Thursday, December 13, 2012

Open Thread: Should Racism be Listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders?

Black Sage, one of our frequent commenters, offered up the following regarding the upcoming movie Django, and the reaction of the White Right to the film:
The sickness of some of the comments on Newsbuster’s website makes me ponder the following question: When will the American Psychiatric Association add racism to their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)? Obviously, the scourge of racism is not normal behavior.
I have thought about this question on occasion. I am very interested in "biopolitics," and how the State organizes bodies relative to categories of citizenship and the public sphere. However, given my wide, and at times unwieldy range of interests, I had never done (even) a cursory Internet search for any topics on racism and mental illness. 

Yes, I knew what Brother Na'im Akbar had said about the topic of mental health and white racism. I did attend the Black Man Think Tanks back in the 1990s where I listened to folks go back and forth on the topic. 

I also have read Fanon and Kovel. However, whatever I gleamed about the topic was stored in the memory banks and not accessed on a consistent basis. It was background noise. 

I made a quick search following Black Sage's question. There was an immediate result that shocked me for its coherence and directness. From Professor Alvin F. Poussaint in the Western Journal of Medicine:
The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association's officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.
The psychiatric profession's primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index.1 Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.
To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness.
Extreme racists' violence should be considered in the context of behavior described by Allport in The Nature of Prejudice.2 Allport's 5-point scale categorizes increasingly dangerous acts. It begins with verbal expression of antagonism, progresses to avoidance of members of disliked groups, then to active discrimination against them, to physical attack, and finally to extermination (lynchings, massacres, genocide). That fifth point on the scale, the acting out of extermination fantasies, is readily classifiable as delusional behavior...
Have you ever gotten a shiver up your spine when doing some journal research or coming upon a necessary book in a library or used bookstore? Where a plain truth, offered up by a respected scholar, is right in front of you? 

Dr. Pouissant is one such expert scholar-practitioner. That he would detail such a direct claim left me a bit shook. 

I am torn on the issue of racism and mental illness. Let's work this one out together. 

1. If racism is a condition that should be in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, would "racists" qualify for protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

2. If virulent racists kill people would the former not be fit for criminal prosecution? If a racist is discriminating against people in the workplace could they be confronted and/or removed/fired?

3. If racists are "mentally ill," and it is a mass psychosis, does the State have an obligation to correct racism by using chemicals or other means, just as how fluoride is added to the water to prevent dental cavities?

4. Does this let racists off the hook too easily? Does a diagnosis of racism as a mental illness do the work of colorblind conservative racism, where the various types of white supremacy as manifested by contemporary Republican Tea Party GOP politics, become even harder to confront? Here, the response by the White Right can now become, "I am not "crazy! How dare you suggest that I am?" Alternatively, does the White Right get encouragement for their bigotry because they can then say, "I am sick. I didn't mean it. I am a victim!"

We have a varied readership here at We Are Respectable Negroes. Please teach me something about this puzzle of racism and public health. Where do you stand on this issue?

The Internet Speaks Back: What Advice Would You Give to This Tragic Mulatto Upset at My Critique of CNN's "Black in America" Series?

Thank you again for donating to our holiday pledge drive. I have learned that repetition is important with fundraising. We are on a nice and consistent pace here on WARN. Each day a consistent amount of funds are being thrown into the virtual tip jar. I would to thank all of you for such a kind gesture.

I would like to end my humbling exercise in having my hand open--as I do not advertise on We Are Respectable Negroes--as soon as possible. There have been more than one million page loads of We Are Respectable Negroes. By the end of January, there will be more than one million visitors. For a website started by friends after a casual conversation that ain't too shabby. 

I learn from all of you. I benefit from your comments. And I would like more folks who lurk and that I talk to via email,to chime in. You all have so much to offer. WARN is only as good as we make it. And yes, we are going some fun places in the upcoming year.

If you have not, and after the bills, kids, daily coffee or tea, and holiday shopping, do throw some change into the tip jar if you can. It will be very much appreciated.
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Today, I am going to feature a few posts on issues related to mental health, race, and identity. There is a big question looming over some of our many conversations here on We Are Respectable Negroes that I have never engaged in the depth it deserves. Earlier this week, one of our commenters stated the puzzle and question very plainly.

It really is worthy of explicit engagement--and I would like remedy that oversight today

In response to the latest CNN Black in America special, I wrote an essay on how the most recent installment in the series was actually an investigative report about tragic mulattoes--and a spectacle centered on "outing" black folks' private business around issues of "colorism" and racial identity before a national audience.

Given that the black community has still not worked through such issues in private, I suggested that how a major network would make such matters a topic of public discussion was deeply problematic on any number of levels. Alas, as it always does, profit trumps good considerations of empathy or discretion.

As I wrote about here and on the Daily Kos, last Sunday CNN offered up a human zoo of tragic mulattoes who desperately want to "pass," and thus become "white." 

I intentionally used the phrase "tragic mulatto" because while it is a literary trope, said language does a great job of capturing the real human dynamics of how some folks choose to navigate the colorline in this country. 

There are in fact tragic mulattoes in the black community (as well as among other "raced" groups) who will make a "rational" calculation to overly identity with Whiteness (see: Clarence Thomas and Michelle Malkin), and in if possible to "pass" because life as a person of color is just too damn difficult in their eyes. 

They want to seek a novel and special identity as racial middlemen and middle-women. They understand that being a member of the "colored" classes can be both financially lucrative and beneficial in terms of day-to-day life chances. 

The joke is ultimately on them: "multiracial" identity is prefaced on a lie. Why this claim?

There are no "pure" races. Moreover, the multiracial movement in the United States is driven by a desire to be anything other than black, to distance themselves from the Black Freedom Struggle, and by implication, African-Americans (as well as other people of color).

This is especially true for those "mixed race" or "multiracial" folks who are the product of pairings between African Americans and whites--where the former is not present in the lives of their children. As research has suggested, white parents, especially mothers, desperately want to access some type of white privilege for the children they have produced with a person of color.

A broad, humanistic, and all encompassing understanding that black folks in the Americas are for the most part "multiracial" because of chattel slavery's legacy is an obstacle to that vision. Here, the rule of hypo-descent--or what is known in common American speech as the "one drop rule"-- is overturned. For many "multiracials" their location in the social hierarchy is now determined by one's relationship to Whiteness as opposed to their blood ties to Black America. 

I enjoy writing online because the Internet speaks back to you. Abstract sociological concepts become real in such moments. Libraries are great. Journal articles are essential. Empirical research is indispensable.

Having the sociological imagination quite literally email you is priceless.

When these concepts "speak" they can be authentic, i.e. a "real person" who is personally invested in these ideas because they are an actual member of the group being discussed. Online commenters can be frauds too: however, in their performance of a lie, they are revealing how some dimension of the public's collective consciousness understands said idea or concept.

A real tragic mulatto spoke back to me over at the Daily Kos. Out of almost 300 comments, their voice rang clear and true. I would like to share the exchange.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Who is the Bigger Political Turd? Black Conservative C.L. Bryant or The American Thinker's Daren Jonescu?



Some fun scatalogical politics.

Not too long ago I decided to go to to my favorite Mexican restaurant. I ordered a steak burrito with onions and cilantro. I asked for extra red and green pico de gallo. I would then go home and enjoy this sleep inducing feast with a few cans of Coca Cola. I also knew that this mix of flavors would be stimulant for my "morning glory" the next day. As such, I would allow a few extra moments in my start of the day routine for such an inevitable happening.

Like many of you, I have a morning ritual that I try not to deviate from. One of my habits is that I hate to use the bathroom once I leave home. I also hate disrupting the natural order of things by taking a good healthy poop after I get out of the shower. Such an order of events is just so wrong and unnatural to me.

[I wonder what Zizek would say about my stalwart belief regarding such toilet related matters?]

I sat down for my morning meditation in the bathroom and things went as expected. My meal the night before had the predicted effect of making for an easy bit of effortless relief. While cleaning myself with wet wipes, soap, and hot water, I felt an odd pressure. I was arrogant and bold. I thought that my personal matters had been concluded. I was so very wrong. What was supposed to be a wee bit of fragrant air--what I call a "butt chuckle"--was in fact a betrayal. I had crapped all over my hand and wrist: my burrito, pico de gallo, and Coke had gotten their revenge. Embarrassed. Broken. Beaten. I simply had to laugh. Thank the fates that I am still relatively flexible, had a bottle of bleach nearby, and could extricate myself without too much "collateral damage."

The dueling examples of political feces offered up by C.L. Bryant and the American Thinker's Daren Jonescu are a fitting epilogue to my tale of toilet peril.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

3,500 Comments Later, Racist Conservatives Apparently Don't Like Jamie Foxx and Django Very Much




Again, much thanks to the good and kind people who have contributed to the first ever donation drive here at We Are Respectable Negroes. A few more folks offered up some funds today. That is so very kind and appreciated. I learn from all of you, and my own work only gets better because of our dialogue(s) and sharing.

If things continue for a week or so, I will be able to get a plane ticket to make a surprise visit to see my mother and our 16 year old dog this Christmas. If you have a spare dollar or two, do throw it in to the collective begging bowl for our fundraising drive if you can. Plus, I will then stop being persistent, and my best imitation of NPR will come to an end.
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It would appear that Jamie Foxx is not too popular among conservatives at the moment. As the star in Quentin Tarantino's upcoming speculative history film Django, where he plays a slave turned bounty hunter who gets to render justice out to the white people who wronged him and his family, Foxx is now an object of rage for white conservative victimologists, and those obsessed with "reverse racism."

In an earlier post on Django, we discussed the deep anxieties about black revenge, agency, and freedom in American (read: "white" and popular) culture. The whitewashing of Spielberg's movie Lincoln in order to remove black people as having been agents in their own freedom struggle is a cousin to that example.

While it should not be a surprise given the subject matter of the film, the intensity of the racially infused vitriol being directed at Jamie Foxx (and by extension the movie Django) following his appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend is nonetheless quite instructive.

There are now some 3,500 comments on the Right-wing site Newsbusters (whose story on Jamie Foxx's "racism" was promoted by the Drudge Report) where all manner of hateful utterances by white nationalists are effortlessly (and indistinguishably) co-mingled with those of "respectable" conservatives. The ease with which "respectable" conservatives can dialogue with overt bigots--and how their observations and tenor so easily overlap--is a frightening barometer for the current state of Right-wing political discourse in the Age of Obama.

The contemporary Republican Party has created a brand name for itself which is prefaced on white identity politics and white nativism. As such, they are the country's de facto White Party. While the White Right searches for a way to broaden its base, and to become more diverse in the face of the public's rejection of their policies in the 2012 election, the contemporary conservative movement is stuck in a state of limbo, a political conundrum and malaise, that they themselves created.

Monday, December 10, 2012

If CNN Made a "White in America" TV Series What Questions Would You Like to See Featured?

In this post, I suggested that CNN's Black in America series is extremely problematic because of how it normalizes whiteness. I would like to play with that idea some more.

The premise behind the Black in America series is that people of color are some type of fascinating Other to be deconstructed, explained, and their mysterious ways worked through on national television.

Let us reverse the gaze for a moment. Decentering whiteness, and challenging how it is taken as a de facto, unmarked, and unnamed type of "normal" identity, is critical if we are to understand the roots--and implications--of white racial resentment and white fear in post civil rights America.

The white identity politics of the Right, which they are doubling down on following Romney's defeat by Obama, are a reaction to how conservatives perceive Whiteness as being challenged and under siege in this moment. As such, the timing is opportune for examining the "mysterious" and "problematic" ways of white folks. Such questions can serve the Common Good and better prepare all of us for an America where the colorline is in flux.

As such, if CNN made a White in America series, what questions and topics would you like to see it explore?

Should the show focus on the pathologies of the white poor, middle class, and rich, with their high levels of drug use, sexual promiscuity, and the crisis of white masculinity in this country?

Alternatively, should the show explore how rich white men almost destroyed the country's economy and were enabled by other elites in doing so...we all know that if blacks or other people of color behaved as badly as the White CEO's that caused the Great Recession, a national conversation about "affirmative action" (and how such incompetents got their jobs) would spontaneously occur.

In the spirit of the Black in America series, I have some specific questions about White People that I am very curious about. Perhaps, some of our readers can offer up some answers for the benefit of the non-white public.

1. I have never heard of black or Hispanic parents letting their teenage, or even college age children, have sex in the house with former's knowledge. Moreover, I have acquaintances who happen to be white, whose mothers would bring them breakfast in bed after their girlfriend spent the night. Is this common?

2. I would like to know about colorism in the white community. White people have many issues surrounding their skin color. On one hand, there is an odd fascination and revulsion with dark skin. Many white folks like to get a tan; however, they have no sense of affinity with black or brown people. How is this reconciled? Also, the "darker" white ethnic groups in the United States have a reputation for being very hostile to people of color. What types of psychological neuroses are at work there?

3. The bodies of black women have been an object of prurient fascination, lust, wanting, and disgust when viewed through the White Gaze. See: Sarah Baartman, "The Hottentot Venus," many commercial hip hop videos, as well as some of the various sub-genres in contemporary pornography.

In the West, the black body has been an object of loathing by whites. It is, and has been, a site for racist attitudes to be (quite literally) projected upon. Thus, a puzzle.

How do white folks reconcile the popularity of white women who are now famous for having physical attributes which are poor imitations of idealized black women's bodies? See Kim Kardashian, a white women who is famous for having a butt that is none too special or particularly attractive.

4. There have been documentaries about black women's relationship with their hair. I would like to learn more about white women's hair. What are all of those products that white women, and some men, use to "style" it with? Who teaches you good white folks how to use all of those hair treatments? How much do white women spend at the hair salon? How often do you go?

Also, why do most white men go to the same place where white women get their haircuts? Black men are the product of a barbershop culture, this leads me to ask some questions about white (American) men's masculinity.

5. When you read about white teachers having sex with their students, is there any sense of racial shame? One rarely sees stories about black and brown folks doing such things. Moreover, when you read about white serial killers, white domestic terrorists, and white mass shooters who go crazy and kill large numbers of people at movie theaters, do you reflect about what is wrong in your own culture?

Why? CNN's "Black in America" and NPR's "State of the Re:Union" Offer Up a Potpourri of Tragic Mulattoes Before a National Audience

Again, thanks to you good folks who contributed to our donation drive. I appreciate all of you. If things continue for a week or so, I will be going home to see Mama DeVega. After kids, Starbucks, and Black Peter, if you have a dollar or two, throw it in to support your favorite respectable negro troublemaker blogger during our first annual fundraising drive.

Something to start the week.
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Watching CNN, and listening to NPR on Sunday night, reminded me that Imitation of Life was not just a movie or a play; for many of us, such stories of racial identity, confusion, denial, and shame are all too real.

CNN's special on colorism and mixed race identity went as expected. It profiled many maladjusted young black people who would fail any brown paper bag test, yet have an almost pathological obsession with wanting to be white. I was laughing at the TV screen during the show because these brown complected black folks, who desperately want to "pass," would have been better suited for a skit on Chappelle's Show, than discussing matters of "race" and "culture" on national television.

As an antidote to such tragic mulattoes, Soledad O'Brien's Black in America special also profiled some well-adjusted black people who understand that race is a fiction. Despite the "race" of their not black parent, they understand that the one drop rule prevails in the United States, and these individuals gain strength and grounding from their identities as Black Americans. 

By comparison, NPR's State of the Re:Union ran a much more powerful and important show on Sunday night. All aspects of the sad and twisted American obsession with race, and how it has damaged all of us, were on clear display there.  

There is a cruel and plain truth which ties CNN's "Black in America", and NPR's "Pike County, Ohio: As Black as We Wish to Be", together. 

Being "black" is a social, economic, political, and social liability in the United States. Blackness is fetishized, desired, coveted, and wanted by non-whites. But, no one really wants to be black. Why should they? If one is assessing life chances, wealth, social stigma, risk, danger, and the added stress and anxiety that comes with being a black American--or another person of color (to varying degrees)--who would opt in to such an arrangement?

The young tragic mulattoes on CNN understand this fact. The black people who can pass for white in Pike County, Ohio certainly understand this fact: there, one of them even states that being black in America is too difficult, and who would want to be such a thing? 

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.
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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.

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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.