Saturday, October 20, 2012

At Least Black Conservatives are Unhappy: New Research Suggests That African-Americans Feel "Less Empowered" Under Barack Obama

Hailed by some as the “end of race as we know it” and the beginning of a “post-racial” America, the 2008 election of Barack Obama sparked a measurable bump in feelings of political empowerment among black Americans.

But those sentiments have faded considerably over the last year or so, according to a new analysis of political survey data, with the sharpest declines in perceived political power coming from blacks who identify themselves as conservatives or “born again” Christians.

“The election of a black American to the U.S. presidency did seem to empower African Americans, causing an increase in levels of perceived freedom,” writes James L. Gibson, PhD, the Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government and professor of African and African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

“But that increase seems to have been epiphenomenal, with perceived levels of freedom after 2009 soon reverting to their prior level. The boost in empowerment that earlier research has documented may be of little long-term consequence. Instead, ideology and religiosity are now fairly strongly connected to perceptions of freedom among black Americans.”
Something fun and short for the weekend.

As Pastor Manning says, you blacks are an incorrigible group of people! What can possibly satisfy you? What would make you happy? How do you define political empowerment?

Professor James Gibson at Washington University would seem to agree:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered!" Cornel West Wants You All to Get in Line Behind President Obama and Defeat Mitt Romney

See, folks far smarter than me are telling you rapscallions to get in line behind Obama because a Romney presidency would simply be unacceptable. Sometimes the strategic and tactically sound choice involves sacrificing some pawns in order to play the deeper game.

Ultimately, a quest for perfect moral clarity, and a "perfect" candidate, will leave us all suffering and far worse off.

The Nader supporters ushered in Bush the Junior in 2000; those who are bailing on Obama are paving the way for Romney-Ryan. We cannot let such a scenario play out (again).

From Cornel West's interview with Vice:

The Real Burdens of a Black President? Double Standards and Polite White Racism

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a great essay on Barack Obama and the burdens of representation and blackness that folks should the time to read. I have argued that boxing analogies are a very poor fit for politics. But, part of Coates' genius is that he can take a bad example, and salvage it so nicely, in order to make a trenchant point. He knows his cultural politics quite well. When I grow up I would like to be able write like him:
In 1936 Joe Louis faced off against Max Schmeling. Louis was young and undefeated. More significantly for our purposes, he was the pride of his people. The shadow of Jack Johnson still loomed -- a man who had lived a sordid life, consorted with white women, and drove the country to riot.  Unlike Johnson, Louis was a "credit to his race." He was clean. He didn't trash talk. He handled his business in the ring and humbly returned to his corner.  He was distinctly aware of his status as a standard-bearer, an ambassador, for his people, and his people loved him for not embarrassing them... 
Like Joe Louis, like Warren Moon, like any black person significant for the fact of being black, I imagine that Barack Obama would love to have only the burden of being great at his craft. All presidential candidates represent something larger than themselves, and in that sense their loss is always broadly shared. But few classes in America have so little to lose as the one Obama represents. 
This is an enormous burden to carry. Obama is hated because he is black. Obama is loved by some because he is black, the President of the United States, and the embodiment of a particular type of black genius. His blackness is a source of strength. It is also a liability. He is in many ways obligated to a community. But, Obama cannot claim that community lest he remind his detractors that he is a member of it. 

Obama was able to win the presidency because he was an "exceptional negro" and a "good one" when viewed through the white gaze. However, such praise existed in a vacuum, was contingent, and could easily default back to a position where being black, American, breathing air, and nearby was good enough to jettison one's support for him. Obama's blackness is like a version of the Rock of Sisyphus: it grounds him and offers some protection. But, it is also a liability. 

Barack Obama is going to lose the election in November. This will create a cottage industry for analysts, political scientists, historians, and others who study American politics. I have always thought that the more interesting question regarding Obama was not if a black person could be elected president. Rather, what we should have been asking was, could a black president be reelected to a second term?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Would a Member of the Black Bourgeoisie Fry Chicken in His Underwear?

What does it mean to be a member of the black bourgeoisie? Is this an aspirational title? Is it measured by profession, trade, or economic resources?

I embrace the idea that we should all engage in acts of critical self-reflection when appropriate. Our conversation about Obama's performance in last night's debate where he mercilessly beat upon Mitt Romney, and the latter provided many options for a far more thorough thrashing than he received, prompted the following observation from one of our frequent commenters (the aptly named) Invisible Man:
Our President is the manifestation of Black Bourgeoisie Politics and you are the messenger. White liberals need/ promote Black Bourgeoisie politics because it attacks (and you are a intellectual pit bull at this) Republicans and the right wing who are a direct threat to them and the small Black Bourgeoisie class.
I appreciate this formulation because 1) it strokes my ego and furthers a fiction that my commentaries are read by the gatekeepers and "powers that be" who have yet to send a brother a check; and 2) it suggests that there is a coincidence/coordination of strategy and tactics by critics in the black counter-public of the Right-wing's nefarious political agenda.

While this model is appealing, we must be very cautious lest the conspiranoid fantasies of conservatives about a black hive mind, and Operation Black Steel, be confirmed in the service of advancing a fiction with does not serve our collective self-interest or the Common Good.

I do wish African-Americans were so organized.

We quite simply ain't.

The reasons are many. These include the systematic targeting and destruction of black indigenous community organizations by the state, for example. An inability to rally behind a common goal--other than that of electing a Black President--is also hobbled by the class divisions within the African American community, the ethnicization of the race, and resource scarcity.

Here is a puzzle. Barack Obama is a president who happens to black. He is the Head of State and Chief Executive of the most powerful country on Earth. However, the political interests of black and brown folks remain marginalized in the public sphere (and mass public too) and our life chances are significantly diminished compared to white Americans regardless of our class backgrounds.

Moreover, there is a broad belief that the politics of black respectability ought to still be leveraged for the purpose of black self-improvement and political empowerment. In short, despite the public protests to the contrary by the black public intellectual set, we all know that Bill Cosby did not say anything about the behavior of the ghetto underclass that is not self-evident to even the most half-opened eye and/or fair observer.

But, the Black Superpublic and the Black Culture Industry make even the most debased and derogatory representations of black humanity--see Chief Keef for example--a fiction that becomes real for the white gaze and those people of color who have internalized it.

And even if we were able to create a synergy of black political mobilization, respectability, and resources, the crises of a failed economy, social institutions, and infrastructure that decades ago deindustrialized black and brown inner city communities are stubbornly resistant to the types of citizen activism that many in the public would like to pursue. How can one fight anti-democratic institutions with democratic means?

I am not, nor have I even been, a member of the black bourgeoisie. I also do not eat fried chicken or watermelon in either "mixed" company or in public. I also fry chicken wearing only my underwear and have many lurid fantasies of beautiful women in my kitchen similarly attired, cooking, topless, grease splattering on their pert nipples as my hands wander all over their bodies from behind, before the angry lingam makes glorious union with a ready, happy, and hungry yoni

Ultimately, I am not a member of the black bourgeoisie for many reasons--first and foremost because I do not think they would have me. Nor, would I want to join any club that would take me as a member.

What says you about all of this black bourgeoisie stuff?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Barack Obama's "Steel Curtain" Brought Mitt Romney's Post-Truth "Wildcat" Offense to its Knees in the Second Debate

President Obama just ethered Mitt Romney.

Barack Obama delivered a clinical beat down of Mitt Romney in the second presidential debate. Obama supporters will still be holding onto their misplaced dream that the President's poor performance in the first debate was some deep game of political chess. They remain incorrect.

Tonight's outcome is far more simply explained: Barack Obama was much more prepared for his second outing against Mitt Romney. While boxing is a poor fit for describing Obama and Romney's first debate, this second contest is akin to the wildcat offense in football. Romney's trick play of obfuscation, factual pivots, and post-truth speech was countered by a well-practiced and prepared defense. At this point, Romney is running a one-dimensional offense and was exposed as such. This allowed President Obama to score on both offense and defense (almost) at will.

Entering the debate I was, and remain concerned, about the stylistic limitations faced by Barack Obama in these presidential debates. Obama lost the first match because he was passive and too gentlemanly. The public and his advisers clamored for the President to show some fortitude, passion, and energy against Mitt Romney, to confront him on what is an obviously disconnected relationship from empirical reality and the facts. In short, Obama had to act "presidential."

However, he is also a president who happens to be black, playing a game that was not designed for a man who looks like him.

Obama is also a black man with all of the stereotypes, projections, and insecurities of the white racial frame transposed onto him. Of course, the Fox News crowd saw an "uppity" and "arrogant" and "threatening" black man on stage. When Barack Obama wakes up in the morning and breathes air the white racial resentment and anti-black animus of the Right is immediately activated. Consequently, their verdict is predictable.

By comparison, like many of you, I too am blessed with what Du Bois described as the second sight that comes with life behind the veil of double-consciousness. This evening, I saw the country's first black president putting in work. The little man came from behind the stove and took Romney out at the knees.

Some thoughts and questions for you all.

1. Am I the only person who wished that there was a thought bubble above Mitt Romney's head? Am I alone in wishing that Romney would have broken script and ushered the racial epitaph that seemed poised to come out of his mouth at any moment?

2. Romney made "special efforts" to ensure that women were represented in his hiring and recruitment pool while Governor of Massachusetts. Funny thing, I did not know that he supported affirmative action (as what Romney did there is what said policy in practice usually involves). If the Right were at all intellectually honest, their heads would be spinning at Romney's policy position on the hiring of women--it stinks of being a "moderate."

3. Was Romney's rude demeanor a function of his entitlement as a rich man? A rich, privileged, straight, white man? His experiences as a CEO, and a particular social experience and identity wherein all people--especially women and people of color--are supposed to be deferent to him?

4. Why didn't Obama take Romney down regarding his lies about supporting Pell grants, a program he and Ryan would cut?

5. Let's call out a willful lie that is caused by conflating capitalism with democracy, and where government is framed as always being a societal evil. Governments do create jobs. They create jobs all of the time. Never mind the New Deal, we can point to many more recent examples of this fact. One does not need to go all wonky and start discussing Keynesian economics to make this basic point.

6. Why are Romney and the Right-wing echo chamber fixated on "Fast and Furious?" This is a conspiracy theory that is of little interest to low information voters and undecideds. When Romney and other talking-point conservatives bring this issue up they are confusing the general public (as most will think of the movie). Their insistence on that ineffective meme is a great example of how epistemic closure has intellectually and politically ghettoized the Right and conservatives in this country.

7. On first glance, am I the only person who thought that the brother who asked Obama a question was a black conservative plant like Herman Cain in 1994? Am I the only person, who realized that said audience member may have simply served up an easy pitch for Obama to knock out of the park with his great promo and stump speech?

8. Was the archetypal Fox News, Rush Limbaugh listener who was "hanging out with his boys" talking about the terrorist attack in Libya a Right-wing plant?

9. Romney had to feed the Culture War gods. Why are conservatives confused about a basic social science finding: people do not miraculously get jobs because they are married. Deindustrialization, and other structural inequalities contribute to the "bad culture" conservatives are so fixated on. Are they incapable of understanding this basic fact? What of all the "bad culture" in Red State America? A curious silence.

10. Apparently, Mitt Romney believes that all people are created equal. But, he belongs to a faith that until 1977 said that black people were second class citizens who go to a segregated heaven. Riddle you that one.

11. He was in the clear; why did Mitt Romney bring up his secret "47% of the American public are losers, bums, and parasites" video? Calculated risk or misstep out of desperation and confusion?

12. Obama mentioned his hometown of Chicago and the violence there. Cue the Fox News talk radio late night conspiracy talking point meme machine! "Obama," "Chicago," and "violence" are a home run for the conspiranoids on the Right.

Help Me Understand Mitt Romney: Racist T-Shirts Are "Reprehensible"; But a Concerted Campaign of Race-Baiting and the Southern Strategy 2.0 is Okay?

I take folks at face value.

In response to the negative media attention which followed the circulation of a photo of a white nationalist wearing a t-shirt that said "Make the White House White Again" at his rally in Ohio on Friday, Mitt Romney's campaign issued a press release calling such bigoted acts "reprehensible."

Mitt Romney apparently does not like white racists who show up at his rallies and provide photo ops which could hurt his chances at winning the White House.

However, I am left with a dilemma and a puzzle of sorts.

Mitt Romney has been running one of the most racist campaigns in recent American history against the country's first black president. While some folks are obsessed with the silliness of "lynched" chairs, racist t-shirts, and other nonsense, Mitt Romney has been offering up a mix of overt racism and covert "dog whistles" against Barack Obama that collectively draw upon some of the deepest and ugliest stereotypes about black humanity.

And for the most part, Romney has been playing in the muck of white racism for the purpose of electoral gains with little if any consequence. This is the magic trick of the Right and the Republican party in the post-civil rights era: they complain about overt racism as a means of distracting the public from the party's deep investment in a strategy of mobilizing white voters through racist appeals against people of color. Ultimately, the Republican Party is a White Party; they will do anything to get their people to vote...including deep and ugly appeals to white racism, white victimology, and identity politics.

In all, white racists at his rallies are a micro-level issue; Mitt Romney has been slinging white racism and white racial resentment in order to rile up white conservative voters and right-leaning independent on a national stage with many millions of viewers.

Thus, I must ask the following: how does Mitt Romney decide what constitutes "reprehensible" behavior? What is his decision-rule?

We have not played a game in some time. And as you all know, I do loves me a fun game.

Let's crowdsource this puzzle and try to figure out Romney's logic. Here, I offer a few examples which we in turn can place in three categories. They are as follows: reprehensible behavior; stuff that sort of isn't cool; things that are okay and why are you complaining?

My examples are far less than exhaustive. Please, do feel free to include your own, as well as an explanation for your logic as explained from Romney's sociopathic point of view.

Reprehensible Behavior:

Racist t-shirts which suggest that we should "Make the White House White Again";

Questions about Romney's tax returns;

Questions about Bane Capital and outsourcing jobs to China;

Questions about Romney's offshore accounts and tax shelters;

Questions about Romney's position on why he, as a 31 year old man, remained a member of a religion that until 1978 was formally racist and white supremacist against black people.

Stuff That Sort of isn't Cool

Romney's spokespeople saying that Obama does not understand the "special Anglo-American relationship";

Asking about how Romney's healthcare plan in Massachusetts is in anyway different from "Obamacare";

Asking for specifics about Romney's tax cuts for the rich, and how they will cost at least 5 trillion dollars.

Things that are Okay and Why are You Complaining?

Romney's jokes about birth certificates and how Obama is not an American citizen;

Romney's statement to his donors in private that 47 percent of the American people are leeches, parasites, bums, and surplus people that he does not care about;

Romney's statement in the same speech that life would be easier if he were born Hispanic--and he would be leading the polls--because white folks have it so hard in America;

Romney's spokespeople, Newt Gingrich and John Sununu, saying that Obama has a special rhythm and is a lazy negro who is not fit to be President because he likes playing basketball, going on TV, sleeping all day, and just being a rapscallion colored uppity fellow as opposed to doing his job as President;

Romney's lies that Obama stole money from Medicare;

Romney's lie that Obama is a welfare king who steals money from white people to give it to the lazy blacks;

Romney calling Barack Obama a "boy" to his face during the first presidential debate.

Monday, October 15, 2012

In Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" T-Dog is Still a Butler and Michonne is a Black Maid with a Sword

Some thoughts on The Walking Dead's newest season. Those of you who want a traditional review should go here. If you would like to remain spoiler free and/or have not read the comic books upon which the show is based, you are forewarned as there are minor spoilers ahead.

The third season of The Walking Dead premiered last night to record ratings. Based on the first episode of the new season, the show seems to be finding its stride after the abrupt departure of Frank Darabont last year. We have the obligatory gore, some cool zombies, and a narrative that is now firmly separate and apart from the source material--Rick Kirkman's great graphic novel series of which I am a long time devotee.

The TV show's effort to create its own universe is also the root of a major problem, one that remains unresolved from last year.

In "Seed," Rick Grimes and his party of survivors have finally reached the prison. This is a key storyline from the comic book which, to my eyes, was the moment where we knew that The Walking Dead was a great series. The comic book was built to last; the events that transpire with the prison and the Mayor simply reinforced that The Walking Dead was/is one of the finest entries in the zombie genre.

The graphic novel reached a crescendo in that moment because of the relationships which had been established between the characters. Now, with Shane having survived (which spun the TV series in a direction separate and apart from the comic book), Dale's death, and now Hershel being "crippled" (he is now a composite character who draws upon what happened to the latter character in the comic book), those relationships have been fundamentally changed. Adding an additional problem, the rich relationships between the people in the comic book are also not present in the TV series because the show has defaulted to tired stereotypes for its two African-American characters.

In the third season's premiere, T-Dog remains a semi-mute black buck butler who finally gets to talk about halfway into the episode. Michonne, a fan favorite, has been made into a black maid and "black best friend protector" for the white character Andrea. Historically, in the gaze of Hollywood Whiteness, black folks are put in stock roles and tropes. They are the best black friend, black servant or confidante, the "strong" black man or woman, the thug, the silent protector, the mammy, buck, or "the magical negro" whose only purpose is to help the white protagonist. Sadly, The Walking Dead TV show seems unable to break with that formula.

Why Were Elite Libertarian Intellectuals Not Interested in Discussing the "Race Problem?"

A blogger from the pro-immigration website Open Borders asked how often libertarians argued against, for example, segregation. 
I think the commenters (myself included) got it right when we said “some, but not much.” In other words, from time to time, libertarian intellectuals did talk about the evils of segregation. Usually, the issue is couched in terms of the use of state power to prohibit blacks from holding property and practicing certain occupations, like the law. Sometimes it was a commentary on what was good and bad in the Black freedom movement. There is the occasional talk of opposing colonialism. But overall, it was not an overwhelming response. 
The relatively weak answer to Black oppression is puzzling. Opposing Jim Crow was a no brainer from the libertarian point of view. Blacks had been slaves, which is the antithesis of personal freedom. Then, after Reconstruction, they had been subjected to humiliating and painful legal regulations in addition to extensive personal violence. While libertarians may disagree with liberals about the remedy for state violence and segregation, you would think that they would have been marching arm and arm with liberals in the 1960s. 
But that didn’t happen. Black repression takes a back burner on the libertarian shopping list. But why? I think it has to do with the sociology of elite libertarians.
We occasionally discuss libertarianism, race, and politics. I am a big fan of Fabio Rojas. He is cool people, really smart, and the author of the great book From Black Power to Black Studies. As such, I came across his post "Race and the Sociology of Elite Libertarian Intellectuals" over at his site and thought I would share it with you all to start the week.

My views on libertarian political thought are pretty straight forward. In a society that is structured by inequalities such as race, class, gender, and sexuality--and accepting the fact that we in the United States live in an imperfect democracy were privilege is reinforced by our social and political institutions--I am unwilling to surrender my earned and natural rights as a black American to the "liberty" or "freedom" of someone else to discriminate against me. Like many schools of political thought including Liberalism, Communitarianism, Socialism, etc. the abstract concepts cannot be separated from the social moment which birthed them, or the realities of the society in which they will be applied.

Here, I proceed from a number of inter-related premises. Racialized citizenship and the Racial State are real; black folks as a type of perpetual Other have been faced with the existential dilemma of "niggerization" in the West, and being marked as anti-citizens in America, specifically; Ultimately, I would suggest that libertarianism is best suited for 1) an idealized society where no real divisions of ascriptive representation exist, or 2) rich privileged white college students (and others) who are playing a political version of fantasy football and/or engaging in some other type of abstract counter-factual that can only reasonably exist after a game of beer pong.

Rojas plays around with this last element quite nicely however, where he speculates about what circumstances could have generated a strain of libertarianism that was both more anti-racist, as well as friendly to the concerns of people of color, a group which has been forced to repeatedly confront degenerate white supremacy in the United States in order to have their basic citizenship rights acknowledged and (somewhat) respected:
Roughly speaking, the people who defined the libertarian agenda in the mid to late 20th century were defined by two social processes. First, nearly all of the major libertarian intellectuals belonged to the Jewish diaspora in America. Some were refugees from East European communism, like Ayn Rand. The Austrian school of economics was lead by central European Jews like Mises and the second generation was led by New Yorker Murray Rothbard. Second generation Jews were also very prominent, like Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick, whose father, according to wiki, was from a Russian shtetl. While these writers did occasionally address Black issues, American civil rights probably did not loom in their minds as much fascism and socialism in Europe.  
Second, many, if not most, of the leading libertarian intellectuals were strongly rooted in American and Western European academia... 
Now, it didn’t have to be that way. Imagine if some group of Black intellectuals had set out to systematically develop an anti-statist political philosophy, much as Third World intellectuals developed indigenous versions of Marxism, like liberation theology. For example, what if DuBois had an evil twin brother who looked at the post-Reconstruction South and developed a theory of the state as an illegitimate racial coalition? Or, imagine, if some people in the Harlem Renaissance had taken a sort of proto-Tyler Cowen position about how capitalism allows black cultural forms to flourish?
I have always appreciate the appeal of libertarianism in the abstract for those of us who suffered under Jim and Jane Crow, chattel slavery, the lynching tree, and (now) colorblind racism. The state failed us. It was tyrannical and engaged in personal, legal, moral, ethical, economic, and existential violence against us. The state also looked away and allowed white racial violence to exist as the de facto law for post-Reconstruction America. Matters are complicated because the state also intervened to tear down the remnants of the Southern Slaveocracy, and in many ways has been a positive force that has intervened against the most obvious, overt forms of white supremacy.

What do you think are some moments when libertarianism could have chosen a "second or third way," pursuing a practical and sincere anti-racist agenda as opposed to being co-opted by the Southern Strategy, the New Right, and the "principled" racists of post-civil rights reactionary conservatism and the Tea Party GOP?

Which black and brown leaders, indigenous to the community as opposed to being imposed on it, could have lead the way in making libertarianism a legitimate part of the broader black political tradition?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Put the White Back in the White House": How Will Conservatives Spin This Photo from Mitt Romney's Rally on Friday?

Once more, conservatives show you who they always have been and are. I couldn't care less about one data point swimming about in a sea of information. But given Romney's naked appeals to white racism, how white supremacists have heard his "dog whistles" loud and clear, Romney and Ryan's repeated assertions that Obama, the country's first black President, does not understand "American" values, and the Right's use of some of the worst and most racist stereotypes about black people in the Age of Obama, this photo which was taken at a Mitt Romney rally on Friday should come as no surprise.

Together, white racism and racial resentment are the brand name of the Tea Party GOP. Consequently, Romey's public knows exactly what they are buying coming November 2012 when they vote against Barack Obama.

Conservatives and the Right-wing echo chamber have a great gift for reframing reality. In the post-truth era, if you think a thing is true, and you believe it to be so (and say it enough) said fiction must be therefore be real. The New Right are also conspiranoids who believe in rigged public opinion polls, white victimology, birtherism, phantom buses full of "illegal" minority voters, and that the most recent unemployment numbers have been manipulated in a grand ploy to defeat Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. As such, conservatives are capable of believing whatever the echo chamber births from its mania-state of perpetual epistemic closure, and a befouled womb.

They will excuse away and make excuses for the white nationalist who supports the Tea Party GOP, what is the country's de facto White Political Party. Let's get ahead of the curve and use our imaginations to figure out how conservatives will frame the following photo as its circulates throughout the Internet and other media this weekend.

Here a few suggestions:

1. No Republican or conservative can ever be racist! Only the Democrats and liberals see race because they founded the KKK! This man must be an Obama supporter!

2. Agent provocateur! He must be a member of the SEIU and a supporter of Saul Alinsky and a fascist Marxist. Liberals will do anything to make Mitt Romney and the Tea Party look bad.

3. The Romney logo on his t-shirt is a sticker. Just like the Democrats did when they infiltrated the Tea Party rallies a few years ago, the liberals are making their own t-shirts, sending out fake protesters, and doing whatever they can to make us look bad! If he was a real racist the Romney supporters would have kicked him out!

4. Scratch a liberal and you get a racist. He must be a libtard who supports Obama!

5. Okay, let's just use our imaginations and say the guy showed up uninvited to the Romney rally. Why blame all the good conservatives there? Reverse racists, anti-white bigots on TV, black liberal bigots, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the Internet, all hate conservatives. We have black conservatives at all of our rallies.

6. If Republicans hated the blacks why they be so prominently featured by us at our  meetings? We are the party of Abe Lincoln. The liberals are race obsessed and sick and they keep the blacks on the liberal plantation. Dems don't believe in what Dr. King said about being color blind.

7. If Obama and his supporters really cared about racism they would put the New Black Panthers in jail, prosecute Fast and Furious, impeach Eric Holder, and stop the cover-up about the embassy attack in Libya!
What would you add to this list? How would you help the Tea Party GOP spin and excuse-make for the white nationalists and other racists in their midst?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Forget Boxing, the 2012 Election is More Like Professional Wrestling

The news media and pundits love to use sports analogies when discussing American politics. When describing the 2012 race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, boxing is their sport of choice.

Obama's supporters have inaccurately described his defeat by Romney in the first debate as a version of a deep game that is modeled on Muhammad Ali's legendary "rope-a-dope" strategy against George Foreman. Romney's backers claimed that he scored a TKO over Barack Obama, leaving the President flat on his back in the ring after the first debate.

In keeping with the boxing metaphor, the second debate in the 2012 presidential campaign features Joe Biden, a wizened, experienced pugilist from the mean streets of Scranton versus a scrappy upstart with much to prove named Paul Ryan.

But what if the analogy is inaccurate?

Boxing is a poor fit for describing the presidential race between these two candidates. Boxing is a sport prefaced on merciless violence. People have been killed in the ring, or left handicapped, brain damaged, and physically broken by a match.

I am not not discounting the substantive differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama's approach to governance, public policy, or stewardship of the Common Good. This election represents a clear difference on issues such as reproductive rights, public schools and education, tax policy, and health care reform. I also think that a Romney presidency would border on the disastrous for a country struggling to find its way out of the greatest economic downturn in 80 years.

While the stakes are very high, a choice between Obama and Romney cannot be reduced to a blood sport. Yes, political polarization, the rise of the New Right, and the White populism of the Tea Party do signal an increasing chasm and gulf in our society, that if recent surveys and research are to be believed, has limited our ability to relate to one another and imperiled the ability of the State to respond to issues of common concern.

However, there are great areas of overlap between the Republicans and Democrats which are little discussed. Neither Obama or Romney will engage in a substantive discussion of wealth inequality, the destruction of unions and manufacturing, a flat minimum wage, and the power of economic elites in this country to subvert democracy.

Both will continue a policy of American empire and intervention abroad. Both Romney and Obama have demonstrated a lack of willingness to address the rise of the surveillance state, and the continual erosion of privacy and personal liberty under the guise of "the War on Terror."

And of course, Obama and Romney will not discuss the realities of the color line, the semi-permanence of white racism, and how race and class intersect to limit the life chances of many tens of millions of Americans.

In all, the 2012 election features a centrist Right-leaning Democrat who would have been a Rockefeller Republican in another era running against a flip-flopping, quasi-moderate, near sociopathic Republican who will do anything to win the White House. Regardless of the outcome, the Republic will survive; moreover, a fight over a very narrow area of public policy which does little to challenge Power will continue unabated.

Contemporary American politics is more like professional wrestling than a boxing match.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Face of Black Nihilism: The NY Times Goes Slumming and Discovers Chicago "Rapper" Chief Keef

Around the same time Chief Keef, who has spent much of this year under house arrest because of gun charges, threatened the older Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, who in a fit of reckoning the previous week expressed grievous concerns about the younger rapper’s nihilistic music. Keef threatened on Twitter to “smack him like da lil bitch he is.” Again, after an outcry, he said his account had been hacked. Finally, also last month, Chief Keef was relieved of his Instagram account after posting, also to Twitter, a photo of himself receiving oral sex from a woman.

By any measure, this is raw, difficult-to-consume stuff. That it’s coming from one of hip-hop’s most promising young stars newly signed to a major label makes it unusually scandalous. But what’s most surprising about the situation is that it highlights the vast gap between Chief Keef and the rest of hip-hop, at least its mainstream, popular incarnation.
Chicago based crap rapper and hyper thug race minstrel  Dadaesque minimalist emcee Chief Keef has climbed from the obscurity of the Internet and now has garnered the attention of the country's newspaper of record. The music press, blogs, social media, and various internet sites have been talking about Chief Keef for some time. While his video "I Don't Like" has received at least 17 million views, Chief Keef has also become even more noteworthy for his gang affiliations, violent feud with local Chicago rappers (one of which resulted in the death of a young man named "Lil JoJo"), and how he has been condemned as embodying everything wrong with commercial hip hop and black youth culture by such notable hip hop artists as Lupe Fiasco and Rhymefest.

Ultimately, Chief Keef reminds me of how I didn't leave hip hop. In many ways, hip hop left me. I still love her.

Let's be honest though: we all age out of youth culture.

At present, the commercial rap which is popular now is a product of a reality TV show Facebook culture where mediocrity is prized and talent eschewed. In the culture of illusion, we can all be famous. Sarah Palin with all of her human mediocrity and white trash populism can be a viable candidate for the highest office in the land. The Tea Party GOP, with its penchant for anti-intellectualism, racism, nativism, and conspiranoid fantasies, are a national force in the country's politics. The popularity of Chief Keef is a product of that same cultural low-water mark. As a member of the hip hop generation (and someone who has also written extensively about hip hop and black popular culture) I find this transition tragic and unfortunate, but not at all surprising.

Is the Republican Party a "Neo-Racist" Organization?

I present, as a test case, the issue of whether the Republican Party should be identified as a “neo-racist” entity...I want to test the theory that there is one truth in political discourse that the media has almost entirely failed to recognize or fears to utter, one at the heart of presidential campaign reporting: The Republican Party is an institutionally, structurally racist entity. It’s the veritable elephant in the room of campaign coverage. 
No, I’m not saying all Republicans are racist. I’m saying that as a party, ever since Goldwater and Nixon concocted the benighted, openly racist “Southern Strategy” in the ’60s, the Republican Party has profited from overt and covert racism.
Once more, and as we are fond of saying, racism is not an opinion.While Ron Rosenbaum is a bit off in his suggestion that "the media" has not been discussing Mitt Romney's racial appeals to aggrieved whites in order to defeat the country's first black president (see my pieces here, here, here, and here). He is also to be commended for finally broaching, on a national website of no small amount of prominence, the fact of Mitt Romney's support of his religion's white supremacist doctrines, and the latter's silence on the issue through a good portion of his adult life.

Moving forward, Ron Rosenbaum's essay "Is the Republican Party Racist?" does some great work synthesizing some new research by Thomas Schaller, Nicholas Valentino, and David Sears that explores white racial resentment and its impact on vote choice and issue positions. In this case, empiricism and rigorous social science inquiry offer no comfort for racism deniers (and those others) who want to excuse-make (or ignore) how racism is a driving element for Southern Republican voters:
Eventually the party became somewhat less overt in its public statements but not in its appeal at the voting booth. 
Which means in practice that the GOP starts out every presidential election with (depending on census changes in electoral vote numbers) some 100 electoral votes, more than a third of the way to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. 
Is it an accident that these 100 votes come from the core states of the Old Confederacy—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina? 
Looked at another way, as things stand, there would be no presidential "race" at the moment if it weren't for those ex-confederate states—even if they split their votes. Mitt Romney would have little or no chance of winning and might as well quit the race now. Nor would the GOP have much chance of re-taking the Senate or even winning the House again. They would be dead as a political party if not for the legacy of racism. I think that's a fact. Do you think it's "he said/she said"? 
That doesn’t mean that all Southern whites vote GOP only because of race. But when I checked in with the careful historian of Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Rick Perlstein, author ofbooks on the Goldwater and Nixon phenomena, he suggested that recent research has demonstrated that racial attitudes—as opposed to mere conservatism on other policy issues—determine Republican votes in the South... 
At the very least these patterns make Southern voters susceptible to what some observers have called "dog whistle" appeals to racism, such as Mitt Romney's false claim in campaign ads that Obama had "gutted" welfare reform work requirements, reminding many of Reagan-era attacks on "welfare queens" in Cadillacs.
In all, racism pays a psychic wage to those who are White. It can also be financially enriching to those people of color, such as black conservatives, who are overly identified with White authority.

Whiteness is an identity based upon exclusion, and where support of the Common Good across the color line is washed away by racial chauvinism. The story is also a complicated one: white racial animus also does the work--at least in theory--of securing more resources and power for the in-group, even while such benefits are not accrued equally for all white people: this is the cruel realpolitik calculus underlying the Wages of Whiteness.

The contemporary Republican Party has been able to leverage these dynamics. Under the Southern Strategy, and Mitt Romney's masterful mix of overt white racist appeals and "dog whistles," the Tea Party GOP has been able to maintain a strong base of support as the country's de facto White Political Party.

Ultimately, the Confederacy and the demons of Jim and Jane Crow are the lifeblood of the Republican Party's electoral strategy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Dreams of the White Right: The Free Republic's Fantasies of Killing "Minority Urban Youths"

In my scenario, the initial riots begin spontaneously across affected urban areas, as SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) and other government welfare recipients learn that their EBT cards no longer function.
This sudden revelation will cause widespread anger, which will quickly lead to the flash-mob looting of local supermarkets and other businesses. The media will initially portray these “food riots” as at least partly justifiable. Sadly, millions of Americans have been made largely, or even entirely, dependent on government wealth transfer payments to put food on their tables...

Most of the mobs will consist of minority urban youths, termed MUYs in the rest of this essay. Which minority doesn’t matter; each urban locale will come with its own unique multi-ethnic dynamic...
 Some locales will divide upon religious or political lines, but they will not be the dominant factors contributing to conflict. In the American context, the divisions will primarily have an ethnic or racial context, largely because that makes it easy to sort out the sides at a safe distance. No need to check religious or political affiliation at a hundred yards when The Other is of a different color.
We Americans are all about doing things the easy way, so, sadly, visible racial and ethnic features will form the predominant lines of division.
I am not a "shook one." It simply ain't in my nature. I am also not a badman (although in my fantasies, I am a bit of a "bad nigger." But then again, who isn't?).

I am also not a fool who ignores obvious threats to my safety and security.

If you are a public figure--even a mid tier blogger or freelance writer--you learn to develop a thick skin. This is especially true if you write about matters such as race and politics. Hate mail is common; it is to be expected. I imagine that as soon as we upright walking apes developed speech that one of us threw a rock at the leader of the tribe in order to show disapproval. In the age of the Internet, cyber racism has become a common means of silencing conversation, and of intimidating people of color (as well as our white allies and other decent folk).

There is a concerted effort by the White Right to threaten and bully those with whom they disagree. The White Right is organized, coordinated, and sophisticated. Because political thought and speech are the antecedents of political action and violence, we ignore the intimate relationship between between hate speech, cyber-racism, and violence at our own peril.

When I decided to start We Are Respectable Negroes, I pledged my allegiance to the truth. This includes empirical truth, moral truth, philosophical truth, and personal truth. As a ghetto nerd and fan of professional wrestling, I made a promise to myself: I would always be real and honest.The public knows when you are lying, obfuscating, or pretending to be something that you are not. One can only maintain a lie for so long when in the public gaze; the performance will inevitably fail and the cheers--and boos--will stop. To "get over" you have to always be yourself with the volume turned just a little bit up.

My recent essay on gun culture, race, and the media has received thousands of hits. Many of those visitors are from the rank afterbirth and cesspool of the Right-wing blogosphere and gun mania village. Apparently, my common sense observations about the relationship between guns and "angry white men" has hit a nerve among some "defenders" of "liberty" and "freedom." As always, imperiled Whiteness shows its essential character as a state of being that is forever imperiled, afraid, and victimized.

Most of the comments have been unintentionally humorous. Some have been bizarre. Others revealed the depths of hate that are increasingly common to conservatives in the Age of Obama. I tend not to give white racists any shine--as not to encourage them like flies on waste--but I also do not believe in denying the obvious.

There is something wrong in America. The sickness is not new. However, a public lulled into the lie of post-racialism, multicultural democracy, and drunk on the neo-liberal stew of colorblindness, are both ill equipped to understand how white supremacy is a changing same, while also being in deep denial about the old school, lynch culture, dominative racism that lingers in the collective subconscious of White America. For many people of color, this description is apt as well.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Chauncey DeVega and Nikki Giovanni are Part of a Vast Black Conspiracy to Take Your Guns Away

I have an alert set in Google that sends me an email whenever my name is mentioned somewhere on these Internets. Little did I know that I was part of a vast conspiracy to take away white people's guns, and also to deny said firearms to poor African-Americans. 

In a dark corner of the gun nut Right-wing blogosphere, I have been elevated to the level of Nikki Giovanni (god, I wish I had 1/100th of her talent or success). I am also apparently an "intellectual" (I wish), a well-funded operative of the Left (I wish I had those duckets), and breathing rarefied air as one of those hateful, elitist, academics (negro please!). 

Despite the foolishness of David Codrea's essay "Black intellectual bigotry endangering poor urban blacks by disparaging guns," there is something useful there. 

It is fascinating when conservatives who live in one of the most heavily armed countries in the world, one that is literally awash with guns, imagine themselves as somehow being under siege. Their mania feeds itself in a vicious cycle--"They" are coming for our guns, we must therefore get more guns to protect our "liberty." When white racial anxiety and hostility towards people of color is introduced into this phantom peril nothing good can come of it. As such, in the Age of Obama we must all be extremely cautious about white domestic terrorism.

Codrea's essay is a prize of overwrought writing, right-wing smart people sounding scary words, and overuse of a thesaurus. Beyond its title, which also demands deconstruction as an object lesson in unstated assumptions and the white racial frame, there are several passages which are especially dense with the Right-wing talking points of the post civil rights era. Consequently, David's effort has done the service of providing a teachable moment.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Historically, Presidential Debates Do Not Impact Vote Choice...But Then Again Obama is the Country's First Black President

In my earlier post on how the "rope-a-dope" analogy is not an apt description for Obama's strategy in last night's defeat by Mitt Romney, I referenced this piece on how presidential debates have historically had little to no impact on how individual's choose to vote on election day.

There are some sections in the Bloomberg piece that deserve a bit more exploration:
"Where you started the debate season is pretty much where you end the debate season," said Christopher Wlezien, a political science professor at Temple University and co-author of the book "The Timeline of Presidential Elections."  
No candidate who was leading in the polls six weeks before the election has lost the popular vote since Thomas Dewey in 1948, according to Wlezien and Robert Erikson, a political science professor at Columbia University. They studied polling data going back to 1952 and computed a running average "poll of polls" for each presidential election...  
Wlezien and Erikson found only one campaign with a big movement in opinion polls from the start to finish of the debate series - and then it was the candidate widely judged to have lost the debates who gained in the polls...  
What influence debates have had on public opinion historically has stemmed from matters of style rather than substance. A glance at a watch or a distant reaction to an emotionally charged question have been more consequential than clashes over war, taxes or economic policy.  
A 2008 Gallup review of polling data surrounding presidential debates concluded the events are "rarely game- changers" yet may have made a difference in 1960 and 2000, both among the closest presidential contests in U.S. history.
Barack Obama is the country's first black president. As such, he is playing a game which is not designed for him. Given that these models of how debates impact voters have been based on white presidents, are they a good fit for assessing the relationship between Obama's debate performance and the vote choice on election day?

Despite what right-wing pundits would have you believe--that being black in America is a net advantage, or that the American people will have "pity" on Obama and give him a do over because of his skin color--serious people suggest that racism cost Obama about 5 percentage points in 2008's election.

Moreover, the politics of white racial resentment and overt racism have been repeatedly used by conservatives to subvert support for the country's first black president, and were the driving force between the white political insurgency known as the Tea Party.

Optics matter: there is a symbolic power to Obama as the country's first African-American Chief Executive that many white folks, especially on the Right, are repulsed by; the stated and unstated burdens of blackness, what Du Bois famously summed up with the question "how does it feel to be a problem?", are the background radiation which colors how many in the public perceive the President. He can't get angry. He can't show emotion. He can't talk about race. And he most certainly cannot remind anyone that he is black.

My instincts would suggest that cultural politics, the white racial frame, and our country's long history of white racism, must in some way be impacting how members of the public assess his performance in the debates. However compelling, instincts are not a substitute for empirical rigor.

Teach me something if you would. 

Sorry, That Was No Rope-a-Dope, Barack Obama Got His Butt Kicked by Mitt Romney

In a fight between an enthusiastic lie and a tepid truth the former will always win. The most noble of us will hold on to the abstract virtues of the truth. Pragmatists will understand that a win is a win regardless of how it is delivered.

The supporters and allies of the President are trying to "spin" a basic and self-evident fact: Barack Obama got his butt kicked by Mitt Romney in their first debate.

In their efforts to salvage victory from the jaws of (obvious) defeat, Obama's people are making claims about the long game. Apparently, Obama is thinking several steps ahead, and Mitt Romney's naked lies will come back to haunt him as the days to election day tick down. They are also making appeals to Political Science: research indicates that presidential debates have little impact on a given voter's choice come election day, so Obama's defeat in the first debate means little.

These are accurate observations. But, my favorite excuse and explanation is that President Obama is playing a game of rope-a-dope like Muhammad Ali; Obama had baited Romney and will close the deal in the debates to come.

When discussing politics, there is a great temptation to use boxing analogies. However, this temptation does not always make the analogy either a good fit or an apt description of reality.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ann Coulter Needs to Get Malcolm X Out of Her Mouth...But I Doubt She Would Want To

Ann Coulter and the other bloviators on the Right have done caught themselves a case of negro mania. The natives are restless, arming themselves like we are going to have a second Stono Rebellion, and are joining up with the black radicals wearing dashikis, carrying Saturday night specials, who are waiting to waylay innocent whites on the way back from church on Sunday.

The Right's grotesque view of blackness and black humanity occupies both their dreams and nightmares.

Their anti-black mania is a tool which aids them in manipulating the white mouth-breathing classes into working against their own material self-interest. Black genius, competence, intelligence, strength, and beauty terrifies them. In American, conservatism and racism are one in the same; black success calls to attention the twin insecurities of imperiled whiteness and nurtured/protetced white mediocrity which lie at the heart of the Tea Party GOP's white identity politics.

The power of a centrist African American president to magically transform into a black brute who hates whitey is a caricature of Obama--and by implication of black folks as a community--where no matter how gentile, respectable, and "conservative" we may on the surface appear, black Americans are all really anti-white bigots waiting to betray our gracious, colorblind, and loving hosts.

My use of the word "hosts" is intentional: for conservatives and the "real America" crowd, black people really have no place in their civic project as in another life we, the "guests" in the house that race built, should have been deported back to Africa in the 19th century.

In keeping with their fantasy world, for Ann Coulter and the color aroused and deranged Right, blackness is now an advantage in American life, and it is white people who are now victims in the Age of Obama:
Obama is such a fraud. He grew up in Beverly Hills 90210 existence but is just desperate to have this angry black person persona. It's rather like reading about, you know, Hitler's musings on his Germanic identity. You know, he graduated from this fancy, fancy school in Hawaii, voted recently the greenest school in America. And yet when he wants to, he just turns it on and suddenly we got Malcolm X speaking to us...

Yes, and still angry. It's all an act. It's like his 70% of Twitter followers being fake. The whole thing is just smoke and mirrors. And at least for people of our generation, I mean this is a large part of why we have more child molesters than racists in America. It just isn't part of our existence. During our entire lifetimes, the only affect of being black is that you get benefits, doors open for you. You are more likely to get a position in the Harvard Law School.

 Anyone who grew up watching the Brady Bunch -- racism and discrimination, at least discrimination against black people, there is some discrimination against white people -- simply isn't a part of our conceptional apparatus. Which is why it is so strange, of all people, this half-black man born in Hawaii in 1961 walking around like he's Martin Luther King.   
If Ann Coulter met Brother Malcolm I am unsure if she would 1) drop on her knees in joyous supplication, her head in his lap enacting a fantasy of self-hating, reverse racism, private guilt, glee, and then begging him to spend the night; or 2) after performing said acts, she would then call the cops in a well-practiced, centuries old script of imagined black on white rape.

Either way, Ann Coulter is a contemptible human being. That is not a revelation; it simply demands restating. In all, she should get Malcolm X out of her mouth; but given her oral fixations, I doubt she would want to surrender the object of her simultaneous pleasure and disdain.

Barack Obama Dares to Talk to Black People at Hampton University in 2007, Conservatives Go Crazy in 2012

The Right-wing media are up in arms over a "racist" speech given by then candidate Barack Obama at Hampton University, a historically black college, during 2007.

In trying to read through the 2,500 comments on the conservative website The Daily Caller which leaked this "new" story, I have come to a few conclusions.

One, conservatives who believe that Barack Obama hates white people, and that this speech is a smoking gun of sorts which will derail his campaign, have probably not listened to it.

Two, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and other Right-wing bloviators are also apparently shocked and surprised that black folks may speak to one another with one type of inflection and tone, while modifying their speech habits for other audiences. This peek inside the black community's semi-private spaces requires an appreciation for what is called "code switching."

At present, racial resentful and reactionary white conservatives seem incapable of understanding this simple fact: code switching is not an act of lying or dishonesty; it simply is a fact of life for those of us who have to navigate the color line, and are possessed of Du Bois' famous observation about double consciousness, and the "two-ness" that is being both black and American in a society which has constructed citizenship on your back, neck, blood, and stolen labor.

Black Americans love a country that has for most of its history not loved us back; Part of the genius of Black Americans is that we have found a way to be the best of what America can be, while also pushing her forward to fulfill the promise of the democratic creed and the Constitution in order to make the country better for all of its citizens.

Our capacity for adaptability and genius terrifies many in White America--far Right conservatives are most vulnerable to this terror when they realize that black and brown folks know more about liberty and freedom than most white Americans ever will, for they were lazily grandfathered into Whiteness and civic inclusion.

By contrast, liberty and freedom were a condition systematically denied to black folks (and other people of color): not allowed its fruits, we appreciate and know democracy much more deeply than many others in this country.

And ultimately, there are some conservatives, the Fox News, Tea Party Crowd especially, who hate Barack Obama as a human being. These sentiments go deeper than mere partisanship.

I do not use that language casually.

After watching the parade of white racial resentment, overt racism, and "polite" deployment of anti-black bigotry--a variety of racism which is rooted in stereotypes many centuries old about African Americans--by Mitt Romney and other Republicans during this campaign season, the rage at President Obama is beyond that of "normal" politics.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

To What End? Right-wing Fantasies of Black Helicopters, Phantom Buses, Rigged Polls, and Voter Fraud

But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. 
The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.
I grew up talking to the former (and now made semi-indigent) Black Panthers that hung out near the Yale Co-Op bookstore, Educated Burger, and Yorkside Pizza who my dad would buy coffee for while trying to direct to jobs he either procured for them on campus, or with his small janitorial company.

As a young ghetto nerd, I would also read the zine Cover Action Quarterly with all its tales of the Drug War, narco-terrorism, the rise of the national security state, and black ops. And of course, I have spent many an hour listening to Coast To Coast AM in its heyday when Art Bell was predicting the now/then/soon to be future back in the early 1990s. 

I was groomed to love and appreciate a good conspiracy theory.

In the Age of Obama, the Right-wing media and its bloviators have moved on from the black helicopters, and a looming United Nations Army that was poised to invade the United States via improperly insured Mexican trucks, on to various varieties of birtherism, trutherism, and a "Muslim" Black American President who hates white folks and is going to put them in chains.

Conspiracy theories can thrive both on a surplus of information (look! don't you see! it is obvious! the truth is hiding in plain sight!) as well as a paucity of data points (it is there if you just look harder! they are hiding the truth from us all! the absence of evidence is evidence in and of itself!).

In total, my rule has been to look for patterns; I also have come to realize that it isn't the big conspiracies that you need to worry about. Rather, it is those small incremental changes that are working towards a larger paradigm shift which catch a people flat-footed and unaware.

In all, power is not always punitive and punishing. Power is most beguiling when it rewards participation and obedience.

Those qualifiers and instincts having been noted, I am at a loss to explain the deeper game at work with the various Right-wing conspiracy theories that have unfolded as of late.

Consider the following:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who is a Greater Threat to the United States? The "Obama Phone" Lady or Angry White Men with Guns?

It does not take a degree in cultural theory, visual culture, or expertise in semiotics to process the differences between these two pictures.

The first image, taken from The Washington Post's story about political polarization in Virginia, is of a white gun shop owner who believes that Barack Obama is a "socialist" working to destroy America. The second image is from a video that has gone viral on Right-wing websites: it features a poor black woman who supposedly receives a "free" phone through the "federal government."

These images are representations of reality that viewers and audiences invest with meaning and value. They are also stand-ins which are not wholly accurate because the public imposes its own priors, context, and assumptions onto the people who are depicted in these pictures.

Moreover, these visual representations also carry the weight and burdens of such identities as race, class, and gender. The latter are social frames and markers that help us to locate these two people--one a black woman, the other a white man--in our own cognitive map. Bodies, and our efforts to represent them visually, do not exist in a social, political, or cultural vacuum.

Our shared political culture in the United States is prefaced upon common understandings about democracy, political inclusion, meritocracy, and the virtues of civic participation. However, this model of political consensus is being strained and exhausted by a highly polarized media, political actors that are invested in amplifying our differences about (what should be) areas of common concern, and a self-fulfilling model where Red and Blue State America are depicted as being so vastly different, that "normal" politics and compromise across divides of party and ideology are made nearly impossible.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fond Memories of Growing Up as a Ghetto Nerd: The New York Times Discovers the World of Bowling for "Action"

FIVE frames into the match, Rocky Salemmo was taking a beating. 
He and a partner had challenged a pair of young guns at Showplace Entertainment Center on Staten Island to a doubles bowling match for $50 a man, and now Mr. Salemmo, 48, who was once known as one of the top action bowlers, or betting players, in New York City, trailed by 68 pins. But when Mr. Salemmo’s bowling ball fails, his mouth takes over. He began telling his opponents about the time he jumped out the bathroom window at a bowling alley to avoid losing four grand.
They say that the worst and laziest form of conversation is "do you remember when?" I have always disagreed with that argument: when used occasionally,  "do you remember when?" can bring you to some nice places with friends who you have not seen a in a while, back full circle to some common and comfortable ground.

I grew up at a bowling center. Bowling is my lost friend that I had to put aside for a few (too many years) as I went to do other things. There were and are many friends, all of us, tied together by being at tournaments on the weekend, practicing during the week, and trying to bowl as much as humanly possible for free in the summer. We too have gone our separate ways; I hope we can come back together again.

As a ghetto nerd, I know many of you/us have similar stories. Bowling has gone the way of arcades and Times Square. These spaces once  had personality, were full of seedy and fun characters, human mascots who seemed to be there everyday and all day, cigarette smoke, and vice. Now, they are sanitized and bereft of all personality and charm.

The New York Times rediscovered that almost lost moment with its story about local "action" bowling legend Rocky Salemmo:
Rocky got his first bowling ball at age 11 from his father, who died shortly afterward in a motorcycle crash on Hylan Boulevard. His mother worked the snack bar at Country Lanes on Staten Island, and Rocky played there constantly. During his early teens, he began tagging along with his cousin Lucy, a top money bowler. He fell in with money players with names like Snake, Mike the Crook and the Count. 
“We called him the Count because he only came out at night,” Mr. Salemmo said. 
Driving together to the lanes, they would hatch that night’s hustling schemes: the secret signal before purposely losing a match; the fake fight to make the group look drunk and beatable; and where to rendezvous if they ran out of money and had to flee a losing bet. 
Mr. Salemmo, who is of short stature and bowls lefty, throws a big hook that teeters on the edge of the left gutter before swooping back to the pins. His stories, too — delivered rapid-fire with a thick New York accent — are elliptical but somehow come back to the point: how bowling for bets has supported him for most of his adult life. He added that as well as he bowled, he was equally bad at gambling, and that he would promptly blow much of his winnings on bad bets on horse-racing and other sports. 
There are still the occasional matches, but the bowling wagering scene has largely faded in recent years, and Mr. Salemmo has begun driving a stretch limousine for his brother Joe, 47, who runs a limo and D.J. company.
He really is a relic of another time

Bowling has souled out and gone corporate. The sport has long been in a crisis, and the choice to go all high tech, with glowing pins, horrible music, laser light shows, and other distractions were desperate efforts to appeal to a generation raised on video games and cable TV. The Professional Bowling Association, on the cusp of dying, crossed over as well by introducing new formats, focusing on bowler's personalities in order to tell a compelling story for viewers, and trying to update the style of its broadcasts on ESPN. In total, these efforts have been a mixed blessing.

It is apparently now more difficult to find a real pro shop, and a traditional bowling alley that is not ruined by all of the distractions and spectacle; bowling is staying alive, and hopefully it will bring in enough young people and children who will have their curiosity sparked as they realize the amount of skill and practice necessary to compete on an elite level in the sport.

Ultimately, whatever ghetto nerd locale you frequented, it was about the people, the memories, and the formative experiences you had there, that in adulthood, you look back upon with a smile. 

As such, I love this part of Rocky Salemmo's reminiscence, for it is very familiar:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Barack Obama isn't a "Real" President: Newt Gingrich Channels Birth of a Nation (Again)

Sometimes they make it all too easy. I called out this predictable strategy months ago on The Ed Schultz Radio Show. My gifts of prognostication are not that great; it is simply that the Republican Party is desperate, uncreative, and bereft of new ideas. The Southern Strategy is simply a bad rerun that the Right has given up trying to update or repackage.

Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party GOP are so very 19th century in their fears of "Black Reconstruction," "Negro Rule," and President Obama. Prominent conservatives have developed a set of talking points which suggest that the country's first black president--and by extension African-Americans as a community--is lazy, irresponsible, shiftless, incompetent, uppity, arrogant, a thief, not a citizen or "real" American, wants to steal money from hard working white people in order to give it lazy negroes, and oppresses the good white people of America.

At this point, it is abundantly clear that Gingrich, Romney, and the assorted "polite racists" in the country's de facto White Party must either carry around copies of Thomas Dixon's The Clansmen in their pockets (right next to their laminated copies of the Constitution), or host weekly viewings of D.W Griffith's movie The Birth of a Nation at their homes or offices.

During Reconstruction, African-American legislators were described by the white southern democrat press in terms not too unlike those used by Gingrich and the Right-wing media when they talk about Barack Obama today. Given that the Dixiecrats are now Republicans, and the Tea Party GOP has absorbed the former Confederacy, conservatives should simply go back to the future and publicly state that Barack Obama is a "monkey," or alternatively describe the White House, the First Family, and black elected officials as a "menagerie."

It would be much more efficient than the charade of racial dog whistles and air raid sirens that the Right and its noise machine have deployed to date. Honesty can be refreshing, even when it has the stench of white racism and white racial resentment, that in combination, form the go to game plan for the Republican Party in the Age of Obama.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Brother X-Squared, Black Revolutionary Genius and Freedom Fighter, Returns to Discuss "The Master" and the 2012 Presidential Election

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

As long time followers of WARNNN already know, Brother X-Squared is a potent activist, black futurist, scholar, philosopher, and visionary thinker. He is also a noted cultural critic in the greatest tradition of African American commentary and letters. It has been seven months since our last interview, where Brother X-Squared offered his thoughts on the Oscars, the Republican Primaries, and the future of President Obama. 

In this interview, Brother X-Squared has returned to update us on his travels, make predictions about the 2012 presidential race, and to discuss the new films The Master and End of Watch.

WARNNN: Hello Brother X-Squared, it has been quite a while since we chatted online. You and have talked a few times over the last few months but you have been otherwise distracted and quite involved with other matters. I was concerned about you and your state of mind. Given some of things you were alluding to, I had become worried about your health. How are you?

Brother X-Squared: I am fine. I appreciate your concern.

WARNNN: You are not going to yell at me for suggesting that you were distracted or otherwise imperiled? This is out of character for you. I am even more concerned about you now.

Brother X-Squared: The great beast of the wilderness does not have to show rage and anger for you to feel his power. Does the wind need to blow for you to respect its force? Does the Earth Mother, all respect due to our First Nations brothers and sisters, or Brother Wind from Africa who blew the slave ships across the Atlantic so that our souls could be sent back home in flight, freed as warrior spirits hardened into steel by the white man's whips and chains, have to arrange a demonstration of their power for you to believe in it? 

WARNNN: I would not risk such a demonstration.

Brother X-Squared: As you should not! My powers have only grown as I have traveled this country, laying in wait for the inevitable changes that are upon us! The Alpha and Omega of my freed African Black Atlantic consciousness has been playing a game of Go mixed with Chess, there are games within riddles and you lost Nubians are either sitting around afraid of Tea Party nonsense racism or wasting time worshiping a half-African whose blood is diluted by his white ancestry. 

You are all lost! Children complaining about chairs stuck in trees being lynched, caught up there like they were being flown by that old white man who talks to dogs in that movie Up! Babies look at stars projected onto ceilings and play with mobiles and other toys. 

Boohoo complainers about the white man's petty racism are in the same league! Afraid to look at the true light that is Brother X-Squared!