Category Archives: History

Defining ‘We.’ Thoughts on Capitalism: A Love Story and Related Rants.

By Black Scientist.

So it’s no secret that there is a default of whiteness in normative culture. That is: unless otherwise noted, people are white. I think this default can be challenged in communities that are predominantly of color on an everyday level (telling stories with an anonymous “she”), but when we engage with the popular sphere (movies, tv characters, in other words “visible people” in narratives created by others and passed down to the masses), people are – generally speaking – expected and assumed to be/imagined as white.

So, knowing this, why was I still disappointed in the white-middle-class-ness that tainted the narrative of Michael Moore’s capitalism: A Love Story? Is it because he’s touted as a progressive filmmaker, and to interrogate capitalism without also challenging the normativity of whiteness is to basically suck at understanding the intersections and complexity of oppressions? A shortcoming that results in merely symbolic and short-falling attempts at being subversive. because he knows about other stuff, is he supposed to also know how to make a film that doesn’t indulge in the usual habit of seeing things through a white historical lens?

The problem i had with Moore’s film was that the “we” he constructed often translated into white middle class people. and this wasn’t something I can pretend was glaringly obvious, because it was mostly subtle. noted in the use of “we” and the implication that follows of who “they” were. More…

Tracing Michelle Obama’s Roots.

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The Robinsons.

The New York Times conducted a study on Michelle Obama’s ancestry.

In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.

In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.

In the annals of American slavery, this painful story would be utterly unremarkable, save for one reason: This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, marked the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House.

Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the first lady.

Viewed by many as a powerful symbol of black advancement, Mrs. Obama grew up with only a vague sense of her ancestry, aides and relatives said. During the presidential campaign, the family learned about one paternal great-great-grandfather, a former slave from South Carolina, but the rest of Mrs. Obama’s roots were a mystery.

Now the more complete map of Mrs. Obama’s ancestors — including the slave mother, white father and their biracial son, Dolphus T. Shields — for the first time fully connects the first African-American first lady to the history of slavery, tracing their five-generation journey from bondage to a front-row seat to the presidency.

The findings — uncovered by Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and The New York Times — substantiate what Mrs. Obama has called longstanding family rumors about a white forebear.

The White House bit notwithstanding, this could be  like the family history of most of the black people in the States.

Black Republicans and the Specter of Tokenism.

(x-posted from U.S. of J. and the League)

The whiff of tokenism notwithstanding, I’m actually glad to see that there are credible black Republicans angling for high-level political office.  I’ve long argued that it would be good for black people, and great for the country, if Republicans took the African-American community seriously.  For starters, greater black representation within the GOP would probably force our political culture to actually acknowledge the huge amount of ideological diversity within the black community, and increase the likelihood that those views would find substantive representation in the halls of power. I know I’m not speaking alone here when I say that I am regularly annoyed/driven to a blind murderous rage by the fact that our political culture treats black people as this liberal, ideological monolith, which – despite our heavy support for the Democratic Party – is really not the case.

That said, there is a definite aura of tokenism surrounding these guys.  After all, they aren’t just the lone black faces in a lily white party (indeed, a party that takes “lily white” to its Platonic heights) – they are the lone black faces in a party that routinely and casually exploits racial fear and paranoia for political gain, and whose most prominent representatives in the media are race-baiting demagogues.  More importantly, and as Adam recently pointed out, the GOP has yet to really grapple with its ugly racial history, and in fact, hardly acknowledges it (Ken Mehlman’s brief words in 2005 don’t really count).  By contrast, Democrats – from the  Civil Rights Act onwards – have devoted a hell of a lot of political capital to atoning for their ugly racial history.  Indeed, the 1960s are something of an inflection point in that regard: at the moment that Democrats committed themselves to racial liberalism, Republicans embraced the disaffected white southerners left behind in the march towards greater political equality.

Tokenism, as I see it, has less to do with numbers and everything to do with self-respect.  Insofar that any of these guys are tokens, it’s in their willingness (and in the case of Michael Steele or Ken Blackwell, enthusiasm) to be used as props for a party desperate for cheap grace, and eager to absolve itself of its sins without doing the hard work of atoning for them.  That said, and assuming they want to reform the GOP from the inside, I wish them the best of luck.  They’re going to need it.

Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: The joke’s on who?

So where do we go from here? President Obama has been portrayed as a monkey, witch doctor, various types of pimps and now The Joker. Certainly, there’s more variations on this general theme.

But I really want to know, what’s the endgame? Is this supposed to advance some principled political opposition? Or merely “to get their country back”?:

As always (and a little earlier than usual), here’s your PostBourgie-approved weekend reading material:

To separate fact from fiction in the health care debate, let Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact help you wade through the misinformation. (Blackink)

Also, you think you have health insurance? You got another thing coming, homie. (G.D.)

Nate Silver crunched some numbers to see if the Hispanicness of a state made its Republican senator more or less likely to vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The results were inconclusive. But he did find a correlation between their votes and the way they were rated by the NRA. (G.D.)

Former Bush Administration official – and super hawk – John Bolton in a nutshell: “You know, you mentioned somebody who heavens, if President Obama walked on water, he would say he couldn’t swim.” Spot on, Hillary Clinton. (Blackink)

Well gosh. This piece on RaceWire on crowding in California prisons seems almost prescient, in light of the rioting that took place over the weekend in Chino. (Shani-o)

Let’s hope this piece on the spike in heroin arrests is a fake trend story. (quadmoniker)

Black-on-black violence: Someone named Dr. James Manning for Louisiana repeatedly refers to President Obama as “Mack Daddy,” claims that he’s “destroying the fabric of the nation” and predicts that there will be bloody riots in the streets. By comparison, Manning almost makes Glenn Beck seem reasonable. (Blackink)

Twitter had a rough week. Mashable recaps. (Shani-o)

On Broadsheet, a great article about the myth of girls not liking nice guys. (Belleisa)

Houston has nearly 2 million outstanding criminal warrants (worth $340 million), although most are for minor traffic infractions. Still, it’s overwhelming the courts and law enforcement agencies. (G.D.)

A gaggle of statistics to assuage parents’ fears that the world is too dangerous a place for their children. (Blackink)

Jezebel’s Megan posts a photo essay about Congolese women and girls who have survived rape (including brutal gang rapes that leave many dead) and the efforts made to help them; there’s a photo of a psychologist at a clinic that treats 300 rape victims every month. (Shani-o)

Once again, teenage girls and young women are vanishing from the dangerous streets of Ciudad Juarez. Authorities count at least two dozen in the last year and a half. The disappearances recall the killings of hundreds of women that made this industrial Mexican border town of 1.5 million infamous a decade ago. (Blackink)

In a fascinating guest post at Feministe, Plain(s)Feminist writes about “Feminist Mothering,” a broader take on the ‘othermothering’ that goes on in black communities. (Shani-o)

With the NFL season set to kickoff again, Jay Adler gives us another reason to root against the Redskins. And I’m not talking about Daniel Snyder. Adler: “Team names, statistical records, stadium rituals are all part of the mythic regalia of an athletic Valhalla. You want to disrupt all that for – the Indians?” (Blackink)

A 13-year-old girl arrested for shoplifting in Dallas spent two weeks in an adult jail before anyone noticed. (G.D.)

Slate offers a rather puzzling essay about the rise of “no homo” and “the changing face of hip-hop homophobia.” Can’t it just be that “no homo” is hip hop’s version of “not that there’s anything wrong with that”? Apparently not. Also, Jonah Weiner briefly touches on that old boogeyman (no homo), the down-low brother. Weiner: “Saying ‘no homo’ might have started as a way for rappers to acknowledge and distance themselves from the down-low phenomenon.” Sigh. (Blackink)

Florida led the nation in attacks on the homeless for the fourth-straight year. (G.D.)

A cautionary tale about unregulated growth: Florida’s Lehigh Acres. “When the real estate bubble burst nationwide, Lehigh was decimated. Property values dropped nearly 50 percent this year, on top of a 25 percent decline a year ago. About one in three homes are in some stage of foreclosure. Town boosters put the population at 70,000 permanent residents, but a recent University of Florida study estimated 55,000. That’s less than 1 person per acre, in a space the size of Orlando.” (Blackink)

The extremely awesome Muslimah Media Watch posts a piece on Princess Moroccan Barbie, and various independent spin-offs, and whether the Muslim dolls are sign of rejecting Western norms or embracing them. (The author also hints at the fact that while these Muslim dolls come in slightly different “colors,” they all have similar features, and presumably, don’t represent Muslim women of African descent). (Shani-o)

Doubling down on its previous criticism of so-called reparative therapy, the American Psychological Association announced last week that therapists should refrain from telling gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments. (Blackink)

Given his platform and willingness to tackle substantive issues, Bob Herbert of the New York Times should probably wield more influence. Why do so many people ignore him? T.A. Frank offers this suggestion: “Poor people plus statistics equals boring—we’ve got the science to prove it.” But is he really boring? (Blackink)

Speaking of Herbert, his latest column claiming that our society is saturated with misogyny was discussed with a pro slant on Jezebel and definitive con on DoubleX (reasoning I think is shallow and poorly done). (Belleisa)

In case you hadn’t noticed, Forbes really likes lists. This one is about the best colleges in the U.S., and places West Point in the top spot. Rounding out the top five are Princeton, Cal Tech, Williams College and Harvard. (Blackink)

Fans of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger have been leaving threatening phone calls to the woman who accused him of rape. (G.D.)

More on Roethlisberger: His accuser allegedly bragged about having sex with him and also claimed that she hoped to have a “little Roethlisberger.” (Blackink)

This was sad but sorta predictable: Texas Rangers All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton, who almost miraculously overcame a drug and alcohol addiction to reclaim his career, suffered a relapse several months ago. Hopefully, Hamilton can overcome what he says was a brief setback. (Blackink)

And finally, the most reviled of all NFL quarterbacks: Michael Vick. There’s apparently some building faux outrage about him hanging out with Young Jeezy and using the word “nigger.” I fail to see the problem, other than him possibly deepening the concerns some might have about his judgment. But those some are the sort whom would not be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt anyway. (Blackink)

Until the next time, rock on.

When the Lights Went Dim.

(x-posted at U.S. of J and the League of Ordinary Gentlemen)

When you get the chance, you should check out Kai Wright’s terrific piece in the American Prospect on the decline of the black middle class.  The short of it is that widespread “wealth poverty” among middle-class black families (”By 2007, black families had a dime for every dollar of white family wealth, and Hispanics, 12 cents.”) coupled with the importance of housing equity to black wealth has – with the collapse of the housing market – dealt a serious blow to the black middle class.  There’s actually far too much in the piece to adequately summarize (the above is just a snippet of the broader argument), and so instead, I want to focus on this passage, as it fits in with something I’ve spent a lot of time writing about:

The Homestead Acts of the 1860s, for instance, took vast swaths of land from Native American tribes and gave it away in 160-acre plots to white settlers, to jump start the agricultural sector; for freedmen, land never materialized. More than a century later, 400 black farmers won a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture for its systematic racial bias in providing loans and other assistance to farmers throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Lo and behold, at the turn of the 21st-century, white Americans still held 97 percent of the nation’s agricultural land value.

The New Deal programs that created today’s middle class, meanwhile, are also directly responsible for today’s wealth gap. Name a massive government investment, and you’ve got an initiative that explicitly or implicitly excluded people of color. By 1965, 98 percent of the 10 million homes public money had helped buy through loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration were owned by whites. Government then spent years more ignoring private lenders’ redlining of black neighborhoods.

The proven racial bias in today’s sub-prime lending, then, is more normative than exceptional. As Lui wrote in a March Washington Postop-ed, “The chips on the table reflect the fact that the game was fixed. It’s time to start an honest game with a new deck.”

One of the more cliche’ criticisms of American political discourse is that we have an utter disregard for history.  I don’t think that’s true; on any number of issues, we rely on history’s lessons to guide or inform our actions (see: stimulus package).  I think it’s far more accurate to say that we have an incredibly selective historical memory, which is in effect most especially when it comes to talking about race and its various policy dimensions.  That is, we spend a lot of time talking about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., or Rosa Parks, or even Malcolm X (though the mainstream conversation still isn’t at a point where it can acknowledge the – many – positive contributions of Malcolm X to the “dialogue).  And likewise, we spend a fair amount of time on racism as an individual affliction, or on the long-term effects of slavery and segregation on the black family and black communities. More…

The Court’s Impartiality.


My co-blogger Shani just twittered this comment on the confirmation hearings:

The GOP’s roundabout way of saying that a woman of color has to work harder to be objective than a white male does is pissing me off.

What pisses me off is this completely ahistorical sense on part of Republicans that the Supreme Court is and always has been a perfectly just, perfectly impartial institution.  For most of this country’s history, the default perspective on the nation’s highest court has been that of wealthy white men, and accordingly, the court’s rulings have reflected the biases and prejudices of its members.  The court’s Dred Scott ruling, for instance, clearly reflects the fact that a majority of the Court’s members at the time were slaveholders.  Likewise, the Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson clearly reflects a group of men who had – like most of their peers – internalized a narrative of black inferiority and black “difference.”

That the GOP refuses to acknowledge this obvious fact is extremely troubling, not only because it betrays a (at this point characteristic) disregard for history, but also because it seems to suggest that conservatives see Sotomayor as “defiling” the court with her empathy and her “Latina-ness.”  For conservatives, the Court’s long era of white male dominance was marked by impartiality and fairness.  And now, with the possibility of greater minority representation on the bench, we have to worry about bias and prejudice in the court’s opinions.  This idea  – that minorities will sully the reputation of <insert organization> – isn’t a particularly new one (it colors a lot of the early commentary on the Reconstruction-era South), and it’s incredibly offensive to boot.

Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: Never Can Say Goodbye.

Don Cornelius would like a word with you. Don’t make any dinner plans.
In the meantime, your Post-Bourgie-approved reading material from the weekend:

1. Of course, homage must be paid to the King of Pop. But we will try to spare you from the overkill. Check out some really good write-ups here, here, here, here, here and here in particular. From Kiese: “The greatest American worker of our time, a curious little black boy from Gary who felt compelled to work in white face while changing the way music and masculinity sound and look, died today. Michael Jackson will never work for us again.”

2. A former member of Jackson’s entourage says MJ predicted his death six months ago. He also claims that Jackson was suicidal, possibly anorexic and secretly gay. Take from this piece what you will.

3. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier today overturned one of Sonia Sotomayor’s most controversial rulings, siding with a group of white firefighters in a 5-4 decision on Ricci v. DeStefano. The Ricci case has provided plenty of fodder for conservative opponents of Sotomayor’s nomination to the High Court. That opposition figures to gain more steam in the coming days. Here’s some instant analysis from Adam Serwer and the crew at Slate.

4. With the slow death of the U.S. auto industry and the steady – but sure – decline of Detroit, Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times considers what will become of the black middle-class. “We’ve been hearing this phrase — “the death of Detroit” — for years now, but this is what it’s going to look like, how it’s going to play out. There’s a perverse paradox here, one that I was reminded of every time I met a black autoworker in an Obama T-shirt or with an Obama bumper sticker adorning his or her car. We have just elected our first African-American president, and yet, at the same moment, a city and industry that together played a central role in the rise of the black middle class … is being destroyed.”

5. Potraits of instability: Foreign Policy offers some grim images from some of the world’s most fragile countries.

6. The mystery of who revealed those steamy yet strangely un-erotic e-mail messages between embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress has been solved: it was one of the woman’s former lovers.

7. On the same topic, Amanda Marcotte has an interesting theory about why Sanford would be willing to take such a tremendous personal and professional gamble: “But the whole right wing Christian culture discourages those things that might inflame passion … If you never feel that sort of passion and suddenly it enters your life in middle age, what would you do? You’d probably freak the fuck out, I’d guess. Your entire worldview would change. You’d babble about how much in love you are during a press conference.”

8. In case you missed it Friday, the five remaining defendants in the Jena 6 case all pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of simple battery. They also settled a civil suit with the family of the schoolmate they were accused of attacking in a school fight in December 2006. So, for all intents and purposes, the case is finally over and move along and there’s nothing to see here. For a little more background, check out this story from 2007.

9. Hoping to bypass Congress, The White House is drafting an executive order that would allow for indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charges. Sigh. The more things change … yada yada yada. Glenn Greenwald does the business here.

10. The Stimulist’s argument for lowering the drinking age.

11. Remembering Stonewall.

12. Whither the end of “superdelegate“?

13. Steamy vamps, murder, passion and sex. If you were a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and True Blood makes you a slave to the idiot box on Sunday nights, you’ll appreciate this piece by Laura Miller on the genre known as Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance. It’s a cultural study of the some of the popular heroines pre- and post-Buffy. Here’s a taste: “In your 20s (the age of most urban fantasy heroines), love and sex can seem like a powerful magnetic field, distorting your perceptions of yourself and other people. If you succumb, will you be surrendering control over your own destiny, which is still coming into focus? It’s a question with particular relevance to young women, and the mesmeric power of vampires and other supernatural lovers in urban fantasies speaks to the fear of losing your bearings should you fall under the spell of an especially irresistible suitor.”

14. The NYT provides an interactive map of all NYC’s homicides from 2003 to 2006, which you can view by race, age, sex and time of day.

15. Is there really a John Edwards sex tape? Jeebus.

16. In Vibe‘s voter-fueled “The Best Rapper Ever” contest, it’s defending champ Eminem against 2Pac. They’re both wrong.

17. On a somewhat related note, GOP National Committee Chairman and noted hip-hop fan Michael Steele tells a crowd in Detroit to “don’t write the Republican Party off.” Reaction was, uh, mixed. One panelist: “Michael Jackson is dead. God rest his soul. I am not going to be the Michael Jackson of the Republican Party. You will not use me until I am dead.”

18. The one industry lobbying to pay more taxes: licensed brothels in Nevada.

19. Why Mitt Romney is a lot like former NBA draft bust Michael Olowakandi.

20. Speaking of the NBA and the draft, Milwaukee Bucks draftee Brandon Jennings is off to a rocky start. And Joe Budden is involved. Bethlehem Shoals, as always, makes a spirited – and thoughtful – defense.

21. Meesh does the hula.

Sorry for the delay. Blame it on the boogie. Or Joe Jackson:

But really: what the hell was wrong with BET last night?