Archive for May, 2011
My friend and fellow blogger The 800 lb Gorilla, has been quite upset with reverse racism of late. He wrote a long exasperated post that boiled down to (and I paraphrase), “black folk need to stop whining and take responsibility for themselves. The time to blame white people for their ills is over.”
There is no doubt that on some level, Gorilla is correct. Self reliance is the fastest route to success. Success is achieved through winning strategies that transcend race. If we compare successful blacks with successful whites, I submit we will see many of the same behaviors. If he left it at that, there would be little in his post to refute. However, G used enough rope to hang himself. Let’s look at three examples G used to make his point
First, he critiqued an excerpt of a speech by Michael Eric Dyson, renowned author, professor and preacher.
Gorilla had a problem with the following statement: “white Americans have never been taught to think of themselves as a specific ethnic formation in the broader context of American ethnicity or race”. Where is the problem here? This is a fact. When we talk about “Americans” the default is white Americans. We will sooner identify someone as Irish, Polish or Italian before we will identify him as white, even though his ancestors came from those countries generations ago. That is a simple fact. We do not identify people of color in this country as Kenyan, Ethiopian, or Nigerian unless they just got off the boat yesterday. Otherwise they are called “black”. Why is that? It is because when Africans were brought to this country against their will centuries ago, they were stripped of their heritage. They did not come here to lend their ethnic background to the melting pot. On the contrary, they were objectified as if they were the pot itself, part of the infrastructure of a growing nation. They had no more rights than the wagons that crisscrossed this country with white settlers making homes for themselves. So no, Gorilla, white folk don’t walk around thinking “mmmm I’m white”. Nor do they refer to each other as “white”. They do however refer to people of color as “black”. Blacks whether they like it or not are faced with being “a specific ethnic formation in the broader context of American ethnicity or race.”
The quote that should have blown Gorilla’s gasket was this one: “I don’t want to stop being a black man … now we can be very circumspect and also much more sophisticated about what that blackness might mean but I don’t want to stop being black. I just want people to overcome their bigotry and violent stereotypes about what it means to be black.” Now we have a problem. Who defines what “black” is? Dyson likes being identified as black so long as it fits some definition he finds uplifting. But I’ve got news for Michael. Much of what passes for acceptable in “the black community” is total nonsense, most of rap music being at the top of that list. I much prefer being Rutherford as opposed to being a black man. I don’t know what a “black man” is. This ties back to my first observation. Being black in this country is not the same as being of African heritage. Being black in this country is being the product of the legacy of an evil institution. Even if you don’t have a single slave in your family tree, your dark skin or other physical features (in my case large lips and nose) associate you with that shameful legacy. So much like Morgan Freeman, I’d be happy to dispense with the whole “black thing”. The problem is that evil leaves a nasty stain that is hard to ignore. As much as I’d like to agree with Freeman to just stop talking about race, I’m not sure ignoring it cleans up the stain.
Never letting an opportunity to bash Barack Obama slip by, Gorilla brings up that old chestnut about Obama taking sides in the Cambridge Police vs Skip Gates case. Apparently Obama is a racist because he called the white Cambridge policeman “stupid”. Guess what? He was stupid. Once you know a man is trying to get into his own house and is not robbing the house, you don’t arrest him. Why did Officer Crowley arrest Gates? He arrested him because Gates was talking smack. Gates was being stupid and the two of them got into a “who has the bigger dick” contest. Professor Gates was too stupid to remember that be you white or black, the dick contest is always won by the cop.
But this is where Obama went wrong during that infamous press conference. The press conference was meant to be about health care reform. At the end of the presser, journalist Lynn Sweet asked Obama his opinion about the Cambridge incident. What Obama SHOULD have replied was “Lynn, would you have asked a white President that question? Why do you think I have an opinion about a local police matter just because it involves a black friend of mine? Next question.” Instead, never one to pass up an opportunity to pontificate, Obama got race-baited and bought it hook line and sinker. Gorilla’s problem should start and end with Gates who unnecessarily injected race into the incident. As for Obama, all he did was answer a question that was really beneath his dignity. Gorilla should also wonder why Sweet would ask such an inappropriate question. The question was racially charged and she knew it. The nasty stain strikes again.
After a couple of paragraphs of railing against affirmative action, Gorilla shows off a video of a black man he respects. The fellow is an ex-President of a Texas chapter of the NAACP, and now a conservative Tea Party member. C.L Bryant conjectures that he could have been Ben Jealous (National President of the NAACP) or even Barack Obama. The phrase “I coulda been a contenda” comes to mind. What stopped Bryant from becoming Barack Obama? It was liberal whites and blacks who wanted to define him.
He calls this attempt to define him “socialism”. Like a typical Tea Party member he does not know what socialism is. But more to the point, he shares the same blind spot as Gorilla. Both of them criticize affirmative action out of context. Is it “fair” to take race into account when choosing candidates for a degree program or a job? Absolutely not. As G so proudly quotes Martin Luther King Jr. it is the content of our character and our qualifications that should rule the day. But G ignores the fact that King hoped that day would come in the future. At the time of his death, it had not yet come. King no doubt believed that measures had to be taken to ensure equal opportunity for blacks. Favoritism? No, not in light of the rich and lengthy history of racism in this country. Is G aware of the studies done where identical resumes were reviewed with only the names being different and Bob Smith’s resume was favored over Leroy Jackson (or something even more obvious like Mousa Mtumbe). Great strides have been made but racism still exists and efforts to counteract it are still needed.
I feel bad that Gorilla thinks he is persecuted by society for being white. He is indeed the innocent bystander in the consequences of history. No white man living today should be saddled with the blame that his slave-holding ancestors should have borne. No black man living today should live under the cloud of shame and under-achievement simply because he comes from an American heritage so cursed. But history has consequences. Both Romeo and Juliet on their own were good hopeful people. Their families, the Montagues and Capulets were rivals for generations and the star-crossed lovers paid for that rivalry with their lives. History has consequences. Shakespeare understood that.
A white politician came to my house when I was a boy and asked to see “the lady of the house” when my mother answered the door. History has consequences. My seven year old daughter was threateningly referred to as “black girl” on the school bus. History has consequences. A classmate of hers told her that she couldn’t be good at gymnastics because she is black. Out of the mouths of babes … history has consequences. Blacks struggle between self-reliance and victimhood. History has consequences. Objectification and indignity breed hatred and so a black man stands in the street advocating “killing whitey”. History has consequences.
I have proposed in the past that it takes 300 years of correction to wipe out 100 years of slavery. As long as folks like Gorilla choose to ignore history, they will feel justified in their own sense of persecution and oblivious to their natural advantage in American society. History has consequences and evil leaves a nasty stain. Both whites and blacks will continue to struggle with these consequences for the foreseeable future. The stain soils all of us. That’s just the way it is.
I said to my neighbor Ted that my co-worker told me that at noon tomorrow a unicorn would walk across my front lawn leaving a path of tasty Skittles behind him. Ted laughed uproariously telling me what a boob my co-worker was. “How ridiculous,” Ted said, “a unicorn will leave Skittles across your front lawn but it isn’t going to happen tomorrow!”
And so went the media spin today as everyone lined up to mock Harold Camping who said that I should not be writing this post right now. By now I should be writhing in pain as the earth crumbles beneath me and the true believers in Christ rise to glory.
The ridicule for Camping is nearly universal but no one is willing to go out on a limb and say that the whole idea of the rapture is absurd. No one is willing to say the rapture will not occur today at 6PM, nor tomorrow, nor the next day, nor any day in the future. It is fiction. It is allegory designed to get folks to behave properly in their current lives (or in rapture-speak, to “be ready”).
The lack of internal logic evidenced in Camping-critics boggles the mind. A case in point is a Baptist minister who was interviewed this morning on TV. He laughed and snickered at Camping’s prophecy. He reminded us that false prophets should be stoned to death (but not Camping of course … that would be over the top). He called people who followed Camping, “gullible”. Then he said that only God knows when the rapture will come. I sat there scratching my head. He had the nerve to call Camping followers gullible but when he utters the same meme, not committing to an exact date, suddenly his congregation is not gullible? So let me get this straight, the rapture only becomes laughable when you put a date on it?
I can’t point a finger at the devout only. The media has twisted itself in knots calling today’s predicted apocalypse ridiculous but reserving respect for the concept of rapture. I don’t see how any truly religious person would not find the reaction to Camping deeply offensive. Let’s be honest. If you are laughing at the rapture occurring today, then you are really laughing at the rapture, period. This phenom of the media stepping right up to the edge of calling the rapture foolishness but then stopping, is the ultimate hypocrisy.
But speaking of hypocrisy, let’s get back to the devout for a moment. The reaction this week to Camping by God-fearing Christians truly makes me wonder if they really deep down take any of this stuff seriously. What happens when someone sees Christ on a potato chip or on a tree trunk? Just about everyone calls him a whack job. With the rare exception of Joseph Smith Jr. who built an entire religion around his talks with God, what other modern-day flesh-and-blood human is taken seriously when he says he has received specific instructions from the almighty? When Mike Huckabee says prayer helped him reach his decision not to run for President, how many so-called seriously religious people really believe God literally told him what to do? For the most part, people believe that Huckabee found enough peace, comfort and quiet meditation through prayer to reach a decision that felt right for him. If Mike ever said literally that “God told me to leave Obama alone”, 90% of us, church goers or not, would write him off as a nut case.
The case of Harold Camping speaks volumes about what people, even religious people, are willing to believe. As long as the most supernatural aspects of the Bible remain shrouded in un-provable generalities, most folks will gladly sign on. But if anyone dares to get to a level of specificity that invites scientific scrutiny (like the world will end tomorrow at 6PM) suddenly that person becomes persona non grata. People like their religion so long as you can’t prove them wrong. Clearly I cannot prove with 100% certainty that the world will not end someday, nor can I prove with 100% certainty what will happen to all of us when that day comes. If you change “someday” to “tomorrow” or “next week” or even “within the next ten years” I can state with much greater certainty that the end of world claim is bogus. So can just about everyone else. That’s why it is imperative that only God knows when the day of reckoning will come. So long as only God has the answer, we can all just go along believing the rapture will happen, just not today.
Today I was scheduled to take my car in for its regular maintenance visit. Today is also the day that President Barack Obama was scheduled to make a much-anticipated address at the State Department on the tumult in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to introduce him. The intersection of these two events resulted in an interesting albeit simple and completely unscientific field study on the effect of Fox News on the human brain.
You see, as I sat down in the car dealership waiting room, the TV was tuned to Fox News. One of the broadcasters said, “coming up later, we’ll look at who is likely to replace Hillary Clinton”. At this point, a woman waiting for her car to be fixed turned to her husband and said, “John, is Hillary Clinton resigning?”
And there it was before me in a simple five-minute incident all the evidence I needed to understand why Fox viewers are for the most part misinformed at best and deranged at worst. The Fox broadcaster made no effort to put this “Clinton replacement” in any sort of context. Folks familiar with Clinton know she has said she will not be Secretary of State for another Obama term. Our friends at Fox didn’t bother to provide that context. On the contrary they floated a “coming attraction” so ambiguous that the unsuspecting viewer might think Hillary was going to announce her resignation right there at the State Department gathering for Obama.
This is typical Fox sleight of hand. “News” by innuendo, thinly veiled editorials. My heart went out to my fellow waiting room occupant. Then my compassion turned to horror as I multiplied her by one million. Think about it. One million Americans getting their “news” from a shameless, fact twisting, media wing of the Republican party. Is it any wonder why so many Republicans wondered if Obama was really born in the United States?
My little field study today convinced me of something I had conjectured for some time now. The only way to keep Fox News “fair and balanced” is to have MSNBC playing on another channel. Incidentally, when my fellow automobile drivers left the waiting room, I did change the channel and left the room tuned to MSNBC. Consider it a small victory for integrity in journalism.
It is almost two weeks since a team of Navy SEALs found and killed Osama bin Laden a mere 20 or so miles from the capital of Pakistan. Here are some thoughts in no particular order on the current state of affairs.
Oh That McCain is Such a RINO
Just when decent human beings are ready to totally give up on Senator John McCain, he goes and does something honorable. On the floor of the Senate on Thursday, McCain repeated information obtained from CIA Director Leon Panetta. Various Bush administration alumni have been beating their chest about the role “enhanced interrogation techniques”, i.e. torture, played in the capture of Osama bin Laden. Sadly, even folks from the White House have been ambiguous about this role, including statements from NSA Tom Donilon suggesting that any torture was part of a grand mosaic of techniques leading to Osama. McCain, long an opponent of torture, having been a victim of it while in Vietnam, set the record straight stating definitively that the trail to Osama did not begin with any enhanced interrogation by Americans. In fact, the interrogation that identified the courier who eventually led to bin Laden, was not even conducted by Americans.
Of course, we know that McCain couldn’t possibly have any credibility on this subject since he is and always has been just a RINO. Any true red-blooded American knows that if you want to get a Muslim terrorist to talk, you torture him.
Kill the Man, Then Embarrass Him
I don’t know about you but I find it a little odd after you kill a guy to then go on a campaign of humiliation. In the aftermath of bin Laden’s death, we’ve seen an old weathered bin Laden pathetically watching himself in his glory days on TV, drinking Viagra juice and loading up on Coca Cola and pornography. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for any sort of “respect for the dead” regarding bin Laden but it seems to me once you shoot a guy in the eye, subsequent attempts at humiliation are anticlimactic.
Pakistan Taliban Avenges bin Laden Murder by Killing … Muslims
This week over 80 people were killed when suicide bombers struck a paramilitary center in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the incident claiming it was revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden. As of this writing, there is no proof of any connection between the bombers and the Taliban but if we are to take their word for it, it just underscores what many of us have known for a while now. Far more Muslims have been killed by al Qaeda and its sympathizers than any other group of people. It makes you wonder why more decent Muslims do not decry the terrorist behavior of their radical brothers.
The Ultimate Insult: Treating Muslims like the Mentally Ill
I had an epiphany of sorts this week while watching my usual dose of MSNBC. Since his murder, a debate has raged about whether or not to release photos of the dead bin Laden. Proponents of releasing the photos say this will send a message to the world that you don’t mess with the United States of America. Opponents of the release say it will inflame the Muslim world and feed anti-American propaganda. As someone who vociferously condemned the behavior of Pastor Terry Jones when he burned a Koran recently, I have had a bit of an about-face.
There is only one good reason not to release the photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse and that is simple common decency. The man still has relatives in several countries who have never threatened the United States, many of whom have disowned him. They do not deserve to see their relative with a gaping head wound. It also lowers us to the level of ancient Roman attendees at the Coliseum to engage in such blood-lust.
One reason that should be dismissed however is that these photos will inflame the Muslim world. For some reason, listening to my favorite liberal pundits on MSNBC this week, I thought, wait a minute, if we substituted black for Muslim, how would I feel about blacks being portrayed as savages who cannot control their behavior and will be set off into crazed violence by a photograph? Indeed I have had a reader or two in an attempt to bait me, suggest that if Obama loses the 2012 election there will be riots in the streets, carrying the not so subtle suggestion that blacks cannot control themselves.
The time has come to stop treating Muslims like the mentally ill and make them accountable for their behavior. Is it impolite to burn a Koran? Damn straight it is. Is it proper provocation for the insulted to go on a killing spree? Not just no, but hell no! I am beginning to find it fascinating that decent Muslims seem to stand by and not be offended by a media that portrays them as hair-trigger lunatics. I think we have moved from respect and consideration to condescension. Do we think Muslims are somehow lesser than we? We can control our behavior and they can’t? When a mentally disturbed person or a mentally disabled person commits a violent crime we usually give him a pass of sorts. It is what the mental deficiency, insanity defense is all about. Are we now really saying that Muslims are mentally disturbed? Isn’t this a far greater insult than a disrespectful caricature of Mohammed?
I think in the name of ending Islamaphobia, it’s high time we stop referring to “radical Muslims” and start calling them what they are, common criminals. We should feel free to express ourselves, no matter how offensively, and expect lively debate and possibly condemnation to ensue. When the insulted party turns to violence, he loses his status as righteous victim and earns the title of thug.
Ever since he came on the scene, Barack Obama has been accidentally called “Osama” (and vice versa) and there was a time that I took great umbrage at it. I was convinced that this represented some Freudian slip signifying a disdain for our 44th President.
Well, after the past week where the two most discussed personalities have been Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden, the Obama/Osama switcheroo occurred too many times for me to chalk it up to any ill intent. In fact, to my surprise, I found myself making the slip. So it was with great interest that I read an article that explained WHY we get Obama and Osama confused and it goes deeper than just the pronounced similarity in the sound of the two words.
Obviously, the words differ by a mere letter and have very similar pronunciations, which definitely contributes to the confusion, but the mix-up actually happens so often for a different reason: the syntactic category rule.
The syntactic category rule means that when two words are confused for one another the “target” (the word replaced) and the substituting word are almost always of the same syntactic category. In normal speak: nouns replace nouns, verbs replace verbs, and so on. If “Obama” were a verb instead of a noun (as in, the Democrats are going to Obama the GOP in 2012), we would be substantially less likely to confuse it with the noun “Osama.”
Of course the gaffe doesn’t just happen because both words are of the same part of speech. The speaker is also subject to what linguists call “priming.” Your brain makes certain words more accessible to your tongue when they resemble–in pronunciation, in meaning, in subject matter–words that you frequently hear. “Priming means that when you’ve been reading/hearing/thinking about hospitals, words like ‘doctor’ and ‘nurse’ will be recognized more quickly, and are also more likely to be substituted in a slip of the tongue,” Liberman explains. So hearing Osama and Obama in the same context makes your brain more apt to use them interchangeably in speech.
In addition to the fact that Obama and Osama sound alike, they are also proper nouns and they are both used in a political context. So all these similarities conspire to make our brain put the wrong word in our mouth. With one man dead and the other very much alive, this can result in some jarring gaffes.
The NBC show “30 Rock” warned us back during the 2007/2008 Democratic primary season of this slip of the tongue, with hilarious results.
Of course, similar sounding names can mess up not only your speech but your reading comprehension. I saw the following Atlantic Magazine article title and jumped to the wrong conclusion:
Dagan Thinks That Barak Is Crazy Enough to Strike Iran
I immediately thought to myself, who is this Dagan guy and why would he be nutty enough to believe that Obama would bomb Iran? I neglected to notice the absence of a “C” in the name “Barak”. It turns out Dagan is Meir Dagan former head of the Israeli Mossad and Barak is Ehud Barak the current Israeli Minister of Defense.
And so it goes. Our President’s name is ripe for confusion. We won’t even go into the misunderstandings arising from his middle name — Hussein.
Last night at 11:30pm Eastern time, President Barack H. Obama announced that almost ten years after al Qaeda attacked the United States, its leader Osama bin Laden had been located and killed. There will be much time and many blog posts for analyzing the consequences of this act but for today I wanted to highlight the positive.
When we count the folks killed in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the four hijacked airliners and the still ongoing war in Afghanistan that followed we are looking at thousands of families who have suffered an unspeakable loss. While it is true that many al Qaeda operatives have been captured or killed since September 11, 2001, none of them carried the symbolic impact of Osama bin Laden. No matter what successes we might have achieved over the years, there was always this nagging feeling that the man most responsible for our misery got away with murder. With bin Laden’s death, this contingent of the perpetually mourning may finally reach some sense of closure. For the war widows and children, there may now be some sense that their loved one did not die in vain.
On my Internet radio show last night I wondered aloud what this might mean for the Bush legacy. After a night’s reflection and some reporting from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, at least for now I come to a positive conclusion. First, Ignatius reports that the intelligence that put us on the labyrinthine trail to Osama was first obtained by the Bush administration between 2002 and 2004. So on a very practical level, bringing bin Laden to justice was an accomplishment for both Bush and Obama.
On a more emotional note, as I watched the coverage last night, I could not help but remember Bush in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy promising that justice would be done.
Last night, Obama and our courageous Navy SEALs delivered justice not only for the thousands of grieving but also for the man who was our leader at the time of the attacks. If I allow my mind to go bipartisan for a moment, I can picture Barack’s phone conversation with Bush last night going something like this:
George, this is Barack. Osama bin Laden is dead. You can rest easy now. Your work is done and your goal was accomplished.