i'm sure eugene allen, the white house butler, buttled excellently, and was a dignified person and a sort-of friend to presidents, in that 'help' kind of way the races used to interact. he was also a jockey on the white house lawn. i wouldn't blame him for that, but i wouldn't make a movie about it either. you might imagine to yourself what malcolm x might say about this project.
i forgot how great that song is.
alright, some remarks on trayvon, george, barack, and the post-racial era, if any. the zimmerman case seemed to me somewhere between rodney king and casey anthony: both a discomfiting racial emblem and a 24-hour murder-media circus. i'm not sure, in a way, how seriously to take it. right, a kid is dead. most dead kids don't get months of non-stop coverage and, again, to say that the nsa/snowden thing is a much more important and also morally far clearer case, is to state the obvious, i believe.
obama seemed, as he was making that statement friday, grim and sad. now, one could view the case, or certainly the response to it, as a demonstration that we are very far from a post-racial society, which is true: look at things like income levels, incarceration rates, and so on. but it also shows the reality, which has always been central if less obvious, and which is constantly increasing, of the fluidity of race, its ambiguity, which rests in part on its status as a social construction, more or less shifting as fast as society as a whole. but one thing a post-racial society would be is a society in which everyone's identity is ambiguous, chaotic, or ultimately unspecifiable. that is certainly true of zimmerman and obama, for example.
now, on the one hand, a 'post-racial' society is what almost everyone wants; it would signal the end of 'our long national nightmare' etc. on the other hand: everyone, at least everyone in my generation and its predecessors, has a stake in the racial system they grew up in. these stakes are tremendously complicated, even for white people. so, one such stake is white privilege. another is white fascination with african-american culture and its incalculable contribution to world arts, for example (which is far more significant than the contribution of white americans). a post-racial society could not have given us hip hop, for example, even if hip hop is getting pretty post-racial now.
one problem with white people going around saying that race is over is that it ignores and even seems to double down on unconscious racism; white people would like to believe it's over, thus erasing a burden of guilt, but believing that even helps the structural inequalities to persist or get worse. so, you know, who cares how many black people are in prison or how many black senators there are? there's no such thing as race anyway. but also: any white person who ever sincerely endorsed racial equality was wanting a post-racial society, and probably thought that black folks wanted it too.
no doubt they do, but again only fitfully. african-american culture is an amazingly rich thing; it should be a symbol throughout the world for the transcendence of suffering, or the transformation of oppression into creativity, or the thousands of ways people can survive and resist and transcend subordination. but you can't have that without the subordination, and i think we might with some care point out that a post-racial society could not have this culture in it, really except as a museum. from a certain point of view, 'post-racial' means the end of racialized cultures. you can't have a douglass, a dubois, a booker washington, a king, a malcolm in a post-racial society. a post-racial society in some ways realizes the vision of those people. it also precludes them, makes them into decisively historical figures rather than ones it makes sense to really read and emulate, say.
indeed, you can't have american culture as a whole as we have understood it without race. if race is the great theme/burden of america, as many have asserted, then a post-racial society is a post-american society.
no doubt jesse jackson is right to say that the idea that we live in a post-racial society is wildly premature. on the other hand, think about the stake that jesse has in a racialized society: he has spent his life fighting it, but for that reason among others, his life is inconceivable without it; he has an infinite stake in the system he has fought to overcome. you cannot have the identity of a fighter for racial justice - as jackson or sharpton have regarded themselves through their whole adult lives - in a post-racial society, and frankly i don't think they would acknowledge that we had reached such a point even if we had, and even though that would in some sense be their very own victory. i don't think this is unique: to the extent that race is winding down, we all have something to mourn, for this has been absolutely central to our cultures, our identities, our self-understandings and understandings of others, our social arrangements, our arts, and so on.
actually to lose race as a category really would be lose all kinds of things that have been amazingly great as well as so many horrors. but i do think we'd have to acknowledge the loss if we were actually to get post-racial.
this is not to say that getting to a post-racial condition is equivalent to the assimilation of african-american to white culture or something; everything is getting more complicated and the future will have elements of everything. i think we suffer in part from our attempts to understand the whole thing or get a grip on it; we're always imposing a new simplistic taxonomy or explanation that's false on the ground. let it flow, baby.
so, compare zimmerman to rodney king, for example. the acquittal there was ridiculous, and everyone was in a position to reach a reasonable position on that; you could see the damn video. it was directly police against citizen, and you could establish a horrendous racist history in the lapd. now, that is a pretty darn clear and important symbol of central racial realities, even though in every case where you read actual events as sheer symbols, you'll be losing a lot of important particularities etc. but in this case, we don't realy know what happened (if you think you do, that's a bad sign; you'll just kind of make shit up; you don't need facts because you've got the little repertoire of stories all ready to go). zimmerman's race is highly ambiguous, etc. now, 'hoodie' is powerful, but it's sort of one of the few things that's clear: that trayvon was wearing a hoodie.
i'm just betting that almost every day, somewhere in the usa, there is a clearer example of the way racism expresses itself in our lives now. no one exactly chooses to make a certain event a crazed media sensation or an emblematic thing, but i don't think this was the best such apointment.
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden possesses enough information to cause more damage to the United States government than “anyone else has ever had in the history” of the country, according to the journalist who first reported the former contractor’s leaked documents.
i said from the outset that i hope snowden has a doomsday device. however, i think i would have hesitated to give these sorts of quotes if i were greenwald. it does suggest that the only solution from the us gov's point of view is extreme: extreme search and raid procedures, covert murder ops, and so on. it might get really bad; it might already be getting bad.
once again: the zimmerman trial, which is not even a particularly good racial emblem, is just nowhere near as important as the nsa story. this is true, i believe, even if you are raising a young black man, etc.: this is about a total system of surveillance affecting such people no less than everyone else. this is about a future of totalitarianism over the whole earth. i guess we can have another national conversation about race; i'm already bored; i can rehearse the whole thing in terms of the series of slogans or cliches of our leaders on both sides in my head. let's have a national conversation about the way all of us are being subordinated together, shall we?
i'm happy to talk about race; i do it all the time. i'll talk to you about it. i actually want to reflect on my own racial attitudes; i've tried. but the national conversation just consists of politicians and thought leaders and race leaders saying the same careful crap over and over and over. one problem is the familiar one: none of these people feels obliged to speak as or for themselves; they're representing demographics, bureaucracies, and so on. the sincerity of what they're saying is a question that does not even arise.
i never found my black cinderella. but we all found our black richard nixon. really. so just listen along, replacing her with him in the lyric. what progress means is that eventually there will be a female richard nixon, a latina richard nixon, one richard nixon each for l, b, g, t, and q, etc.
yo one run through that bassline is worth all the words that have ever come out of barack obama's mouth, and much more.
awww, you really gonna spend days on no one's asking for my birth certificate? you know, everyone purports to want both candidates, especially romney, to loosen up and act more human and stuff. well, then you're going to have to tolerate stray remarks.
funny thing about birtherism. people think it's straight-up racism. i don't think so, exactly. who can be more american, pretty much according to everybody, than a black dude? know what i'm saying? i never would have thought of african-americans as aliens in our midst, and actually i don't really think this is a trope of american racism. is it? like i often think, if someone doubts that i am american, they should just talk to me for ten minutes. it wouldn't take that long for anyone with, say, chris rock: you'd need less than a sentence. the only rival group for paradigmatic americanism is giterdone rednecks, such as myself. i guess maybe white politicians have wanted to send black folks back to africa; that really hasn't been that popular since the civil war, except among black people. american racism teaches many stupid things, but does it really teach that african-americans are not americans or that they're like illegal mexicans or something? it's interesting, but everyone still implicitly completely understands the difference between people jumping the fence to get in to a land not their own and the middle passage of two hundred years ago. whatever white people might think or believe, they can't be affronted by the presence of black people; no white privilege without it, for one thing. and no america as we understand it.
way late on this, but something is weird all the way round. i don't doubt that many people view obama through the lens of race; but i do sort of doubt the birtherism=racism doctrine. i actually think it's more part of a long history of associating american liberalism with foreign ideologies: turning us into europe etc. then there's the arabic-sounding name, but being anti-islamic is not precisely anti-black racism. i will say this: no one has ever been whiter than mitt romney: he radiates whiteness like a toothpaste. if you want to understand how a white american teenager becomes a wigger, all you have to do is see the emptiness at the heart of whiteness by looking in mitt romney's eyes. i'm surprised his seventeen sons aren't all hip hop artists.
update: actually, melissa harris-perry was good on this this morning on up. she's like: he's not exactly an african-american in the most usual sense; which helped him get elected but makes him hard to read. like, he knows exactly where his family is from in africa, what language they spoke, etc. she pointed out that no one is asking for michelle's birth certificate: look she's just obviously as american as mitt romney. but barack is a hard case. he just doesn't flow smoothly into our little racial dualism, even with all its complexities. but one thing about the dualism: it's american, on both sides, and both sides do at least read it like that. harris-perry is thinking, not just picking up the nearest club or unanimous simplification.
the elizabeth warren/native-american-affirmative-action thing is pretty funny. she says she based her self-reported ethnicity on 'family lore,' and that's certainly plausible. in fact, it's an american tradition to throw in some indian: cf. noble drew ali. my grandmother told me stuff like that and also that we were descended from thomas jefferson, possibly because there was an early-19th-century thomas jefferson sartwell. and since the racial/genderal composition of the faculty was always based on self-reporting, i occasionally myself have grown tired or offended enough to respond 'other' or 'south-sea islander' etc. on the other hand, harvard relentlessly promoted warren's minority status, especially in the 90s golden era of identity politics, when your professors were on hunger strike and your students enraged until you hired (any damn) black woman. life was a celebratory parade of tokens, and every white dude - no matter how milquetoast, no matter how apparently sincere our recitation the approved forms of words - carried the collective guilt of centuries of kicking your ass.
elizabeth warren in full drag pow-wow blackface regalia
a couple of highlights from today's nytimes op-ed page.
krugman demonstrates again why you shouldn't send an economist to do a writer's job: '“I have a dream,” declared Martin Luther King, in a speech that has lost none of its power to inspire.' if you know that a sentence (by which i mean krugman's whole sentence, not king's per se) has already been written a thousand times, or is has been a cliche among assistant principals for decades, you should give it a miss in your column and resolve to write your own material instead of plucking it from the cloud of socially-approved yapyap. and you know what? it's really an excellent refutation of itself: a nice demonstration that king is now just a cliche whose words we recite like automata.
egan argues that the tea party was a fraud because they never really wanted to 'govern.' cf. proudhon:
To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.
only a 'daft, grandfatherly skinflint' like ron paul wouldn't want all of that for everyone.
here is an amazingly ignorant, yet excruciatingly conventional, piece of claptrap, courtesy of forbes: if i were a poor black kid. all it shows is that gene marks is utterly white, white as a ream of copy paper: if he were a poor black kid, he'd be a bourgeois white kid. get good grades. that's his advice. if i were a poor black kid, i'd kick your lily-white ass.
again this season, i'll be collecting names of college basketball players. just to say it: black folks are applying ever-more creative naming strategies (it's not like, looking at these names, you're wondering about the players' race). so how about these freshmen from st. john's: God'sgift Achiuwa and Sir'dominic Pointer. also i feel that the apostrophe is only the beginning of the incorporation of punctuation marks into the human name. i'm thinking of throwing a few question marks into mine.
one of the hardest jobs in america is black conservative. people immediately start squawking 'race traitor.' indeed, attitudes like the one expressed in that piece are exactly the reasons why cain says black voters are 'brainwashed' into voting democratic. the idea that every black person has to have the same leftist poltics started driving perfectly smart people around the bend at latest in the harlem renaissance, when zora neale hurston was more or less extruded completely for not being a richard-wright communist etc. 'brainwashing' is way too pejorative, but the consensus enforcement takes place largely internally. in general, constant policing of a consensus is a good indication that what some group believes is very likely to be false, a claim which is, i believe, demonstrable. on the other hand, conservative tokenism isn't exactly the most liberatory attitude either.
at any rate, the idea that you ought to have certain political opinions in virtue of your membership in a particular social group certainly is the idea that it does not matter whether your views are thoughtful, plausible, or true. you're supposed to generate opinions according to whether they enhance group solidarity, not according to what the views are about, whether there's any evidence for them, and so on. well, for that matter try being a non-left humanities prof, etc.
this is irrelevant.
oy, the tragedy.
At midday, hundreds of students dressed in black lay down in Sproul Plaza, silently demonstrating support for SB185.
supposedly, they cut short the die-in because it was hot.
there are a lot of things that one might should get offended about, but the affirmative bake sale at berkeley isn't one of them. it didn't employ any racist slurs, and in terms of actual baked goods it discriminated most against white men. so, is your view that the college republicans can't express opposition to affirmative action? or that they can't express their opposition satirically or with an analogy? or perhaps the view is that they shouldn't be able to express their opposition so cleverly, or so humorously, or so effectively. i'd suggest instead trying to show why the bake sale isn't a good analogy for college admissions. so far i don't hear people doing that, just creating a hostile-learning-environment style argument for the repression of satire.
there's been a lot of stuff like this: Joey Freeman, vice president of External Affairs of the Associated Students of the University of California, said, "It really was deeply hurtful to lots of members of our college community." of course, hurting people is wrong. selling them cupcakes, however, appears to do little actual harm, though i admit a person might be hurt by almost anything at a bad moment. regard it instead as perfectly protected political discourse, and respond to it.
i've had a mixed response to cornel west over the years. there were great essays in race matters, and he could actually do some interesting philosophy and history of philosophy, as in the american evasion of philosophy. and he had his inspirational pastoral mode, as in the at-times incandescent prophesy deliverance! i've never heard a better speaker at a philosophy conference. however, i'd say i've lost the faith. the blowup with lawrence summers indicated rather bloated egos in both men. but this stuff with obama has gotten really strange.
Focusing on Obama and race, West said: “I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men . . . It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation.”
(i hear west from time to time on tavis smiley, and i have to say this 'my brother' thing is getting old; it begins to sound to me like 'comrade': it could express something inspiring if it wasn't autonomic.) this is incoherent, to begin with. a fear of being a white man with black skin is definitely not the same thing as fearing free black men. now, there are good reasons for progressive people to be disappointed with obama, among other things on race: west brought up incarceration rates, which we should all worry about. but to frame it in such a personal psychological way, as a black man's fear of free black men, just seems gratuitous, and bizarrely personal.
During the 2008 campaign, West said, he traveled to 65 campaign events for the presidential candidate. But West complains that he was not given inauguration tickets for his brother and mother and that Obama did not return his phone calls.
ok one has to suppose that when west says bo is afraid of free black men, he means himself, this fear being expressed by not coughing up the tickets for the fam. what i want to add is that that lawrence summers was a or the key economic policy guy for the first two years; this makes you wonder about west's comment about obama being 'a puppet of wall street.' again, not that there might not be a point, it's just that this really looks like it is polluted by egomania, a series of perceived personal slights. i just want to point out that - though i don't know what, if anything, west is ingesting - he certainly has looked stoned every time i've seen him in the last few years. maybe that's my fear of a free black man.
teena marie's race dysmorphia was interesting, and pretty original and transgressive for a girl (though you might ponder someone like, say, anita o'day). on the other hand, on a list of bad ideas, a "tempestuous" love affair with rick james is approximately at the top. and honestly i don't love the records, though i've worked at it a bit.
one thing the sanchez thing demonstrates yet again: oppression is a hierarchy, with each group vying for the honor of being the most oppressed group. with regard to each group, the group just below it on the spread sheet has the function of telling them to stop whining. and yet, without whining, there is no democracy. really we should develop a complete table with numerical indices of oppression, in order to rationally adjust our affirmative action programs. we could go from jewish/irish hermaphrodites (oq=3.211) to learning disabled illegal aliens (oq=7.349). multiply your oppression quotient by your sat scores and voila! merit. i can only imagine the pain and barriers that rick sanchez has had to undergo due to his last name, even though his latinoness is indetectible otherwise. he's grateful to be latino, but bummed out not to be black, but at least he's not jewish.
ok evidently that last was a horrendous post and i've gotten some pretty severe reactions in various forms. rather than, say, yank it down in the hopes that people won't regard me as a racist moster, i'm going to try to explain it, which i realize will be of doubtful efficacy. you can't even throw out all the categories i did in some sensible way: some disabled people are white men, some gay people are white men, etc. the categories are always in a state of having already collapsed. but they maintain a social currency we might say. "white men" might just be the oppressor; and it is not without a touch of irony that i call myself white: no one is pure anything.
my basic joke was that if you portray suspicion of state power as an artifact of white privilege, then i guess that puts all the other people on the other side: enthusiasts for state power. of course sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't. but sometimes they are.
let me first state that my basic rhetorical stance is often hyperbole and provocation, and also that i delight in certain forms of transgression. "white guys rock!" is in itself a littlebitty transgression: we are the only people who shouldn't be proud of our identity. well, for very good reasons, as i indicated in the post.
at any rate, i actually do think that weisberg in that piece, as people have been doing for a year now - kind of as a sideswipe on his way to deploying the unquestionable nostrum that"anti-government" and "insane" are synonyms - was attempting to discredit the tea movement on the ground of the racial and gender composition of its participants. (of course he's wrong about the gender etc.) well, in an atmosphere where there is no argument, only insult from our beautifully-educated champions of reason, this is relatively minor, though of course it's implying that the movement is racist.
i take standpoint epistemology seriously. there are things that you can or must know from one social position that you can't and mustn't know from another. one time i spent a book arguing that black folks know stuff about white folks that white folks do not know, for example. but in my view, it would not be enough to discredit a political movement that its leaders or idea people or celebrities or activists were white men. so in the post below i was playing with the notion that oppressors can see something oppressed people cannot: that all the power is just chumps like us, soup to nuts. i don't put that forward in any serious way.
but i do put forward in a serious way as a critique of the movements for women's rights, gay rights, and racial equality that they are far, far too impressed by and focused on state power. and i might add, cb, that malcolm made precisely the same criticism. i think part of this has been a strategic necessity: if you are fighting jim crow laws in the south, that is a state issue. as a practical matter, when you are in a condition wherein you are being oppressed or broken, you seek what help you can find, and if you can turn government bodies against each other or whatever or use them to redress injuries, that is excellent.
but of course i would say that all these groups have experienced precisely the state as a ferocious oppressing force, the armed wing of the reactionary regime that stunts or ends their lives. hence i would be very wary of a liberation movement whose every word is a larger more powerful state. if you petition for affirmative action, and the response is an office keeping records of everybody's racial identities, you don't have to think too hard about how that's going to be used in a white supremacist administration. or a black supremacist admin. if you build a welfare state - make everyone's livelihood, housing, healthcare, dependent on the state - you'd better think about what the power you're constructing actually is. malcolm was beautiful also on the dehumanization by surveillance and institutionalization.
i think if you claim some universal vision of human liberation, you had better be suspicious of all power hierarchies. there has never been an assymmetry of power in any human realm matching the state in scope, or measuring the most against the least powerful: the man controling the world-bestriding military and the average schmoe. surely, surely, your history of being oppressed should make you worry about this, worry about it at every turn, with every issue: you want break down, not beef -up and systematize, the power of the powerful.
now if a suspicion of state power is a tradition of white men - i don't know, william godwin, thomas jefferson, henry david thoreau - i say it's the best of the things we! gave the world. if a position of privilege was necessary to generate this view (which i've often heard asserted but do deny), then a fundamentally important insight was available from that standpoint. you know there's universalism in individualism, and self-reliance is a vision of freedom, as is legal equality. see, like booker t. thought that as much as emerson or palin. malcolm preached it every day.
so because the left wants to reject individualism, e.g., they reject the concept of individual rights to which their own movements have so profoundly appealed. i actually think that power arouses resentment wherever it appears and that rejection of political power has arisen in every society in which political power has arisen. white dudes weren't the first, even if we are the last. anyway, i'd say don't lose sight of the liberatory potential of such things and the real good they have actually done. as to white guys, i'm much more worried about our tendency to subordinate others than our preaching of the autonomous value of individual persons. that ideology was turned against slavery, against racial dehumanization, against wife as property. to the extent it emerges in whitish cultures, it is our critique of ourselves.
a movement predominated by middle-class, middle-aged white men angry about the expansion of government and hostile to societal change.
i've got to say that white men rock. of course, we have visited upon the world its greatest horrors. now on the other hand, first of all, we have the sort of pride that a history of dominating others might inculcate. and second, as veterans, we have access to the reality of political and economic power that others might lack. so let me just admit it: black people, women, children, the differently abled, latinos, gay people, etc: they all want only to be subordinated. that's what they mean when they talk about their own liberation: they will be liberated by an infinite irresistible state power analogous to a god. that's "hope," etc. i'll say this about angry white guys: we know to much to think that being subordinated to other people is good for you, much less that it is equivalent to freedom. when we were in charge, see, we understood that we weren't really doing it for your sake. our own bullshit rang in our years. it ringeth still, now coming out of your mouth.
on the other hand, this has been a huge and real problem. barry goldwater opposed the civil rights act, on his own account on constitutional and personal freedom grounds. but was it not also a matter of political positioning? the deep south has been republican ever since.
in general, the civil rights movement is, if you ask me, the most serious american-historical challenge to an anti-state type vision. it is a case in which, at least apparently, a blatant systemic transformation toward justice was made under the auspices of the state. much of it was presented as a petition to the state. thisis one reason you don't see a lot of black folks at libertarian conventions or tea party rallies. the answer to the petition came in terms of brown v board, using the national guard to desegregate schools, and so on. and indeed, the transformations of the nation's conscience was in part brought about by a transformation of the law.
but of course not only by a transformation of the law, and it's possible that much of the change would have occurred with the transformation of conscience broght about king and so many others. at any rate, that a store owner should be permitted to exclude black customers seems like an exercise of individual freedom. it is of course also a node or exchange of the systemic oppression.
now the actual history of the state in relation to race for the most part is a nice nightmare. but as in many cases, it's not only a nightmare, and the argument actually is hard on the ground in this case.
[just to strap the repulsive jacob heilbrunn for a second: it is amazing that rand paul is talking about william lloyd garrison, much less saying that he's one of his favorite american historical figures: a beautiful, shocking declaration. one of the greatest american abolitionists, peace activists, feminists: also a christian anti-statist. the stuff about guns is perfectly comprehensible as an analogy to the civil rights case, though of course questionable: so say that in an interpretation of the second amendment, the federal government said that you as a business-owner could not restrict your customers from entering your store with guns? the heilbrunn thing is just stupid abuse, but paul is actually an intellectual who is making sense.]