Sunday, December 9, 2012

Will the Netherlands' "Black Pete" be a Guest on CNN's Newest Black in America Special About "Colorism" and "Mixed Race" Identity?

I would like to thank those of you who donated to the We Are Respectable Negroes holiday donation drive. "Black Pete" still has some of you. When you escape from him, do try to thrown in some silver or paper if you can. It will be very much appreciated.
America's history of blackface race minstrelsy has a far more "benign" cousin in the Netherlands. Black Pete, or his proper name, "Zwarte Piet," is Santa Clause's "servant". I do not think that Black Pete is a direct ancestor of Mantan Moreland or Thomas Rice; but they may be first or second cousins.

[A question, in the Color Matching Game which We Are Respectable Negroes came up with several years ago, what would Black Pete be? "Blurple?"

CNN and Soleded O'Brien have made a cottage industry out of the Black in America series. Tonight, they will air their newest installment on the issue of "colorism" in the black community:
“I don’t really feel Black,” says 17-year-old Nayo Jones. Her mother is Black; she was raised apart from her by her White father, and she identifies herself as biracial. “I was raised up with White people, White music, White food so it’s not something I know,” she says in a new documentary that explores the sensitive concepts of race, cultural identity, and skin tone. 
For the fifth installment of her groundbreaking Black in America series, CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien reports for Who is Black in America? The documentary debuts Sunday, Dec. 09 at 8:00p.m. and 11:00p.m. ET & PT and replays on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 8:00p.m. and 11:00p.m. ET & PT. 
Is Jones Black? Is Blackness based upon skin color or other factors? The 2010 U.S. Census found 15 percent of new marriages are interracial, a figure that is twice what was reported in 1980. One in seven American newborns were of mixed race in 2010, representing an increase of two percent from the 2000 U.S. Census. Within this context, O’Brien examines how much regarding race and identity are personal choices vs. reflections of an external social construct.

Although Black Americans' presence in the New World predates the founding of the United States, it would seem that we are apparently quite fascinating to white folks and others.

Our ways are so strange that the anthropomorphic gaze continues even into the year 2012:  black and brown folks (the latter with the Latino in America series) are the topic of in depth reporting about our mysterious habits on a national news network.

The mass media is in a double bind here. If series such as Black in America did not exist, there are some who would complain that African-Americans are not featured "positively" in the news media. This is not to suggest that black Americans are not prominent on the news: see the disproportionately skewed and negative coverage of black criminals on the evening news, for example.

Likewise, Black in America and other such shows can be criticized for depicting African-Americans as a perpetual Other, to be pathologized, studied, explored, and made the topic of a documentary/(white) anthropomorphic gaze. While post civil right America may be past the "look, I see a negro!" phase of its development, there is still something amiss with specials such as CNN's Black in America.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Conversation With New York Times Best Selling Author W. Craig Reed About Submarine Espionage and the Cold War

It has been more than 40 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which formally brought the United States into World War Two. We are losing a thousand or so of "the greatest generation" each day. Those veterans are living history with a unique perspective on the events of the twentieth century. We should sit down and take in their wisdom whenever we are so blessed to have the opportunity.

In our newest podcast interview, I had the great opportunity to chat with W. Craig Reed, former U.S. submarine officer, reconnaissance diver and cameraman for the U.S. Navy special forces, and New York Times best-selling author of Red November. He is also the author of the military-techno thriller The Eagle and the Snake.

W. Craig Reed had a front row seat to the Cold War as a weapons officer on Sturgeon and Los Angeles Class attack submarines during the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a participant in some of the very missions discussed in Red November. He is also very well connected in the special operations community. In total, Red November is a great insight into the hidden history of Cold War undersea espionage and the shadow warriors of the silent service.

In this conversation, W. Craig Reed and I discuss the Cold War, the Cuban Missile crisis, the various "What ifs?" surrounding World War 3, and explore future national security threats surrounding resource scarcity and the rise of China. 

I learned a great deal from this conversation. For those of you who are ghetto nerds, military grognards, news junkies, or just like hearing someone with a unique perspective on current affairs (and the near past) share their wisdom, my interview with W. Craig Reed should be very entertaining.

I have a great group of folks lined up for future podcasts. If you like these interviews here on We Are Respectable Negroes, and want more of them, do try to support our donation drive this holiday season.

1:33 The craft of writing and first beginnings
3:24 Did you always know that you were going to be a writer?
4:36 What is your work routine? Suggestions for writers who are just starting out?
11:40 Were we "safer" during the Cold War?
16:40 The Cuban Missile Crisis and what could have been
21:29 Espionage and the hidden history of the Cold War
29:24 What was day-to-day life like on a nuclear attack submarine?
32:44 Being in a ramming incident with a Soviet submarine while conducting a clandestine mission
43:27 What if? Who would have won if Nato and the Warsaw Pact had gone to war in the 1970s or 1980s?
50:40 Are some of the "quiet" operators in the U.S. military too hungry for press and attention today?
53:43 Why did Seal Team Six get the call to take out Bin Laden and not Delta Force?
68:02 The United States Navy in popular culture today; future books and projects to look out for
71:00 Future wars and conflicts with China and others over minerals, fossil fuels, and other resources

Neither Jordan Davis nor Trayvon Martin were "Lynched": It is Time We Stopped Using Such Powerful and Historically Specific Language So Casually

Our pledge drive is doing okay. We can do much better. If you enjoy the type of hard hitting and direct commentary that you read on We Are Respectable Negroes, do please throw some change in the virtual tip jar during our holiday fundraiser.

It is common to read online that young black people such as Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin were "lynched":

As an alternative, I would argue that they were murdered. Both were subject to random violence that may very well have been motivated by racial animus. It is also likely that Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin would both be alive today if not for the careless actions of wannabe vigilantes and thugs with too ready and easy access to guns.

However, neither of those young men were the victims of a "lynching." I will tread carefully here, because the subject matter is quite (correctly) very sensitive given how the shadow of racialized violence hangs over--quite literally--the heads of people of color, and black Americans even into the 21st century.

Language has power. Because of its power, we should take great care to use it with a specific meaning and intent. When we use language casually and imprecisely, especially words that evoke the imagery of many thousands of black men, women, and children hanging from trees, burned alive, bodies brutalized, postcards made from their pictures, and souvenirs cut from them by blood thirsty white mobs, there is a risk of a loss of meaning, and a betrayal of the specific historical circumstances that African-Americans suffered through (and triumphed over) during the centuries-long great Black Freedom Struggle.

The ritualistic killing of thousands of black people in the United States for more than one hundred years from the end of slavery, until at least the middle of the 20th century, was unique to this country. While racial violence was certainly not unknown elsewhere, the idea of "spectacular lynchings" where thousands of white people would attend the mass murder of black people for sport, pleasure, and in pursuit of an almost religious and mystical type of catharsis where the "offending" black body was destroyed in the white body politics, was a special fixture of Jim and Jane Crow America.

In South Africa, with its Apartheid system for example, even that barbarous White herrenvolk society did not feature the types of ritualistic racial murder common to the United States. It would seem that American Exceptionalism is true in some regards; it is not true in many others.

[What would the "real America" types say about that observation. I wonder?]

Lynching in the United States was ultimately a type of political violence that was designed to demobilize black people in the aftermath of Reconstruction and the end of slavery. The rise of the KKK and the mob violence of Jim and Jane Crow were a type of racial terrorism that worked to keep black labor firmly fixed to the land, maintain convict lease labor and share cropping systems, to deter migration, and ultimately to make sure that African Americans remained a type of rural peasantry subject to white rule (this was also true in regards to the Southwest and Texas where Latinos and Hispanics were the primary targets of lynchings by whites).

Lynching was also a way of reasserting that black people were anti-citizens, not fit to vote, the virtual property of white capitalists and elites, and who should not become upwardly mobile. As such, black soldiers in uniform were a particularly fond target of violence by white hordes. These white murderers could not accept the idea of racial equality with non-whites for fear that the latter would somehow earn their full rights and full membership in the American polity.

The NAACP and other organizations identified and responded to lynching violence in an organized way, and with such righteous fervor, precisely because it was a type of political violence that served the purposes and goals of day-to-day white supremacy.

By comparison, I would suggest that the measured response to the murder of Jordan Davis, and to a lesser degree Trayvon Martin, is a function of the fact that black leadership is in an odd, and almost paradoxical position, in this moment.

The game has changed. There is a black man who is President. The regime of Jim and Jane Crow was vanquished decades ago. Black politics is facing obsolescence. Do you ring the alarm bells using the same language that you did decades ago? But, what to do about violence that is (perhaps) racially motivated? And how does black on black violence complicate any such appeals?

We are still working through that puzzle.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Before Black Peter Gets You, Please Try to Throw in Some Change for WARN's Inaugural Holiday Donation Drive

This is an image with many interpretive possibilities. A friend sent it to me from his university's website, and I thought you all would get a kick out of. Given what we have been talking about this week, I am interested in your "reading" of this image.What do you see?

I hope the holiday season of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, belated Festivus and Christmas is treating you well.

We have a good number of new visitors this week in response to the posts on the politics of popular culture and The Walking Dead. I would like to welcome all of you. This year We Are Respectable Negroes passed 1 million views and is about to finally have 1 million unique visitors. For such a fun niche blog where we run the range of conversations, I am pleased. I am also very fortunate for all of you who visit, comment, lurk, share links online, promote the site, and with whom I chat with via email.

For a variety of reasons, I do not advertise here on We Are Respectable Negroes. I have had a few direct inquiries over the years, but felt that the proposals were not a good fit for the project.

However, WARN still takes time and energy. It is a labor of love and one that I am going to continue working hard to improve. Capitalizing on the spirit of the season, and in keeping with one of the promises I made myself this year, December will be the time of our inaugural donation drive. After getting goodies for the kids, family, and others, perhaps you can find a dollar or two to throw in the virtual tip jar. These monies will go to a few things.

1. Buying a good quality podcast mic so that we can do more interviews and promos;

2. To the fund for having the layout of We Are Respectable Negroes professionally redesigned and migrating over to a dedicated url and host;

3. For a few various sundries and goodies that keep Chauncey DeVega fed, dressed, and maintained in the modest means to which he is accustomed...we do need to fuel the creative juices. Plus, I have a dire need for some new socks 'cause they got holes in the heels and my feet are like Shaka Zulu's;

4. And if a few of the several thousand folks who read We Are Respectable Negroes each day offer up a dollar or two, I may be able to secure a plane ticket and make a last minute Christmas appearance at mama DeVega's home for the holidays. Older black ladies, like all moms, like surprises...but not too much of one as I wouldn't want her to shoot me or call the cops if I appeared in the middle of the night. Plus, my beloved 16 year old dog Luke might decide to expend his last bit of protective energies (he is in semi-retirement) by giving me a swift bite to the butt if I showed up too unexpectedly.

After Black Peter gets a hold of you in a fit of consumerist madness and shakes the money out of  your pockets, it would nice if a few of those ducats could fall into the donation jar by clicking on the "donate" Paypal link over at the right hand side of the screen. The readers of We Are Respectable Negroes are a great group and I appreciate all of you. I will occasionally remind folks of the donation drive with a gentle nudge or post...but nothing too overwhelming or nagging.

Please be well and do right by each other this holiday season.

Comfortably Numb. Why I Have Little to Say About the Murder of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry speaks truth to power. Bob Costas's intervention about gun violence puts all of the madness in perspective.

Another young black person was shot and killed by an unhinged white vigilante several weeks ago. I would like to be able to muster the emotions and energy to feel outraged by what happened. I am spent. I have no more to offer following the hunting and killing of Trayvon Martin.

I am not dismissing the crime which occurred in Florida where a white vigilante thug murderer shot and killed a black teenager who was guilty of no more than playing loud music. Part of being a teenager is a rite of passage wherein he or she acts like a self-absorbed jerk. This behavior ought not to be a death sentence.

There is a well-developed vocabulary to describe how black youth live in existential peril. Researchers, social workers, activists and scholars talk about "community disorganization" and the ghetto underclass, the violence of the drug trade, the perils of a "youthocracy" where communities are made to suffer a deficit of impulse control and where no proper role models exist, and of course the prison industrial complex and disparities in sentencing.

As potent as terms such as "niggerization" are, they often obscure the day-to-day realities and risks that come with being young and black in America.

Here, there is a more basic truth in cases such as Jordan Davis' shooting by 45 year old Michael Dunn: black people, and black youth in particular, are forever suspect, criminal, and subject to wanton violence until they prove otherwise. Black youth are considered adults for purposes of imprisonment and violence.

In addition, the American collective conscious is fixated on the dangers posed by black people--and black men in particular. We are "black beast rapists." We are "thugs." We are "super predators." These stereotypes persist both despite and regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Unfortunately, there are young black people who internalize the White Gaze and see themselves through the eyes of Whiteness and white racism. These negative values are internalized; the wages of such choices are death and diminished life outcomes.

The perverseness of the logic which justified Michael Dunn's shooting of Jordan Davis is one that considers the black body as a perpetual threat.

As such, lethal violence is required to control black people because somehow we exist on the fringes of civilization, capable of breaking its chains, boundaries, rules, and norms, spontaneously and without cause at any time.

Black men must also have superpowers because as I discussed in regards to the hunting and murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, hoodies become cloaks of doom and nefarious power when worn by us, and harmless objects in our hands are magically transformed into lethal weapons. Black people must have a mysterious glamour that we can use to confuse the perception of those around us like witches or warlocks. It would seem that we do not have the power to deactivate such abilities. They are curses not blessings.

However, I am at an impasse in regards to how the mass media and "black leaders" decide whose death is worthy of attention and which others are simply statistics on the evening news. Jordan Davis's death, like Trayvon Martin's, resonates because it is a reminder of how in America the historical reality has long been that any given white man can decide to kill a person of color in civil society with little if any consequence.

Yet, there are many dozens of young black people killed every week in this country. Some are knuckleheads. Many are innocents. Most are killed by other young black people. It would seem that the latter have also learned the lesson of Zimmerman and Dunn: black life is cheap.

I have a thought exercise and counter-factual that I would like to propose. What would happen if all Americans took the lives of all young people in this country as a cause of common concern? Are not all lives valuable? What is stopping us from a having a national conversation about preserving all life, of young folks especially, on either side of the colorline?

Why are we unable to discuss the murder epidemic among our First Nations brothers and sisters, rural whites, Latinos, and young black people in one conversation? And then to understand violence as a symptom of a national sickness that all citizens should be invested in correcting?

Would the public's mentality about violence change if the truth were more readily known, that the crime statistics dramatically under-count rates of violence and murder, and do not allow for how innovations in trauma surgery within a country which has been at war (on and off, for almost 70 years) dramatically improved survival rates from gunshot and other types of injuries?

As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy and a million are a statistic. The truism still stands, especially in an era of 24 news which is looking for an easy (and salable) storyline to follow.

I am a secular humanist. Jordan Davis's murder matters because the sanctity of all life and human dignity is important in the Good Society. All crime and murder is a harm to our collective humanity.

In these moments,  I just worry that all decent, concerned, and reasonable people are sacrificing an opportunity for shared alliances and concern across lines of class and race by adhering to a narrative which focuses on the race of the victim, as opposed to common issues of human rights and safety in our shared personhood.

Are my worries and concerns misplaced?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Featured Reader Comment: "White Males are the Generational-Keepers of the Flame of the English Language Literary Tradition"

Steve Augustine, a frequent commenter here at WARN made a nice and provocative observation about the craft of writing that is worth bumping up:
Just as Black Females and Males (of all genders) are the go-to Masters if you want to learn in the Western Neo-Classical (aka "Jazz") Tradition, White Males are the generational-keepers of the flame of the English-language Literary Tradition. Too many Writers-of-Color being too proud to acknowledge that obvious fact is part of the reason that Black Musical Genius (and its Accomplishments) dwarf, by *orders of magnitude*, Black Literary Accomplishment.

It takes generations of Literacy to produce a steady supply of literary geniuses in any subculture, and, as you know, reading-and-writing would have gotten most of us *killed*, in the USA, not even 200 years ago! No fault of our own but we have some catching up to do (the fact that America has entered an Illiterate Age is not helping).

Anyone with a deep feeling for the English language will have to see that, for example, Ted Hughes is operating on a more *technically knowing* level than Langston Hughes; Langston is fine but he is not grappling with the Olde Ones in the back of the Word Cave; Langston (as we all are) was a noob. We shouldn't take this any more personally than a White reader should when I state, with no fear of reasonable contradiction, that Duke Ellington is Bach to Stan Kenton's... uh... Stan Kenton.
I am not an expert on literature. I enjoy listening to and learning from folks who are. Moreover, Steve's comments about black arts and letters are a nice wink back to an earlier post about how some white conservatives do not think that black people have anything to contribute to American intellectual life or history.

Brother Steve is most certainly not making such a specious claim. But, I am very curios and compelled by his taboo suggestion that material, political, social, and other circumstances impact the types of "culture"--written and otherwise--that an ethnically or racially marked group which is socially and politically disadvanted produces. The New Negroes, DuBois, and others grappled with these questions explicitly, and in the public realm. It would seem that such questions have now fallen out of style.

What do you all think about these questions? Me? I am going to sit back and learn a thing or two.

What Did Discussing The Walking Dead TV Series at the Daily Kos Teach Me About White Privilege?

Popular culture is one of the primary means through which people are socialized into the political and social values of their society. The realm of "the cultural" is so powerful because it is (on the surface) so very innocent and benign. We internalize these values without thinking about them. This is the very definition of culture: a set of beliefs and norms that are not interrogated, reflected upon, or challenged--they simply are the "truth" and are understood to be "normal."

I thoroughly enjoy writing about popular culture and thinking through its relationship to questions of race and representation because the interaction between those concepts is a crucible for the truth.

My recent posts on the TV series The Walking Dead are a reminder of how different members of the public are invested in popular culture, and the various ways that a seemingly benign and "just fun" horror TV show is a mirror for broader attitudes about race and gender. As someone who writes about race and popular culture both for fun and professionally, the intense and spirited reactions I received at the Daily Kos (more than 300 comments so far) to my two essays on race, gender, and the Walking Dead TV series only served to reinforce a standing premise: popular culture "matters."

Nevertheless, I remain surprised and fascinated by how people invest themselves in popular culture. Some folks dress up and go to conventions. Others, craft a religion around a movie. In the case of The Walking Dead TV series, a great many people have invested themselves in the dystopian playground of a world where the dead eat and kill the living.

Simultaneously, many of these same fans and viewers are unwilling (or unable) to understand how popular culture is actually a representation of the struggles, anxieties, and fears of the present--what is the real world--as opposed to a fictional one on a TV network.

Because people live through popular culture, the latter becomes a site on which they see themselves, and where their own values are projected. The claim that a given TV series (or film) can be racist, racially regressive and conservative, or embody white supremacist norms and values, becomes not a claim about a given show or movie. Rather, such observations become moral statements about the existence of racism (or other types of social inequities).

If said person concedes that racism or sexism exists in popular culture, it may in turn exist in society. From this conclusion, they may then have to ask themselves about their own relationship to bigotry and prejudice. Few folks are willing to take on that difficult task. Denial becomes an easier and more appealing route.

I understand this dynamic on an intellectual level; I am still surprised when I see said processes play out before my eyes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Great Advice from Siskel and Ebert on the Craft of Writing: Be Yourself and Beware Political Correctness

So much good here. Indeed, political correctness as a governing rule for writing is a type of ventriloquism. We should always say what we mean when we write. This is great wisdom that all writers can learn from.

I was reading Roger Ebert's Journal as I often do each week. His writing is so precise and honest. Watching Siskel and Ebert--At the Movies was a ritual with my mom and dad when I was growing up, so taking my time at Ebert's site is a great and nostalgic joy.

There, I came across the above (and very helpful) interview on the craft of writing.

I am very interested in meta level questions about the writing process--which is why I like to linger on such questions whenever I have a chance to talk to accomplished authors.

And have you ever listened to a thing, and then realized it was reminding you of advice that you received at some point in your life, and then was reminding you of things that you had forgotten? For me, Siskel and Ebert's conversation about finding your voice, the role of truth-telling, and the courage to put your own opinions out for public scrutiny and criticism rang home.

They are both correct on a basic point: a writer needs to be comfortable with their own opinions, the vulnerability that comes with telling the truth, and also speaking one's own mind in public.

There are many styles of writing. Each requires a different, albeit (what is a a likely) complementary, skill set.

For example, there is much diversity in style and approach among those who write online. Some folks are news aggregators or archivists; others are skilled at writing pithy summaries; some people are analysts who connect the dots; there are essayists who specialize in short pieces as opposed to long ones (what are very different skills); while some writers are deep and thorough in their analysis.

Most who choose to write online and/or have adapted their print skills to the electronic medium just want to entertain, get some attention, validation, and receive immediate feedback. The strength and weakness of writing online is immediacy: worthy and important ideas are often not paid attention to because the Internet encourages disposable thinking and "drive-by" writing that goes for the cheap thrill. However, great and important ideas can also quickly circulate. Consequently, they can have an outsized impact as these claims are not bounded by the limits of print or an academic review panel.

When you choose to write online, and if you want to be successful at it, branding and voice are also important. As the Atlantic pointed out last week, even how a particular author writes a blog title is integral to their success. A reader should be able to see a title and know, with some likelihood and certainly, from where that essay or story originated.

We have a range of readers here at We Are Respectable Negroes. Most blogs do not last 3 months. For those of you who have been observers and fans of particularly successful blogs or other online forums, what tips do you have for those who are just starting out? For those of you who have written online for some time, what advice do you have for those folks who are just starting out?

My advice is simple. Be yourself. Do not try to imitate other people. Be confident and comfortable with criticism. Have little fear of rejection. And take risks so that you can get substantive feedback, mean words, some hate from the peanut gallery, and learn to welcome how those who despise you are gonna come hard. If you write for "hits" or comments you will end up hating and resenting the process of writing online because there is no rhyme or reason to the logic of a fickle public and Internet. If no one cares, responds, or comments, it is harder to proceed; but, this ought not need be a deterrent as you will be surprised how your work can take on a life of its own.

Ultimately, if you have nothing interesting to say about a topic, do not care, have no expertise on it, and/or are indifferent, it is best not to say anything at all. Silence can be a virtue.

And of course, write every day.

In keeping with my ghetto nerd professional wrestling roots, if people are booing you, at least they are reacting. Silence is death. Moreover, as Siskel and Ebert implied, most folks probably do not even risk trying and giving 100 percent of themselves because they are afraid of rejection. The latter is an especially bad habit; it can be crippling.

How many great stories, essays, blogs, books, and the like have we the public been deprived of, because a potential author feared the magic of conjuring up a thought, and committing it to paper or screen? I would guess that there are an almost infinite many.

Monday, December 3, 2012

CNN Discovers "Mr. Charlie" and the Black Agency of Sister Rosa Parks

In 2011, Rosa Parks was in the news, six years after her death. An excerpt from a breathtaking essay she wrote in the 1950s about a “near rape” by a white man in Alabama was released to the public. The handwritten narrative detailed Parks' steely resistance to a white man, “Mr. Charlie," who attempted to assault her in 1931 while she was working as a domestic for a white family.
It was late evening when “Mr. Charlie” pushed his way into the house and tried to have sex with her. Having grown up in the segregated South, she knew all too well the special vulnerabilities black women faced. She recalled, for example, how her great-grandmother, a slave, had been “mistreated and abused” by her white master.
Despite her fear, she refused to let the same thing happen to her. “I knew that no matter what happened,” she wrote, “I would never yield to this white man’s bestiality.” "I was ready to die,” she said, “but give my consent, never. Never, never." Parks was absolutely defiant: “If he wanted to kill me and rape a dead body,” she said, “he was welcome, but he would have to kill me first.”
Does that sound like the Rosa Parks we know?
I wonder how many readers of the above story at CNN, that are not privy to black vernacular speech, are wondering who "Mr. Charlie" is?

There are lies, necessary lies, noble lies, and big lies. Sometimes lies are told with the best of intentions. At other times, lies are pernicious both in intent and consequence. At times, entire peoples believe a lie. It motivates their sense of national identity, citizenship, and purpose: American exceptionalism is one such example.

Myths are a type of lie that can combine all of the above traits. For example, the debate around Spielberg's Lincoln (which merits further discussion this week) involves a myth surrounding a legendary president, the agency of black people in seeking their own freedom, and how various public(s) are invested in the white savior narrative.

Myths should be debunked when we are adults and mature critical thinkers. To point. CNN has a short piece on elder goddess Sister Rosa Parks that pulls aside the curtain of lies surrounding her legacy, and exposes the facile story we tell little children and naive lay people about Parks' tired feet and a public bus.

In all, the Rosa Parks fable is the Santa Claus story of the Civil Rights Movement. Just as with Lincoln, the real story of the Black Freedom Struggle and activists such as Parks, King, Rustin, Randolph, Williams, and many others involves people making choices--to participate or not--in a grand struggle for justice.

Here, Black agency matters. Black agency also scares and upsets people on both sides of the colorline.

A fun anecdote.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Is Tyreese "Made to Suffer"? In The Walking Dead TV Show There Can Be Only One Black Male Character

The Season 3 midseason finale of The Walking Dead was an exciting, well-crafted, and tension filled hour of programming. The much anticipated fan favorite character Tyreese, who happens to be African-American, was finally introduced...with trusty hammer in hand.

Rick and his party assaulted Woodbury in order to free Glenn and Maggie. The Governor's house of horrors was finally revealed to his lover Andrea. Michonne would seem to get a little bit of revenge--as compared to the full castration and various other amputations she suffered upon the Governor in The Walking Dead comic book--for his sentencing her to death several episodes prior.

The first obligation of popular culture is to entertain. By this measure, I would suggest that Made to Suffer was a splendid success. However, while we may choose to acknowledge how the politics of pleasure are not always neat, progressive, redeeming, or "positive," this does not mean that a given work of popular culture ought to be spared difficult questions about the ideological work it is doing, or the values which it represents and reinforces.

As I have written about on several occasions, The Walking Dead TV series is extremely problematic in terms of how it has negotiated the politics of race and representation. The show is also offering up a very conservative view of gender relations where The Walking Dead is ultimately an exercise in reinforcing how white masculine authority is natural, normal, and in the Age of Obama and the Great Recession, in many ways imperiled.

While The Walking Dead is set in a post-apocalyptic fictionalized present where zombies walk the Earth, like all popular culture, it is actually a mirror for our current social anxieties.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Right-Wing Meme Alert: Susan Rice Dared to Suggest that School Kids Could Learn Something from the Study of Black History Back in 1986

In a 1986 book by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, the future diplomat argued for the aggressive inclusion of a black history curriculum in American schools, claiming that its omission had “crippling effects” by “providing a child with no more than … a white interpretation of reality.” 
The 86-page book, “A History Deferred,” served as a guide for secondary and elementary school teachers wanting to teach “Black Studies,” and was published by the Black Student Fund, an advocacy group where Rice had an internship. 
“Susan’s interest in the study of Black history evolved from her desire to learn more about the experiences and achievements of her own people,” notes the preface.
Once more, conservatives and the White Right show you who they really are. Susan Rice is damned for her political beliefs, and also because she has "scary black radical Angela Davis hair" in this photo.

The Right's hostility to Ambassador Susan Rice has been described by the Washington Post and others as motivated by white racism. Partisanship, conspiranoid thinking, and an effort to defrock President Obama are most certainly part of the Republicans' hostility to a black woman who would dare to become Secretary of State. In an era where racism and conservatism are one and the same, Republicans cannot resist the urge and impulse to attack a black woman who serves in the Obama administration--even if race-baiting helped to lead to the downfall of their presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

They have not learned from their failures. Facing demographic suicide, conservatives are addicted to the political meth of white racial resentment and anti-black affect. It is one hell of a drug.

The Tea Party GOP's opposition to Susan Rice has found a new fixation. Just as conservatives wanted to find evidence of anti-white vitriol in Michelle Obama's thesis at Princeton, or anti-white sentiment in black liberation theology and Reverend Wright's common sense observations about American history during Obama first presidential campaign, the new meme will be focused on Susan Rice's work as a college student with the Black Student Fund.

In that capacity, she apparently committed a heinous crime according to the Right-wing muckrakers at The Daily Caller: in 1986, Susan Rice dared to suggest that black kids could benefit from learning that they are not bystanders in American history. To the Right, this is a great crime.

Her offense is also bizarre; Rice supposedly harbors anti-white animus, but somehow she decided to dedicate her life to serving the United States government. Riddle you that one? Maybe she is a Manchurian candidate?

There is nothing in Susan Rice's suggestions from almost twenty years ago, as selectively excised from her longer work (as featured by The Daily Caller) that respected psychologists, social scientists, and others have found disagreement with. Her comments are so basic and obvious that The Daily Caller's white racist histrionics are made all the more apparent.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Historian Kate Masur Plays Script Doctor With Spielberg's Whitewashed Movie "Lincoln"

Moviegoers and historians alike should pay attention. Spielberg’s Lincoln is a work of art, a film about morality, democracy, and human agency that tells us something about its creators and—since Lincoln will be watched and loved by millions—about ourselves. Like any other movie, novel, or painting, the film ought to be discussed and critiqued. Indeed, it should be subjected to a particularly searching analysis precisely because of its prominence and power. 
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit in the wake of an op-ed I wrote about the film for The New York Times, in which I pointed out the passivity and generic nature of the black characters in the film. I argued that the filmmakers’ “imagination” (to quote Spielberg) was one in which white men gave the gift of freedom to African-Americans. 
A rich debate has developed among historians and in the greater blogosphere about this film. Some writers have agreed with my points wholeheartedly, arguing that the film underemphasized the role African-Americans played in influencing the abolition debate in Washington. Others have said that black characters are unimportant to the film’s larger goals. Some critics have claimed that I would only have been satisfied with an entirely different film—perhaps one focused on slaves’ struggle to get free, or on Lincoln’s relationship with Frederick Douglass. 
To be sure, I’d like to see more Hollywood films that feature prominent and complex black characters. My point, though, was that the filmmakers’ artistic choices revealed assumptions about black passivity and white agency that are inaccurate, damaging, and difficult to dislodge.
The conversation about Spielberg's movie Lincoln continues. There is so much going on here--and one main theme driving the controversy which has so far gone unaddressed to this point--regarding history, memory, and the politics of popular culture. In all, we have only scratched the surface of Lincoln's meaning and the public's relationship to the film.

Lincoln did not come out of the ether fully formed like Athena from Zeus' head. Like all filmmakers, Spielberg made choices about what to include and what to leave out of the movie. I am always surprised by how some in the public want to view a film as a settled matter, that was naturally formed, and is above revision and/or critical inquiry. There is something wonderfully "modern" about such a perspective.

As readers of We Are Respectable Negroes know, I like to play script doctor. Making suggestions to improve a film is a fanboy's dream; this responsibility is one of the sacred duties of we who are ghetto nerds.

Historian Kate Masur, whose essay about Lincoln's flattening of history and willful omission of black folks' agency, has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere. She kindly sent me an email about her followup piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Race(ing) Popular Culture: More Thoughts on the Whitewashing of "Lincoln" and the Fathom Sneak Preview of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 on Blu-ray

I just got back from watching two digitally remastered episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) Season Two here in Chicago. The second year of TNG is when things really get going. It introduced the Borg in the episode "Q Who", and also explored the nature of humanity and sentience in the classic episode "The Measure of a Man."

Both episodes were glorious on the big screen: the Season Two blu-ray is a must buy. As a bonus,"The Measure of a Man" included about 10 minutes of new footage. In all, the additions added little to the plot. But, I have to admit it was great fun to watch TNG with a hardcore audience that mocked Wesley Crusher, who laughed at the homoerotic relationship between Data and Geordi, and was titillated by all the hot Picard sexy action with his still hungry and desirous ex-lover in "The Measure of a Man."

This screening reminded me of how powerful Star Trek has been in terms of presenting a hopeful vision of the future that was progressive and inclusive along lines of race, gender, and sexuality. From "The Measure of a Man's" discussion of slavery, to Deep Space Nine's exploration of queer and lesbian identity (as well as black masculinity), and classic Trek's bold embrace of characters such as Uhura, Chekhov, and Sulu, the Star Trek franchise was well ahead of most mass culture in preparing the (white) public for a multicultural future.

The presence of black and brown folks in Star Trek--and the show's honesty in dealing with questions of social justice (both through the use of metaphor and explicitly) made their presence feel natural. In watching TNG tonight in the theater, I was reminded of how popular culture is at its core about the creation of meaning across and within communities. We all "got" why the show was special. All present "got" the inside jokes. We all had a common frame of reference, even as a given individual may choose to read meaning into the show in their own way.

The range of reactions to the whitewashing of the movie Lincoln is a similar phenomenon. However, there are some qualifiers and differences. We have not reached a consensus on the meaning of the film. A given person's political priors, investment in the whiteness of memory, and attachment to the hagiography mythos surrounding President Lincoln, is also a lens which colors how a given person reads the movie.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A "Spielberg's Movie 'Lincoln' is an Exercise in Bad Historiography and Whitewashing of History" Roundup

Spielberg's historical epic Lincoln, which explores the political gamesmanship surrounding the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, is a work of popular film that desperately wants to be taken seriously as a commentary about American political life and culture.

Consequently, there has been quite a bit of interesting commentary offered up about Spielberg most recent work. Some of the discussion consists of rank apologism for the film's blatant whitewashing of history (some of it by black conservatives); other folks have (correctly) taken Spielberg to task for the choices he made in presenting a woefully flawed depiction of both the historical moment and forces which drove the President to formally finalize the reality that chattel slavery was a dead and dying institution.

I saw the film. Daniel Day Lewis deserves an Oscar nomination for his uncanny channeling of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln itself was tedious, and could easily win an award for most sleep inducing film of the year. Nevertheless, for those of us interested in the relationship between popular culture and politics, Lincoln offers much to discuss.

Here are some provocative commentaries about the film.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where is the Outrage? 11 Year old Girl Accused of "Seducing" 20 Men Who Gang Raped Her

Former Cleveland Police Department Sgt. Chad Langdon, who was the lead investigator on the case, also testified that an 11-year-old - due to her emotional immaturity - legally cannot give consent for a sexual encounter. Taylor questioned why the underage girl had not been charged with anything for choosing to violate that rule, indicating that she was "the reason" that the encounters happened.

"Like the spider and the fly. Wasn't she saying, 'Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?' " Taylor asked.

"I wouldn't call her a spider," Langdon replied. "I'd say she was just an 11-year-old girl."

"I hope nothing like this ever happens to your two teenage sons," Taylor snapped back.

Warren asked Langdon what he would do if his own sons had been involved in such a case. "I would not whitewash it or sweep it under the rug," the detective said.

Cruse is the second of 20 male defendants to be tried for allegedly sexually assaulting the girl over the course of four months in 2010 in Cleveland. 
The news media moves from one story to the next with a great deal of speed. There are examples of forced memes--such as Fox News' fixation on the Benghazi non-story--that circulate and hang around for weeks or months (what is an eternity in the era of 24 hour news coverage). But, most stories do no linger for more than a few days.

The public watches the car accident news pileup in an act of forced spectatorship; they tire of it; the 24 hours news cycle force then feeds the public another issue which they eagerly consume. In all, there is no connection between the importance of a news item and the amount of time the mass media spends on it. Ephemeral nonsense can linger about for days or weeks, while substantial issues which impact our collective life chances disappear almost immediately.

Two years ago an eleven year old girl was gang raped in Texas by a pack of 20 man beasts over the course of several months. These cretins then recorded this evil and shared it with like-minded highwaymen in their local high school. At the time, the story was a blip on the national radar. It was discussed in the alternative press and online. However, the mainstream news media paid little attention to this heinous crime.

The trial has finally begun in earnest. One would think that such a moment would be the subject of a prime time news special and that a media circus would ensue. Alternatively, that coverage of the event would be replayed over and over again on the 24 hours news channels, their executives and on-air personalities long trained in the habit of combusting in orgiastic delight whenever a young white woman goes missing or a white child is put at risk.

Ratings are king; the genre of news reporting known as "missing white woman syndrome" is money in the bank for advertisers and TV networks.

In the news business there is a truism and slogan that guides programming: "if it bleeds it leads." Apparently, this is true unless the story is about a young brown child who has been subject to wanton violence.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Skills Do You Have? Kelvin Doe is 15 Years Old and a Self-Taught MIT Prodigy from Sierra Leone

This young man is an inspiration.

If the system falls down, and the big Reset comes, he will be running Bartertown. I doubt he will need a version of Masterblaster to keep control: Kelvin Doe is so sharp, he may invent a cyborg or some type of improvised power armor to serve as his enforcer(s).

Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Fukushima event, and other disasters, both man made and willed by Mother Nature, are reminders that most of us do not have the skills necessary to rebuild following such near cataclysms.

We have skills that are "practical" and "useful" for life in an information based economy where we can rely on either other's specializations.

For example, as suggested by the grand social theorist Emile Durkheim, societies are organized around systems of either "mechanical" or "organic" solidarity.

The former are highly regimented, very hierarchical, "traditional," and where individuals are not highly differentiated from each other in terms of their skill sets.

The latter are post-industrial and modern. They consist of highly specialized types of laborers, living in a culture that is more individualistic, and where the members are dependent on one another. These relationships (and the resulting social cohesion) are ostensibly enforced by means that are less coercive than those used in tribal and traditional societies, where clan groups, religion, and kinship networks are used to tie individuals together.

Watching this young autodidact and engineer from Sierra Leonne, I am forced to do my own skills assessment. I can fix some things, but not anything highly technical. I have a loose understanding of the principles underlying how electricity works in the abstract. But, I could not build you a generator. I can explain how a combustion engine works. I could not build one or do major repairs without a shop manual. At best, an academic type like myself would be taking lessons from young Mr. Doe to avoid being a mere laborer. Maybe, I could be a scribe, or a senior adviser, if I were lucky and proved my worth to him as someone wise, manipulative, contemplative, and devious when necessary.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Michonne or Maggie? Race, Gender, and Rape on The Walking Dead TV Series

The Walking Dead TV series exists in a universe apart and separate from the comic book. Season Three's storyline with The Governor has reinforced this fact. However, both of these stories are a version of "The Walking Dead." As such, they provide an example of what Culture Studies types call "intertextuality." Here, the comic book and TV series reference each other, while also signaling to other examples of storytelling in the zombie genre.

[For example, the TV series character named "Milton" is a clear allusion to Dr. Logan's character in George Romero's classic film Day of the Dead and his "pet" zombie Bub.]

As I wrote about hereThe Walking Dead TV series has little to no interest in developing its African-American characters. The graphic novel has several black male characters who are integral to the story, and are not sideshow stand-ins that are included because of a sense of multicultural political correct noblesse oblige. By contrast, the AMC series has (the now dead) "T-Dog"--a character that was a glorified black man servant chauffeur to the white characters, a black gollum mute with few lines, who lived only to serve and protect the other survivors.

Michonne, a fan favorite, and a richly developed, full, interesting, and challenging character in the graphic novel, was first introduced as a black caretaker and best friend/magical negro to Andrea on the TV series.

There, this iconic character is a black pit bull warrior, unfeeling, laconic, and damaged. Michonne, has a few more lines of dialogue than T-Dog; but she is dangerously close to being a two-dimensional figure whose only plot purpose is only to serve as a weapon to be unhinged at the command of Rick, the leader of the intrepid group of zombie apocalypse survivors.

In future episodes, I would suggest that it will be even more clear that Michonne is only a slightly more under control version of the X-Men's Wolverine for Rick. Wolverine was Weapon X; Michonne is a Samurai sword wielding loyal negress.

Glenn is the Asian fix it man, former pizza delivery man, and loyal friend of the white men in the party. Glenn is a post apocalyptic version of the model minority myth. Glenn is not a full "Hop Sing"; however, he is very close to that archetype.

To point. For two seasons, he remains "feminized"--"sneaky, evasive, and stealthy"--until being forced into "manhood" by Merle's interrogation in the most recent episode "When the Dead Come Knocking." Glenn's loyalty to Rick, and the system of white male patriarchal authority he embodies in the show, was symbolically "rewarded" by the former's sexual union with Maggie, a white woman.

In The Walking Dead universe, upward racial mobility would seem to have its "perks."

The Walking Dead TV series is ultimately a story about how white male authority is enduring in a world populated by the undead. As a premise, this is a fine, interesting, and potentially fascinating framework for genre storytelling (I wonder how many viewers understand that this is the not so subtle subtext of the series?).

As further proof of the continuing dominance of white masculinity in a world where the dead now walk the Earth, this season's villain has also surrendered to the white racial frame, where The Governor, who was originally Hispanic in the graphic novel, has been rewritten as a white character.

I can accept that The Walking Dead TV series occupies its own universe and narrative space. I can also accept that people of color are peripheral in this universe, and as such, the roles played by them will be different than the vision offered by the graphic novel. But, I am less forgiving of how a character such as Michonne has been robbed of her power and complexity. My claim is a challenging and provocative one: if you love a character and respect them, then you, the author/creator, must at times let bad things happen to your beloved creation. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Drudge Report: Negro Zombies Try to Eat White Shoppers for Cheap Phones on Black Friday at Walmart

I respect White Supremacist websites such as Stormfront, Chimpout, and Niggermania. I do not like them; their public is my enemy; and the White Nationalists who frequent such sites have no love for me either.

But, they are far less dangerous than the Drudge Report. Moreover, they are honest brokers. Such a trait is to be respected, if not worthy of a beer at the bar while we discuss "race realism."

If I were a White Conservative who listened to Rush Limbaugh, watched Fox News, and frequented Drudge, I would likely be possessed of a great level of anxiety and fear about the Black Muslim usurper President and his black hoard that waylays good white people on Black Friday. 

In the spirit of "real talk": if my news and media diet was only drawn from such sources I would hate black people too. I would do so without apology. Racism would be my standing decision rule. However, I would not call it racism. My bigotry would be couched in the language of "reasonable prejudgment."

I would also arm myself in preparation for the Negro Jubilee--an event aided and abetted by the millions of Hispanics, and the 47 percent moochers, who helped to "steal" the election from Mitt Romney.

One should not forget that the bubble of Right-wing epistemic closure and its echo chamber are real; reason cannot penetrate it. The New Right's brand of authoritarianism in the Age of Obama only gains strength the more that it is defeated and called attention to. Their reality is governed by a paradox which those who are students of empiricism, reality, and want to see a respectable Republican Party, cannot understand. We are children of the Enlightenment; the Tea Party GOP practices witchcraft, as they are carryovers from the Dark Ages. There is no compromise possible--not now or ever. 

Ultimately, I do hope that all of you had a nice and restful Thanksgiving. I also hope that you resisted the pull of empty consumerism and the allure of buying cheap garbage made in China from Walmart (and other stores). 

Despite, or maybe because of your respite, the enemies of decency, the Common Good, and the humanity of black and brown folks never rest. They have a  news network, websites, talk radio shows, and a TV network to disseminate the propaganda of the White Right. 

Apparently, in a sea of wretched, multiracial humanity, the only person that matters for the White Gaze is an older white woman, apparently washed away by a mass of negritude that churns, moves, and swallows her whole: it is negro quicksand, undulating, hungry, and desirous of White flesh. Will the other decent white people, shopping for cheap crap in the midst of a sea of melanin stew and sticky tar baby coloreds, with their heavy paws yearning for cheap prepaid cellphones and white flesh, be able to escape the burr haired mass?

I wonder. 

For the honest, and curious, here is a video of the mischief at a Walmart in Moultrie, Georgia on Black Friday, which was frontpaged on the Drudge Report. 

This is a mass spectacle of interracial consumerist democracy run amok. Why do the Drudge Report and other mainstream conservative websites only choose to highlight the wretchedness of black people while simultaneously overlooking the same foul behavior by white folks? 

Once more, White Privilege the White Racial Frame is a hell of a drug.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Conversation With Author Maurice Broaddus on Speculative Fiction, the Craft of Writing, Race and Science Fiction, and C.L. Bryant

I hope you all have a good and restful Thanksgiving. For our first podcast episode I reached out to a long time friend and fellow expert on Star Wars to discuss the future of the franchise in light of Lucas Arts sale to Disney.

In this newest podcast, I am keeping with our ghetto nerd theme. Because of your kindness I was able to attend the World Science Fiction Convention, which was held here in Chicago during August of this year. There, I met Maurice Broaddus. He is cool folks. He is also an accomplished fantasy and speculative fiction author. Maurice is the author of the Knights of Breton Court series of "urban fantasy" novels. He is also the editor of the horror anthology series Dark Faith.

In this conversation, Maurice and I discuss the craft of writing, race and the science fiction community, and his "evolution" to being a principled conservative who also embraces the tenets of black liberation theology. Oh yeah--how can I forget--Brother Maurice also had the good fortune to interview C.L. Bryant, black propagandist garbage pail kid buck-dancing conservative for hire and the producer of the hellish documentary Runaway Slave.

In all, some good stuff here. I hope you enjoy it and also become a fan of Maurice Broaddus.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sitting on a Keg of Dynamite: Tarantino Discusses his New Slavery Revenge Fantasy Film "Django"

PLAYBOY: In the movie, slaves are raped and men fight against each other like pit bulls. When you made Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction, you were criticized for liberal use of the N word. There’s plenty of that here. Are you sitting on a powder keg? 
TARANTINO: Now I’m picturing myself sitting on a keg of TNT like a Looney Tunes cartoon. It remains to be seen, I guess. If we are, it’s not because I’m trying to be inflammatory. I’m just telling my story the way I’m telling it. I’m putting it in a spaghetti Western framework and highlighting the surreal qualities inherent in the material. I’m highlighting them mythically and operatically, and in terms of violence and gruesomeness, with pitch-black humor. That’s all part of the spaghetti Western genre, but I’m doing it about a section of history that couldn’t be more surreal, bizarre, cruel or perversely comedic when looked at from a certain view. They go hand in hand.
I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino's work. He is one of the most talented filmmakers of his--or any other--generation. In some ways, even more so than Pulp Fiction, I would argue that Kill Bill is a master work of pastiche and post-modern aesthetic conventions. In total, Tarantino's film opus is a love letter to cinema and geek culture. As a ghetto nerd, I hold him in the highest regards.

However, the more I learn about his newest "exploitation" revenge film Django, which is set in the antebellum South, the more I am concerned about his ability to match his genre sensibilities with the primordially difficult issues of race and representation that are embodied by popular culture's relationship to the Black Holocaust and chattel slavery.

As he shares in a recent interview with Playboy, Tarantino is playing with some combustible elements in Django:
PLAYBOY: But the idea of portraying these slave women as prostitutes—
TARANTINO: Well, they’re not 100 percent prostitutes. The Cleopatra Club in the film is not a brothel. It’s a gentlemen’s club, a bring-your-own-bottle kind of place. There it’s bring your own pony, and you can have dinner with her.
PLAYBOY: Pony is the term for an attractive slave woman?
PLAYBOY: And that really existed?
TARANTINO: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think it’s the cornerstone of slavery, or one of the things that made it work. Aside from the labor force, it was the sex on demand. The minute people own other people, we all know that’s definitely part of it. Did they do that back then? Yes. They do that right now—go to Bangkok. The thing about the Cleopatra Club is, if you like your slave girl you can take her there. You can have dinner. You can socialize. If you are a guy who wants to take your pony and just fuck her for a night on the town, okay, you can do that. But maybe you actually love your girl and she’s kind of your de facto wife. This is a way to take her out and show her a good time.
My principle worries about Django are centered on how audiences will receive and interpret the film. Every time I have seen the trailer in the theater there is an uncomfortable moment of awkward silence, then curiosity, obligatory laughter, and excitement.

People take away meaning from popular culture in their own ways.

Some will see Django as harmless fun and a signal that it is okay to laugh at a tale of slavery, rape, and one of history's great crimes which has still not been given a full accounting of. Others, will be offended not so much at the text itself, but that a white filmmaker dared to play with such a controversial and provocative subject. I imagine that many young viewers who are already socialized into a color blind lie will enjoy Django because slavery was "so long ago anyway" and why not have a good laugh at it?

The Mouth of Madness: White Dreams of White Genocide and Inventing "Black" Music

The white race is a historically constructed social formation. It consists of all those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give their support to a system that degrades them.
The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of the white skin. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue, domestic and foreign, in US society. 
The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender, or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a predictor of behavior will lead to its collapse.
RACE TRAITOR aims to serve as an intellectual center for those seeking to abolish the white race. It will encourage dissent from the conformity that maintains it and popularize examples of defection from its ranks, analyze the forces that hold it together and those that promise to tear it apart. Part of its task will be to promote debate among abolitionists. When possible, it will support practical measures, guided by the principle, Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.
Brother Noel Ignatiev's wisdom resonates to this day. I love how his reasonable, calm, insightful, and fair description of how Whiteness hurts white people, and imperils American civilization (and its long term health)--see Romney's use of white identity politics and how close this brought him to the White House--is a source of so much pain and angst for the White Right.

Apparently, my basic question about the meaning of Whiteness in the aftermath of Mitt Romney's defeat has earned (again) the attention of the polite White Nationalist crowd. They are great entertainment. Moreover, the more these good folks attempt to explain their understanding of "race realism" and "racialism" the more fascinating and twisted their logic and argumentation becomes.

I am particularly fascinated with the White Right's obsession with White victimhood. I did not know that the most powerful group of people in the United States--white men, and by proxy, white women--were so imperiled. I also did not know that White people exist under a perpetual threat of "genocide." As G.I. Joe taught a whole generation of young people, knowing is half the battle.

In reading some of the posts in defense of aggrieved Whiteness, I came upon this explanation of the origins of black music in the New World.

Yes, I think Mindweapon really shot himself in the foot there. I won’t stand for the monkey-see-monkey-do behavior of our vibrant and diverse African cousins being equated with them creating entirely new types of music when it was Whites that did most of the legwork, and Whites that are the greatest exponents of those artistic traditions. 
What’s next? Claiming the Chinese are responsible for putting the man on the moon because they make profuse use of firecrackers? 
The truth of the matter is that Jazz, Blues and Rock and Roll are played using musical instruments invented by WHITES, powered by electricity technology invented by WHITES, using musical scales invented by WHITES based on mathematics invented by WHITES, recorded with media technologies invented by WHITES and sung in a WHITE language with lyrics in a writing system created by WHITES. 
Hey, I guess even Obama is right once in a while: “They didn’t built it, someone else made that happen.” 
Jazz, Blues and Rock and Roll are not even “positive externalities” of BRA that can’t pay the bill. They are just another facet of negro riding on whitey’s back. If we had no BRA we would have better Jazz, better Blues and better Rock and Roll.

Apparently, there are White Nationalist ethnomusicologists who are desperately working to correct errors in scholarship which would suggest that there is such a thing as "black" music, and/or a black musical and aesthetic tradition.

Imperiled Whiteness as channeled by White Nationalists is mired in an epic irony. They bemoan and hate upon the petit Black nationalist crowd that desperately claim all things of merit in the World (and the West) were the product of Black Genius. The low level White Nationalists who are engaged in their own racist chauvinistic political masturbation online use the same decision rules as those they despise: the only difference is that instead of Afrotopian dreaming, the White Nationalist crowd is engaged in a fictive Nordic European cave-dwelling Whiteness under siege fantasy. 

I usually delete comments by racist trolls. I will not change that policy. However, since I looked into the mouth of madness, I will let madness speak--within reason--as I am curious about how Internet White Nationalists reconcile their personal fictions with empirical reality.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Post Mitt Romney, What Does "Whiteness" Mean to You?

Almost two weeks post election, the media is still fascinated by Mitt Romney's defeat and how America's ostensibly changing racial demographics will doom (or not) the Republican Party to obsolescence. The chattering classes are getting a bit more close to the foundational questions that we as a country should be reflecting upon in this moment.

Last week for example, The New York Times offered up an interesting, albeit brief, exploration of the relationship between immigration and American national identity. There, the amazingly accomplished historian, Nell Irvin Painter, an authority on the history of white people, was given too little time to explore the foundational questions that a longer and more sustained essay would have most certainly allowed her. In fairness, the other essays were insightful as well.

However, not one of these excellent short essays broached the basic question of how the black-white binary is dependent upon the fact that African-Americans are by definition "unassimilable." Blacks folks are not an "ethnic" group as classically defined by Sociology--we are the basement group against which non-blacks (and many Afro-Caribbean immigrants) define their position in the social hierarchy. For at least three centuries, this "public" calculus has remain unchanged in the United States.

Perhaps, such questions are political dynamite in the Age of Obama and post-civil rights multicultural America? This fact would explain the obvious evasion.

Moreover, we are not asking these important questions either:

Are demographics destiny? Do race and ethnicity neatly map onto political attitudes and ideology? Are racial categories static or changing? And how does a consideration of how race is a category defined by both stability and change upset all of this premature doomsday epitaph writing for the preeminent power of Whiteness in American politics?

I believe in first principles. As such, we should always strive to define our terms.

For me, one of the values of writing online is that pedagogy can be transformed into a type of public performance--the great Claire Potter who writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education under the pen name "Tenured Radical" is sponsoring a panel at the ASA conference on that very same topic (I was invited to participate, but regretfully had to decline. The invite was so very much appreciated).

I benefit from writing online in many ways. Primarily, this genre of writing forces me to make the theory laded speech that is common to academics (and others) more transparent. These conversations are also helpful because one can survey the range of common sense understandings surrounding such concepts as race, class, gender, and sexuality which exist in day-to-day life.

Social scientists are trained to the idea of the sociological imagination--ironically, many of them forget the power of the quotidian, and how real folks live these concepts, even if they do not have the vocabulary to describe their lives in such academic terms.

To point. I would suggest that the Mitt Romney postmortem of white people, and the role of a particular type of Whiteness in American politics, is both very premature and misspecified.

Before we work through the details of this error in reasoning by the pundit classes, it is necessary to meditate on some basic matters: "Whiteness" as a term and concept is circulating throughout the public discourse during this political moment; let's try to define the essential attributes of Whiteness before talking about its changing relationship to the future of American politics and social life.

For me, Whiteness is many things. These observations are far from exhaustive.

Whiteness is separate and apart from "white" people. There are many white people--and some people of color--overly identified with and invested in Whiteness. However, the socio-historical and political concept known as Whiteness does not necessarily tell me anything about a given white person.

Whiteness is a type of privilege and property. Whiteness is also typified by invisibility and a sense of normality for its owners. As such, in America, to be "normal" is to be white.

Whiteness is benign and innocent for its owners and allies. Whiteness is also terrifying, violent, destructive, and belligerent towards those who have suffered under it.

How would you define Whiteness? Complete the following sentence if you would: "To me, Whiteness is..."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Occam's Razor: Is the Petreaus "Scandal" Really About Covering Up the Military's Ties to Tampa's Underground Sex Culture?

Some fun and a quick thought for the weekend.

Today's Congressional hearings with David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, were a Rorschach test: conspiratorial minded Republicans heard what they wanted to hear about a non-scandal and non-coverup in Libya; other more reasonable folks heard a story about a chaotic, kinetic, and (then) developing attack on the U.S. Consulate/CIA listening station that was--and is--still being sorted out.

The Petraeus-Paula Broadwell-Jill Kelley scandal is like a bad Lifetime TV movie. There is sex, betrayal, high society living, greed, debt, wannabe celebrities, and powerful people. I believe in Occam's razor where the simplest explanation is usually the most correct one. I am also a fan of a good conspiracy theory. As much as the Tea Party GOP would like it to be, the Petraeus imbroglio is not about Obama, blackmail, or a cover-up regarding Libya.

This whole matter will eventually be exposed as a twisted tale of sex, alpha male indulgence, suburban debauchery, and Tampa's underground swinger and sex party scene.

Some data points:

Tavis Smiley Making Sense and Calling Out Foolishness: "Latinos, Women and Young People--That is the New Governing Coalition"

This is real simple for me. With all due respect to the formidable coalition of Latinos, women, and young voters, Barack Obama would not be sitting in the Oval Office right now had Black folk stayed home in their "house slippers." African Americans are his most loyal constituency and everybody in the Obama reelection campaign and in the Obama White House knows it. The president owes Black folk. BIG time. 
The poet Gwendolyn Brooks had this wonderful refrain, "the last of the loud." Respectfully, somebody has to remind the president day in and day out of the debt he owes Black America. After four years of being sidelined and silenced, it's time to get loud. We have to be willing to engage even if we are "the last of the loud." 
Our Latino brothers and sisters immediately (as in the day after the election) jumped on a national media conference call to make it clear that they saved the president in some key battleground states. I ain't mad at 'em. That's exactly what they should have done. Black folk taught the disenfranchised masses how to make demands in the name of unarmed truth and unconditional love. Ready for the hard truth? At the moment, our Latino brothers and sisters are better examples of the Black prophetic tradition than are Black folk.
Tavis Smiley is the second man in a tag team of provocation and "truth telling" with Cornel West. They have been calling out President Obama and his stable of academics and activists for many months, beginning with the president's first term. West cut another vicious promo against his opposition last week. Smiley, is choosing to take a different tact with this insightful essay on how African-Americans are being (conveniently) written out of Obama's re-election story.

Smiley is highlighting some uncomfortable truths that some in the black-brown coalition which defeated Romney do not want to discuss at this celebratory juncture.

How will the emergence of Hispanics as the country's largest "minority" group impact national politics, generally and black politics, specifically?

I am deeply suspicious of any claims regarding "natural" affinity between African-Americans and other minority groups. Race is not destiny. A shared status as "people of color" says little about how those identities, especially for ethnic groups like Hispanics (who can be of any race), are contingent and evolving.

For example, if Hispanics are inaugurated into "whiteness" what will that mean for shared interests with black Americans? 

Black Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are competitors both in the labor market, as well as the political arena. There may be areas of overlap and shared concern; there will be, and are, areas of competition, as well as a divergence of interests.

The black/white binary has dominated American social, political, and cultural life for at least 300 years. In the United States, Asians, Hispanics, and other groups have been "triangulating" between these two poles. Here, political and economic power are two additional dimensions in a binary relationship which must be considered. White Americans are preeminently strong on both axes. Black Americans have been able to attain political power at a cost: they are weak in terms of economic power. Asian Americans have economic power. But, they are weak in terms of political power.

Thus, a question.

As Hispanics leverage their role in Obama's re-election and translate it into real political currency--something black people will not be able to do--what will happen as they gain access both in terms of economic and political power? Moreover, what happens to the United States (and to the African-American community) if Hispanics can use their status as an ethnic group to gain more political and economic power than Black Americans?

The shameless gloating about the decline of White Conservative Masculinity, and the demographic winter of white people, is an ironic and trickster-like mask: black folks are approaching their own demographic and political winter given the ascendance of Hispanics as the country's largest "minority" group. Whiteness is repositioning itself for this reality; Blackness needs to reposition itself as well. The "browning" of America may actually make for some interesting--and surprising--bedfellows.

Eric Liu's "After the White Establishment" is a (White) Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: "The Emerging Coalition of Color Needs to Recommit to Americanness Itself"

It’s not just that a president was elected against the express wishes of a majority of white Americans; after all, that happened twice with Bill Clinton. It’s that we chose to keep a black man in the Oval Office. And the “we” who did that included more nonwhites than ever recorded in an American electorate
But the question now is what we do — and who “we” are. Whites in America, like Americans in the world, may still have more power in absolute terms than anyone else. But they have less power than they used to (like Americans in the world). This moment in history, and its accelerating demographic shift, could give us zero-sum politics fueled by white status anxiety.  Or it could give us the opportunity to at last detach Americanness from whiteness... 
At the same time, the emerging coalition of color needs to recommit to Americanness itself. There’s a civic creed at the heart of this country, a culture of democracy and inclusive self-government, that’s worthy of commitment. It’s time for people of every color to reclaim and redeem that universal, unifying creed: to identify first as Americans so that the full diversity of our identities can flourish...
Race is a dance. It is also a set of relationships and norms. Race is also a ritual--one which often follows a predictable script.

In post civil rights America, color blindness is a civic virtue. The politics that were brought into existence with the difficult and forced birth of multicultural democracy at the end of the civil rights movement involved a consensus of sorts: both white people and people of color were equally capable of racism. White supremacy, as well as Jim and Jane Crow, were simply byproducts of poor decision making and a maladaptive "Southern" culture; they were separate and apart from any deep reflections on either the nature of White Government, or of Whiteness itself.

This was a pragmatic decision that was driven by the needs of elites in the context of the Cold War who wanted to put the national embarrassment of formal white supremacy behind them. They found a practical solution that was forced by the bravery and courage of the foot soldiers, men and women, children and adults, black folks and our allies, in the Civil Rights Movement and the long Black Freedom Struggle.

The descendant of this consensus is a multicultural America that is possessed by a lie of false equivalence. Here, public discussions of white racism, and the semi-permanence of the color line, fall into a trap where justice claims by people of color--or simply matter of fact, sharp, and real observations about the nature of white identity politics and racism--are met by a need to defend, protect, and recuperate Whiteness.

[See the hysterical response to Reverend Wright's truth telling and astute reading of American history during Obama's first presidential campaign.]

Racial discourse in the public sphere is dictated by a commandment that white folks as a group must always be allowed the option of being shown in a kind light (even as the dominant culture views white racism as abominable, anachronistic, and shameful).

For example, critiques of the clear and open politics of white racial resentment, dog whistles, and overt racial appeals by Mitt Romney's campaign were met by silly editorials about "black racism" because the latter group made a calculated choice to support Barack Obama as the Republican Party's policies were so nakedly hostile to them.

In popular culture, the stories about black people fighting white racism in such films as Mississippi Burning and Glory revolve around white saviors. Black Americans have their agency removed; our agency and role in taking back freedom is conveniently "white washed." The Help is another horrid example of the white savior narrative where a story about black people's struggles are told through the eyes of a white main character, and white racists--the majority of the population during American Apartheid--are painted as caricatures and outliers.

Spielberg's epic Lincoln commits the same sin wherein black people are depicted as two dimensional characters, mere observers in our own Emancipation struggle. And the soon to be released "42", which is about the life of Jackie Robinson (I was among the first in the country to see it Wednesday night here in Chicago), while a very good movie, also falls prey to the need for Whiteness to recuperate itself through conspicuous characters whose only function is to show how not all white folks are/were racist.

The postmortem of Mitt Romney's defeat by President Obama, and the demographic suicide facing the country's White Political Party (otherwise known as the Tea Party GOP) adheres to the same script. The pundit class has begun a healthy, although ahistorical, discussion of what the "browning" of America will mean for the country's politics. But, in a search for a triumphalist theme, these same observers are, for the most part, ignoring how White identity politics still won Mitt Romney the majority of the White vote.