“It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!” The time-tried admonishment by parents when their children are doing something inherently unsafe that could bring about dire consequences; like playing with a BB gun, like voting Republican.
The author of the most recent “I used to be a Republican” article fell on very hard times and saw his political party in a new light. That “new” light has been on for the past 40-plus years. Like just about 100% of all of these “epiphanies,” the now-former Republican met with hardship and found himself out of the Republican fold. That person now has to has to stand next to and/or live near “those people,” the people that Republicans focus all their negative attention on. He now has to use the social programs that his former political party has been trying to end, or cut to the point of being useless, or post so many roadblocks to access that no one can use them. He sees the light, has a change of heart, and stops voting Republican. Then, as always, the concluding statement: “I didn’t leave the Republican party, it left me.”
As a member of the demographic group that the Republicans bash on a regular basis and use for campaign material (see the recent Mitt and Ann Romney interview) I look at these “epiphanies” with a cynical eye. I put “epiphany” in quotes in these cases for a reason. Not because the person has fallen on hard times and has seen the light, but that it took such a fall for him to see the light.
People of color in general are behind in every social category, yet we have a political party that ignores those facts and castigates them as being a drain on society, only wanting “free stuff” and to live off the government. Ignorance, in this case voting Republican, can only function in the absence of truth and the darkness of lies and hatred.
I have heard various racists and the ignorant joke about how great it would be to be black. One of my mother’s friends commented, lightheartedly, that she wished she could get free services upon hearing that my mom had gotten some free minor home upgrades, like a ramp for the door to the garage and safety bars for the bathtub, because she was black (with a white father, but that does not change anything in a racial caste society), over 65, female, and disabled; my mother has asthma and severe osteoarthritis in both knees, has to walk with two canes, and is a candidate for knee-replacement surgery. In contrast, her friend is white, late 50′s, medium build, and walks for exercise most every day. Nothing wrong with free stuff, but why would anyone want to joke around like that? Neither my mom nor anyone else, for that matter, wants to be disabled.
Did everything magically change such that some think people of color are now equal to the majority in all social categories just because a black man is President of the USA? Are they that ignorant of the facts and history? I guess they are. Continue reading On Republican ‘Epiphanies’ (or It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses an Eye)
The sad news is that Republicans have added to their list of the left’s conspiracies: the latest being the notion that Barack Obama actually won reelection as the President of the United States. Of course, Barack Obama received 62.26 million popular votes, won 26 states with 332 electoral votes—an electoral vote number that GOP pundits Dick Morris, George Will, Newt Gingrich and others predicted and called a “landslide”—for Romney! When the President actually achieved those numbers, becoming one of only five Democrats in history to twice receive 50 percent of the vote, the same bokors of make-believe called it a close election, becoming one of the few conspiracy groups in history to ignore the obvious.
Conspiracies are usually built around things unseen. In the dark mysteries of human ideas, conspiracies are born when people spring to action to carry out evil and destruction to gain power and turn human suffering into a demonic benefit that destroys the cherished good of freedom and prosperity. Conspiracies attack a life reasonably free of want, and crush to ruins a pride based on person production and skill.
History is filled with the great societies of prosperity and pride with a legacy of inside and outside conspiracies; ancient Egypt, the Mayans and Incas, the Dynasties of China and Persia, the Iroquois and the Sioux nations. These early societies had material wealth and superior knowledge, exhibited fantastic engineering success beyond their spectacular buildings. China and Persia, and the Mayans, for example, had extensive underground water systems, with reservoirs. But conspiracists no longer embrace global, historic or infrastructure success. For many conspiracists, these successes are an a priori sign of an invisible cabal, whose power is multiplied by the depth of its secrecy.
So of all the conspiracies attributed to Barack Obama, it was obvious that socialists carrying clipboards with petitions, illegal ACORN registrations, or backdoor gifts from socialist Europe or radical communist countries like Cuba, Estonia, Russia or China didn’t win the election. (Although the Romney-Sheldon Adelson connection offers fertile ground for outside influence by China and Israel!) It was obvious that the million mailed releases of a DVD tying Barack’s mother to Chicago labor leader Frank Marshall Davis, claiming a new baby daddy for infant Barack (one which incidentally would have firmly established his American citizenship—at odds with birther conspiracies!), didn’t work, either.
It’s also hard to claim that a President with a good mid-range jump shot and an arching, floating lay-up, who picks his own NCAA Final Four brackets (men and women’s), regularly invites Stevie Wonder to the White House, and brews his own pale ale from White House honey needs “to learn how to be an American.” So as all the conspiracies failed, falling one by one, it was obvious: Barack Obama won due to a yet-undiscovered-conspiracy even more wrongheaded and subversive than the GOP overpaid crybabies had thought!
Before we say “good riddance,” let’s do a careful review. For Karl Rove and many others, race has all minuses and no pluses in national politics. They assume a wider distribution of doubt and lingering worry over race than the actual election results revealed. What they missed is that as race once magnified negatives—the stereotypes of criminality, morality and personal ethics—it now also multiplies the character of success, skills at speaking, reasoning, caring, leadership and vision.
Rove and others assume these positive traits are dampened down by race. As they see it, race limits the upside of the positive narrative while acting to amplify and enlarge mistakes and negatives. But their cultural calculus is passing from a changing American national community; the new American national identity is a patriotism that proactively seeks to include all heritage communities and build a national community of trust and tolerance. In this America, stereotypes have almost no impact on the acceptability for leadership among members of heritage communities. Stereotypes do still exist, but as jokes that ridicule old-school thinking as much as they do the targeted group. Look carefully: much of contemporary humor uses stereotypes to laugh at the notions and distortions that stereotypes imply—and mock the stereotypes themselves!
But for Rove and others, the old ideas are still life and death. In a great irony, they see the election of a black man as President as the death of liberty rather than its celebration. Liberty has killed itself, they think, by going too far and becoming imprudent. Thus, their campaigns are always about the dangers of democracy: the decisions and acts that are, in their defective world view, excesses, bad, condemned. Continue reading The Sad News of A Bad Bet
I love history because I feel it. Others enjoy a kiss or music, great art; history flows deep in my soul with its own compass of beauty. My challenge is to wander outside of language’s cages and find how we are bound to freedom, for history is always about the drama of freedom. Barack Obama’s re-election is one of freedom’s greatest moments. I loved it. But every wisdom tradition warns that in the shadows of great moments are dangers and obstacles throbbing and alive with their losing gasp.
I congratulate the President—and the country—but I am going to write about the dangers swept up in that great moment; the dangers, though defeated and diminished, that are a threat to the freedom that I love. History shows dangers, after being pummeled, return redoubled. If dangers are not guarded against, the great moments of history become a pinnacle of achievement rather than a base camp for building greater success. And in the great success and jubilation of celebrating the re-election of Barack Obama with the support of states from east to west (and maybe south!), mighty danger lurks.
In a country where men and women from Kenya were captured, shipped and sold as property at public auctions and stripped of legal and personal rights, denied even the right to marry by Christian ministers and church elders, made into forced labor, compelled to accept forcible rape upon their women, our President, a descendant of Kenya, was told by an immigrant, speaking as his opponent’s surrogate, that he needed “to learn to be an American.” That immigrant overlooked that the sons and daughters of Africa know all too well and have learned too deeply what America means. The danger in the casual denial of his words hints at the old auctions, except the descendants are increasingly being marginalized. Their worth extracted, they are floss. The old story is still written in the wastes of higher unemployment, lower incomes, in communities overrun with crime, violence, and dropouts.
These communities must return to their history of self-help, established within the communities created by the auction block, communities that honored marriage and deeply embedded a self-love unbroken by violence and words, a self-love whose self-worth was tied to its ethics and pride in education, work and achievement. The African-American community need be painfully aware of the dangers that stand in front of its destiny, blocking its progress, subtly attempting to change its inner truth. At the moment of the highest achievement by one of its improbable sons, it stands on the precipice of imploding doom.
An irony of last night’s success is that women were the prime group in re-electing a man. In state after state, the President’s margin depended on women voters. His opponent narrowly tried to isolate employment as a single issue for women voters, as his party isolated women as a group. Not just jobs; health care is primarily economic. The Republican resistance to Obamacare is not to health, but to costs, or how the payment and revenues are directed. Before Obamacare, virtually every state had higher costs for women, with giant holes in coverage related to women, on reproduction and illness that affected women at a higher incidence than men. In many ways, women are the driver’s of the national balance sheet; Walmart has woefully exploited their skills, other women have sold them out, some buy into an ideology that marginalizes them, many miss the global picture, and more struggle with poverty. Continue reading Remember Caution Is a Prerequisite of Success
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Blue Room of the White House, July 4, 2010, before delivering remarks to military families during a Fourth of July celebration. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Jobs, Growth, and Recovery
Is President Obama accountable for the slow economic recovery? Did the size of the crisis–the biggest since Hoover–have something to do with the US’ weak fundamentals? Or the ongoing saga of Europe, at the brink of collapse every week? Canoes don’t paddle well on dry beds. An American president of any party finds it hard to “fix” a national economy when every idea is labeled and rejected as partisan, even when confronted with empirical proof, theoretical verification, and country examples.
US Job Growth (non-farm), July 2011 - 2012, under President Obama
Globally, the US leads all economies in the recovery!
Accusing someone doesn’t make them guilty. First, choices, players, conditions, opposing forces, and standards must be assessed. The initial stimulus sent money to the states to provide for the increased demand for basic services, health, unemployment, education, public safety during a time when revenue fell dramatically. The money helped cushion the sudden shock of people who lose jobs in the tailspin. This aid to states was essential. Even those guilty of criticizing it requested and received the money for a variety of projects and programs.
Should the success of the stimulus be measured solely by job creation? That ignores that fully one-third of the stimulus was a payroll tax cut to put more money in the hands of families. It also helped families who couldn’t find jobs.
The recession was international. Where does the US rank globally, among all nations? Globally, the US leads all economies in the recovery!
The US has a higher per-capita GDP than Germany, Europe’s leading economy. China, the world’s second largest economy, had a strong 2011, but now, its year-over-year GDP is falling and its growth rate is slowing.
US GDP growth in constant dollars has trended consistently upward since the recession’s end. In contrast, our most prosperous neighbor in the hemisphere, Brazil, whose economy is now larger (6th in the world!) than Britain and Canada’s, saw its GDP (in constant dollars) drop significantly last year.
In 2011, US corporate profit hit record highs. The aggregate? $824 billion. Profit margins (profit after expenses and taxes) also accelerated to an all-time high. In fact, profits recovered quicker and grew faster after the recession than anytime in US history. Conversely, wages are down. Obama has promised to address the inequity of the middle class’ income and wealth. Wages are revenues for other companies, and as long as wages are low, the recovery will be inhibited, creating a negative feedback cycle of job losses, low wages, and low demand.
Germany’s unemployment is lower than the US, at 6.5% having fallen since February from 7.5%. Brazil, Canada (7.5%) and England match the US rate at 8% (for Brazil, a metropolitan-based rate). Mexico’s unemployment? 5.5 percent, the hemisphere’s best, is severely undercounted. Our economy is still almost a third larger than China’s and 15% larger than Eurozone’s.
Finally, US interest and inflation rates are at all-time lows. Inflation-indexed 10-year treasuries have negative returns! (You pay the government to park your money!) Currently, fixed-yield securities (constant maturities for 10 years) return 1.63 percent.
It’s hard for a single country, even one the size of the US, tied to so many markets, to outpace the world! Sometimes, for reasons or events beyond political control, times are hard. As the US de-leverages from the housing bubble and banking crisis, demand will not return until private debt levels (not public!) provide an impetus to spend.
US Job Growth (non-farm), July 2007 - 2008, under President Bush
Looking at the global details, the benchmarks, GDP comparisons, the rates of growth worldwide by verified standards and measures, the US is still the number one economy in the world and leads the global recovery.
Slowly, the US is shaking off the effects of a deep crisis without falling back into a double dip, as England did. Add record corporate profits and lower taxes to the US’ leadership record, and Barack Obama has done an outstanding job resetting the economy in a world still stalled, trying to recover its punch.
President Barack Obama hugs Stephanie Davies, who helped keep her friend, Allie Young, left, alive after she was shot during the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. University of Colorado Hospital, July 22, 2012. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Health Care and the Savings Debate
The President’s plan expands and protects services for seniors and the uninsured
Rising costs? Cuts in Medicaid services? Taking away seniors paid-in benefits to pay for expanding Obamacare? Under the President’s plan, seniors keep their full range of services while coverage is expanded.
In his speech Mitt Romney said no:
His [Obama's] $716 billion cut to Medicare to finance Obamacare will both hurt today’s seniors, and depress innovation – and jobs – in medicine.
Here’s an insight from a New York Times reader in San Francisco that explains why Medicaid clients will keep their coverage and tells how the savings work.
I’m a little worried that the worst lie is not being pointed out completely. It is not that Ryan, hypocritically calls for the same cuts in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals as Obama; but rather Obama doesn’t really cut the total reimbursement to hospitals at all–while Ryan would.
Everyone keeps missing the Medicare point. Reimbursements to hospitals are overpaid because hospitals carry the extra expense of providing care to the uninsured for which they aren’t reimbursed. The Obama plan essentially insures that hospitals continue to get the same amount of total reimbursement–less from medicare but more from the previously uninsured because they will be required to have insurance under Obamacare (shouldn’t be ashamed to call it that).
The Ryan plan is an actual cut–because they are not going to require the uninsured to get insurance. HUGE difference that seems to be ignored in the sea of Ryan prevarication.
The President’s plan expands and protects services for seniors and the uninsured.
Soon doctors will get out of practicing medicine? With the provisions in the ACA to cap and deter frivolous lawsuits, malpractice costs should drop. But adjustments can be made–as Bush did with Part D, and with the Advantage program.
The Democrats have a plan! Their plan for cost savings is included in the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare) and is already showing great results. Its major thrust targeted fraud. Last fiscal year, the Attorney General announced a record total annual recovery: $4.1 billion in fraud. In February, he brought the single biggest case against fraud, taking down an extended network that bilked $375 million in illegal payments by, in some cases, going door to door to sign up recipients for false claims. No small change! Continue reading Opportunity! Health Care, Jobs, and Race
“Lord, give them better,” goes the powerful prayer of a South Carolina woman, recorded in the 1930s on Hilton Head, South Carolina by linguist Lorenzo Turner and found in the Library of Congress archives. Lost in the broad annals of American slavery and its aftermath are the many prayers and individual acts of courage whose invisible silence is used today to shut down the struggle for better.
Ann Romney is so absorbed by this silence that she cannot clearly articulate the difference between wealth and privilege and poverty, and the dependency and submission it demands. Her incoherent failure of meaning, her mangled syntax, her non-existent sense of justice shows her lack of experience with and isolation from mainstream lives. That absence of reference belies her struggles to establish an ethic of knowledge about critical aspects of women, a majority but still marginalized population under attack. Trying to be authentic, Ann Romney authors confusion.
That old South Carolina woman knew there was little to love about being poor or doing field work, yet she offered a prayer bright with hope. She doesn’t want to fit in, doesn’t have to pretend to anyone what living has taught her, and her three-word prayer rises far beyond petition. It is a beatific prayer. She is directing God, commanding His will for her highest purpose. It is her commandment for him to follow, rooted in the same shared love; lay the burdens down: give them better.
Would Ann Romney speak these simple, clear words to her husband, her life partner who seeks our nation’s highest position of service? Is there a higher, more succinct calling then these three words the old woman places before God? Is there any doubt about what she means?
Powerful clarity takes courage. Courage rises with the same ease as prayer when it elevates not desire but love. In the dark era of slavery, couples whose love was a light of courage influenced the nation’s course and gave us better.
The women in these families faced more than ridicule or mockery. Daily they walked in circumstances a step away from death. They raised children whose education was illegal and whose bodies were sold. They loved their God but mostly hated their choices, but found the courage to act.
Nancy Weston’s prayers for the nation and her children are unknown, her words in time’s invisible veil. She was a Charleston seamstress, an enslaved woman. She worked independently to support herself and lived in a small house on St. Philip Street. She was member of a noted family of craft and trades workers tied to planter Plowden Weston, of European, African and native American descent, who were slave and free. After the death of his wife, she began a relationship with a prominent lawyer whose father was the Chief Justice of the State’s Supreme Court and a slaveholder with 14 children. Two sisters were later famous abolitionists, Sarah and Angelina Grimke.
The Grimke Sisters
Their brother, Henry, was smitten with Nancy Weston. As had his sisters, they soon left the city. But love drove him more than the politics of freedom. He resigned his law practice and moved her with him to his rice plantation, Cane Acres, in the country, built Nancy a house, and fathered her three sons. Small, intimate details of their relationship survive in his letters to his older set of adult children back in Charleston, whose mother Nancy once nursed through illness. At Cane Acres, Nancy carried authority. She overruled the plantation’s overseer, forbidding him to work slaves in the fields on Sunday and bring embarrassment to the family for violating the Sabbath; Henry backed her decision. She attacked Henry once in a domestic dispute and knocked him down. Mainly she tended her chickens and flowers. Her oldest child, Archibald, was given Henry as his middle name, but fate offered its twist; Henry died suddenly when the boys were young.
Given a small pension, Nancy returned to Charleston, educated the boys, and made them recite aloud long passages as she listened. Just before the Civil War began, one of the older siblings claimed the brothers as his property, ignoring Nancy’s assertion not to, as they were his brothers. One ran away and one was purchased as a body servant by a naval officer stationed in Charleston. (One, the youngest, has been lost to time.) After the war, two brothers reunited and made their way to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
Notice in a Boston paper of a Grimke winning an oratorical contest caught the eye of their aunt, now a famous abolitionist. On the strength of the last name, she wrote to him, offering her praise, asking if he were one of the children of their family’s servants. He wrote back, informing her that he and his brother were her nephews. Continue reading Digging Deeper: The Courage to Love
Do those who accuse Barack Obama of fanning the heat of racial hate believe that white people love black people? Do they think racial goodwill is so weak and shallow that a few harsh words, or benign references in the context of grief, can overturn an entire foundation of goodwill?
Here’s what they think: web comment after comment, and even Presidential candidates, have accused the President of hate-mongering. One candidate called his remarks about Trayvon Martin, “disgraceful.” All of these comments seem to insist that we are a color-free society. But only so if we silence the conversation about race. Only so if the role of race in the actions of state agents, in the impact on life chances, in its effects on life narratives is whispered, in the same private rooms as crony capitalism and income inequality. But these folk insist silence is best. Better not to speak of race in cases of success against the odds, or the limits within systems that practice the institutions of racism, and yes, certainly not in the expression of sorrow. Quiet, Mr. President. It’s disgraceful to mention that a child killed by a man who identified a kid moments before he killed him as black—is black. In their world, color-free means you can no longer state the obvious.
What is obvious is that these commenters see race everywhere. And everywhere they see race, they see hate. Whose hate? Why, blacks, who are trying to blame all whites for their troubles, or singling out a case to make it bigger than what it is, or overlooking the thousands of incidents that have parallels. Or using race to intimidate whites to grant special privileges. For them, race is tied to hate and inauthentic goals—and it is never a trait that is used to identify and oppress people of color, nor used to justify the murder of an unarmed teen as self-defense. But race has those uses, too. Continue reading Digging Deeper: How Silence Enables Hate
Late one past weekend, I came in the middle of a conservation between some of my fellow dancers after a night of contra dancing, talking about the term “African-American” and where it applies and where it doesn’t. Since all present were white, of course they were experts on the topic—not. I was in a good mood and took the opportunity to steer the conservation to safer topics because listening to ignorance regarding race is a quick way to foul my good mood. The question that came to mind later was: Why were they even talking about that? That’s a topic that they have no business in and no understanding of. The answer is because they can and they think they have business in that topic—but not where and why they think.
The Need for an Underclass
The need for an underclass goes back to the time of the British North American colonies. An extension of the class structure in Great Britain, the landed gentry class needed an underclass for the menial labor so that gentlemen could engage in gentlemanly pursuits. The people available for the labor class were the lower-class landless peasants from Britain and Ireland, and indentured servants (they were not slaves, yet) imported from West Africa. The upper class quickly found that they were outnumbered and the Africans and lower-class indentured servants had a lot of common interests. Some of that exploded into Bacon’s Rebellion in the late 1600′s.
The terrified upper class had to prevent a repeat of Bacon’s Rebellion, so they instituted a series of laws and reforms to separate and break the common interests of the lower classes. Those included the creation of a slave class of Africans and slavery as an accepted institution, and the beginnings of racism and the racial caste system and an underclass that exists to the present. Race was an obvious and sure means of identification. Create a slave class of black people, thus anyone black is most likely a slave. Grant rights above slave status to the lower-class white people, but less than the rights of the landed gentry; that is, make the white lower class honorary members of “the club”, i.e. the club of whiteness. Since they can be in “the club” and black people cannot, “club” members are obvious. They now have a status higher than the slaves. No common interests, no need for rebellion. Next, use the honorary members to watch the slave class. Membership in “the club” has meaning and becomes more important in advancing one’s own interests. The few enlightened and/or unsatisfied “rabble-rousers” are quickly marginalized and ignored.
Why Race Matters
When your demographic group is at the top of the social hierarchy, but not in the 1%, an underclass is good to have because there is someone that you’re better than. Also, when your group is at the top, anything that happens to “those people” is their fault because they aren’t good enough, smart enough, hard-working enough, etc. and you’ll be all right because you are good enough, smart enough, hard-working enough, etc. One does not have to do anything; there’s a whole social structure that does the work. It keeps the members of the overclass up and the underclass down.
Unemployment among black people is double the national average, along with higher high school dropout rates, higher incarceration rates, lower economic rates, etc. Again, the list goes on. To borrow from Tim Wise, all of this didn’t magically happen; stuff gets done to people by other people, especially the people with the power to do it. Oppressed people aren’t oppressed by accident.
At What Cost?
The psychological benefit of having a racial and social underclass is obvious: Having “those people” to blame for the ills of society (why public education stinks, why there are drugs and crime and ghettos, potholes, PMS pain, male pattern baldness, and on and on). It’s great to have a scapegoat to blame. Psychological benefits often trump economic costs, which is usually why the cheaper economic option is not always followed. It is cheaper to add some after-school programs than to house prisoners, but throwing “those people” in jail makes society feel better. It is cheaper to have government-run jails and prisons and other facilities than have private companies do it, but society feels better letting someone else do it. There’s no social safety net because “those people” will want to live off of the government and not work, and society feels better letting them starve. Continue reading The Cost of Maintaining a Social and Racial Underclass
You never heard of the O. J. Simpson syndrome? Maybe the literary tradition of the tragic mulatto is familiar? Have you seen the late night or Black History Month reruns of the movie classic, Imitation of Life? Or perhaps you have read Richard Wright’s powerful novel, Native Son?
What all of these ideas, experiences, and creative works have in common is race and sex. They mark the attitudes and norms of different points and plateaus in our national dialogue about the meaning and acceptability, and the failures, when race and sex share a common social ground.
Up until fifty years ago, the thinking and tragedies of race and sex all ran in one direction. Culturally it was assumed the mix of race and sex resulted in toxic failures and always involved white males with black females. From slavery, this tradition produced what was called “the yard child,” a child who lived among the enslaved who had been parented by a white slaveholder. This tradition enters Presidential politics with Thomas Jefferson, and was later vigorously denied by both the historians and descendants of Jefferson, who concocted all sorts of alternatives to Jefferson parenting children by Sally Hemmings (the DNA virtually proves he did), she herself the daughter born of a relationship between holder and slave.
Thus, the tradition of the tragic mulatto emerged, generally a woman of refinement, grace and manners, thoughtful, caring, light-skinned to the point of easily passing for white, but denied opportunity because she was legally black. The implied loophole was that discrimination and oppression were acceptable to darker-featured blacks, but those whose who resembled whites should be given a pass. A foot in both worlds, today called multiracial, was historically seen as tragic, a source of alienation and rejection—and highlighted and projected unequal treatment for a woman, as a lover, mistress, wife, or worker, albeit slave or free. In the movies, Imitation of Life and later Queen (with Halle Berry) brought tears, with no change or challenge to the norm.
Harlem’s former Congress Representative, the legendary Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. spoke in his autobiography of his grandfather accepting and raising the child of the man who had whipped him in slavery, and marrying the woman who had sired the child. His family history had a deep impact on his faith and politics and his impatience with injustice.
But Richard Wright, the Mississippi-born writer, saw the problem from a profoundly different viewpoint. His socially marginal literary character, Bigger Thomas, unskilled, impulsive, poor, kills and cuts off the head of a young white woman, stuffing her body in a furnace in one of the most provocative and unsentimental scenes in American literature. It foreshadowed the O.J. Simpson syndrome.
The broad idea of the O.J. Simpson syndrome is that interracial love leads to personal destruction and bad societal ends. It is countered by the cult of white womanhood, especially strong in the civil rights era, when a rallying cry against equal opportunity pointedly asked: would you want your daughter to marry one [a black]? White women were not to abandon their own kind. To do so invited peril.
What has this to do with Presidential politics in 2012? Aren’t we past these outmoded considerations? Besides, the Obamas constitute a strong black family unit. I may be overreaching, but I see a cultural embed in Newt’s wife standing next to him. I see a subtext in the ferocity of political attacks which are visceral and invasive against women and their bodies. I see in very ugly and scatological tweets aimed at Michele Obama and even her children. I see an impotence that is hate. I see it in the way that has made the greatest family unit ever to occupy the White House into a sexless, invisible couple, when all their forms of love, from agape to eros, are so transparent that we watch astounded by this relationship which is as solid as a rock and ridiculously, obviously hot. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas
Black people need Black History Month because they need to know that black people are more than the ugly and false stereotypes too often portrayed in the media. Black history is more than cursory mentions of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.
White people need Black History Month because they need to know that black people are more than the ugly and false stereotypes too often portrayed in the media. Black people didn’t magically appear as slaves in the USA only to disappear after the Civil War and then re-appear after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that began the Civil Rights Era. Slaves were not smiling, dancing, happy people who were simply “servants” and a part of the master’s family.
Black History Month matters because it is history. It is history forgotten, ignored, and suppressed. It is a history of and within a country that desperately longs to forget its sullied and unfavorable past. There is no mention of slavery in the country’s founding documents, but slavery helped make it the most powerful and wealthiest in recorded history.
Some time ago, I wrote a piece called “Black History That Doesn’t Make It Into the History Books.” It reflected roughly five years of research and help from various people on various topics, from the historically black colleges and universities, to desegregation of the US military, to white allies in the struggle, to the source of the One-Drop Rule, and most everything in between. There is a lot of history that has been deliberately left out or simply ignored.
Why would that history be left out and forgotten? For the same reason that it was left out of the country’s founding documents: It makes the country look bad. A country that was created based on liberty and freedom can’t easily reconcile the existence of chattel slavery and a racial caste system. What cannot be reconciled gets written out and forgotten. Re-writing history is nothing new; what is new is that a lot of that history has been saved and not forgotten.
History is written by the winners. When the winners become the social norm and their version of history becomes the standard, there is no need for any other versions. The other versions are simply not taught.
And when you’re the norm, you don’t have to know about what matters to everyone else. You don’t have to know what “those people” think or how they feel or how they live or what they know. That kind of ignorance can make for some awkward moments, like Bill O’Reilly’s visit to Sylvia’s (Wow! I didn’t know black people could behave in public!), or saying to someone black, “You know, I don’t think of you as black,” or the all-time favorite, “I didn’t know black people could (insert non-stereotypical activity here).”
Peggy McIntosh’s treatise “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” outlines the functional points of white privilege, i.e. the privilege of being the norm. In reference to Black History Month, it has a couple of telling points. They are:
- When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. Continue reading Why Black History Month Matters
When I step back, I see one of the strangest sights I have witnessed in contemporary American politics. Among the Democrats: grumbling and disenchantment about Obama being unwilling to lead the country off a cliff, even as he saved it from recession. That recession created massive fissures: persistent high joblessness, general dissatisfaction with regulatory enforcement, mortgages that are evicting homeowners, and an oft-repeated assumption that the smooth talker was milquetoast when it came to action. Among the Republicans: a willingness by social conservatives to endorse a serial adulterer, a scheming thief who is a megalomaniac who tells the kinds of lies not heard since eighth grade, a willingness to ignore the extremes of his legislative positions on centerpiece Republican issues, his relish of large, activist government, and his claims of constitutional violations so absurd they border on treason.
How did it happen that Democrats thus repute a President who ended two wars, opened military service without regard to a preference for intra-gender relations, got a Gulf fix that appears to work, reformed the Medusa of health care, established consumer protections, cut middle class taxes, and consistently beat the Republicans with the last move? And how did Republicans grow to embrace a failed, badly flawed Washington insider whose smokescreens of big ideas (mirrors in space!) would expand government and debt?
I am sure you find much to disagree with, but grant me the broad outlines. I’m a theorist and a writer, a historian who sees complex dynamics and tries to grasp the whole and its negative space. In fact, this year’s voter deals are being cut in negative space. The deals involve a concept from complex systems theory called joint utility. Joint utility traces the links between satisfactions or dissatisfactions or combinations of the two among disparate groups.
Theory? Why not just campaign hard, door knock, make calls, and vote? Because theory let’s you maximize your effort, order your understanding, avoid pitfalls and improve your moves. It helps focus attention on resonating issues, and directs the message in a way that builds support and blocks objections. Political decisions are front-loaded with a thousand deep commonalities. Joint utility has to do with how this front-loading is connected to outcomes.
The negative space around Barack Obama has to do with his being black. And the issue is definitely front-loaded. The economy notwithstanding, the deeply embedded resistance to his race has increased. Monday the site FreakOutNation reported that a Tea Party leader, who ran for a city council seat and is described as a Ron Paul libertarian, posted on Facebook: “assassinate the fucken nigger and his monkey children.” Four years ago, I didn’t see this kind of raw and vile treason, immoral, criminal speech toward Obama, certainly not toward his family; by contrast, this level of hate makes Newt’s offenses look like a choir boy’s. This element wants to pointedly establish that the character and zany ideas of any white man is better and superior to the highest ranking black’s, even an elected President’s. Newt — all Republicans — augment race and policy as a joint utility. These views are front-loaded and locked in.
Now Tom Friedman disagrees. In a panel of New York Times editors and columnists on Charlie Rose, he suggested the GOP craves the opposite. He argues they want a candidate that sounds erudite, speaks with confidence and fluency, who can attack the nuances of Obama’s positions, and take the high road to negatives. Perhaps. Tom doesn’t understand the dynamics of race and how they operate in the negative space of culture and politics, but even so, Newt fills both bills, Friedman’s and mine.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have dropped race from their political view, thinking it might dangerously inflame passions and turn off supporters of the President. By doing so, they are conceding the racial dynamic to Republicans. By refusing to defend racial dignity, to assert Obama’s full humanity — to point out the nasty, increasing undertone of race hatred in this election, by ignoring the overwhelming litany of daily hate speech, they open a back door for all forms and expressions of hate. Democrats are offering no resistance to one of the fastest growing campaign elements. Their silence concedes a battle that could and should be fought and won, and should be cast into the light from the negative space. Already, the denials of defense come. Using the word “nigger” doesn’t make you a racist, one writer argued. No. It makes you something worse. It makes you a hater. Continue reading Digging Deeper: In Defense of Racial Justice