One of my pet peeves are histories that make sweeping judgments of a nation or group of people. Hagiography is not history and yet it so easily masquerades as such these days with a generation raised by Zinn’s ilk. There are bad guys and there are good guys and this is a narrative about how the oppressed overcome the oppressors.
Not only is such an approach a recipe for terrible history, it’s boring. Wouldn’t you much rather hear a story about colonials and natives fighting it out, the future unknown and both sides fearful of defeat as they grasp and claw and bash and shoot each other? That’s some Grade A Drama there. Plus it’s true.
But we live in an era of identity-politics, that great crusher of nuance, irony, and fun.
Needless to say, it’s always a treat to read real history and come across lines like the one below: Continue reading
A recent hack from Gucifer 2.0 has revealed that the DNC has intentionally sought to minimize the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the Democratic Party. In an effort to contain the virulence of these activists, the DNC has recommended that its operatives and politicians listen politely to the activists but limit their influence. The memo also instructed candidates to advocate policies that “rebuild the relationship between police and community” by exploring ways to reform police training and limit abuse. The position clearly leans towards the “cops are guilty” mentality, but also demonstrates the DNC’s unwillingness to let their radicals get out of line.
This, of course, prompted a reply from BLM: “We are disappointed at the DCCC’s placating response to our demand to value all Black life. Black communities deserve to be heard, not handled. People are dying.”
No surprise there.
And of course, this underscores Trump’s message: the Democrats don’t care about African Americans, they just care about the votes of African Americans. Consider the fact that for decades the Democrats have controlled some of America’s biggest cities and African Americans still languish in the ghetto. Something isn’t working and Trump’s saying as much. While the liberal media has gone ballistic over this, they refuse to countenance the fact that they, not hick Republicans from the midwest, bear responsibility for the state of the inner cities. African Americans, more than anyone else, have suffered in countless ways over the past decades under Democrat rule and now under the Obama administration (the slow “recovery” has hurt them more than most). If a black Democrat in the Oval Office can’t help his own people out, why not take a shot with the billionaire? Oh, and the alternative? Hillary: a woman whose husband oversaw the slashing of welfare benefits and a dramatic increase in black incarceration. And yet the Democrats still maintain a chokehold on the black vote. The irony: before emancipation the Democrats owned the black vote (3/5s per slave) but now they completely own the black vote (one whole vote per person!).
But Trump actually wants to change that and he’s forcing the Republicans, who have for too long disregarded the black vote as not worth the effort, to actually acknowledge the barriers that confront African Americans. Trump is insisting that the GOP stop talking about abstract freedom, and limited government as the panacea for everything, and actually make a case for how they will make things better for Americans, including minorities. Truth is he has always talked about making America as a whole great again, now he’s just playing the left’s game and emphasizing minorities who are part of that thing called America.*
This got my goat the other day.
Maybe it was because my sister sported dreads for a time. For the record, I was against this style choice (the ex’s opposition was based on opposition to cultural appropriation, mine from a sense of aesthetic and biology as her hair wasn’t wired for it). But if anyone gave her crap for it, I’d give them what for.
The meme above doesn’t make sense at a number of levels, and frankly, the creator undermines him or herself. Continue reading
January. Cold. Upper West Side. On the stoop of my penal colony, I smoke my cigarette and swig beer from a plastic bag-clad can of beer.
I got my mother on the phone (she doesn’t know yet of my exile) and we are chatting—about what I don’t recall. This is a normal night for me. Normal, that is, until two cops come sauntering down the street towards me. There’s a slight change in their direction and now they’re headed my way.
“Mom,” I say, “I’m going to have to call you back. Two cops are coming my way.” Click. I suppose that’s not the most reassuring way to tell your mother good-bye.
“Hello, sir,” goes the big burly officer with a crew cut. “Hello,” I respond pleasantly. “Is that your beer can, sir?” he asks. I pause, amused, and glance down at the plastic bag. I’m in a good mood (just enough to drink) and a bad liar. So I cop to it with an oh-shucks-you-got-me expression: “Yeah, that’s mine.” The woman with him asks me for my ID and I comply: “Sir, we just need to see if you have any outstanding warrants.” “Ok,” I say with a chuckle, knowing nothing will come up. Continue reading
January of last year I found myself living on the Upper West Side with a 40 year old Indian mother and her two year old kid. It was an odd arrangement born of tragedy and the light at the end of the tunnel was only a pinprick.
I was there because my wife had kicked me out. She was there because hurricane Sandy had destroyed her home and she had just divorced her husband. Like a pair of shipwreck survivors we clung to this driftwood of an apartment in the projects.
My room was only sort of my own as she needed the space for her son during the day. The apartment was full of the detritus of her previous home. The bathroom in particular was problematic as she used it for storage, which meant that I occasionally couldn’t take a shower because it was periodically full of stuff. One particularly memorable episode required me to crawl over boxes and then balance precariously to take a pee at the toilet.
Contrary to those who claim to know the arc of history or declare themselves on the right side of history, it is more wise than foolish to acknowledge the ambiguities of the present in these troubled times. If the study of the past teaches us anything, it’s that ideas and movements wax and wane, twist and turn. Predicting the future is as dubious as it is interesting. While certain trends seem set, the future, simply put, is wide-open and progress is as common as regression (leaving aside the lofty standards by which we judge such things).
Two poems highlight this dual reality of trends and surprises.
I have taught AP English Language and Composition for three years now. I always run a comparison between Malcolm X’s “Ballot and the Bullet” and MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” They are both remarkable pieces and highlight the assimilationist v. separatist approaches to America’s cultural and racial problems.
Malcolm X’s piece is a treat to read. It is full of invective (those damn “crackers!”) and defiance. The anger is palpable. Rhetorically he pulls no punches. The black man has gotten a raw deal for too long. The whites have given him window dressing rights. Fuck the police. The relationship is irreconcilable—probably. The choice (bullets or the ballot?) haunts the speech. There is much that resonates with the current atmosphere especially in light of events in Dallas.
The Revenant has some things going for it. For one, the cinematography is beautiful. Tom Hardy proves, yet again, he has acting chops. Leonardo DiCaprio, after much grunting and groaning over the years to get an Oscar, gets a role where he literally grunts and groans his way the whole movie to achieve the allusive gold (really, I want to see the script). The script itself is fine and there are great, dramatic moments throughout, but on the whole it needed editing (over two and a half hours long). What irritated me most, though, was the eye-rolling, ahistoric, cliché moralism of the film.
Yes, it is the historian in me that is annoyed, but it isn’t over presentism (see every Ridley Scott movie) or pedantic historical inaccuracies. Rather, what irks me is the Zinnian tripe in which the white man is the invading oppressor and the red man is the oppressed (not the first time I’ve gone after Zinn the “historian”). Granted, Zinn presents a fun and simplistic morality tale and as with most morality tales there is a kernel of truth, but in the end, it is just that: a tale, which as expected, has sparked equally obnoxious right wing backlashes. It is a truism among historians that bringing politics into the study of history leads to bad history. And bad history begets more bad history, which, not surprisingly, worms its way into our films. I had hoped a skilled director would have handled the topic with more care, but alas.
There was a particularly nasty piece of drivel published on Salon yesterday, all about the myth of “meritocracy.” According to Ms. Cooper (AKA, “professorcrunk”), the entire construct of society as we know it is pejorative towards black people, tearing down any semblance of objectivity, and building its entire assumption about the world, emotion, feeling, and success around whiteness — in particular, MALE whiteness. Crunky gives no solution to the perceived slight from society, which means that, had she been born in Athens and run around in a white toga, she’d probably have been forced to take the hemlock.
I’m most fascinated by Crunky’s assertion that “The United States was not built on a system of meritocracy. It was built on a system of denied access.” The reality is that Crunky’s argument is old and gutless. She wouldn’t be happy unless Matt Damon had his money, cinema contracts, and good looks stripped and given to Tyrell Damon. But Crunky doesn’t need to pick on Matt Damon if she wants to point out celebrities who are steeping society in a furtherance of WHITENESS. Shaq recently admitted that he turned down a major business opportunity with Starbucks because he believed “black people don’t drink coffee.” This should actually make Crunky HAPPY, since Shaq is admitting that the “universal” – AKA, WHITE – assumption that everyone (again, WHITE PEOPLE) likes coffee actually destroys the individuality of demographics that prefer sweet tea, or Ovaltine.