Monthly Archives: March 2009
Not to rag on Andrew Sullivan too much, but if I were looking for something that perfectly captures my problem with Sullivan’s policy analysis and his brand of conservatism, I would be hardpressed to finds something better than this:
But Obama is right to ask back: so what do you propose? On energy, I’d say a gas tax hike balanced by a payroll tax cut. On healthcare, I’m not so sure. It’s hard to oppose the upgrade in information technology as a cost-saver. I can see the merits of getting more people insured. As long as any reform is careful to prevent the private sector being squeezed out of business, I’m open to persuasion. But I’m more cautious on this than most, I guess. I value the private healthcare system in the US, that, for all its faults, has innovated medicines that have saved my life. Education? Sure – but only if there’s real accountability for bad teachers. [Emphasis mine]
Almost everything Sullivan turns his attention to is filtered through the lens of “what is best for Andrew Sullivan?” More often than not, especially in the case of his writing on conservatism, that makes for some fairly interesting reading. With regards to policy though, this approach is terrible. The measure of a health care system isn’t whether or not it generates innovations which benefit Andrew Sullivan, it is whether or not it adequately serves the majority of health care consumers. And at this point, it’s virtually incontestable that that’s the case. Sullivan might understand this on an intellectual level but it has yet to pierce through his elitism, which at times makes for very frustrating reading.
In fact, I’m bothered by Ross Douthat’s output for similar reasons. Both him and Sullivan have a “gated-community” outlook; “acceptability” is regularly defined as “what’s best for me.” And again, while this can make for compelling reading on issues which are quite personal, it also leads Douthat to – for example – describe our incarceration heavy approach to crime as “largely vindicated by events,” completely oblivious to the immense costs saidapproach has had on poor communities and communities of color (Which Ta-Nehisi Coates illustrates with a heartbreaking story of a friend gunned down by police). Indeed, it’s precisely because of their “gated-community conservativism” that I’m skeptical of their long-term project of revitalizing conservatism by means of turning its attentions to minorities, and working-class American. Doing so requires approaching policy concerns with a broader public in mind, and neither of them has really reached that point (though, in fairness, Douthat is making progress).
(photo used under a creative commons license from flickr user Mr. Greenjeans)
When Winslow Robertson, one of our regular and most thoughtful commenters, explained that his dislike of certain high-profile black intellectuals would require to much room to explain in comments, we offered him a chance to do so in a guest post.
I recently was offered a chance to elaborate on my loathing of “the black academic left”, which, I am sure, is a strange position considering the overall tenor of this blog. I was both honored and delighted at the proposition, giving me a chance to crystallize my ideas and also present them to a knowledgeable audience.
I traffic in words, so let me shorten the black academic left to “blackademy”. my use of the phrase “blackademy” is basically a stand-in for well known black leftist intellectuals. I am making sweeping generalizations using a very limited sample-size, so make of that what you will. Perhaps even more damning is that I am coming from a very anti-essentialist/pseudo-post modern position (think Kwame Anthony Appiah, who is my dude). If that sort of stuff is not your bag then you may want to stop reading right here.
Let me begin by stating unequivocally that, while I personally cannot stand the blackademy, this is not because they are some sort of barrier to racial progress or reconciliation. I am not hearkening back to halcyon days when black people and white people had small misunderstandings that they were working through, until Black Studies departments started cropping up in the 1960s and made those Negroes so damn angry and screwed everything up. To quote myself (how arrogant!) in another discussion on the Chronicle of Higher Education: “…Breitbart’s belief that Black Studies Departments hold inordinate power over the mythical, singular Black Community is insane. What, there are crowds outside of bookstores in Detroit lining up to buy the latest work by Dyson and do his bidding? Everyone in Baltimore or DC has a well-thumbed copy of Race Matters by West?… Dyson is not sitting in Georgetown coiling his mustache, stroking his cat, and telling a whole lot of black people what to do.” Rather my own position comes from being force-fed to read and deal with many of the stars of the blackademy and not really being able to discuss my disagreements and frustrations with my peers. In the grand scheme of things, I find the prison-industrial complex enraging, nonwhite educational inequalities unacceptable, etc, while Michael Eric Dyson is simply very annoying. Hell I like a lot of the blackademy’s positions on gender and sexuality, so they are not all bad.
I have a lot of salt to throw at these people, including points that would draw much of the Postbourgie readership in a massive argument (my belief in salvaging the idea of colorblind-ness being but one example… and yes, I have read a lot on it, including Bonilla-Silva’s stuff which was good, I just do not agree with it). Instead of throwing a truckload of salt, I am going to split this piece into an attack on these people’s identities and then an attack on their conceptual methods. I think that we all want to live in a meritocratic society that allows everyone both dignity and fulfillment, so it is the means by which the disagreement comes into play. More…
I first saw Mute Math in concert at The Knitting Factory, not long after I moved to New York. I was so excited, I think I might have completely lamed out and worn a band t-shirt. I knew there was a distinct possibility that I’d be the only Black person there and I didn’t care. My live experience with this band had been years in the making and I wasn’t going to flake because of any race-related awkwardness. The fact was: I knew I belonged there. I belonged there so much, my skin prickled with goosebumps when I walked into the venue.
That I love this band is a given. They’re great showmen. Paul Meany used to do handstands on an organ at their shows. Just because. Darren duct-tapes headphones around his head during sound check, because he’s such a spastic, frenetic drummer that they’d likely fly off if they weren’t secured. Roy has an unflappable cool whether singing back-up, plucking an upright, playing bass or banging drumsticks on the sides of speakers. Greg has an open, earnest face at which you can’t help but stare when he open shows with the battle cry at the beginning of “Collapse.”
These men are an electric spectacle.
But my affinity for them goes far beyond their showmanship or their lyrics or their instrumentation (all of which are remarkable in limitless ways). You see, like Desmond Hume is to Daniel Faraday on Lost, this band is one of my Constants.
Truly, I’ve told myself on many a day, “If anything goes wrong, Mute Math will be my Constant.”
In the years leading up to the fateful move to New York that brought me face to face with my favorite band of all time, I was going through a painful separation. From my church. That’s a long, different story and one I won’t belabor here, but by the time I started grad school, I wasn’t regularly attending any church and wasn’t in any particular rush to find one after relocating.
The fact was: even when I attended church three times a week, which I’d done for the majority of my youth, I’d always felt like a bit of a misfit. For starters, I wanted to be a fiction writer—and not the kind who writes morality plays or romances where some reprobate finds faith through his love for a righteous woman. I wanted to write stories about women fighting over the death of a crack addict they’d both taken as a lover or tales about a biracial Canadian who infiltrates a slave plantation or simply stories about girls who drink beer and don’t wait until they’re married. And that didn’t really bode well for the pursuit of holiness. More…
blackink: In the lull between March Madness this weekend, try to fit in a viewing – or a re-viewing, if you will – of Spike Lee’s hoops-themed drama He Got Game. It would have been easy to write off the film, originally released in 1998, as a farfetched mishmash of traditional themes: a boy grasping for manhood in the absence of his father; the neighborhood prodigy trying to leave the hood behind; the motherless children; the corrupted criminal justice system; Denzel Washington’s character awkwardly attempting to get laid in a movie; etc.
At the time, it seemed as if Lee went to ridiculous — almost delusional — lengths to create Jesus Shuttlesworth. The film seemed more satire than docudrama.
Of course, LeBron James came along a few years later. If anything, his emergence has redeemed the movie: LeBron is our living, breathing Jesus Shuttlesworth.
And because I have no shame, I’m eagerly awaiting this week’s episode of “For the Love of Ray J.” Apparently, Brandy will drop by to administer a lie detector test to the remaining contestants. Don’t judge me. Where I come from, this is considered riveting tee-vee.
quadmoniker: We’ve had a lot of posts recently about food and healthy eating, especially since the Obama’s decided to plant a garden to emphasize local, organic vegetables. All that’s great, though I suspect I’m not the only one who’s a little done with the food talk after years of reading Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan. Their work is necessary and important, and mostly imparts the simplest message; the closer food is to as it is found in nature, the better it is for you. Mark Bittman was a little late to the party, but, in a recent column in the New York Times, he supplies some really delicious recipes for savory breakfasts. I haven’t gotten up early to make them, but I can tell you they definitely work for lunch and dinner, too. They’re also not difficult to cook. I really suggest the wheat berries with sesame, soy sauce and scallions.
shani-o: This week, I found myself sitting in the car (and making myself late for work) while listening to an episode of Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. The episode was a conversation with Michigan State’s James T. Minor — a graduate of Mississippi’s Jackson State University — and Marybeth Gasman, a white professor at UPenn who’s written and contributed to several books about black colleges.
While the conversation did tread some old ground, it went further and deeper than most. It began with a mention of the financial difficulties faced by HBCUs, but as Gasman correctly pointed out, all schools are facing money issues right now. And while she acknowledged that blacks have historically had less access to wealth, she also faulted HBCUs for understimating the rate at which their alumni would give (black alumni apparently give at a higher rate than white alumni). The callers weren’t particularly insightful, but they did highlight how emotions about HBCUs often dominate the conversation about their efficacy. One caller believed HBCUs provided deeper bonds than majority institutions (not true), while another thought that growing up around black people meant she didn’t need the ‘nurturing environment’ HBCUs provide (a serious generalization).
Most fascinating was when Minor and Gasman discussed policy about how black schools are funded, as well as the incredible disparities in the numbers of black students being educated at HBCUs, and in what concentrations. For example: tiny Spelman College and Bennett College produce fully half of the black women who go into the graduate sciences. As Gasman said: “It tells you a couple things: one, we’re not producing very many black women going into the sciences, but it also shows you there’s something going on at those institutions that should probably be replicated at other institutions.”
And here is conservatism’s great problem with minorities. In an era when even failed moral activism is redemptive — and thus a source of moral authority and power — conservatism stands flat-footed with only discipline to offer. It has only an invisible hand to compete with the activism of the left. So conservatism has no way to show itself redeemed of America’s bigoted past, no way like the Great Society to engineer a grand display of its innocence, and no way to show deference to minorities for the oppression they endured. Thus it seems to be in league with that oppression.Added to this, American minorities of color — especially blacks — are often born into grievance-focused identities. The idea of grievance will seem to define them in some eternal way, and it will link them atavistically to a community of loved ones. To separate from grievance — to say simply that one is no longer racially aggrieved — will surely feel like an act of betrayal that threatens to cut one off from community, family and history. So, paradoxically, a certain chauvinism develops around one’s sense of grievance. Today the feeling of being aggrieved by American bigotry is far more a matter of identity than of actual aggrievement.