race race

22 11 2008

A national poll taken last week showed that 69 percent of Americans believe that race relations will improve with Obama in office. And I don’t blame this majority for their optimism: after all, didn’t you see all those people — black and white alike — crying their eyes out in Grant Park on November 4th? Didn’t you read all those heartening quotes from the little old ladies who never thought they would see the day? At last, the Constitution has been ratified, more than a century after the fact. At last, we are learning the true meaning of equal rights.

I’m among those pessimistic liberals who sees Obama’s election as symbolic more than anything else. This is an unpopular camp to be in these days, at least in my circle. My friends, students, and family members alike have told me to give the man a chance. He really might be the change we can believe in. Well, I’m certainly glad about the victory — elated, even. And I don’t think there’s anything all that WRONG with electing a symbol. He’s qualified, he’s articulate, he evokes the kind of hero-worship celebrity that the American people hunger for. And more than anything, I hope he will inspire people. I hope he will drive people to commit acts of sacrifice and goodness that stretch beyond their own lives. In that way, I think he could significantly change the world.

But will Obama improve race relations? That’s an interesting question.

I remember the worry that surrounded certain black activists during the election season. They were scared that if Obama was elected, white people would say, “Well, we’ve done it. We’ve evolved to be a truly colorblind society.” And no one is saying that outright, but you can tell that people are feeling it. People are letting their guard down a little bit.

It’s not just white people. My (all African-American) students have been spending the last three weeks saying, “I don’t have to do what you say anymore; I’ve got a black man as my president.” They don’t get it. They don’t understand that the racism in the education system is about the fact that they are often 20 years old and for some reason cannot read on a first grade level. Is Obama’s presidency magically going to fix that? Of course not.

And it’s interesting. We hear all these stories about grown black men moved to tears over the election, and they make us feel good, we understand them, they give us hope. But we seem to pass over the deep red items that seem like they should have come from a newspaper in the early 1900s: The second graders on a school bus in Boise, Idaho who were heard chanting “Assassinate Obama” over and over again; or the African-American church in Massachusetts that was burned down hours after Obama’s election.

In fact, worldwide, race-based threats and incidents have skyrocketed since the United States’ 44th president was announced. As reported in an article in the Times of London U.K.:

The phenomenon appears to be at its most intense in the Southern states, where opposition to Obama is at its highest and where reports of hate crimes were emerging even before the election. Incidents involving adults, college students and even schoolchildren have dampened the early post-election glow of racial progress and harmony, with some African American residents reporting an atmosphere of fear and inter-community tension.

But for me, the most frustrating story I’ve read was in the Times Picayune. It was nothing all that sensational or outwardly terrible. There are always going to be the ratty, nasty few who burn churches or hit people with bats; luckily, they are everywhere within the minority. I mean, the people who reported the story about the children chanting “Assassinate Obama” voted for McCain. Generally, we can tell right from wrong.

But in St. Tammany Parish, a small, mostly-white parish outside New Orleans (76 percent of the population here voted for McCain, and 13 percent of the demographic is African-American), frustrated teachers banned student from talking about the election. As the story reports:

In some cases, students said they were threatened with punishment if they talked about the election.

“She said that if we did talk about (the election) she’d write us up,” 14 year-old Briana Seals, who is black, said of a teacher at Slidell Junior High School.

In Covington, parent Dominique Elzy, who is black, said she complained to the principal at E.E. Lyon Elementary School after her 7-year-old son told her that he was made to stand along the playground wall after he shouted, “Obama won!” during recess.

I know it’s a small thing. But this is the kind of small thing that bothers me the most. Public school should be a place where students begin to understand the world around them. The students at my school should start to understand what it is that a president does, and the students in St. Tammany should be allowed to talk freely about what is going on in the world. I don’t care if discussions like these might make some people upset. That’s what this country is all about, after all: we talk about our differences, we discuss our options, we give each other the freedom to believe what we believe.

Places in this country that are stubbornly conservative have stayed stubbornly conservative, despite the overwhelming shift to the left sparked by this election. I think we ought to be wary of celebrating too soon. It is desperately important that we continue discussions on race, class, politics, what is going on in the world. This country is still so young, and it is going to take a long time to get to reach some kind of nationwide understanding as to what it all means.

I was pleased to hear Cornel West on Democracy Now last week talking on this issue in particular. On a the new presidential elect he had this to say:

Barack Obama is a symbol, but we’ve got to move from symbol to substance. We’ve got to move from what he represents in a broad sense—and it’s a beautiful thing to have a black man in the White House, we know that, and black slaves and laborers and other white immigrants built the White House. …But can we revitalize democratic possibilities on the ground with Barack in the White House? I think we can. We can put some serious pressure on him, and we can actually continue the democratic awakening among working people and poor people and push Barack in a progressive direction.

Seconded. I am interested in the forward motion of this country. I want the newspaper to make me happy. I want to see our school systems truly integrated, I want to see our laws fairly enforced, I want to see children whose opinions have stretched to outgrow the opinions of their parents. That’s the future of America. That’s what I have faith in.

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missing in action

28 03 2008

I kind of dropped the ball last week, and I’m sorry. There are many perfectly good reasons for it, though, and I thought I might detail them for you so you can feel like you’re more involved in my life.

news.
My life mentor, Salim Muwakkil, came to speak at Whitman this week, which was a big deal for me. Sometimes I wonder if I have opinions of my own or if I just steal all of my ideas from Salim’s columns. Here are a few of my favorites:

+ Nas: Whose Word Is This?: I think the best articles Salim writes are about hip-hop. Here, he writes about Nas’s crusade to reclaim the n-word, which Salim backs up:

Those who use the word with malicious intent may still be able to inflict pain, but they are brandishing a weakening weapon. The word is being so relentlessly denuded it may one day be effectively defused. Nas’ album continues that process.

+ Throwing Away the Key: Perhaps Salim’s biggest crusade is the institutionalized racism inherent within the American criminal justice system. The insane disproportion of African-American men in American prisons (when compared with the racial demographics of the population as a whole) is, as Salim pointed out many times, something the United States will one day look back on with shame. Although many political writers touch on this subject, none do it with Salim’s passion.

+ Paying Back The Slavery Debt: This is the most compelling argument I’ve ever read in favor of slavery reparations, which was a hot topic almost a decade ago. Unfortunately, the conversation has practically become extinct, despite the coherent reasoning backing the idea (Salim wrote about it again in 2006 as a means to fund the horrific disrepair left by Hurricane Katrina, but to little dispute or rise.)

+ Katrina’s Racial Wake: Written in the direct aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Salim tells us what we all know now about race in America. If only it hadn’t taken a devastating storm to teach us that. Almost three years later, we still haven’t rebuilt what was once one of America’s greatest cities; FEMA continues to screw up, lacking any real or drastic solutions; and so many people who lived in The Big Easy have not moved back home.

Salim’s talk last week was about Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia, which Salim pointed out was probably the most groundbreaking speech on race made in the last century (John Stewart said as much when he told his audience in a state of make-believe shock that a politician had spoken to the American people about race as if they were adults). For those of us who had felt Obama had grown perhaps a bit spineless in the bright lights of the presidential election, the speech was a breath of fresh air which addressed the racial purple elephant legitimately for the first time. Finally, we can take a step back and recognize that a black candidate for president does not mean we leave in a post-racial society.

music.
You Ain’t No Picasso posted a link to the entire downloadable Ghostface Killah remix album. And it’s sick.

MP3: Ghostface Killah: Charlie Brown (DJ Medhi Remix)


quotes.
I don’t know if you know this, but I’m the president of the Whitman branch of Action for Animals. I know. I’m a pretty big deal. And this week, adding to the excitement of Mr. Muwakkil’s visit, was Veggie Week. So here is a veg-friendly Albert Einstein quote (he was vegetarian btw) and a recipe you might want to try out.

Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

RECIPE:
If you haven’t visited the Post-Punk Kitchen online yet, you have to. It’s really, really good. The writer, Isa Chandra Moskowitz should probably be enshrined for proving that vegan food is often better than non-vegan food. If you don’t believe me, check out this cupcake recipe. I’m not kidding when I say that you will have a food-related orgasm (FRO).

RECIPE: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Frosting


more quotes.
ALSO this week, my boyfriend Alex Kerr turned 21 this week. So in honor of the biggest Rolling Stones fan I know (Alex), an excerpt from Wednesday’s interview with Keith Richards posted on golden fiddle. It’s one of the best interviews I’ve ever read.

Q: You should sell your body on eBay.
Yeah, I think so. Apparently, I do have an incredible immune system. I had hepatitis C and cured it by myself.

Q: How?
Just by being me.

Q: Do you regret not moisturizing your face?
No. I leave that up to other people.

Q: Ever think about getting Botox?
No one’s ever talked me into doing that. You’re lucky if you walk out of there alive. God bless you.

Q: Are you still cutting your own hair? You’ve done that all your life, right?
Yes. I did this bit here yesterday. [holds up a few strands on the side of his head] Also, I’m letting the dye grow out, since I’m not on the road. If the wife likes it, I’ll keep it.

miscellaneous.

Photobucket





election

1 02 2008

I’m burned out. Are a lot of people burned out? Does this happen every election year, or are we all just uniquely DONE with G.W. to the extent that don’t know what to do rather than turn the ’08 election into a veritable Us Weekly special edition? As the kind of person who eats up domestic politics like Perez Hilton eats up… well anything and everything in his sight, I’ve been profoundly disappointed with the extent to which election coverage has swallowed the news over the last five months. I guess that’s the primaries for you, but aren’t they a little early this year? They are? Huh. I thought so. I’m bored of it.

Particularly annoying:

Slate’s entire subhead on Election ’08, moved up to the top of the menu, as if it is the most important thing in the world.

Wonkette’s shift from being smart and politically witty on dozens of unique front to being just another ’08 election blog.

The New York Times dropping all under-the-rug stories about instiutionalized problems in America in favor of “Hillary cried” fluff.

So I’m just going to say this the once: Upsidedownagain.com officially endorses Barack Obama as the 2008 presidential nominee, based mostly on his good track record and Kennedy-like appeal. Take it and run.





cold blood

17 07 2007

Bob Herbert’s opinion piece in the Times this morning was about Senator Barack Obama’s speech yesterday at the Vernon Park Church of God, in which he addressed the increasing number of murders among Chicago school children in the past year.

Herbert’s column basically parrots Mr. Obama’s plea for greater governmental action as well as individual responsibility:

In a conversation yesterday, he stressed that the plight of young people struggling in tough environments demands both governmental attention and a heightened sense of individual responsibility. Both are essential.

It’s safe to demand more from the government while also demanding more from people as individuals. That really covers all the bases: No one want school children to die, right? And the liberals say George W. Bush needs to impose stricter gun regulation, and the conservatives maintain that if only those lower-income minority families would stay out of trouble and stop doing crack none of this would happen. Mr. Obama’s speech, as presented by Herbert, comes out dead in the middle. He’s a smartly political man, that Obama. You’d think he was running for president.

The bold choice Mr. Obama made yesterday, however, had nothing to do with the solutions he offered. While he did mention stricter gun control regulations (a hop topic for Democratic nominees in this election), he really did something marvelous just by bringing attention to a problem that is under-reported at best.

Last September I spent four hours in a community garden in the neighborhood of South Chicago on a day that was particularly quiet. The tiny garden, cultivated by willing volunteers in the neighborhood, was the largest area of green space for miles in any direction. The woman who showed us around the garden — a volunteer who had moved to Chicago from the West coast — was sad that day. One of the teenagers who often helped at the garden and spent every day after school in the corresponding community art center had been shot and killed the night before. South Chicago falls right between gang lines — incidents like that are common. One teacher told our group that no one ever showed up to school on Halloween because it was simply too dangerous to walk outside; even in the day time. As Bob Herbert aptly wrote, “Chicago is hardly alone when it comes to the slaughter of youngsters who are living in conditions that can fairly be compared to combat.”

I don’t write that as a scare tactic. The truth is, if you’re white and middle class, you’re not really in danger at all. Funny, then, how the news disproportionately reports stories with white victims and Black or Latino attackers. An extensive Berkeley study done in 2001 shows unequivocally that the news is designed to scare white people and antagonize Black people. Among the findings:

In nine of 12 (75%) studies, minorities were overrepresented as perpetrators of crime. Six out of seven (86%) studies that clearly identify the race of victims found more attention was paid to White victims than to Black victims.

Several studies found that Black victims are less likely to be covered in newspapers than are White victims, and one found that newsworthiness increases when the victim is White.

Homicides of White victims resulted in more and longer articles than homicides of Black victims.

The truth is, it is all too easy to pull a Bill Cosby and point fingers at the minorities of America. While there is something to be said of the Black conservative argument (hotghettomess.com, for instance, discusses these arguments intelligently, hilariously and at length), there is a lot more to be said for the fact that we can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars providing aid to the friends and families of the victims of the Virginia Tech Massacre, while pushing the real victims of the American system further down the drain.

Mr. Obama was correct to address an issue which puts modern American racism on the table, looks it in the eye, and demands it to explain itself. America, what are we doing for these families who do not deserve to suffer any more than you or I do?

The solution is not for the government to ban guns in the inner cities (as Obama would have it, incidentally) and expect the problem to fix itself. The solution is not for single mothers who are working two jobs to buy healthier juice boxes and more colorful hard-bound children’s books for their impressionable kin. The solution is for America to wake the fuck up, realize that we are not living in a country where all men are treated equally, and start the long and painful discussion that is embarrassingly overdue.