ebogjonson.com's race and other identities archive

race and other identities; what the category header said

August 31, 2007

the racism fairy visits larry craig's bathroom

Old racism fairy:

the racism fairy strikes again!

New racism fairy:

Sgt. Dave Karsnia: I just, I just, I guess, I guess I'm gonna say I'm just disappointed in you sir. I'm just really am. I expect this from the guy that we get out of the hood. I mean, people vote for you.

Sen. Larry Craig: Yes, they do. (inaudible)

DK: unbelievable, unbelievable.

LC: I'm a respectable person and I don't do these kinds of...

DK: And (inaudible) respect right now though

[full story]

The thing about the racism fairy is that the same wave of the magic burning cross that converts a poor white person into a racist (pobrecito Kramer!) also forces all the coloreds within a 20 meter radius into an abrupt, unwelcome confrontation with something ugly, exhausting and depressing. The closer white folks are to power's normative tentpoles (maleness, straightness, richness) the less likely they are to know what it's like to be sitting there minding your own business - say, perusing the transcript of chatter between Sen. Larry "I'm not gay in the bathroom" Craig (R-Idaho) and the cop who nabbed him - only to be suddenly sucker-punched by an -ism, in this case white supremacy. Sgt. Dave Karsnia's comment that he'd expect lying and dissembling from a guy "gotten out of the hood" neatly embeds a range of classic white supremacist tropes about hoodish suspects. These tropes are completely from left field in this particular scenario. It's as if Sgt. Karsnia, apropos of nothing and engaged in some inaudible internal dialogue, just figured he'd offer Craig a randomly shaming contrast for good measure. Getting busted cruising for sex in a public bathroom just isn't enough of a faux pas for a sitting, anti-gay Republican senator, but acting like a guy from the hood? Now, that's shameful! Because we all know white Republicans don't lie when caught red handed, don't try manipulate the system to get off, and they definitely don't disrespect the established processes and procedures of law enforcement.

Given how the stakes are constructed in the Larry Craig story, pointing out the bias in Karsnia's admittedly, uh, tossed-off comment isn't likely to send anyone into a tizzy. This story doesn't require any particular presumption of progressive or racial virtue on Karsnia's in order scan legibly, and so white people won't experience much in the way of cognitive dissonance around this particular winkle. If Karsnia was a blogger supporting the good guy in a key senate race, as Jane Hamsher was, or a progressive organization engaged in its yearly convention, well, it would be a different story, wouldn't it? This post would be viewed as divisive, distracting, mean spirited. I would be accused of refusing to give a political ally the benefit of the doubt, for fuzzy logic unsupported by statistics, for political correctness, for being an all-around buzz kill. Shut up and leave your betters to the important work of saving the republic in peace, basically.

Thank god Dave Karsnia is just some schmuck on the job in the Twin Cities, huh? Otherwise, there might be a problem!

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 30, 2007

don't let the sun set on you in a t-shirt in Jena with your ass hanging out

JENA, La. - Officials at a central Louisiana high school have banned T-shirts supporting six black students accused in the beating of a white schoolmate, saying the shirts are disruptive.

About nine students at Jena High School wore the "Free the Jena 6" T-shirts on Tuesday, and the slogan caused too much of a stir on campus, said LaSalle Parish Schools Supt. Roy Breithaupt.

John Jenkins said his three daughters wore the shirts to make a statement, not to cause trouble.

"They weren't doing anything other than wearing the shirts," Jenkins said. "The school doesn't have a dress code. They were covered. They're trying to tell them what they can and can't wear."

His son, Carwin Jones, is one of the six students charged with attempted murder in the December 2006 beating of 18-year-old Justin Barker.

Barker was treated for a swollen and cut face and released the same day. [full item, h/t Prometheus 6]

I wonder what happens if you wear a "Free the Jena 6" tee and baggy jeans?

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 25, 2007

two jack and jill hat-tip "ha!"s

1: Ha!

Fox-Backed Democrat Debate Called Off

(AP) Fox News and a black political group say they will not hold a Sept. 23 Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, which the leading candidates already were planning to skip.

A new date had not yet been set, Fox News spokesman Michael Murphy said Thursday.

The campaigns of U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards had said they would not participate in the debate. Opponents have criticized Fox as biased against Democrats.

The debate, co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, was to have been held at the Fox Theatre.

Institute chairman U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement on the group's Web site that the "overwhelming number of party presidential debates has created a scheduling challenge."

"Revisiting the CBC Institute's debate schedule will allow the time necessary to complete all debate logistics in an effective manner," he said. The group had said it planned to sponsor two Democratic and two Republican presidential debates. [full item, h/t Jack and Jill Politics]

To echo Jack and Jill Politics blogger Jack Turner:

Big Up/Hat Tip to all in the netroots that helped kill this thing including Robert Greenwald at Fox Attacks, Color of Change, and many, many, many more.

2: Ha!

Black Agenda Report 2007 Lawn Jockey

Black Agenda Report's Bruce Dixon writes:

When George Curry's Emerge Magazine published its famous 1993 cover depicting US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as "Lawn Jockey for the Far Right", he used ridicule to ignite a potent WMD --- a weapon of mass discussion among African Americans that clarified black opinion on the uses to which an earlier Bush administration put its prominent black faces. In that spirit, Black Agenda Report and CBC Monitor will be at the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference in DC this September 26 to establish a new tradition --- the awarding of the "Lawn Jockey" to the three or four African American members of Congress who score lowest on the semi-annual CBC Monitor report cards. The Honorable George Curry will present the awards. It's time to reclaim, to restart and to redeem the African American political conversation, the dialog among and about us that neither black nor white corporate media is willing to air. [full item, h/t Jack and Jill Politics]

While I shed a tear that my own preferred coinage hasn't taken off in this arena -


- I can't wait to see who wins the coveted Lawny in September.

(Those of you confused by the use of the lawn jockey in this case should consult this chart.)

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 24, 2007

giuliani, keeping it real

Water sure does find its level:

Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani has a new team of media consultants with a strong record of electing GOP candidates, sometimes using controversial ads. The team is led by Heath Thompson and his Dallas-based firm, Scott Howell & Company. Thompson, as director of President Bush's 2000 campaign in South Carolina, helped Bush to an 11-point victory in that state.

Last year, a commercial made by Thompson's firm for Tennessee's U.S. Senate race was criticized for what the NAACP and others said were racial overtones.

Run by the Republican National Committee against Democrat Harold Ford, who is black, the ad showed a white woman saying she had met Ford at a Playboy-sponsored party. As the ad ended, the woman, her shoulders bared, whispered into the camera, "Harold, call me." [full story]

I can't stand talking android Harold Ford and found the bulk of the chatter about him and de white wimmins a bit off, but the ad created by Scott Howell & Company was a real piece of work:

(This is an aside, but it took a while to find a youtube stream whose description wasn't of the "look at this funny ad!" variety.)

Ex-Giuliani Michael Meyers advisor recently described Rudy G as someone who "could play on the edge of old racial antipathies," and that sums him up neatly as a racial type, I think. Picking a PR firm with a racial cloud over it (or halo, depending on your POV) is a kind of of racial edge-play, a statement that Rudy won't let anyone mau-mau him into any given decision or action. Rudy's racial antipathies are of that very specific, big city, cop-ish strain where contempt is experienced as a kind of insight or familiarity. Like the ad above or any given article in City Journal, the internal experience of this kind of antipathy is the conviction that one knows something hard-won, unpopular and powerfully telling and true about the Negro - his cranial capacity, for example, or how Harold Ford rolls sexually, or the lyrics to Cop Killer.

Not to go all the way back to Imus, but one of things about the whole nappy-headed ho's thing is that Imus thought he was speaking in, er, jive, which is to say to a large extent he was just saying something he "knew"" black people say all the time. For someone like Imus, a Nappy Headed Ho problem (or a Blackface Joe controversy) is a hypocritical tempest in a media teacup, something driven not by legitimate grievance but by opportunism and realpolitik. Similarly, I'd imagine the complaints about Scott Howell & Company's Ford ad are not about the ad's racism for Giuliani, but its effectiveness.

I was talking to my man Pascal on the phone, and he was telling me that he's already convinced Giuliani is going to get the Republican nod and that he is going to beat Hillary. ("You didn't think Bush was electable first time around either," he reminded me.) Leaving aside the epic scope of the disaster such a turn of events would represent, we can already rest assured from his PR firm that Giuliani is going to run an ugly, ugly campaign.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 7, 2007



I looked over at Pach, a person of color who writes about those issues frequently on FDL, and we both just shrugged our shoulders. [link]

I also mingled and drank with a passel of gay men and women of all ages. I was on a panel with James Rucker of Color of Change and sat with several African American bloggers during one of the workshops. I had a long conversation about immigration with a latino blogger.[et tu, Digby?]

I have to say in Digby's defense, though, that she subsequently updated her ode to the diversity of YearlyKos, copping to the boneheadness of bragging about talking to, like, three, people of color. (This in frickin' Chicago!) Digby's post read as a little wan and forced from jump, indicating she knew there was an issue somewhere, unlike, say, Her Shrugness, who was too busy tabulating her hotel bill to notice anything amiss.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

August 6, 2007

more and better liberal bloggers


Dear Crooks and Liars,

Thank you for deleting this post from your site: Bonds Ties Aaron; Say It Ain't So.

Bonds is an asshole and (by all indications) a cheat, but this section from the deleted post - a rather rote lament about Barry Bonds' 755 HR by Mark Groubert - was, as they say, completely beyond the pale:

Aaron had seen the ugliness of segregation, Jim Crow, lynchings and separate but equal schools. He had ridden the buses through spring training in the Deep South. He had felt the pain of Jackie Robinson. He was one of the Apostles.

Bonds is new school. Bonds is Kobe Bryant. Bonds is Michael Vick. Bonds is O.J. Simpson.

Uncritically proffering how, once upon a time, there were good, suffering, holy Negroes, and now all we have are selfish ballers, dog-fighters and double murderers, is, well, you frickin' knew what it is, Crooks and Liars, which is why you disappeared the post in question from your site. (Too bad for Feedburner, eh?)

Chris Rock can run this particular gag forever if he feels like it (and for the record, it was dumb when he did it, too), but, as Dave Chappelle's professional seppuku indicates, white and black folks don't process self-critical or self-examining black discourses in exactly the same way. Even if you take away the race of the sources, though, Groubert doesn't even get the cloak of misfired comedy that Rock does, as his post was written in compete seriousness and earnestness, right down to the "RIP, oh, sweet beloved game!" kicker.

(Is this Groubert 16 or something? I was sixteen once, so I'm not shitting on it. But now I'm, like, 38 - double 16 plus! - so I have a hard time connecting to that kind of maudlin, overcooked sentiment.)

Aggressively stupid and inelegant white commentary like Groubert's is precisely why black folks poll so differently from the W's on the Bond/juice controversy:

However, race plays a unique role. Black fans in the survey are more than twice as likely to want Bonds to break Aaron's record (74 percent to 28 percent), and 37 percent of black fans think Bonds used steroids, compared to 76 percent of white fans.

Blacks are nearly twice as likely to think Bonds has been treated unfairly (46 percent to 25 percent). Why? The survey found that 41 percent of black fans think this is due to the steroids issue, 25 percent think it's because of his race, and 21 percent blame Bonds' personality.

For whites who think Bonds has been treated unfairly, 66 percent blame steroids. Virtually none blame race. [full item]

More than 37% of black people "think" Bonds used steroids. The question is how many black people a day stop caring after reading items like Groubert's. I mean, I wasn't there getting huge with Bonds; maybe all the people who are claiming he took steroids are race-morons like Groubert? I am personally pretty convinced Bonds injected steroids into his body and all, but I stopped experiences any measurable outrage about it five or six dumb-ass, Groubert-style commentaries ago. It's just kind of low on my list of outrages, truth be told. As I see it, Barry Bonds is a guy who gets paid to wear pajamas and hit a ball, whereas Mark Groubert is writer who spends his day wrestling with language, truth, morality, et cetera, so which sin do you think is going to rank higher for your droog and humble narrator? As my Clarion classmate Derek Zumsteg has pointed out in his book The Cheater's Guide to Baseball, cheating is actually a part of the national pastime, whereas racism is purportedly an unforgivable lapse here in Liberal Blogstania.

To me, Groubert's post is like swearing the Iraqis are going to welcome the US Army with open arms, or being a Democrat and voting for the crap FISA amendment last week. It undermines a certain kind of credibility for me, which is why, to this day, I can't look at Jane Hamsher without seeing Blackface Joe. Hamsher created a nice site and all, but she has no credibility with me on questions of race, racism, ethnicity and never will. Yet these she is on TV, blond white superliberal incarnate. But that's just me being silly. Who needs in-born expertise on "questions of race, racism, ethnicity," when you can just split the difference and invite a few coloreds over to guest-blog?

The regularity of these incidents underscores the sad fact that shared affiliation (party or otherwise) or common disgust with the current political climate is no guarantor that a given white liberal blogger will be able to talk about race and people of color without coming off like a regressive moron. The folks at Crooks and Liars at least had the decency to disappear the offending post, which beats the enraged belligerence you often encounter when you raise this genre of concerns, as in Hamsher's assertion that complaints about Blackface Joe were just "ginned up controversy," "faux indignation in attempt to further distract from the issues important to the voters." (darkblack, the artist who actually created the image, understood the problems with the image to his/her eternal credit.) Hamsher's take is, of course, bullshit. But in much the same way that being wrong about Iraq won't keep you off the Sunday op-eds, being an unconscious, unrepentant race-moron won't keep you from representing the progressive family on TV.

But thanks again, C&L! Having the strength to hit delete beats being dumb forever.



Posted by ebogjonson at 8:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 9, 2007

more bella mafia

john walker lindh

I'm not really here (I'm technically still getting my ass kicked in Seattle at Clarion), but I did want to share that the new Bidoun Magazine is out, with edits from Mike Vazquez and pieces by me, Jace Clayton/rupture, Anand Balakrishnan, Kai Friese, Nimco Mahamud-Hassan, Binyavanga Wainana, and Sophia Al-Maria. Bidoun's issues are always themed, so this installment's theme is "Failure" while my piece is about American Taliban John Walker Lindh. It's called "A Portrait of the Jihadist as a White Negro." Enjoy!

The webs being what they are I also got an email today from a blogger named XYBØRG, who is completely is completely already there in terms of thinking through some of the racial perversities of the current era. I actually already regularly check their youtube feed, which is a great source of black Muslim material. (I owe you an note XYBØRG!)

more later.

(I'm obviously still alive. I'm resisting the urge to blog Clarion, so you can read about it here and here and here, fanning out to other pages as needed/inclined. I don't have much to say except that it's been amazing, troubling, depressing, banal, trying and strange all at the same time - everything you'd expect from a 6 week writing marathon.)


Posted by ebogjonson at 1:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

April 29, 2007

@ yale 004

@ yale 004, originally uploaded by ebogjonson.

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

@ yale 003

@ yale 003, originally uploaded by ebogjonson.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:53 PM | Permalink

@ yale 002

@ yale 002, originally uploaded by ebogjonson.

Double-major Dayo wrote two senior theses this year. This stack is from #2.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:40 PM | Permalink

@ yale

@ yale, originally uploaded by ebogjonson.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:30 PM | Permalink

April 7, 2007

is that you shirley?

WOW! It's a good week for posts generated by comments, because someone whose email suggests they might just be the honest-to-god Charles Knipp/Shirley Q Liquor wrote in to say:

I'm poor. If he would just give me money I'd be rich. I'm fat. If he would just never say I'm fat I'd be okay. I'm a woman. If he wouldn't look at pictures of beauty queens I'd be happy. I have a problem. If he would just...[the comment]

Now obviously, I have no way to know if that commenter is the IRL Knipp-Liquor, but what I have to say applies to such sentiments in general, so I think they're fair. To wit:

Give it a rest. This deep-thought, existential, misunderstood-victim act is as put on as Knipp's' blackface show (which, for the record, I researched when all this blew up because I was curious as to what the fuss was about.) No one is suggesting that if Shirley Q. Liquor went away the lives of black women would magically improve. What Jasmyne Cannick and other black gays and lesbians are arguing, though, is that the overwhelming embrace (and then defense) of Knipp's character makes them feel unwelcome among their purported (white) brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. This isn't about utopia, it's about deliberate and ongoing betrayal by people who pretend to be your friends and compatriots. It's exactly Jane Hamsher sitting up on a nationally-recognized, progressive high horse while simultaneously encouraging and abetting yahoo-racism on her website under the cover of fake "punk" rebelliousness. The adamant refusal of Knipp and other white folks to acknowledge the possibility that the character might legitimately insult members of their own community (their refusal aided and abetted by LGBT talking androids, of course) is the root of the problem here, not some insistence on blaming poor, innocent Charles Knipp for the problems of the world.

You know, when I do something that offends large numbers of people I claim to want to live in fellowship with, I stop doing it. But, considering that Knipp is making a buck here, I guess that option is off the table. I said earlier that I wasn't interested in boycotts, but comments like those above make me inclined to revise my position, as they fairly deliberately misstate exactly what someone like Knipp does for a living. The "he" in the above formulation isn't just some random guy that the "I'm poor" positionality is demanding "give me money." "He" is someone who is actually, actively profiting from the sale of yucked-up images of "I'm poor's" suffering. I mean, I can't even write the name "shirley q liquor" on my own blog without the google links directing people to sites selling SQL recordings, so not only does Knipp profit from SQL in general, he even profits from this specific controversy.

If my commenter actually lived in the real world, this is what they would have written instead:

I'm poor. If he would just stop making money off of images derived from my poverty, I wouldn't necessarily be rich, but I might feel less used.

I'm fat. If he would just stop leading a room full of people who aren't my gender or race in a hour-long laugh-off centered on re-enacting stereotyped images of my fatness, I'd be okay.

[ebog note: I'm not even going to come near the irony embedded in an obese, old-ish, white man becoming the toast of his notoriously body and age conscious scene by inducing people to laugh with him by laughing at, uh, a plus-sized black woman. I mean, if you think about the layers of displacement and substitution at work there too much, your head explodes.]

I'm a woman. If he would stop doing a show and making cds centering on contested images of my body, I'd be happier.

I have a problem. If he would just making a buck off of it and telling me he has nothing to do with my problem and really, truly loves me...

The argument that Knipp is an artist doing some kind of loving "work" around black womanhood is as much of a false pretense as Tyler Perry's claim that his buffoonish caricatures are an homage to (and I'm paraphrasing here) "big, powerful black women we all know and love." These men aren't artists, they're chitlin circuit hacks profiting off the low expectations of their given media ecology.

I'm not suggesting that it's impossible to do "good work" in these arenas. Although I'm increasingly known as "blackface guy," I generally subscribe to Eric Lott's analysis in Love and Theft where the history of blackface minstrelsy can be seen as encoding as much desire as hatred. My point, though, is that even with the dynamics of love and theft in mind SQL isn't half as interesting, timely or well-crafted as, say, Borat, Bruno, or Ali G.

Every marginalized group has artists whose materials are images that were previously used as weapons against them. I can't really speak for the black gay and lesbian community, but I think of artists like Issac Julien, or, more germane to this fracaso, Kalup Linzey, a sampling of whose occasionally NSFW work can be seen below:

Now compare any of those clips to this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this.

By any possible measure - be it craft, or the live-wire buzz of connection produced by a particularly apt or deft reference, or the level of lived interiority that underscores the humor, or just plain kindness towards the character being embodied - Shirley Q. Liquor is nowhere near the same class as Linzey's or (going a little afield) Sasha Baron Cohen's work. (I don't want to start any kind of new squabbling, but all I keep hearing is "But RuPaul loves SQL!?" I'd be curious to know what Linzey or Cohen thinks.) When Knipp or Perry pull the "loving homage" card, they're referencing a methodology related to - but distinct from - their own practice, one that deals with similar questions of love and identity and hurt and safety and transgression and desire and theatrical embodiment and so on, but simultaneous has an explicit relationship to the tricky problems of audience, distribution and community that put Knipp's work in such an unsavory light.

Linzey doesn't get a pass in embodying black women just because he's black (although, let's be real: it helps) but because he deliberately estranges the work through editing and audio. Linzey also deliberately points his audience to the media contexts in which he operates - say, daytime television or the art market - while Knipp steadfastly denies any tie to his obvious tradition, i.e., blackface minstrelsy. Similarly, without getting into the whole "is it real?" debate around Cohen, Borat, Bruno and Ali G go for jugulars whereas SQL just aims for boozy laughs, the safety implicit in playing a black women in a room full of white gay men completely unrelated to the kinds of physical and spatial risk at the core of Cohen's practice. All of which is to say that the "loving homage" thing is a methodology developed by people who are artistically smarter and braver than Charles Knipp or Tyler Perry ever were. (Artistically! I'm not talking IQ, biography, or Tyler Perry crying to Essence about how he used to be homeless until god and drag saved his life.) And yet here we are allowing these gents to wrap their random, off the cuff, poorly constructed comedy in the mantle of deep and important things being said about the black female. It's bullshit, and said bullshit is the biggest reason don't think of Knipp in terms of racism. I just can't get past how corny and lame and full of shit he is. I mean, my brain shuts down before I even get to the r-word.

But Mr. Knipp, if that was you commenting above, here's a little challenge: I know you already do Betty Butterfield, but why not for the next year try only doing comedy about obese, Southern, white drag performers of a certain age? Heck: you can even do work about obese, Southern, white drag performers of a certain age who also love black women so much they wear blackface; I'm pretty easy. Instead of doing predictable riffs like "Ebonics airways," why don't you do comedy about the black people who accost "Charles Knipp" on flights to tell him how much they love/hate Shirley Q, or the bloggers you have never met who say mean things about you, this without ever pausing to think how poor "Charles Knipp" wears the mask, too, the one that laughs and cries and all that. If you tried my little experiment, I guarantee you that one of two things would happen at the end of your year interacting with audiences in the new mode: either you would regularly crash and burn on stage, thereby bringing you face-to-face with the fact that you have very little to say. (More kindly, you would realize that your previous success relied on your audience's racism.) Or, you would have the proverbial artistic rebirth, finding a more interesting, more truthful character to play that would had grown organically from the facts on your own identity. Either way, though, I think your understanding of the whole Shirley Q. Liquor controversy might be deepened.

But you're not going to do that, are you? You're going to claim that your refusal is bravery, that you don't intend to knuckle under to unfair, illegitimate attacks on your racial virtue. But the real reason will be that you're afraid. What if engaging this controversy with the one thing you and your defenders claim you are good at (i.e., comedy) puts you out of a job? Because we both know that at the end of the day nobody cares or wants to see Charles Knipp perform. What they all want is Shirley Q.

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 6, 2007

black foot, white foot

sweet, sweet popi

Adbul-Jabbar (Go Terriers!) writes of the Congressional Black Caucus:

The CBC has also balked at making ANY statements about the 101 Haitians that recently washed up on South Florida's shores with an impending threat to be returned via the racist wet foot dry foot policy that would give Cuban immigrants in the same situation instant promise of residency in the U.S. [full comment]

For those who haven't been following, the last week of March 101 Haitians landed on a beach in South Florida, this after surviving 22 days in a homemade sailboat (the last 12 days without food, apparently). They were, of course, immediately rounded up by INS and are now being prepped for deportation back to Haiti. While deporting folks busted in flagrante non documentus is a fairly straight-forward maneuver in most of the country, this case has underscored the absurdity of immigration in Cuban-rich South Florida, and, by extension, in the rest of the country.

Basically, under a policy shorthanded as "wet foot, dry foot," Cubans snatched up on the high seas (wet) get sent back, while Cubans busted on land (dry) are not only allowed to stay, but fast-tracked for legal residency. Needless to say, all other migrants who are caught in the US without papers - wet, dry; fresh, not-so-fresh - get their asses shipped back with a quickness. Wet foot-dry foot puts the lie to the notion that the US has a rational, non-racist immigration policy, and yet I have yet to hear Lou Dobbs open his fat, doughy gob to complain about it.

The benefits associated with having a dry, Cuban foot in Florida have a long history, dating back to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act:

In order to provide aid to recently arrived Cuban immigrants, the United States Congress passed the Cuban American Adjustment Act in 1966. The Cuban Refugee Program provided more than $1.2 billion of direct financial assistance. They also were eligible for public assistance, Medicare, free English courses, scholarships, and low interest college loans. Some banks even pioneered loans for exiles who did not have collateral or credit but received help in getting a business loan simply because they were of Cuban descent. These loans enabled many Cuban Americans to secure funds and create their own businesses. [full wikipedia]

$1.2 billion 1966 dollars is likely chump change in a world where we can literally lose a billion or so in Iraq, but, to understand the scope of this aid, keep in mind that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty launched at around the same time for a pricetag of $3 billion dollars over two years. I appreciate that this is an apples and oranges comparison, mostly because the War on Poverty led to decades-long programs that ended up costing quite a bit. But there is a legitimate sense in which Cubans were allocated just a scootch less than half of what the US intended to spend on all of poor people, a class that was, of course, imagined as being pretty non-white and African American at the time.

What does this have to do with the Congressional Black Caucus?

The Congressional Black Caucus has long been Haiti's strongest advocate, urging more economic aid and criticizing the lack of U.S. support for former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted in 2004 amid a violent uprising. And after the elections last November, Democrats active on Haiti issues now hold key posts.

Michigan Rep. John Conyers heads the Judiciary Committee, giving him a key say on immigration and refugee matters. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York now chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which steers U.S. trade policy, among other matters. One member of that committee is U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, who is traveling to Haiti today to discuss immigration issues with President René Préval and the U.S. ambassador in Port-au-Prince. [full story]

The obvious gag embedded in the above item is if the CBC is your "strongest advocate," you are fucked. But, in fairness to the CBC, many of its members fought the good fight vis-a-vis Haiti during the 1990s, their simpatico pull with Bill Clinton helping get Jean-Bertrand Aristide restored after he was ousted in 1991. The problem is that CBC members are at the core politicians, and as a result see intrinsic value in making the right tactical moves even when said moves put them at odds with things like, well, the truth. In this case, tactical good involves propping up current Haitian president (and CBC fave) Rene Preval, this by refusing to underscore what a complete mess his country is in. As Adbul-Jabbar (Go Terriers!) explains:

The CBC has made statements in support of the Haitian community in the past, but it seems that they fear antagonizing the Preval administration by addressing the conditions in Haiti that have forced its poor to seek refuge on the shore's of South Florida. I think if this had occurred during the Latortue administration, Maxine Waters would be screaming for the return of Aristide at the top of her lungs. The CBC giveth and the CBC taketh away... [full comment]

This is the same capitulation to false realpolitik that had the CBC lining up behind William Jefferson, or allows Albert Wynn to walk the halls of Congress as if he's an honorable black leader, or lets the Congressional Black Caucus Institute think it can hold a debate with FOX News without seeming like utter hypocrites.

In the old era, where analysis didn't come with hyperlinks and political memory wasn't powered by google, it was possible for black leaders to adhere to a cyncial 80:20 rule. Their reputations rested safely on a 20 percent nugget of effectiveness and decency, this while 80 percent of their terms were spent indulging in the same-old-machine-politician-shit under the cover of darkness. Heck, forget 20 percent. If you figure that some of these empty suits have been cruising on that 10 percent presumption of progressive politics that attends all black Democrats, the split is more like 10:10:80.

10 percent is a terrible score by any measure. I believe there is still an important role for a caucus of African American legislators to serve, but if it all it has to offer is blackness and 10% it should at least disband the Institute. Just have a black-while-in-Congress merit badge or pin and pursue your politics - good, bad, or indifferent - without pretense or play-acting. Heck, you can even have a yearly breakfast, but don't get up on the high horse and act like being a CBC member means anything, because it sure doesn't seem to mean much to those Haitians.

(The poster image above, BTW, is from the movie Popi, which, despite being borderline racist in a bunch of ways, was one of my favorite movies growing up. The way that the Puerto Rican kids in that movie are forced to enact a fantasy of Cuban-ness struck a chord with me, navigating Haitian, African American and white spaces as I was, each zone with its own risks and perks. Also, Popi's take on daddy love, a mighty under-theorized thing for straight dudes, always struck me as instructive and curious, Popi pairing that age when boys still crave physical intimacy with their fathers with a story about being stranded in the middle of the ocean by dad, this for your own good. Completely fascinating and tear-making!)

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

April 5, 2007

why does the Congressional Black Caucus suck so much?

As you already know, I am not a fan of the CBC. As I wrote almost exactly a year ago:

The votes [by CBC members against net neutrality] throw a neatly illuminating light on the coming disconnect between the civil rights establishment and the overwhelmingly white "net-roots." It's fair to say both sides view each other with some distrust. We're living through a deeply contradictory time when black folks (and what's left of the unions) are the Dems only truly reliable voting block, and yet every other manifesto for Democratic revitalization is some kind of attenuated, okie-doke Souljah-moment retread. War or no war, that particular center will not hold, and when it comes finally undone the pressure will be on our black and Latino Democrats to articulate a vision of civil rights, diversity and community that intuitively understand issues of net neutrality as one of "our" issues. Performances like yesterday's make me a little nervous, though. [full me]

It's a common talking-android punk-move to gripe about black leadership, but jeez! Must we be so consistently let down by our so-called leaders? The decision by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to partner with FOX News on presidental debates is just another crap move by an organization that increasingly seems to serve no real purpose. To (mis)quote a (white) man:

Have you no sense of decency, Congressional Black Caucus Institute, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? [the real quote]

Rather than repeat myself, I would instead like to turn the floor over to the folks at Color of Change:

Last Thursday, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute announced plans to partner with Fox News to host presidential debates--using the name and legacy of the Congressional Black Caucus to legitimize an organization that has shown nothing but hostility to Black Americans.

The announcement came after the Institute ignored more than 12,000 emails from [Colorofchange.org] members, and after 790 phone calls to CBC leaders asking them to denounce the deal were met with side-stepping and inaction.

The CBC and CBCI are betraying Black America, not just by partnering with Fox, but by willfully ignoring the people they claim to represent. It's a display of irresponsible representation and disconnected leadership.

Voices of protest from Black America and our allies are getting louder every day, but members of the CBC still haven't responded. Will you join us in demanding that they take a public stance, today?

Today, we're launching a campaign to ramp up pressure on the CBC. We have two goals: to force the CBC Institute to call off the Fox debates and to make it clear that Black elected leaders cannot act in our names while ignoring our voices.

Our first step is targeting members of the CBC. We know that some members of the CBC oppose a partnership with Fox, but none have spoken publicly. Their silence implies agreement and lends credibility to the Institute's decision. If we can force each member to publicly take a stance on this issue, we're confident some will come out against the partnership. Once there's dissension in the ranks, the Institute's leadership will not be able to maintain the legitimacy of their decision.

But getting there won't be easy. CBC offices have given our members the runaround for weeks--saying the Fox debates are an Institute issue that they can do nothing about and then referring our members to a CBC Institute voicemail box that was full for over two weeks. Members are clearly not trying to go on the record about this issue. But with enough pressure, they will have to speak, and if they continue to hide, we will broadcast their cowardice to Black America and voters in their district.

The pressure is already mounting. Following the lead of ColorOfChange.org members, Black bloggers, academics, and community newspapers have all taken bold stands. Now it's up to us. If we keep up the pressure, we can force voices of reason and conscience to arise from within the CBC, and help bring the CBC back in line with Black America. Please join us.

Thank You and Peace,

-- James, Van, Clarissa, Gabriel, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
April 5th, 2007


ColorOfChange.org members taking a stand on this has helped it get plenty of coverage: in national news, blogs, online journals, and the Black press. Here are links to some of the posts and articles, as well as letters sent from ColorOfChange.org to CBC members and the CBC Institute.

Black blogs:

"Who will lead?" Afro-Netizen.com, April 4, 2007

"Update on CBC Fox Debates," Jack and Jill Politics, March 30, 2007

"Fox News sets debates with Congressional Black Caucus Institute???" Superspade.blogspot.com March 29, 2007

"Why is the Congressional Black Caucus Institute hopping in the sack with Faux News?" Pam's House Blend, March 30, 2007

"The CBC Needs to Learn From Us: Just Say No to FOX," CorrenteWire, March 14, 2007

Because the so-called netroots are currently, like, whiter than my graduating class at Yale, web outrage at a Democratic caucus getting in bed with FOX has been pretty much akin to the sound of your nutty Polish neighbor yelling at something across a backyard fence. You don't talk Polish, she don't speak English; who knows what the fuck old girl is going on about today.

The outrage of the white folks is meaningless to black incumbents sitting in safe districts. Until they feel pressure from black folks, the CBCI will continue to sell us out in order to get available pieces of the pie. It was telecom pie last year, FOX pie this year, who knows the year after that?

I was speaking to a pretty smart person yesterday who was like: well, it's not as if anyone is lining up to give the CBCI money. Sure, of course. I understand that no one is lining up to give the CBCI money. But an organization's values are best indicated by the hard choices it makes when the proverbial chips are down. I already know you're broke and that you wouldn't dream of taking money from the Klan; big deal. If you want to impress me, show me real character and vision. I don't give a fuck about your lengthy record of fundraising balls, invite-only morning legislative breakfasts, and yearly conventions; I have no interest in partying with Michael Eric Dyson. Lead, already, or get out of the way.

This is an aside, but if Obama becomes president, who do you think is going to have more room on his coat-tails: ColorofChange.org or the CBCI? Black-enuf, not-black-enuf isn't about race, it's about political power in a post-internet political context. There is a realignment coming, and when it does, these folks will not know what hit them. At that point, the CBCI will likely go running to Russell Simmons or maybe BET asking to be made relevant again "with the youth." I dunno about Viacom, but Russell will likely oblige, this as long as the CBCI agrees to partner with him on an educational program about "underbanking," this as a trojan horse to promote his crap, stored-value RushCard. You heard it here first!

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 26, 2007

me and shirley q liquor

shirley q liquor is not that funny

Not really, but I did get quoted in a Lexington Herald Leader article about Charles Knipp's blackface act:

The debate over Shirley Q. Liquor -- for the most part previously confined to the black and gay media -- is about to spill over into the mainstream, with among other things a profile in Rolling Stone magazine. The issues have raised questions about whether Knipp is shining light on something that the rest of the country has politely refused to discuss for decades. It has called into question the motives, as well, of his audience. That is, if we laugh at Knipp, who are we deep down, anyway?

"Blackface is a charged and wild symbol," says journalist Gary Dauphin, who is black. "It gets out of your control quickly no matter your intentions."

Dauphin, a film critic for The Village Voice and for Essence and Vibe magazines, has written extensively on race and blackface. The problem with Knipp is that he doesn't realize that "things are bigger than his intentions," Dauphin says. "You have to have the maturity to say some things are bigger than me."


Many in the black community, even when not backing Knipp, do not support Cannick's protest.

"I'm not interested in banning and boycotts," says Dauphin, the journalist, adding that he doesn't think Knipp is a racist, but "I do think he's being kind of a jerk." [full article]

[Sweet, sweet networking! Those of you wondering how they found me in Kentucky can blame this gent, as he also writes for the Herald Leader.]

Three comments: First off, I don't remember, but I hope that what I really said was "I do think he's being kind of an asshole," as that gets you closer to my thinking than the wan, family-paper-friendly phrase "jerk."

Second, I was a film critic for the Village Voice once upon a time. I'm not any more and although I worked at the Voice for about a decade my back goes up a little anytime it shows up in a bio, especially after Voice stalwarts Greg Tate and J. Hoberman chose not to include me in their Voice 50th anniversary recaps. Such are the vicissitudes of institutional memory and crewism, and, anyway, given the VV's current sorry state I'm fine with striking it from the record. Was, is what I'm saying.

Lastly, it's not that I "do not support Cannick's protest," it's that "I'm not interested in banning and boycotts," especially media-related bannings and boycotts. I know I'm splitting a hair, and that I blog about media-related outrages all the time, but I'm pretty much of the First Ammendment absolutist, "bad speech calls for good speech" school. I also view the boycott as being most appropriate for addressing corporate, institutional or labor-practice level issues. Boycotting, like, a dude strikes me as being a bit like breaking-up with him; it's personal and involves dynamics of betrayal and rejection that make me hesitant to label my refusal to consume or patronize said dude's comedy a "boycott," this even if I get a 1000 other people to join me.

I also have to confess to long harboring a fear that we go after offensive images only after we've lost every possible other battle. (That, or we've won every other battle, and so have the leisure to focus on glamour outrages like who won an Oscar.) Happy-go-lucky media people tend to be more liberal, more susceptible to shaming and easier to stare down than, say, fundamentalist terrorists and warmongers who think god talks to them, and so whenever I meet a self-described "media activist" I'm like: what? Working on housing equality involve too much heavy lifting?

But I'm exaggerating and self-denigrating, of course. Keeping folks honest about their racism is important work and I'm glad people like Jasmyne Cannick are out there doing it. I think it's fine to educate people about Shirley Q. Liquor and to also urge them not to give Charles Knipp their money, I just dunno if you will be able to get me up on a Saturday morning to physically picket a comedy club. But e-picket? (iPicket?) Absolutely. That not only jibes with my own slothful, late-sleeping habits, but the frame - word vs. word, image vs. image, code vs. code - strikes me as being better aligned as well.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

March 25, 2007

was that really a fire, after all?

"Say something about the method of composition itself: how everything one is thinking at a specific moment in time must at all costs be incorporated into the project then at hand." - Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

LA C, who took those fire haircut pictures wrote via comments in to say:

Thus far I haven't met a single person who didn't say "OH SCHNAP" when I showed them the pictures of me having my hair cut with fire. I thought it was cute too, perhaps in a different way.

She's absolutely right, of course - I'm not looking to police anyone's reactions (except Mel Gibson's, Nikki Finke's and the commenters on the HuffPost), and snaps of someone getting their hair cut with a flame is definitely OH SCHNAP worthy no matter what color you are. In so much as my comment constituted a light, winking dig, it wasn't directed at anyone in particular, and certainly not at LA C, without whose pictures we wouldn't be having this conversation.

The difference in reaction that I was suggesting exists isn't located at the OH SCHNAP layer but in the sentence that follows it, which, in my case, was "is that dude's hot comb broken?" I don't think "hot comb" is an unreasonably, overly encoded reference, and I don't think its unfair to want to get "hot comb" built into the post at the level of amplifier, by which I mean at the level of the boingboing's of the world who shared LA C's photos with the world. One of the reasons that I love sites like boingboing is that they have a knack for succinctly pointing us towards the proverbial cool link of the moment, but, at the risk of overgeneralization, I find their process can be a little lazy when it comes to the identity stuff - posts not digging or directing enough, or presenting items "as is" to an audience that can be trusted to know an awful lot about everything except (surprise!) black life.

Ideally there would be an update post to the boingboing item that showed us the fire barber where Cory or whoever would write, "reader blah-blah says: there is a long history of use heat in black hair care..." but that's not going to happen is it? Besides the fact that the boingboing's pool of reader blah-blahs equipped to make these kinds of connections is tiny, that kind of update would suggest the possibility of racialized and socialized forms of knowledge, a circumstance that is pretty contra-aesthetic to the whole boingboing schtick, where the world of wonderful things belongs equally to all and there are no barriers to access except a lack of enthusiam or crippling DRM.

I guess I am basically pointing out a tiny obvious: that community is not my community. Oh, well.


BTW: I read that Benjamin quote copied above in this book, which I in turn read thanks to this dude.

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:25 AM | Permalink

March 24, 2007

asymetrical nikki

I'm not really surprised that Mel Gibson told Cal State Northridge assistant prof Alicia Estrada to fuck-off, this after teach called his Mayan blood-orgy Apocalypto racist. What does surprise me is that usually tough-minded folks, like, LA Weekly's usually spot-on Nikki Finke (or some HuffPo commenters), think Gibson was "provoked." Showing the proverbial white slip Finke writes:

Yes, it's true that Mel Gibson cursed an assistant professor and Mayan community leader -- but only after the duo disrupted a question-and-answer session at a Southern California University which was screening his Apocalypto Thursday night. [full finke]

The awful, awful disruption that so provoked Gibson? The worst I've been able to gather from published accounts is that the two protesters refused to give up the mic and read "a lengthy statement in Spanish." I guess Gibson's defenders must be part of the "English-only" crowd, as when I was in college no disruption worthy of the name "protest" didn't at least involve shouting and blocking entrances, maybe a chant and a pie. Not to defend youthful indiscretion, but in contrast poor, poor Mel only had to listen to a translation.

Tellingly, Gibson's didn't seem to boil over until after the so-called disruptors were being led away by campus rent-a-cops. Finke again:

Gibson was asked if their mike should be turned off. "Let them continue," he said. But some students yelled out "shut up" and "sit down" at the protesters. Finally, a campus police officer ended the disruption by leading Estrada and her friend from the room. About half the class applauded. Gibson, his face now red, fired back with his expletive. "He told her to 'Fuck off, lady, get a history book, and read," student Guagan recounted. His parting shot was "Make your own movie!"

What a complete, punk, coward move! Gibson maintains his cool throughout but for some reason just can't keep it in his pants at the sight of two brown folks being led away by the police. This is classic, yahoo-racist behavior: act all friendly and professional, and then, once you're absolutely sure the crowd and the fuzz are on your side, go all red in face and the give the offending coloreds a proper what-for.

The real provocation here as I see it isn't two people holding onto a mic for too long and forcing 130 people to listen to Spanish, it's the persistent, unbearable whiteness of Hollywood. (To her credit, Finke has written well about these issues previously, but not today.) We're supposed to take as neutral and non-provocative the fact that hundreds (if not thousands) of (mostly) white folks in Hollywood diligently devoted years and tens of millions of dollars to making, distributing, marketing and defending a racially-charged, pretentious and ultimately middling adventure flick, but god forbid someone hold onto a microphone for 20 minutes, at which point folks come down with cases of outraged, wilting vapors. The underlying assumption is that Gibson is somehow being mau-mau'd by media coverage of his outburst, i.e. he's a victim, which is as much of a crock as his movie.

But, of course, this is a Hollywood kerfuffle, so the rights, freedoms and fragile temperaments of rich, moronic movie people are - no pun intended - paramount. Those who claim Gibson was provoked make the same defense of white privilege that John Ridley made in the HuffPo when he asked re: Kramergate:

[W]hat exactly do you call a couple of black guys who go to a public place where people paid money to enjoy themselves and who then begin to yell and scream at the person on stage who is trying to do his job? [full talking androidery]

Right. I guess there's no reaction that's out of bounds or unprofessional when you're white and in show business and there's money changing hands.

The F-Bomb aside, Gibson's parting shot - "make your own movie!" - may be like shouting "win your own lottery," but it also gets us closer to his (as well as the rest of Hollywood's) underlying anxiety about our increasingly multicultural market-place: if Mayans are making movies, who the heck needs Mel Gibson to make Apocalypto? Be careful what you wish for Mel; you wouldn't want to end up as the D.W. Griffith of the Mayan cinema.

Posted by ebogjonson at 1:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 22, 2007

now that's a fire

History1 026.jpg, originally uploaded by djcollinator & La.

Apparently this gent in North Memphis does hair using fire. (Another boing-boing hat-tip production!)

The full photoset is here.

I have to say that it's kind of cute how our dear white friends are all like 'OH SCHNAP" about these images. Although I have never had occasion to get my own hair cut with a flame (I got my hair cut just like a regular man once-upon-a-time, put my pants on one leg at a time like the rest of you before I grew the locks), the relationship between potentially dangerous heat and black hair care is fairly well established.

I was going to make a Madame C.J. Walker joke, except that I keep forgetting she didn't really invent the hot comb:

ESSENCE: People who have heard Madam Walker's name, think, Oh, she invented the hot comb. But that's also a myth.

Bundles: Straightening combs were first advertised in the 1880's and 1890's in catalogs for White women. Madam popularized their use among Black women with her Walker Method of hair care. She thought the comb was an improvement over another process promoted by Black hair culturist Annie Pope-Turnbo Malone. The claim that she invented the hot comb probably originated in 1922, three years after Madam Walker's death, when the Walker Company purchased the rights to the patent from the widow of the man who had manufactured hot combs for the Walker agents. [full story]

I guess that leaves the jokes to youtube:

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 12, 2007

everything but the burden

Lady Sov vs. Jelly Donut. Post title refers to the following:

Q - What are white people taking from black culture?
A - Everything but the burden.

I can't get to mad, tho. MC beefs are ass, completely 20th century.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 7, 2006

al sharpton wishes you a blessed holiday season

In response to slow NYPD reaction to the police shooting of Sean Bell, Al Sharpton wants to shut down Manhattan's 5th Avenue shopping district the week before Xmas. Via Steve Gilliard:

Let's set the scene: what Sharpton is promising to do is to block 5th Avenue on the big shopping Saturday before Christmas. Since the Giuliani era, protest has been restricted on terms favorable to the police. The marchers have not asked for a permit and don't plan on walking on the sidewalks like they make many protesters. This should cost the city tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue and even more in store profits.

[NYPD Commissoner Raymond] Kelly is faced with a brutal choice. If he doesn't stop the march, it will cost the city a great deal of money. If he tries to block the avenue with cops, all hell will break loose. I could easily see people charging police lines and the resulting riot would cost more than the march.

People are extremely angry. The cops have tried to claim all three victims had been arrested by leaking information to the local papers, but it hasn't gone far. Their usual attempts to dirty up the victims are falling on deaf ears. A lot of that is due to Nicole Poultre's extremely poised performance on Larry King Monday. The cops are still claiming that there was a fourth man with a gun, but it's as elusive as Judge Crater. Maybe they thought they were watching Heroes or something.

A lot of this is carryover anger from the unsatisfactory resolution of the Diallo and Dorismond cases. It has never been resolved and this time, people will be relentless in seeing these cops jailed on some charges. The race of the cops is irrelevant. People want there to be a resolution where cops are punished for murder. [full item]

White and black folks who hate identity politics and political correctness hate Al Sharpton. They claim to hate him because he lied about Tawana Brawley, or because he can be bought, or because he ran for the Presidency of the United States while wearing a conk, but the truth is that they hate him because he goes about his business without clearing his plans with anyone white, an unforgivable habit for a black leader. Sharpton's #1 constituency, is as always, Sharpton, but his #2 is NYC's black community, better higher placement than most black folks tend to from their leadership.

Also: The day Jane Hamsher can feasibly threaten to shut down the center of the nation's largest city a week before Christmas, she can talk to me about "mau-mauing," but until then she's just flapping her gums. She hasn't come near a real mau-mauing in her life, ever.

Also: Sean Bell was shot just a few blocks away from where Jam Master Jay was shot in 2002. Not a good section of South Queens.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

December 3, 2006

the mahablog: naughty words and pictures

Wherein your humble narrator comments on the ongoing lack of a clue of some white progressives have vis-a-vis the proper care and feeding of the blackface loa. [This format is evolving, so please bear with me.]

My comment:

It's disappointing (but a certain kind of typical) for white folks to be so right about their own issues (sexism here) and yet so wrong about everyone else's. That said, you have fairly instructively mischaracterized the problem with the Billmon blackfacing.

First off: It wasn't that anyone thought Billmon was a Michael Richards-style racist, it was that many people of color thought his use of blackface was inept. Given the wild, memetic power of those images, people also suggested that there had been no pressing need to invoke those particular loa to deal with the Blitzer/Cheney CNN segment, leading us to the fairly straightforward question of why he might have felt the need to go there. Billmon and his readers' reaction to those specific and contained complaints? Petulance, defensiveness, attacks on people of color for "distracting" them from the important work of saving America, self-serving Peretzian irony about how the last true believers in the values of Dr. King were the brave white folks reading Billmon, Tomaskian whining about how their beloved left was being destroyed by "special interests," and, of course, the clarion call to the actual racists in the woodworks to write "n-word, n-word, n-word" in the comments completely apropos of nothing.

You write above that :

If you are writing from power, you assume some responsibilities. One of these is a responsibility not to contribute to the problems of racism and sexism by using racist and sexist language to diss people.

And yet at that being said, you also just can't resist saying that there have been "some episodes" where no amount of explaining could "placate" "them" because "seeing the point requires an advanced ability to think abstractly" and you cutely "'spect" things "just plain flew over a lot of peoples' heads." Then, just for kicks, you assure us that any "lynch mobs" that form in retaliation will have to get along without you, which, I have to say, is really mighty white of you. You quote Zuzu approvingly on attacks on your gender - "It's easy to reach first for the gender-based insult" and yet the first thing out of your mouth is how smart you are compared to those childish coloreds, but, just in case anyone has gotten you all wrong, any lynching is DEFINITELY going to have to go on without you. Nice work, Kimosabe!

Comment by ebogjonson -- December 3, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

The preceding context:

In the inciting posting, blogger Maha waded into the ongoing controversy regarding use of the word "whore" to attack a female Republican hack on liberal blog Firedoglake. Maha is down with idea that the post and poster can be rightly accused of sexism, but, nonetheless feels the need to separate her apples and oranges by defending blogger Billmon for recent his use of blackface in a post about Wolf Blitzer. (My comment on this related issue can be found here.)

In response to my comment, Maha abruptly closes down commenting in her thread on the argument that:

I really don't want to open up the "blackface" wars again, so I am closing comments before I get slammed with more commenters calling me a racist.

I appreciate that the blackface imagery is extremely painful, which is why I have never used it myself. However, blackface imagery speaks as much, if not more, about white racism than black oppression. For most of the 200 years or so blackface was part of popular culture, only white men wore blackface. It was only a relative short time in the late 19th and early 20th century that black performers wore it, also. It should be viewed with more shame by whites than by African Americans, who don't have anything to feel ashamed about in this case.

And I still say the intention of Billmon's post had nothing to do with racism, and if you can't see that then it went over your head. I'm sorry if you take that as condescension, but it's a fact.

Comment by maha -- December 3, 2006 @ 5:02 pm


As an intervention into the Mahablog discussion, this comment could be rightly rated as inconclusive to unsuccessful, as the comment had no impact on the attitude or tone of the poster. While there was certainly some excitement to had in Maha's decision to turn off commenting (!), her final insistence that the problem here is a lack of intelligence on the part of her colored readers is a classic racialized assumption, echoing greats of the genre from the Bell Curve to "What do you call a black guy with a ph.d?"

Her middle argument that whites, in effect, "own" blackface given their extensive use of it is a doozy, as is the non-dichotomy between "white racism" and "black oppression." All the same, these notions might be useful to explore via photoshop and regarding other racial outrages, such (to take a word introduced in this mix by Maha's post) the lynch mob. It strikes me that if, for example, you sever the racism of the lyncher from the oppression of the lynchee, you mostly end up privileging the subjectivity of the killer over the killed - i.e, the white over the black. But maybe Maha had some other effect in mind?

While no one in any way shape or form called Maha a racist (I admit to calling her "typical" and "Kimosabe," but both fall under the rubric of legitimate snark IMHO) her knee-jerk reaction is that she has to act "before I get slammed with more commenters calling me a racist." This indicates some confusion about how guilt, intent and action operate in discussions of racism, and this confusion is fairly global in her thinking, extending back to her reading of the initial Billmon incident: "I still say the intention of Billmon's post had nothing to do with racism." Sure, I guess, but it seems fairly straightforward to suggest (as we did way back when) that Billmon's intent might be distinct from the racial dynamic engendered, unleashed by or at play in his decision to pull out the cork. That Maha confuses all these points in the process of (rightly) attacking a male blogger for the sexism of their purported "non-sexist" use of sexist imagery, is, as they, icing on the cake.

Posted by ebogjonson at 6:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

November 15, 2006

don't call it a comeback, i've been racist for years


I guess the Republicans figured that since Corker's victory was their only bright spot on 11/7, that they had better get back to racist basics.

WASHINGTON -- Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, ousted from the top Senate Republican leadership job four years ago because of remarks considered racially insensitive, won election to the chamber's No. 2 GOP post Wednesday.

Asked whether he felt vindicated by the 25-24 secret ballot vote, Lott deferred to newly-elected party leader Mitch McConnell.

"The spotlight belongs on him," Lott said of his Kentucky colleague.

McConnell, who was uncontested and will succeed Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, predicted that he and the rest of the newly-elected GOP team will provide a muscular opposition to the new Democratic majority.

"We will be a robust minority, a vigorous minority, and, hopefully, a minority that is only in that condition for a couple of years," McConnell said.

Lott's comeback-kid victory was generating the most buzz in the Capitol hallways. Pressured to step down from the Senate's top spot over four years ago, Lott returned to the center of power by nosing out Sen. Lamar Alexander, who had made an 18-month bid for the post.

"I'm honored to be a part of this leadership team, to support Mitch McConnell and all of my colleagues and to do a job that I've really loved the most: count the votes," Lott said. "I'll do my very best in that effort."

For his part, Alexander was circumspect.

"Senators, like most Americans, like a comeback," Alexander said afterward, adding that he believes he lost three votes to Lott. [full story]

For those of you who don't recall, Lott got in trouble for saying of Strom Thurmond (h/t atrios):

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

That was in 2002. In 1980 he said:

You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today.

And what did Strom Thurmond run on that could have prevented "the mess we are in today?"? Here's his 1948 platform [via L/G/M]:

1. We believe that the Constitution of the United States is the greatest charter of human liberty ever conceived by the mind of man.

2. We oppose all efforts to invade or destroy the rights guaranteed by it to every citizen of this republic.

3. We stand for social and economic justice, which, we believe can be guaranteed to all citizens only by a strict adherence to our Constitution and the avoidance of any invasion or destruction of the constitutional rights of the states and individuals. We oppose the totallitaran, centralized bureaucratic government and the police nation called for by the platforms adopted by the Democratic and Republican Conventions.

4. We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one's associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to learn one's living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.

5. We oppose and condemn the action of the Democratic Convention in sponsoring a civil rights program calling for the elimination of segregation, social equality by Federal fiat, regulations of private employment practices, voting, and local law enforcement.

6. We affirm that the effective enforcement of such a program would be utterly destructive of the social, economic and political life of the Southern people, and of other localities in which there may be differences in race, creed or national origin in appreciable numbers.

7. We stand for the check and balances provided by the three departments of our government. We oppose the usurpation of legislative functions by the executive and judicial departments. We unreservedly condemn the effort to establish in the United States a police nation that would destroy the last vestige of liberty enjoyed by a citizen.

8. We demand that there be returned to the people to whom of right they belong, those powers needed for the preservation of human rights and the discharge of our responsibility as democrats for human welfare. We oppose a denial of those by political parties, a barter or sale of those rights by a political convention, as well as any invasion or violation of those rights by the Federal Government. We call upon all Democrats and upon all other loyal Americans who are opposed to totalitarianism at home and abroad to unite with us in ignominiously defeating Harry S. Truman, Thomas E. Dewey and every other candidate for public office who would establish a Police Nation in the United States of America.

9. We, therefore, urge that this Convention endorse the candidacies of J. Strom Thurmond and Fielding H. Wright for the President and Vice-president, respectively, of the United States of America.

For those of you who don't believe that the above program was (in basic ways) about the right to kill black people with impunity, consider this language from one of Thurmond's offical campaign flyers:

A vote for Truman electors is a direct order to our Congressmen and Senators from Mississippi to vot for passage of Truman's so-called civil-rights program in the next Congress. This means the vicious FEPC - anti-poll tax - anti-lynching and anti-segregation proposals will become the law of the and our way of life in the South will be gone forever. [full flyer]

But I guess all you black conservatives out there who support a party that puts an apologist of lynching in a position of power are thinking: Hold on, now. No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Those planks about judicial activism and individual rights are right up my alley!

Don't get me wrong about Lott. People change and maybe he has; who can say. But some beliefs and behaviors can put you permanently beyond the pale as far as I'm concerned, and persisting in your praise of the embodiments/avatars of those beliefs and behaviors is no way to come in out of the cold. The problem isn't Lott's friendship with Thurmond (I got a lot of fucked up friends), it's the specific nature of his praise for Thurmond's failed policies, his clearly articulated belief in those policies' enduring rightness, that makes him unacceptable as the whip of any legitimate American political party.

This is an aside, but I am fairly convinced that future generations will treat the GOP's current gay marriage obsession with the same scorn we treat the above segregationist language. I can just picture today's GOP toadies on TV in 30 years disavowing their gay-related bigotry as an artifact of their times, just as Lott whitewashes his longstanding racism today. I mean, who knew black folks were actually human in 1948? Who knew gay people had a right to marry the person of their choice just like any other human being in 2006? It's completely unfair to impose today's standards on the past.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 1, 2006

lost in translation

All quotes 100% guaranteed cut and paste from Billmon comments about the Wolf Blizter blackfacing. Usernames have been deleted to protect the innocent.

Tangentially speaking (with regard to the illustration Billmon provides), I urge bar patrons to see Al Jolson's movie The Jazz Singer - the first time I saw this, I found the scene in which Jolson puts on blackface shocking and thought-provoking.

Translation: Oh, man! There is about to be some serious fussin' and fightin' up in this here piece!

Blitzer: "Ah-Sir Cheney!"

Cheney: "Yes, Sir Blitzer?"

Blitzer: "Would you care for a little dash of sherry?"

Cheney: "Yes, thank you so much!"

Blitzer: "Over the lips and past the gums ..."

Cheney: "Look out, abdomen -- here she comes!"

Translation: You know, this reminds me of when I was a kid and I'd watch Abbott and Costello, Amos and Andy, and Honeymooner's re-runs every Sunday morning instead of going to church. Those were good times, good times.


Billmon's comments are not 'racist'!

The Neocons are trying to turn this planet into one huge 'plantation'. Is that a racist comment?

I don't know what the RW blogs 'glom' onto... I don't go there...

Translation: Did I just give them the what for or what?

Note to Sunrunner and Nannette. Now, my roots are AShanti - sunburnt to ebony. Grandfather sat in the sun too loong.

I saw the image. Got the message and had to be helped off the floor,my sides busting with hillarity. Not. racist. at. all.

Billmon nailed Massa - the media geneflects. Time they be liberated.

Translation: Isn't diversity beautiful? It's like a eating a chocolate koala bear that melts in your mouth only to crap rainbows in your brain.

Sunrunner, how many different names did you use in this thread to raise you one 'voice'?

Not very kosher...

Translation: Beavis: You know how you make a sock-puppet? You take a sock and put your hand up its butt!

Butthead: You said "butt!"

can you think of a more apt analogy for blitzer - who apparently thought that he was safe because of his relationship, only to be surprised when lynn cheney pulls the same screeching harpie routine she uses to beat on the rest of the media?

Translation: Chillax, compeneros. It's not easy being Billmon and updating an A-list blog every day. If you think it's so easy, why don't you do it?

As one of mixed race I give my voice whole-heartedly to Billmon. What he did was very funny, and Wolf Blitzer deserved it.

There are light years between Hamsher's use of blackface and kow-towing Blitzer. (Oooh, a mixed race metaphor! Go tell it on the mountain.)

Translation: Isn't diversity beautiful? It's like a eating a chocolate koala bear that melts in your mouth only to crap rainbows in your brain.

in any case malcolm x was not beyond using the stereotype of the house & the field negro - in a inherently refined rhetorical gesture

i think you will find that there are those great man such as we dubois, marcus garvey - who were not naive in trangressing such stereotypes

billmon is a lot of things - some of which - we differ greatly - but he is not & could not be called a racist, to any degree & any such attempt to label him so is of such stultifying stupidity - it would be wiser counsel to honour yr silence

Translation: I reject your insinuation there, Ned. I will have you know that I marched with King in Selma, Ned. You can be an Al Sharpton Democrat if you want, but I'm proud of my civil rights record. The only K's in my biography stand for a King and two Kennedys. Hero K's.

i would have thought the context apallingly clear

i would also have thought that billmons trajectorie is open to one & all & his efforts to thwart the cheney bush junta are a matter of public record

the point being web dubois attacked the very pieties that mask white skin privilege, & malcolm made it perfectly clear that the real question was one of - social & economic relations

Translation: Why can't you people ever keep your minds focused for more than a minute on the bigger picture? Sheesh.

the image I would have used to portray blitzer would have been of Mr Hanky

Translation: Can't we all just get along?

Funny you should mention this "slavery" problem. Some people are of the opinion that:

• slavery is a bad thing
• people who claim that slavery is enjoyable are advocating more slavery
• political unfreedom is a pathway to real slavery (ask 2 million prisoners)
• we are losing our freedoms, such as habeas corpus and nine of the ten rights specified in the Bill of rights.

Whcih brings us full circle: slavery is bad and should be fought, loudly.

So fuck the people who pretend to love it, especially when they know that they themselves are on the edge of the abyss. I think that was the actual message. Is there something in this reading of Billmon's words and image you want your fellow citizens to disagree with?

I sympathize with the discomfort, but Billmon's reply seems about right. Yet, you have not replied to it. Would you agree that it is better to fight than to accept the already true loss of our freedoms? Have you noticed we're pre-Magna Carta these days? Or do you care about actual, existing slavery? I do, and I dislike it.

Translation: Oh god, mommy and Daddy can you please, please stop fighting? How do we expect to get this wagon train across the desert flats if we can't stop fighting amongst ourselves? How can we ever hope to be a family again?

get over yourself. every race has had its own members be slaves of others. black does not equal slave.

this is a tempest in a teacup, the target is the despicable blitzer not anyone else.

would you have had the same reaction if the photoshop had been that of a smarmy Arab? didn't think so.

Translation: You know, for almost an entire century the Irish subsisted entirely on a diet consisting largely of potatoes. You can look it up.


Translation: "Me, me, me," it's always about your problems and your feelings. What about the Arabs? Would you be all in an uproar if, for example, someone photoshopped a burka on a white woman? Thought not.

what a lot of fucking shit.

Translation: Oh, wow, sorry; that was just me. I had a bean pie for lunch.

was the epochal play by eugene o'neill,'the hairy ape' racist because there is no doubt transgression at play here

equally the souther sharecroppers of james agee are they too not a little stereotyped

are the americans described in dreiser, dos passos or sinclair inexistant fpr they too crossed boundaries

i have my quarrel with billmon & we have spoken of white skin privilege in relation to the war in iraq - but he is clearly even in his own terms not a racist

to paraphrase billmon - to be able to live with black cadavers filling the screen of your televisions during katrina & in nearly every city of those united states, to live with the stupefiant number of prisoners - nearly three million - who are generation after generation of black youth forever closed behind bars

no no - the racism of a people is a sensous & practical act it is the recognition & acceptance of your own privilege

let us be frank here if those united states did not rely so much on corrupt & venaal jurisprudence & an even more lethal system of incarceration - ther would have been a race war or a class war a long time ago

Translation: When I was a much younger man, I had occasion to spend a summer season cleaning hotels in the Polish mountain resort of Zakopane. It was the off-season and the Poles had in large measure retreated to their traditional summer haunts. It was there that I met a lovely young Peruvian girl of Indian extraction, a mere slip of womanhood who labored at the resort just as I did. Like a tender brown stalk stretching and bursting to moist maturity in the alien heat of the greenhouse, she had somehow found herself transplanted from the Andes to a harsh northern clime magically rendered temporarily more temperate and nurturing, this as if only for her.

We grew close, she and I, but as she was but a young mountain girl prone to flights of fancy, I found the strength to restrain my natural urges, thinking it best to preserve her from any heartbreak that an ill-advised affair might cause. I turned my full attention to her education, where I took great satisfaction in introducing her to a newer, broader world of arts and letters, to music and history, the words of great writers and thinkers. She, in turn, taught me of her people, of the great god VIRACOCHA who weeps eternally, and APU-PUNCHAU whose name can only be uttered silently. She taught me what it meant sit silent on a mountain peak, the moon and the indigenous fauna my only companions. We went on like this for several weeks, our give and take a veiled intimation of our shared desire, and on my last night she appeared at my door, grateful, naked and unashamed, eager and yet waiting for a sign that only I could give. I knew I would never see her again so I reached out to her, and I can say we shared pleasures that late summer evening unlike any other pleasure I have known, experienced things together that I only can recall at the risk of trembling.

Aymara. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her, that I don't weep at the hint of her name, so sweet and salty on the tip of my tongue.

I believe intent must come into making that determination. I do not believe Billmon's intent was to express ill will towards blacks. You may take it that way, but it and of itself that is meaningless, as there are countless examples in today's society of people being offended over countless things, real or not. We have lots of the professionally offended in the country these days, both on the Right and the Left. People choose to be offended; it is not a fixed standard.

Yes, I found Billmon's use of blackface to make a very clear point, a perfect description of Mr. Blitzer's role in the media, to be very telling and effective. From Billmon's honest portrayal of himself and his awareness of subliminal racist programming as a child, I don't consider his depiction a jab at anyone but Mr. Blitzer. Blackface minstels existed. There were horrible white men using the untold misery of helpless victims to make a buck. I don't think Billmon was promoting these horrible white men. You do believe that, and you believe that makes Billmon a racist. I don't think he was, and that it does not make him a racist. That gives us a difference of opinion. You are certainly entitled to that opinion, but please stop making pronouncements of racism as if it were a fixed standard of fact of which you are the sole arbiter.

Translation: C'mon! Cut a 'bro a deal. I think we can all agree that it really is the thought that counts.

So to make a longwinded comment shorter: the rascism (or sexism or classism or ageism) of a particular statement might depend on the listeners context instead of the speakers and thus make it bloody hard on the Internet.

Translation: I can't be bothered with this. I know it sounds harsh, but I have to say that ultimately this is your problem.

OK, you're getting onto me over the subjectivity of intent, and then in the VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH you speak of Billmon's "inner racist" as objective fact. You can't have it both ways. Just because Billmon is aware of his own psychological situation, you can't state as a fact (as you do) that this particular case is "his inner racist" leaking out. You can think that, and it's pretty clear you do think that, but you speak definitely of something you just admitted wasn't definitive. You think it's racist. Fine, that's great, we disagree. But lose the objective voice and stop playing Lord High Arbiter.

Translation: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Watch where you point that thing, fella. It might be loaded.


Translation: I'm just going to keep saying it until you get it through your head: You are. Not. The Boss. Of Me.

Back during the initial weeks of post-Katrina news coverage, you all might recall that alot of rightwingers were up in arms about the possibility of the black community getting together and disparaging the shit out of Shrub. The vibe I got from all their rhetoric was, "This wasn't Bush's fault so you darkies bettah hesh up your mouth and know your place." This vibe was then later confirmed when news got out that a handful of armed Gretna police said to a bunch of predominately black Katrina survivors, "They be no Superdomes heah!"

At this point, I knew what the jig was. Growing up in a city with a lot of blacks and latinos, I know exactly how they're going to react and how justified those reactions will probably be ... and I mentioned it in another part of the internet. I said, "Watch out, folks. When black people hear shit like 'They be no Superdomes here', it's only a matter of time and opportunity when they'll stand up and shout back in defiance 'And they be no house niggahs here!' without caring one whit who it may offend."

I got raked over the coals for being a racist, race-bating, and the whole roasted chicken that Billmon is getting bludgeoned with right now but, as time unfolded, I ended up being right because the moment - that opportunity - when the black community shouted "They be no house niggahs heah!" in defiance to the Bushistas was during Coretta Scott King's funeral. Granted, nobody speaking at her funeral actually said those exact words ... but I sure as hell heard them loud and clear. Repeatedly, too. So did the majority of Americans. And so did Bush and the rest of the racist rightwing Bigotsphere, evidenced by their squirming and howling -- they had the audacity to act with fradulent shock and awe, caterwauling about how improper and rude it was for the black community to "get all uppity" and use CSK's funeral as a soapbox.

And now, Billmon used blackface to blast the hell out of the white, bearded, persistantly vegetative, corporate slave fruitbat commonly known as Wolf Blitzer and getting simular rations of shit from both sides of the sandbox. Clearly, too many Americans have just as many problems wrapping their heads around nuance and irony as they do with truth and reality.

Translation: It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.


Translation: Why can't you people ever keep your minds focused for more than a minute on the bigger picture? Sheesh.

One thing which Billmon has acknowleged and which I think goes to the root of the problem is that he can "honestly" say that he has not been able to cross the divide and actually be friends with black people.

I really do not see how being friends with Black people proves anything.

I am informed of genocide against Armenians and I empathise to the deepest. But I have never met an Armenian and it would not change a thing even if had twenty Armenian friends.

Moreover, all peoples deserve respect, consideration & fairness regardless of race or group. Each individual must be recognized as such regardless of attribute.

So long as one treats each Black person (or Hispanic or Chinese or ...) as an individual and respects him/her and is fair, thats good enuff.

Translation: You know, just because I wouldn't want my daughter to marry one, doesn't mean that I won't give that Harold Ford a fair hearing. That's the least that boy deserves, is what I'm saying here.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

October 31, 2006

like crying n-word in a racist theater

Uh-oh, Oakland! Our new blogger friend Kai needs help at the old mill!

Paging ebogjonson, paging ebogjonson, logic-flow decision-support is urgently needed over at Whiskey Bar...

Oops, too late. [full post]

Too late, indeed. Kai wasn't dialing 911 for me personally so much as calling attention to my "Should I use blackface on my blog?" decision chart, this following the application of blackface to CNN's Wolf Blitzer by liberal blogger Billmon.


Although the image above is certainly a fine display of photoshopping skills, Billmon's use of blackface fails my appropriateness test immediately for the simple reason that, in my opinion, white folks would be advised to never use blackface, ever. My thinking that a "no whites allowed" sign belongs over the burnt cork pile is straightforwardly reactive, as white folks (an admittedly imperfectly drawn class) strike me as having shown themselves to be rather, uh, maladroit at using blackface for peaceful purposes. (There are ways working class whites used the embodiment of black men as a from rebellion against Victorian mores, but that, as they say, is another story.) The "no whites allowed" thing is also utilitarian, in that the collateral damage invariably caused by a given use of blackface almost always outweighs whatever specific point was being made/scored by said blackface in the first place, so it seems best to leave the thing collecting dust in the rhetorical-weapon cabinet.

(Don't think of it as a prohibition, white folks, think of it as a kind of mitzvah, or, maybe like giving up sweets for Lent. Something little and relatively pain-free you choose to do or give up in order to go to white-people heaven.)

Billmon's intuition about the image's immediate back-story (he corked Wolf Blitzer after Blitzer whined about getting the rabid dog treatment from Veep Consort Lynne Cheney) is reasonable enough, in that Wolfie's whine could technically be characterized as "house negro-ish." The problem, of course, is the image's troubling older, world historical back-story. The specific racial archetype Billmon makes use of - the white minstrel re-enacting a white fantasy about black slaves for the entertainment of even more white folks - is bigger than Billmon, Wolf Blitzer, Lynne Cheney and yesterday's news cycle combined, so while blackface and minstrelsy might cover the CNN incident nicely, they also spill over from it onto, you know, my fucking lap, making them an attack not just on what Billmon calls "our pathetically servile corporate media" but on me as well.

Billmon's self-professed intent and racial virtue are largely irrelevant here, as the simple fact is that blackface and minstrels and house negroes are dangerously wild and crafty memes that have been laughing at intent and virtue for over 140 years. Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to race in America knows that these are the sort of images that tend to slip out of a user's grasp almost immediately, so deliberately handling them constitutes a form of willful recklessness. It's not exactly like shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater, but it is kind of like pissing off an overpass in hopes of tinkling on some or another passing motorcade. If I'm driving home at the same time and you get that shit on me, I don't care who your target was or what they did, I'm doubling back to give your stupid, adolescent ass a piece of my mind.

As Prometheus 6 succinctly advised about wild racial memes (also quoted by Kai), a little extra careful is often the better part of racial valor: "When you want to use race metaphors, put down the Photoshop icon and back slowly away from the program." This is great advice, but it's also basic common sense and home training. So why do our white comrades seem unable to remember their manners on such a regular basis?

Billmon's non sequitur response to criticism of the image doesn't provide a direct answer to that question, but his tone is pretty illuminating:

As for the liberals, well, political correctness goes with the outfit. It's one of the fashion accessories that's supposed to set them apart, stylistically speaking, from the conservatives in a society in which racism is pervasive -- real racism, the kind that lets people die in flooded cities or grow up in urban hell holes I wouldn't want my dogs to have to live in. It's a badge that says: "See, I'm one of the good ones. I may not be willing to fight for social justice or even lift a finger to protest the brutality of the system and the human carnage it's created, but at least I don't tell racial jokes."

Well, OK, I guess I'm not one of the good ones. Not only am I not out in the streets fighting for social justice and protesting the day-to-day oppression of the poor (black, brown and white), but I also used a racial stereotype to make a point about our pathetically servile corporate media. Bad Billmon, bad bad bad.[full post]

While it's hard for me to say exactly what the above was precisely about, Billmon's tone tells me that in addition to feeling unfairly maligned (shades of Wolf?) he also thinks he's been brave throughout all this. Leaving aside the fact that Billmon still doesn't realize that the folks most upset by his image are people of color (his focus on generic "liberals" indicates this is a whites-only affair), his plain spoken world-weariness, combined with the impassioned blather about what is or isn't "real" racism, suggest someone quite taken with themselves when it comes to standing up to the hypocrites of the world. It's almost as if Billmon is having his own personal (albeit smaller scale) Sistah Souljah moment, his use of blackface a two-fer that, besides sticking it to Wolf, also provided a chance for him to stand up to all those nattering liberals and coloreds, you know, the ones who've been keeping him from the important, manly work of saving America, what with their complaining and their false piety and their fashionable identity politics.

In a subsequent clarification/response, Billmon goes on to defensively plead a range of bona fides that perhaps only Rick Blaine could credibly embody:

I'm more of an ex-Marxist, ex-socialist, ex-revolutionary who realized long ago that Marx got his economics wrong, that socialism doesn't work and that Peter Townsend was essentially right about the new boss being the same as the old boss. When I was in Russia, I even got to see the old bosses who became the new bosses turning back into the old bosses again.

On the other hand, I still despise bourgeois "morality" (the mother of all oxymorons), feel a persistent pull of sympathy to class-based, left-wing movements in places like Latin America (even though I believe resistance is essentially futile) and would very much like to see a radical redistribution of political power in this country -- although through peaceful, not violent, means. Obviously, I'm not holding my breath.[full post]

IMHO, white progressives who unabashedly use/defend white use of blackface tend to be precisely the above kind of holier-than-thou, tough-talker, someone quite heavily invested in making sure you never, ever confuse them for a trad liberal wuss. Like white prizefighters who believe that no one gets a championship belt without knocking out their fair share of Negro contenders, folks who defend the use of blackface like this do so largely (if perhaps subconsciously) to prove their hard-earned independence from traditional liberal special interests, much as Clinton was accused of doing in 1992 when he decried Souljah's comment that "if Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"

But, of course, cynical or no, Bill Clinton had an actual, incendiary quote to work with, whereas Billmon created this entire incident of-a-piece and in response to an inciting incident that had absolutely nothing to do with race at all. I guess that means the Sistah Souljah's he's standing up to are the ones in his head, because they certainly weren't on CNN.

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

October 18, 2006

omigod; you are so black and huge, obama

my big black head takes up this entire magazine cover

Time Magazine put Obama's big black head on its cover this week, breaking up the ad pages inside with a rote profile-cum-trend piece by Joe "Do-the-Right-Thing-Will-Make-Negroes-Riot" Klein. Money quote:

The current Obama mania is reminiscent of the Colin Powell mania of September 1995, when the general--another political rainbow--leveraged speculation that he might run for President into book sales of 2.6 million copies for his memoir, My American Journey. Powell and Obama have another thing in common: they are black people who--like Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan--seem to have an iconic power over the American imagination because they transcend racial stereotypes. "It's all about gratitude," says essayist Shelby Steele, who frequently writes about the psychology of race. "White people are just thrilled when a prominent black person comes along and doesn't rub their noses in racial guilt. White people just go crazy over people like that."

When I asked Obama about this, he began to answer before I finished the question. "There's a core decency to the American people that doesn't get enough attention," he said, sitting in his downtown Chicago office, casually dressed in jeans and a dark blue shirt. "Figures like Oprah, Tiger, Michael Jordan give people a shortcut to express their better instincts. You can be cynical about this. You can say, It's easy to love Oprah. It's harder to embrace the idea of putting more resources into opportunities for young black men--some of whom aren't so lovable. But I don't feel that way. I think it's healthy, a good instinct. I just don't want it to stop with Oprah. I'd rather say, If you feel good about me, there's a whole lot of young men out there who could be me if given the chance."

But that's not quite true. There aren't very many people--ebony, ivory or other--who have Obama's distinctive portfolio of talents, or what he calls his "exotic" family history. [full story]

Klein is too much of a star-fucker to pass off hack complaints like those of talking android John McWhorter (too light, too new) as handicapping, although I did catch neocon gargoyle Bay Buchanan on CNN today writing Obama off as rookie being rushed to the big show in hopes of offsetting Hillary. Still, Klein can't resist assuring his readers that the wonderfully exotic black man that so excites him is a political unicorn, i.e., rare and singular. Definitely nothing at all like those other black men, the kind that tend to walk four-abreast on the sidewalk in NYC and shout rap lyrics at Klein.

If I were a talking android like McWhorter, I would react to the various, arbitrary, impersonal racial forces structuring Obama's public image by blaming the victim. But since I'm one of those unreconstructed folks who buy into what black neocons call "racial orthodoxy," I tend to root uncritically for the black dude in any given circumstance. For his part, Klein takes Obama to (mild) task for his careful timidity, as if blowing out of the box with some truly mind-blowing, next-level shit wouldn't immediately brand the Illinois senator as the typical black fire-breather. Shelby "Kill-Them-All-And-Let-God-Sort- Them-Out" Steele (who you figure is in the handful of black folks who still talk to Klein) does manage to lay out the basic dynamic fairly succinctly:

"He's working a very dangerous high-wire act," Shelby Steele told me. "He's got to keep on pleasing white folks without offending black folks, and vice versa." Indeed, Obama faces a minefield on issues like the racial gerrymandering of congressional districts and affirmative action. "You're asking him to take policy risks? Just being who he is is taking an enormous risk."

Since we've all already established that my sense of things tends to hew to the, like, fucked-up, psychopathological side of things, it goes without saying that I detect a barely controlled erotic charge running beneath Klein's prose. Like a sailor fresh from his first Tijuana donkey show, Klein just can't get over how Obama drives the white women so completely wild.

Obama's personal appeal is made manifest when he steps down from the podium and is swarmed by well-wishers of all ages and hues, although the difference in reaction between whites and blacks is subtly striking. The African Americans tend to be fairly reserved--quiet pride, knowing nods and be-careful-now looks. The white people, by contrast, are out of control. A nurse named Greta, just off a 12-hour shift, tentatively reaches out to touch the Senator's sleeve. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I just touched a future President! I can't believe it!" She is literally shaking with delight--her voice is quivering--as she asks Obama for an autograph and then a hug.

That Klein finds the reactions of black folks opaque is unsurprising, as, in the scheme of such things, black-on-white invariably runs hotter than black-on-black. Klein, of course, winkingly links Obama to Philanderer-in-Chief and First Black President Bill Clinton, and "although the Senator's compassion tends to be less damp than Clinton's" (did you mean to say "less wet," Joe?), one needs a calculator to tabulate all the ways the following descriptions can be read as euphemisms for "man ho:"

[...] before he became a politician, he admits to cocaine and marijuana use and also to attending socialist meetings. Translation: You know those socialist girls put out, right? And when they're high? I mean, forget about it.

[...] he admits to political "restlessness," which is another way of saying he's ambitious. Translation: He definitely has Clinton's wandering eye, but much higher standards than Bill, meaning no chubby interns.

He flays himself for enjoying private jets, which eliminate the cramped frustrations of commercial flying but--on the other hand!--isolate him from the problems of average folks. Translation: Mile-high-club million-mile member.

[...] He blames himself for "tensions" in his marriage; he doubts his "capacities" as a husband and father. Translation: Don't be surprised if a woman shows up in the tabloids during the '08 Democratic primaries, and anyway: I'm really sorry and my wife forgives me.

But hey, it could be worse. In about three weeks our side may just re-gain control of Congress partially thanks to a national outbreak of gay-pedophile hysteria; turning on Joe Klein is downright All-American in comparison.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:10 PM | Permalink

September 29, 2006


Just wanted to thank all the folks who linked to the Should I use Blackface on my Blog? process flow, especially (in no particular order):

Prometheus 6, Professor Kim, Sunrunner, Alas, a Blog, the ladies at Racialicious, Rachel's Tavern, Monica Jackson, Slant Truth, Feminist Blogs", Salto Mortale, Zuky, and anyone else sent me some eyeballs!

I created the chart in response to the Jane Hamsher thing, but reading the blogs of folks who linked back to it reconfirmed to me how unsettled the problem of race remains in our politics. If engaged, otherwise thoughtful white progressives like Hamsher can't wrap their heads around basic racial etiquette, it seems hard to imagine that less thoughtful, less engaged, or generally hostile white folks will ever grok to it.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

September 22, 2006



If the Independent had bothered to consult my "Should I Use Blackface?" process flow, they would have been able to deduce in just a few easy steps that putting Moss in blackface was a bad idea.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:48 PM | Permalink

September 18, 2006

should I use blackface on my blog?

should I use blackface on my blog?

Because I am, as one of my cousins once disdainfully put it, "some kind of paid, so-called racial expert" I'm often asked to provide direction on this or that question of racial etiquette. Recently a number of people have asked me to help them decide whether or not it's appropriate for them to photoshop blackface onto various offending politicians.

This is a highly complicated question, requiring that one juggle a number of aesthetic, political and racial conundrums. During my time as an internet executive, I learned that basically anything could be explained to anyone using an Excel spreadsheet, so as an aid to bloggers and civilians everywhere I've put together a handy process-flow/spreadsheet that I believe should answer folks' various questions lickity-split.

So: should you use blackface on your blog? Click here to find out! (It's a big file; give it a minute to load if yer using a slow connection.)

- your friend in racial spreadsheeting,

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

September 17, 2006

george allen's ethnic friends (UPDATED)

Republican diversity, from The Colbert Report, via the huffpost:

UPDATE: Apparently being a known, demonstrable racist is not an obstacle to being voted to national office by Republicans in Virginia. As of September 15th, polling has Allen leading his opponent by 7 percentage points.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:58 AM | Permalink

August 28, 2006

wash my hair, please

Anglophone African shampoo advert, circa 1960, via we make money not art:

Also on youtube, an ad for bug spray from the Ivory Coast:

That last one strikes me as a potential parody, but then again Kola Boof struck me as a web-art performance piece the first time I encountered her.

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:47 AM | Permalink

August 27, 2006

just us folks dancing on the head of this pin


From the Virtual China blog, this link to Chinese online gaming giant Shanda. From what I've been able to tell, Shanda's online games (like the one pictured above) have close to 30 million subscribers. Since I'm bent in predictable directions, that figure echoed for me in racial terms, as in: Holy Cow! In China there is a single gaming company servicing almost as many gamers as there are African Americans.

When I worked at BlackPlanet.com we had some or another data that suggested 1 in 11 African Americans were BP members, more in big cities and in the HBCU crescent extending from DC, down the coast and darting west along the Gulf. With that data in mind, I would sit on the subway and count off black folks: 1, 2, 3, 4... 9, 10, member. 1, 2 3, 4..., but thirty million! It's difficult to imagine every black person joining a website in much the same way it's difficult for me, even with my hatred of the talking android, to imagine every black person a Democrat. The great galvanization of black folks behind the Democratic party is, of course, a result of the encounter with racism, but as that encounter becomes modulated, distant, transmitted along new axes and lines of force, the choice of party becomes less a matter of life and death and more a question of taste, affinity. Not quite like joining a website or choosing a gaming platform but still not so far away from it as to make the comparison completely without value (rhetorical value, if nothing else.)

Or put another way: if blackness was a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, how many total players would there be? What would the character classes be? Skill sets? And how would we understand the various forms of profit to be reaped from the reenactment of virtual identity? Is it like playing World of Warcraft or "playing" Second Life?

More on gaming in China.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:55 PM | Permalink

August 22, 2006

who can say for sure, really?


From the autobiography of Kola Boof:

Osama kept coming back to Whitney Houston. He asked if I knew her personally when I lived in America. I told him I didn't. He said that he had a paramount desire for Whitney Houston, and although he claimed music was evil, he spoke of someday spending vast amounts of money to go to America and try to arrange a meeting with the superstar. It didn't seem impossible to me. He said he wanted to give Whitney Houston a mansion that he owned in a suburb of Khartoum. He explained to me that to possess Whitney he would be willing to break his color rule and make her one of his wives. I tried to hide my outrage at his racist remarks, but it would come to pass that for the entire time that I would be trapped in his palm, Whitney Houston's was the one name that would be mentioned constantly. How beautiful she is, what a nice smile she has, how truly Islamic she is but is just brainwashed by American culture and her husband--Bobby Brown, whom Osama talked about having killed, as if it were normal to have women's husbands killed. In his briefcase I would come across photographs of the star, as well as copies of Playboy, but nobody in the West believes me when I tell them this. It's like they have this totally bogus image of Osama bin Laden. Anyway, it would soon come to the point where I was sick of hearing Whitney Houston's name. [full excerpt from harpers.org]

Posted by ebogjonson at 6:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 28, 2006

they came before the matrix

we are black revolutionaries

This article originally appeared on Africana.com on May 15, 2003

They Came Before the Matrix: Black People and Science Fiction

The Matrix is hardly the first big screen franchise to go black to the future. In no particular order, here are ten key moments and storylines from the big screen history of black people and science fiction.

They Came Before the Matrix: Black People and Science Fiction
By Gary Dauphin

Among the many mysteries of the Matrix is the unexpected yen writer-director siblings Larry and Andy Wachowski have for putting color into science fiction's usually all-white, big-screen frame. The original Matrix was a tantalizingly multicultural affair, from Laurence Fishburne's laconic Morpheus, to Gloria Foster's wryly luminous Oracle, to the eternal question of Keanu's non-descript racial cipher, while the overarching themes at the core of the franchise -- maroonage and slave rebellion -- can't help but speak suggestively to black sci-fi heads. (It'll be a thousand years or more before an American artist can make work about "slaves" without automatically evoking some portion of black life and history.)

That afrofuturistic parade continues in The Matrix Reloaded with the addition to the cast of Jada Pinkett-Smith, Harold Perrineau, Jr, and, of all people, academic (and occasional MC) Cornel West. The Matrix, though, is hardly the first big screen franchise to go black to the future. In no particular order, here are ten key moments and storylines from the big screen history of black people and science fiction:

1. Black Magic in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
It's no coincidence that some of the earliest mixings of blackness and science fiction took place on movie visits to fictionalized versions of the first black republic, Haiti. Long an object of white fascination and vilification, Haiti's folk religion voudoun was alternately represented as a primitive superstition and as an arcane, crypto-Masonic secret society in dozens of B, C and D-movies from the pre-straight-to-video golden ages of Hollywood exploitation. Flicks like Drums O' Voodoo (1934) titillated and terrorized white audiences with visions of white women under the mind control of black "witch doctors," some of the spells apparently so powerful they required breaking by none other than the extraterrestrial Superman, who made visits to the island in both big screen serials and on TV episodes like Superman #18: Drums of Death (1957). In the movie fictionalization of Harvard ethno-botanist Wade Davis' book The Serpent and The Rainbow, horror director Wes Craven squared the circle of science and mysticism by imagining a pharmacological nightmareland where both the "divine horsemen" (as the gods of Haiti are known) and the Duvalier regime were the products of scary native drugs and freaky native bio-chemistry, thereby giving Haitian religion the "magic mushroom" treatment that the Amazon's indigenous people get in the fantasies of the National Geographic set.

ape shall not kill ape.jpg
2. Fear of a Black Planet
The entire Planet of the Apes cycle took racist anxieties about African nationalism, civil rights and Black Power and did what science fiction does best -- recast the unconscious fears of audiences in forms that were similar enough to the real deal to get a rise, while different enough to pass without a ripple into the popular culture. The Apes series benefited from the placement of the then-liberal Charlton Heston in the opening installment and from there ran roughshod through the political anxieties of white Americans until Conquest of the Planet of the Apes made it plain by depicting a political revolution of ape slaves aided and abetted by, you guessed it, a black man.

darth motherfucking vader3. Fear of the Black Hat: All too often, the only African American face in a science fiction will belong to the villain. George Lucas' black armor-clad Darth Vader was evil incarnate while voiced by African American actor James Earl Jones, his transition away from the Dark Side of the Force (right) signaled by his transformation into a kindly white Brit. In flicks like Total Recall betrayal wore a black mutant face, while in Terminator 2 the end of the world was caused by an over-eager black scientist mucking about with mysterious technology. (Let that be a lesson to every black engineer!)

4. Back in The DayWhile comedy franchises like Martin Lawrence's Black Knight used time-travel to produce easy fish-out-the-ghetto yucks, Haile Gerima's indie masterpiece Sankofa imagined a time travel scenario with a little more bite, when an African American woman finds herself back in days of slavery. The lyrical, quasi-non-linear feature had an art house feel, but re-enacted a basic science fictional question just about every modern-day black person has asked at some point or another: What would I do if I found myself living "back then?" In Brother from Another Planet an escaped alien slave made the trip not across time but space, bringing him into a black neighborhood where the locals band together to protect him.

who am is?5. The White Negro -- Literally
Black essayist and conservative George Schulyer imagined a scientific process whereby black men could be made white and vice versa in 1931's groundbreaking black sci-fi novel Black No More, a conceit that has made it into the movies dozens of times. From spoofs like the Denzel Washington vehicle Heart Condition, to political satires like Watermelon Man and Black Like Me, the transformation of black bodies into white ones and white bodies into black has created endless one-liners about black male endowment and countless opportunities to draw easy conclusions about the similarities and differences between the races. Flicks that focused on actually changing the physical structure of the body, like Black Like Me tended to be both the most lurid and the most interesting, as modifying the racial hardware always raises bigger questions about the software: What's it look like? Who wrote it? Who owns the copyright? And: When is the next version coming out?

6. Angela Bassett's Superpower

Immediately after Kirk and Uhura were forced into TV's first interracial kiss in the classic Star Trek episode "Plato's Step-Children," the verb of interracial love gained a new tense -- call it the "future-perfect-freaky" -- and no one uses it better on screen than Angela Bassett. In Supernova and, more notably, Strange Days, Bassett played black-women-of-the-future responding to what must be (by then) a heinously advanced black-man-shortage by bedding down their white male co-stars. While Bassett savaged Halle Berry in the press for her black-on-white love scene in Monster's Ball, in a temporal inversion of "statute of limitations" she was completely comfortable taking roles that not only featured miscegenation, but treated it as a kind of evolutionary advance. Her romance with Ralph Fiennes not only ends Strange Days, but marks the entire world's official entrance into the future, their kiss setting off the fireworks that announce the arrival of the new millennium.

7. What is B.O.G.? Racial Purity and the Coming Beige Apocalypse
In the sci-fi worlds of the "future-perfect-freaky," mixed race, bi-racial people stride the earth, a scarily perfect super-race purportedly mixing the best of black and white. While writers like Octavia Butler regularly re-imagine the encounter between Europe and Africa in the Americas as a regenerative genetic apocalypse where both roots are transformed by their offspring, the theme had no big screen analog until Wesley Snipes brought the brooding Daywalker named Blade to the multiplexes. The big-screen version of the comic book Blade brought the image of the tragic mulatto into the bio-molecular age, the half-vampire, half-human played by Snipes not just trapped between two warring tribes but forced to live in a battleground-body. The product of pregnant (black) human mother raped by a (white) vampire father, Blade faced an identity crisis that also gave the "one drop rule" a creepy age-of-AIDS spin, turning vampire creation into a question of post-coital viral infection. Unlike Butler's vision of a transcendent middle race, which in books like the Xenogenesis trilogy and Clay's Ark takes giddy satisfaction in the survival of the fitter, new-fangled hybrids, the less radical Blade only wants to maintain the status quo, defending the humans in the first picture, and then discovering the nobility of his pure-blooded vampire antagonists in the second, as embodied by fangy-hottie Leonor Varela.

8. Esoterics in the Land of Cotton
Although not always understood as visions of science fiction, there are always strange doings afoot whenever the moist lands south of the Mason-Dixon line are depicted on screen. From Eve's Bayou to Beloved, the American South has always been a big screen haunted house where the sins of the white racist fathers swap spit with Hollywood fantasies of black spiritual resistance, aka rootwork and hoodoo. Black spiritual technologies -- charms, dream books, candles, mojos -- have been so severed from their original contexts by LaLaLand that they could seamlessly provide a tagline for a franchise like Austin Powers, while in the work of Stephen King, most notably The Shining and the The Stand, wise southern black folk warm King's chilly New England nightmares by acting as walking repositories for strange, unexplained energies. Although much, much richer, even the late Gloria Foster's Oracle in the Matrix movies is a play on the image of the aged Negro as spiritual antenna, a trope as old as Harriet Beecher Stowe's god-fearing Uncle Tom beatifically soaking up the good Lord's shine.

9. Substance D: Imaginary Drugs for Imaginary Ghettoes
In 1977, Philip K. Dick imagined a "Substance D" in A Scanner Darkly a drug so powerful it split the novel's undercover narc protagonist into two personalities, one belonging to the cop, the other to his prey. Dick and his readers didn't have to wait long for the lab-cooked super-drugs of the future; a scant half decade after A Scanner Darkly was published, America was in the grip of a crack epidemic. Ghetto real thrillers like Deep Cover, Ricochet and Belly might not seem like science fiction, but their storylines all revolve around black folks hard at work on the high tech creation of heretofore unknown new narcotics, next generation cracks and methamphetamines. Deep Cover imagines a black and white team looking to create an ecstasy-like pill with no side effects, while in Belly DMX learns (from MTV News of course) of a perfected heroin. In Ricochet Ice-T isn't just Denzel's bad seed pal from back in the day, he's a high tech entrepreneur whose inner-city lab is a futuristic playground straight out of Tom Clancy, the street obviously finding new uses for technology long before the newest-latest reaches the suburbs.

I am not made of normal flesh10. Michael Jackson
What's there to say about MJ that hasn't been said? The "Thriller" video and the "Black or White" video (not to mention their associated games) are epic parts of the black science fictional canon, Michael's racial anxieties turning to the power of special effects to allow him to transform his black body in ways far more radical than the puny tools of plastic surgery allow. Few remember, though, that Michael also created a full-length feature called Moonwalker where the King of Pop enacted a slew of Afro-futuristic fantasies, culminating with his climactic transformation not into a white man, but a 400 foot tall Transformer.

About the Author: Gary Dauphin is Editor in Chief of Africana.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:07 PM | Permalink

July 27, 2006

south side proto-abu ghraib

Black folks are always already the guinea pigs for white violence, whether it's the war on terror or the coming war on Spanish speaking immigrants. From NPR:

Members of the Chicago police routinely tortured suspects, predominantly black men, during the 1970s and '80s, special prosecutors say in a new report -- but the crimes are too old to file charges on.

The report follows a four-year investigation into claims that former Lt. Jon Burge or detectives under his command tortured as many as 150 people. Some victims say they were suffocated with typewriter cases, beaten, and shocked with electric devices.

Some of the people interviewed for the report claim that torture led them to confess to crimes they didn't commit. Despite Burge being fired in 1993 for abusing a suspect, none of the alleged torturers has ever been criminally charged. NPR's David Schaper reports.

plus ca change, et cetera, et cetera

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:10 AM | Permalink

June 28, 2006

thank you, white jesus [updated]

[update below]

[updated again 07_09, just to clean a few typos up for the folks coming over from wayne's house. Because mom was really right about never hitting publish unless my knickers were clean.]


"Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me," he said of his walk down the aisle of the Trinity United Church of Christ. "I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth." Sen. Barack Obama [Full obama jesus confessional] [hat tip atrios]

I dunno about re-connecting white evangelicals and the Democratic party, but Obama's god-gambit is certainly the law of the land when it comes to the marketing of commercial products to African Americans. You see, African American mass media comes in two basic flavors - urban and god-fearing, and woe be unto any black media professional meeting with white folks who isn't ready to go gully or gospel at a moment's notice. Jesus and street are the ultimate aces in a black media worker's hole, our version of going nuclear when it comes time to show white executives that we "get it." Unless you are down for one or another opiate of the masses you will always be dogged by a whiff of inauthenticity, a taint that like BO or bad dandruff can permanently mark you as the kind of person who can't be trusted to effectively represent, say, TW or Viacom, among the coloreds.

This bit of wisdom was re-affirmed for me just yesterday over dinner with a group of reasonably successful black editors and writers in NYC. Everyone at the table worked for some or another white owned "African American" media outlet - magazine, publishing imprint, teevee, interactive - and each and every one reported that over the last few years their venues have gone increasingly god intensive with their coverage, profiling ministers, crafting faith editorial, hiring spirituality columnists, doing jesus diet-plans and so on.

This completely dovetails with my own experience interpreting and building pixellated drums for white corporations. Although I am 100% certified heathen (i.e., I was raised a Catholic) I can say with some pride that I've had a hand in building more than one money-changing, interactive temple honoring the various Protestant heresies. (Save the email, my Protestant friends; I largely (semi?) kid.) Why would I get into the god business, you ask? To make money, of course. For one thing, there is an endless supply of marketing "data" that suggests there is an "audience" interested in soul/spirit material. For another thing, assuring a room full of white men that black folks are just desperate for 24-hour streaming video of Creflo Dollar is a handy way to fend off other black executives vying for the job of interpreting and building drums. Most white executives can't actually tell the difference between good and bad plans for targeting the AA audience, and so their decisions ultimately reduce to referendums on the planner: do they like you? Do you make them feel comfortable or virtuous or cool?

And most importantly: Do you strike them as a "real" black person? Since there are all kinds of constraints on playing the gully side - age or gender, for example, vocal presentation or a clean driving record - playing the "I heart white jesus" card is what dicks in the internet business like to call "low hanging fruit:" a fast, easy and unimpeachable way to don the mantle of authoritative blackness. Because while one can conceivably trash hip hop to white people (it's a sign of how "grown" you are, how suburban Atlanta) no corporate negro in their right mind comes out against LaShawn Barber's lord and savior.

(Apropos of nothing, the phrase "low hanging fruit" always cracks me up. Ostensibly straight managers love saying that shit, and it brings to mind an image of nuts every time I hear it--nuts as in male sac. You collect all those yourself and on your own time, Kimosabe.)

I will confess to certain sensitivities about that last, crucial referendum question, though. When I look back, it really is kind of a miracle that I ended up doing the work I do, in that I don't fit the profile. I don't look right. My family roots are in Haiti instead of the American South. I went to the wrong, pre-dominantly white schools. I am definitely not trying too hard to keep anything particularly real. And yet despite those obstacles, I have not only had the privilege of spending a ton of white folks' money in order to reach AA audiences, I've also actually succeeded in reaching a fair number of a folks.

Thank you, Jesus!

UPDATE: But to bring it all back to Senator Obama's comments, white commentators who are keying in on Obama's rehash of the right's "Why Do Democrats Hate Religion?" meme are correct, but they're also missing a (likely minor) nuance re: the specific use value the god thing has had for newfangled black politicians like Obama. No multiracial, Harvard educated, liberal pol gets anywhere near being taken seriously as a "black leader" unless he can put in credible church time. This makes Obama's comments less a case of pandering than of habit. Obama is applying a previously raced strategem to the non-raced (or at least less raced) problem of getting folks who are more conservative than you are to vote for you. This mean's he is not so much making a case for a new politics as for for an old marketing, which in the end makes his use of the moral-hoo-haa verbiage somewhat cynical in my mind. But he may believe it. I know a ton of internet ad sales people who genuinely believe they are providing a service to the race every time they sell our eyeballs off to the higest bidder.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

June 16, 2006

the perfect world of bill jefferson (D-LA)


So first the Democrats, then the full House voted to remove alleged crook William Jefferson from his House Ways and Means seat.

William Jefferson is a terrible, terrible excuse for a Democrat/black elected leader, and I kind of hope he goes to jail, or at the very least stops being a member of Congress. (Check his crap voting record here.) His refusal to step down pending resolution of the charges against him is what the old, alliterative folks like to call "both dishonorable and disgusting," and the subsequent ugly racial spill-over is 1000% Jefferson's fault.

Still, the forcible removal of someone from a committee seat is unprecedented (Jefferson is not under indictment... yet), and calling for new rules that respect due process while maintaining the highest ethical strandards for legislators is hardly unreasonable. In a perfect world, events would have played out differently and the following things would have happened:

1 - William Jefferson would not be in the pocket of every corporate interest or shady lobbyist from here to Nigeria ('Natch.)

2 - William Jefferson would not be some kind of (alleged) crook. ('Natch.)

3 - Accused of/and or caught being an alleged crook, William Jefferson would immediately give his committee seat up "in the best interests of the blah blah, in order to clear my blah blah" But barring that, in the absence of an indictment or formal House Ethics Committee investigation, basic fairness would demand allowing dude to sit there until an actual non-news cycle driven process produced additional results or milestones. Calling on Jefferson to resign is one thing, and I think "Resign, Bill Jefferson!!!" or "Lose, Harold!!!" would make great bumper stickers, but refusing to create rules and then using the power of the House Democratic Caucus to send pre-election ethics "messages" ("Dems super good," perhaps?) seems a mite like prematurely throwing a brother off the boat for atmospheric effect.

4 - The Congressional Black Caucus would have modulated its support for Jefferson, murmuring about due process and putting calls for a better procedural approach to open-ended ethics problems like l'affaire Jefferson front-and-center. What the CBC would not have done is talk pointless, hyper-aggressive smack about how there was going to hell to pay for the Democrats with black voters if anyone dared to lay a hand on one square centimeter of Jeff's gigantic, bald forehead. Black voters are loyal, but we give shits primarily about the treatment of our own, local machine hacks. Everyone else's hacks are under-serving the community and are generally understood as poxes on the race.

By putting race over rules in its defense of Jefferson, the CBC is acting as if the Democratic Party wasn't a political caucus but instead was some kind of corporation with different (i.e., potentially illegal) ways of treating black and white employees. There is certainly some cynicism in pointing out the Democratic leadership makes decisions like seeking today's vote at its discretion and according to highly complicated political rules, but none of that obscures the fact that it's William Jefferson, not Nancy Pelosi, that has been accused of breaking the laws of the land.The language of discrimination, of workplace inequality, of disparate treatment is powerful language, and evoking that language to defend one of the worst lobbyist-loving fatcats on the Hill cheapens us all.

5 - And speaking of cheapening us all: In a perfect world, progressive white folks (or at least, Daily Kos members and Huffington Post posters) would stop all the whining about how just pointing out the race angle in this story is harshing their gate-storming mellow. Like it or not, this story has racial implications, so deal with it, Kimosabe, and don't give me bullshit about how "dealing with it" involves bending over or kowtowing to "special interests." I don't agree with Nancy Pelosi's hard-line stance, but when she makes it a point to do a tour of black press to explain her logic, she isn't kowtowing, she's doing the difficult work of maintaining a valued relationship with a key segment of her coalition. (The so-called netroots are always down for "hard work" except when it comes to building bridges with people of color. I wonder why.)

But all that aside, in a perfect world, I would know what to call Bill Jefferson. I know what to call corrupt black conservatives - a talking android, 'natch! - but what funny, vaguely science-fictional tag do you give a machine hack black Democrat?

Posted by ebogjonson at 1:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

it's hard not to boycott - it's like a full-time job, not to boycott

from CNN.com [hat tip boing boing]

Rappers have long proclaimed their love for Cristal, frequently mentioning the high-end champagne in songs and popping the corks of the clear, gold-labeled bottles in music videos and at nightclubs.

But the makers of Cristal don't seem to feel the same way about hip-hop -- at least that's how one rapper-turned-record executive sees it.

Multi-platinum rapper Jay-Z, now president and chief executive officer of Def Jam Records, has decided to boycott his once-beloved bubbly over comments from the managing director of the company that produces it.

Boycotting a champagne brand is a waste of time. How about a boycott of a telecommunications company for pushing overpriced, crap "urban lifestyle" MVNO's or undermining the free internet? (I really can't link to Black Commentator enough.) Or, if you're all mad about drinks and shit, how about boycotting Coke or Pepsi for putting profit over the health of schoolchildren?

The outrages above don't strike Jay as boycottable because they're not "racist" per se, they're just "business." And let he who has not made a quick dollar on someone else's suffering cast the first stone, right? This is a non-story, but hey: I'll link to it just the same. It's not every day I can slice off some "jay-z" searches without seeming like I'm going all sparkle and shiny.

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 16, 2006

tony snow don't know nothing about slurrin no tar babies

What frickin' morons. White House Press Secretary and ex-Fox News talking head Tony Snow on NSA wiretapping:

Having said that, I don't want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program... [Hat tip Crooks and Liars.]

Scholarly debates about folkloric origins aside, "tar baby" is pretty much not something that needs to be coming out of the mouth of a presidential press secretary. A communication professional's job to understand and navigate such nuances, but time and again we are asked to choose between believing these Republican mouth-pieces are incompetent or racist. I likely don't need to tell you where my money is...

Posted by ebogjonson at 1:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 4, 2006

adam kidron, nina hagen, the slits

Friend of friend Earl W. chose to ignore this website's handy comment functionality in order to write in that Adam Kidron, although responsible for "Nuestro Himno" and UBO, did also manage to produce a few good records by Nina Hagen and The Slits, to wit:

Your hit on Adam Kidron brought back memories, but I think you were a little harsh. Does the verdict of history have room for the fact that the man also produced key records by Nina Hagen and The Slits?

I dunno, Earl; you tell me. The way I see it, a stopped clock is right twice a day, too.

However, I always endeavor to be on the right side of history, so duly noted. Thanks for playing!

Posted by ebogjonson at 1:19 AM | Permalink

April 29, 2006

UPDATED: the day after immigrant-free day

The immigration rallies yesterday were a beautiful, inspiring thing. I have to confess to being a little unclear as to what happens next. Quotes from organizers like ""Now we have to reroute all of the energy and momentum " inspire a mild anxiety about agenda (good luck turning that speeding aircraft carrier around, dude), but overall the marches have impressed me as organized, spontaneous, live things, exactly the stuff of which (I imagine) movements are made. Thousands of people trekked up and down my Downtown LA street looking to get to the action on Broadway, and in several hours of watching I saw only American flags, a minor detail in the grand scheme of things that spoke to the discipline and effective message-management the march organizers had brought to bear. Black civil rights leaders have been trying to pull just these kinds of power moves for decades with nowhere near the results.

Perhaps owing to that aforementioned discipline, yesterday was also Nuestro Himno free (on my block at least), a victory for grown-adults everywhere. Although the reactions to the so-called Spanish National Anthem by Michelle Malkin and her ilk are disgustingly racist and absurdist, there really is no "there there" to this fracaso. Nuestro Himno is a lame crap "We are the World"-type confection, hardly worth anyone's time either way, hardly any kind of threat to the actual National Anthem.

(How do you threaten a song, anyway? The NA isn't a "protectable" state symbol or object like a flag, no one has framed this as any kind of copyright issue, and last I checked there was no official US language (yet), let alone a specific national singing language. Anyone who acts like the Dodgers are suddenly going to start playing it before games is either smoking crack or trying to incite a riot.)

As if this this bullshit story couldn't get any bullshittier, it turns out Neustro Himno is the work of producer Adam Kidron: Brit, Internet fuck-up and hustler-of-ethnic culture extraordinaire. If you're gullible, you may remember Adam Kidron as the man who killed Urban Box Office, but me, I remember him as an engineer of the biggest ethnic media con of all time. Either way, Neustro Himno is a cynical, bandwagon-jumping piece of piece of shit wrapped in corny race/identity rhetoric, just like UBO was. After a period of initial fanfare, expect a bunch of Latino people to wake up in six months realizing Kidron owes them money.


UPDATE: So it seems the Preznit had Jon Secada singing the National Anthem in Spanish at his inauguration. Since the Malkinites (can anyone spell "self-hatred"?) are all in snit about how the Dear Leader is betraying them on the immigration front, don't expect this revelation to have much of an impact on their thinking.

Posted by ebogjonson at 1:40 PM | Permalink

March 2, 2006

boston beef

Apparently some genius at Boston's alt-alt-weekly the Weekly Dig has a beef with my man the illhindu. The Dig's comments are super-trifling, but instructive. Seen as a stage in the evolution of the whiteboyus urbanus (or, at least, in the evolution of the legions of the whiteboyus urbanus loving), most of the Dig occupies that awkward place where white folks know that there's something closed and off (i.e., racist) about the working class enclaves they've escaped, but nonetheless still can't bring themselves to countenance any broader cosmopolitanism. Moving past the space of grudging acceptance strikes them as an endorsement of a rankly commerical hipsterism, or as a betrayal of roots that (depending on what kind of white ethic you are) can be as grim as they come. While (and this is the thorny thing) they're right in some respects, their stubborness indicates a typical arrest of their pyschic development. A few stages down the line (after moving out of Boston, for example?) they might realize that you really do have to kill/disavow the metaphorical father/nabe before you can move back, or at the very least, just look back with any real understanding or appreciation.

The Dig's complaint that the illhindu parsed people and arts in terms of their race is a common gripe among recently evolved (emancipated?) whiteboyus urbanus. Having just grokked to the fact (and genuinely, I believe) that people of color are just as human as they are, whiteboyus urbanus tends to be baffled and outraged by any subsequent suggestions by ungrateful coloreds that there are still real, discernable differences between the various us'es and thems. That kind of suggestion strikes them as a betrayal, and you can hear a hint of childish hurt in the howl: I did all this work, I stopped using all those bad words, I kept those dudes from beating up that gay guy, that girl I fingered in the back of the Middle East was Asian or Cape Verdian or something. So why, after all that, do you still insist on reminding me I'm white?

Why indeed, my brother, why indeed.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)