Archive for the ‘racism’ Category

3 Big Differences Between Reid and Lott

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

The Republicans have suddenly discovered their previously undetectable racial sensitivity, and are calling for Harry Reid to resign as Majority Leader of the Senate because of some awkward language Reid used to describe his enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s candidacy. They are equating Reid’s stated enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy to former Senator Trent Lott’s stated enthusiasm for segregation. Sadly, some soft-minded liberals are joining them in claiming that Obama and those of us too smart to fall for this false equivalency are hypocrites.

There is a difference between Reid and Lott, and what Reid and Lott said, that distinguishes the cases for anyone who is neither intellectually dishonest nor intellectually stunted. In fact, there are three big differences, and I’ll point them out for those who think that all unfortunate mentions of race are equivalent, and justification for a political death penalty.

1. What They Said: Let’s look at what Harry Reid said, in his enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy. He made the accurate observation that Obama’s skin is relatively light, and said that he speaks “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” It uses a ’50s era term for African-American, it (inaccurately?) implies that America might face more difficulty in supporting a darker-skinned candidate, and it implies that the pattern of speech employed by a segment of African-Americans is a broader “Negro dialect”. One might just as fairly express joy that a Missouri politician speaks with no inbred hillbilly dialect.

Distasteful, I agree, and not the sort of thing I like to see from a Democrat.

Trent Lott, on the other hand, said that he was proud to have voted for Strom Thurmond when he ran as a segregationist and opposed anti-lynching legislation, and that “if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” Do I need to map out the differences? While Reid was speaking enthusiastically about electing a black president, Lott was speaking enthusiastically about segregation and wishing that we could go back to the pre-civil rights South and lynching. To find a distinction between the two does not demonstrate hypocrisy, it demonstrates an understanding of the difference between a little insensitivity and a deep resentment of uppity blacks causing problems.

2. Who They Are: As President Obama points out, Harry Reid has worked with him and other Senators on socially progressive causes to help the underprivileged for years. He’s got some credibility on racial issues. He’s built up a store of good will that he can draw upon in assuring his friends that he is sincere in his remorse and forward in his thinking.

Trent Lott was a product of the Republican racist “Southern Strategy” to win the votes of those who believed exactly what Lott said to Thurmond – we’d be better off with segregation and lynching. Lott was an enthusiastic supporter of the Klan-like CCC, and sought to regain citizenship for Jefferson Davis. He voted against extending the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. He voted against the Martin Luther King holiday. Suffice it to say, Lott had not built up a store of good will on racial issues.

3. Reid Has Been Forgiven: It is amusing to see all the pundits (especially the white ones, and certainly including me) and right wing politicians trying to tell everyone else how to think about a verbal exchange between two men who have already put it behind them. The RIGHTeous indignation on behalf of someone who has announced himself satisfied with an apology is enough to make one think that they are more interested in political opportunism than concern about Obama’s tender feelings.

Folks, this thing is not about hypocrisy, for the simple reason that it is not hypocritical to distinguish between a thoughtless remark supporting a black presidency and a career spent yearning for the good old days of segregation and lynching. The intellectually corrupt Republicans and the fuzzy-thinking liberals who are attempting to equate the two are acting as though Lott’s only flaw was one awful remark, and that Reid’s remark is equivalent to a career.

Sunday Poetry: An Ex-Judge at the Bar, by Melvin Tolson

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

An Ex-Judge at the Bar

Bartender, make it straight and make it two—
One for the you in me and the me in you.
Now let us put our heads together: one
Is half enough for malice, sense, or fun.

I know, Bartender, yes, I know when the Law
Should wag its tail or rip with fang and claw.
When Pilate washed his hands, that neat event
Set for us judges a Caesarean precedent.

What I shall tell you know, as man is man,
You’ll find neither in Bible nor Koran.
It happened after my return from France
At the bar in Tony’s Lady of Romance.

We boys drank pros and cons, sang Dixie; and then,
The bar a Sahara, we pledged to meet again.
But lo, on the bar there stood in naked scorn
The Goddess Justice, like September Morn.

Who blindfolds Justice on the courthouse roof
While the lawyers weave the sleight-of-hand of proof?
I listened, Bartender, with my heart and head,
As the Goddess Justice unbandaged her eyes and said:

“To make the world safe for Democracy,
You lost a leg in Flanders fields—oui, oui?
To gain the judge’s seat, you twined the noose
That swung the Negro higher than a goose.”

Bartender, who has dotted every i?
Crossed every t? Put legs on every y?
Therefore, I challenged her: “Lay on, Macduff,
And damned be him who cries first, ‘Hold, enough!”

The boys guffawed, and Justice began to laugh
Like a manic on a broken phonograph.
Bartender, make it straight and make it three—
One for the Negro…one for you and me.

- by Melvin B. Tolson

Not many poets get portrayed in film, but Melvin Tolson was played by Denzel Washington in The Great Debaters. That movie, of course, focuses on his role as a successful debate coach, rather than his role as one of the great poets of America.

This poem begins with a pun – the ex-judge is not at the bar in court, he is at a drinking hole, where he attempts to deal with the guilt of injustice. This judge knows that he went along with society – the boys – and made a mockery of justice. Even though the judge had fought for democracy and lost a leg in Flanders Fields (the subject of another famous poem, of course), he returned home and abused democracy and justice by hanging a negro “to gain a judge’s seat.”

Melvin Tolson was born in Moberly, Missouri, raised in northern Missouri and Iowa, and graduated from Lincoln High School here in Kansas City in 1919. He undoubtedly saw first hand the corrosive effects of racism on justice. Indeed, Lady Justice is not merely blindfolded in the poem, it is bandages that cover her eyes, and she is manic at the end of the poem.

This is an ugly subject for a poem, and it is made bearable only by the skill of the poet. The regular rhyming couplets provide a breezy tone, and the pun at the very beginning relaxes the reader. When read by the poet, the piece seems almost comical, despite its bleak subject.

Tolson shows off a bit of erudition as he quotes one of my favorite Shakespearean lines. MacBeth, who has been assured that he will not be killed by man “of woman born” has just found out that MacDuff was born by a Caesarean delivery, and is thus uncommonly qualified to kill him. Just as MacBeth undertook his doomed battle, the ex-judge knows that Lady Justice has defeated him, and he finds himself an ex-judge, drinking with a bartender and the memory of a hanged man.

It’s an astonishingly gentle poem, given the author and given the subject matter. Where’s the rage? Where are the calls for vengeance? Instead, Tolson satisfies himself with the humbling of the ex-judge, and his too-late awareness that his participation in injustice has left him a lesser man.

Photography Tips for Black Professionals, and a Lengthy Digression on the Nature of Friendship

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

I had lunch yesterday with one of my African-American friends. Yes, that’s a plural. I really do have more than one African-American friend, depending on how you define friend.

Important Digression: I mean, really, the line between friend and acquaintance gets kind of blurry, and the term “friend” depends on context. If a given person gets indicted or says something controversial, s/he is more likely to be an acquaintance than a friend. “Yeah, I know him/her,” I’ll say, with a roll of my eyes to make certain that the person knows that my disapproval of the person started long before the current brouhaha.

I realize that makes me sound disloyal. In my defense, I should point out that I am also a pathetic “basker in reflected fame”. I went to high school with a guy a couple years behind me I still consider to be my friend on the PGA tour, though we only talked a few times over 30 years ago, and never since. But, still, Jay Delsing is my “friend on the Tour”.

Similarly, I consider a lot of politicos to be friends, which may be misguided. City Councilpeople wave at me and smile, and, even though I couldn’t come up with the names of their spouses or children if you offered me a thousand dollars to guess. There’s one politician who refuses to allow me to be her facebook friend after I wrote something nice about the candidate she beat by a 60 point margin, so I suppose I rank somewhere below the 880 closer friends she has on Facebook. But we have 99 mutual friends, so I still consider her to be in my friendship circle. Politicians usually try to be everybody’s friend, but it’s unwise to read too much into it.

It’s all very confusing. I’ve seen a definition somewhere that a friend is someone who will bail you out of jail, while a great friend is the person sitting next to you saying, “That was awesome.” I like to think I have a reasonable number of people who would bail me out of jail, but most of them have better judgment than to wind up there with me. When I think of sitting in jail, I tend to think of Henry Rizzo and James Tindall sitting next to me, talking about COMBAT funding . . .

I tend to run with a broad definition of “friend”. Someone toward whom I have friendly feelings, and whom I am happy to see when I run into them. By that standard, almost everyone is my friend, including the guy I had lunch with. And a bunch of other minority people, too, so there!

Anyhow, one of the things we wound up discussing was the frequency with which black professionals get photographed. He reported that he appears on virtually every promotional piece put out by his large company. Similarly, he participates in virtually every client acquisition meeting, often held at exclusive clubs his parents would not have been allowed into.

The urge to put the black guy forward is not limited to the world of commerce. The teabaggers are now pushing a movie about themselves, and the trailer is a classic example of making certain that the black guy gets photographed to make the rest of the people seem more diverse. Like Ralph Ellison’s Liberty Paint Factory, the white looks a little better when a touch of black is mixed in. So one black guy makes it into 5 shots.

It occurs to me that it can’t be easy to serve in the role of “Photographic Symbol Showing that the Rest of Us are Cool with Diversity” (hereinafter, PSSRUCD). Not only can the flash of cameras disorient a person, but s/he is needs to make the most of his/her opportunity to diversify the shot.

For instance, given the number of flashes the PSSRUCD is exposed to, it may be tempting to don a pair of sunglasses, to ease the eyestrain. Bad idea. Sunglasses make you look cool and detached, but we need the appearance of friendly engagement. Ixnay on the shades.

A more subtle point is that you need to avoid being in the center of any group photo. This may seem a little counterintuitive, because, after all, you are the reason the photo is being taken, but having you centered in the photo makes the photo seem posed. So be careful to pose it differently.

Most importantly, always look at the camera! Looking off camera makes us think you might be casing the joint (remember, we wouldn’t have even let you in a lot of these places if it weren’t for all that deseg nastiness). Worse, you could be gazing at a white woman. Play it safe, look at the camera, and be the best PSSRUCD you can be.

You may notice that a lot of white guys, when approached by a photographer while drinking, will ease their drink-holding glass behind their back. Don’t try this. When we do it, it looks like we’re hiding a drink. When you do it, it looks like you might be reaching for a weapon. The fear on everyone else’s face will ruin the shot, and, if you do it quickly, there’s a chance everyone will hit the floor. PSSRUCDs should simply set their drinks down on a table, and return to the photo. Trust me, people will wait for you.

Finally, a word on the expression. Sometimes it can be challenging to maintain the friendly smile of a top-notch PSSRUCD when the rest of us try out best to engage you in conversation. It may get old to be asked whether you played sports in college, or to be asked what you think about Bill Cosby, or to be congratulated on Obama’s victory, but those are the best ice-breakers most of us white professionals can come up with. But too many photos are ruined by a shadow of contempt or an eye-roll passing over your face as you are posing with some pasty white old guy who happens to control the business we are after. So much depends on the friendly smile of the PSSRUCD. Please make it happen.

DJ Jazzy Jeff, Rationality, and the Myth of Corporate Decision-Making

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

It appears fairly unanimous among the bland white oracles of Kansas City that the P&L District must be in the clear on this whole DJ Jazzy Jeff situation. Indeed, the Baron of Bland, Mike Hendricks, has decided from his Johnson County perspective, that there’s not a racial narrative to be seen here. Move along, folks.

There are four main points he makes, and I’ll address them in the order he makes them.

1. Nobody is stupid enough to hire a hip hop performer and not expect a hip hop performance, so DJ Jazzy Jeff’s claim that the nature of his music is what caused the shut-down is baseless. This is certainly the spin that most defenders of “the way things are” have accepted. The unstated assumption, however, is that the corporation is rational, while the black performer is not. Nobody questions that DJ Jazzy Jeff would be perfectly happy to blow out a sound system and ruin his own reputation among booking agents, because, well, he’s just a stupid black rapper. “They” do that kind of thing, don’t they? But a corporation would never have one division (security, perhaps) disagree with a decision of another division (booking, perhaps). Anyone who has ever worked in a corporation knows that speaking of Cordish as though it is one rational decision-maker is insane. It is entirely plausible that the person who booked DJ Jazzy Jeff did so enthusiastically, while the security patrol on duty that night was horrified at the look and sound of the performance. It’s also implausible to me (though I am no sound engineer) that Cordish would blow my tax dollars on a sound system that doesn’t have some sort of system to prevent such overloads.

2. The black dude is being childish because he couldn’t have everything his way. From his privileged suburban perspective, Mike Hendricks is perfectly willing to assume that Cordish is a model of effective decision-making, but he cannot conceive that the black people involved are telling the truth. Instead, it seems way easier to conclude that they were being immature and that DJ Jazzy Jeff was acting out his “huge ego”. Notice that the guy who has managed to build a career catering to mostly white venue-owners is the irrational one with his ego out of joint, not some rent-a-cop working Saturday nights. You need to put your faith in someone, and it’s clear that Hendricks, like much of the rest of the opinion-makers, prefers a paler, more corporate brand of truth.

3. “This being Kansas City, some are trying to turn this into a racial thing. . . . So until there’s more proof to say there was anything more to this than a dispute over the sound system, everyone needs to calm down.” Yes, friends, that is a direct quote. “Some” people want to turn stuff into a racial thing. This may be the most infuriating line of Hendricks’ nonsense, but it underlies the thought-process of all of us who want to tuck this incident safely into a non-racial category. If there’s not absolute proof that there was racism involved, we give the white, corporate people the benefit of the doubt and instead accuse those crazy black people of being bomb-throwing, over-reacting race-baiters.

Sorry, but a hip-hop concert at the P&L District is “a racial thing”, whether anything happened or not. The very fact of DJ Jazzy Jeff playing on Cordish turf has more racial angles than a geometry book, and for Hendricks to try to strip this incident of its racial overtones is the height of blindness brought on by white privilege. Shame on him and on any person who wants to act like it is black people trying to make this into a racial thing. It is a racial thing, through and through. Even if the shut-down was motivated by absolutely pure motives, this was a “racial thing” from the git-go.

4. Blacks don’t matter as much as greens. Fortunately, this is not a direct quotation, but Hendricks flat-out argues that potential money is more important than potential racism. Read it again for yourself, just in case you missed it:

It’s not funny, though. Kansas City needs the Power & Light District to succeed.

So until there’s more proof to say there was anything more to this than a dispute over the sound system, everyone needs to calm down.

Mike Hendricks is telling people to “calm down” about a potential tax-payer funded incident of racism because we need Cordish to make more money. He fails to state clearly what level of potential profitability we need to see at the P&L District before we should again care about racism in our community, but I’m sure he’ll let us know when they reach it. Until then, calm down about racism, okay?

Most of Us "Just Don’t Understand"

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Of course this is the way it goes, every single time. I’ve read about DJ Jazzy Jeff getting kicked off the stage at the P&L District, and I’m concluding from the competing stories that truth favors the District’s side, and the DJ side is spin, misunderstanding, or a gambit for some publicity. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the District would hire him for a Saturday night and then shut him down in front of all his fans for performing his music unless he was in danger of damaging the sound equipment.

And with that simple analysis I can ignore everything important I could learn from this snafu. Instead of gaining any understanding, I manage to retrench myself into the “us” position in an “us vs. them” world.

My ability (?) to coolly analyze the facts presented shields and protects me from having to face more challenging truths. How shocking is it that the conclusion I’m reaching favors the power structure?

First off, I wasn’t there. I stayed home Saturday night and watched a movie on TV. I like to think it’s cool that I live in the city, but the truth is that Saturday night I lived the life of someone living in the furthest reaches of suburbia. I may live a few blocks from Troost, but my geographical proximity means little in comparison to a lifestyle that more closely resembles Blue Springs.

Second, I wasn’t there. I’m relying on statements from others who were, and I am internally making judgments on credibility based on my prejudices. Even though the leaders of the P&L District have lied to us at every step of this tax-advantaged boondoggle, from opening dates to free parking, I continue to give them credibility. Why? Because the people on the ground are the corporate and middle-management types I live among. I need to believe that the spokespeople for the P&L District are trying to be truthful, because if I don’t, I’m undermining the aura of trust and respectability that I need to feel comfortable in my zone.

Third, I wasn’t there. I have no idea what the decibels were. The decibel level is a fact – an important part of objective information that could help determine who is at fault for the situation. The P&L people say it was too high, and the Jazzy Jeff people say it wasn’t. Here in my living room on a quiet Monday morning, how am I to know? Was the decibel level actually measured by the P&L people? Wouldn’t a taxpayer-financed sound system have dampers built into it to protect it from getting loud enough to hurt itself? Isn’t it possible that somehow the hip hop of Saturday night seemed a little louder than music more in the comfort zone of the decision-makers.

Fourth, I wasn’t there. I don’t know who said what to whom, and neither do you. Like a game of “pass the secret”, it’s entirely possible that somebody said “Shut it down because of the volume” and, by the time the word got to the stage, the message had morphed into “Stop the hip-hop”. Both sides may be telling the truth here, but it makes it easier for me to choose one side or the other to believe. “Us vs. them”, and I’m on the “Us” team again. Huh.

Fifth, finally, and in a deeper sense, I wasn’t there. I’ve never been there as a black man. I’ve never seen the second level of scrutiny directed my way when I walk toward the entrance of the P&L District. I’ve never had the officials at the P&L District target a dress code at the things I like to wear. I walk in there, and I feel all kinds of welcome. So, if the District shut down a concert by a group preferred by people like me, I would have no real reason to suspect there was an ulterior motive. But if they made it known to me that I wasn’t really welcome, and this was not really my turf, I might feel like there was more to the story than decibel levels.

It’s easy to sit here on Monday morning, read conflicting spins, and decide to believe the P&L District’s version of things. That version has the irresistible virtue of NOT including racism as a factor in what happens in our society every day. And, frankly, that’s the version I prefer, because racism is ugly and disturbing, so I’d prefer to pretend that it’s rare, okay? Okay?

Silver Lining to Semler Mess

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Right now, people all over the country are hearing about La Raza for the first time, because right wing liars are trying to make it sound like some sort of racist organization that Sonia Sotomayor belongs to. Tom Tancredo has dubbed it the Latino KKK.

Because of the whole Semler thing and La Raza’s decision to move its convention to San Diego, Kansas Citians have all heard of La Raza and know that it is a respectable organization, and that her membership in it is praiseworthy, not a reason to condemn her.

For once, Kansas Citians have a more advanced awareness of racial issues than the rest of the country!

Tea-Bagger Potty Line?

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Like most observers of politics, I was amused by the tea-bag parties organized by anti-tax protesters in response to Obama’s tax cuts. The sputtering outrage of the right wing provokes not fear, dread or even respect from those that pay attention. How dare right-wingers protest taxes when Obama is cutting them for 95% of us? How dare the Republicans complain about deficits when the Bush administration launched us on a disastrous path after Clinton had generated budget surpluses? How dare the tea-baggers denounce government spending after Bush created an economic crisis and launched an unnecessary war on the wrong country?

The tea-baggers were not to be taken seriously, so I basically ignored them.

But this morning, I happened across Platte Countian Ivan Foley’s hyped-up coverage of the protest, and saw that it was less of a protest than a gathering. Here is a picture that Mr. Foley took of their “crowd”:

Seriously. A few months ago, that would have qualified as the shortest of the porta-potty lines for Barack Obama’s rally. But, whatever, if they want to count that cluster of like-minded folks as a rally, that’s their right. Personally, I’m a little surprised they could find even that many people to stand with this guy without wearing a hood:

Excellent News on Race Issues

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

After generation after generation of racism, diversity has become an unstoppable force. Especially if we stop talking about it.

Blogger (and Commenter and Lurker) Meet-up

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

This evening a couple dozen bloggers and friends will be getting their drink on at the Flying Saucer, slamming TIF-subsidized beers and dressing like proper white people. Commenters and readers are most definitely welcome to join in the fun, so long as they dress the way that the Cordish Company thinks they should.

In the spirit of lazy blogging, I’ll just cut and paste My Spyderweb’s version of the notice:

This is it! Put the word out!!!
Flying Saucer
13th & Walnut
Kansas City, Mo

Monday 6/23, 5pm, because Monday is pint night and all drafts cost $2.75.

The KC Power & Light district parking is within the same building complex and is only $2 with validation…or lately you have to pay $2 to a dude right when you go into the garage. The lot across the street is a flat $5 if you park there after 5PM.

New Blog to Check Out – What’s race got to do with it?

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Check out this user profile:

I write about my experiences as a white woman in the inner city. The only thing scary about my experience is the uniformed fear of the white community of my neighborhood. My message is to white America: we are the root of the problem in urban race relations. Until we understand the damaging affect of using our white privilege, there will be no change.

If you prefer your analysis of racial issues to remain at the shallow level of joke blogs, you might not enjoy this one, but I look forward to making it a regular read.

Also, she linked to me yesterday, and commented on my blog – two of my favorite identifying signs of a great blogger.