U.S. Politics

One of the only black people in Trump’s team has been fired for criticizing Trump

Shermichael Singleton, second from right in this picture from a NewsOne Now panel discussion with director Spike Lee, was reportedly fired on Wednesday over past criticisms of President Trump for which he had already apologized. CREDIT: Rodney Choice/AP Images for TV One


A senior adviser to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was suddenly fired Wednesday, apparently because the White House discovered he had criticized President Donald Trump.

Shermichael Singleton, 26, had worked on Carson’s own presidential bid in 2016 before joining the administration. In the closing weeks of the election, Singleton wrote an op-ed critical of Trump in which he blasted the then-nominee’s rhetoric toward black voters as “a coded message from an era in our history that should stay in the past.”

Singleton had already “answered a number of questions regarding the article and expressed remorse for the piece and support for Mr. Trump” prior to assuming his HUD position in January, the New York Times reports. But administration staff hadn’t finished his background check and “this week, Mr. Trump’s advisers turned up” the op-ed and some related tweets, according to the Times.

Singleton, who the Huffington Post notes is “one of the few black Republicansin the Trump administration,” told the Times he could not discuss the circumstances of his abrupt firing.

Security guards reportedly escorted Carson’s aide out of the HUD building Wednesday.

The decision reinforces President Trump’s long-standing image as a thin-skinned manager for whom personal loyalty is at least as important as a person’s qualifications for a job. A week earlier, Trump made a similar call in rescinding plans to appoint pardoned war criminal Elliott Abrams to a senior State Department post after the president discovered Abrams had criticized him online last year.

Singleton’s case is more likely to do damage. Carson is a neurosurgeon just beginning a job managing a large suite of housing policy programs. Trump’s team has deprived him of a trusted staffer, apparently in order to preserve the president’s ego.

Alan Pyke

U.S. Politics

Obama on presidency: ‘Anything you say can move markets or start wars’


“You have to be careful because anything you say can move markets or start wars,” President Barack Obama said. | Getty


President Barack Obama warned against the dangers that lie in the power of the presidency during a wide-ranging TV interview Friday.

In a thinly veiled comment aimed at the incoming administration, Obama told NBC’s Lester Holt that, “You have to be careful because anything you say can move markets or start wars.”

The outgoing president also discussed at length the various highs and lows of his presidency, naming the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as his lowest point in office.

“My worst day as president was hearing that 20 six-year-olds had been shot in the most brutal way,” he said.

The president also spoke of the challenges of lifting up his party while in office.

“I had trouble transferring my personal popularity or support to the broader cause of the Democratic Party,” he said. “And I think that’s a legitimate criticism.

Obama, the first African-American president, also elaborated on how his journey didn’t spell the end of racial challenges facing the country.

“I think any talk of the post-racial America before my election was never realistic,” he said. “I think that talk was not only naive but it created some problems down the road.”

Obama, however, said he remained optimistic about the changes he made while in office, and that even though the country was seemingly moving in an opposing direction, “his spirit was unchanged.”

“You get the baton and hopefully you’ve either advanced a lead or closed the gap when you pass the baton to the next person,” he said.

U.S. Politics

Self-proclaimed “genius” reaches new highs in stupidity: Trump puts his incompetence on full display

Donald Trump (Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)


Trump’s candidacy is an ugly joke — but insidious racism and media idiocy have kept him within striking distance

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is a former United States senator and secretary of state with decades of experience as a public servant. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is a real estate developer and reality TV star. He has never held public office. According to new national polling data on the 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton and Trump are in a virtual tie. How did this happen?

There are many reasons. Primarily, both candidates are viewed negatively by large segments of the American public. The U.S. economy has also experienced a relatively anemic recovery (in terms of wages and wealth) from the Great Recession of the George W. Bush years.

Furthermore, the American electorate is highly partisan and polarized. As Election Day in November approaches — and despite whatever misgivings voters may feel — it is much more likely than not that individuals will solidify their support for their political party’s chosen candidate.

These foundational factors have combined to create a close presidential race.

The American news media, much of it owned and controlled by large corporations, has also played a significant role in keeping Hillary Clinton within reach of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is an atypical presidential candidate who has utter disregard for the standing norms of American politics and even less respect for the Fourth Estate. This has allowed him to outmaneuver and manipulate many journalists and pundits. They feel beholden, or perhaps enslaved, to norms of “objectivity,” “fairness” and “balance.” Trump feels no such limitations.

By some estimates, the American media has given Trump at least $3 billion worth of free coverage. The 24/7 cable news cycle and the media’s corporate culture have fueled an obsession with creating a “horse race” and a willingness to massage, distort and misrepresent events in order to sustain that narrative. For example, the media continues to manufacture “scandals” about Clinton’s emails while ignoring or underplaying Trump’s misdeeds, from the buying of political influence and various documented acts of political corruption to his encouragement of election tampering by a foreign power, his questionable business practices and other instances ofunethical behavior.

The sum effect of these dynamics (aided by no small amount of cowardice among the pundit classes) is that the American corporate news media has buttressed and legitimated Trump. In all, this amounts to grading on a curve. Hillary Clinton is an A student being held to an impossibly high standard and punished for minor mistakes. Donald Trump is a D student, at best, who is being marked up to an A minus because the teacher is afraid of his parents.

The impact of white racism and racial resentment on American politics also plays a large role in explaining why Clinton and Trump are so close in the polls. Donald Trump is a racist, a bigot, a nativist and a fascist. The Republican Party in the post-Civil Rights era has become the United States’ largest de facto white identity organization. It also attracts white authoritarians. Trump’s selection as the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nominee is the nearly inevitable outcome of almost five decades of the “Southern strategy” pioneered by Pat Buchanan in 1968, as well as a broader right-wing electoral politics that is based first and foremost on mobilizing white voters and demobilizing nonwhites.

Moreover, despite the media’s discussion of the so-called alt-right, which is little more than an ideological smoke screen, Trump and his supporters are not outliers or aberrations in the Republican Party. They are its unapologetic base and its political id. Right-wing elites may be turned off by Trump’s lack of polish, but his core message, attitudes and values resonate among mainstream Republicans. This gives Trump a deep reservoir of preexisting support.

In some ways, Trump began his 2016 political foray in 2011 with the racist conspiracy known as “birtherism.” Five years later, 72 percent of Republicans still express doubtthat Barack Obama was born in the United States.

During the Republican campaign, Trump proposed banning all Muslim noncitizens from entering the United States. Seventy-one percent of Republicans supported it.

Social scientists have demonstrated that “old-fashioned” racism is resurgent in America and can now be used to predict whether a given white voter will support the Republican Party. Anti-black animus is also highly correlated with hostility to Barack Obama. Other work has demonstrated that racial animus has a “hangover” effect that can impact a given white person’s attitudes and beliefs about ostensibly race-neutral policy issues, like public transit and infrastructure projects, which may be perceived as benefiting blacks.

The ascendancy of Donald Trump has also empowered white supremacists and other hate groups to bolster their recruitment efforts. The Independent reports that white nationalist groups are growing at a higher rate than ISIS, at least in terms of social-media presence.

These are abstract facts and the results of social science research. They are essential and extremely important. The passions and rage that Donald Trump has summoned, however, also help to explain why he is able to be so competitive with Hillary Clinton.

Trump is the beneficiary of a populist moment of discontent in American and global politics. While Bernie Sanders’ progressive version of populism was inclusive, cosmopolitan and forward-thinking, Trump’s populism appeals to racism, tribalism and reactionary thinking. Trump is also a political necromancer, deftly skilled in manipulating white conservatives’ anxieties and fears of both generational and cultural obsolescence.

This political moment and broader atmosphere has resulted in some ugly events. Trump supporters have attacked and beaten immigrants. Violence against protesters at Trump rallies has become commonplace. Several weeks ago  a Trump supporter stabbed an interracial couple at a restaurant in Olympia, Washington. White supremacists have been emboldened by Trump’s rise to power in the Republican Party. They openly attend his rallies and other events and see him as a champion for their cause. In August a white supremacist killed a 19-year-old black teenager by running him over with a vehicle. Trump has embraced the implicit racist sentiment channeled by “All Lives Matter” and has described Black Lives Matter members as thugs and criminals who are a threat to public order. Paul LePage, the Trump-like governor of Maine, recently suggested that blacks and Latinos were the “enemy” of police and deserved to be shot.

While many political observers like to pretend that the racially toxic civic atmosphere that spawned Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party was an unexpected surprise, it was foreshadowed during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. While this factor may seem almost irrelevant at the end of his two successful terms in office, it is estimated that white racism cost Barack Obama 3 to 5 percentage points in the final presidential vote that year.

Obama’s election spawned a vicious reaction on the right. Racially resentful white conservatives flocked to the Tea Party faction. To undermine Obama’s constitutional powers, congressional Republicans refused to follow through on basic responsibilities of governance (such as raising the debt ceiling so that the government could continue to operate). Right-wing media outlets made increasingly inflammatory, racist and bizarre claims about the country’s first black president. Movement conservatives and the broader Republican Party openly discussed a second American Civil War with overtones of Southern slave owners’ beliefs in their right to “nullification” and “secession.”

At its core, politics is a struggle over resources and values. These struggles and their outcomes can be described as “push and pull factors,” “continuity and change” or “thesis and antithesis.” Political struggles, even in a democracy, do not usually result in a type of equilibrium where all parties benefit equally. Shorter version: There are winners and losers.

Donald Trump has been made competitive with Hillary Clinton because of a complicit media, the structural and institutional features of America’s two-party system and political culture and the power of white identity politics and racism. This will get Trump close to the finish line but not over it. Clinton has substantial leads in crucial swing states, and many more paths to victory in the Electoral College. Ultimately, Donald Trump burned all his racist, nativist and pseudo-fascist fuel in order to reach political orbit. He cannot sustain his altitude and will soon come crashing down. The question then becomes who gets caught in the political conflagration and what level of collateral damage will follow.

Chauncey DeVega

U.S. Politics

This is your Republican Party: The establishment is as racist as Donald Trump — and created him

This is your Republican Party: The establishment is as racist as Donald Trump -- and created him


Enough with the nonsense about a horrified GOP establishment. Trump, and horror like this, is entirely their doing

On Super Tuesday, Donald Trump continued to lock in his chokehold on the Republican Party. He won seven of the 11 Republican 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses. Trump now has 302 delegates as compared to Ted Cruz’s 174 and Marco Rubio’s 104. The Republican “establishment” is in panic mode; it appears to most observers that Il Duce Donald Trump, the American right-wing’s version of Immortan Joe from the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road,” is a fait accompli as the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.

This is the macro level story that the commentariat will be focusing on until Trump’s formal coronation at the Republican National Convention in July

Campaigns and elections are also a collection of micro-level, personal experiences. The notion that “the personal is the political” is a cliché. It is nonetheless very true: this will be the first presidential election for millions of young and other new voters. Moreover, there are Americans who have never before volunteered to assist in a campaign or election. Some of them are “feeling the Bern.” Others are working for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or the other prospective presidential candidates.

Movements like Black Lives Matter, as well as other citizen activist groups are standing up for the rights of immigrants, Muslims, women, and people of color more generally, in an era of police thuggery, surveillance, the neoliberal nightmare, a broken economy, and resurgent nativism and sexism. In all, these organizations and nascent social movements are introducing many Americans to the power of protest and the realization that they too—not just big money and inside the Beltway interest groups—have a voice.

Ultimately, these activities–voting, organizing, protesting, and other activities–will be one of the primary moments of political socialization for many millions of Americans. Their experiences in the 2016 presidential election will influence the rest of their lives and how they think about (and experience) what it means to be a member of the polity.

Politics can be messy. It involves what are called “push and pull” factors. At its worst, those moments can involve violence. In a functioning democracy such behavior is considered outside of “normal politics.” But as Donald Trump’s proto-fascist Herrenvolk nativism movement grows in power, and Republican Party elites are paralyzed by a knot of racism and demagoguery they both nurtured and created, many of the standing norms of recent American politics seem as though they are teetering on a precipice.

The following is a single data point, a news item that will likely be lost in the background noise of Super Tuesday, or just one person’s experience which they will remember for a long while and others will quickly forget.

As reported by the TV station WLKY and shared on social media, a black woman was repeatedly assaulted at a Donald Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky. White men in the crowd repeatedly shoved this young black woman while white women yelled at and harangued her. Whiteness united them in their vitriol and meanness across lines of gender and sex.

It was an ugly and disturbing scene.

Violence at Donald Trump rallies is now a common and expected occurrence. Trump encourages violence with his Right-wing strongman professional wrestling routine. Trump’s backers have followed through on his edicts. They have attacked a homeless person who they believed was an “illegal” immigrant, beaten upon a Black Lives Matter protester, and engaged in violent and hostile acts against others who they identify as not part of the tribe.

[At an earlier Donald Trump rally, approximately 30 black students at Valdosta State University in Georgia were also removed before the event began. While their tuition may have paid for the building where Trump’s event was to be held, they were identified as potentially “disruptive”. Black and brown bodies are now marked as being a “threat” to the “safe space” that Donald Trump’s political events create for white supremacy and anti-black and brown racism.]

In all, the violence at Donald Trump’s Kentucky campaign rally is but one more reminder of the racially prejudiced, bigoted, and nativist attitudes held by those people who support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—and of Republican voters en masse.

The violence at Donald Trump rallies is also an additional indicator of the fascist and authoritarian tendencies that are driving his campaign and subsequently winning broad support among broad swaths of the Republican Party base.

As David Neiwert outlined in his essential essay “Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He Is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path,” the GOP frontrunner is systematically filling out the checklist (most recently with threats against the news media) that will push him from being a “mere” proto-fascist to a full on member of that noxious political tradition.

Perhaps it is a perverse and ironic sign of racial “progress” that the black woman who was assaulted at Trump’s rally in Louisville, Kentucky, was not lynched by the enraged white crowd.

However, one cannot overlook the obvious hypocrisy: if a white Republican female was pushed and shoved by black men as she protested at a Democratic, “liberal”, or “progressive” political event such a happening would have been the source of immediate and hysterical coverage on Fox News and throughout the right-wing news media entertainment echo chamber

Tuesday’s assault at Trump’s Kentucky rally is but one more reminder of America’s old history and living present where black women are marginalized because of their gender and racially stigmatized as a result of their skin color. For most of United States history black women have been denied their full citizenship and civic equality on both accounts.

Trump’s ascendance and the violence at his political events also reminds us of a second truth about the color line in post civil rights Age of Obama America.

Writing at the Boston Review, Simon Waxman has insightfully suggested that:

Racists were chastened by the word police but never disabused of an ideology in which white supremacy reflects the universe’s order, natural or divine… But it is not one crazy guy, and there is no use pretending otherwise. That is 20 percent of the people voting for the man whom the pundits, on the eve of Super Tuesday, call inevitable, overwhelming, a runaway train.

So thank you, Donald Trump, for showing us more clearly the world we live in.

I enthusiastically agree with Waxman’s observations. I too would like to thank Donald Trump for reminding the (white) American public what has been obvious for many decades but that too many members of the political chattering classes have been afraid to publicly state in a direct and unapologetic manner: the Republican Party is the country’s largest white identity organization; in the post-civil rights era conservatism and racism are now one and the same thing.

If she did not know it before, the young black woman who was assaulted by Donald Trump’s neo-brown shirts in Kentucky most certainly knows those facts to be true now.

U.S. Politics


"He was your average Joe": The police and the media coddle another white killer

Jason Dalton (Credit: AP/Carlos Osorio)


A lone wolf, a “regular Joe.” Maybe mentally disturbed. Again, we talk differently about white killers and Muslims

On Saturday, a 45-year-old white man named Jason Brian Dalton allegedly went on a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Uber driver has been charged with six counts of murder and two counts of assault with intent to commit murder. In too many ways, this is the new normal in America.

CNN framed the reactions to the Kalamazoo murder spree in the following way:

“This is your worst nightmare,” Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas told CNN affiliate WOOD-TV. “When you have somebody just driving around randomly killing people.”

“We just can’t figure out the motive,” said Hadley. “There’s nothing that gives us any indication as to why he would do this or what would have triggered this. The victims did not know him, he did not know the victims.” …

“For all intents and purposes, he was your average Joe. This was random,” said Hadley.

Getting appeared to struggle at times for the right words, if there were any, at Sunday’s press conference.

“There is this sense of loss, anger, (and) fear,” he said. “On top of that, how do you tell the families of these victims that they were not targeted for any other reason than they were a target?”

Getting said he was confident that Dalton acted alone, and that there is no connection to terrorism.

There is a standard script used by the American corporate news media—and among the public and many elites—to discuss tragedies of this type. It is familiar. We know its vocabulary and narrative.

The white man who commits an act of mass gun violence was “disturbed” or “mentally ill.” He was a “lone wolf.” Alternatively, he is a “family” man who was living “the American Dream.” Politicians and the corporate news media caution the American public to “wait for all the facts” before arriving at any conclusions. Republicans and the right-wing news entertainment complex demand that “we” should not “politicize” gun violence. On cue, the gun lobby and its supplicants recite tired and untrue mantras such as “a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” and “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

And of course, one of the most problematic and dangerous parts of the script that is used to discuss mass shootings by white men in America is how those happenings are all so “unpredictable” and “random.” Gun violence is treated as an inevitability, something akin to a storm or “act of God.” In reality, it is the result of systematic failings of public policy, the overwhelming power of the gun lobby, and an inability on the part of the American people to hold their elected leaders accountable to the people’s will.

(A new and even more perverse “logic” has also been summoned on social media and elsewhere to discuss the Kalamazoo gun rampage. Apparently, Jason Brian Dalton is not a “mass shooter” because his killing of six people and wounding of two others took place not in one isolated event, but rather over several hours.)

Those who deviate from the boundaries of this script are often met with outrage and blind anger. Ultimately, to discuss the relationship between guns, white men, masculinity and mass violence in America is verboten. This is the lethal output of white privilege and the white racial frame in combination with one another.

There are voices that deviate from the script, those of us who dare to point out troubling questions about the nature of fairness and justice along the color line.

For example, white men with guns who kill multiple people are somehow miraculously taken into custody by police unharmed, yet black and brown people who do not have weapons, and have committed no crime, are routinely killed by heavily militarized police who are in “fear for their lives.” Likewise, white men like Cliven Bundy (and others) can point live firearms at America’s police and other law enforcement agents with relative impunity. A person of color (or someone marked as a “Muslim”) doing the same thing would be met with extreme and lethal force.

What these dissenting voices are pointing out, in their own 21st century version of “parrhesia,” is that the relationship between guns, masculinity, whiteness, democracy and notions of “freedom” constitutes a very particular and specific form of privilege that is usually denied to other groups in the United States.

To be “white” in America is the ultimate freedom to be an individual. Consequently, when white men commit horrible acts of mass gun violence there is no public demand for group accountability or introspective thought about what is “pathological” about “white culture”; white men as a group are most certainly not held responsible or stigmatized for mass shootings; there will be no discussions in the corporate news media about “white crime.”

Saturday’s act of mass murder in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is also an opportunity to highlight how the narrative of “random” gun violence can itself be a reflection of white (male) privilege.

To that end, I offer a question. Can an American who happens to be Muslim commit an act of random gun violence that kills multiple people? As a matter of empirical fact, the answer is clearly “yes.” A person from any ethnic or racial background can commit an act of violence, one that seemingly has no motive other than to inflict harm, and where the victims do not know one another.

However, the news media and America’s other opinion leaders would treat the same event as an inherently political act of terrorism. Where the alleged mass killing of six people in Kalamazoo by Jason Brian Dalton has been greeted with relative silence by the corporate news media and politicians, the same event by a “Muslim” or someone else marked as the Other would be a source of mass panic and fear.

The concept of “race” has been described by social scientists, historians and philosophers as a way of marking identities in such a manner as to answer pressing political concerns, respond to socio-political anxieties, or to demarcate who has power and what groups and individuals do not.

In the post 9/11 dystopian neoliberal nightmare version of the United States of America, to be perceived as “Muslim” is to inhabit a body and cultural identity that is marked as inseparable from “terrorism” until 1) proven otherwise and 2) to the satisfaction of the White Gaze. This irrational bigotry does many different types of political and social work. On one hand, it is a formula for success used by proto-fascist, racially resentful nativists in the Republican Party and the broader right-wing political-entertainment machine. The notion of Muslims as “terrorists” also blunts and obscures any significant public discussion about (and interventions against) mass gun violence and its connections to toxic and aggrieved white masculinity.

The inability to have these discussions is one more example, among many, of how racism hurts white people. The mass killings in Kalamazoo, Michigan, were the 42nd such event in the United States during 2016. Most victims of gun violence and other crimes are intra-racial. White men are, with several notable exceptions such as the Chattanooga massacre, largely killing other white people in America’s mass shootings. Since Sept. 11, 2001, right-wing domestic terrorists have killed more Americans than “Muslim terrorists.” The right-wing media and Republican political elites have worked very hard to suppress and deflect any discussion of that fact. White men are approximately 30 percent of the American population but are responsible for approximately 64 percent of mass shootings. Yet it is considered impolitic, or an act of “reverse racism,” to publicly discuss and seek explanations for that phenomenon.

Gun violence is a public health crisis in the United States. Mass shootings by (mostly) white men are an acute example of this public sickness. The American people and their leaders lack the will to confront those dual problems because to do so would involve asking very difficult questions–the answers to which many of us are extremely afraid.

U.S. Politics

They want to deny his humanity: Obama’s tears, white rage and the right’s phony new line


They want to deny his humanity: Obama's tears, white rage and the right's phony new line

(Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria)


America remains uncomfortable with complex, fully human and nuanced depictions of black masculinity

Barack Obama cried during a press conference about his new initiative to confront America’s plague of gun violence. The thought of the horrific murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School–children whose bodies were blown apart, so defiled that some were left unrecognizable by their parents–moved him deeply.

Barack Obama is a fan of “Star Trek.” While President Obama is more like Mr. Spock than Captain Kirk, he will likely appreciate the following allusion.

“Elaan of Troyius” is one of the most entertaining episodes of the original “Star Trek” TV series. Its plot revolves around how Captain Kirk and his crew were tasked with bringing a beautiful—and insolent, rude and uncouth—princess to meet her future husband. Of course, there is a complication in the plan as she stabs the aide who is tasked with teaching her proper manners. Captain Kirk is thrown into the mix, and in a retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” he tries to show Elaan the error in her ways. But Elaan does not easily succumb to Kirk’s charms. She, like the other women of her race, has a special power. Elaan’s tears make men into her slaves; smitten, they are unable to resist her commands.

Barack Obama’s tears do not have this power. They do not engender a sense of love. Nor do his tears create feelings of admiration or goodwill among all Americans. Republicans have suggested that Obama’s tears are fake, a calculated ruse designed to turn public opinion against “gun rights” and to vilify the National Rifle Association.

And as shared online and in other spaces, some African-Americans are concerned with how President Obama is apparently quite selective with his tears: He publicly cries for the children at Sandy Hook, but did not do so for Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black child who was de facto executed by the Cleveland police.

On questions of emotion and politics, Barack Obama exists in a tension-filled, contradictory space.

The chattering classes have often demanded that Obama show more “passion,” “fire” and “anger”—especially in response to the Republican Party’s blatant obstructionism and disingenuous behavior. Yet, many of the same commentators have also praised Obama for being “cool” and “cerebral.”

When Barack Obama has a moment when he demonstrates a sense of linked fate and empathy with the black community he is pilloried by the right-wing media. A president who happens to be black cannot say that “if he had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin,” but a white president could express all manner of concern if a white child was killed under very suspicious circumstances by a reckless, now proven to be racist, emotionally unstable, street vigilante.

In all, the faux controversy about Barack Obama’s tears (and his emotions more generally) is a reminder of how America remains unprepared for a mature discussion of what it means to be black and male in this society. While America (and the world) loves commodified, caricatured, distorted and unreal depictions of black men as offered in popular films, sports, pornography and commercial hip-hop, it is very uncomfortable with complex, fully human and nuanced depictions of black masculinity.

Barack Obama is a doting and responsible father and husband. He is also the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States, commander in chief of the most deadly military on Earth, athletic, a fan of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” a reader of comic books, a law professor and an extremely literate and well-traveled man.

Obama is also comfortable enough with his own sense of self to cry in public.

This is a threat to a regressive and insecure masculinity that views public displays of sadness and loss as weakness. Obama’s tears are also a challenge to a type of black masculinity that emphasizes the physical over the intellectual and emotional. Obama’s tears are also powerful because they are a moment when he dropped “the mask” that black men (and women) wear as a life survival skill. For Obama to let his tears slip out from under the mask is an act of courage and uncommon vulnerability.

Black people have learned to wear the mask because the White Gaze is not easily capable of seeing their true and full humanity. For example, in the global race-making projects of slavery, colonialism and imperialism, race was constructed with a hierarchy, one where “whites” were at the top because they were deemed to be “naturally” less “emotional” and consequently more “intelligent.” Blacks were at the bottom of this “Great Chain of Being” because white race scientists and others concluded that people from Africa were “animal-like,” “emotional,” “libidinous” and “unintelligent.”

Those old stereotypes continue in the present. When African-Americans show common human emotions such as upsetness or frustration they are often described as “angry black people” whose opinions are subsequently to be discounted and rejected. A black person who demonstrated pride or “too much” self-respect and dignity during the American Apartheid of Jim and Jane Crow could be a target of white violence because he or she was “uppity” or did not “know their place.” During that era, black men were often lynched or imprisoned for “reckless eyeballing,” i.e., making eye contact with a white person (especially a white woman).

These racist cultural practices still exist in post civil rights era America. Police channel them when they kill defenseless black people and then claim to somehow be “in reasonable fear for their lives.”

[At present, America’s police continue to enforce the “reckless eyeballing” rules of Jim and Jane Crow when they arrest and otherwise harass black people for the “crime” of “aggressive staring.”]

Employers and supervisors engage in these racist cultural practices when they give harsher evaluations to black workers for the same job performance that would be rewarded if they were white. Black boys and girls are more harshly disciplined in America’s schools than white children. As research on these disparities details, black and brown schoolchildren are labeled as “disruptive” while white kids are “precocious” or “high energy”—for doing the same things.

Like other black Americans, Barack Obama is a victim of pernicious, racist double standards. Obama may be the most powerful man in the world, but he is still black and male in a society that systematically discriminates against and devalues people who possess those traits.

Barack Obama is not the only American politician or opinion leader to have cried in public. Yet somehow, his tears are a special problem for conservatives.

This is rank hypocrisy. Conservatives in the Age of Obama have been extremely emotional, with much of their opposition to Barack Obama taking the form of a temper tantrum on a national stage.

Right-wing charlatan and media personality Glenn Beck drew massive ratings on Fox News. Tears about the decline of America and the threat posed by Barack Obama and “liberals” were a central part of his shtick. Right-wing talk radio is populated by callers (and hosts) who rant, scream and cry about how “their country” is being destroyed by Obama, the Democrats, liberals, immigrants, black people, minorities, or whatever enemy Other of the day is the focus of their depraved attention. The excellent 2009 documentary “Right America: Feeling Wronged” showed white McCain and Palin supporters reduced to blubbering tears by the thought of either a black man (Obama) or a woman (Hillary Clinton) winning the presidency.

The emotional outbursts of conservatives in response to Barack Obama’s presidency are not “race neutral.” Nor are they “just” about disagreements in public policy. Social scientists have exposed the deep relationship between racism, hostility to Barack Obama, and support for the Republican Party. As such, the tears, the emotion, the anger, and the rage directed by conservatives towards Obama are infused with white racial animus.

Obama’s eight years in office have provided many examples of that behavior in practice.

In an unbelievable breach of protocol, a Republican congressman yelled “You lie!” at Barack Obama while the latter gave a speech to Congress in 2009. Conservatives have complained that Obama is “arrogant” and “aloof.” Sarah Palin accused then candidate Barack Obama of being “disrespectful” toward her. Republicans such as Chris Christie and others have regularly said that Obama acts like a “petulant child”or a spoiled brat.

These examples are akin to calling a black man a “boy,” denying him the respect due him as president of the United States, and saying that he is “uppity.” Even as compared to those examples of racism, the McCain-Palin campaign was exceptional in how it channeled the ugliest parts of America’s lynch law past. A black man who “disrespected” a white woman in America was punished with the rope, the tree and fire. Such ugly rhetoric by Palin and McCain was not an accident. It was part of a broader strategy of manipulating white fears and anxieties—one that includeddarkening the images of Barack Obama and lightening those of McCain–to win an election.

Obama’s cool pose has given him the strength to weather the storm of racism that has been directed at him by his opponents on the right. The mask partially conceals his emotions and frustrations at a Republican Party that behaves as though they hate him more than they love the United States. The mask of stoicism and self-control that black folks wear is strong, but it is not impregnable.

Republicans are responding with petty indignation and political opportunism to Obama’s tears because contemporary American conservatism is a redoubt and gathering place for authoritarians, racists, warmongers and bullies.

Movement conservatives want to destroy the social safety net. They view the weak and vulnerable as “useless eaters” and “human surplus” to be culled by neoliberalism. Today’s Republican Party considers the poor, the working class, people of color, women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and Muslims to be its enemies.

Barack Obama’s tears at the thought of 20 dead schoolchildren are a reflection of his humanity. Movement conservatives are less likely to cry for dead children killed by gun violence, than they are at the thought of some fictive boogeyman coming to take away their precious guns.

This, among many other reasons, is why contemporary conservatism is sociopathy in the guise of a political ideology.

U.S. Politics

The Supreme Court’s Set To Hear One Of The Biggest Race Cases In Years. It Has No Business Doing So.



Next week, Chief Justice John Roberts will have the chance to achieve one of his longtime dreams — ending affirmative action in university admissions — if he can only obtain the votes of his four fellow conservatives. Since ascending to the Supreme Court, Roberts has made eliminating much of the legal infrastructure intended to address America’s legacy of discrimination a personal mission, and he’s already succeeded in undercutting lawmakers’ ability to fight public school segregation and to cure racial voter suppression. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case the Roberts Court is hearing for the second time, could easily allow Roberts to stick a knife in race-conscious policies and leave them to die.

Except that, in order to do so, Roberts will need to betray another cause that he advocated with considerable passion prior to joining the bench. The Court’s Standing Doctrine, a doctrine that prevents plaintiffs from using federal courts as a general forum to air their grievances, promotes “a conception that judicial power is properly limited in a democratic society,” according to one of the few scholarly articles Roberts published while still in private practice. Without such a limit on the judiciary’s power, Roberts explained, courts would be forced into “a role for which they are ill-suited both institutionally and as a matter of democratic theory.”

Standing, in short, is the requirement that federal plaintiffs must have suffered an injury that can actually be fixed by a favorable court decision. As the Supreme Court explained in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, the opinion Roberts praised in his 1993 law review article, a plaintiff must not simply show that they’ve been injured by the party they are suing, they must show that “‘likely,’ as opposed to merely ‘speculative,’ that the injury will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.’”

Which brings us back to the Fisher case. The attorneys for Abigail Fisher, the sole plaintiff in this attack on affirmative action, failed to take actions other affirmative action plaintiffs took to preserve their right to be in court in the first place — and this may prove their undoing now thatFisher is before the justices once again.

A Case About Nothing

Fisher challenges one part of the University of Texas’s two-tiered admissions program. The majority of UT’s students are admitted through a “Top Ten Percent Plan,” which automatically admits Texas students in the top ten percent of their high school class. This plan effectively leverages housing segregation in Texas to diversify much of the student body, since students in the top ten percent of a public school that almost entirely serves people of color will generally be people of color themselves. At its peak, over eighty percent of students were admitted through the Top Ten Percent Plan, which is not being challenged in Fisher.

The remainder of UT’s class is selected through “holistic review” a process that “looks past class rank to evaluate each applicant as an individual based on his or her achievements and experiences.” Under this process, race, a low-income background and similar factors can give applicants a slight edge over similarly qualified applicants. Ms. Fisher, who is white, claims that the university cannot consider race even in this limited capacity.

Her quest to get the Supreme Court to agree with her has been long, however. She was originally denied admission by UT in 2008 and filed this lawsuit shortly thereafter. Though the Court’s conservative majority was widely expected to rule in Fisher’s favor after they first heard her case in 2012, they instead surprised most court-watchers by sending the case back to the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. If the conservative justices expected the Fifth Circuit to strike down UT’s admissions policy for them, however, they were disappointed. A divided panel of that court upheld the program again in 2014. It’s now 2015, and Fisher’s college career is over. She graduated from Louisiana State University in 2012.

That, combined with errors by her lawyers, may prove fatal to her case. As UT argues in its brief, Fisher’s request to be admitted in the University of Texas became moot upon her graduation from LSU — she no longer seeks to be admitted into an undergraduate program now that she has a bachelor’s degree. Recall that a plaintiff in not allowed in court unless they’ve experienced an injury that can be “redressed by a favorable decision.” But a favorable decision by the Supreme Court will not allow her to go back in time and attend UT.

Alternatively, Fisher also seeks “monetary damages in the form of refund of application fees and all associated expenses” — specifically, the $100 she paid when she applied to UT. Yet the university also makes a strong case that this injury cannot be addressed by a favorable decision. “While obtaining a $100 damages award might provide some ‘psychic satisfaction,’” to Fisher, UT explains in its brief, the Constitution requires her to show “that the requested relief will redress the alleged injury.” Here, however, the alleged injury is the fact that she was not admitted into the university (or, alternatively, the fact that she was evaluated under an allegedly unconstitutional process), but the $100 fee bears no relationship to this injury. To the contrary, she “would have paid the application fees even if UT had not considered race at all—and even if she had been admitted.”

Lawyers in other major cases challenging affirmative action avoided similar problems by bringing a class action “on behalf of future applicants,” thus allowing them to continue to represent these future applicants even after their original plaintiff graduated. But Fisher’s lawyers failed to jump through this procedural hoop. That leaves them without a client who has experienced a redressable injury.

The Way Out

If a majority of the Court decides that Fisher no longer has standing to pursue her case, that could delay a Supreme Court decision on the merits of affirmative action for at least another year while opponents of such admissions programs work to bring another case up to the justices. It’s an open question whether Roberts will care enough about the “conception that judicial power is properly limited in a democratic society” to delay resolution of a major racial issue for this long — and, indeed, he’s previously indicated that he will not. The question of whether Fisher proves to be a major case or a minor jurisdictional hiccup, however, may not be up to Roberts.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is very conservative on race, but he has shown more capacity for nuance on this topic than his four fellow conservative justices. Last June, for example, Kennedy surprised many Court watchers by casting the key fifth vote to save longstanding protections against housing discrimination. Kennedy also dissented in Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 Supreme Court decision preserving affirmation action, so he remains a very likely vote to kill race conscious admissions programs in Fisher. Nevertheless, he’s shown some trepidation about actually handing down a majority decision cutting off admissions programs like the one at UT.

During the Court’s 2012 term, the last time that Fisher’s case was before the justices, the Court initially voted 5-3 in favor of Fisher (with Justice Elena Kagan recused), according to Joan Biskupic’s book Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice. After Justice Sonia Sotomayor penned a blistering dissent, however, Kennedy agreed to a compromise that sent the case back down to the Fifth Circuit. “Kennedy,” Biskupic says, “wanted to lower the temperature among the justices and he was open to a position that would draw as many justices as possible to an opinion.” Eventually, he got that wish. Seven of the eight justices hearing Fisher I joined the compromise opinion.

Fisher graduated from LSU shortly before her case reached the Supreme Court the first time, and the Court was not moved by the argument that she lacked standing in Fisher I. Nevertheless, if Kennedy still wishes to avoid a hot war among his colleagues, the standing argument gives him a way out. He wouldn’t even have to depart from the Court’s previous standing precedents in order to take it.



U.S. Politics

10 questions in the Sandra Bland case


As Sandra Bland is laid to rest on Saturday, questions about the circumstances of her death continue to swirl. Here are 10 questions people are still asking about Bland, the activist who was found dead in a Texas jail cell three days after being arrested during a traffic stop. Authorities have ruled Bland’s death suicide by hanging. Both the traffic stop and Bland’s death are under investigation.

1. Why was Sandra Bland photographed in an orange jumpsuit, rather than in her street clothes?

A July 23 press release from the Waller County Sheriff’s office stated that when a prisoner is taken into the jail:

“The inmate is walked to the booking area where they are processed by the booking officer. Depending on how many inmates are being processed at this time, an inmate’s photograph may be taken in their original clothing or the inmate may be dressed out in orange. Their photograph is taken on the wall south of the booking officer’s desk. We should note that if the inmate is not standing directly in the center of the backdrop, a portion of the white wall may appear.”

Paul C. Looney, a trial attorney who practices in Waller County and Houston and who has been named by the Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith to lead a task force on jail procedures, told msnbc the jumpsuit vs. street clothes question “could go either way.” He said that of his clients who have been booked into Waller County jail, “Typically [the booking photos] were taken in their own clothes, if there was somebody available to do it when they first walked in. In booking photos of my clients, I’ve seen it both ways.”

2. Why was there no side profile picture of Ms. Bland in her mugshot?

Looney said Waller County may be the exception when it comes to how the photos are done. “You know? I cannot recall in all of my Waller County cases seeing a side angle” photo, he told msnbc by phone Saturday.

3. Why did an officer fill out the intake forms, rather than Bland herself, and why did her answers on suicide change?

The intake form, on which Bland indicated a past suicide attempt, but in which she also indicated she was not suicidal at the time, was filled out by the booking officer, as is customary in most jails. According to the July 23 press release from the Waller County Sheriff’s office: “Inmates are brought into the Waller County Jail intake section by the arresting officer. The arresting officer completes a Jail Book-in sheet and inventories the arrestee’s property. Jail staff meets with the arrestee and arresting officer and completes a Screening form for Suicide and Medical and Mental Impairments form and Texas Department of State Health Services Correctional Tuberculosis form. These forms are provided to the main control supervisor prior to the inmate being accepted.”

The release stated that any discrepancy in the information on the forms indicates that the inmate changed his or her answer.

4. Why wasn’t Bland placed on suicide watch?

An autopsy indicated marks on Bland’s wrists that are consistent with healing scars from past incidents of self-cutting. And the intake form indicated a past suicide attempt. Bland’s family reported that earlier this year, Bland had been distraught over the loss of a pregnancy, though the family has strongly disputed the notion that she committed suicide in jail. The Waller County Sherrif’s office acknowledged in the July 23 release that “Ms. Bland, based on Jail staff’s observations, was not placed on any formal suicide watch.”

Two women who were being housed in an adjacent cell have told local news media that Bland was distraught on Sunday night, the second night she spent in the jail, and that they wished that she had been housed with them, rather than by herself. One of the women, Alexandria Pyle, indicated that Bland was distraught that her calls to a friend who was supposed to be helping her meet the 10% requirement for her $5,000 bail had not been returned. (Bland left a voicemail for a friend, LaVaughn Morris, before she died.) And while Pyle told the local news outlet that she wished Bland had been housed with her and the other women rather than alone, according to the Sheriff’s office release, she was placed in cell 95, which was classified as a “medium to maximum security cell,” due to the offense she was charged with: assault on a law enforcement officer. The other women were being jailed on offenses in a different classification. The Waller County Sheriff’s office has admitted that there were issues with the jail staff’s training and protocols for checking regularly on inmates, but said they do not believe those factors contributed to Bland’s death.

5. Why was there a plastic trash can liner in Sandra Bland’s cell?

Most law enforcement professionals assert that when a prisoner is taken to jail, anything in their possession that could be used to harm themselves or others is taken away. Based on a press release from the Waller County Sheriff’s office, this jail is no different. Authorities have said Bland hanged herself with a plastic trash can liner that was in her cell.

“You know, as soon as I heard that I wondered what the hell was that doing there,” Looney said of the presence of the plastic bag. “I read a piece somewhere that said that they had been instructed to have liners in the trash cans, per a previous inspection. I guess I don’t understand why they would do that.”

A Texas Tribune article reported that hanging is the most common method of suicide in Texas jails, with bed linens, clothing, telephone or electrical cords and trash bags all having been used by inmates in the past. (Incidentally, of the 140 suicide deaths in Texas jails since 2009, Bland is the lone African-American woman among 15 female deaths.) The Waller County jail was cited by the state after a 2012 incident in which an inmate hung himself.

Elton Mathis, the Waller County district attorney, and his team have submitted the trash can liner found in Bland’s cell for further forensic analysis.

6. Was the death scene altered?

Photographs of Cell 95 from two different news outlets, including NBC News, show apparent alterations of the scene where Sandra Bland died. In one photograph, a pair of orange slippers, which can also be seen worn by a male inmate in the video of the EMS response to the discovery of Sandra Bland’s body, are at the foot of one of the beds in the cell, and a closed Bible is visible on the bed:

In another photo, the slippers are gone, and the Bible is open. The Waller County Sheriff’s office has not explained this discrepancy.

7. Could Sandra Bland have ingested marijuana in jail?

Bland was arrested on July 10 and held for three days. Toxicology tests during her autopsy showed the presence of a significant quantity of marijuana, according to the district attorney’s office. But the assistant district attorney, Warren Diepraam, on Thursday raised the possibility that Bland may have consumed or even smoked marijuana while she was inside the Waller County jail. Looney said that assertion “struck me as odd then, strikes me as odd now.” He said it seemed implausible that any inmate, having had their personal effects removed at intake, could have taken drugs with them into their cell, let alone used them undetected while inside their cell. Diepraam himself indicated on Thursday that no other inmates reported smelling marijuana while Bland was being held at the jail. And Diepraam indicated that THC, the principal drug component of marijuana, could have been in Ms. Bland’s system before her arrest, in sufficient quantities to still be detectable after several days.

It should be noted that to many legal experts, the issue of marijuana is irrelevant, and many Black Lives Matter movement supporters believe the district attorney’s focus on drugs is meant to disparage the deceased.

8. Why wasn’t Bland’s epilepsy tested for or treated?

Bland’s intake form included a check mark for “yes” on epilepsy, and she can be heard on the police dashcam video telling the arresting officer that she suffered from the illness. However, the autopsy did not include a test for epilepsy, and the sheriff’s office said Bland “was offered Emergency Medical Services prior to being transported to the jail” but that she “refused any medical treatment.”

9. Was there evidence that Sandra Bland was injured during the arrest?

The autopsy did indicate lacerations on Ms. Bland’s back that were consistent with a knee potentially being applied to her back, and the remnants of a leaf lodged in one of the lacerations on her back. Lacerations on her wrist were consistent with the application of handcuffs.

10. Why has no action been taken against the arresting officer?

The arresting officer, trooper Brian Encina, has been placed on desk duty, and the Texas Department of Public Safety has stated publicly that he violated departmental policies in his conduct during the traffic stop. At this time, the Texas Rangers and DPS are conducting their own investigations into the traffic stop, as is a different assistant district attorney, Mia Magnus, who would be activated in the event that criminal violations are found. That investigation is separate from the Sandra Bland death investigation. District Attorney Mathis has said no evidence of criminal behavior has been uncovered so far.

U.S. Politics

“OK, so what would convince you that racism is real?”

Darren Wilson, Donald Sterling, Dylann Roof, Cliven Bundy, Michael Slager (Credit: Reuters/AP)


I don’t hang out with white people I need to educate about white privilege. And then I started dating one

One of the pleasures of getting older and making a living the way you want to is that your social circle becomes rarefied and the people who enter have been vetted. When I was in my 20s, shady-ass characters routinely found their way into my life and my apartment. With some regularity, friends revealed themselves as liars, or misogynists, or big Master P fans, and I stopped fucking with them.

Nowadays, that never happens. My whole crew is rock-solid, and anybody I meet through any of them comes pre-certified; I might not love them, but I can take for granted that they aren’t going to ransack my house or pop some foul shit.

A related fact is that I don’t really fuck with that many white people these days. Not for a white person, anyway. And those I do fuck with tend to be 1) predominantly Jewish but totally secular, 2) hip-hop heads and practitioners since Bushwick Bill had depth perception, and 3) decades deep in their critical analysis of white privilege and structural racism, which was a process that was not optional if you were a white hip-hop kid growing up in the era of Brand Nubian and X-Clan and BDP. You probably know some of these people if you’re reading this, because they’re all writers and artists and musicians – Danny Hoch, Kevin Coval, Joe Schloss, J. Period, Dan Charnas, Blake Lethem, Jon Shecter. That type of dude.

This is a minuscule cohort, invisible on the national radar, but for all intents and purposes it’s the sum total of my white community. I don’t know any of the white people who keep showing up in all those incredibly depressing studies and statistics—the ones that reveal a typical white person’s “real life social network” is 1 percent black, or that a majority of whites in this country believe “anti-white bias” is a bigger problem than racism, or that less than half of whites believe the grand juries should have indicted the killer cops in Ferguson or Staten Island, or that Barack Obama lost the white vote in both 2008 and 2012.

I didn’t look any of that up just now; I keep facts like this handy because I’m a dude who speaks about race and whiteness and politics in public sometimes and I like to stay strapped. But I’ve constructed a life and a career that keeps me completely isolated from those white people — “real” white people. I don’t even have awkward Thanksgiving conversations with some crotchety old-fuck uncle who thinks the president is a secret Muslim.

I did, however, become single and start dating last summer, for the first time since Bill Clinton was in office. I met a girl I really liked. I’ll call her Jessie. She was gorgeous, she was smart, and she liked to talk shit. She lived in Queens but I met her at a literary festival in Jamaica. We watched Prodigy from Mobb Deep get bumrushed onstage by a drunken local whom the crowd liked more, and then we stayed up all night, blah blah blah. It didn’t occur to me, not for one second, that her politics or her race consciousness or whatever might be different than mine, because I had met her. Even though she was from a tiny town in Oregon and had grown up in a mega-Christian family. After all, she’d renounced that shit and moved to New York and she liked me.

Then Mike Brown got murdered and Jessie couldn’t understand the rush to condemn Darren Wilson. This wasn’t part of a pandemic of police violence against black men to her; these were individuals and we didn’t know what had happened and we shouldn’t make assumptions and most cops weren’t necessarily racist, most cops just reacted to the situations they were in, the experiences they’d had, and if those experiences led them to assume that black men should be treated as threats, who were we to question that?  She’d served two weeks on a grand jury and all the gun case defendants had been black, and what did that tell you? Those were facts. She’d beenthere.

We almost broke up that night. I stood on the street outside her crib, an incredibly heavy duffel bag on my shoulder, and argued my motherfucking ass off for two and half hours. I happen to be really good at arguing, for reasons I’m not necessarily proud of, reasons that date back to early childhood and contributed heavily to my nascent singleness. Though being really good at arguing is also how I got through high school and college without studying that much. Marshaling some shit KRS-ONE said in a song and using it to bludgeon a history teacher was my basic educational M.O. for about six years.

I told Jessie that she was ignoring the empirical in favor of the anecdotal, and what a fraught and dangerous path that was. I tried to get her to understand how intensely personal this was for me, how unjust policing and trials and sentencing had destroyed friends’ lives and compromised our entire generation.  We did history and anthropology and philosophy.  It was heated and intense and the angrier I get the better I argue. Eventually I felt good enough about where we’d gotten, the progress we’d made, to go upstairs and sleep with her.

But it wasn’t really OK. We kept talking about it. Jessie admitted freely that she’d never really grappled with this shit and expressed a beautifully sincere desire to try. Pretty soon she was telling her father on the phone about the endemic racism of the police, and getting excited about engaging all the white people she knew back home — the kind she’d been herself a few weeks earlier. She felt like she knew how to get through to them, how to create empathy and understanding and break down fear and hatred.

The thing was, her impulses were still her impulses; her frame was still her frame. Even now that she was righteously indignant and eager to proselytize, every discussion began with her eliding the ubiquity of structural racism, refusing to see how it undergirded whatever situation we were parsing. She focused on anything and everything else, with a fervor I knew all too well, and I’d bombard her with statistics, or point out that the very categories she chose to create were grounded in the normalization of whiteness, or I’d have to create elaborate hypothetical scenarios to illustrate the limitations of, say, a black person’s ability to prevent himself from being profiled by police. She hadn’t read anything. She didn’t know who Emmett Till was. Or James Baldwin. She listened to a lot of hip-hop, but — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — that means nothing in 2014.

I felt confused and compromised, being with her. On one hand, I was introducing Jessie to all this radical race shit (radical only on the spectrum of white American politics, but still) and seeing her get a decent amount of it — even if the process wore me out. On the other hand, I was with somebody who didn’t get radical race shit, somebody who never would have made her way past the gatekeepers and into my little precious elitist smartypants cool white kid circles. And on the third hand, I had become (as my friend Sheila Heti writes) one of those insufferable men who want to teach a woman something.

Jessie kept telling me how much good I could do by talking to the kind of people she grew up with, and I kept saying I wasn’t interested in chopping it up with any hunkered-down white racists, that I’d had my fill of that 10 years earlier when I published “Angry Black White Boy.” She kept being disappointed in my refusal, my weariness, my cynicism in thinking those people wouldn’t change based on anything I said, my arrogance in acting like I had better shit to do.

Continue reading this essay here>>>

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan’s race flap even worse than it looks

Paul Ryan's race flap even worse than it looks
Paul Ryan (Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)


The notion that Ryan was dog-whistling to racists is actually the best-case scenario. Here’s the scary alternative

I spent a depressing amount of time this weekend trying to think up a scenario in which someone might say the following without being motivated, to at least some degree, by malign intent.

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

What I came up with was strained and unlikely, but troubling if true.

In case you slept through last week, the person who said this was congressman and one-time GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. It ignited a fairly heated debate over whether he was intentionally trafficking in racial code words to pander to white conservatives. Ryan claims he spoke inarticulately and was thus misunderstood. For proponents of the dog-whistle theory, the fact that Ryan cited Charles Murray, author of “The Bell Curve,” was the smoking gun.

For my part, I don’t think they need a smoking gun, because Occam’s razor does all the dirty work. You can take Murray completely out of the equation and the likelihood that Ryan wasn’t at least subconsciously playing to the prejudices of resentful or racist whites is pretty low.

But let’s assume Ryan’s playing it straight, and his defenders, like Slate’s Dave Weigel, are correct when they argue that this is just how Ryan and other conservatives “think about welfare’s effects on social norms.” If that’s true, it’s actually a bigger problem for the right. If Ryan was even a little bit aware of how people would interpret his remarks, or understood the reaction to them when it exploded online, we could just say that some conservatives want to play the Southern Strategy at least one more round, and leave it at that. Close the book on this controversy, without drawing any larger conclusions about the state of conservative self-deception.

But if Ryan genuinely stumbled heedless into a racial tinderbox then it suggests he, and most likely many other conservatives, has fully internalized a framing of social politics that wasdeliberately crafted to appeal to white racists without regressing to the uncouth language of explicit racism, and written its origins out of the history. If that’s the case it augurs poorly for those in the movement who are trying to broaden the Republican Party’s appeal, because it’s easier to convince people to abandon a poor tactic than to unlearn rotten ideology.

In his 1984 book “The Two Party South,” political scientist Alexander Lamis quoted a conservative operative later revealed to be Ronald Reagan confidant Lee Atwater, who traced the evolution.

”You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N—-r, n—-r, n—-r,’” Atwater explained. “By 1968 you can’t say ‘n—-r’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N—-r, n—-r.”’

Treating intergenerational laziness of inner-city men as established truth, and bemoaning the ways social spending programs supposedly nurture that “culture,” blends seamlessly into Atwater’s framework.

Weigel interprets the fact that Charles Murray has lately softened his claims as exculpation for Ryan and other conservatives who cite him. But Murray’s just following a social Darwinist’s rendition of the trajectory Atwater traced. I suspect both men are wiser to their intentions than their apologists give them credit for. There are ways to promote conservative social policies that aren’t remotely racialized — they just don’t ignite the passions of resentful white people in a politically meaningful way. If I’m wrong, though, conservatives better hope the party doesn’t nominate Ryan or any like-minded thinkers in 2016.

A quick point of trivia: I first learned about Atwater’s comments years ago, in this New York Times column by Bob Herbert questioning why anybody was surprised to hear GOP education secretary-cum-talk radio host Bill Bennett say, “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.”

Guess whose program Ryan was a guest on when he stepped in it last week?