The American Identity #9: Progressives pt 2

Why not here at home?

I want to transition into another angle which I think is part of the American identity issue. I believe the same sentiment Debra Dickerson talked about (see part 1)- being uncomfortable with the slave narrative, plays a role in why some chose to do their  philanthropic work in foreign countries instead of here in America.

Oprah opens school in Africa.  Americans seek to adopt children from Africa bypassing the millions of children in their own country who need a home.  Privilege kids from Stanford who do work in 3rd world country (as a sort of rite of passage).

When people here these things, the question is often times, why not here?  Now I must point out that I do not disparage them for adopting a child from Africa and from the child’s stand point it’s usually a better situation. Nor am I the type that believe Whites shouldn’t adopt Black children.  I think its wonderful that they are doing work in other countries, there are problems that need addressing for sure. I just want to consider the question-why not here.

Listen to 2 snippets from Glenn and Joshua Cohen from BloggingheadsTV
(full conversation)



The hang ups one has to deal with in the “Black community” is not lost on me.  There’s the gatekeepers and those with interest in the status quo. You have to work through all the pettiness, turf-guarding, dysfunction and cultural baggage-what you’re walking into and what you bring.  Its work!  And for a privilege kid looking to simply check off an item on the list or do work in a 3rd world nation, as a way to gain their bonafides, it’s much easier to get on a plane.  You’ve seen the pictures, smiling American surrounded by smiling half-dressed 3rd world kids (because well they’d surround anyone or anything new to their environment, it’s the thing to see.) But if you aren’t really that serious it (3rd world work) serves its purpose; puts you on the right side of the demarcation and looks good on the resume. You got the love you were looking for, you’ve been validated and now move on.

Don’t you want help for the “Black community”?

Yes, but the right kind of help and for the right reasons. The “Black community” is not a lab. It’s certainly not a lab in the sense you deploy bullshit, write a dissertation and then leave. If you want to do it on the cheap, stick with the international route.

It’s what I’m puttin’ down for now, what say you?

The American Identity #8: Progressives pt 1

“Why is it so often true that when critics confront the American as Negro they suddenly drop their advanced critical armament and revert with an air of confident superiority to quite primitive modes of analysis?”
Ralph Ellison

I think the excerpt (below) from Debra Dickerson frames my complaint about progressives. For this post I’m referring to White Progressives and I distinguish from Black Progressives because after you get past the racial layer you’ll see, for the most part, a conservative  towards many of our contemporary issues.  And the demarcation for where Black Americans fall on these issues is very interesting, but that’s a whole discussion on its on. So for now indulge me.

Debra Dickerson on Obama’s narrative.  Clip from BloggingheadsTV (Full conversation)

First my brief comment about how I believe progressive evolved or was born.  It’s basically liberals who didn’t want to be associated with 60’s & 70’s liberalism, those who scurried away from the label because Reagan had them shaking in their boots. The progressive designation, to those slightly to the right of the more radical left, is a happy medium.  There are some things they need to work through, which I’m sure comes as a shock to them.
In Frederick Haynes fashion, let me hang out here and make an interesting observation: To the extent they get it wrong, (it, being assumptions about race/black people) and if you’re into these sorts of distinctions,  I’ve found liberals are at least willing to accept how they might be getting it wrong in a sort of “oops that was so white of me” way.  Progressives aren’t as open to hearing they get it wrong.   They’ve got it all figured out and to suggest otherwise is to take a risk.

More from John McWhorter. Clip from BloggingheadsTV (Full conversation)

We’ll champion your cause but don’t go thinking you’re equal

One day in Oakland, I watched as the young activist types, typical of this area, posted up on a corner, handing out Socialist literature. I refused and asked, “how come you guys never go to (mentioning an affluent White community in the area)”; he got indignant and as took an insulting shot at me as I walked pass. An hour later as I was walking back, they were packing up and loading their stuff into a shiny Audio with ski racks.   I said with a chuckle: “so you headed up to the slops to hand out literature at the ski lodge”? No response.

I’m amazed at how easy it is (for Black) to get ostracized; not for holding a conservative view-point BUT for simply thinking independently.
(This is bad from an organizational
standpoint because you want different kind of thinkers and change agents. I went off on a tangent, but I digress.)
It seems, in the area,  you’re less predictable and going off script throws them off.   They don’t seem to know how to act because the engagement or relationship is void of the bargain that’s typically in play.  I also think there’s a desired narrative-how they produced you.
This whole notion, a weird bargain, began to show itself to me when I started working in the nonprofit community. I worked with a nonprofit that partnered with the local school district. On many occasions  I sat and listened to people talk about black people in ways I didn’t appreciate: nothing mean-spirited, just extremely reductive. Its the way they were considering Black people (as political abstractions not real people), otherwise smart nuanced thinking people relying on too many assumptions, taking too many short cuts.  I would sit in those meetings, knowing that Black life was more complex, ambiguous and richer that what I was hearing. Also, the irony of having to listen to those with Masters in Sociology from elite private colleges ask how I handled, approached or dealt with diversity became a bit too glaring. This began to annoy me; my narrative has way more textured that your understanding and secondly, please, I know my reality.

continue to Part 2

It’s what I’m puttin’ down for now, what say you?

The American Identity #7: Wrong side of history continuum Pt 2

The Roots

The Southern aristocracy was able to convince the common Southern White to do their bidding for them.  They got them to fight a war they really had no interest in. I posit that, the reason they fought the war was all about identity.  “At least you’re better than a………”. What else were they fighting for? If immigrants keep wages down, how about slavery?

As you make your way through the era’s I listed in part 1, you’ll find at the heart of each move that it’s about identity-always willing to do someone else’s bidding.  Southern White to the aristocracy, KKK to the White Citizens Council, Dixiecrats to big business Republicans, working class to Murdoch, Tea Party to Koch brothers, etc.  It’s the same theme, craving for acceptance in the club.

In 1948, Strom Thurmond stormed out of the Democratic convention taking his delegates and others who followed.   In one move Southern Whites in a seismic shift, set a 40 yr political course that would bring us into the 21st century.  Imagine if they had fully embraced the ideals of our American democracy?

In ’65 Lyndon Johnson’s quote went something to the effect of: “We just lost the South for a generation”. It was an understatement.   Many stop at that quote but lets finish the sentiment; they were not in favor of equality and therefore UN-American, unpatriotic with many flying the flag of a foreign nation.  The comeback to that is predictably simple and goes like: “well if Mexicans fly the Mexican flag” – (1st they’re Americans not Mexicans which drives the point, but I digress) But yes and we or them question their patriotism and loyalty, consider them perpetual outsiders, not part of Palin’s real America.
Nixon implemented the Southern Strategy to appeal to disaffected Southern Whites but on August 3rd, 1980, Reagan would take George Wallace’s legacy national. 

I held out hope that they would figure it all out because in the final analysis, the solutions to America’s current challenges will mean getting past our racial hang-ups.  I we had a moment, I thought that after the wasteful wars, assault on the constitution and a global financial meltdown as the dismount, there was a real chance for America take on a 21st century world.  Then after the inauguration, it was clear they weren’t going to face how arrogantly wrong and complicit they were and Obama style wasn’t going to push the issue. Instead, with a clever sleight of hand they would double-down and re-brand as Tea Party. Then it was just a matter of continuing what you do best, which is a reflection of all they have, indignation. Indignation whether their guys or in or out of power.  Obfuscation their only tactic.   I know they’re angry because all day long on talk radio it’s Huckfin’s dad syndrome: “da niggaz & the guvment”.  (‘cept the category has expanded to include Gays, liberals, Blacks, Asian, etc.)
So it seems there will always be a small minority who just can’t get past it.  Their numbers will always seem larger because they are the most vocal.  The most outrageous splashes get the attention. 9/11, Jingoism, nationalism breathed life back into them and it seems the ascendency of Barack Obama was like wind to a spark that starts a blaze. Plus they’ll continue to swallow the therapeutic mind fuck served up daily by conservative talk radio, 24hrs a day, up and down the dial, from coast to coast. Gravitating to the simplest argument.
They will never, ever have the courage to admit that Blacks, Gays, immigrants, liberals, etc. are not the source of their ills; can’t do it, too much of their existence relies on thinking otherwise.  I just don’t believe they have the capacity to think another way.   So there’s just a sort of poetic justice watching those who built their entire identity on a lie (race superiority) unravel as their philosophy bangs up against modernity and the world gets smaller.  The world they envisioned never occurred and never will. The closest thing to it was 1950’s driven by a war economy, GI bill and Hollywood. Well Hollywood is still here but, 1950 is gone forever.


It’s what I’m puttin’ down for now, what say you?

The American Identity #6: Wrong side of history continuum Pt 1

The 2008 Presidential Campaign and the prospect of electing the 1st Black President made for an interesting glimpse at another part of the American Identity.  Its easy now, with the Tea Party, birther, you lie and O’Reilly type disrespect, to forget the in fighting during the primary campaign.  So lets just get that out-of-the-way, there were elements in both parties.
America scratched and revealed, just below the surface, a racial animus that never really left us.  It was always there smoldering.  Did you think people with this worldview just vanished from the surface of the planet, after the civil rights progress?

Making their way along through the late 20th century

In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s first move after receiving the Republican nomination was to launch his candidacy in Philadelphia, Miss. The content was a states rights speech,
and to drive the point home; a story about a Cadillac driving welfare queen in Chicago.   Now, given the fact that these things are carefully choreographed, does anyone think this site and speech theme was a coincident?
This play on States rights (George Wallace’s legacy: Southern politics gone national) and innuendos: (big city, Cadillac, welfare, taxes) was clearly a race card play.

“I believe in states’ rights … I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment.”

Reagan solidified an unlikely alliance between working class Southern Whites (which talk radio & Fox would help spread nationally) and the big business corporate wealthy class.
When I think of an erudite like David Brooks I don’t think small town jute joints or public square storefront and Sunday school mornings.

At the time (2008), I told my wife that all this rhetoric we’re hearing about Barack Obama is just a continuum and at its core really about identity. I mean, we all know about Black American identity because we’ve seen evolve in a very public way with a pronouncement: Negro to black is beautiful to hyphenated African. And since there are those in the 21st century…STILL… begging the question of their humanity; we can be certain to hear more, but I digress-the point is, we all know about it.
Reagan was tapping into a sentiment that extends back through the “Southern Strategy” in the mid 60s, through Strom Thurmond in the 1948 Democratic convention, to Jim Crow, to Reconstruction, to the Civil War.   So call them what you want: Dixiecrats, Southern Democrats, Reagan Democrats, Tea Party, birthers, etc., it’s the same crew who’s always been on the wrong side of history. The same crew we’ve been dragging, kicking and screaming towards our ideals for over a hundred years.   Now I must say I do not believe they make up a majority of Tea Party folks.  But the party is a good place for them to settle in and they’re still very vocal.  The Tea Party gives them cover, and quite possibly comforts those can’t admit their racial hang-ups and won’t face their fears.

Continue to part 2

It’s what I’m puttin’ down for now, what say you?