aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Monday, May 05, 2008
Still defending Wright
I’ve got a piece up at The Moderate Voice with a more in-depth articulation of my position on Jeremiah Wright.
The historical movement shift of emphasis from “freedom and justice for all” to “tolerance” frees us to be intolerant of others, in this case Wright. Once marginalized, we don’t even have to ever address or deal with the substance of any of his arguments.
MEANWHILE.... Big Tent Democrat is betting on an 8 point win for Obama in NC.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The NYTimes on Mr. Obama & Mr. Wright
It is an injustice, a legacy of the racist threads of this nation’s history, but prominent African-Americans are regularly called upon to explain or repudiate what other black Americans have to say, while white public figures are rarely, if ever, handed that burden.
Senator John McCain has continued to embrace a prominent white supporter, Pastor John Hagee, whose bigotry matches that of Mr. Wright. Mr. McCain has not tried hard enough to stop a race-baiting commercial — complete with video of Mr. Wright — that is being run against Mr. Obama in North Carolina.
If Mr. Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee, we fear that there will be many more such commercials. And Mr. Obama will have to repudiate Mr. Wright’s outbursts many more times.
This country needs a healthy and open discussion of race. Mr. Obama’s repudiation of Mr. Wright is part of that. His opponents also have a responsibility — to repudiate the race-baiting and make sure it stops.
It’s abundantly clear that if Barack Obama becomes president of these United States of America, he will have earned it.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Wright last night
There’s been plenty of commentary on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright but if there’s been as much reporting on the man, his church, and his work, I’ve missed it.
Bill Moyers was a good choice for Wright’s first broadcast interview with a journalist since the eruption over his incendiary statements and his relationship with Barack Obama. Moyers wears the liberal label proudly but he can also fairly claim that he brings on his program opposing viewpoints. He’s a journalist who truly believes his arguments are strengthened, not weakened, by a full airing of all sides of an issue.
Moyers is himself a man of deep faith. In 2006 Moyers presented the public television series Faith and Reason, a series of conversations with renowned writers exploring the question, “In a world in which religion is poison to some and salvation to others, how do we live together?” And his church in New York belongs to the same fellowship of the United Church of Christ as does Wright’s church in Chicago.
In the very same way that I was truly moved and lifted by Barak Obama’s speech on race in the aftermath of the uproar over his relationship with Wright, I was moved by Moyers’ interview with Wright. Even as I tell you that the first time I watched, after a long week at work, I fell asleep. Moyers does not have a particularly large audience. This interview will not get the audience it deserves. It will be excerpted and characterized and commented on and that will not do it justice. Just as I do not do it justice when I do that to it now. But neither can I let it pass into the ether.
So here is the Rev. Wright explaining embracing Christianity without giving up Africanity. His is not a race-based theology:
BILL MOYERS: So, when Trinity Church says it is unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian, is it embracing a race-based theology?
REVEREND WRIGHT: No, it is not. It is embracing Christianity without giving up Africanity. A lotta the missionaries were going to other countries assuming that our culture is superior, that you have no culture. And to be a Christian, you must be like us. Right now, you can go to Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and see Christians in 140-degree weather. They have to have on a tie. Because that’s what it means to be a Christian. Well, it’s that kind of assuming that our culture, “We have the only sacred music. You must sing our music. You must use a pipe organ. You cannot use your instrument.” It’s that kind of assumption that in the field of missions, people say, “You know what? We’re doing this wrong. We need to take Christ and leave culture at home. We need to learn the culture of people into which we’re moving, and preach the methods of Jesus Christ using the culture that we are a part of.” Well, the same thing happened with Christians in this country when they said, “You know what? Because those same missionaries who went south, they didn’t let us sing gospel music.” That was not sacred--
BILL MOYERS: They were singin’ the great Anglican hymns.
REVEREND WRIGHT: Correct, correct. And make sure you use correct diction. Well, the-- Africans in the late-- African-Americans in the late ‘60s started saying, “You know, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Even-- I was in Virginia Union, I was soloist at Virginia Union in the college, in the concert choir. We were not allowed to sing anything but anthems and spirituals. The same thing with the Howard University concert choir. The same thing with all the historical black choirs until ‘68. When King got killed, black kids started saying wait a minute. We’re not givin’ up who we are as black people to become-- to show somebody else that we—in fact, the music majors at Howard when I was-- teaching assistant at La Vern they said to the choir director there, “We’re tired of singin’ German Lieder and Italian aria to prove to you that we-- you know, we can sing foreign songs. But we have our own music tradition.” Prior to ‘68, there was no gospel music at Howard University. Prior to ‘68, there was no jazz major. The white universities are giving Count Basie and Duke Ellington degrees. We don’t even the jazz course. We don’t have blues. We don’t have any of our music on this black college campus. Because the missionaries had not allowed us to teach our own music.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
What to think of the guy? I always liked him though I didn’t really tune in. For example, I didn’t even know the details of the Pound Cake speech.
I do after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ terrific profile in the May Atlantic:
Cosby’s rhetoric played well in black barbershops, churches, and backyard barbecues, where a unique brand of conservatism still runs strong. Outsiders may have heard haranguing in Cosby’s language and tone. But much of black America heard instead the possibility of changing their communities without having to wait on the consciences and attention spans of policy makers who might not have their interests at heart. Shortly after Cosby took his Pound Cake message on the road, I wrote an article denouncing him as an elitist. When my father, a former Black Panther, read it, he upbraided me for attacking what he saw as a message of black empowerment. Cosby’s argument has resonated with the black mainstream for just that reason.
The piece goes on to parse the Black conservative political and intellectual tradition in America.
Cosby’s an important figure; I find him far more complex and interesting than he’s often been portrayed by those of us on the left.
I’ll be interested to watch discussion of the article.
RELATED: Romenesko points to Philly Mag Daily Examiner’s Stephanie Twining quoting Coates that his Atlantic piece only briefly mentions sexual assault allegations:
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I really am,” he says. “I think that is an extremely valid and fair criticism to make. I would certainly cop to that, because I think that’s a significant issue that has not received much media play. And if you want to say, ‘Well, Ta-Nehisi, you just had 7,000 words and you gave it about 40?’ Yeah, that’s probably problematic.”
How to improve black college grad rates? Try harder!
The Chronicle on a report by Education Sector, a Washington-based research group, that finds colleges already know how to close gaps in the graduation rates of black and white students. The problem is too few have been willing to take the steps needed to do it:
“While more research in this area is certainly needed, the biggest challenge in better serving minority college students is not creating new knowledge about how to help them; it is creating new incentives for institutional leaders to act on the knowledge that already exists,” says the report, written by Kevin Carey, Education Sector’s research and policy manager.
“If there is a single factor that seems to distinguish colleges and universities that have truly made a difference on behalf of minority students, it is attention,” the report says. “Successful colleges pay attention to graduation rates. They monitor year-to-year change, study the impact of different interventions on student outcomes, break down the numbers among different student populations, and continuously ask themselves how they could improve.”
Two of the models it cites are in the south. Florida State University and the University of Alabama, both of which now actually graduate a slightly larger share of their black students than their white students within six years:
In the case of Florida State, the report credits much of the university’s success to its decision to have a single office, called the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement, coordinate both its state and federally financed programs aimed at improving retention. In addition to being overseen by Florida State’s vice president for student affairs, the center also reports to the university’s vice president for undergraduate educationâ€”a recognition, the report says, of the reality that improving student retention is fundamentally an academic undertaking. And, whereas many colleges focus their retention efforts on freshmen, Florida State’s center monitors students’ progress all the way to graduation.
The report says the University of Alabama has been able to greatly improve its retention of black students by setting up an early-alert program that closely monitors the progress of freshmen during their first six weeks and seeks to ensure that those who are academically struggling get help quickly. The university’s placement of freshmen in “learning communities,” where groups of about 25 students take courses together, helps students by giving them access to individualized instruction and encouraging them to give each other academic support, the report said.
Other strategies cited by the report as effective are “intrusive” counseling-an approach that calls for counselors to actively watch over students and not simply wait for them to ask for help-and providing state-financed scholarships to academically promising low-income students to prevent money worries from complicating their educational pursuits.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Richard Thompson Ford for Obama Attorney General
Carlin Romano had a terrific review of Richard Thompson Ford’s THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse in The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday:
Ford’s overarching argument rides on his firm belief that there are fewer racists today, leaving a society of “racism without racists” - a legacy more than a subgroup.
That leads him to reject Kanye West’s “race card” attack on Bush. Katrina produced disproportionate black victims not because of racism, Ford argues, but because racist history left New Orleans’ blacks in lower-lying areas, with many too poor to afford cars.
Ford brings a similar independent angle to Cornel West’s complaint that racist cab drivers discriminate against black Americans. Ford largely attributes the decision to fear of putatively high-crime areas, a fear he suggests West shared by parking what West called his “rather elegant” car in a “safe parking lot” on the East Side, before cabbing to Harlem.
At this point, you may wonder: Is Ford simply another aggressive black conservative? He’s not - he considers himself an old-fashioned liberal, favoring integration and affirmative action, though less friendly to diversity quotas. He skewers figures from both the right and left.
Ford seeks, it seems, a sensible middle. He fears that a “national patois” of racism rhetoric blinds us to the real thing, stoking counterproductive results. Even worse, it stirs advocates of other allegedly oppressed interest groups, such as obese people, to model their complaints on laws forged to fight racism, a “racism by analogy” strategy.
You can surmise Ford’s attitude toward it from his tart phrase that “Fat is not the new black.” He questions, albeit fair-mindedly, the animal rights movement’s invocation of slavery and the Holocaust in its attacks on the meat industry, the gay rights movement’s analogies to laws against miscegenation, and the smokers rights movement’s allusions to Jim Crow.
Does Ford believe racism no longer exists in American society? Not at all. Accusations of racism should be kept to such cases. But social problems that stem from multiple factors call for an eye on the big picture, not single-cause reductionism.
Romano notes that Ford and Obama are both Harvard Law Class of ‘91 graduates and proposed that “on the evidence of this book, Ford would make an incisive attorney general.” What a nifty notion!
He goes on to conclude by wondering, “is there any academic out there ready to take on the ‘elitism’ or ‘bitterness’ cards? It might be nice to weed them from the deck before they catch on.” Hear! Hear!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
A surge of black & young voters for Obama in GA
Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel has released the race, age and gender breakdowns for the February primary.
- Democrats cast nearly 53 percent of the 2,007,544 ballots counted on Feb. 5.
â€” Within the Democratic primary, African-Americans cast 55 percent of the vote. This is the first time that’s happened. White voters made up just a tad less than 40 percent of the Democratic vote.
- White voters made up 96 percent of the Republican presidential primary vote.
â€” African-Americans cast 30 percent of all votes on Feb. 5. In November 2006, with gubernatorial candidate Mark Taylor at the top of the Democratic ticket, black voters cast only 24 percent of all ballots. This is the number causing Republicans to lose sleep.
- In addition to juicing turnout among black voters, the Feb. 5 primary showed signs of a shift in party preference among the state’s youngest voters. You read above that Democratic voters accounted for 53 percent of all ballots.
But 61 percent of voters 24 and under picked up a Democratic ballot.
- Young voters are notoriously unreliable, but young African-American voters - 24 and under - had a voter turnout rate of 26 percent. That’s remarkably strong. Turnout among young white voters was 22 percent - again, not too shabby.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Georgian recalls rooming with Michelle Obama at Princeton
Catherine Donnelly shopped at Kmart, settled into her dorm room and soaked up the Gothic stone buildings where, over the next four years, she would grow into her own woman.
But her first day at Princeton held a surprise, too. And Donnelly knew it would mean confronting the past.
The reason: One of her roommates was black.
“I told them we weren’t used to living with black people - Catherine is from the South,” Brown said. “They probably thought I was crazy.”
Today both Donnelly, an Atlanta attorney, and Brown, a retired schoolteacher living in the North Carolina mountains, look back at that time with regret. Like many Americans, they’ve built new perceptions of race on top of a foundation cracked by prejudices past - and present. Yet they rarely speak of the subject.
Barack Obama’s run for president changed that. When the Democratic senator from Illinois invited more dialogue on race last month, Donnelly and Brown, both lifetime Republicans, were ready.
But their willingness to talk isn’t a response to the candidate born to a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya. It’s more about Obama’s wife, Michelle.
She’s that roommate from a quarter century ago.
READ ON. To entice you further I’ll add these two lines… “[Donnelly] came out that first semester, chopped off her hair and partied with other lesbians on campus. Soon she, too, learned what it feels like to be part of the ‘other’ group, to be seen as a student second.”
Saturday, April 12, 2008
We don’t need a conversation… Let’s debate!
Barack Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia last month was said to be the beginning of a “national conversation” on the subject. I was among those saying it.
Conversation is all well and good but this ain’t it.
On Fresh Air a couple weeks ago linguist Geoff Nunberg wondered what, exactly, a “national conversation” is - and when we started talking about them:
The phrase is meant to conjure up that famous Norman Rockwell painting of a New England town meeting, where ordinary citizens gather as equals to hash over the affairs of the day.
Back in the 1930s George Gallup claimed that polling in the modern media had recreated those meetings on a national scale. As he put it, the nation is literally in one great room. Of course when you get that many people talking in one room, it’s hard to tell if everybody is paying attention. But by the time the phrase national conversation entered the language in the 1970s, the simulated public forum had become the model for a new bunch of media formats. Jimmy Carter staged the first ersatz town meeting in the 1976 presidential campaign, the format that later found its Pavarotti in Bill Clinton.
As it happens, that was also when Phil Donahue was pioneering tabloid talk TV and when Larry King launched the first national radio call-in show. There was something reassuring about the idea of everybody participating in a vast, extended conversation, particularly for a country trying to get past the angry divisions of Vietnam in the ‘60s. As the alternative therapies of the era were teaching us, no conflict was so rancorous that it couldn’t be dispelled by open conversation, so long as people were honest about expressing their real feelings.
True, we probably shouldn’t be calling these discussions conversations at all. A genuine conversation has no purpose. It’s about the pleasure of merely circulating. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott described conversation as an unrehearsed intellectual venture. It has no determined course; it does not have a conclusion. And it’s always a little disconcerting when somebody calls for a conversation about a specific topic. `We have to have a little conversation about all those calls to Toledo.’ It sounds like an appeal for an open exchange of views, but you know that most of the script has already been written. [...]
Actually, what’s usually most informative in all this is the debate about whether to have those conversations in the first place. If you really want to know what Americans think about race, punch “national conversation” and “Obama’ into Google News or one of the blog search engines. You’ll get an earful. And the subject being race, the tone often falls short of what you’d call conversational. If we ever did get to the point where we could really conduct a national conversation about race, we probably wouldn’t need to.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
The truth about racial sterotypes and spending
Bill Cosby has famously accused blacks of spend money unwisely, buying expensive sneakers rather than investing in their kids’ education and thereby reinforcing harmful stereotypes.
I have to admit that I have been unsure of what to think myself. I’ve tended to choose the more generous notion that such spending is in line with the nouveau riche, who just haven’t yet learned how best to spend their money, something I can also relate to.
Research by Erik Hurst and Kerwin Charles has definitively resolved my doubts. Chicago GSB Magazine:
The anecdotal evidence seems to be everywhere. “There’s a perception that if you go into poor black neighborhoods, the value of cars is much higher there than in comparable-even white, middle-class-neighborhoods,” said Hurst, professor of economics and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow. And, in fact, he found supporting data eight years ago with Kerwin Charles, Steans Family Professor in Education Policy at the university’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies and visiting professor for 2007â€“08 at the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the GSB. They stored the idea away while they worked (together and independently) on other studies about racial wealth differences.
When Cosby made his remarks in 2004, Hurst, who is white, and Charles, who is black, had been focusing on conspicuous consumption and the signaling value it communicates. The resulting study, “Conspicuous Consumption and Race,” shows that blacks and Hispanics spend 30 percent more than whites on clothing, cars, and jewelryâ€”an amount that averages out to around $2,000 per year per household. What’s more, blacks and Hispanics are spending less on education and health care and saving less money.
The reason? Status, according to Hurst and Charles. Because blacks and Hispanics have lower income on average, they’re more likely to be perceived as poor. Wearing nice clothes, driving a flashy car, and sporting fancy jewelry, they hope, shows other people that they are not poor.
What’s more, white people do it, too, their research shows.
In comparing spending data for whites in southern states with that of whites of comparable income in the Northeast, they discovered that southern whites outspend northeastern whites when it comes to highly visible, highly portable consumer goods that denote status. “People do care about their position in society and will work hard to signal their relative rank,” Hurst said. “If people don’t know your income and you want to show them, the way to do it is to consume visible goods. You see it among blacks, whites, and Hispanics.”
Friday, April 04, 2008
It’s long past time we all got to the promised land
More from the last speech:
You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?”
And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood--that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the Whites Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me, now it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say that threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Richard Thompson Ford on Obama’s speech
I’m off to New Orleans today. It will be my first visit since Katrina and I’ve chosen this occasion to read Richard Thomspon Ford’s, The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, in which he argues that to accuse President Bush and FEMA of racism in their response to that catastrophe is to play the race card and is counterproductive.
I’ll be as interested to read his argument that gay marriage is not like miscegenation. And I have argued here that what I saw in one of Ford’s own columns looked suspiciously like the race card to me. But, then, what do I know? So I wrote him. Twice. Alas, he didn’t write back. I guess he gets a lot of email.
Today he has a column in The San Francisco Chronicle on Obama’s speech on race. On this we agree:
This was a gutsy move: It’s possible that much of Obama’s support among white voters came from people who saw Obama’s candidacy as a free pass on racial justice issues. Instead of a free pass, Obama offers an arduous path, slogging through our unresolved racial anxieties. But he does offer a way through. Evoking the real progress toward racial justice this nation has made in the past, he insists that we can continue to improve if we are willing to engage each other and work though our irrational prejudices and anxieties.
This means that rather than simply repudiate, we must try to understand people whose views may shock and offend us. It’s a common politically correct trope today that whenever someone is “offended” - especially about an issue of race or gender - the conversation stops and the offending parties must repudiate their statement. But sometimes offending people is productive: Honest dialogue about difficult and often personal issues will necessarily involve some bruised feelings.
America’s racial injustices are a legacy of our nation’s explicit racist past. Today, many urban neighborhoods and schools are more segregated than during the Jim Crow era, the incarceration rate of young black men is much worse than during that era, joblessness in poor black communities is so bad that many people in such neighborhoods don’t know anyone with regular employment in the mainstream economy.
These inequities aren’t, by and large, the result of ongoing racism - they’re the legacy of the unaddressed racism of the past. But they are real social evils that provoke understandable anger among many African Americans. That anger is often misdirected: People look for a bigot to blame for social problems that began generations ago and wrongly assume that because some racial injustices are as bad as ever, white racism must be as bad as ever, too. But Obama was right not to simply reject that anger and the legitimate grievances that underlie it. [...]
Obama’s speech was the boldest and most direct statement on race relations by a major political figure in more than a generation. His willingness to take the risk of confronting one of America’s most volatile and intractable problems head-on is striking. It gives us sense of how Obama might use his considerable rhetorical skills not just to win elections, but, also to lead and to govern.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
If it don’t make you ache inside you got no feeling left in you:
Around 1910, [Mary Ellen Noone’s great-grandmother Pinky] Powell lived on a plantation in Lowndes County, Ala., where “she would wash and iron for this white woman.”
“One day the lady had thrown away some of her old perfume and nail polish that had dried up. So [Powell] took it home and added some ingredients to the nail polish that made it pliable,” Noone says. “Well, when Sunday came, she got all dressed up and painted her nails and put on that perfume and went to church.
“On Monday, she went to the general store, and when she was ready to check out, the white owner asked her, ‘What are you doing with your nails painted up like a white woman?’ He proceeded to pick up a pair of pliers and he pulled out my grandmama’s nails out of its bed one by one.”
Noone, 65, says she often wondered as a child why her great-grandmother’s nails were so deformed.
“Every time I look at enamel red finger polish, I have a flashback, and I see red,” Noone says. “I still have that anger inside of me that someone would have that control over one person just because they wanted to feel like a woman.”
Friday, March 21, 2008
Jeremiah Wright - in Macon; on Gays
Wright’s in the news in Macon for a planned October church* visit just days before the November election:
“I’m sort of echoing what Barack Obama said, I’m not going to disown him, no more than I would disown America,” [St. Paul AME Church Pastor Ronald] Slaughter said.
During Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s inauguration, he credited Wright for giving him vision for moving the city forward during an earlier visit to Macon.
Mayor Reichert is white:
“He may say some provocative and insensitive things,” Reichert said Thursday. “But overall his message is wonderful!”
Some accuse Wright of making racially inflammatory and unpatriotic remarks, but both these men will tell you people are missing the bigger message.
“I think we need to focus on the body of work that this man has accomplished, not on 30 second sound bites,” said Slaughter.
“It’s bad enough to take 30 seconds out of 1 sermon and concentrate on it,” Reichert said. “What do you mean? What did you say before that? What did you say after that? How does it all fit in? It’s even worse when you select this out of 20 years worth of sermons.”
As a leader, Wright defied convention at every turn. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last year, he recalled a time during the 1970s when the UCC decided to ordain gay and lesbian clergy. At its annual meeting, sensitive to the historic discomfort some blacks have with homosexuality, gay leaders reached out to black pastors.
At that session, Wright heard the testimony of a gay Christian and, he said, he had a conversion experience on gay rights. He started one of the first AIDS ministries on the South Side and a singles group for Trinity gays and lesbians-a subject that still rankles some of the more conservative Trinity members, says Dwight Hopkins, a theology professor at the University of Chicago and a church member.
Huckabee right on Obama and Wright
I have been talking to students about the Obama speech on race all week.
A mixed bag, to say the least. No easy summing up except to say that for a variety of reasons I’ve not been able to sit with any of them through the whole speech (and I wouldn’t say those I’m working with are particularly eager to—it’s long by YouTube standards). They are far more offended by Wright than I’d have expected of a generation that listens to offensive rap lyrics, plays games like grand theft auto, and watches some of the vulgar, offensive and violent movies and cable shows that are out there.
I was as surprised to find at least one religious conservative who votes Republican and emphatically stressed that she is not an Obama supporter say that just because the candidate’s preacher said something controversial, Obama should not be held responsible for the words of his preacher. She seemed to take offense at the idea that she would be held accountable for every word her preacher might utter. It makes me wonder how many other people there are like her around here.
I wonder that especially as I read the transcript of Mike Huckabee’s appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” from Wednesday. You’ll remember that Huckabee was the Republican who carried Georgia in the February primary and that he is himself a Southern Baptist preacher. His topic was Obama’s speech:
“Obama has handled this about as well as anybody could. And I agree, it’s a very historic speech. I think that it was an important one, and one that he had to deliver. And he couldn’t wait. The sooner he made it, maybe the quicker that this becomes less of the issue. Otherwise, it was the only thing that was the issue in his entire campaign. And I thought he handled it very, very well. [...]
“As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say â€˜That’s a terrible statement’ - I grew up in a very segregated South.
“And I think that you have to cut some slack - and I’m going to be probably the only conservative in America who’s going to say something like this, but I’m just telling you - we’ve got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie, you have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant, you can’t sit out there with everyone else. There’s a separate waiting room in the doctor’s office. Here’s where you sit on the bus.
“And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment, and you have to just say, â€˜I probably would, too.’”
Emphasis mine. This may be the first time on this blog that I favorably quote Mike Huckabee.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
One (Singular) Advantage of Being Black
Jonathan Chait makes an interesting point:
[Obama] may be liberated to operate at a high intellectual level in public because he’s black. I’m not trying to be Gerry Ferraro here; let me explain. Candidates like John Kerry and (even moreso) Al Gore were also very smart, but constantly forced to dumb it down lest they be tagged as out-of-touch elitists. Since the egghead image is so at odds with the prevailing stereotypes about African-Americans, he has much less to fear by speaking at a high intellectual level.
Of course, Obama is extremely intelligent—as smart as, or smarter than, any presidential candidate I can ever remember. Yet I don’t think a brilliant white Constitutional law professor could pull it off. Being black obviously disadvantages Obama in all sorts of ways. But this is one way where it helps.
And while at The New Republic, John McWhorter responded to the speech in a guest post there:
For a light-skinned half-white Ivy League-educated black man to repudiate, in clear language and repeatedly, the take on race of people like Julian Bond and Nikki Giovanni is not only honest but truly bold.
A certain strain of black bloggers will be blowing their tops for a week, while some black writers of mature years will remind us in editorials that Wright’s vision of America is more present-tense than Obama’s speech implies. [...]
Obama knows that anti-whitey sermons are, in 2008, Sunday morning’s gangsta rap--infectious confection.
I’ve been wondering whether the dust-up over Obama and Wright was mere political hardball or based on actual misunderstanding of black community dynamics. Obama has now clarified the latter, to an extent that ought to satisfy any reasonable listener.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
It must be seen in its entirety. It lived up to my every hope. I will watch with groups of students in the coming days and discuss it again and again. The full text is in the extended entry. I urge you to please watch. No excerpt can possibly do it justice.
Standing with Obama
As Obama faces this toughest challenge, I stand with him.
I have wanted him to talk race for a long time. I’m sorry this is how it came about; but better now than later.
He’s been toughened enough in recent days. I believe the man can do it. And having done it, maybe this will lift us out of the muck the Dems have been in these last few weeks.
Doug’s a Temple grad; PA is my childhood home; we love Philly.
I will watch with the first real hope I’ve had in way too long.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Ferraro was wrong. But Kaus makes an interesting point.
I normally side with Sullivan in the running feud he’s got going with Mickey Kaus, but I was no fan of Sullivan’s big, widely applauded Atlantic piece making the transformational case for Barack Obama.
This morning Kaus quotes this passage from Sullivan:
What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial-it’s central to an effective war strategy. The war on Islamist terror, after all, is two-pronged: a function of both hard power and soft power. We have seen the potential of hard power in removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. We have also seen its inherent weaknesses in Iraq, and its profound limitations in winning a long war against radical Islam. The next president has to create a sophisticated and supple blend of soft and hard power to isolate the enemy, to fight where necessary, but also to create an ideological template that works to the West’s advantage over the long haul. There is simply no other candidate with the potential of Obama to do this. Which is where his face comes in.
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man-Barack Hussein Obama-is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
His face. Hello! Mrs. Ferraro? If one of the “formeost” things Obama offers voters is the “face of a brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia, etc.” doesn’t that mean “he would not be in this position if he were white”? If you like Obama because he might “rebrand” America to the world--well, he wouldn’t accomplish that simply by having his election televised, as Sullivan suggests he would, if he were white, would he? Or think in purely domestic terms. If Obama were white, he wouldn’t embody hopes of a post-racial future. Duh! That’s part of his appeal. It seems obvious. Why does Obama dispute it? Why isn’t Ferraro allowed to acknowledge it? Is it OK for Obama’s “face” to appeal to egghead Atlantic subscribers but not ordinary Wyoming caucusers? Or was Sullivan being “offensive”” and “ridiculous” too?
I also think it’s pretty clear that Sullivan-style logic is at the core what Ms. Ferraro meant when she said “[he] happens to be very lucky to be who he is” and that “the country is caught up in the concept” of his presidency. She’s not arguing that he’s where he is because black voters are caught up in identity politics--more the opposite, that white and black voters alike are caught up in the idea of ending identity politics. Nor does she does she seem to be arguing it’s wrong to be at least temporarily “caught up” in this concept. But the concept wouldn’t be there if Obama was white.
Clickthrough for 1… 2… 3… P.S.s! Here’s the 2nd, “Would Obama be in this position if he weren’t half-white--i.e. if he didn’t have one white parent? That’s a more difficult question. If embodying the post-racial future is an advantage, it would seem to help--but that’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?”
For all we talk about race, for all we say we want to, for all we say we must, we don’t! we can’t! we won’t! We want to point fingers.
And look at me… I just did it too!
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Race Card crackles with insight
I just ordered THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse from Amazon. I’ll be reading it on a Spring Break trip to New Orleans in a couple weeks.
It’s reviewed in tomorrow’s WaPo:
When Ford delves into the intricacies of post-racist America, the book crackles with insight and pierces the pieties of left and right. His discussion of employment discrimination doctrine is a masterful primer for the general reader, coupling a cogent critique of “color-blindness” with a provocative argument—explored at length in his 2004 book Racial Culture: A Critique-- that workplace bias against seemingly race-specific behavior is not necessarily racism. A neutral corporate grooming code, for example, may keep African American women from wearing cornrows, but to Ford, a hairstyle has to be regarded as “freely chosen behavior.” To say it’s a racial trait would make any “failure to tolerate nonmainstream norms and practices . . . racism-like bias” and would destroy the political consensus behind anti-discrimination laws.
Similarly, he defends affirmative action with an old-fashioned commitment to integration and the assimilative function of a university education, rather than the “questionable and convoluted justification” of diversity.
The legacy of Jim Crow is more pervasive than Ford allows. He suggests, for example, that the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina can be attributed to President Bush’s narrow political self-interest, not to his racism. But Ford doesn’t address the modern Republican Party’s calculated strategy to become the party of segregationists and white Southerners. Similarly, if discrimination against Spanish speakers seems distinct from race in the abstract, language was an unsubtle proxy for race in segregated schools, workplaces and jury pools in the American Southwest for much of the 20th century. But this history only heightens the urgency of today’s problems, to which Ford, in his pragmatic and passionate effort to redefine civil rights, brings a jolt of clarity.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Talk like Barack
I have a friend who’s a speech therapist in the public schools here. He says he hopes that soon we have an articulate president. He says Condoleezza Rice articulates her words. And his kids are proud to enunciate like Barack. But Bush…
Thursday, February 28, 2008
What is intelligence?
You’ll remember that in a brilliant piece in a December New Yorker, What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race, Malcolm Gladwell looks at the work of James R. Flynn, a social scientist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, to convincingly refute the arguments of the “I.Q. fundamentalists.”
James Flynn spoke at the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA) on December 18, 2007. That speech was posted to UChannel last week:
The ‘Flynn Effect’ refers to the massive increase in IQ test scores over the course of the twentieth century and the term was coined to recognize Professor Flynn’s central role in measuring and analysing these gains.
Flynn’s work addresses a fundamental question regarding the IQ gains observed. Do they suggest that that previous generations had serious learning difficulties and that the human race is becoming more intelligent? Flynn argues that this is the wrong interpretation, and that while these IQ scores are real, they should be attributed to the fact that the way we think has changed.
His new book investigates what it is about our minds that differ from those of our ancestors a century ago. He also discusses how we can enhance our knowledge of intelligence, how we can increase our intelligence, and what must be done to build on IQ gains, so as to develop the wisdom needed to deal with the problems of the 21st century.
The speech is amazing! I just finished and I highly recommend it.
Flynn believes the brain is a muscle and the way to improve it is to exercise it. There’s no tricking it; no fooling kids into loving ideas if we don’t love them ourselves; they’ll see through us.
Here’s one quick quote completely out of context:
The lesson is interventions are important but there’s no quick fix. If you want a more intelligent population you’ve got to improve the schools, improve the universities and encourage people to fall in love with ideas.
RELATED: Gladwell also discussed his article in an appearance on The Colbert Report.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Racism as pond scum reprised in the Dallas Morning News
It might settle to the bottom if left alone, but it can also be whipped up into a froth. And that’s what [Hillary Clinton’s Hispanic pollster Sergio] Bendixen was really doing.
The column, titled Race card: Play it at your peril, is in The Dallas Morning News today. So, again this Sunday, I’m back at it.
Ford says Bendixen was pond scum playing the race card when he told a reporter last month that Latino voters haven’t generally “shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.”
...by insisting that Hispanics are anti-black bigots and insinuating that black politicians won’t serve the interests of Hispanic constituents, Bendixen may well have helped inspire the racial tensions he purported to describe. African Americans have had their worst fears of anti-black racism confirmed by a supposed expert on Latino opinion; Latinos, told that their community rejects black candidates, may well assume that this must be so for a good reason—such as African American prejudice against them.
Now, I have to tell you, I have not yet read the book but I have been looking forward to it since I learned of it back in September. I appreciated Ford’s view of the Jena 6 complexities and its very provocative title, The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, promised a fresh perspective.
Unfortunately, I’m thinking I’m seeing the same old tired argument. And Ford is the one trotting it out in this column. His example, Bendixen the player whose bluffing, made a benign statement into which Ford has definitively interpreted Bendixen’s insistence “that Hispanics are anti-black bigots”???
I guess I need to be African American to pick that up. Or have a Harvard Law degree. (Or is that just my bias talking? There is, of course, bias everywhere isn’t there?)
This is now my third try and, still, what I see is too confident a conclusion based on too little evidence boosted with plenty of journalistic qualifiers.
I will be reading the book over spring break. In the meantime, I make due with reviews. But what I’m beginning to wonder is whether I’ll agree with its thesis.
As I understand it, I like Ford’s notion of a move away from an emphasis on “diversity” and towards “integration.” Among those areas where we may differ is how to get there.
I read, for example, that he cautions against comparing gay marriage to miscegenation. But miscegenation and same sex marriage simply do share attributes. Sure, there are differences. There are also similarities.
The question, then, is which to emphasize. I find a benefit, for all of us, in empathy. In finding the shared human experience and values, the common ground and understanding, that bring us closer together.
If the goal is integration, the way there is through our common humanity, not our unique pain.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Moving on to Mississippi, you’ll remember that Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks served more than 30 years in a penitentiary there for crimes they didn’t do. Radley Balko’s been doing a bang-up job following these cases when few others have.
West still stands by his testimony. He’s now saying that even if Brooks and Brewer did not commit the two murders a third man has since confessed to committing, his testimony wasn’t incorrect: Brewer and Brooks still bit those little girls. To believe West, you’d have to believe that in two cases that occurred at about the same time, two men living just miles apart coincidentally each repeatedly bit a little girl in their care just hours before a third man unknown to either of them abducted, raped, and killed said little girls.
Alternately, you could believe that Dr. West is a quack who makes shit up. I know which theory my money’s on.
Balko follows up with another piece this week in Slate in which we learn something of the man who performed the autopsy and hired Dr. West to do the bite analysis. He’s Dr. Steven Hayne who has come to monopolize Mississippi’s criminal autopsy system over the last 20 years. Balko says that system is in disrepair, that state officials have had plenty of warning that something is wrong, and they’ve steadfastly refused to do anything about it:
According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a doctor should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. Dr. Hayne has testified that he performs 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies per year. Sources I spoke with who have visited Hayne’s practice say he and his assistants will frequently have multiple bodies open at once, sometimes smoking cigars and even eating sandwiches while moving from corpse to corpse. They prefer to work at night, adding to their macabre reputation.
Hayne isn’t board-certified in forensic pathology, though he often testifies that he is. The only accepted certifying organization for forensic pathology is the American Board of Pathology. Hayne took that group’s exam in the 1980s and failed it. Hayne’s pal Dr. West is even worse. West has been subject to exposÃ©s by 60 Minutes, Time, and Newsweek. He once claimed he could definitively trace the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich left at the crime scene back to the defendant. He has compared his bite-mark virtuosity to Jesus Christ and Itzhak Perlman. And he claims to have invented a revolutionary system of identifying bite marks using yellow goggles and iridescent light that, conveniently, he says can’t be photographed or duplicated.
Mississippi’s system is set up in a way that increases the pressure on forensics experts to find what prosecutors want them to find. The state is one of several that elect county coroners to oversee death investigations. The office requires no medical training, only a high-school diploma, and it commonly goes to the owner of the local funeral home. If a coroner suspects a death may be due to criminal activity, he’ll consult with the district attorney or sheriff, then send the body to a private-practice medical examiner for an autopsy. The problem here is that a medical examiner who returns unsatisfactory results to a prosecutor jeopardizes his chance of future referrals. Critics say Hayne has become the preferred medical examiner for Mississippi’s coroners and district attorneys, because they can rely on him to deliver the diagnoses they’re looking for.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Obama: If not him, who? If not now, when?
None of the presidential candidates has proposed a policy response to the real racial problems facing our society: Many of our nation’s cities are as racially segregated as they were in the era of Jim Crow, many minority neighborhoods are crime-plagued and bereft of opportunities for gainful employment, and one in three black men between 20 and 29 is in prison, on parole or on probation.
Thompson Ford has an important book out, The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, that argues that race relations, in our post-civil rights era, are more complex and contradictory than those of the unambiguously white supremacist past.
I said on the occasion of his OpEd and I ask again:
Looking for coded racism is tricky business; kind of like Bush’s war on terrorism—once we start looking we can find it anywhere. We ought to be careful.
I need to read the book to learn the nuance of the argument. I’ve seen the interview, read the first chapter and reviews and easily agree with what I understand of its central thesis. But it occurs to me that the Race Card can be flipped. We might reasonably ask why is Obama not addressing these very same racial issues that [Thompson Ford] describes in [his] piece.
Yes, I agree, no candidate “has proposed a policy response to the real racial problems facing our society.” By by that very same logic, shouldn’t it be Obama? Not solely because he is the black candidate—though he is—but because he has that absolutely terrific record in Illinois.
Even better, we know from his writings where he stands on so much of this. If he won’t tackle these issues in the relative safety of a primary fight, can we expect him to do it in the general election? And after he is elected, will he do it when hope turns to gritty Washington reality?
Why, in this vitally important presidential primary race, are we talking about the race card and not about issues of racial justice?
Now, I’m just not as swept up in hope as the rest of this nation. Call me cynical or call me whatever you want, but look at my blog in the last week and you’ll begin to understand why…
I’m mad as hell that not only did a Mississippi man, Kennedy Brewer, spend 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t do, he was held in jail for several years after the DNA revealed his innocence as prosecutors decided whether to retry him. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the whole damned story was not news!
Does anyone want to hazard a guess as to the race of Mr. Kennedy Brewer?
Look at my post from last, evidence of malice. A 17 year-old Atlanta boy—again, want to guess his race???—in a case where the prosecutor did not believe the evidence justified a murder prosecution, is being tried as an adult. For murder. Why? His DA boss ordered it!
Now, I have been convinced by the evidence that there are indeed malicious unlawful convictions and that this is something that must be addressed in our criminal justice system. But I do not believe that is the sole cause for the gross disparity in the number of African Americans in our prisons.
I sit here writing from this rural Georgia community that is far more integrated than the Manhattan neighborhood I lived in for 25 years, in the South that has a rural black population unheard of in the North. I note that my black neighbors here voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers, and I ask, if he won’t raise these issues, if he won’t do something about it, who will? And if not now, is he just waiting until after he is elected?
Every person I admire supports him: Larry Lessig, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Cory Booker, and pretty much every New York friend (some of whom have been uncharacteristically nasty towards me for my support of Hillary) to name just a very few.
But they can’t tell me how precisely this change is going to work. Obama’s going to get to Washington and face a corporate, bureaucratic, media and government establishment all enamored with change—but I’m guessing it’s change for someone else they all want and I will be interested to see what change for themselves they are willing to make.
I promise you my vote will be for Obama; he has my wholehearted support and all my hope. It looks to me like he’ll need it. Because the change I want, the change I need—good old equality and social justice—looks to me like it’s going to be just as hard to achieve tomorrow as it was to achieve yesterday.