mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Character Of Our Content”: The Nexus Of Politics And Race That Drives The Right’s Opprobrium Towards Obama

Where, exactly, did people get the idea that President Obama was supposed to end racism?

In a rather curious piece, conservative syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker scrutinized Obama’s May 7 commencement address at Howard University and apparently wasn’t too impressed:

At a recent commencement address at historically black Howard University, Obama noted that his election did not, in fact, create a post-racial society. “I don’t know who was propagating that notion. That was not mine,” he said.

This remark stopped me for a moment because, well, didn’t he? Wasn’t he The One we’d been waiting for? Wasn’t Obama the quintessential biracial figure who would put racial differences in a lockbox for all time?

This was the narrative, to be sure. But, if not Obama’s, then whose?

In retrospect, it was mine, yours, ours. White people, especially in the media, created this narrative because we loved and needed it. Psychologists call it projection. We made Obama into the image of the right sort of fellow. He was, as Shelby Steele wrote in 2008, a “bargainer,” who promised white people to “never presume that you are racist if you will not hold my race against me.”

Obama wasn’t so much the agent of change as he was the embodiment of a post-racial America as whites imagined it.

But Obama’s message, beginning with his 2004 address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, has always suggested that he would be at least a messenger of unity, which sounded an awful lot like post-racial. “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” he said.

I’ve previously noted that there was a fair bit of nonsense in that 2004 Obama speech. However, that speech did not, by any reasonable standard, imply that Obama would be a “post-racial” leader, and anyone, Parker included, who heard a “post-racial” subtext in the message must have had some strange music playing in the background.

Parker appears to be blaming Obama for her mistaken interpretation of that 2004 speech:

That many interpreted Obama’s message as post-racial made some kind of sense. The divide between red and blue states may be seen as also splitting along racial lines in some cases.

Eight years after being elected as the first black president of a majority-white nation, Obama is shrugging off any responsibility for having contributed to the post-racial expectation. Is this because, racially, things actually seem worse? But what if they weren’t? What if there had been no “Black Lives Matter” movement, no Trayvon Martin, no Freddie Gray, or any of the others who were killed by police in the past few years, or, in Martin’s case, by a vigilante?

I’m guessing he’d have grabbed that narrative in a bear hug and given it a great, big, sloppy kiss. His remarks to a graduating class, instead of disavowing that silly post-racial thing, would have celebrated his greatest achievement — the healing of America.

It’s interesting that Parker says “The divide between red and blue states may be seen as also splitting along racial lines in some cases” because, in the Shelby Steele op-ed she quotes, the right-wing African-American pundit scornfully observes:

On the level of public policy, [Obama] was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism; his social thought was recycled Great Society.

Had Obama been a right-wing Republican (instead of, as former Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett has argued, a Democrat who is “essentially…what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP”), both Steele and Parker would be hailing him as a man who had healed all of America’s historic wounds, who had indisputably united the country across the lines of class and race, who had honored the legacy of Lincoln. The remarks of Parker and Steele are repulsive because they reveal the nexus of politics and race that has always driven the right’s opprobrium towards Obama.

If you’re old enough to remember the Reagan-era promotion of right-wing African-American figures such as Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter E. Williams and Alan Keyes (Steele didn’t become a major name on the right until the George H. W. Bush years), you’ll remember that right-wing white commentators would constantly push the idea that Thomas, Sowell, Williams and Keyes were the “real” voices of the African-American community, as opposed to, say, Jesse Jackson. The right’s rhetoric about the so-called “Democratic plantation” is an offshoot of this sort of thinking: right-wingers really do believe that where it not for chicanery on the part of Democrats, the vast majority of African-Americans would be on the Republican team.

The folks who promoted this narrative about right-wing African-Americans being the only “authentic” voices in the African-American community never got over the fact that Barack Obama discredited their arguments. They cannot stand the fact that the first African-American President is a Democrat; had Obama shared the Thomas/Sowell/Williams/Keyes vision of the world, right-wing whites would have defended him just as ferociously as they have attacked him since the late-2000s.

Parker assumes her readers are stupid. She doesn’t think her audience fully understands that she would be glorifying Obama as a healer and hero if his politics were closer to hers. Her column is one of the year’s most deceitful to date

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 29, 2016

May 30, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Kathleen Parker, Post Racial Society | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Those Who Can’t Afford To Forget”: We Cannot Sleepwalk Through Life; We Cannot Be Ignorant Of History

Recently I linked to an important article by Charles Pierce titled: When We Forget.

The 2016 presidential campaign—and the success of Donald Trump on the Republican side—has been a triumph of how easily memory can lose the struggle against forgetting and, therefore, how easily society can lose the struggle against power. There is so much that we have forgotten in this country. We’ve forgotten, over and over again, how easily we can be stampeded into action that is contrary to the national interest and to our own individual self-interest…

A country that remembers, a country with an empowered memory that acts as a check on the dangerous excesses of power itself, does not produce a Donald Trump.

While that spoke powerfully to what we are witnessing in the current Republican presidential primary, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something missing. This morning while I was writing about President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University, I finally figure out what that was about. Here is a part of what he said when talking about the unique role of African American leadership:

…even as we each embrace our own beautiful, unique, and valid versions of our blackness, remember the tie that does bind us as African Americans — and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle. That means we cannot sleepwalk through life. We cannot be ignorant of history.

Think about that for a moment…why can’t African Americans be ignorant of history? It is because any attempt to understand their place in this country today has to be informed by our collective past. For example, African Americans can’t tackle BlackLivesMatter without some understanding of the fact that – throughout our history – they haven’t. White people have the privilege of being able to forget that story…Black people don’t.

Remembering isn’t simply about knowing the history of how things used to be. It is also about remembering the people who fought the battles of the past and the strategies they used in the struggle. That’s what President Obama’s speech at Howard was all about – the Black theory of change.

But it isn’t just African Americans who can’t afford to forget. Finding authenticity as a woman means understanding the history of patriarchy. Native Americans must remember the genocide that nearly obliterated their culture. Asian Americans can never forget the straightjacket foisted upon them by being the “model minority.” LGBT Americans remember everything from Stonewall to Matthew Shepard. And Mexican Americans remember that many of their people were here prior to this country’s settlement by European Americans – who now assume they are the “immigrants.”

I know I’m glossing over centuries of history, but I’m doing so to make the point that there are those who can’t afford to forget because, as Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 9, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, American History, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rachel Dolezal’s ‘Passing’ Isn’t So Unusual”: A Product of Our Own Contradictory Moment

Why do we care so much about Rachel Dolezal, the head of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. who apparently misrepresented herself as African-American when, according to her parents, she is Czech, Swedish and German, with some remote Native American ancestry?

In one sense, it’s not at all surprising. Stories of white Americans “passing” as members of other racial and ethnic groups have often captivated the American public — though the cases that have most fascinated us have usually turned on the malicious hypocrisy of the protagonists. In 1965, The Times famously reported that Dan Burros, the Ku Klux Klan’s Grand Dragon in New York State and the former national secretary of the American Nazi Party, was once a Jew who not only was a “star” bar mitzvah student at his shul in Queens but also brought knishes to white-supremacist gatherings. In 1991, an Emory University professor drew headlines by unmasking Forrest Carter, the author of a best-selling Native American “memoir,” as Asa Earl Carter, an Alabama Klansman and a speechwriter for George Wallace, the state’s segregationist governor.

But nowhere in the details that reporters and Internet sleuths have uncovered about Dolezal is there any inkling of personal commitment to white supremacy; her work with the N.A.A.C.P., now finished, and as a professor of Africana studies suggests quite the opposite. Her story spins at a far lower orbit of oddity than the trajectories of Burros and Carter, yet she is attracting a similar level of attention. More puzzling still, her case has gone viral at a moment when we are learning that Rachel Dolezals have been much more common in this country’s history than we once might have thought.

The history of people breaching social divides and fashioning identities for themselves is as old as America. These stories were never exclusively about blacks who “passed” for white or Jews who, as my grandparents would say, “got over it” and found their way to the Episcopalian side of the ledger — people who felt compelled to shed their birth identities to reap the full rewards of white privilege. From the beginning of the American experience, the color line bent and broke in many directions, and for many reasons.

In 17th-century Virginia, as the genealogist Paul Heinegg has documented, most of the first free families of color descended from white women who had children with slaves or free black men. Because a 1662 Virginia law classified people as “bond or free only according to the condition of the mother,” the status of these families depended on the women’s affirming their whiteness as an official matter. But in everyday life, white mothers of black children were creating new ways for their families and themselves to parse slavery, freedom and race, akin to James McBride’s account in his memoir, “The Color of Water,” of how his mother described her own identity while raising 12 African-American children. When McBride asked her about her parents, she would respond, “God made me.” When he asked if she was white, her answer was, “I’m light-skinned.”

Over time, as racial categories ossified and state legislatures criminalized interracial sex and marriage — an idea that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 1960s — people continued to define themselves outside the law’s oppressive reach. White people who fell in love with African-Americans could avoid sanction if they asserted that they, too, were black. In 1819, a Scottish immigrant named James Flint described witnessing a black man’s attempt to marry a white woman near Jeffersonville, Ind., just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky. The local justice of the peace refused to marry them, citing a legal prohibition, but then had second thoughts, suggesting, Flint wrote, “that if the woman could be qualified to swear that there was black blood in her, the law would not apply.” In a scene anticipating “Showboat” by a hundred years, the groom promptly took a lancet to his arm, and according to Flint, “the loving bride drank the blood, made the necessary oath and his honour joined their hands” and married them.

White people have claimed African-American identity across time, region and class. The historian Martha Sandweiss has documented the case of Clarence King, a celebrated explorer from an elite Newport, R.I., family who could trace his ancestry back to three signers of the Magna Carta. At the end of the 19th century, he led a double life as James Todd, a black Pullman porter whose wife was born a slave. It is not hard to find other examples, all the way up to the present.

This kind of “reverse passing” could occur because the gap between America’s rigid insistence on racial purity and the reality of pervasive mixing left a conceptual blur instead of any defensible boundary between black and white. American history is a history of dark-skinned white people and light-skinned black people. Innumerable men and women explained away their complexions with stories of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and, in an 1874 Tennessee court case, Carthaginian ancestry. More whites have claimed Cherokee grandmothers than is demographically possible.

Conversely, for John Hope, the first African-American president of Morehouse College and Atlanta University; John Ladeveze, who helped bring the first challenge to segregated education after Plessy v. Ferguson; Charles Chesnutt, the acclaimed early twentieth-century African-American novelist; or the longtime N.A.A.C.P. head Walter White, it was a routine part of life to insist that you were black despite all indications to the contrary. In 1871, Charles Sauvinet, sheriff of Orleans Parish during Reconstruction, sued the owner of a bar for refusing him service because of his race. In court, Sauvinet’s fair complexion prompted a lawyer to ask on cross-examination something very similar to a Spokane TV news reporter’s question — “Are you African-American?” — that so flustered Dolezal. Sauvinet’s answer speaks volumes about the complexity of American racial experience. “Whether I am a colored man or not is a matter that I do not know myself,” Sauvinet said. “But I am, and was legally, for this reason: that . . . you had always refused me, though born and raised here, the rights of citizenship.”

In a sense, the controversy surrounding Dolezal is a product of our own contradictory moment, when Americans are at once far more open to racial boundary-crossing and as preoccupied with those same boundaries as ever. Part of what’s striking about Dolezal’s self-constructed identity is how anachronistic it appears in 2015 — more the stuff of fiction, as in the over-the-top plot conceit of Nell Zink’s “Mislaid,’’ than reality. There seems to be little reason that Dolezal would have needed to identify as black to live the life she has led. After all, white people can form meaningful relationships with African-Americans, study, teach and celebrate black history and culture and fight discrimination without claiming to be African-American themselves. Dolezal was pale with straight blond hair when she earned her master of fine arts degree from the historically black Howard University. She is hardly the first white woman to take an interest in ‘‘the Black Woman’s Struggle,’’ one course she taught at Eastern Washington University.

But Dolezal’s exposure also comes at a time when racial categories have never seemed more salient. The same social media that is shaming Dolezal has also aggregated the distressingly numerous killings of African-Americans by the police into a singular statement on racism and inequality. In this moment, when blackness means something very specific — asserting that black lives matter — it follows for many people that categorical clarity has to matter, too.

The drive for authenticity that Dolezal has prompted is bound to raise more questions than answers. The enormous wealth of historical and genealogical information that is currently being digitized, along with the increasing availability and decreasing cost of DNA analysis, is bending our critical lens for viewing race; the secrets that people took to their graves are no match for Ancestry.com. Among other revelations, the records are proving that an enormous percentage of black men — nearly a fifth, according to one recent study — passed as white in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, suggesting that millions of white Americans could conceivably have African-American ancestry. A tan and curls do not make someone black. Nor does a graduate degree from Howard or a leadership position in the N.A.A.C.P. But it’s becoming harder to say what, exactly, does, even as racism remains real and deadly.

 

By:  June 16, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Rachel Dolezal, White Americans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Hard To Be Too Exercised Over This”: Rachel Dolezal Proves Race Not A Fixed Or Objective Fact

Of the 60 people who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, only seven were, in fact, “colored.” Most of the organization’s founders were white liberals like Mary White Ovington. Its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, is named for Joel Spingarn, who was Jewish and white.

Point being, white people have been intricately involved in the NAACP struggle for racial justice from day one. So Rachel Dolezal did not need to be black to be president of the organization’s Spokane chapter. That she chose to present herself as such anyway, adopting a frizzy “natural” hairstyle and apparently somehow darkening her skin, has put her at the bullseye of the most irresistible watercooler story of the year. This will be on Blackish next season; just wait and see.

As you doubtless know, the 37-year-old Dolezal was outed last week by her estranged parents. In response, they say, to a reporter’s inquiry, they told the world her heritage includes Czech, Swedish, and German roots, but not a scintilla of black. In the resulting mushroom cloud of controversy, Dolezal was forced to resign her leadership of the Spokane office. Interviewed Tuesday by Matt Lauer on Today, she made an awkward attempt to explain and/or justify herself. “I identify as black,” she said, like she thinks she’s the Caitlyn Jenner of race. It was painful to watch.

Given that Dolezal sued historically black Howard University in 2002 for allegedly discriminating against her because she is white, it’s hard not to see a certain opportunism in her masquerade. Most people who, ahem, “identify as black” don’t have the option of trying on another identity when it’s convenient.

That said, it’s hard to be too exercised over this. Dolezal doesn’t appear to have done any harm, save to her own dignity and reputation. One suspects there are deep emotional issues at play, meaning the kindest thing we can do is give her space and time to work them out.

Besides, this story’s most pointed moral has less to do with Dolezal and her delusions than with us and ours. Meaning America’s founding myth, the one that tells us race is a fixed and objective fact.

It isn’t. Indeed, in 2000, after mapping the genetic codes of five people — African-American, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic — researchers announced they could find no difference among them. “The concept of race,” one of them said, “has no scientific basis.” The point isn’t that race is not real; the jobless rate, the mass incarceration phenomenon, and the ghosts of murdered boys from Emmett Till to Tamir Rice argue too persuasively otherwise.

Rather, it’s that it’s not real in the way we conceive it in America where, as historian Matt Wray once put it, the average 19-year-old regards it as a “set of facts about who people are, which is somehow tied to blood and biology and ancestry.” In recent years, Wray and scholars like David Roediger and Nell Irvin Painter have done path-breaking work exploding that view. To read their research is to understand that what we call race is actually a set of cultural likenesses, shared experiences and implicit assumptions, i.e., that white men can’t jump and black ones can’t conjugate.

To try to make it more than that, to posit it as an immutable truth, is to discover that, for all its awesome power to determine quality of life or lack thereof, race is a chimera. There is no there, there. The closer you look, the faster it disappears.

Consider: If race were really what Wray’s average 19-year-old thinks it is, there could never have been a Rachel Dolezal; her lie would have been too immediately transparent. So ultimately, her story is the punchline to a joke most of us don’t yet have ears to hear. After all, this white lady didn’t just try to pass herself off as black.

She got away with it.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 17, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | NAACP, Race and Ethnicity, Rachel Dolezal | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who’s Been Naughty And Who’s Been Nice?”: A Few Suggestions To Help St. Nick Complete His List

He’s making a list, checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty or nice . . .”

Santa Claus does not, of course, need any help in deciding among the deserving and undeserving this holiday season. But with Christmas only days away and the North Pole toy shop backed up with orders, here are, in the spirit of the season, a few suggestions to help St. Nick complete his lists so he and his reindeer can get on their way, and on time.

Naughty: Elizabeth Lauten, the Republican congressional communications director who dissed Sasha and Malia Obama for their clothes and facial expressions during the president’s pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.

Nice: The nation’s beautiful first daughters, who handle their unsought duties with grace, dignity and a maturity found lacking in many twice their ages.

Naughty: The 63.6 percent of Americans in our democracy who didn’t vote in 2014.

Nice: The 36.4 percent who chose to exercise that precious and fundamental right.

Naughty (worse than that): Police officers in Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island whose actions made sure a Missouri teenager, a 12-year-old Ohio boy with an air pistol and a New York father won’t be home — or anywhere else on this earth — on Christmas Day.

Nice: My multiracial neighbors and hundreds like them who lined 16th Street NW from the White House to Silver Spring in a candlelight vigil for justice for all people, including the victims who were united — as were the cops— by the color of their skin.

Naughty: The Ferguson protesters who resorted to vandalism and looting.

Nice: The Ferguson demonstrators who exercised their First Amendment rights within the law.

Naughty: The Beta Sigma chapter of the Delta Gamma sorority at the University of Maryland, which posted a photo featuring a sorority member posing with an alcohol-bottle and cupcake-laden 21st-birthday cake that, according to WTTG-TV (Channel 5), included the “N” word and “a sexual act that is performed on an African-American man.” Ouch. Naughty is not the word for the behavior of these flowers of America’s future.

Nice: The Howard University students who staged a powerful protest, which included their hands outstretched in a “Don’t Shoot” pose.

Naughty: The black offenders who make crime a serious problem in African American communities.

Nice: The African American cops, prosecutors, judges and black-dominated juries that are arresting, trying, convicting and sending to jail these offenders, hence putting a lie to the myth that “black-on-black” crime is tolerated or excused. Just as it is nonsense to bewail “white-on-white” crime because most white folks killed are done in by other white folks. Santa ought to reward the black, white, brown, etc., people, including police officers who risk their lives to protect us and who refuse to buy into the myth.

Naughty: Congressional Republicans, instigated by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris , who are trampling all over the D.C. Home Rule Act to block the city from implementing a democratically passed referendum to legalize marijuana. They deserve coal in their stockings.

Nice: The citizens who recognize when principle is at stake and are willing to step forward and stand up to the bullies on Capitol Hill. Those fine Americans deserve sugar plums or some such thing dancing above their heads.

If that weren’t enough, Santa’s got a little more to add on his lists.

Naughty: Those unreconstructed demagogues on the right who slander President Obama as a radical leftist out to destroy capitalism, even though he saved the auto industry, rescued Wall Street and has taken the lead in undermining Vladimir Putin and the Russian economy. Those Obama enemies deserve nothing if for no other reason than their ingratitude.

Naughty: Sony Pictures Entertainment executives who showed their true colors when it comes to race, and the hackers who are waging a cyberattack against the company. This is more of a thought than recognition of the deserving: Put the Sony Pictures execs and the hackers together in a cage and let them have at each other.

Nice: Objective and fearless journalists who bring truth and light to all who would draw near and listen or — as the case may be — read. Shower them fulsomely with your gifts, dear Santa.

Naughty: That Mr. Hyde, allegedly free of conscience, filled with darker impulses, depraved and a defiler of drugged women, known in some quarters as Bill Cosby.

Nice: The sociable, respectable and morally decent Dr. Jekyll, a.k.a. Bill Cosby, said by Camille, his wife of 50 years, to be “a kind man, a generous man, a funny man and a wonderful husband, father and friend.”

(Sorry, but your call, big fella.)

Merry Christmas, happy holidays and to all a good night.

 

By: Colbert King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 19, 2014

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Christmas, Naughty and Nice, Santa Claus | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: