spliced: perhaps the nightmare of race in america is just getting started. or: this is how the civil rights movement failed.
donald isn't the best spokesman for the view but american liberalism, the welfare/incarceration state, and the total domination of the black electorate by the democratic party have been disastrous for black people. also it is driven by racism in a particular form: racism that denies of itself that it exists at all. well and truly trapped this time around, but really always.
supposedly, hillary's veep criteria were things like 'ready to take the helm from day one,' 'foreign-policy experience' etc. but they're obsessed with safety and with demographics; it was always going to be a white guy. it's an interesting year in the sense that donald will take wild risks all the time while hillary lives by one ultra-inspiring principle: fear of mistakes. expect her to say nothing, while yapping constantly, for the rest of her life.
concentrating on david walker and frederick douglass's american defiance. also: why w.e.b. dubois is overrated.
nice thumbnail! my insane look. let me elaborate on a couple of things. walker is a protestant individualist of the same sort as william lloyd garrison or lucretia mott is (or, in a secularized version, thoreau). what he asserts in the first passage i quote is that to claim to be the master of a human being is to usurp the prerogative of god: it is blasphemous among other things. he asserts that human beings have only one master, only one ruler. many of these figures held that the political state is a form of slavery, by the way.
on dubois. his best writing is in the souls of black folk. getting out into his literary material is really a slog through some terribly over-written stuff that doesn't really amount to a clear point of view. his early essay 'on the conservation of the races' takes race differences and race destinies extremely seriously in the 19th-century german mode, even if it emphasizes the positive aspects of blackness. douglass and many others are so much better in that they attack race itself as a self-serving ideology, not a basic human reality that cosmically drives history. dubois is characteristically back-and-forth and characteristically woolly at key junctures, often substituting mediocre poetry for definite assertion.
when garvey accused dubois of running the naacp at the behest of white liberals, he had a point, even if his statements were too emphatic. and there is an element of 'natural aristocracy' or enthusiasm for hierarchy (implicitly correlated with skin tone) in duboisian notions like 'the talented tenth,' which i regard as extremely unfortunate. his later pan-africanism and marxism took him in more radical directions, but didn't basically solve the intellectual problems or improve the writing.
however, his early sociological work, such as 'the philadelphia negro,' is excellent and important.
nathaniel rich has a several books by and about james baldwin in the may 12 nyrb. it's not the worst thing i've ever read, though rich is no baldwin. but it ends with this typical symptom of obsessive, delusional political partisanship, which runs like painful urination through the pages of the new york review of books, the new york times, the new yorker, and so on.
Baldwin’s novels and essays describe a nation suffering from a pain so profound that it cannot be discussed openly. This was not a pessimistic view; it was, rather, deeply optimistic. It suggested that most people, deep down, wanted to resolve the crisis—that they were not apathetic or, in Baldwin’s term, brutally indifferent. Today it can be difficult to preserve this optimism. Still there are strong indications that there is more pain than indifference. You can tell this by the general level of fear, which is, after all, the source of that pain. It has risen to the surface, often reaching the level of total panic, evident in the calls to “take our country back,” to “reignite the promise of America,” to “abolish the IRS,” to “restore America’s brand,” and the many other revanchist sentiments that dominate the political discourse. These messages do not ring of indifference. They are expressions of great terror.
now, rich echoes baldwin in insisting that white americans examine the bigotry in themselves and its effects on their own psyche. rich engages in no such self-reflection, but just goes for the autonomic trump-bashing. but truly, his approach is just bizarre. so, for example, 'abolish the irs' is supposed to be an obvious expression of great terror and racism. say what? i suppose the internal revenue service is an agency dedicated to ending the national nightmare of racism. only a racist would have misgivings about american tax policy. 'restore america's brand' is supposed to be something you'd only say if you were terrified, i guess? also i suppose that the most wicked insult rich has at his disposal is 'revanchist.' is there nothing people like you, nathaniel rich, will not try to turn to partisan account? and can you do it no better than that?
what baldwin - one of my heroes - would tell someone like nathaniel rich is to try to start peeling back his own racial attitudes before he starts hurling his inexplosive bombs. and i will say, as i have said before, that american leftism has been an extreme disaster for the black community. we are approximately as segregated now as we were in the 1950s. housing programs in particular, but the welfare state in general, has frozen a permanent racial underclass and destroyed black communities. democrats loved and prosecuted mass race incarceration until they pretended to see the light. that they've trapped black folks in this insane dilemma where they vote 90% democrat is unforgivable. and there is racism at the very heart of white liberalism, but it is 'unconscious': incredibly condescending, taking no account of the experience of the people whose conditions or selves it proposes to ameliorate, engaged in continual moral self-congratulation, which is what it is for.
also, just for the hell of it, hillary's campaign is already based entirely on fear, of the 'dangerous loose cannon', etc. of course, some fears are rational, so that accusing someone of operating politically on fear is not adequate to condemn their position. also 'make america great again' sounds strangely like hope, though not like my hope. and sheer hope isn't enough either; it depends on what you hope for.
the partisanship we see now - and i emphasize the left though it's certainly coming from both ends - is obsessive, manipulative, and delusional. baldwin would tell you that if he were still around, rich boy. the people who write in this mode for these publications are only writing for people who already agree with them, and the whole thing is an exercise in slapping one's own back, all day every day. also the people who already agree are the only people who could be expected to nod along with non sequiturs of this caliber: disliking the internal revenue service can only be an expression of racial terror. i hope your ass gets audited, son, and they end up coming for your paycheck.
talking only to people who agree with you leads to thinking of this quality, as heads bob up and down in unison. also it's liable to lead to some kind of partition in this country, or maybe a civil war if it keeps going like this. tell you what: let's see where race is after 8 years of hillary (admittedly, hillary getting elected is unlikely). just where we are now, i believe. or after 8 years of trump: also more or less just where we are now. engage in some self-reflection or leave james baldwin alone, son. you are not ready.
there were many different sorts of abolitionists during the era of slavery. but there were not many like nathaniel peabody rogers. around 1840, he committed himself to total non-resistance. but in 1838 (seven years after nat turner and a year before amistad, which he also wrote about), he argued that slaves not only should rebel, but that insurrection was their moral duty, and it was every person's duty to join them. he opposed capital punishment, but finishes by arguing that, if hanging is permissible in any case, it is morally obligatory for slaveholders. so grapple with the fact that an american was publishing that in a newspaper in 1838.
The enslaved of the country are as much entitled to their liberty as any of us, by the law as it is. They have a right to throw off all violation of it by force, if they cannot otherwise. Nay, it is their duty to do so, if they can, for it is not injury merely, that they are submitting to - not wrongs. They are rendered incapable of suffering injury, incompetent to endure wrong. The accursed system, that preys upon them, makes things of them - exterminates their very natures. This they may not submit to. They ought to prevent it, at every expense. They ought to resist it, as the Christian should the devil, for it wars upon the nature of man, and devours his immortality. If they could heave off the system by an instantaneous and universal effort, they ought to do it. Individually we wish they could do it, and that they would do it. We may be wrong in this opinion, but we entertain it.
If our white brethren at the South were slaves, we should wish them instantaneous deliverance by insurrection, if this would bring it to them. We wish our colored brethren the same. We do not value the bodily lives of the present white generation there a straw, compared to the horrible thraldom, in which they hold the colored people, and we value their lives as highly as we do the colored people's. But insurrection can't effect it. It must be done by the abolitionists. They must annihilate the system by force of their principles, and as fast as possible. To the work then, and Heaven abandon the tardy! If you wish to save your white brethren and yourselves, we commend you to this work, in sharp earnest. We tell you, once for all, there is no time to be lost!
There is no end to the theme - there must be to this article. The people collectively have the power to declare slavery a crime in the slave states. Congress has the power to do what amounts to the same thing - by direct action. Lex talionis would enslave the perpetrators, but that would be devilish, and ought not to be inflicted. But if hanging is lawful in any case, it is in this.
["the constitutionality of slavery"]
speech is not violence. but sometimes it is an amazing act of courage, physical as well as intellectual and social. the slaveholders of the era and their representatives in washington certainly argued that abolitionist speech far milder than that was indeed violence. they banned it, confiscated it, burned it, etc., and killed some of the people who uttered it, such as elijah lovejoy, a newspaper editor burned out and killed the year before rogers published this.
i think the paperback of american defiance came out beautifully.
the essay by douglass, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered," given as a commencement address at Western Reserve College in 1854 (!) - is one of a number of little-known treasures.
The relation subsisting between the white and black people of this country is the vital question of the age. In the solution of this question, the scholars of America will have an important and controlling part. This is the moral battlefield to which their country and their God now call them. In the eye of both, the neutral scholar is an ignoble man. Here, a man must be hot, or be accounted cold. The lukewarm and cowardly will be rejected by earnest men on either side of the controversy. The cunning man who avoids it, to gain the favor of both parties, will be regarded with scorn; and the timid man who shrinks from it, for fear of offending either party, will be despised. He that is not for us, is against us.
american defiance is out in paper, with kindle coming soon. it is a collection of anti-authoritarian texts stretching from anne hutchinson's defense against and attack on the puritan theocracy to voltairine de cleyre's "anarchism and american traditions."
there are some celebrated slices, especially emerson and thoreau, but there is so much that is so little known. i've tried to give whole texts or very substantial parts. john woolman's 'plea for the poor' from the 1760s anticipates the arguments of peter singer. sarah grimke's letters on the equality of the sexes is probably the first feminist book published in the us, and she's better than fuller, i think. william lloyd garrison argues for total anti-statism in 1838. sitting bull lures a reporter into the new york herald's last stand. there is a really stunning and ground-breaking essay on race by frederick douglass that is almost never read (better than dubois 50 years later), along with a big chunk of david walker's unbelievable appeal. angela heywood throws down some surrealist political sex poetry. anti-federalists, abolitionists, anarchists, and antinomians are all represented.
this is our most radical and most american heritage: a fierce anti-hierarchical tradition, the texts themselves sometimes unimaginable acts of defiance. we need remindin.
in editing this book, i am appointing myself secretary of defiance. these texts constitute our artillery battery, our canon.
my next self-publishing project will be an anthology of american anti-authoritarian writings from the 17th through the 19th century. a number of fundamental texts here are far-too-little known and not widely enough available. many of them are quite unimaginably defiant. here is the toc, still subject to alteration:
Trial and Interrogation of Anne Hutchinson (1637)
Roger Williams, "A Plea for Religious Liberty" (1644)
John Woolman, "A Plea for the Poor, or a Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich" (1764)
Anti-Federalist Papers (1787)
Samuel Bryan, Centinel 1
Robert Yates, Brutus 3
Robert Yates, Brutus 6
James Madison, "The Virginia Resolutions" (1798)
Letter to Governor Harrison (1810)
Speech to the Osages (1812)
John Taylor of Caroline, "Authority" (1814)
David Walker, "Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World" (Preamble and Article 1, 1830)
Sarah Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (selections, 1838)
William Lloyd Garrison, "Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention" (1838)
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nathaniel Peabody Rogers
"Reply to a Correspondent" (1846)
Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce (1846)
Henry David Thoreau
"Civil Disobedience" (1849)
"Life Without Principle (1863)
Lucretia Mott, "The Laws in Relation to Women" (1853)
Frederick Douglass, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered" (1854)
Angela Heywood, "Human Sex Power - Fleshed Realism"
Lysander Spooner, "Vices Are Not Crimes" (1875)
Interview With Sitting Bull (1877)
Voltairine de Cleyre,
"In Defense of Emma Goldman" (1894)
"Anarchism and American Traditions" (1909)
i have often heard or read that no white american of the antebellum period did not harbor racist attitudes, and that this includes abolitionists. that is really utterly false. consider nathaniel peabody rogers: in 1840 he was saying that racism is not natural but produced socially, and a century and a half before people were diagnosing bigotry against gay people as originating in fear, rogers was labeling racism 'color-phobia': the title of the essay from which this is drawn.
Our people have got it. They have got it in the blue, collapse stage. Many of them have got it so bad, they can’t get well. They will die of it. It will be a mercy if the nation does not. What a dignified, philosophic malady! Dread of complexion. They don’t know they have got it - or think, rather, they took it the natural way. But they were inoculated. It was injected into their veins and incided into their systems by old Doctor Slavery.
The color-phobia is making terrible havoc among our communities. Anti-slavery drives it out, and after a while cures it. But it a base, low, and vulgar ailment. It is meaner, in fact, than the itch. It is fouler than Old Testament leprosy. It is a tasty disorder, a beautiful ailment, very genteel, and apt to go in first families. We should like to have Hogarth take a sketch of the community that had it - of ours, for instance, when the St. Vitus’ fit was on.
definitely losing all respect for black people. if you keep acting like this, my unconscious racism will become more and more conscious. y'all aren't really voting for hillary clinton, are you? damn, some people just want to be oppressed. by mediocrities.
one theme i'd like to pull out of the comments: you know, they fully enclosed jesse jackson, john lewis, and so on. but after that, people who were supposed to be 'black leaders', like julian bond, jesse jr, let's say marc morial, kwesi mfume just went back and forth from democratic party politics to the leadership of black organizations. they are not people who actually have much of any constituency in the black community, but they have a big constituency among democratic party leaders and donors. morial is appearing as a hillary surrogate as he serves as president of the urban league. now, i always had on board that these organizations were actually too moderate and compromising throughout, that they never really accomplished that much until driven forward by much more radical people. they almost had to be dragged. but, in hindsight, those early organizers and presidents (oh, dubois) were so fiercely independent, so suspicious of white control of their own organizations, so independent and representing their race as they saw it (well, the middle-class, light-skinned people of their race, was the criticism). what would they say if they saw 'black' organizations and black 'leaders' who were wholly owned subsidiaries of the clinton campaign=the democratic party=goldman sachs? what if they saw little else anywhere?
and, those are the only black voices democratic politicians are listening to, the ones they're stuffing into suits and setting up as mouthpieces. they are selected specifically to mirror this half-assed, dishonest white liberalism, and the actual concrete results in their own communities have amounted to a permanent disaster. (how many decades of miserable failure is it going to take for us all to draw the conclusions malcolm drew in 1953? one way he saw what was real was that he saw the situation from prison; that's the angle from which the truth is available, not from the veuve clicqot dinner with the board of citibank.) that i have to sit here imagining what marcus or malcolm or whomever would say about this is the saddest thing of all. they used to be there right in our faces. y'all surrendered; your leaders are white people, and they are racist white people, and you vote the way they say at approximately 90%. never too late to go all nat turner on their ass, though.
(sharpton is an interesting case, inside/outside with some legitimacy as a leader. it has gotten to where al sharpton is the most radical black voice most white people might ever hear. no wonder we're complacent. think about where he would have been on the spectrum of black leadership in 1967. cornel west is out there, and at least he knows this history. but i think he would like to be absorbed into the democratic party; he's more pissed that they won't, though to his credit he'd try to push them into something that would at least look vaguely egalitarian and would be connected with some passion to the actual radical civil rights tradition. ok i should be able to name twenty names to the more radical side of that. i've got none except some underground hip hop artists.)
what i want to say about the 'unconscious racism' of people of my race: oh, you know, it is semi-conscious racism. it's true, caucasoids are less conscious of more stuff than negroids and mongoloids, etc. it is the white man's burden; it's like there's a screen of bullshit between us and reality, and we installed it ourselves. it's sort of our job to try to punch it out. there's really a lot that has to be ignored that is hard to ignore in order to be an unconscious racist. it's actually a pretty conscious strategy to be unconscious. like, any one of us could suddenly start to become aware of it in ourselves and one another at any moment by a hundred routes, or just by listening around a little. go get yourself some george yancy.
i think it's like black folks want to give us a little break. i'm not blaming you! it's systemic (ooph i heard that just last year). this is a strategic way to try to tell us there is a problem without arousing our well-known insane defensiveness and self-righteousness. well, but is it exactly true? even if they're sort of willing to give each of us a break, maybe we shouldn't be quite so quick to give ourselves a break, or so worried about whether we ourselves are good people. or i would think the point is not to appear to yourself to be a good person, or to tell yourself all day what a really good person you are, but actually to be a good person. that might take more work, though.
or what i want to pull out: i think unconscious racism is blameworthy on an individual basis. there are plenty of resources for coming to consciousness, plenty of people right in your proximity who are trying to make you more conscious. getting to know all of it is hard or in my actual experience it seems infinite, layer after layer; after i think i've got it down, that's when it's right there. but starting is unavoidable if you're not literally comatose. white person! repeat after me! i am a racist. i am a racist. i am a racist. i come from a racist people. i'm in the middle of a centuries-long, horrifying, genocidal moral failure, perpetrated by my own people. i am the people who are doing that. doing it right now. and now i am going to do whatever i can do about that. and the first thing that i can do is know that about myself.
we will never be free without knowledge of self. we will never be good.
just a bit more on racial monoculture [update: just a lot more], this time more policy-substantive. the democratic party (extremely more if sanders is elected) is the party of the welfare state, and as the dems annexed all black political activity, black 'leaders' turned the whole demographic, practically, into little but defenders of government benefits. the dems really tried to annex king, and they are doing it still. (joseph califano: selma was lbj's idea.) jesse jackson was part of the democratic establishment long before he ran for president, though it's not like he was going to get the nomination in any event. a great rhetorician at his best (unbelievably repetitive at his worst), but that was a pretty mild program he was pushing by the 80s, even if the huge dreams were still sort of half-inhabiting the words. i picture the response of some of the figures i mention below to the 10,000th repetition of "i AM somebody": well, i never doubted that for an instant. but you sound like you need reassurance on that all day. ok now that you're somebody, who are you and watcha gonnna do? wait, i'm not absolutely sure you are somebody; don't lose whatever somebody's left in there, man. me? i am going to go kick the white man's ass. they've still got you, i mean in 2016, and it looks from here like you don't even want any alternatives.
i hope to really unwind this argument one day, but i think an honest look at the history of the late-20th and early 21st centuries will show that the actual effect of the welfare state has been, first of all, to freeze racial and economic hierarchies into permanent immovable institutionalized structures intended to persist forever. also, it is actually the site of incredible "unconscious" racism: even just the pose of 'we must help y'all' is a marker of utter power inequality. but then, the whole thing is administered without consultation of the people it seeks to remake/save/re-enslave: it is our diagnosis of your pathologies, taken without consultation. well, why would we consult with you on this? you're so uneducated, so addicted, so criminal, and so on. you remember slavery, don't you? it was a generous program to bring civilization to savages, language to people who just chattered like birds, and protection to the vulnerable. booker washington: "We went into slavery pagans; we came out Christians. We went into slavery without a language; we came out speaking the proud Anglo-Saxon tongue."
some of these things i have said many times. look at what malcolm said about what welfare did to his family. or sister souljah. it's worse now, if that's possible. and dependence is powerlessness in the most concrete continual way. that was also one of the powers of slavery. i feed you, in my generosity. contradict me and you will starve.
the housing programs are maybe the very clearest place to see this, but it is everywhere. i swear, we will bulldoze your neighborhood, move you to a disgusting high-rise racial reservation without any connection to any viable economy, lock the door, and then come back ten years later and be surprised at how the thing looks. look at how these quasi-people live! we'll have to save them again, because we are so good and so generous and so not racists. . then we'lll implode it and build another one. you know that site down by the tracks that the chemical company abandoned? that would be a cost-effective spot. no one is going to buy it anyway. that was a liberal program for racial uplift, y'all, but the whole thing has this structure, and racism/classism underlies every move, specifically because the liberals, progressives etc doing it are doing it as they congratulate themselves for not being racists. really, astonishingly, they can introduce race-based policies that look for all the world as though they are trying to accomplish black isolation, impoverishment, and cultural destruction, and defend them on anti-racist grounds.
what is the answer to racial uplift? education! let's force their children under compulsion into some of the most useless, dysfunctional, and dangerous institutions the united states has ever seen (son, i spent years interned in the washington, dc, public school system. the way you're defending education as the answer strikes me as a little...abstract. why don't you try doing a couple of years in there and then get back to me?) there, we can jam white culture into their heads. they'll fill out the same little bubbles as our kids, and then we'll be equal. oops what has gone wrong? don't tell anyone, but i think there might be biological differences in iq (i actually do know some white people, so if you're wondering what a white person, almost any white person, might let slip to another white person or entertain in their secret white soul...). school choice? nonono we are liberals. you are not going anywhere. maybe compulsory pre-k! studies show, etc, until it's implemented. maybe if we caught them at birth and kept them institutionalized...indefinitely, we could fix them. on the contrary, progressives need to be fixed by them. but where are the black voices demanding that?
funny how much uplift/integration keeps looking like cultural destruction and direct subordination. some sort of coincidence, i guess. our best progressive thinking got you here. i guess we'll just keep on agoin? y'all seem to support it. let me ask you this. have we left a single child behind? we said we wouldn't and stuff. everybody said that every day for years, as though the phrase were a disease, until something else focus-grouped better, which was also when it started to sound sarcastic, no matter how apparently sincerely you said it. it's amazing how we yap. we really don't care about the truth whatsoever. i think y'all kind of know that; it's been hard to miss. keep it uppermost in your mind when the progressives come grinning at you again in the primaries.
you can comfort yourselves, as you vote over the next century for white and beautifully-integrated whiteish progressives: they are just about to get it right this time! they have a new approach. a new wave of educational reform is coming that will make it all work for you. and then another.
the racism of a trump and the racism of a hillary are different racisms, or different psychological syndromes, but neither one is going to be helping free anyone of anything; both assume effortlessly the normativity of bourgeois white culture. i have to say that the fact that the white left has annexed the entire black vote for that is a crying shame, and i'll say again that you should consult the malcolm in your head on this. or better: calling marcus garvey: you are needed again.
well, and why would we consult you if we've got 90% of your vote without consulting you?
one thing i'll point out: in the arts, african-american culture is far superior to white culture, and has remade the art of the world. the music and dance is obvious; you can't even have 20th century european classical music without jazz, not that that is any sort of flowering of anything. african music has been influenced for a century by african-american music. (true somehow i'm folding jamaica into this. there is a constant interaction politically and aesthetically between north american and caribbean diaspora cultures.) but i'm talking about all the way along. asking me straight for greatest novelist of the 20th century? i am returning zora neale hurston (by the way, i'll also pick her high in the draft as a political thinker, an essayist, a memoirist, and an anthropologist. #1 essayist? baldwin.) oh i guess i could go all graffiti, but when you start to peel back the layers of african-american traditions, you will find it everywhere: black power colors, images of malcolm. whose slang is the right slang? whose language are we actually speaking? look at the clothes people are wearing anywhere in the world, dude! this came from the most-oppressed 10% of a provincial nation. it's one of the most astonishing things that has ever happened. (the best analogy i can think of is when a band of middle-eastern peasants invented a mode of spirituality that people are still trying to practice millennia later.) we should acknowledge our superiors; i am utterly serious. they should be designing standardized tests for us.
bear in mind the words of eek-a-mouse: i walk, i talk, but i don't crawl on my belly like a reptile.
petitioning for benefits all day for decades is...servile. are you listening, ta-nehisi coates? provisionally, i'm going to include advocacy of affirmative action, at least in some configurations, under this category. its effects are...complex.
i know this whole thing is really bizarre, but it's reached the point where it seems like a white person has to remind you of some of this. i mean, you know, farrakhan's people might sort of still be out there or something. but remember when garvey was smacking dubois, malcolm martin on these sort of grounds? who is left to do that now? where is clarence 13x, fuck is bob marley? where is khallid muhammad? where is stokeley carmichael, eh? where is the noble drew ali, robert athlyi rogers, leonard howell, where is public enemy, where is amiri baraka? zulu nation, are you hovering around out there somewhere, waiting for the call? you think they were welfare-state liberals or something. for heaven's sake. don't make me unleash immortal technique on that ass. you're not ready.
[the white race is not monolithic. the stuff we've been listening to? a lot of it is made by multi-racial artists or in various multi-racial/ethnic/national configurations, like adrian sherwood at the mantrols for dub syndicate, dre for marshall. actually there are other ways of integrating stuff. we are actually naturally integrating wherever we are not hagridden by progressives. one problem is, when there's a progressive around, no one can speak freely, which makes it profoundly hard to connect. that no one should speak freely: that is the actual whole progressive program for truth and reconciliation. well, the whole thing depends on them not becoming conscious of themselves; they want a gassy cloud of hooey all around them; they demand to hear only euphemisms. they call that justice. the arts people usually stop much caring about race. they're more concerned with whether you've got flow. i am not talking about arts institutions, which are hyper yet counter-productively aware of race in that progressive way. i am talking about working artists.]
right they all had their drawbacks. well, there might have been some anti-semitism and sexism, for example. on the other hand, there is a lot of truth and power and bravery there. i understand; he's not talking to me, though he is roundly abusing people like me including me. i respect that. i started to think of some of these folks as role models somehow, ok? but however i thought about anyone, where are today's black nationalists, advocates of black power, black identity, black arts, black truth? where are the black leaders who don't care what i think about them? at least these people weren't capitulating. we are shooting your children in the streets.
i think 'black lives matter' sounds sort of pitiful. i hear a bit of a wheedle in it. it's pretty damn minimal. even if we don't know that, or act like we don't, surely you knew that? that wasn't a question for you before, was it? it isn't something you needed to tell yourself, is it? obviously, this is not my job, so i could just ask a question, what do you need to say to one another, now? it's not going to be khalid. but it had better not merely not be khalid. what i'm saying is that you had better not let it be our job to fix you. in the tradition from which you come, there are many models of self-reliance, real pride with something actually to be proud of besides better dependence; there is power and autonomy and intelligence, creativity and identity that isn't just a negative image of the thing we stamped you with. i can't tell you how to find that again, or what it needs to look like now. but lord, you can't just keep voting like this.
geez, when i tried to pitch a piece to the new york times with the headline what o.j. simpson taught me about being black, they rejected it, then turned around and gave it to mcwhorter. but really everything i know about being black i got from o.j.
So White. So What?
By Crispin Sartwell
#OscarsSoWhite presents us again with a question that the institutions of the art world have been grappling with for decades: whether standards of taste or quality can be kept separate from other sorts of questions, such as questions about race, region, class, gender, and sexual orientation.
One way to interpret the demand for black nominees is as a kind of affirmative action, the pressure for it applied by people who are more interested in an actor's skin tone than in the quality of the performance. Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith and others who are using the hashtag and leading the movement might seem to be demanding a racial quota, or some sort of proportional representation, but that hardly seems an appropriate way of figuring out who actually gave the best performance.
Sometimes I have that response myself, as in 2014, when there was an explicit demand from some of the same people that the cast of Selma get some nominations. I didn't think it was a good movie.
But the protestors have a point. Whether aesthetic standards are objective, or subjective, or culturally relative, is a question to bedevil philosophers. But one thing is obvious: aesthetic standards of quality themselves often are, and should be, at stake or up for examination in encounters between different cultures or even in encounters between different sub-cultures of the same culture, like white and black Americans.
A key set of moments in the development of modern art came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when avant-garde artists tried to challenge the aesthetic standards of their own culture by absorbing or applying those of other cultures: in "Japonism," for example, or in Picasso's use of African masks or Gauguin's sojourn to the South Seas. This was part of the process of breaking the rigid, and arbitrary, and culture-bound standards of nineteenth-century European art.
Whether or not all standards are culture bound, those certainly were. But the people who taught art in the academies or showed in the salons regarded their own quasi-classical standards as objectively correct, and other cultures and classes as not understanding the nature of beauty and art, as primitive or behind the curve of history. Leave a false standard unchallenged, and it passes for true and impoverishes your art.
As the twentieth century went on, we ceased to need, or indeed to want, appropriations of non-Western cultures or American sub-cultures by white men. Spaces opened where the visual traditions and their practitioners could, to some extent, speak for themselves. Telling the story of twentieth century American art now without Jacob Lawrence or Kara Walker would be as irresponsible as telling the story of American literature without James Baldwin or Zora Neale Hurston.
White Americans' standards of artistic and literary tastes have had to change accordingly, and it's a good thing they have: we've found truths and beauties that we had made impossible for ourselves.
If you go to an exhibition of contemporary art, you are likely to see work by a diverse group of people with a diverse group of aesthetic ideas. Last week I was at the Whitney in New York, and the way they have come to interpret their own permanent collection has been transformed; they are showing us a much wilder and more diverse set of beauties than when it was all Hoppers and Wyeths (much as I love Hopper and Wyeth).
But we might wonder how much of that is really at stake with the Oscars, or whether the world of big-budget studio movies is quite the right world in which to accomplish this task. How meaningful is it to give glittering statuettes to black actors when the systems in which the films are written and produced and marketed are fundamentally white? To what extent does the Hollywood system give us any glimmers of different canons of taste, or challenge the pat cultural assumptions of white people?
It may be that for a variety of reasons, black actors are not being sufficiently recognized. That should be examined; people in 'the Academy' should be thinking about their own standards of taste, and what the role of race in them is. I don't doubt that injustices have occurred. But even within the art world, the distribution of awards is not the fundamental site of injustice. It would be more meaningful to nurture ways that the system can much more widely open itself to the creativity of many more sorts of people.
Again, perhaps I'd try to fix the Oscars last, and I'm not sure precisely which nominations I'd change, or why, or, honestly, how to care all that much. Nevertheless, I think the Academy's long-term approach - they've promised to diversify their own membership dramatically - is the right beginning.
The point might not be for us to tell once more the story of King, but to find places where people can tell the stories they want, or their own stories, or where the shape of stories is itself at stake. I think that in the medium of film we are missing out to a very large extent on the creative possibilities of all sorts of people, in spite of the pioneering success in all these dimensions of filmmakers such as Lee.
The situation is somewhat better than once it was in visual art, in literature, in music, though there are plenty of walls still to be breached. That it's not better in film, I think, has to do with the gigantic size and cost of the Hollywood film compared to most other art objects; you need gigantic hierarchies and a lot of wealth to make art like that, and those are where the power of us white people is still about the same as always.
It's one thing to reward or make superstars of specific people - I find it a little difficult to care very much about that. It's another thing to allow oneself to be challenged and changed in the encounter with other people's art; we should be trying to make that more and more likely.
Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. He is the author of Political Aesthetics.
10:00 i think bernie is doing well this evening. you can feel that he can feel that he has big mo. hillary got 600k in speaking fees from goldman-sachs in one year. goldman-sachs just paid a $5 billion fine for violations of the law. oh let's add this: goldman-sachs funded the political rise of ted cruz. why donald hasn't just nailed that i don't understand, but it's fatal. also, it should be fatal to hillary. really; wake up, you're a leftist voting again to be governed from the very pinnacle of capitalism. have you realized that yet? seems kind of hard to miss.
o'malley's doing surprisingly decently (you couldn't help but have extremely low expectations). but there's not much distance between o'malley and clinton, and if he comes in at 10% in iowa, that could give the caucuses to sanders, or the caucasas.
i love this album cover:
right, here's my piece on cultural appropriation for the la times.
a couple of additions: dreadlocks originate as a religious expression among jamaican rastafarians. now, if a black american gets it done at the hairdresser, is that cultural appropriation? how much might such a person know about the meaning in the original context, or how much must she know to make it ok? it is not implausible to hold that jamaican rasta and black american cultures are not the same culture. but on the other hand they are of course connected and are both african diasporic cultures.
and just edging toward paying off on what i said about new orleans: try to figure out the cultural positioning of the mardi gras indian.
what do you think about men appropriating women's culture? if you're opposed to cultural appropriation by dominant groups, surely you oppose, say, drag queens and transvestites of all sorts. now, one might think that one thing drag does is criticize the gender categories and preopossessions of the dominant culture. and that is what, say, many wiggers are doing as well: to attack one's own suburban whitebread world, one tries to do a little emigration; crossing and passing are ways of critiquing dominant cultures from within, on a good day, making their values evidently optional or even displaying them as oppressive.
i'm gearing up to teach the writings of the amazing quaker saint john woolman, who in the mid-1700s was arguing for indian rights and the immediate abolition of slavery, and traveling around trying to convince masters to free their slaves, etc. in his rather remarkable essay "a plea for the poor", he argues as clearly as can be for peter singer's 'effective altruism': the idea that we have a moral obligation to devote most of our resources above subsistence to helping those in need. really, quite the same argument as singer.
more surprising, perhaps, is that in 1763, for god's sake, he's arguing straight up for reparations to the descendants of slaves, and calculating what they should be.
Having thus far spoken of the Negroes as equally entitled to the benefit of their labour with us, I feel it on my mind to mention that debt which is due to many Negroes of the present age. Where men within certain limits are so formed into a society as to become like a large body consisting of many members, here whatever injuries are done to others not of this society by members of this society, if the society in whose power it is doth not use all reasonable endeavours to execute justice and judgment, nor publicly disown those unrighteous proceedings, the iniquities of individuals become chargeable on such civil society to which they remain united. And where persons have been injured as to their outward substance and died without having recompense, so that their children are kept out of that which was equitably due to their parents, here such children appear to be justly entitled to receive recompense from that civil society under which their parents suffered. . . .
Suppose an inoffensive youth, forty years ago, was violently taken from Guinea, sold here as a slave, laboured hard till old age, and hath children who are now living. Though no sum of money may properly be mentioned as an equal regard for the total deprivation of liberty, yet if the sufferings of this man be computed at no more than fifty pounds, I expect candid men will suppose it within bounds, and that his children have an equitable right to it. Fifty pounds at three percent, adding the interest to the principal once in ten years appears in forty years to make upwards of one hundred and forty pounds.
i wonder whether anyone else was making arguments like that in the 18th century.
on the other hand, here, from my very own neck of the woods, is an approach to the rebel flag that i can respect. (also it shows our rural industriousness: we do our flag burnings at the convenience store at 5:30 am, cause that's when we coffee up and start working.) people really do fly that sucker around here. of course, we're just a few miles from gettysburg, where the army of northern virginia found its waterloo, and real buffs might have a series of union and rebel flags out on the porch, welcoming the flood of july re-enactors). but that's not really why most who people fly it do so.
the other day i was in the target parking lot in hanover when the guy loading groceries into his truck next to me - featuring several rebel flag stickers - walked over and said 'my wife and mother-and-law [who were sitting in the cab] say i'm a racist because i fly the rebel flag. what do you think?' (possibly, he was encouraged by my 'don't tread on me' front license plate.) he was also wearing a stars-and-bars ballcap. well, i say i don't know you at all, man, but they do, and i have a feeling they might have a point.
the chief of police in atlanta says he considers placing rebel flags near the ebenezer baptist church a hate crime. people are terribly confused. that is no kind of crime whatever. if you don't believe me go read the first amendment. 'placing flags' is not at all like assaulting someone.
what the control-the-symbols approach to racial healing has accomplished here is more or less what it always accomplishes: it transforms the repressed symbol into a supernatural weapon. people really do think that you could assault people at a distance, perhaps hundreds of people at once, just by waving some rag around. that is, you've given your enemies super-powers.
i think people may be tiring of purely symbolic responses to substantive questions. charles blow is still spending all day complaining about what words we use to describe root, in a situation in which literally everyone is competing to condemn him most vociferously, in which the gov is calling for his death, etc. and most of the debate seems to have moved to the confederate battle flag. this is beacuse symbols and signs are more easy to adjust than real objects and attitudes. don't let people like that tell you that they also want to have a substantive conversation about race: all they want is euphemisms: all they want is unconscious racism. then again, obama talked about the word 'nigger' today, and he didn't go all 'n-word' superstitious. i've seen some black commentators here and there rolling their eyes. the symbolic stuff just takes the media down a miserable conetentless road of distraction, quite as though none of them want to do or say anything.
the rachel dolezal reverse-passing case is pretty interesting. i see why it's a problem, especially in a situation where one might benefit from affirmative action, or have a job that is partly race-based. but...there just isn't any such thing as race either, right? a fungible social fact. so, why isn't rachel dolezal, for example, trans? maybe she can be the caitlin jenner of race. maybe people's surface doesn't always represent "who they feel like deep inside" etc. now, both in caitlin's and rachel's case, the idea of being something deep inside presupposes the duality. but keep migrating about through genders and races and pretty soon you've thrown the existence and nature of such identites into fundamental chaos, or even made yourself impossible, or problematized the notion of being male or female, black or white, at the surface or deep inside.
if your gender is a matter of how you self-identify, for example, then why not your race? if we should use the pronouns for someone that they declare or prefer (and i think we should), then why not treat people racially on the same sort of grounds? is your problem that people might reap advantages from being black? boy i don't even know where to start on the ironies.
now the sudden explosion of trans identity seems progressive, etc. but then again, many forms and moments of feminism presuppose the essentiality of gender identities. that includes affirmative action, or for example the sheer assertion that women make less money than men, and a million other things. and likewise with race: all the affirmative action and attempts to uplift the black community and black pride and so on presuppose that there is such a thing as race and that it is fundamental to identity. but what happens when - potentially in an apparently progressive way - these categories liquify completely, and all of that becomes impossible? i'd say the political reconfigurations that this entails are completely wild and unpredictable. progressive politics, no less than reactionary politics, presupposes the identities as fundamental realities. watcha gonna do?
one thing i'd predict: people are going to be more comfortable with gender-trans identities than race-trans identities. this is ironic because i'd say race is even more problematic than gender as an objective or biological fact, even more obviously 'socially constructed'. it has been liquid from the get-go, with a million variations, complications, and every possible mix. people have been passing one way or another or enacting the other, or defining themselves or one another as octaroons or whatever since they invented the concepts. but maybe for that very reason, the boundaries require extreme policing.
of course, if racial identities were to dissolve, that could be a terrible problem and a terrible loss. for example - and this would be typical of the history in various ways - it could just sort of mean that everyone gets to be a white person. you can't have black culture in a society with no or thousands of races, and that would be an astonishing cultural loss (i'd not mourn the death of white culture the same way at all, e.g.). on the other hand it might be a wild multiplicitous love-in, an opening up of a milllion now-inconceivable possibilities. race has been a nightmare too, hasn't it?
i am incredibly tired of all the attempts to create and enforce collective consciousnesses. races, classes, nations are supposed to be historical agents. for example, generations are just ridiculous fictions (as i have often said, across any given population, people reproduce continuously, not all at once every twenty years), but all of these have, let's say, fictional elements: they are ontologically problematic at best. i am even weary of genders and sexual orientations conceived in terms that give them personalities: women think this; men want that; men are from michigan; women are from yonkers, and so on. right and left in politics are becoming collective agents. now, you might think that individualism is tearing us apart, and you might yearn to be as one with somebody or even everybody. but think for just one second about whether thinking of ourselves in terms of races, nations, generations, classes, political parties has united or divided us, whether collective consciousnesses and agencies have created unity or conflict.
i can hardly read dubois and his descendants anymore, for example, because races start doing things and deciding things and have talents and failings and personalities and so on. someone made that shit up, i'm telling you. (in fact, pale people made it up in an ecstasy of self-congratulation.) collective agencies are real to the extent that they are enforced: black people, let's say in 1900, are poor, lazy, ignorant: you might be too if you were enslaved, prohibited from various kinds of employment, excluded from literacy by law, etc. the fiction of the collective agent is made quasi-real by itself; it creates the agencies it then purports to describe. the structures by which genders, etc are enforced or made actual might be a little more subtle, but these are all artifacts of exclusion in one way or another. the french are busy enforcing frenchness, in language, dress, and so on, and then confirming empirically what they invented. it all has the same structure as, say, anti-semitism: 'the jew does this and that; the jew wants money; the jew has no nation. the jew the jew the jew. well, the american thinks that; women need x, y, and z; millennials believe this; the greatest generation was courageous, etc. solidarity and exclusion are the very same thing.
maybe we can't just ditch out of this kind of thinking instantly and entirely. but we can think about it critically every single time it comes up, or try to work our way out of it slowly. because it's liable to be fatal to our species. our species doesn't want that; or actually, our species is pretty murder/suicide-oriented.
To some, the bigoted nature of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons is clear. “It’s a racist publication,” Ms. [Francine] Prose, a former president of PEN, told The Nation last week. “Let’s not beat about the bush.” (nytimes)
since when is islam a race? not to beat around, or even about, the bush, but i always thought it was a gender.
i do think that shooting people over cartoons is a sort of hyperbolic pc: they kill you for caricature; we just exile you for using the wrong phonemes, thug. but people really do confuse being offended with being assaulted, which would indicate that, unaccountably, they have never been assaulted. no one has a right not to be offended, or else each of us has a concomitant duty to maintain absolute silence. christ i'm offended all day every day, for example by the words 'impactful', 'relatable', and 'proactive'. it feels like an attack on my family and my identity: i come from a long line of prose stylists. consider the latest ad for microsoft robotics: 'the real question that needs to be aksed is, what can we do that is impactful?' fetch me my club, b, and i'll show you.
10:20 cnn reporter miguel marquez, getting pushed away by police from people who are getting arrested: "are we under martial law? we have a right to work." "i think the constitution still applies." " this is a curfew, not a police state."
10:10 one possible issue: the police might be angry. put down the fucking sticks.
10:07 baltimore is interesting tonight. the curfew itself has become the issue, and it would really be a shame to straight-up provoke a problem in a fundamentally happy city by sheer military-style occupation. the occupiers are themselves the issue tonight; the massed national guard, the horses, and so on. i don't think that curfews in general can be constitutional, for one thing. but if things go bad tonight, they have only themselves to blame.