Obama's success in the present, and Michelle's white ancestors' "humble" origins, something is horribly amiss. These are racial micro-aggressions of the textbook variety.

Whiteness is built upon lies. As such, there are many white deflections in Meet Your Cousin, the First Lady: A Family Story, Long Hidden . The most obvious one is the act of discovery, this shock by the Tribble family that their ancestors owned slaves.

[Laughably, while there were many millions of African slaves in the United States, apparently no white people who are alive today had ancestors who owned slaves. Riddle you that one?]

In response to the NY Times' first foray into these ugly, ahistorical waters, I offered a commentary and rewrite. I would like to pivot off of that intervention again.

Let's work through a few particularly rich passages in Meet Your Cousin, the First Lady: A Family Story, Long Hidden and offer some correctives.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Black Youth Mob Violence (continued): Existential Dilemmas of Blackness and "Niggerization"

We are having a spirited conversation about the media's framing of black youth mob violence, and the challenges surrounding the politics of black respectability.Worried at first, I am glad that we broached the subject.

One of our commentors argued that many concerns about black youth mob violence are misplaced, and that to engage in a project of critical self-reflection on these matters is somehow unfair to the African American community, generally, and to young black people, in particular.

In what is a common rhetorical move, it was suggested that a critical discourse about black youth mob violence is 1) somehow elitist and 2) only those black and brown folks who have "street credentials" are legitimate voices on these matters.

My response was a simple one. How is it elitist (or its more common cousin "boogie") to believe that black people have a right, like any other members of American society, to be safe, secure, and free in our homes, communities, and persons? In reflecting on this exchange, I would like to develop my thesis just a bit more.

One of the existential dilemmas faced by black people (and other marginalized communities) in America is that white supremacy as law, social custom, practice, and culture was predicated on denying us safety and security. Man or woman, child or adult, black people have historically been subject to arbitrary, capricious, organized, personal, as well as state sponsored, white violence.

Tragically, some black folks have taken this existential condition of "niggerization" and internalized it. This state of insecurity has been made synonymous with black authenticity. In all, the quite literal material, cultural, and social work done by white supremacy to enforce a racial hierarchy, is now taken by some blacks as being foundational for our culture and humanity.

Niggerization should be transcended. It should not be surrendered to. Niggerization should not be wallowed in. It should avoided. There is nothing authentically black about niggerization.

As Americans we have basic rights that must be protected. As citizens we have basic freedoms and responsibilities. That some have taken these rights and liberties as contingent, and proceed from a negative view where our existence is a condition in which these rights are a priori denied to black Americans, is problematic in more ways than I can illuminate here. Moreover, that the voices demanding accountability, and who dare to call attention to both the responsibilities and burdens of good citizenship are framed as "elitist" speaks to a deadly type of  internalized white racism.

Consider an example. What if white people were subject to the same disadvantageous structures of power and resources in America, and some of these citizens dared to call attention to it? Furthermore, what if one of their chief complaints was that a small subset of the white population were operating as brigands, highwaymen, and thugs, and that something must be done about it? Would the rebuttal be that white people should get over such things and just learn to deal with it? That these same white folks should not take it for granted that their personal right to safety and security is non-negotiable?

I think we know the answer.

Why then are there some black and brown folks who are willing to accept just that state of being for their own communities? That African-American citizenship involves a necessary deficit of rights and liberties...and that we should just get used to it?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Should African-American Writers Discuss the Mob Violence Being Committed by Black Youth?

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, a 23-year-old man was beaten up on the CTA Red Line near the State-Lake stop Saturday by a group of about six teenagers. 
The teens had just stolen the man’s 27-year-old female friend’s iPhone 4S. She had dropped the phone, and a teen had picked it up and taken it for himself. 
The man told the teen to give his wife her iPhone back. But they instead began punching him in the face. 
The group then fled the train at State and Lake streets, near the Chicago Theatre. 
Another woman with the group, from West Chicago, tells the Aurora Beacon-News it was the scariest night of her life  
She tells the paper she and her two friends got on the Red Line at the Addison stop after attending the Brad Paisley concert at Wrigley Field. Near downtown, the group of teens got on, and by the time it was over, the man with the group had a broken bone near his eye and broken teeth, and he was bloodied.
Some real talk...

I never apologize. I rarely if ever offer mea culpas. But, I do believe in critical self-reflection. Thus, how to make sense of the above news item?

I love my black people. I truly do. When I read stories such as these about black youth, I shake my head. I am frustrated and saddened.

I am also committed to practicing critical self-reflection as a life rule, and to always doing my best to tell the truth.

A week or so ago, I offered an essay on flash mobs, black youth, mob violence, and the Right-wing race war meme. I have read it several times. It is some of my best work. I stand by everything that I wrote in When Blacks Attack: The Right-Wing Media's Race War Fantasies.

My claims about conservatives' dishonesty regarding black criminality, the political uses of such stories to fuel white racial resentment, and the historical context for black on white crime dramas in the white racial imagination remains true.

When I started We Are Respectable Negroes one of the promises I made to myself was to never misrepresent the facts to those who take the time to read what I offer here or elsewhere. I try to be transparent in my assumptions, theories, frameworks, and arguments because intellectual work is political work. I will never make claims that do not hold up to my own high standards of critical thinking.

 I have been offered money to do the opposite and have refused. That will never change. I want folks to come to WARN not knowing who I am, and then those who know me in the "real world" to be able to say, "yes, that sounds just like you, it was never a surprise." That means something to me which is hard to articulate.

Fate also teaches lessons randomly. Crom is indeed a trickster. One of the challenges of being a person of color who writes about race and politics, and is invested in the uplift of their people, is that you are cast as a "race man" or "race woman." This can be burdensome. If you have a commitment to truth-telling, these are moments where there is great pressure from all sides.

The dishonest colorblind racist Right is waiting for any moment to call attention to the social ills--real or imagined--of black and brown people. These conservatives are tainted by bigotry and resentment. The worst of them are so sick (that to borrow from Brother Akbar) they will call black genius stupidity, and black greatness, failure. As race men, we do not want to give this low class of white conservatives (and their white supremacist cousins) any additional ammo to use against us when they already have a loaded gun at our heads, and a hanging judge on the payroll.

The liberal racists on the Left hold black people in low regard. They are willing to offer a narrative that personal responsibility, common sense, and good behavior are somehow made anathema to the black and brown poor because of institutions and structures. Yes, macro-level arrangements of power are significant. But, we are not children.

Agency may be truncated; nevertheless it exists. Therefore, it is easy to excuse-make and hide behind sociological theory when you do not have to live next to the brigand classes, and when their fists are not in your face, their boots not on your neck.

So exhausting these matters are:
Just before 10 p.m. Saturday, another teen mob attacked two men – one from Chicago, the other in town from Michigan – in the 500 block of North State Street. One victim was left with a broken jaw, the other suffered a cut lip. 
In that case, the suspected muggers were apprehended quickly. They fled, but officers caught up with them on Kinzie Street between State Street and Wabash Avenue. Ten people were arrested. 
One adult – 18-year-old Mitchell Coradarrowe, of the 5900 block of South Indiana Avenue – was charged with felony mob action and aggravated battery. Seven others, ages 13 to 16, were charged as juveniles with felony mob action. 
In a third incident, a 36-year-old man was attacked by a teen mob as he walked home from work along Dewitt Place near Pearson Street in Streeterville. 
Police say the man was robbed and attacked by anywhere from 10 to 20 people. The man was taken to the hospital with a head injury, but he was able to walk on his own after the attack. 
Since the attack, the man, a doctor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, has granted an interview to the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass for a column that ran Wednesday. The doctor told Kass that even though his home is four blocks from the hospital where he works, he will now be taking a cab home. 
The doctor is Asian and the assailants African-American, but the victim told Kass he did not believe race was the motivation for the attack. He told Kass, rather, that the group seemed just to be beating people for fun.

Members of racialized and marginalized communities often see themselves through the eyes of others. This is one of the challenges that comes with the politics of (black) respectability. How do we remain intellectually, philosophically, morally, and ethically true to ourselves when such principles are often not rewarded or reinforced by the broader society?

I get, and can practice with no small amount of skill, the rhetoric and logic that marshals concepts like community disorganization, limited opportunity structures, the ghetto underclass, social capital, the prison industrial complex, divergences in life worlds, agency, mobility, and opportunity structures, as well as the perils of an urban youthocracy with its local morals.

Consequently, when surveying the media's coverage of crime by black youth in their own communities, and random violence that is being visited by a small subset of urban highway men and highway women upon the public, I understand the macro-level sociological story.

Young people are not risk averse; violent crime is their purview. They do stupid things. There is a lack of proper role-models in many underclass communities. These black and brown youth--like all  young people--are impulse driven because their brains are still developing. Unemployment rates are high; there is boredom, American society devalues black youth; they just want validation and attention by any means available.

In total flash mob black youth mob violence culture is one born of a decision rule which suggests that if you leave your pocketbook or wallet out on the kitchen table then you are asking to be robbed. There is no moral culpability because the victim should always protect him or herself. Funny thing, the gangster capitalists who destroyed this country practice the same ethic...but I digress.

A second observation: when an innocent member of Joe Q. Public puts one of these knuckleheads in the ground, grandma always manages to cry and paint the portrait of a saint when she damn well knew they were social parasites.The wages of sin are death. Must we still circle the wagons in order to protect the lowest of our communities? Are we Booker T or Du Bois wondering about the prospects for black life under Jim and Jane Crow, in a world where slavery still existed, but just by another name?

Help me understand. Teach me a thing or two. Is my moment of critical self-reflection misplaced? For those of you who teach, write, and share their thoughts with the public, how do you balance these concerns?

I hold myself accountable. As I have passed 1,000 or so posts here on WARN, and I continue to share with a larger audience what we have created here, I will only continue to raise the bar. When someone asks me about mob violence by black youth and When Blacks Attack: The Right-Wing Medias Race War Fantasies, I need a satisfying answer.

Please, do help a brother out. I am afraid that a good interlocutor could slip under my guard and score a knockout punch on this issue. Practice is the only way to prevent that from happening. Spar with me.