Friday, January 4, 2013

Questions of Black Murder and Revenge: Please Teach Me Something about the "Zebra Murders"

For six months, straddling late 1973 and early 1974, the city had 14 random killings. Most of the victims never saw it coming, shot in the back or the back of the head, execution-style, in what came to be called the Zebra murders. 
The shootings were racially motivated and usually happened at night along the Divisadero Street corridor. Here are three that were out of the norm but crucial to the case. 
On the evening of Oct. 19, 1973, Quita and Richard Hague came out of their four-story Victorian apartment building at 399 Chestnut St., at Stockton Street. They went west, downhill toward North Beach, maybe in front of Francisco Middle School one block down, when a white van pulled alongside with three men inside. The body of Quita Hague, 28, was found the next day on the railroad tracks across town. Her husband survived. The spree had begun. 
Two months later, on Dec. 13, 1973, the killer struck again, at the corner of Wisconsin and 23rd streets, on Potrero Hill. Social worker Art Agnos, 35, had left a meeting and was walking to his car when people started fleeing from a loud popping noise. The future mayor tried to calm them before realizing he had been shot twice in the back. 
On Jan. 28, 1974, Jane Holly, a 45-year-old Wells Fargo clerk, went into the Lightning Coin Launderette at 1440 Silver Ave., just off San Bruno Avenue. Her back was to the door. She was pulling clothes out of the dryer as a gunman walked toward the rear of the 24-hour wash-and-dry.
In our recent discussions about gun violence, Django Unchained, and America's gun culture, I have learned a great deal. Several commenters have offered up interesting bits of information, such as this reference to Robert Charles, a black man who shot 27 white people in the year 1900 during the height of Jim and Jane Crow.

I have also had an interesting discussion about black mass shooters and the argument that such crimes by African-Americans are somehow under-reported. Such a claim is fascinating because of how it stands against volumes of evidence about the racialized nature of crime reporting in the United States, and how stereotypes about black criminality are integral to the prison industrial complex, and the school to prison pipeline.

I may not always agree with folks here on WARN--which is part of the fun of our honest conversations--but I always learn something from the exchange.

In the spirit of seeking new information and knowledge, I also enjoy reading white nationalist websites. As I have said many times before, one must understand their enemies as not to be ambushed by them. Their waters are toxic and befouled; they are pure to the supplicants and white nationalist troglodytes.

During the Right-wing media's online fit about Django Unchained, and the prospect that a black man may actually want to kill white slave owners and other white racists during the 19th century (and Hollywood may dare to present such a fantasy in the form of a major motion picture), I came upon repeated references to the "Zebra Murders."

These were common White deflections where white racists search high and low for examples of black "racism," criminality, or violence in order to balance the centuries-long historical record of white supremacy's barbarisms against people of color--and also against white folks who did not follow the dominant script. The false equivalence is glaring; nevertheless, it is still instructive.

As a person of a certain age, I had never heard of the Zebra Murders. As a child of the hip hop generation and the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area who was born in the 1970s, I was too young and geographically distant from California to have ever encountered any information about a murder spree that was supposedly committed by Nation of Islam members against whites (and others) in the Bay area from 1973 to 1974.

Color me fascinated by this tale of interracial murder, police corruption and racism; resentment towards Earl Sanders, the black Police Chief of the San Francisco police department; and what is a fascinating story that has been optioned for a movie by Brad Pitt and starring Jamie Foxx and Will Smith.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

They Be So Ghetto: Did Steven Levitt of Freakonomics Fame Commit "Academic Blackface" With This Blog Post?

The Internet can get you in trouble. It can take an inside joke meant to be shared by a few friends and circulate it to hundreds or thousands of people. If you are one of the country's preeminent and most popular economists the Internet can circulate your inside joke to millions.

Several weeks ago, Steve Levitt, a genius and a starred economist, took some very important research on the black-white achievement gap in education that he co-authored with Harvard's Roland Fryer, and using a website, "translated" it into "ghetto English" which he then featured at

I am a fan of dark and ironic humor. I also understand that Dr. Levitt is playing around with academic conventions regarding language, and how insular and self-important said community can be in regards to the rites and rituals of writing, research, and publishing. He is also likely having fun with notions of "code-switching" and the arbitrariness of language conventions.

But, there is something uncomfortable about watching Steve Levitt, a white economist who studies behavior, culture, economic decision-making, and the political economy of the everyday, playing this game with an important article on educational outcomes and race--one which reaches the following conclusion:
Compared with the results of previous studies, our findings provide reason for optimism. We find smaller achievement gaps, in both the raw and the adjusted scores, for children born in the early 1990s than others had found for earlier birth cohorts. It could well be that, as compared with earlier generations of students, the current cohort of blacks has made real gains relative to whites. Indeed, recent cohorts show smaller raw black-white gaps across multiple data sets–a truly promising sign. 
Once students enter school, however, the gap between white and black children grows, even after controlling for observable influences. We speculate that blacks are losing ground relative to whites because they attend lower quality schools that are less well maintained and managed as indicated by signs of social discord. Though we recognize that we have not provided definitive proof, this is the only hypothesis that receives any empirical support.
Here is the same conclusion "translated" into ghetto English:
Compared wit tha thangs up in dis biatch of previous studies, our findings provide reason fo' optimism. Our thugged-out asses find smalla achievement gaps, up in both tha raw n' tha adjusted scores, fo' lil pimps born up in tha early 1990s than others had found fo' earlier birth cohorts. It could well be that, as compared wit earlier generationz of students, tha current cohort of blacks has done cooked up real gains relatizzle ta whites. Git tha fuck outta mah grill wit dat bullshit, recent cohorts sheezy smalla raw black-white gaps across multiple data sets–a truly promisin sign. 
Once students enter school, however, tha gap between white n' black lil pimps grows, even afta controllin fo' observable influences. Our thugged-out asses speculate dat blacks is losin ground relatizzle ta whites cuz they attend lower-qualitizzle schools dat is less well maintained n' managed as indicated by signz of hood discord. Y'all KNOW dat shit, muthafucka! Though our crazy-ass asses recognize dat our crazy-ass asses have not provided definitizzle proof, dis is tha only hypothesis dat receives any empirical support. 
Roland G. Fryer Jr. be a junior fellow all up in tha Harvard Society of Fellows n' a gangbangin' faculty research fellow all up in tha Nationizzle Bureau of Economic Research. Right back up in yo muthafuckin ass. Steven D. Levitt be a professor of economics all up in tha Universitizzle of Chicago. 
While some have suggested that Levitt's post is "racist," I am not sure if said adjective is a good fit for his failure of good taste.

Posting a private joke online (at a website that is followed by millions of people) is ill advised.

Posting a private joke about race, poverty, and education, especially when you are one of the country's foremost economists (and by all accounts a pretty nice and cool guy), also reminds us of the troubled history and relationship between the academy, and the poor and working class communities that many elite institutions find themselves surrounded by. The town/gown distinction is real; the elite institution/ghetto underclass divide, where the latter is a convenient laboratory for the former to study, is real as well.

Did Steve Levitt commit "academic blackface?" I am not sure. And should it matter if he did? It is all a joke anyway, isn't it?

What Would Annie Davis Say Today? A Letter From A Slave to President Lincoln Asking What She Can do to Secure Her Own Freedom

January 1, 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. While we discuss movies such as Lincoln and Django (the latter with its fantasic and more real than real depiction of the historical realities of the Southern slaveocracy) it must not be forgotten that "popular" and "filmic" representations of reality are actually stand-ins for actual people and human events (many of them mundane and quotidian; others, life changing and world shifting).

As is often said by those in Cultural and Media Studies, films talk to each other about themselves and are mirrors for the social moment in which they were produced. While ultimately about the "now" and the "present," "historical" movies are also exercises in representing past events and the people involved with them.

For example, if you are a Black American in your thirties or forties who can trace their lineage back through to the 19th or 18th century (or before), your grandmother's grandmother was likely born a slave.

For example, reflecting on the echoes of history into the present, I came upon this letter to President Lincoln, dated August, 25, 1864, from a former Maryland slave:
Mr. President,
It is my Desire to be free. To go to see my people on the eastern shore. My mistress wont let me.You will please let me know if we are free. And what I can do. I write to you for advice. Please send me word this week. Or as soon as possible, and oblidge.
Annie Davis
The Emancipation Proclamation was an acknowledgement of how black people had long been freeing themselves across the South, was a tactical move to further disrupt the CSA's labor supply and resource pool, was complicated in its enforcement by the border states, and while a document rooted in realpolitik, is rightly hailed for its symbolic value in a country fighting over its status as one that would be either "free" or "slave."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Conversation with Professor Ann Little About the Newtown Massacre, Adam Lanza, America's Gun Culture, and the Puzzle of White Masculinity

I hope that the New Year was restful and celebratory. Before Christmas, there was a momentary "national conversation" about gun violence in the aftermath of the Newtown Massacre. Curiously, but not surprising, said moment of introspection about how America's gun culture eats it youth has fallen off of the national radar as the pundit classes have moved on to other matters. There will be other mass shootings; we will have said "national conversation" again; nothing will be done given the NRA's murder hold on the American people.

As I explored in a series of posts, the central question regarding the Gun Right is how these mass shootings do not lead to any serious exploration of the intersection(s) of Whiteness, White Masculinity, and mass gun violence. White men commit an overwhelming amount of the mass shootings in the United States. Yet, except for a few outliers, there is no sustained effort to engage the obvious puzzle: if white men are killing people, often by the dozens--in murders where they are the offenders at twice their rate in the general population--why are so many in the news media afraid and hostile to basic questions about "white crime?"

In my effort to explore this question, I reached out to two great scholars of American history and culture. Both kindly agreed to participate in WARN's podcast series.

Our first guest is Professor Ann Little, author of the book Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England, who writes over at the great website Historiann. In our podcast, she does a wonderful job of setting up our conversation by offering a wonderful, rich, and insightful perspective on the Newtown Massacre and the colonial era roots of the United States' (near pathological) love of guns in the present

Dr. Little was so very generous with her time. We covered a great amount of material in this conversation and offered up a necessary, and to this point, very much lacking historical context for the Newtown Massacre, and the fear by many in the pundit classes to even discuss white masculinity and gun violence.

This was a real treat. I was so glad to be able to bring this dialogue to the readers of We Are Respectable Negroes and those who follow our podcast series.

I do hope you enjoy the conversation.

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2:59 As a historian and scholar of America and gun culture, what were your first thoughts about the Newtown Massacre?
6:18 How do we begin to think broadly about masculinity and gun culture in the United States, and how it helps us to understand Adam Lanza's murder spree?
11:22 The gun and white male citizenship in colonial America and the Founding
15:00 Is the magical thinking of Conservatives typified by the gun control debate? What are some of the regional differences in regards to gun culture in the United States? How is this surprising (or not)?
23:55 An open letter to white men. Beginning to think about White masculinity, Whiteness and gun violence
29:25 How do people respond to conversations where whiteness and masculinity are interrogated and challenged?
34:40 Is White Masculinity a story of historical continuity or change? Is White Heterosexual Masculinity static?
48:27 More context for avoiding a critical interrogation of Whiteness and gun violence: White Mediocrity and the subsidization of Whiteness vs. the myth of American Meritocracy
56:14 Historical myopia, the luxury of being white and historical memory, and the allure of believing the "White Lies" of American history
62:14 What is your "blogging story?" How does blogging fit into your academic career?
64:03 The failure of academics to be able to effectively communicate with "regular" folks who are also smart like them
69:20 Academic writing's impact vs the audience and impact of blogging

Monday, December 31, 2012

May You Live in Interesting Times this New Year 2013: Minister Louis Farrakhan Endorses Django Unchained

I wonder if I am Alice in Wonderland or Neo in the Matrix? Did I walk through the looking glass?

A black man is President who was elected twice; the conspiracy theory that my friends and I outlined during late nights in college where a black man is elected president--what we called "Operation Hamhock" at the time--in order to advance neoliberalism's "colorblind" racist agenda came to pass.

We saw three new Star Wars movies and another trilogy is on the way (hopefully better than the last), there are zombie outbreaks, and herrenvolk old white Tea Party GOP nationalists wearing tricorn hats obstructing the General Will and Common Good.

Star Trek was rebooted and is introducing Khan/Garry Mitchell, the Orwellian police state hides in plain sight, and people self-medicate with social media and cell phones in order to avoid reality and police themselves for the panopticon.

And now there is a black fantasy revenge film called Django Unchained where a black man gets to kill white slavers, and other assorted white trash, is the subject of a national conversation. Plus, Minister Farrakhan weighs in on said movie for the new year.

As the old Chinese curse goes, may you live in interesting times. What will 2013 hold? What are your resolutions and thoughts this New Year's Eve? Any resolutions to share?

Be well friends, and I look forward to our conversations in 2013.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Post-Django Unchained: How Many of You Remember "The Legend of Nigger Charley?"

Something fun for the weekend. Django Unchained builds upon many movies. Most obvious, is the original Spaghetti Western Django. Less obvious, for those who do not have a deep understanding of American film, are such movies as Nigger Charley and its various sequels/versions.

"This will do as easy entertainment, I guess, but the novelty of a black cowboy shooting a white bad guy is sure to wear off sooner or later, and then maybe black Westerns will be made with the same care as the traditional item."

My man Ebert was wrong: the novelty of watching a black cowboy shoot a white bad guy never wears off. 

However, there are several far-telling gems of observation in Ebert's words. Primarily, it took forty years, and a white filmmaker, to make a mainstream black revenge film. Second, despite how badly it went off of the rails--and relatively soon following its genesis--blaxploitation suggested some radical possibilities about the relationship between black masculinity and popular film which have largely remained unfulfilled. 

For those of you that lived during that period how did blaxploitation go so wrong, so fast? 

And, for those of you who remember the Black Arts Movement and its explicit/public conversations about the relationship between arts, politics, and the popular for the empowerment of African Americans, are you disgusted, frustrated, numb, embarrassed, or just indifferent to how black cultural work has become fully commodified by the culture industry, and is used (largely) to subvert the political empowerment of black and brown folks in the present?

Here is Robert Ebert's original review. Could these same words have been written about Django Unchained?
"The Legend of Nigger Charley" is an amiable black Western with sufficient episodes of violence to give it the appearance of heading somewhere. Actually, though, it mostly just drifts, and gets incredible mileage out of some nice guitar and banjo work on the sound track while the heroes ride everlastingly into the sagebrush. When things get especially slow, they throw in a shoot-out with Whitey, which cheers everybody up.

This will do as easy entertainment, I guess, but the novelty of a black cowboy shooting a white bad guy is sure to wear off sooner or later, and then maybe black Westerns will be made with the same care as the traditional item. You seen one piece of white trash blown out of the saddle for calling the hero "boy," you seen them all.

The story involves an escaped slave who heads West to freedom with a couple of friends. He is pursued by a white gang led by a sadistic slaveowner who allows, "I've never lost a nigger yet and I don't mean to start now." This represents one of the maybe six dozen times in the movie when the word "nigger" is employed. The idea seems to be to throw the word around until everybody is thoroughly sick of it, and then kill whoever has used it, setting the record straight.

If that is one of the themes of the movie, the other is that Charley is through being anyone's slave. "I'm a free man, and I'll die a free man," he assures his friends two or three times. That's fine except it's his friends who get killed. The only survivor is his comic-relief sidekick, who is there for the big fade-out at the end. "Where shall we go now, Charley?" he asks. "Don't matter," Charley says. "Wherever we go, there's trouble waiting for us."

Strictly speaking, this is the truth. But Charley has a way of finding trouble where he needn't have looked. After he wins the first shoot-out with the white pursuit squad, he is asked by a local farmer to sign on as a hired gun. It seems that the farmer's wife is half-Indian, and so no one will help when "Preacher" and his gang attack their farm. Preacher is your typical frontier lunatic in a stovepipe hat, who quotes from the Bible while cutting off people's fingers.

Charley says protection isn't his line, but 20 miles down the road he gets to thinking about that cute little half-breed wife. So he takes his men and rides back to the ranch in a clever bit of script-manipulation that succeeds in squeezing in two more gunfights. He also gets to kiss the woman, once, which does not seem like too high a ratio of sex to violence.

"The Legend of Nigger Charley" is frustrating partly because of the high level of acting talent in the cast. When you see fine actors being thrown into exploitative scripts, you begin to get a little angry. If the current group of black-oriented movies has proven anything, it's that there's a large pool of skilled and interesting black actors in Hollywood. Whether it will forever be necessary for them to waste their talents in dumb screenplays is a question that must come to them sometimes late at night.

Fred Williamson, last seen in Otto Preminger's "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon," plays, Nigger Charley as a suitably heroic lead. There's not a lot of room for the character to stretch out and develop himself, largely because of the pale dialog, but Williamson is a strong leading man able to bring more complexities to a hero's role than, say, Jim Brown.

D'Urville Martin plays his sidekick, Toby, who is a genuinely funny pessimist. Don Pedro Colley is the bald, bearded and unshakable third member on the team, The way they work together in some scenes makes you think of Westerns like "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Professionals" - movies "Nigger Charley" might have resembled more if so much confidence hadn't been placed In the shoot-outs. There is no intrinsic reason why black Westerns have to be bad Westerns, so we can still hope.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Black Post Slavery Racism Incited the Ku Klux Klan": Pastor Manning Should Have Been a Character in Django Unchained

I came upon this over the holidays and was saving it for the appropriate moment.

Given that folks have Django Unchained on their mind, Sam Jackson's manservant adviser chief valet character was played as one of the most despicable negroes in the history of cinema. "Stephen" is the Uncle of all Uncle Toms and the Grand Emperor of Steppin Fetchits. He is the metaphorical Nile River from which garbage pail kid black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, and Herman Cain flow as double-corked black face new age political race minstrel tributaries.

Like them, Pastor Manning is also a direct descendant of Stephen in Django Unchained.

In a perfect world, he could have played a role in the film as a black preacher who taught the slaves to be obedient, giving the benediction at Big Daddy's skin parlor, blessing the "Mandingo" fighters, and seconding Calvin Candie's race science theories of black inferiority. If Pastor Manning was to have played such a part in Django, it would have been the most basic and easiest type of acting--he would essentially be portraying himself. Nevertheless, Manning would still be a perfect casting choice by Quentin Tarantino.

Given the latter's love of cameos, what other notorious negroes from the (near) present would have fit in the universe created by Django Unchained?

A bonus. Pastor Manning explaining how Jamie Foxx is an agent of the anti-Christ President Barack Obama:

What if Spike Lee Had Made Django Unchained?

I just watched Django Unchained. I will be offering up a longer response later today. But, I can say with confidence that Quentin Tarantino has made an excellent movie, that aided by amazing performances from Jamie Foxx and Samuel Jackson, should win an award (at the very least) for best screenplay this year at the Academy Awards. Christoph Waltz's role as a lens and critical voice, a chorus of sorts, through which a contemporary post civil rights, Age of Obama audience can be "present" in the film, was also superb.

I had quite a few concerns about Tarantino's use of slavery in the Spaghetti Western counter-factual revenge genre. Most of those concerns were more than satisfied; and as I alluded to here, I am now pretty sure that Tarantino had some historians (and others such as Henry Louis Gates Jr.) consulting on the film.

There are quite a few subtle moments of conversation, as well as meta-level questions about black citizenship, masculinity, and agency colouring the movie (a racial "color timing" of sorts) that someone was likely in Tarantino's ear helping him to flesh out questions of black freedom, and how black free people occupied a type of liminal space in the South during this period.

While watching Django Unchained, I was very curious as to how the audience would respond to the difficult subject matter that was America's centuries-long slave regime. Would black folks be upset? Would we laugh unexpectedly at the dark and tragic events, actions that are a means of negotiating the real history, unfolding before our eyes?  Would the white folks be self-conscious about the reality of white supremacy in the guise of speculative fiction taking place on the screen? Most importantly, would all parties in the theater be "entertained?"

Before losing myself in the film, I kept thinking about Spike Lee's complaints about Django and his worries about Tarantino's ability, as a white filmmaker, to present a still little understood (by average citizens) chapter in American history, and then to package it around the latter's unique genre sensibilities. Lee's concerns are reasonable.

After seeing Django for the first time, and before going to see it many more times in the next few weeks, his criticisms were misplaced. In the spirit of Tarantino's counter-factual speculative history of America's slaveocracy, one that is more truth than fiction, I left the movie wondering about how Spike Lee's movie would have been different from Quentin Tarantino's version of Django Unchained.

Here are some preliminary thoughts. And of course, if you saw Django Unchained what did you think of the movie?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Playing With Race and Sex: A White Male Cuckold Who Let's His Wife Have Sex with Black Men Seeks Advice About His Relationship

We are getting back into the normal routine of things this week and next. I posted this piece a week or so ago. The Newtown Massacre intervened. Thus, fun matters had to take a back seat to more serious concerns. 

As We Are Respectable Negroes moves forward, I am going to be doing more posts on sex and relationships. Why? Because I enjoy talking about such matters. Also, sex is one of the common denominators that ties us all together. And I am hedonistic lascivious ghetto nerd whose motto is "if it feels good, do it." Is any other explanation for our deeds and actions ever necessary?

In another life, I would have  been an advice columnist. I am both self-important and egotistical enough to believe that I have valuable wisdom to offer strangers. I am a good listener. I am nosy.  I have also had enough bizarre experiences in life--and am at peace with them--to be able to have the confidence to advise others. I also like power...unlimited power to quote Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine. I reason that giving advice will be the closest I get to being the hegemon. I am at peace with that. 

There was a belated comment on this post about sex, race, and cuckolding from a few months back. Said comment reads like a badly written sex fantasy on an interracial Mandingo sex party website.  

In the future,  I am going to be adding a link for questions and advice here on We Are Respectable Negroes. I already get quite a few of these queries where good people ask me, "what would you do in x situation?" It could be useful to formalize the process. 

Whatever its origins, this comment is good practice for all of us as we develop our "tree of trust," faux therapist, voice. What advice would you offer our anonymous advice seeker?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Lest You Forget That Before "Django Unchained" There Was "Can't Be Roots--A XXX Parody"

And with that I wish you all a very Merry Christmas...

Cornel West Hits President Obama With a Christmas Stocking Full of Poop: The "Cowardly" President Doesn't Care When Black Kids Get Killed, Only When White Kids Die by the Gun

There is so much hostility and bad blood from Professor West towards Barack Obama that I do not even know how to begin explaining it. The President did not invite Brother West to his private inauguration party in 2008. This has spun into a one way feud where the latter is made even more upset by the former's ignoring of his complaints. Moral of the story? Always send a "thank you" note during the holidays for your gifts, and also be sure to say "thank you" as one never knows how a perceived slight will turn into a blood feud.

It is Christmas Eve. Do treat this as an open holiday thread. Any great stories so far? Random happenings? Fun events planned? Obnoxious relatives you are dreading? What did Black Pete do to you this holiday season? Events in the broader world that we should be keeping our eyes open for?

I am going to be cooking a Christmas eve dinner of langostinos and pasta and drinking some Bell's Winter Ale. I like scavengers full of mercury which I cook with butter and mushrooms: this was a tradition when I was a kid, as whenever my dad would hit the lottery, seafood pasta would be our "eating like rich folks" meal that night. We would then go bowling and see a movie.

As I have gotten older, such memories have taken on more importance. If I am ever blessed with kids and a good woman, she a long suffering wife if said poor woman chose to mate with such an eccentric personality, I will spend a good amount of time making sure that we have our own rituals. Growing up, the kid(s) would hate it; when they are older, I do hope that there would be some appreciation for the "uniqueness" of their upbringing.

For the holiday, I will be hanging out with a friend, watching The Dark Knight Rises blu-ray a few times, cooking up some fried chicken, bacon wrapped filet mignon, salad, garlic bread, homemade fried mozzarella  and rosemary potatoes. Stella is a perfect holiday beer and will accompany the dinner. I am going to cook up some old chicken for the animals outside and leave it strategically placed about. I also have a nice loaf of Parmesan Focaccia bread that went stale that I will give to my bird army. The soldiers need to eat too. 

I will then fall asleep after using the toilet, watching A Christmas Story a few more times, and then finishing off the night with Star Wars.

Will the meal turn out well? Who knows? I will give it my best try in any event.

I got a few video games during the Steam and Gamefly holiday sale event that I will be playing as well. Word of caution--if you are one of the folks like me who has not upgraded from Windows XP Pro do not download the new X-Com game. You will be out 25 bucks because it requires Vista and above to run. Crooks. Liars. Charlatans. Heart breakers. I curse them.

Finally, I would like to formally thank all of the kind people who donated to our first ever fundraiser. Times are hard out there. I appreciate the generosity. I will be getting a proper mic for our podcast series, and getting a ticket to go home after the holidays. Thank you so very much. I mean that, truly I do. 

Best wishes for the holiday. Do be good to each other. What is on your minds this holiday season? For those of you with kids, how are you making these next few days special and memorable?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pre-Christmas Sunday Sacrilegiousness: Come All and Learn How to Polish the Shaft at First Baptist Church

I hope you are all having a nice weekend and have finished all of your shopping and miscellaneous arrangements for the holidays. Given that there is a "war on Christmas," I wanted to do my part by sharing this story about the "religiously minded" and devout "Christians" doing wrong.

Many churches are shows and spectacles. How else could they pass that donation bowl around if there was not some entertainment value to be had?

Folks are there to see each other, profile, and to gossip. Religious communities are also just another conglomeration of people with all of the good, bad, ugly, and the like thrown in. As the joke goes in the black community, and for certain evangelicals in particular, the preacher (and other religious leaders too) is the same cultural figure as the pimp--both drive nice cars, are flashy, wear lots of jewelry, make their money by exploiting others, and are cults of personality who exploit the weak and vulnerable.

Apparently, that rule is especially true for First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana.

Let me be clear. I would certainly enjoy a sermon about masturbation and polished shafts. I am practical that way:
In July 2010, an hour into the “Polished Shaft” sermon—in a church packed with thousands of teenagers there for a youth conference—Schaap went further. He lifted a stick in his left hand and a silver cloth in his right. He moved the bottom of the stick near his groin and angled it away from himself. Head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut, mouth gaping, he began rubbing the shaft rapidly with the cloth, up and down, up and down…. What he was doing was unmistakable: simulating masturbation, in front of thousands of children, in the middle of a church service. A row of white-coated high-ranking churchmen seated behind Schaap watched in silence.
I would also be a regular church goer if there were sermons like this one within walking distance. The after party and "fellowship" must be particularly joyous:
The true believers of the ultrafundamentalist Independent Baptist movement were accustomed to Schaap’s style. If he wasn’t scolding his flock for not living up to God’s demands (tithing, volunteering, “soul winning”), he was delivering R-rated sermons that, for example, likened the Lord’s Supper to having sex with Jesus Christ. “He would just repeatedly talk about sex and repeatedly talk about women, how they were dressed and body parts . . . in graphic detail,” recalls Tom Brennan, who attended the church for six years and is now an Independent Baptist pastor at Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago.
I am suspicious of authority figures. I am especially suspicious of those who have power in a community where magical thinking, i.e "faith" are used to legitimate it. Once any person starts channeling "the word of god" my default judgement is that they 1) need counseling and 2) are egomaniacs who are not to be trusted for they can rationalize their own deeds through appeals to a "higher authority." In all, bad people can use the religiously minded and group think as covers for, and a means to, further their own wickedness.

That is not God's fault; it human nature. Even while writing said sentence I must default to the puzzle of theodicy in order to resolve the two statements.

The outcome at the First Baptist church would seem to validate said observation:

Unfortunately, it went well beyond talk. Last September, Schaap, 54, a married father of two, pleaded guilty to taking a 16-year-old girl he was counseling at First Baptist across state lines to have sex. Denied bond, he awaits sentencing in the Porter County Jail; the minimum term is ten years.
But Schaap is not simply one of those rogue evangelists who thunders against the evils of forbidden sex while indulging in it himself. According to dozens of current and former church members, religion experts, and historians interviewed by Chicago—plus a review of thousands of pages of court documents—he is part of what some call a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual and physical abuse at one of the nation’s largest churches. 
Multiple websites tracking the First Baptist Church of Hammond have identified more than a dozen men with ties to the church—many of whom graduated from its college, Hyles-Anderson, or its annual Pastors’ Schools—who fanned out around the country, preaching at their own churches and racking up a string of arrests and civil lawsuits, including physical abuse of minors, sexual molestation, and rape.
The whole piece in Chicago Magazine is well worth reading. It is not at all surprising given how the "moral majority" projects their own insecurities and deviant predilections onto others.

Friday, December 21, 2012

They are the Tyrone Biggums of Interest Groups: On Political Crack, Post-Sandy Hook the NRA's Solution is More Guns Equals Less Crime

I hope you will all be having a restful holiday weekend. I send you well-wishes and good energy for the New Year and I appreciate all of the kind folks who contribute to our conversations here on WARN. I have two great podcasts on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, race, masculinity, and America's gun culture, that I will be sharing after the holiday. Do look out for them. 

 The NRA has finally chimed in on the Newtown Shooting. The public is exhausted by our "national" conversation about mass shootings and "gun rights." The NRA's timing was great insofar as most folks are distracted by the holidays and will not be watching the news. Fate has a dark sense of humor: the NRA conference devolved into a spectacle; and as timing would have it, there was a shooting in Pennsylvania, leaving four people dead, that coincided with said event. 

 The NRA's solution to the epidemic of gun violence in the United States and the unique scale of its mass shootings (a crime committed overwhelmingly by white men, but where race and gender will never be interrogated as variables) is more guns. The empirical data on gun violence does not support their argument

The common sense regarding the matter does not support their hypothesis either. The United States is a country awash with guns. But more guns will somehow reach a tipping point where our children and others will be made safe from gun violence...I riddle you that one. To eliminate "gun free zones" as a solution to gun violence is simply one more example of the magical thinking common to the Right in contemporary America. 

As I pointed out here, it is extremely difficult for trained personnel to respond to an armed assailant in a situation such as Columbine or Newtown; to suggest that a teacher or rent-a-cop would not make matters worse is right out of a comic book. Superman can fly and punch holes through walls. Joe and Jane Q. Public are not going to be able to effectively respond to an armed shooter who has the tactical initiative and is determined to kill everyone around him or her. A fully armed public--what are really vigilantes--that the NRA wants to create, are not the Punisher. 

The NRA is unwilling to pursue common sense gun solutions because there is no political, economic, or moral consequence for them not doing so. Gun companies are indemnified from lawsuits. As such, there is no consequence when guns are used to kill dozens of people because said weapons worked as designed. And ultimately, too many Americans actually believe that they are Minutemen in waiting, and have the ability to balance the State's monopoly on force. 

 The Gun Right is stuck on a type of path dependence in their thinking about public safety and the violence caused by firearms. Guns, guns, and more guns are the only solution to the problem; their magical fetish object made of plastic and metal is a universal tool that can be used to solve all problems. 

The Gun Right and the NRA are like crackheads where the solution to any problem is another hit from the glass pipe. They are Tyrone Biggums, chasing the next thrill from the guns which they worship at the expense of the public's safety. Tragically, Tyrone Bigguns and folks like him tend to only hurt themselves. By comparison, the Gun Right has the blood of many thousands more on their hands.

When is the NRA going to enter rehab?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Django Unchained" Does Not Make One a Historian: Sorry Mr. Tarantino, the War on Drugs is not the Same as the Enslavement of Black Americans

"This whole thing of this 'war on drugs' and the mass incarcerations that have happened pretty much for the last 40 years has just decimated the black male population," the filmmaker said on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. "It’s slavery, it is just, it’s just slavery through and through, and it’s just the same fear of the black male that existed back in the 1800s." 
In addition, he says that the flesh-for-cash business of slavery mirrors that of the prison industrial complex. 
"Especially having even directed a movie about slavery," he said, "and you know the scenes that we have in the slave town, the slave auction town, where they’re moving back and forth -- well, that looks like standing in the top tier of a prison system and watching the things go down. And between the private prisons and the public prisons, the way prisoners are traded back and forth."
Quentin Tarantino is an amazing filmmaker. He is one of the great talents of his generation. I will be watching his new slavery revenge flick on Christmas Eve. However, Quentin Tarantino, an autodidact film genius, is not John Hope Franklin. He is also not Michelle Alexander. Nor is Quentin Tarantino an authority on the "black experience" in America.

One of my primary concerns about Django is that a revenge flick about slavery, drawing on a history that few Americans really understand, and presented in the genre of historical fantasy, will simply confuse the public about the horrors of the Middle Passage and the United States' centuries long status as a country ruled by formal white supremacy.

My expectations and claims are precise: I do not expect popular culture to either responsibly teach or to be historically accurate.

The first obligation of popular culture is to pleasure and entertainment. However, the realm of the popular is invested with symbolic power. And in dealing with a topic, where the mass scale barbarisms and horrors have been quite literally white washed away, there is an almost unavoidable risk that Django will flatten history in the service of narrative convention, Tarantino's own predilections, and filmic vision.

In all, Django, despite the complaints and tender sensitivities of white conservatives and others, is a relatively benign depiction of white evil towards black personhood under the system of racial terrorism that was chattel slavery.

[If Tarantino dared to make an "accurate" movie about the Maafa it would be rated XXX or NC-17; Django most certainly would not be nominated for an Academy Award next year.]

Django is not "history written with lightning." One would be surprised by how audiences confuse history as presented by Hollywood with the actual facts of a given event. For many, across the colorline, Django, will not simply be an exercise in a mating of the exploitation and Spaghetti Western film genres. Rather, it will be a convenient and accessible "history" that will upset, anger, and titillate the audience while it makes millions of dollars.

In his effort to speak truth to power, Tarantino makes the error of conflating the injustices and racism of the prison industrial complex and the "War on Drugs" with chattel slavery. His heart was in the right place.

Nevertheless, sentimentality and emotion are not substitutes for empirical rigor or solid historiography.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Let's Take a Post-Sandy Hook Massacre Virtual Tour of the Gun Right's Websites Such as ""

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre, we are in the midst of a "national conversation" about gun violence. As I suggested here, if history is any guide the lobbyists and the Gun Right are too powerful a force, with a hold too strong over the government, and a low-information public with a limited attention span, for reasonable gun control initiatives to be successfully passed by Congress.

Come next week, the now "enraged" public will return its focus be back to Honey Boo Boo, the Voice, and other assorted nonsense. A bunch of people will get killed in a month or two (again). The cycle continues unabated. We feed the gun god our young. He is always hungry for more.

Despite the news media's superficially exhaustive coverage of the Sandy Hook Massacre and gun violence this week, I have not seen the Gun Right and its foot soldier members given a "fair" voice. Of course, the NRA is in duck and cover mode.

Yes, there have been gun fetishists trotted out by Fox and MSNBC to be publicly sacrificed as they try to excuse-make, offer up magical thinking about the cause of the Sandy Hook killing spree by Adam Lanza (more prayer in schools to somehow protect kids from bullets), and also suggest equally foolish solutions such as arming teachers, as well as teaching kids to swarm a shooter.

Finding out what the gun crowd thinks about Sandy Hook and its potential political fallout is not difficult. You can talk to real people. A researcher can do surveys. A person could become a participant observer.

In the world of the Internet, the easiest thing is to just search online for the community you would like to observe in action. This method is hardly representative, as there is no way to confirm the identities of the people you are studying. They can be liars, charlatans, posers, frauds, or the like. But, even in that role, they are channeling some sense of what it means--real or imagined--to be a member of a given social body. Consequently, the ways in which members of that online community respond to them is an insight into its collective identity.

To point. I have been surveying websites which cater to gun owner/fans of the AR-15 assault rifle (basically the same weapon used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School). There are several online and they are easy to find. By definition, the folks who go to those websites are outliers--much like anyone who talks about politics or other matters online and on a routine basis. Nevertheless, the comments on the site are still examples of what others in the broader gun community may in fact be thinking, but for reasons of time, energy, personality type, or other commitments, are not sharing online in that forum.

In my short survey, which I conducted over the last few days over at, I have come upon a few recurring themes.

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?"

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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?