Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mitt Romney: God's Plan for America is Class Inequality and to Suggest Otherwise is Not Patriotic

As demonstrated by his interview on CBS news today (and later during a speech in Ohio), Mitt Romney is digging deep into his Southern Strategy 2.0 bucket of political feces. Romney's channeling of Lee Atwater's ghost will be much discussed by the pundits and chattering classes. 

As an alternative, I would like to call your attention to this quote from Mitt Romney which may have slipped under your radar a few months ago, before being picked up by the website Politico today. It is just as problematic, if not more so, than Romney's race-baiting:  
“I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare,” Ryan said at the time. “When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”
There is so much to unpack here. We know that Romney believes in Ayn Rand's vision of a bare minimum government where the weak are surplus humans to be disposed of as a drain on the John Galts of the world. This is the context for Romney's comment. It is also helpful to foreground how language works through unstated assumptions about social reality, is dependent upon a set of shared understandings between the speaker and audience, and exists within a broader context of styles, codes, symbols, affect, and genre that together create meaning.

Romney is proceeding from the assumption that America, a country with extreme wealth inequality, is not already divided. Moreover, Romney is suggesting that extreme class inequality is both natural and desirable. 

Joe Biden's "Chains" of Slavery: Who Would Have Guessed That Mitt Romney is a Closet Black Nationalist?



Does Mitt Romney have a dashiki in his closet? Is he hiding bean pies and bow ties in his garment bag?

Apparently, Joe Biden wants to put "you people" back in chains. Barack Obama is also running a political campaign of hate, anger, and division. Such claims by "Bat Bain" Mitt Romney and the "Boy Wonder" Paul Ryan reek of the rancid stink of desperation. How low will Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Tea Party GOP sink before election night in November?

It is clear to most thinking people that Joe Biden spoke a plain truth when he suggested that the banks, credit card companies, and the financier classes basically have the American people in a state of debt peonage. By rolling back modest consumer protections enacted by President Obama, the Tea Party GOP and Mitt Romney would only make our shared pain even worse.

In these heady political conversations, we must be careful to not forget how chains are actually pretty useful objects. Chains hold bikes to poles so that thieves will not abscond with them. My dog wears a chain so that he will not run off, acting the fool, and get hit by a car. Some people like to play with chains for fun. I like professional wrestling for example, and miss the old school, chain wrestling, Texas catch-as-catch-can style matches from the 1970s and early 1980s. There are also criminals who need to be in chains so that good citizens, and we civilians, will be kept safe from harm.

In all, the vast majority of references to chains have little to do with the horrors of slavery, the Middle Passage, and the Black Holocaust. That Romney's campaign would play with such historically potent imagery--efforts made even more insincere given the Tea Party GOP presidential nominee's blatantly racist Barack Obama is a lazy negro welfare king ads--is not surprising.

In the United States, the history of black Americans is commonly denigrated, made fun of, and mocked by the Right. Moreover, conservatism and racism are one in the same in post Civil Rights America. Consequently, a not so refined mix of race baiting and racial demagoguery is the air that the New Right breathes; it offers them life and sustenance. People can also get high and die from oxygen poisoning; an oxygen rich environment can also burn you alive. If Romney and Ryan continue to play with the combustible politics of white racial resentment and overt bigotry they may suffer either outcome: I can only dream that such an improbable turn of events may yet come to pass.

Sometimes a person has no choice but to yield to the absurd in order to protect their sanity. As such, I will take Mitt Romney's obsession with the chains of racism and Joe Biden as an opportunity to have a cathartic laugh, and to turn matters on their ear, in order to expose the foolishness and insincerity which colors the Right's most recent discovery of anti-black racism.

As I alluded to above, chains are very useful and practical. References to chains are also common  in popular music. Given Mitt Romney's obsession with chains, let's help him build a playlist of "chain" related songs to listen to on his jet alongside the theme from the Harrison Ford movie Air Force One.

Updated with your suggestions....

A few suggestions to start us off:

1. Unchained melody by the Righteous Brothers
2. Breaking the Chains by Dokken
3. Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin
4. In Chains by Depeche Mode
5. Chain of Love by Journey
6. Chain Heavy by Kanye West
7. Unchain My Heart by Ray Charles
8. Chains by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (performed by the Beatles)
9. Chain Gang by Sam Cooke

What songs would you add to the list?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

To Romney, Ryan, and the Right: "You Didn't Build That!" Slaves, Working People, and Lots of Others With Help From the Government Did



We have not featured a guest post here at WARN in some time. I saw this piss poor article over at The Atlantic and had to reach out to Werner Herzog's Bear, our resident historian (who also writes over at his own site Notes from the Ironbound) for the assist. Here Mr. Bear proceeds to eviscerate and maul Andrew Cline's bandwagoning against President Obama for his now (in)famous "you didn't build that" line. As always, Werner Herzog's Bear delivers in fine form.

****

The Romney campaign, flailing amidst their candidate's incompetence and manifest unlikeability has been resorting to misrepresenting president Obama's words, or just flat out lying about him.  At the center of all of this is the furor over the president's "you didn't build that," line.  When taken out of context, it might indeed be inflammatory, but context is everything.  Here's the whole section of the president's speech:
"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn't -- look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. 
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. 
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires. 
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That's how we funded the G.I. Bill. That's how we created the middle class. That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That's how we invented the Internet. That's how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You're not on your own, we're in this together."
What the president was essentially saying here is that the individual successes in this country have been assisted by social and governmental forces.  Apart from the uncharacteristically maladroit way that he tried to get the point across with the "you didn't build that" line, the message is pretty clear.  It's also not all that controversial, since Mitt Romney said something pretty similar to Olympic athletes ten years ago.  Those who are trying to claim that the president was saying that the hard work and effort of entrepreneurs are meaningless and that only the government creates useful things are just lying.  Their claims are so outrageous that they are beneath refutation.

However, there are some who are willing to view president Obama's comments in their proper context and still take him to task for it.  Writing recently in The Atlantic, Andrew Cline has attacked the president's words as contradicting the true nature of America's history.  As a historian, I find many of his claims to be specious, and reflective of a simplistic, blinded view of American history that is fast becoming popular on the political Right.  Invoking that idea of the past, Cline goes back to Thomas Jefferson to say that the government was created only to protect rights, nothing else, and that colonial society, without any help from governmental forces, had created the middle class, in contradiction to what the president said.  There are some problems with these claims that I will detail, but the main problem with Cline's interpretation of history is that it completely misses the reality of American life at the time of Jefferson and beyond.

Cline's blindness to the realities of the American past is actually completely betrayed by the image below the title: a painting of the building of the White House in 1792 with its architects in the foreground.  This benign-looking image masks the reality of the White House's construction, which was accomplished through the use of hired-out slave labor.  The white guys in powdered wigs in the foreground didn't "build that;" they may have drawn up the plans, but many more unfree black slaves did the hard work of actually constructing the White House.  It should be a reminder that this nation's wealth was built in large part on what Abraham Lincoln called "the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil" in his second inaugural address.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teaching About Racism in a Post Racial Age: The Pleasures of Deconstructing Colorblind Racist Speech Online

We are having a great conversation here about race play and BDSM. I was a bit nervous about the topic because we do not usually discuss sex and relationships here on We Are Respectable Negroes. As often occurs, I am pleasantly surprised by the range of readers here on WARN and their insightful comments. I am learning so much from all of the good sharing that is going on in that conversation. Do chime in if so inclined.

The school year is about to begin. The summer has disappeared and I have three weeks left to work like a madman to get some long overdue work submitted. I did have some good successes and will count them as positives.

Like many of you, I am updating syllabi and rethinking a few of my classes. One of the courses I teach each year is a required section of "Race and Diversity" in the United States. Many of my colleagues do not like teaching the course because the students are not always engaged, the evaluations tend to be low, and the issues discussed can lead to intense and stressful moments for "snowflakes" who are not prepared to think about power and inequality. For that cohort, they are individuals raised by helicopter parents, and believe that institutional and society power has little impact on their ability to succeed in our society. Unfortunately, there are also many adults who have also not grown out of believing in such foolishness.

For those reasons, I enjoy leading the seminar. It is so broadly defined that I can do just about anything in terms of the assignments and themes discussed, and yet still remain "pedagogically sound." Given my research interests, the course is typically a mix of the Sociology of Race 101, cultural studies, labor history, comparative race studies, and critical race theory.

However, teaching this course is not easy. One of the challenges of teaching about race and racial ideologies in the post racial moment is that many "millennials" (and others) born after the Civil Rights Movement actually believe that racism is a thing of the past. Consequently, racism and white supremacy are minor inconveniences in the present.

Undergraduates tend to not believe a thing is real unless they can see it with their own eyes. Many undergraduates, and I would suggest the general public as well, are not yet at a point where they are able to mate sociological theories with empirical reality. The sociological imagination is not yet real for them.

In order to overcome that challenge, I use video clips, examples from popular culture, the news, and other resources which demonstrate that racism and other inequalities are real--and that they have human consequences.

For example, I will be using the much discussed Hurricane Katrina photos where black people looking for food are framed as "looters" whereas whites are "finding" supplies, pictures of Obama and his wife as monkeys, signs and interviews from Tea Party rallies, the new age black face of the white female rapper Kreayshawn, racially coded and dog whistle laced speeches by Republican candidates from the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and the "hoody politics" of the menacing black body and Trayvon Martin, to demonstrate how age old racial ideologies are both reproduced, as well as reinforced, in American society.

Given my interest in cyber racism and digital democracy, I have also been compiling helpful examples from online news media and social networking.sites. As I have written about repeatedly, websites' comments sections offer a great window into the collective political subconscious, and are rich measures of informal public opinion.

To point, here on We Are Respectable Negroes, there is a recurring commenter by the name of "OTB" who is an ideal typical case of conservative, colorblind racism in practice. On this thread for example, his comments are a pitch perfect demonstration of the logic of white racism(s) in the post Civil Rights era.

As such, I will be using his posts as a "living" example of the theories offered by social scientists such as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Joe Feagin, Charles Gallagher, George Yancy, as well as the indispensible Omi and Winant. It is always invigorating and exciting to see the nuts and bolts of colorblind racism--what has been described as "racism without racists"--displayed so perfectly.

In total, OTB's understanding of the relationships between race, American politics, privilege, power, and history is an echo of the theories, empirical research, and historiographies that has been developed to explain how racial dynamics and the color line shifted (or not) in the decades following the Civil Rights Movement to the Age of Obama.

The simple and short story goes something like this.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Playing with Sex, Power, and Race: Did You Know That There Are "Plantation Retreats" Where Black People Go to Serve Their White "Masters?"


Those who have loved and dated across the color line have to negotiate the realities of race in our society, and by extension, its impact on their relationships. For many, this is done through explicit conversations. For others, these dialogues come implicitly, through gestures, and taken for granted shared assumptions. 

But how many folks actually talk about how race impacts their own sexuality, attraction, physicality, or notions of the erotic? 

We live in a society that is structured around many different hierarchies of power, authority, and difference. As Foucault brilliantly observed, Power is not sitting out there in the ether, an abstraction that we just talk about in philosophy classes. Power acts through and upon bodies. Certain people are racialized in American society for example. Their bodies are locations of power--and yes resistance. Likewise, certain types of bodies are marked as "normal," while others are deemed "different" or "abnormal." 

The "popular" imagination holds many assumptions about particular types of bodies. The black male body is something to be policed, controlled, and feared. It is both envied and despised. The Asian female body is "erotic" and "submissive." The black female body alternates between being fecund, always available, and out of control, while simultaneously being marked as "masculine," asexual, and unattractive. Latinas are "hot" and "sexy." White bodies of a certain type are taken as the baseline for what is considered "beautiful" or "normal." 

Ironically, the bodies of black and brown people which are considered beautiful or attractive by the white gaze are judged as such either by how "different" they are from white norms (the exotic or savage) or how close these racialized bodies--almost like impostors or stand-ins--are to the normalized white body.

The very language we use to discuss race, the physical, and the sexual, is a quotidian example of Power in action. But, how are matters complicated when a significant part of a given person's sexuality, and sense of the erotic, is centered on playing around with the dynamics surrounding dominance and submission? 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and the Right-wing Gun Nut John Galts at The Blaze

I am glad that Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan brings few advantages to the table among Independents; and given his draconian budget plans, and penchant for a Soylent Green future where the government and the social safety net are eviscerated, Ryan could prove to be much dead weight. Vice Presidential nominees are usually a non-factor in Presidential electoral outcomes. I do hope that Ryan joins Palin and Eagleton as an exception to the rule.

Paul Ryan is an devotee of Ayn Rand and her extreme version of libertarianism. In this world, the government should be all but destroyed, and "negative freedom" is the only type of liberty to be pursued. Thanks to populist Right-wing bloviators such as Glenn Beck, and think tanks funded by the Koch Brothers and others, Rand's bad sci-fi dystopian writings have been transformed into policy briefs and legislative guidelines for the Tea Party GOP.

I marvel at the political hydra and mismatched set of alliances that the contemporary Republican Party has become. The Tea Party GOP is a conglomeration of Christian Dominionists and Nationalists, reactionary white racists, neo-Secessionists, and plutocratic corporatists. The mouth breathers in the Tea Party are dupes who are driven by opines about patriotism and the alien Other in "their" White House. These same folks are driven by a crudely selfish, exclusionary, and Calvinist-like understanding of faith where "the elect" are shown god's love and divinity by how much money and worldly goods they are "rewarded with" by their godhead. The banksters laugh--as they always do--at how they can so easily play and manipulate the peons into working against their own immediate and long-term class interests. And of course, the real party leaders such as Rush Limbaugh get paid the big bucks, for they are the Archons who defend the ideological "purity" of the Tea Party GOP and gin up witch hunts against those deemed inauthentic and weak.

Watching Romney and Ryan manage this menagerie will be a fascinating exercise in the weeks to come.

As a follower of Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan is part of a movement on the Right, that despite contemporary Conservatism's penchant for anti-intellectualism and conspiranoid thinking, which is in fact reaching for some "big ideas" through an embrace of libertarianism as a guiding political worldview and value system.

When these "big ideas" filter down to the mouth-breathing lumpen on the New Right, they will (of course) lose some of their rigor. Complex ideas are almost by necessity flattened for ready consumption by the masses. Ayn Rand's vision for a "just" society is no different.

The Right-wing rag sheet The Blaze has a gun porn feature where they show off the newest toys for their readers. As a ghetto nerd, I have a long-standing interest in military science, technology, and things that go boom. In a few weeks, I am also going to (finally) be a gun owner. However, in the aftermath of Aurora and the Sikh temple massacre, there needs to be a serious conversation about the the human costs of this country's gun culture, and changes in the law to limit gun ownership, the types weapons that can be purchased, and the required training necessary to own them.

Given my sentiments, The Blaze's feature on a "special operations" ready semi-automatic "assault style" rifle leaves me feeling a bit dirty. When I was 12, I would have ejaculated all sorts of G.I. Joe/Red Dawn love juice onto the Paratus 16. As an adult, I am much less enthusiastic about such metaphorical onanism.

The comments sections on political websites are a great example of digital democracy (run amok) as they provide a valuable insight into our collective political subconscious. While I agree with the need to prepare for The Big Collapse (and a society that will/can descend into chaos), most of the comments on The Blaze's feature about the Paratus 16 are typical Conservative sewer water and verbal vomit about "liberty," militias, the Constitution, the evils of Barack Obama, and the framers' love of "gun rights."

However, one comment was such a wonderful distillation of the mean-spirited violence and selfishness which is currently being channeled by Ayn Randian libertarianism, and advocated for by the Republican Party, that I wanted to share it with you:
DRPHIL69

I CAN GET ONE… BUT YOU CAN’T. I love people like you – are the KING? Are you the DICTATOR? DOES IT PISS YOU OFF THAT I CAN BUY ONE OF THESE?? THAT I CAN BUY AK-47s AND AR-15s? DOES IT MAKE YOU ANGRY THAT I HAVE THE DISPOSABLE INCOME TO BLOW $6K ON ONE OF THESE WITHOUT THINKING TWICE?

No, you will be one of many begging on the streets after the fall…

I will have one of these to protect myself from people like YOU – the ones who think they are ENTITLED TO MY FOOD, MY WATER, MY SHELTER.

So, go get in line for govt cheese. Don’t venture out to farm country thinking you will get a free meal, you will only get FREE LEAD.

I WILL NOT COMPLY.

I AM JOHN GALT.
DRPHIL69 is not the crazy uncle in the basement who rants and raves online, talks back to the radio, and does no harm. He is the id of the Tea Party GOP. During the 1980s, this type of rhetoric would have been reserved for the Militia Movement and the late night black helicopter talk radio crowd. With the ascent of the Ayn Randians in the Republican Party, DRPHIL69's passion for guns, channeling of class entitlement, and disdain for the social compact represents the beating heart of the New Right. The political violence captured here is the endgame, what is the logical result of Ronald Reagan's suggestion that government is the problem and never the solution. 

DRPHIL69 is John Galt. Romney and Ryan are John Galt too. Let that fact settle in for a moment. Are you and the American people ready for what John Galt does when he is elected President of the United States? What are you willing to do in order to stop them?

Friday, August 10, 2012

There Were in Fact Blacks Who Joined the KKK: C.L. Bryant's Speech at FreePac



I believe that ideological diversity in the black community is a strength and not a weakness. If a person makes the choice to support a political party (or not) based on their own principled positions on policy, immediate material self-interest, support of a single public policy issue, or out of respect and/or deference to a family tradition I can accept their choice. Of course, I privilege some types of political calculi over others in terms of how they represent nuanced and sophisticated considerations of matters of public concern. But, I try to respect a person's political choices, and give them the agency and freedom to stake out their own political terrain.

However, I have no use for black conservatives such as C.L. Bryant, Herman Cain, Allen West, Larry Elder, Clarence Thomas and others of their ilk. Black conservatives of their stripe consistently suggest that African Americans who are not Republicans are instead on some type of "plantation," possessed by false consciousness, or stupid and confused. History (and facts) contradict such hellish lies: African Americans have been the moral, spiritual, and ethical conscience of this nation; the ways that we grabbed "the great tocsin of freedom" from Reconstruction to the present is a wonderful example of the radically democratic possibilities in the American experience.

Bryant and his brethren made a financial calculation. They can get paid lots of money for pandering to white conservative populists. As I pointed out in a series of essays on Herman Cain "The New Age Race Minstrel," black conservatives are like a salve or the great fountain at Lourdes which simultaneously insulates white conservatives from charges of racism and legitimates white racial resentment because these characters, de facto Stepin Fetchits, are the "good negroes"--humble, deferent, subservient, and validating to the White Gaze--which white conservatives wish all black and brown folks would be.

In keeping with an earlier allusion to carnivals and flim-flam artists, C.L.  Bryant is running a great con game as he channels and performs for the white reactionary conservatives at the Freedomworks sponsored FreePac convention and rally.

Ultimately, C.L. Bryant is like a black man giving his own funeral oratory before a lynching at which he will be the "honored guest." It is freakishly beautiful. 

Likewise, the beautifully ugly uniformity that is Conservative Whiteness in the audience is worked up in an odd mix of church revival, "patriotic" gathering, and sporting event. As I am fond of saying, the people in the audience at FreePac are heirs to the folks who would have brought picnics and a nice glass of tea to a lynching not too many decades ago--and then purchased postcards of said barbarism.

[I do not make such a reference without careful and specific intent. Freedomworks is an AstroTurf group run by the Koch brothers. Their family helped to establish the racist John Birch Society, and was also connected to White Conservative Citizens Councils that opposed the Civil Rights Movement. Freedomworks also supports many retrograde and nativist policy positions that are hostile to people of color, the working classes, and the poor.]

C.L. Bryant's performance is complemented by an expose at the Right-wing muckraking site The Blaze. There Bryant explains his transformation from a "lost" black Democrat to a "saved" and "found" black conservative. His shtick even has a Paul on the Road to Damascus element to it--except the moment of revelation is Bryant's salvation by Rush Limbaugh:
After leaving the NAACP, Bryant moved to Tampa, Florida, with his wife. One day, he recalls listening to the radio in an effort to find Jim Hightower, a liberal commentator he enjoyed listening to. But, rather than finding the show he had come to know and love, he stumbled upon something very different. 
“I was flipping through the AM stations and I came across a guy by the name of Rush,” Bryant said, referring to popular radio host Rush Limbaugh. “The more I listened to this guy, Rush — there was something that he was saying that rang true to me.” 
From there, the transformation began and Bryant recognized that many leftist policies and ideals create a mindset of victimization among African Americans and others.
[Insert finger into mouth in order to induce vomiting.]

C.L. Bryant, and others like him who have decided that laying down with Power against the interests of their own community, have always been with us. They were the "colored" colonial administrators, the black slave drivers and slave catchers, and Native Americans who worked with the U.S. government to hunt down their own tribes. Some of these folks were cowards; others were self-interested materially minded utility maximizing individuals; a good number were just traitors.

History is full of these odd alliances and moments. For example, as the expertly researched book Night Riders in Black Folk History details, there were apparently African-Americans who rode with the KKK and even formed their own informal Klan groups.

C.L. Bryant and his black conservative brethren and kin can trace their ideological lineage back to those tragic wellsprings. In an era when conservatism and racism are one and the same, it vexes me how any self-respecting person of color could ally themselves with Freedomworks or any other Tea Party, John Bircher-like group. But then again, we all have a price. I hope C.L. Bryant received a pretty penny for his role as a black conservative political Judas.

Stranger in a Strange Land? Robert Heinlein's Advice for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Barring some unexpected developments, I will be sharing some random "ghetto nerd" related posts today and this weekend. 

I have a long list of books that I want to read for personal and professional reasons. 

Some years ago when I was an undergraduate, I decided that I wanted to work in the academy because a great professor and mentor explained that you could paid to read books, articles, and write about them. That is far harder than it sounds--and of course he left out many details. Nevertheless, I was sold on the idea.
One of the reasons that such a vocation seemed compelling to me was because I embrace my ignorance, and I love discovering new things. There is no shame is saying "I do not know, please enlighten me." There is also much to be gained by sitting quiet, shutting one's pie hole, and taking in expertise when generously offered by those who know more about a given topic. 

Unfortunately, few folks understand the merits of this life approach and would rather bloviate, yell, and get loud, than listen in meditative, contemplative, responsive, humble silence.

Conversely, I have little tolerance for willful stupidity, and those people who want to claim expertise when they have not paid their dues or put in work. Therefore, I reject dilettantism by those who simply have opinions, and no grasp of the facts of a given matter--or have not done the homework necessary to contribute properly to a given conversation.

A few days ago, I went down to the laundry room in my apartment building and found something neat on our "sharing bookshelf." I have long wanted to read Robert Heinlend's sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land and had not yet gotten around to it. 

[Yes, do feel free to revoke my ghetto nerd card.]

 I have been devouring the book, and in doing so, came upon a great passage that I want to share with all of you. I would suggest that it tells us a great deal about the Romney-Obama race for the White House in 2012.

I am a "smart mark" professional wrestling fan, deeply understand its roots in carnival culture (which helps to explain my references here on WARN about "kayfabe" and "cutting promos") and also claim Harry Houdini, professional skeptic that he was, as one of my heroes. Thus, this passage from Stranger in a Strange Land, where the main character Valentine Michael Smith (a human being who was raised by Martians) decides to tour with a traveling circus in order to learn our ways, is especially revealing:
"I would like to have your advice," the magician said simply. 
"Okay. Smitty, your tricks are good. But tricks don't make a magician. You're not really with it. You behave like a carnie--you mind your own business and never crab anybody's act and you're helpful. But you're not a carnie. You don't have any feeling for what makes a chump a chump. A real magician can make the marks open their mouths by picking a quarter out of the air. That levitation you do--I've never seen it done better but the marks don't warm to it. No psychology. Now take me, I can't even pick a quarter out of the air. I got no act--except that one that counts. I know marks. I know what he hungers for, even if he don't. That's showmanship, son, whether you're a politician, a preacher pounding a pulpit--or a magician. Find out what the chumps wants and you can leave half your props in your trunk" 
"I'm sure you're right." 
"I know I am. He wants sex and blood and money. We don't give him blood--but we let him hope that a fire eater or a knife thrower will make a mistake. We don't give him money; we encourage his larceny while we take a little. We don't give him sex. But why do seven out of ten buy the blow-off? To see a nekkid broad. So he don't see one and still we send him out happy. 
"What else does a chump want? Mystery! He wants to think the world is a romantic place when it damn well ain't! That's your job...only you ain't learned how. Shucks, son, the marks know your tricks are fake...only they'd like to believe they're real, and it's up to you to help 'em. That's what you lack."
Who is this passage from Stranger in a Strange Land more helpful for? President Obama or Mitt Romney?  The latter is suffering from an enthusiasm and personality gap. The former seems to have mastered much of Heinlein's advice, but could certainly do even more to channel his wisdom.

Your thoughts? Do you "grok" me?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

White Supremacists Hear Mitt Romney's Racist Welfare "Dog Whistles" Crystal Clear



The political scatology which is Mitt Romney's willful and racist lie that President Obama wants to end welfare reform, and give free money to all those lazy black and brown human parasites that want to live off of white people, has attracted some flies.

The media spins its wheels, debating the role of racial "dog whistle" politics by Republicans in their hostility and opposition to the country's first black president--as opposed to calling out Mitt Romney for the racist liar that he has proven himself to be.

The central element of dog whistle politics is that the cues are so subtle and coded that only the target audience will pick up on a given speaker's real intent. Ostensibly, these secret codes and signals give a politician plausible deniability, where in Romney's case (and the Republican Party in mass) racism can be denied, and then the assertion flipped in a game of political Aikido that plays on white victimology and spurious claims of "reverse racism."

In theory, those candidates that deploy racial dog whistles can win on both ends of the deal: they get to communicate their onerous message; this same candidate then mines white racial resentment for electoral gain when they are critiqued for their racism.

Romney and his defenders will continue to deny the obvious racial invective in the "Barack Obama is a Welfare King" ad. However, there is one group of people who hear Romney's racial appeals crystal clear and in stereo.

As I discussed in this post, I do a daily survey of some of the more prominent (and public) white supremacists websites. The views expressed in the white nationalist online community are the racial id of contemporary populist conservatism in the Age of Obama. As such, these spaces are a telling barometer for the backstage and frontstage racism of the New Right and the Tea Party GOP.

Here is a featured essay on Mitt Romney's candidacy and his welfare queen meme from one of the more "respectable" White Nationalist Neo-Confederate websites (I will not directly link to it, but you can do a simple online search to confirm these quotes):
Mitt Romney was in a Chicago suburb today speaking to White voters blasting the Obama campaign for dismantling welfare reform... 
So Mitt Romney is speaking to our people, promoting popular issues with subtle and not so subtle racial themes. 
Again, I note that Mitt Romney is a racial “pussy-footer” – very similar to George HW Bush Sr (US President 1988-92). Pussy-footers are the most common American racial renegades. Pussy-footers look and act White. They marry White, they don’t have any real hatred towards our/their White American people. But, they rarely if ever defend our people and in live or die racial conflicts, racially charged political campaigns they pussy-foot around; they try to pretend that there aren’t any racial conflicts and any racial problems are some misunderstanding. Pussy-footers like to be liked and they tend to agree with whoever is in the room with them. 
So today, please pass the word on to all of your contacts that you approve of the Romney campaign’s new direction: 
Targeting our people, our voters – “hunting where the ducks are”. The Romney campaign is no longer pandering to NW voters who will never vote for White Republicans. Instead, the Romney campaign is connecting with the voters he/we need to win and the Romney campaign is standing up for the legitimate rights of our people. 
There is no super conspiracy controlling the Romney campaign. Mitt Romney doesn’t hate our people. He doesn’t want to destroy the Whites in the South. He’s not trying to bring back Black Reconstruction or incite Blacks to riot and murder in you town. There is no reason to hate Mitt Romney because he is rich, was the governor of a Northeastern state or hate all the beautiful White people associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Mitt Romney is a solid White guy with a large, very beautiful White family. 
But he is a…..Pussy-footer. Please understand the situation and act accordingly.
White supremacists clearly understand Mitt Romney's evolving campaign strategy, his appeal for a not insignificant part of the white voting public, and how Red State America--fearful of the country's changing demographics and submerged in the Right-wing echo chamber--could see him as protection from "oppression" by black and brown folks and the country's first black president.

Mitt Romney's race baiting is a dangerous political game. Romney's use of white identity politics pays dividends in that it helps him look like a "legitimate" and "real" Conservative to the Tea Party base. Mitt Romney's lying and racism will also attract an element of the Right that could become more of a liability than an asset.

At this moment in the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney is Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, playing with elements that he can not fully control. He best be careful or the politics of hate could blow up in his face.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On That Barack the Welfare King Obama Ad: Mitt Romney is a Racist Liar. Why is the Media Afraid to Hold Him Accountable?


It would appear that we have gone "Black to the Future" and the Reagan era.

Mitt Romney's newest ad suggests that President Obama is creating a society of dependence by giving out free stuff to those poor black and brown people on welfare. In the post-truth era inaugurated by the rise of Right-wing talk radio, Fox News, and the Conservative blogosphere, it is irrelevant that Romney's latest campaign ad is a willful misrepresentation of the facts. The Fourth Estate has abandoned all pretense of being guardians for the truth; they have been bullied into submission by Conservatives, and their invention of the catch all propaganda phrase "the liberal media."

Consequently, with few exceptions, the mainstream news media runs away from calling Mitt Romney what he actually is--a willful, almost pathological, liar.

Mitt Romney is also a racist liar.

To some folks, that language is strong, frightening, and offensive. This is expected: we live in a bizarre, post racial, post Civil Rights moment, where to call a white person--especially a Conservative--a racist is a bigger sin than racism itself. The public needs to be reminded that racism is not just mean words. Racism is not defined by intent (the common "he or she didn't mean it that way" defense). Racism is not limited to the KKK, skinheads, or signs that say "Colored Drinking Fountain," or "No Mexicans, Negroes, or Dogs." 

Racism is also about disparate outcomes, structures, institutions, and power. The media and social scientists have invented a whole vocabulary in order to avoid talking plainly about the type of racism being exhibited by Mitt Romney's campaign at present, the Republican Party since the 1960s, and the Tea Party GOP during the Age of Obama. We talk about dog whistles, coded signals, white racial resentment, symbolic racism, and racial affect. In our efforts to be subtle and precise, the obvious is often overlooked. 

As I wrote here, in this election cycle Romney and his fellow Republican candidates have been using racial air raid sirens that are direct appeals to white racism in order to win over white voters. The Tea Party GOP and its candidates are rarely held accountable because the news media is afraid of being called "racist" or "biased" by the Right's pundits and foot soldiers.

To help navigate these muddy waters in the public discourse, The Christian Science Monitor recently offered up a nice set of criteria for determining if a political campaign is using racism to further its electoral goals. Mitt Romney's Barack Obama is a "welfare king that wants to take stuff from white people and give it to undeserving black and brown poor people" meets several of these guidelines. My suggestion that Mitt Romney is a racist liar gains further traction when you place his most recent ad in a broader context. 

The patterns are very revealing:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Sikh Temple Shooting is One More Reminder That Whiteness is Anything But Benign and Innocent



Sometimes, we must speak uncomfortable truths. As I say on occasion, I am white folks' best friend because I tell them the truth when others will not.

For its owners, whiteness is constructed as something benign and innocent. Historically, and into the present, whiteness is the stuff of terror, fear, and death for a great many people around the world.

The KKK wore white robes in order to terrify black people by channeling the energy of ghouls and ghosts as they hung, raped, tortured, dismembered, murdered, and killed African-Americans in the post-Emancipation South.

First Nations and other peoples quickly came to realize that "the white man" was a harbinger of death and destruction. In fact, aboriginal and other cultures had to invent language in order to describe these "white men," who if encountered, should be treated with fear and caution.

Olaudah Equiano famously described the slave ships (and white crewmen) that transported him and his fellow Africans across the Atlantic in their hellish bowels as horrible monsters crewed by demons, and controlled by strange, wicked men from another world.

What follows will hurt some white folks to hear. It is nonetheless the truth.

A presumption of an existentially noble and good whiteness is a premise that allows white folks to exist in a space of perpetual innocence where the deeds of killers, murderers, and evil doers "who happen to be white" are a reflection on individual shortcomings, and never, almost by definition, comments on the character of "the white race."

For example, James Holmes can shoot dozens of people during Batman the Dark Knight Rises and he is not a reflection on pathological white masculinity. Instead Holmes is a less than ideal-typical case because he is "crazy" or "insane." Wade Michael Page can kill six Sikh-Americans during their worship service and he is just a "crazy" white supremacist who is automatically an outlier, one that is excluded from any conversation about what his behavior tells us about white racial identity, masculinity, violence, and hostility to the Other in the Age of Obama.

Ultimately, white people who commit wanton acts of murder and violence are individuals who just happen to be white and commit crime; people of color--especially African-Americans--who commit crime are representative of both their whole community, as well as a subculture and community in "crisis." As such, Americans tend to speak naturally and with great ease about "black crime." By comparison, and despite a white monopoly on whole categories of criminality, the language of "white crime" does not even exist in the public discourse or collective consciousness.

A plain statement of this reality is not news to people of color. In the United States, we learn these life lessons as a means of survival, and in order to successfully navigate a society where whiteness is normality, privilege, property, invisibility, and fashions itself as neutral and kind.

A plain statement of these facts may be upsetting to some white folks who have not had a moment of critical self-reflection about the deep relationship between whiteness, power, privilege, and violence. White race traitors and self-aware folk will nod with agreement, because to them, the latter observation is a simple and obvious one. To the uninitiated, this "real talk" as I like to call it, may hurt a bit...such is life.

Brotha Wolf, one of our commenters here on We Are Respectable Negroes, offered up a particularly lucid and sharp observation about the mass shooting of Sikh-Americans by a white supremacist in Wisconsin where he noted that:
There's another thing about whiteness that should be noted. White people see themselves as a monolith of greatness, morality, and decency. Any act of cruelty or insanity is an individual act as written in this post. 
On the other hand, black people are seen as a monolith of stupidity, violence, unethical behavior and worthlessness. Plus, any form of achievement or greatness is separated from the narrative of the "typical black person". Those acts are individualized and seen as exceptions to the rule.
This reminds me of Toni Morrison's devastating argument about the relationship between whiteness, violence, and terror--one that many white folks are both blind to and ignorant of--in her book Playing in the Dark:

Bell Hooks signals to Morrison's powerful observations when she writes that:
If the mask of whiteness, the pretense, represents it as always benign, benevolent, then what this representation obscures is the representation of danger, the sense of threat...In contemporary society, white and black people alike believe that racism no longer exists. This erasure, however mythic, diffuses the representation of whiteness as terror in the black imagination. It allows for assimilation and forgetfulness. 
The eagerness with which contemporary society does away with racism, replacing this recognition with evocations of pluralism and diversity that further mask reality, is a response to the terror, bit it has also become a way to perpetuate the terror by providing a cover, a hiding place. Black people still feel the terror, still associate it with whiteness, but are rarely able to articulate the varied ways we are terrorized because it is easy to silence by accusations of reverse racism or by suggesting that black folks who talk about how we are terrorized by whites are merely evoking victimization to demand special treatment.
There should be a national intervention about the relationship between white masculinity, gun culture, and mass violence. We know that such a conversation will not occur.

Thus, I ask the following questions.

What will it take for white folks to look in the mirror and have an honest discussion about the killers in their midst, especially given the fact that two white men have now committed mass murder in almost as many weeks? Is whiteness, and those who have not transcended it, even capable of such an honest moment of critical self-reflection?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

White Nationalists Reflect on the Sikh Temple Massacre in Wisconsin: "Don't these people see that they're hurting the White man?"

Two weeks ago dozens were killed and wounded in Aurora, Colorado. Sunday, a gunman shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in suburban Wisconsin. The "Gunfighter Nation" is apparently eating itself alive; the NRA continues to hand it the silverware and knives.

As I wrote here about  James Holmes and the relationship between Whiteness, media framing, and mass murder, today's barbaric happening in Wisconsin will not lead to a national conversation about "40ish year old bald white men" who go on murder sprees.

As such, we will never see a special investigative report called "White in America: Why do White Men Commit Mass Shootings?" on any major news network in the United States.

Likewise, there will be no special congressional hearing or "Beer Summit" where a panelist dares to ask either "What is wrong with white men?" or "Are white men exhibiting pathological violence in response to the Age of Obama?"

Black and brown folks have a common experience when we hear a news report about a particularly sensationalistic crime. We cross our fingers and hope that "he or she ain't one of us." Why? Because the Other is not allowed the luxury of being treated as an individual in this society; we are judged by the deeds of the few as opposed to the virtues of the many.

By comparison, white privilege is the luxury of radical autonomy, freedom from group stigma, and the default defense and excuse that comes with being an "individual"--one who is "normal"--and as such, is not at all impacted by the negative deeds of others in their tribe.

The Age of Obama has brought many telling moments that reveal the permanence of the color line and the continuing national drama that is race in America. Our national obsession is also one of bizarre moments and strange happenings.

I try to make sense of the madness. To paraphrase Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises, I put my hand into the muck, waste, and filth that is the white supremacist online community so you do not have to.

It would seem that some White nationalists are having their own "I hope he isn't white" moment following today's murder rampage in Wisconsin.

Here is a peek inside of the collective consciousness and racial id of malignant racially chauvinistic Whiteness. You are forewarned.

1. This isn't good folks no matter which way you slice it!! Damn...

2. Don't these people see that they're hurting the White man?

3. If this perp is some white neo-nazi idiot, like it sounds like, I'm going to be so f***ing po'd. Typical redneck idiot ruining everything we work for, and try to separate ourselves from. Now this will fuel more liberal bs on all fronts. We'll probably hear how he thought they were muslims and went on some rant. GOD DAMMIT. I'm sick of these god damn idiots ruining the reputation of our race.

4. The hits keep coming. White males of America, I know you're frustrated, but channel that anger into productive, positive ways of helping your people. People say it's poor black males that need role models. WE need role models. We've forgotten how to act when stress goes through the roof.

5. Or someone trying to make us all look like we're hate groups. Sure enough this is probably going to be seen as a racist crime.

6. This was a BIG mistake if White nationalists are involved. Lets hope they are White muslims (which given the bad history between Sikhs and Muslims they probably are).

7. We have two possiblities here. One is we have a white man who did something rash, monstrous and crazy without regard for how it will impact the rest of us. The other is this is the work of someone who was turned into a Manchurian Candidate, and therefore this is another false flag attack. Since it's clear the gunman was shot and probably killed by police, it doesn't look like it would be the work of a Mossad agent, who would prefer to get away with murder literally. This is only going to harm our rights and interests because this isolate incident will be used to paint all whites with the same brush, as well as suppressing the far more numerous hate crimes against us.

8. If this guy is white, or worse a 'neo-nazi' (as the media say) then he is a complete and utter moron, disgrace and is the problem with our movement.Anybody on here agreeing with what he did (if he is white) is also a disgrace, things like this destroy and hurt our views, and completely turn other whites off us. And why the hell did this cretin go for Sikhs!? There are not a major problem, they are relatively few in number, peaceful, and dont cause whites any problems. They are also a lot more intelligent than Muslims and blacks and do not deserve this.

9. Whatever colour they are, they were innocent people and did not deserve this. If you think they did deserve this then you are a sick individual and part of the reason that our views are not taken seriously by the masses.

10. This guy is a grade A scumbag, I pray to god he was not a member on here....can you imagine the media? Please anybody, do not sympathise with what this man did, it just makes us all look really bad and puts many people off coming around to our views, and the truth.

11. Agreed. The man is scum and the exact opposite type of people we should be aligning ourselves with. If he turns out to be a white nationalist, it will hurt us so, so much. This is not the answer.

What Animal Related Charity Should I Donate Our Liberating Slavery "Collectibles" Money To?

I would like to thank all of you who donated to WARN's first effort to reclaim some of the slavery artifacts which are now being offered as "collectibles" on Ebay. I would also like to thank the folks at the Daily Kos, as well as the kind people from the Jim Crow Museum, who reached out to me with guidance and advice.

Collecting these objects remains a very worthy effort. However, it is also far more complicated than I first imagined when I was struck by visions of playing black Indiana Jones.

In all, there is a great project here, and one that deserves a good deal of planning and infrastructure. As I learned by talking to people with more expertise than I have regarding these matters, there are many fake and replica slave artifacts on the market. As a practical matter, it is going to be difficult to authenticate objects purchased via Ebay. I do not want your donations to subsidize the very disrespect for our honored dead which sparked your individual acts of generosity. The irony would be priceless: we get some money together to obtain some of these objects and we end up rewarding the very folks who are disrespecting the Black Freedom Struggle and Maafa. The thought was very upsetting to me.

This does not mean that I am going to cease my efforts to reclaim these objects and give them a proper home. I have a friend who works at the Smithsonian and I am going to ask her for some guidance on what resources are available to authenticate slavery artifacts. I also have a colleague who has experience with grants and foundation work. Once we put together the right mix of people, and sketch out a mission statement for a proposed organization, then we can do this on the scale it deserves.

In lieu of sending your money off to a stranger on Ebay, I am going to donate what we collected to a pet related charity. I am torn between donating our funds to a large and established group like the North Shore Animal League or a smaller fund that helps low income people provide emergency medical care to their animal family members. There are also quite a few wonderful pet sanctuaries that specialize in providing forever homes to our animal friends who are "unadoptable" for whatever reasons. If you personally know of a program that I should consider donating to, please email me their info.

On a related matter, the film and culture website Shadow and Act has a great feature essay which offers suggestions and guidance about using Kickstarter to raise money that could be of interest to some of you (I wish I had read it a few months ago).

As I learned from this experiment, asking folks for money--and doing it successfully--requires quite a bit of time, effort, and planning.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Limits of Living History: Reenacting the Murder of Black Sharecroppers at Moore's Bridge in Georgia


One of my favorite recent discussions here on WARN explored the relative value of wonderful series of historical reenactments, role-playing games, and living history. The above video is a logical extension of those earlier topics.

How do you make real The Death Camps, The Trail of Tears, The Middle Passage, or other moments when the banality of evil was real and not an abstraction? By attempting to play with history and "making it real" do we not in fact risk cheapening the memories of our honored dead? What can historical reenactments do to communicate the truth of these experiences?

For example, the annual reenactment of how black sharecroppers were killed in 1946 at Moore's Ford Bridge in Georgia is important, should be respected, and are good gestures in the spirit of "we will never forget!" I also acknowledge the power of rituals for helping the public to put into some context the particular dynamics of the past, and how history--and what it says about Power as well as "winners and losers"--lives in to the present. 

Moreover, rituals matter to the degree that they bring together people in a ceremony to talk with one another, and also to grow as a community in processing a common experience. Anti-racism as an ethic and vocation should, and ought to, include such exercises.

Here is where you all can help me. I have a dark and twisted imagination. I can conjure up things in my mind through reading a powerfully evocative piece of literature, biography, or non-fiction that are just as real as any movie or TV show--if not more so. 

I do not laugh or mock those of us who need to "see" a thing in order to accept it as real. We all have different gifts. I also do not want to minimize the noble intentions of the good people who want to remind their neighbors of the naked racism and brutal violence of lynch law--what was one of the de facto ways that white supremacy was enforced in the United States for at least a century or more. 

There is a drama to historical reenactments around slavery and other tragedies which presupposes that the agents involved actually cared, that the perpetrators of violence, death, abuse, and murder, thought themselves involved in a great morality play or human theater. Some undoubtedly did--their egos demanded it.

However, I would guess that most people who lynched, murdered, raped, or killed in mass, did so simply because they could. We oftentimes impose dramatic frame upon deeds that were not at all difficult or opaque to those who were doing the killing. I will even reach a bit farther and suggest that those suffering at the end of the rope or bullet did not think of the moment in "Shakespearean" terms as they were possessed by fear, and just wanted to survive.

How can once capture the honored ancestors' experiences through a play ritual such as this one? Should a person even try such a thing?

Some questions as always.

1. What type of white folks would volunteer to play the role of murders? Isn't this a type of self-aggrandizing white guilty liberal self-flagellation?

2. What type of black folks would volunteer to play the role as victims of a lynching or a hate crime? 

3. Is this an altruistic performance? Is is a performance begging for attention? Does it minimize the historical legacy of all parties involved?

4. Why are so many afraid of the possibility that the violence of lynching meant very little to those who committed those murders, that it was an "obligatory" and "mundane" act to them? 

6. We want cartoon killers and cartoon victims. We do not want the killer next door to be real. Why is this?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Still Liberating Slavery Collectibles from Ebay: Did Sasha and Malia Obama's Ancestors Wear "Slave Tags" Like This One?



 ...Rare 1860 Charleston Mechanic # 502 Slave Tag/Hire Badge....Dug Near Charleston South Carolina.... COA and Provenance will be included. 
This is highest numbered Mechanic tag known of all Mechanic tags. 
All lettering and numbers are very bold on this tag. It is as dug and rinsed only.
Sweet deep patina,pleasing to look at, It came out of real good soil. 
This is the last year for tags to be issued before the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. 
This slave tag is guaranteed authentic forever and will ship in a nice display case with complete provenance and a signed letter of authenticity. 
There is no middle-man ,I am the digger. Required Insurance and delivery confirmation is included with free shipping. Never buy a Slave Tag on eBay or anywhere else without asking questions,unless you know and trust the seller. 
You are dealing with honest sellers and the actual diggers of our relics. 
All were found in South Carolina on private lands with permission. 
Thank you...Kathy and Bill...
**** 


While I get annoyed at NPR's annoying, repetitive fundraising efforts I have learned that this money collecting business requires lots of persistence, gentle prodding, and monitoring. 

[For example, I did not know that Paypal had "locked" our donation account without my knowledge because I did not provide proof that the monies were going to a charitable cause. My answer to them: We don't know what the cause is yet. Apparently, they found that confusing. 

Surprisingly, as I explained that we were trying to buy slavery artifacts online, the customer service rep became quite interested and fascinated in the venture. 

In short, kind folks had been trying to donate but were unable to do so. I have resolved that technical glitch]

A few months back I began collecting donations in order to purchase some slavery artifacts off of Ebay. The idea that these sacred objects were available as mere collectibles to buy online as kitsch or a "conversation starter" sickened me.

To that end I put up our handy counter on the sidebar. We received quite a few donations in a three day period, and I would like to thank all of those who supported the effort. As I noted in my original post, I will do my best to get any objects authenticated, will share a receipt of sale so that you know the money was used as promise, and will find a proper home in a museum or public collection for whatever we buy together.

I extended the timeline for the donations until the end of August. I am going to cut that down a few weeks so that we can get this wrapped up. If we do not get enough money to make a reasonable bid on an artifact, I will donate the money to a no-kill animal shelter or refuge.

If we get enough interest, one of my colleagues is going to help me put together a proposal to use Kickstarter, as well as to see if we can get some foundation money to make more purchases. My only concern is that we do not want to create an inflated market for these items. Any thoughts on getting around that puzzle of supply and demand would be most welcome.

There are quite a few of these "slave tags" available for purchase online. Many folks do not know that African American bondsmen were frequently required to wear registration tags--just like dogs--if they were routinely allowed to travel off of the plantation as part of their "work."

This was especially true of slaves with artistic or technical skills who would often live apart from their owner and send him or her their earned wages. In major cities this was a common arrangement. In the popular imagination, the image of the slave on the plantation has come to be synonymous with the "peculiar" institution. However, black slaves worked as shipwrights, in mines, as blacksmiths, and in other skilled trades. 

Labor has value. Slaves who had particular mechanical skills were particularly sought after by those who profited through the blood and exploitation of chattel slavery. They were quite a bargain after all--their owner gets to keep the majority of the wages, has prestige and bragging rights because of their human property's uncommon skills, and their chattel lives away from the plantation and is thus responsible for their own upkeep and care.

Isn't capitalism grand? Your/our/mine ancestors and fellow Americans were reduced to human property, and marked as such, by slave tags like the one above. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Real Problem With Mitt Romney's "Bad Culture" Thesis: Books That People Lie About Reading So That They Can Sound All Smart and Stuff

Mitt Romney's whirlwind tour of Europe and Israel did not go well. He repeatedly suggested that "bad culture" and a "love of freedom" are variables which determine why some societies succeed and others fail. As many observers have smartly pointed out, this is a common problem for conservatives. They are apparently incapable of understanding (or acknowledging) the relationship between culture, institutions, individual agency, and life outcomes.

Thus, Mitt Romney's blind spot on this issue is quite typical. For example, Rick Santorum's observation(s) about how black Americans are parasites who live off of white people was interlaced with the suggestion that if "inner city" people just got married they would get jobs and the economy would improve. Of course, Santorum is confusing outcomes and causal variables.

Ironically, Romney's flattening of history and simple-minded view of societal development is actually pretty funny. He ignores how Israel has kept Palestine in near-Apartheid conditions. The Germans, Poles, and Brits who love "freedom" also live in countries where there is much more government intervention in the economy, and which feature a more robust social safety net than the United States.

In developing his claims about why societies succeed or fail, Romney quoted two books that he considers among his favorites. These are Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, as well as The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes.

Both texts are favorites among talking point conservatives and others who want to count themselves among the "literate" classes. Based on his piss poor understanding of the arguments presented by Landes and Diamond I would suggest that 1) Romney quickly--and dishonestly--read these books to prove his own priors; 2) Romney read an executive summary of these books and gleamed something he could use; or 3) Romney never read either of these books and repeated what his aides or a colleague told him to say about them.

[Updated: in today's NY Times, Diamond himself suggests that Romney likely did not read Guns, Germs, and Steel.]

Mitt Romney may not have the common touch. However, he is just like many regular people in how he wants to sound like a stupid person's idea of what it means to be smart. This posturing works well for his conservative base given that they also hold hackery such as Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism in such high regard, and consider intellectual snake oil flimflam salesmen like pseudo-historian David Barton to be serious thinkers.


Guns, Germs and Steel, as well as The Wealth and Poverty of Nations are part of a pantheon of books that are discussed by many, but in fact are never really engaged or read in much depth. For a certain crowd, texts such as those look good on the bookshelf, mentioned online in a comment or blog post, or thrown about to score points in a partisan debate. However, if you ask for specifics, said folks often have little to offer except what the dust jacket and reviewers say.

As a public service (or even a confessional of sorts), let's make a list of books that many people want to claim as having read, but we damn well know they did not finish...or in many cases even really begin.

In no particular order here are a few of my immediate suggestions:

1. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy
2. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
3. Any book written by Ayn Rand
4. The End of History by Francis Fukuyama
5. On Tyranny by Leo Strauss
6. What's the Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank
7. The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
8. The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek
9. The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois
10. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
11. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes
12. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
13. Rules of Radicals by Saul Alinsky
14. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John Mearsheimer
15. The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Did President Obama's "Free" African-American Ancestors Own Black Slaves?

History is a trickster (again).

In all of the excitement over the "revelation" that President Obama is apparently a descendant from John Punch, the first African-American slave in the colonies, many glossed over the following bit of important information.

From ABC News:
The enslaved, black Punch had children with a free white woman. Because their mother was free, Punch's mixed-race kids were born free and went on to become "prominent" land owners in Virginia, Harman said.
Who are these people? What connection did they have to the growing slaveocracy and slave regime?

There were quite a few free blacks and mulattoes who owned African-Americans as human property. Slaves (and their labor) was the number one capital good in the United States up until the Civil War. To be landed and wealthy--or to have aspirations for such social mobility--meant that a white person would likely own slaves. 

These arrangements varied. Sometimes free blacks "owned" their children, relatives, or spouse in order to protect them from slave catchers. Other times the relationships were the same as those between white slave owners and their human property--slaves were an investment, owned as property, and treated as such by their free black masters.

It would seem that some basic research suggests that John Punch's descendants were slave owning mulattoes whose descendants likely "passed" over from black to white. This data set listing the "Free Africans Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware" offers support for this hypothesis. As also noted by Ancestry.com's release of the genealogy research on Obama's family, "John Punch" was the father of "John Bunch":
The Bunch family probably descended from John Bunch, born say 1630, who received a patent for 450 acres in New Kent County on 18 March 1662 [Patents 5:152]. He may have been the ancestor of several mixed-race members of the family: 
1        i. Paul1, born say 1675.
2        ii. John1. born say 1684.
3        iii. Henry1, born say 1690. 
1.    Paul1 Bunch, born perhaps 1675, received a patent for 265 acres in North Carolina on the south side of the Roanoke River joining Quankey Pocosin and Gideon Gibson on 1 January 1725, and he bought a further 300 acres joining this land [Halifax DB 8:283]. He may have been the same Paul Bunch who was listed in the King William County, Virginia Rent Roll in 1704. 
His Chowan County will was written on 16 November 1726 and probated on 10 March 1726/7 [SS 876, 3:138-9]. He left his land and eight slaves to his son John and to Fortune Holdbee and her daughters Keziah and Jemima. Elizabeth Bunch (no relationship stated) and his daughter Russell received only one shilling each.(1) He did not mention a wife nor did he mention his relationship to Fortune Holdbee. She may have been his common-law wife since he gave her one slave as long as she remained single. 
The May 1734 Bertie court minutes referred to Keziah as "an orphan Child Entitled to a considerable Estate ... (by the will of Paul Bunch) bound to Capt. Thos. Bryant till the age of Thirty one contrary to law," and the August 1735 Bertie County court Minutes referred to the estate of "a Mulatto woman, Keziah Holdebee, and three children [Haun, Bertie County Court Minutes, I:135, 154]... 
Henry1 Bunch Sr., probably born about 1690, was a resident of Chowan County on 18 December 1727 when he purchased 200 acres in Bertie County on Reedy Branch. On 30 May 1729 he purchased 640 acres in Bertie on Conaritsat Swamp from Thomas Pollock [DB C:21, 266]. He was taxed on himself and two slaves in the 1750 Bertie County summary tax list and was a "Free Mulatto" taxable with two slaves in John Hill's 1763 Bertie tax list. Henry made a will in Bertie on 21 April 1775, proved in August 1775. He had already deeded 840 acres of land on Conaritsat and Mulberry to his grandson Jeremiah, Jr., in 1765, and in his will left most of the remainder of his land to his grandson Cader Bass [WB B:34-7]. 
I wonder about the human experience that lies behind a ledger entry as property to be bequeathed with the horses, furniture, and land, passed from one person to the next upon the death of a family scion or patriarch.

What were their stories?

The race making business was and is messy, dirty, confusing, and complicated stuff. In the United States, the complexities and contradictions of the color line, and the struggles to unmake it, are perfectly present in the literal body of President Barack Obama. He is the descendant of the country's first black bondsman, the latter's ancestors would then go on to own other African-Americans as chattel, and their line would come full circle with Barack Obama as President of the United States.

I do not know if such a story is a tragedy or a triumph. Nevertheless, the human drama is simultaneously both bizarre and fascinating.


He Got It From His White Momma: Barack Obama Related to First Black Slave in the United States



Barack Obama is now American "royalty" twice-over. He is the first President of the United States who happens to be black. And with the discovery of his genealogical ties to John Punch, the first African bondsman in America, Obama can trace his family lineage back to the genesis of that most cruel and peculiar institution known as chattel slavery.

As I wrote about here, the "discovery" of President Obama's blood ties to the beginnings of slavery in the United States are part of a broader political and cultural moment. The United States is renegotiating and struggling with how race is central (or not) to American identity. As the United States becomes more black and brown, Whiteness is figuring out--as it always has--the ways in which it can adapt and evolve in order to maintain its dominant position.

Genealogy is one of the "technologies of race" where science helps to situate people individually, collectively, and relative to one another in the service of Power.

For example, Henry Louis Gates' various DNA escapades are largely about fashioning a new and more cosmopolitan and "global" understanding of race and the Black Atlantic.

The efforts to trace Michelle Obama's lineage back through slavery and to white-wash the rape of her ancestors is a dishonest ploy to write the (black) First Lady back into an approved and sanitized version of the American story. Shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? are parallel efforts to play on the hard times myths of white ethnics, so that in a time of increasing racial diversity white folks can use their own family stories as leverage against the particular and unique justice claims made by people of color.

Ancestry.com's discovery that President Obama was descended from John Punch through his white mother's family line is also a teachable moment for a country that is blindly ignorant of how chattel slavery was and remains central to the American story.

Like many whites in the 17th century, Punch entered the country as an indentured servant. As slavery was evolving, racial lines hardened. White elites created a system that privileged "whites" and marginalized "blacks." These were decisions made by individuals working in the service of a particular set of political, social, and economic interests. Oftentimes, there is a tendency by some to naturalize slavery as something that was unavoidable; alternatively, many apologists deploy the intellectually lazy claim that these white elites "were products of their time." Sure they were, and who cares?

The abolitionists and others who fought against the slave regime were products of their time as well.

[This moment will also produce the normal complaints whenever we confront white supremacy's legacies in the present or dare to talk about the TransAtlantic slave trade and the Black Holocaust. Some white folks and others will defensively howl, "every society had slaves, get over it!" The reply here is always an easy one. 

First, chattel slavery in the Americas and across the Black Atlantic was unprecedented in human history. Second, if America is so exceptional, unique, and noble, why ought we hold ourselves to such a low standard where "if everybody else did it, then it must be okay?"]

In all, Barack Obama's ancestry is a reminder that slavery was a process where American, and in particular Southern society, moved from one where some people happened to be slaves, to a slave society where the majority of blacks were held as human property. This legacy of the color line is still with us today as seen through disparities in wealth, income, life expectancy, social mobility, health outcomes, and incarceration rates.

As a practical matter, this discovery will likely have little impact on how President Obama is viewed by either his supporters or opponents. The President has been racialized by the White Right since the 2008 campaign, and he will be further "blackened up" as the 2012 race continues. The discovery of Obama's connections to slavery will do little to hurt with with a crowd that already sees him as anathema to American ideals, a black brigand and usurper, and hates the very fact that a person of color (and his family) is in the White House as anything other than as a janitor or chambermaid.

For his supporters, especially those in the black community, Obama's African-American ancestry (which can now be traced all the way back to the crucible and smelting pot of race in the United States) will make him no less popular or beloved. The President identifies himself as a black American by experience, affinity, and birthright. With this discovery, Obama now simply has the blood and soil DNA bonafides which link him back to the African-American founders of this country. And no, his "relationship" to John Punch will not make President Obama any more likely to speak directly about the particular needs of black and brown folks in the United States.

I do have two fleeting thoughts however. As observers such as Shelby Steele, Randall Kennedy and others pointed out during the 2008 Presidential Race, part of Obama's appeal is that he was not one of those "angry blacks" who can trace their lineage back to White America's national sin of black enslavement and mass murder. Obama was the "safe black" who did not remind white voters of their collective shame and guilt--and thus did not fully activate feelings of white racial resentment. Will the discovery of President Obama's ancestry challenge this bargain?

Perhaps I have seen Batman The Dark Knight Rises too many times? (four as of yesterday) But, in taking a cue from Commissioner Gordon's advice to Nightwing a young detective, there are few coincidences in life. Why was this information released about President Obama's genealogy now? Who wins and loses by making such a revelation so near election day?