Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Did Melissa Harris-Perry Go too Far by Calling Tavis Smiley "the Nurse Who Aided and Abetted the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment?"

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The black family is strong here, with Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry giving the hot tag to her husband to set up Tavis Smiley for a spine buster a la Arn Anderson circa 1985.

I agree with the facts of her critique: Melissa's observation that Tavis Smiley was a middleman for mortgage fraud by the banking industry against black and brown communities is spot on.

Dr. Perry's allusion is also grounded historically--during Jim and Jane Crow it was common for white real estate agents who were engaged in "blockbusting" to send black families door to door in (then) exclusively white neighborhoods. Their presence would scare white people with the prospect of "racial integration." The mark was softened up. The con was turned when the white real estate agent could make an offer to buy the house because "the blacks" were moving in. The same real estate agent would then charge a premium to African-Americans who want to move into the same neighborhood.

But, to call Tavis Smiley the equivalent of the nurse who aided and abetted the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments is a lethal dagger. I have not seen such a damning turn of phrase in many years on national TV; it is the equivalent of some Mark Twain verbal sonning circa the 19th century.

There is lots of bad blood between Melissa, Tavis, and Brother West. One day the full details will come to light. For now, we only have rumors and guesses as to what is really driving the feud. How will West and Smiley respond? And do you think Professor Harris-Perry went too far?

I love a good fracas. The response by West and Smiley is going to be mighty entertaining.

Should Adam Lanza's Mother's Estate be Held Financially Responsible for the Sandy Hook Shooting?

The pledge drive and begging bowl are retracted come Friday. I am so touched and surprised by the generosity of our readers. One of the things I have been mulling over is pushing some boundaries about what we talk about here on WARN. The emails that I have received these last few days are encouraging me to continue in that direction. We all have so much to discuss, learn from each other, and dialogue about in regards to broad matters of public concerns. Going forward, I will be taking all of your advice and pushing outward...and forward.

If you want support these endeavors, and to increase the platform and reach of the conversations we have here on We Are Respectable Negroes, do try to support the site if possible in our first ever donation drive. One of the reasons I want to grow the site, and to move it to new directions  is precisely so that we have a venue and space to talk about these difficult issues of race, politics, culture, and other matters that many folks are afraid to engage with in a forthright and direct manner.
I am going to take on a delicate and difficult question in this post.

I learn from all of you. There are attorneys and others trained in these questions who routinely read We Are Respectable Negroes. I do hope that they chime in. However, as the moment of discussing the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary quickly passes--trust me, this will be off the radar by next week--we cannot run away from topics that we may otherwise feel a desire to discuss at a later date.

This is the key gambit of the Gun Right--they want the public to wait, wait, wait, and then wait some more. Then we will be numb again. This is why discussions of gun violence, mass murder, and public policy are smeared as unfairly "politicizing" a tragic event by the Right and its gun advocates.

Life is political. The State's responsibility to protect its citizens is at the heart of the social contract. We left the imagined State of Nature in order to pursue that bargain, and to surrender the personal right to administer justice. The Gun Right would like the American people to overlook that basic fact.

By all accounts, Adam Lanza's mother was dealing with an unimaginably difficult situation. Her son had mental health issues. She felt isolated and alone. While she had substantial resources, and they were able to help her deal with the challenges of Adam's mental health issues in ways that poor and working class people could not, Adam Lanza's mother was not able to stop his murderous rampage.

We must ask, and while carefully allowing for the dignity of Adam Lanza's mother, what does justice look like post-Sandy Hook? There can be no punitive justice because Adam Lanza killed himself, here taking the coward's way out. Is the solution redistributive justice, where the surviving parents and relatives are offered some monies that can never bring back their child, partner, or kin? But, where the transfer of resources have some type of symbolic value? Do the plaintiffs sue the gun companies for making a weapon which worked as designed by killing their family members?

Actions have consequences. Part of the challenge of dealing with America's gun culture and the Gun Right is a profound unwillingness to deal with personal responsibility when people using guns kill--this is ironic, but not expected, given conservatives' love of that slogan, and the gross hypocrisy of their leadership and political role-models in applying it in their own lives.

Adam Lanza's mother had multiple guns in her home, all the while knowing that he was mentally ill. Her son also had ready access to those lethal devices. Adam Lanza's mother also went shooting with her son. Likely, and I can only imagine this was her way of trying to be close to a distant child, that such activities would health the gulf between them. This is understandable; I cannot pretend that I would behave otherwise. But, as we try to imagine sensible gun control policies going forward, and in an era when mass shootings are increasingly common in the United States, how should the decisions of Adam Lanza's mother be factored into our conversations about justice?

A Black Father Explains the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre to his Eight Year Old Daughter

A reader emailed me about this recording of a father talking to his young daughter about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I wanted to share it with you.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where parents would be considered negligent if they did not talk to their kids about what to do in the case of gun violence at school.

I am now officially "old." Listening to this audio recording reminds me of the coming of age talks from my parents and other role-models.

I was taught early on how to interact with the police as a young black child --who would live to be an adult if I was/am/were lucky. Be polite, do not make any sudden moves, get the badge number, assume the cop wants to either arrest or kill you if given the chance, and do not say anything until we get there with a lawyer.

My father and godfather, who were World War 2 and Korea Army combat vets, respectively, made sure I had an appreciation for violence, how and win to fight, and also how to cut and run when appropriate. I remember my father who was a drill instructor (and served in North Africa) telling me that if someone is shooting at you to always remember that you will be scared. This is natural. But, you must always try to keep your senses and situational awareness. Run in a zigzag pattern because most people cannot hit a moving target. If you can hear the shooting you are likely safe and can get cover and/or escape if necessary. Quiet bullets will kill you.

The sum total of this advice saved my life on two occasions. I thank my dad and godfather for their wisdom.

Do not fight over silly things. Do not let yourself be bullied as this encourages abuse. Do not abandon your friends, or be a coward if they are good people, as the guilt will follow you forever. Fight dirty and win. Live to fight another day whenever possible. Fighting when not necessary is not a mark of manhood.

Considering the big picture, in listening to this father talk to his little girl about gun violence in school, I am torn about the dualities of American Exceptionalism.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Armed Teachers Be Playing Too Much Call of Duty: Despite the Dreams of the Gun Right a Well-Armed School is Not Necessarily a Safer School

I guess playing all that Call of Duty online ain't going to prepare you to be a badman in real life.

One of the canards and driving fictions of the Gun Right is the more guns equals less crime hypothesis. While there is little to no data supporting this hypothesis, it is one more example of the magical thinking that is conservatism in contemporary America. Plus, these claims are driven by sophisticated "studies" such as Dr. John Lott's--he used math and formal modeling so the argument must be accurate and correct--which was later eviscerated as a classic example of academic fraud.

Governments spend billions of dollars on training its soldiers to be lethal killers. Despite the development of  "killology," there is still no guarantee that a trained warrior will fire for direct effect at another human being. The Gun Right wants all of its members to believe that they can be the thin blue line, the person who stands in the breech, the person who does bad things in the night so that nice people can be safe, he or she who protects White Suburbia from the uncivilized predators lurking at the door and window.

The gun god wants it devotees to believe that a piece of metal and plastic can make them into a hero. As the above video, as well as this piece taking on Jeffrey Goldberg's claims that America needs more guns not less, demonstrate, a bunch of teachers, rent a cops, and other day trader types with guns are more likely to be Private Snafu than Dirty Harry.

As a helpful bonus, here David Grossman works through the psychology of killing and gun use in the BBC documentary The Truth About Killing. It is well worth watching in this post-Sandy Hook moment when the Gun Right wants to spin fictions about how a well armed school is a safe school.

A White Man Talking to All of Us: Post Adam Lanza and Sandy Hook, America Needs to Talk About the Dysfunctions of White Masculinity

A few more days to go.

If you want to see more of this type of unique and direct type of writing, and want to increase the platform and reach of the conversations we have here on We Are Respectable Negroes, do try to support the site if possible in our first ever donation drive. One of the reasons I want to grow the site, and to move it forward, is precisely so that we have a venue and space to talk about these difficult issues of race, politics, culture, and other matters that many folks are afraid to engage with in a forthright and direct manner.
The relationship between white masculinity and mass shootings is a national crisis, a public health emergency, and a threat to the common good. However, because the conversation is fundamentally about questions of identity, it is critically important that white men give voice and sound off on the issue.

I am very mindful of avoiding the trap where Whiteness, because of its social power, somehow always manages to recenter itself--even in conversations which are critical of Whiteness as a social construct.

Consequently, I want to allow space for white men to speak honestly and candidly about Adam Lanza and the possibility that a crisis in White Masculinity has lead to the many incidents of mass murder via the gun that the United States (and other countries) have been subjected to in recent decades.

Like clockwork, one of our guest essayists, the indispensable Werner Herzog's Bear has a great piece on this very subject that is worth reading. Mr. Bear's website Notes from the Ironbound deserves a much larger audience. He tells it like it is; he does not hold back; and is one of the few folks who are willing to talk plainly about these issues of white masculinity as they relate directly to matters of social justice, citizenship, and the Common Good in the United States.

I think that Werner is really hitting on an important point in his essay "It's Time to Talk About the Dysfunctions of White Masculinity" when he suggests that many white men "are socialized to be the masters of their fate and able to use violence to maintain control over their lives. These same men lack the tools to handle adversity, and are often left to their individual resources, even if they are mentally disturbed." 

His observation sounds like something my grandmother told me, a woman who was a maid in the Jim and Jane Crow South and later on in New Haven, Connecticut. Never discount the wisdom of the elders: despite all of their privileges and how society coddles them, many white folks have piss poor coping skills.

Is Mr. Bear onto something here?

White Men and Mass Murder: Did a Sense of "Aggrieved Entitlement" Lead Adam Lanza to Kill 26 People at Sandy Hook Elementary School?

It is good to see David Sirota and Chris Hayes talking about the relationship between white masculinity and mass shootings in the United States. So many folks are afraid to engage the obvious fact: white men are extremely over-represented among those individuals such as Adam Lanza who kill large numbers of people in one shooting incident. While folks like me can call attention to the public health problem that is white men and mass shootings, this is a conversation where "members of the tribe" such as Sirota and Hayes, are going to have to lead.

In the aftermath of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, the reaction to my plain on the face observation that white man are grossly over-represented among mass shooting killers like Adam Lanza has been fascinating--albeit not surprising. Whiteness does not like to be confronted. It also hates being exposed to the light of truth.

Masculinity is equally resistant to any type of critical self-examination. The combination of the two, and an intervention which seeks to examine white masculinity in America and its relationship to violence, is destined to create a hostile reaction on the part of many white men.

In all, I am legitimately taken aback by the sincerity of the pain and offense at the idea that white men could be experts at committing singular types of crime in America.

Moreover, in surveying the comments and reactions to my (and other) essays about Adam Lanza, white masculinity, and gun violence, there is a tone of real hurt:

White Masculinity, like Whiteness, imagines itself as normal, innocent, and benign. The very premise that the intersection of those identities could result in socially maladaptive and violent behavior which is evil, and yes I use that term intentionally, is rejected by those deeply invested in a particularly conservative and reactionary type of White Masculinity, as something impossible. To even introduce such an idea is anathema to their universe. The language is verboten. The Other is suspect until proven otherwise; "real Americans" as "good people" are to be judged by precisely the opposite premise.

The hostility to the very obvious fact--that another mass shooting is in keeping with a pattern of white male gun violence in America--has followed a clear and dominant script.

First, to suggest that white men should be racially profiled (a claim I am not making, as "racial profiling" is ineffective police work) is "unAmerican" and not "fair." In this story, people of color complain when they are racially profiled; to suggest that white men should be subject to the same process is "hypocritical" and "reverse racism."

White privilege and the white racial frame are blinding: these same conservatives, and other members of the Gun Right, often advocate for the racial profiling of people of color under the language of "reasonable racism." But, these same conservatives and members of the Gun Right are reflexively against racial profiling when people like them could be subjected to it.

The second White deflection here is one that finds offense in the idea that white men should be critically examined as a cohort who are more likely to commit certain types of crimes.

The suggestion is made that blacks and other minorities are not studied that way. As such, it is not fair to say that the identities of "white" and "male" should be scrutinized. Said objections are 1) profoundly ignorant, and 2) mighty convenient and self-serving.

Black folks, and other minorities are the most scrutinized, examined, pathologized, dissected (quite literally in many cases), studied, theorized, conferenced on, and written about group in the United States. Historically, Black and brown folks are a "problem" in America. By definition, Whiteness, those overly identified with it, as well as its owners, are not accustomed to being challenged in such a way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Larry Pratt and More Post-Sandy Hook Massacre Magical Thinking From the Gun Right

So many folks--many dozens--have written me in appreciation of our having the courage to speak plainly about the relationship between white masculinity and mass shootings in the United States. I have gotten more than the usual hostile and angry emails and comments as well. The former are insulation from the latter as we process what is a national tragedy.

Gun violence is a critically important issue that we must not shy away from. I do my best to speak truth to power. I am especially obligated to that fact when serious matters such as gun violence in the United States are being discussed. This is a public health issue that elites and opinion makers are terrified of speaking plainly about. I, like you, am not.

If you want to see more of this type of direct writing, and want to increase the platform and reach of the conversations we have here on We Are Respectable Negroes, do try to support the site if possible in our first ever donation drive. One of the reasons I want to grow the site, and to move it forward, is precisely so that we have a venue and space to talk about these difficult issues of race, politics, culture, and other matters that many folks are afraid to engage with in a forthright and direct manner.
Apparently, if the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary had an M-4 assault rifle the massacre in her school would have been prevented. Today, an Indiana man was caught with 47 guns in his home and was in the midst of preparing for his own murder rampage at a nearby school. An Oklahoma high school student was planning his own murder rampage and was apprehended on the same day as the Newtown massacre.

The gun is a fetish object. It is also a tool that can be used for good or evil. It has freed countries. The gun has killed dictators. The gun has allowed small numbers of people to control many more than their number on the plantation, in the coal mine, in the sweatshop, or the forced labor camp. The gun allowed one man to kill 20 children and 6 adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gun, in the hands of a teacher or a child in that same circumstance, would have offered no guarantee of their survival.

In his dreams of Call of Duty and other cartoonish video game violence, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert imposes his post hoc counter-factual onto the shooting massacre in Sandy Hook. To him, if more folks had the capacity to effortlessly shoot and kill like a character out of either a bad 1980s action movie, or a John Ford western, then Adam Lanza would have been stopped cold in his tracks.

The facts are not kind to Mr. Gohmert. In reality, it is very hard to accurately shoot a weapon under stress. Most soldiers require a great amount of training to overcome the natural instinct against taking another human life. "One shot, one kill" by a high school principal against an armed assailant (who is also determined to kill them as well) is a joke--a fantasy of the Gun Right and its devotees.

For example, the ratio of bullets fired by U.S. troops to one enemy dead in Afghanistan is 250,000 (this includes training, suppression fire, direct fire, etc.). In Vietnam, the number of rounds fired by U.S. soldiers for each enemy "kill" was 50,000. And according to the United States Army's own data--which should be viewed critically as a very self-serving best estimate--a trained soldier will only hit a man sized target 10 percent of the time from 300 meters.

Trained police officers would also have a very difficult time effectively intervening in a mass shooting incident where there are large numbers of innocent people, and in a complex space such as a school, which is what occurred at Columbine or Newtown:
Under the Peoria Police Department's new rapid-response protocol, the first officer on the scene of a Columbine-style shooting waits until three others arrive to form a contact team. Officers in a smaller group or alone would not have 360-degree coverage, Adams says, and Rambo-style freelancing would confuse communications and increase the chances of "blue on blue" casualties: police officers shooting each other. The contact team forms a diamond, with a point, two flanks, and a rear guard handling radio communications. The team enters the building and moves through it as quickly as possible; team members maintain their relative positions so that they can see and hear each other.

In a large building a second team may go in, either to help track down the shooters or to rescue bystanders and the wounded. 
Adams says that gunmen are less likely to fire at innocent bystanders if they are shooting at pursuing police officers. "We train them to move to the sound of gunfire," he says. "Shooting scenes are very chaotic and stressful. You experience sensory overload. Every time you hear a gunshot, assume someone has been wounded. Try to take ground, and isolate the shooter. If the shooter decides to commit suicide by police, we'll oblige. The person making the decision on how it will end is the bad guy. We're just reacting." Adams says, however, that "deadly force imperatives" have not changed for the Peoria police. "We teach that you should shoot what you know, not what you think you know. That man with a gun in his hand who steps out of a doorway may be a plainclothes police officer or a school security guard. Or maybe a teacher who brought a gun to school." 
...Layman stepped over people who were lying on the floor, playing wounded students. They moaned that they were hurt, clutched at his legs, and begged him to stop and help them. One man, playing a terrified but unhurt student, leaped from a doorway and grabbed him. Layman wrestled the man away and pushed him toward his trailing teammates, who in turn pushed the man behind them and told him to run back down the hallway to the exit. Another man leaped from a doorway, but this one fired at Layman's team. Others, with guns blazing, attacked from behind or sniped at the officers from doorways. When the contact team's blue-paint simunitions struck the attackers squarely on their vests or helmets, the gunmen stepped aside. They were out of the exercise.
For reasons of politics or possession by the gun gods, Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners Association of America seems to be willfully ignorant of the above realities:
"Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun."
The irony is priceless here: as Gawker points out, the guns used to kill 26 innocent people were in fact owned by a teacher.

Here, I described guns as a fetish object of "plastic and metal" which has an otherworldly appeal and power over many of its owners. This allure trumps reason--or alternatively becomes a stand-in for channeling some type of spiritual or existential force.

The comments by Larry Pratt and others in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary are further proof of my claim. In thinking through the magical power of guns, I am reminded of the following passage from Colin Wilson's book The Occult:
They believe that this ritual establishes some kind of mysterious contact between the hunter and the hunted; now the animal cannot escape. No matter how fast it runs, or where it hides, the hunter moves towards it inexorably, guided by fate. It is the animal's destiny to become his prey.
The 'scientific' attitude to these activities is that they are primitive superstitions, merely a sign of ignorance of cause and effect. If they happen to be successful, this is only because they create a feeling of success in the hunter; it is self-hypnosis. I would argue that this view may completely miss the point. The hunter's mind becomes totally concentrated on his prey by the ritual, activating the same powers that led Rhine's subjects to such high scores when they first tried influencing the fall of dice.
The following is also powerful and insightful in regards to understanding the gun as a "god" object for folks such as Larry Pratt and the NRA:
The more man expanded his activities, the more gods he needed. When he began to sail the seas, he needed to make sacrifices to the sea god; when he set out on a journey, he needed to feel himself under the protection of the god of travellers, and so on. Every new enterprise needed a new god. Man was out to gain control of his environment. And his chief means of achieving this control was still--magic. 
American society is built upon the cult of the gun. And now that Turner's frontier is closed and no longer exists, there remain millions of people who still imagine themselves as cowboy pioneers, yeomen farmers, and "patriots" who are ready to defend the country's "freedom" by playing soldier in the woods on the weekend, or by owning dozens of guns which have no legitimate use other than as implements of killing on the battlefield. They desperately seek control. When they find it wanting, some of them will lash out as we have seen with the angry white men who commit the overwhelming number of mass shootings in the United States.

Our family members, communities, and children are the collateral damage from America's cultural fixation on firearms. One of the questions that should be answered post Sandy Hook (and which will not be) is how much blood are gun rights advocates willing to see spilled in order to protect an abstract "freedom" to "bear arms" that is in conflict with the basic right to be safe and secure in our communities and public spaces?

The gun god has possessed many people. Will common sense prevail, and will it be able to pierce through the magical glamour put on the thought processes and social vision of the Gun Right?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

White Men Like Adam Lanza Commit 70 Percent of the Mass Shootings in the United States. Why is the Media Afraid to Talk About This Obvious Fact?

America has a major angry-man problem. Reading the Mother Jones article, whose lead author is former Salon reporter Mark Follman, I was actually surprised to learn that there was one female mass shooter in recent American history, a disgruntled postal worker in Goleta, Calif., who shot a neighbor and several co-workers. But the other 61 people who have so tragically acted out their twisted private fantasies on people around them have all been male. While some element of sexual or misogynistic drama was frequently involved – a mother or ex-wife or girlfriend; a rejection or divorce or suggestions of closeted homosexuality – the one thing you can point to in almost every case is perceived humiliation...
Nonetheless I suspect that economic realities play a role. It’s plausible that these grotesque events are by-products of the downward pressure on wages, especially in the working class and lower fringes of the middle class, and reflect what has sometimes been called the “crisis of masculinity,” meaning the perceived emasculation and loss of privilege felt by some men in an age of increasing sexual equality.
 A gentle corrective: America has a major angry white man problem.  

As I wrote about here, and also over at Alternet where my essay on the Sandy Hook shooting was the lede story today, I largely agree with Andew O'Herir about the relationship between masculinity and the mass rampage shootings that have occurred in this country. Something is horribly amiss in American society where a toxic gun culture, social and economic anxiety among men, a culture of privilege and entitlement, and a lack of access to public health services have combined to create conditions ripe for the types of horrific violence committed by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. 

While Andrew is spot on in his general concerns about masculinity and gun violence, he has committed a common error: while he alludes to the racial demographics of mass shooters in passing, there is no sustained focus on the obvious fact that the vast majority of these spree murderers are white men.
I’m not suggesting this is good news, but the stereotype that these kinds of shooters are invariably white men is less true than it used to be. In the last decade or so, almost every possible demographic has been represented: There have been two infamous campus shootings by Asian graduate students, one by a Native American teenager living on a Minnesota reservation, and a couple by African-Americans and Latinos. Overall, 43 of the 61 shooters in mass killings since 1982 have been white, which is only a little higher than the proportion of whites in the general population.
Andrew's oversight is a common one in a society (and among the pundit classes) where whiteness is taken to be a condition of both normality and invisibility. Whiteness has social power precisely because it goes unnamed. To be White in American society, with its long history of white racism and other inequalities that are structured around the colorline, is to be considered "normal."

Ultimately, whiteness is the ability to be an unmarked individual whose actions do not reflect on your racial group. Consequently, white men who kill are just individuals who kill; black and brown folks who kill and commit other crimes are exhibiting behaviors which reflect on their "race" and "culture." 

To point. American politics and culture are obsessed with narratives that link race and crime. 

For example, the "law and order narratives" of the 1960s onward are a direct cue and signal to fears of black criminality. Conservatives are especially obsessed with the idea of black (male) crime. George Bush had his infamous Willie Horton moment which he used to win a presidential election. Because conservatism and racism form a bundle of attitudes which are tightly bound together in post civil rights America, when seemingly unrelated conversations about public policy matters such as "affirmative action" are discussed, it is a short detour to Right-wing talking points about black folks, our "bad culture," and "criminal" ways. 

For example, in cases such as the Trayvon Martin shooting or the more recent Jordan Davis case, the default assumption is that whites who murder unarmed African-Americans are innocent because black males (and women)--whatever their age--are especially capable of lethal violence even when innocently walking down the street or listening to music in a car. Black people are existentially violent; thus, any violent force by white people against them has to be assumed to both just and reasonable until matters are proven otherwise. 

Given the cultural scripts that inexorably relate crime to race, one would think that white people, and white men in particular, would be the focus of similar narratives. White men are the majority of domestic terrorists in the United States. White men commit the most serial murders and child rapes. White men comprise the vast majority of those accused of treason. White men destroyed the country's economy and financial sector. 

And white men have committed 70 percent of the mass shooting murders in the United States as sourced from this piece in Mother Jones. By comparison, white men are approximately 30 percent of the population. They comprise more than twice their percentage among mass shooters. Yet, there is no "national conversation" on the matter. The silence is deafening.

However, because Whiteness is the very fact of not being "raced," or made into the "Other," such frameworks or interventions that ask basic question about whiteness, masculinity, crime, and violence, are rarely offered. 

And when they are--see the range of reactions to our discussions of white masculinity and violence here on We Are Respectable Negroes, as well at Alternet--there are howls and screams of denial, as well as accusations of anti-white "racism." Apparently, it is somehow impolitic or callous to talk about the race of white murders who kill innocent children by the dozens. But, it a given that the racial identities of black and brown folks are routinely and reflexively foregrounded in discussions of crime in America, more generally. 

Help me understand. Why is the media afraid to talk about the relationship between white men, guns, and mass violence? What is the white public afraid of? Would it not be in the interest of the Common Good, and the safety of all people, especially white folks who are the disproportionate victims of mass shootings, to figure out why one cohort of the public is repeatedly involved in this type of spectacular violence?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Connecticut School Shooting: If Adam Lanza was Named Tariq Muhammad Would the Media be Calling This an Act of "Terrorism?"

My heart goes out to the families, children, victims, and all others impacted by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut.

America's obsession with guns has played out its dark game once more. We are eating our young because so many believe that America is a gunfighter nation. For them, the "right" to bear arms trumps any reasonable legislation about restricting access to certain types of firearms. This most recent mass shooting, which will likely be the worst incident of gun violence in recent American history, is not going to cause a rethinking of the country's love affair with such weapons. Nor will the mass murder of 20 children and 6 adults by Adam Lanza weaken the NRA's hold on our legislators. The NRA and their clan will retreat back to a default position and rhetorical redoubt where "guns don't kill people, only people do."

These same ideologues, who in the 21st century remain some type of throwback premodern tribesman at the early dawn of human history, are utterly devoted to a fetish object of metal and plastic which they worship as a god. For them, the mass shooting of children in Newton, Connecticut will be a funeral pyre whose light they will read as spirits dancing in the shadows, beckoning to them that more guns equals less crime, and that school teachers--and perhaps even children--should be allowed to carry firearms in school. Magical thinking brings public policy solutions that are not grounded in common sense or empirical reality.

As the details of the murderous rampage trickle out, all of the standard talking points by the media will be hit upon. Was Adam Lanza mentally ill? What type of weapons did he us? Were there warning signs? Acts of heroism by the adults and children in the school will be profiled. The first responders will be praised and profiled. People will cry. The pundits will tear up in an effort to show some personal, human connection, to a story that will feed the next news cycle, and will potentially make a career or two for some upstart journalist or TV personality.

Per our national script, there are several questions which will go unanswered...just as they always do. As I wrote about in regards to James Holmes, the Batman movie killer, there will be no soul searching about why white men are committing these violent acts. In the present, mass shootings have been almost the exclusive province of white men.

One would think someone in the mass media (or who studies gun violence and public health) would find that a mighty curious fact and want to delve deeper into the relationship(s) between whiteness, masculinity, and gun violence.

In all, there will not be a national conversation--one of our country's most overused phrases, what is empty language signalling nothing--exploring if there is a crisis in white masculinity, which in turn is driving these types of horrific crimes.

If Adam Lanza was an Arab American with one of those "Muslim sounding" names, then today's script would be quite different. Questions of "terrorism" would loom large: it would be the default frame for reading the Connecticut school shooting. In all, the United States has a post 9/11 hangover where a moment of national trauma made one group of Americans a perpetual Other.

A person of color who happens to be of Arab descent, and who is Muslim by chosen faith or birth, is not allowed to be a deranged individual who made a choice to kill dozens of people. His or her identity and personhood is one that is "politicized" by default in the West. As such, all actions, however random or outliers, are taken as representative of some type of collective identity, one where terrorism is an inexorable part of its character.

Once more the luxury of being white in the United States is the freedom to have your violent deeds be a reflection of a personal failing, as opposed to a cultural or racial one. On a practical level, White privilege is a set of taken for granted and unearned advantages in life. On an abstract level, white privilege also removes certain questions from consideration regarding such matters as social deviancy and crime. As we saw with James Holmes, and now today with Adam Lanza, an unwillingness to ask those hard questions about gun violence, white masculinity, and crime will only continue to hurt all of us across the colorline.

The Mongol Hordes and the Barbary Pirates: More Django Related Complaints From the White Right About the Unique Oppressions Faced by White People

Reviews for Django are trickling out. The consensus is that Django is a long, but loving, smart, provocative, beautifully shot, and challenging film.

I do not know if the hateful reactions by the White Right and the Conservative online media to Quentin Tarantino and Jamie Foxx's slavery revenge fantasy film is because they were suckered in by the latter's baiting them, but I am most definitely going to be seeing Django on Christmas Eve as an act of  "protest."

Call me a sucker, any film that enrages conservative bigots who are overly identified with the Southern Slaveocracy, as well as tales of White Oppression and Victimology, has my ten bucks.

Newsbuster's first post on Djangoand Jamie Foxx's call for a "race war" against white people, received more than 3,000 comments from White Nationalists and their Republican brethren. Newsbuster's follow up post received about 350 or so comments. Among them was an exhalation of white victimhood which is quoted at the end of this post.

I try to work through people's observations about social reality in a fair way. I sincerely want to understand the priors which drive individuals to their conclusions, as well as the cognitive map and related cues which they use to understand empirical reality.

I am at a loss in regards to Dominoe4's understanding of modern history. Help me understand. What are his priors? What texts are he, and those similarly inclined, using as foundations for their understanding of reality? What are the decision rules driving Dominoe4's understanding of white suffering?

I must admit, I do find a reference to the Barbary Pirates as an example of "white oppression" very compelling and darkly comic.

A question. Is the collective conscious which Dominoe4 is channeling via his relationship to the White Right inordinately preoccupied with the Yellow Peril, opium dens, and white slavery circa the 19th century?

I am intrigued, and simultaneously worried about how the moral panics of the 19th and early 20th centuries still loom in the imaginations of the White Right and "polite" conservatives. This cannot end well. Historically, the "race" concept, racism, and rumor, have never played well together. Moreover, the Right-wing echo chamber with its epistemic closure is one hell of a drug. The reactions to Django by the Drudge Report and others is proof of this fact.

Tie these examples together if you would. Is there any way to make any reasonable sense of Dominoe4's understanding of history? What is the metanarrative at work here?

Some funny sh*t that's happened to white people;
  • The Irish famine.
  • The bombing of Pearl Harbor.
  • 9/11
  • The muslim invasion of Europe.
  • The black plague (can I say that...is it racist?)
  • Communism
  • The Holocaust
  • The Mongol hordes enter southern Europe.
  • South African farmers massacred
  • The LA Riots.
  • Illegal immigration
  • The Barbary Pirates
  • WW I
  • WW II
  • Millions of individual hate crimes committed by black perps on white Americans.
  • The Depression.
  • The election of a marxist, fraud with minimal intelligence or desire to work, but big on divisiveness and unlimited authority.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.