Neoliberalism, Meet Neocolonialism.

Neoliberalism. What is it? Why should we care? And how has our popularly held notions of the rise and spread of neoliberalism shaped contemporary conversations on issues of race, class and progress? This week on the show Mike and David sit down with Professor N.D.B. Connolly to discuss his recent work related to race and neoliberalism and ponder the idea that maybe, just maybe, there are better frames for characterizing the mess we find ourselves in today. Tune in.

Recent pieces by N.D.B. Connolly:

A White Story, Dissent Magazine, January 22, 2018
Black and Woke in Capitalist America: Revisiting Robert Allen’s Black Awakening, for New Times’ Sake, The Social Science Research Council, March 7, 2017

Leave a comment

Filed under Race and Religion

Aziz Ansari, Power, and Sexual Assault

On January 13, online magazine Babe published an article titled, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” The piece alleged acts of sexual misconduct on the part of comedian Aziz Ansari and in the aftermath, folks have been left to grapple with the murky questions of what is sexual assault, why do men fail to see it, and what we can do to stop it. On this week’s episode of Run it Black, David and Mike enter the fray.

1 Comment

Filed under Gender Issues

Written in 2017, Relevant in 2018 and Beyond

With the year drawing to a close, and because I like lists, I wanted to highlight the ten pieces I wrote in 2017 that I believe remain most relevant for 2018 and beyond.

#10: The Trump administration’s ongoing attack on workers (The Washington Post, August 30)
Donald Trump pledged during his campaign, that, with him in office, “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.” In this piece, Jared Bernstein and I tick off a multitude of ways in which this promise has turned out, predictably, to be false. The list has gotten longer in the time since we went to press (check out Jared’s recent interview of Heidi Shierholz on how the Trump Labor Department is trying to help employers steal workers’ tips), and it will be important to continue to shine a light on team Trump’s anti-worker actions in 2018.

#9: The Paul Ryan Guide to Pretending You Care About the Poor (Talk Poverty, November 20)
Speaking of the disconnect between Republican politicians’ rhetoric and their actual actions, this satirical piece outlined the way in which Paul Ryan sells his help-the-rich-and-punish-the-poor agenda as the opposite of what it actually is. With the Republican tax cut for rich people signed into law, Ryan has already trained his sights on eviscerating programs that help the poor. Don’t let anyone you know fall for how he’ll spin it.

#8: Why Medicaid Work Requirements Won’t Work (The New York Times, March 22)
Elected officials who share Ryan’s disdain for poor people will likely try to add work requirements to their states’ Medicaid programs in 2018. Here, Jared and I explain why that policy’s main effect is just to deprive people of needed health care.

#7: Seattle’s higher minimum wage is actually working just fine (The Washington Post, June 27)
The Fight for $15 has been incredibly successful over the past few years; 29 states (plus DC) and 40 localities now have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum. Yet the not-so-brave quest some economists and politicians have undertaken to hold down wages for low-wage workers continues unabated, and they jumped all over a June study of Seattle’s minimum wage increase to proclaim that workers are actually better off when we allow businesses to underpay them. A closer look at the study, of course, reveals that it proves nothing of the sort, so keep this rebuttal handy for the next raise-the-wage fight you find yourself engaged in.

#6: Below the Minimum No More (The American Prospect, May 30)
Abolishing sub-minimum wages is the next front in the minimum wage wars; while many jurisdictions have raised the headline minimum wage, most have failed to satisfactorily address the exemptions in minimum wage law that allow businesses to exploit tipped workers, workers with disabilities, and teenagers. It’s about time we had one fair minimum wage for all workers, as this piece explains.

#5: Protect the Dreamers (The American Prospect, September 28)
Republican Senator Jeff Flake claims that he voted for the Republican tax bill after “securing…commitment from the [Trump] administration & #Senate leadership to advance [a] growth-oriented legislative solution to enact fair and permanent protections for #DACA recipients.” In this piece, Jared and I note how a clean Dream Act is the only approach that politicians who truly care about helping immigrants would find acceptable; Flake must be held accountable for supporting it. State lawmakers should also be pressured to take the steps we outline to combat the xenophobia emanating from the White House.

#4: U.S. Intelligence Agencies Scoff at Criticism of Police Brutality, Fracking, and “Alleged Wall Street Greed” (34justice, January 9)
To date, there is at best remarkably weak evidence behind many prominent politicians’ and pundits’ claims about Russian interference in the US election. I read the report that is the basis for many of these claims when it came out in January and, as I noted at the time, it’s almost comically propagandistic. Some Democrats’ disregard for actual facts when it comes to allegations of Russian hacking and “collusion” is troubling, as is the McCarthyite climate in which people who challenge the Democratic Party Establishment are accused of being secret agents of Vladimir Putin. Those who would prefer a more reality-based Russia discussion in 2018 would do well to take a half hour to watch Aaron Maté interview Luke Harding about this topic.

#3: Amen for Alternative Media (34justice, May 2)
An obsession with Russia conspiracy theories is far from the mainstream media’s sole problem. The problem also isn’t a paucity of Republican journalists, as the May/June issue of Politico posited. Instead, as my response to Politico discusses, the mainstream media’s problem is one of subservience to power. Independent media are doing the public a great service by exposing us to information and viewpoints often absent from corporate cable and major newspapers, and it is essential that we fight to protect and promote independent media in the years ahead.

#2: The Progressive Agenda Now: Jobs and Medicare for All (The American Prospect, April 3)
Given Republican control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress, one would be forgiven for urging social justice advocates to focus their energies on policy defense. But that would be a mistake, as Jared and I note in this column, both because the best defense is sometimes a good offense and because, if we want to enact the policy millions of people need, we must lay the groundwork for that policy as soon as possible. There is much more beyond a federal job guarantee and Medicare for All that we have to flesh out and advocate for, but those two big policy ideas wouldn’t be too shabby a start.

#1: We Don’t Need No “Moderates” (34justice, July 29)
Putting the right politicians in power is the prerequisite for enacting most of the policy changes we need to see. Those who tell you that “moderate” or “centrist” politicians are more “electable” than social-justice-oriented politicians are wrong, and there is never a good reason – never – to advocate for the less social-justice-oriented candidate in a Democratic primary. The results of the 2017 elections only underscore this point. It’s time we got to work electing true social justice advocates to positions of power.

Happy reading and happy new year!

1 Comment

Filed under 2018 Elections, Labor, Poverty and the Justice System, US Political System

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cornel West, and the Ongoing Debate on Race and Class

This week on Run it Black, Mike and David talk about the latest entry into the ongoing intellectual debate between philosopher and activist Cornel West and critically acclaimed essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates. The conversation covers a range of topics including identity politics and the Obama administration, the roles of race and class in how we talk about progressive struggle and what it all means looking forward to 2018 and beyond. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Leave a comment

Filed under Race and Religion

Andre 3000 Still Got Something to Say

On this week’s Run it Black Podcast, we talk about a fascinating GQ profile on the rapper Andre 3000, the importance of the rap duo Outkast, and why Andre continues to remain relevant at age 42. We also go speak to the development of Southern Hip-Hop and its influence on much of the rap game in 2017, regardless of region. Later on, we dive into where Hip-Hop as a genre is headed and whether it can evolve into an art form that speaks to the experience of older folks. Finally, we give our top 5 Andre 3000 tracks because, well, of course we would. You won’t want to miss this episode!

 Music Below:

Leave a comment

Filed under Race and Religion

How to Spin an Agenda for the Rich as an Agenda for the Poor, by Paul Ryan

Once, at a town hall in Wisconsin, someone asked me the following question:

“I know that you’re Catholic, as am I, and it seems to me that most of the Republicans in the Congress are not willing to stand with the poor and working class as evidenced in the recent debates about health care and the anticipated tax reform. So I’d like to ask you how you see yourself upholding the church’s social teaching that has the idea that God is always on the side of the poor and dispossessed, as should we be.”

If you’re ever in a position of power and trying to simultaneously cut taxes for rich people and benefits for poor people, you’ll get asked questions like this one a lot. To make sure you’re ready for it as the tax debate heats up, I’ve written a handy step-by-step guide on how to convince your constituents that the help-the-rich, whack-the-poor agenda is the only way to go:

1) Say you share the same goals. The trick here is to convince people that you’re with them all the way on the importance of helping the poor. You just disagree about “how to achieve that goal.” Start there and you’ve quickly turned things from a moral referendum on whether we should help the poor or the rich into what appears to be a reasonable disagreement over what works best to help the least advantaged.

2) Direct attention away from what it means to be poor. People who ask these sorts of questions think that poor people simply don’t have enough money to meet their families’ basic needs. You know better. Tell them what the poor really need is “upward mobility,” “economic growth,” and “equality of opportunity.” Not only do these airy concepts all sound really good – who could be against any of them? – they also let you pivot away from the obvious solution: giving people more of the resources they lack. True, your agenda doesn’t bring about the things to which you’ve shifted the focus. But don’t worry! The narrative that tax cuts promote economic growth is one that voluminous evidence to the contrary has thus far been unable to kill; likewise, the intimate connection between inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunity is one very few interviewers will point out. People are often happy to ignore the large body of evidence on these issues and treat them as debatable.

3) Imply that poor people’s personal failings are what’s holding them back. You can’t pull off the enlightened nice-guy routine if you’re blaming poor people for their problems outright. So you need to do it subtly: say that what we really need is worker training and programs that encourage people to work (again, who’s going to be against that?). Never mind that there’s little actual evidence of a “skills gap” and that most people who can work already do. People are predisposed to believe that our success relative to those less fortunate is a result of our superior work ethic and talents (rather than a product of race, class, gender, and/or other forms of privilege and sheer dumb luck). The more you tap into that predisposition, the more people will oppose downward redistribution and support imposing burdensome requirements on the Have Nots instead.

4) Choose unrepresentative examples and statistics. People are always shocked to hear my example of “a single mom getting 24 grand in benefits with two kids who,” because of the way the safety net is designed,” will lose 80 cents on the dollar if she goes and takes a job.” They don’t need to know that very few single mothers ever face such a marginal tax rate, that marginal tax rates for low-income people are typically much lower than marginal tax rates for people with more money, that it pays to work even for the tiny group of people my example describes, or that reducing the marginal tax rates low-income people face without pushing them deeper into poverty would require investing more in the programs I want to cut, not less.

Similarly, I love to tell people that “our poverty rates are about the same as they were when we started th[e] War on Poverty,” which is more or less what the official poverty measure shows. That official measure excludes the effects of the very programs I say aren’t working, of course, and yes, there is a Supplemental Poverty Measure that refutes this claim and that analysts across the political spectrum agree is more appropriate to use, but the inconvenient truth that anti-poverty programs currently cut poverty nearly in half and have reduced poverty by 10 percentage points since the late 1960s isn’t exactly going to help us pass our agenda.

5) Hammer “focus on outcomes” rhetoric. Focusing on outcomes is popular in many fields, so this talking point – that “instead of measuring success based on how much money we spend or how many programs we create or how many people are on those programs, [we should] measure success in poverty on outcomes” – is very effective. The fact that nobody actually measures program effectiveness by how much money we spend or by the number of programs we create is irrelevant, as is the large and growing body of research showing that the safety net boosts the long-run outcomes of children growing up in poor families, as is the havoc the tax-cut agenda has wreaked on Kansas. All that matters is that people fall for this line, nodding their heads in agreement when you say it.

As long as you’re proposing to redistribute money from the bottom and middle to the rich, you’re going to get questions like the one I got at that town hall. There will always be those who oppose reverse-Robin-Hood-ism on principle. But if you stick to these steps, before you know it, you’ll have convinced a constituency (and perhaps even yourself!) that helping the rich is actually about helping the poor. At worst, people will just be too confused to know what to think.

You’re welcome.

4 Comments

Filed under Poverty and the Justice System

34justice Partners with Run It Black

I’m excited to announce that 34justice is partnering with Run It Black, a podcast on “sports, politics, culture, and the intersection of race” from David Tigabu and Mike Mitchell.  Mike taught me much of what I know about podcasting, and David is no newcomer to 34justice, having previously authored a great piece for us on how the co-option of Christianity helps explain the election of Donald Trump.  Besides being good friends of mine and knowing far more about pop culture than I ever will, David and Mike have awesome insights about the connections between racism and various other forms of oppression.  Often containing fascinating historical context, their episodes are both entertaining and informative.

You can listen to Run It Black episodes directly through 34justice’s new Run It Black widget, which can be found on the top right-hand-side of our webpage on a desktop computer and towards the bottom of the page on a mobile device.  You can also tune in on iTunes.  Here’s a quick overview of the first five episodes (from earliest to most recent):

What to do about the NFL?
Find out why David and Mike are boycotting the NFL this year and what they think of the Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor showdown.

The Politics of Hurricanes
People of color suffer most when natural disasters strike, are often de-prioritized during our inadequate responses to such disasters, and will continue to face disproportionate harm if we fail to address climate change.  David and Mike explain.

Jemele Hill Was Right
Hill’s Black colleagues backed her up when she called Donald Trump a White supremacist, but ESPN didn’t.  David and Mike discuss the Right-wing backlash to race-conscious sports media before delving into some statistics on and possible remedies for the racial wealth gap.

Puerto Rico’s Colonial Disaster
As David and Mike note, our government has treated Puerto Rico significantly worse than it treats US states during times of natural disaster, a problem consistent with a long history of unjust policy towards Americans on the island.  They also comment on the evolution of NFL players’ protests against racial injustice.

The Enduring Significance of HBCUs
While neither David nor Mike attended an HBCU, they’ve thought a lot about the important role such institutions play in improving opportunities for Black Americans.  They note HBCUs’ many strengths, why some criticisms of HBCUs are misplaced, and the curious case of HBCU presidents accepting Donald Trump’s invitation to the White House.

Especially if you aren’t getting enough Run It Black between episodes, I highly recommend following the podcast, as well as David and Mike, on Twitter.  Happy listening!

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Gender Issues, Labor, Poverty and the Justice System, Race and Religion, Sports, US Political System

Improving the Structure of Math Departments

At many schools I’ve worked at or observed, math departments are structured counterproductively.  The best teachers often teach the most advanced classes, while the newest teachers, or those most in need of support, teach the classes that struggling students are more likely to attend.  As a result, the students most in need of excellent teaching can be least likely to get it.

Math departments may be structured this way for a variety of reasons.  There is surely a correlation of some sort between teaching skill and mastery of mathematics, so the best teachers may just more often than novice teachers be well-equipped to teach advanced courses.  It may also be the case that teachers prefer teaching advanced classes; as the students in advanced classes typically already want to be there, teachers of those classes can focus more on content instruction and less on classroom management.  School leaders may want to keep their best teachers happy, and giving those teachers the advanced classes may be one way to do that.

I can understand why teachers might, if given the choice, decide to teach AP Calculus AB instead of an intervention class geared towards students who failed Algebra I.  Especially given the workloads American society foists upon teachers, who never have enough hours in the day to do a fraction of what they’d ideally do for their students, teacher burnout is a real concern.  While I know some great teachers who love teaching hard-to-reach students and have made doing so their life’s work, and while teaching advanced students also carries its challenges, working with the highest-need students is often emotionally exhausting and probably accelerates the burning-out process.

Several approaches could potentially help reduce the tension between pursuing the most equitable arrangement – in which the best teachers teach the students who need help most – and protecting teachers against burnout.  One option would be to reduce the number of classes teachers of introductory or remedial courses would be required to teach.  If nothing else, an extra free period would give these teachers more time to plan remediation and give students constructive feedback.  Another option would be to ensure that an instructional aide is available to assist teachers in every lower-level course they teach.  A third approach would be to require every teacher teaching an AP or honors course to teach a lower-level course as well.  (None of these ideas is mutually exclusive, of course.)

Reducing teacher burnout and making our schools more equitable are big challenges that ultimately require substantially increased investments in public education, particularly in low-income areas, as well as an overhaul of what teacher workdays and support structures look like.  We must push for those investments and overhauls, not to mention the larger, outside-of-school changes that are most important for ensuring equal opportunity for every student in this country.  In the meantime, we should explore creative ways to simultaneously keep our best teachers invigorated and make sure they’re in front of our students in need.

5 Comments

Filed under Education

Black Death as Spectacle and Ritual

A black person does not really discuss black people dying without also feeling a subtle contempt or masochism, but there is also gratitude when black death is made public (à la Mamie Till, Emmett Till’s mother, insisting for the world to see what America did to her son by having an open casket funeral for his unseeable soul) — because there are so many black deaths that are ignored by mass media, or simply forgotten — but how could one forget what one never thought was worth knowing, counting, excavating, cherishing? It’s almost as if you can kill a black person for existing, while also denying they ever truly existed. We want to say with Mamie, “Look what they are doing to us! Still!!!”, and are grateful for this chance, but also frustrated and shameful that our cries continue to fall on deaf ears. Why grieve at all? Who is even listening — we ourselves are tired of grieving and listening to others grieving for us. As long as its another black person, and not myself, whose family will have to deal with the aftermath of their unjust loss (and no real hope of actual justice), how does that affect my mental health?

We of darker persuasions cannot mourn ourselves every day, or can we? Are we built to mourn and live like this? The twin archetypes of the strong black woman and hyper-masculine black man have the answer: of course, we are built for this. A prerequisite of these archetypes is the inability to feel pain — and denial of pleasure, conversely — and the failure to perceive pain in others: an utter lack of basic humanity. Blackness under the western gaze is not sentient — it cannot think or feel in any civilized way, which is the only way that counts. (Of course dark people can think and feel in primitive ways, isn’t that what the continent of Africa is for?) This is why some white people can be very passionate about animal ethics or environmental causes but somehow cannot process basic principles of structural racism, hence the pejorative “animal whites”. In western thought, “black” is not characterized by viable boundaries and demarcations, but more aptly by what it lacks: the holy grail of whiteness. This is similar to how de Beauvoir describes feminine qualities under the masculine gaze in The Second Sex.

“He [Man] thinks of his body as a direct and normal connection with the world, which he believes he apprehends objectively, whereas he regards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it. ‘The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,’ said Aristotle; ‘we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.’ And St Thomas for his part pronounced woman to be an ‘imperfect man’, an ‘incidental’ being. This is symbolised in Genesis where Eve is depicted as made from what Bossuet called ‘a supernumerary bone’ of Adam.”

Whatever black is, is irrelevant; it’s only important to know that it’s not white — which is perhaps one reason why white immigrants could gradually (only after deep shame and self-contempt) trade in their ethnic pride for the immaculate coin of whiteness. The Italians, the Irish, the Greeks, and many in eastern Europe who have definite Asian or African ancestry all had to become “white” — and becoming something that doesn’t exist requires much conjuring, sorcery, and blatant deception.

Ellison echoes the same in a 1970 essay, What America Would Be Like Without Blacks,

“Since the beginning of the nation, white Americans have suffered from a deep inner uncertainty as to who they really are. One of the ways that has been used to simplify the answer has been to seize upon the presence of black Americans and use them as a marker, a symbol of limits, a metaphor for the “outsider.” Many whites could look at the social position of blacks and feel that color formed an easy and reliable gauge for determining to what extent one was or was not American. Perhaps that is why one of the first epithets that many European immigrants learned when they got off the boat was the term “nigger” – it made them feel instantly American. But this is tricky magic. Despite his racial difference and social status, something indisputably American about Negroes not only raised doubts about the white man’s value system, but aroused the troubling suspicion that whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black.”

And Baldwin picks up the torch in On Being White and Other Lies:

“No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country…. America became white—the people who, as they claim, “settled” the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation.”

This positioning of blackness as outsider, outlaw, something lacking agency, uniqueness, responsibility and thus any truly productive role in society, is the start of “black death as spectacle” and a hallmark feature of whiteness. The spectacle is, as Du Bois says,

“a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

Onlookers are amused because they don’t understand how a people so gifted can still be suffering so greatly in a country that they built. The onlooker’s detachment from black suffering buttresses their amusement. The black person alike can be detached from the suffering of their own people by bleak attempts to assimilate towards external markers of whiteness and respectability that it promises.

As Ellison briefly touched on, the paradox of black death is how undeniably and uniquely American we are (regardless of how much we wish otherwise). No matter how much the police and government and our nonblack neighbors convince us otherwise. We may not have all came here by choice, but we came and built this land with our sweat, tears and intelligence — which is why it hurts all the more that black lives don’t seem to matter to our country and our people. 

***

In her 1969 book Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlines the five steps of grief that usually occur when a person encounters their own death. This is analogous to what can happen when we witness an unprovoked loss of black life. The stages are as follows:

Denial

Usually accompanied by shock (“How could this have happened to someone so young or educated or civilized or promising or successful or harmless? What could they have possibly done to deserve this? How were they able to do this on camera? Weren’t body cams supposed to enforce an honor code?”)

Anger

Persistent denial quickly leads to full-blown rage and disgust (“Fuck the police and this country. I hate white people and white supremacy. Why does this always happen to us?”). These feelings are not new, but simply resurface over and over again to deal with recurring grievances. Anger towards ourselves for not doing something about it sooner (but also feeling helpless because we have no idea how to stop it), towards black people for not rising up and forming some militia of the people, angry at non-blacks for being so complacent with black death

Bargaining

Appeals to respectability politics and persistent rationalization are performed: (“The assailant must have had a good reason”, “the officer feared for their life and did they best they could, it’s a tough job, lives will get lost, sorry”, “the victim had a history of criminal offenses or drug abuse, petty or otherwise”, “The victim shouldn’t have been in that place at that time of day/night or should have just done what the officer told them to do”, “The officer should have had their body cam on, then there would be no ambiguity about exactly how it went down”, “The family life or childhood of the victim has some minor detail that justifies their imminent demise”

Anyone, not just black people, can bargain in this way and make excuses for the incident. Respectability politics for black people is merely a special case of the well-known  “just world fallacy”

Depression

This phase can last for months and years and takes a severe toll on black mental health worldwide, especially those who lose family members or see the events live. The candid realization that black lives don’t matter, and there are still people who argue that advocating for your survival is a terrorist act — which, technically, it is! Because it brings absolute terror to the idea of whiteness having the sole claim to which lives do and don’t matter.

Acceptance

“Well, we should make peace with our status”, having “the talk” with your black children, “We can’t prevent ourselves from being killed, we can’t really bear arms or shoot back, and when killed, we are unlikely to receive justice, so we should lower our standards and do the best we can”, me being paranoid that having a broken taillight can lead to my death (à la Sandra Bland), normalcy and desensitization of black death takes center stage:

“What happens when instead of becoming enraged and shocked every time a black person is killed in the United States, we recognize black death as a predictable and constitutive aspect of this democracy? What will happen then if instead of demanding justice we recognize (or at least consider) that the very notion of justice — indeed the gamut of political and cognitive elements that constitute formal, multiracial democratic practices and institutions — produces and requires black exclusion and death as normative?” – Joy James & Joāo Costa Vargas, Refusing Blackness-as-Victimization: Trayvon Martin and the Black Cyborgs

Unconsciously, this perpetual cycle of grief can lead us to agree with the general public opinion that we are “a problem”, (whether we are our own problem to fix or it is our environment’s fault is another question entirely, usually set up as a false dichotomy) which Du Bois noticed long ago in the beginning of The Souls of Black Folk

“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”

Du Bois’s playful way describes perfectly why having nuanced conversations about race is so difficult with white people; they so often don’t want an answer to the real question: How does it feel to be black, to be at the bottom of this brutal yet worthless racial hierarchy? Black feelings are white nightmares.

White people usually don’t have the patience to listen to this answer, because they congenitally lack the patience and nuance to examine their own complicity. Whiteness is curable if the owners know its true cost. White people, in the main, have failed to be human, because they are too busy trying to be white. But they are too white to admit this, and yet drowning in white guilt is neither salve nor salvation. 

***

And finally, we find ourselves at the performance art piece, or the conspicuous consumption of black death as a spectacle — as something to be gawked at, internalized, amused by, as a perennial window into western morality, to be pitied and empathized from afar but never entering the heart of the matter, on how collective black rage/action is the world’s worst nightmare (even for some black people themselves to honor the rage they have every right to) — and as ritual, an almost religious experience that ensures the spectacle plays out its script via mass media, pleas for respectability politics, and calls to action that want reform without revolution:

The Spectacle:

public display and knowledge of black death, which renders blacks privy to embarrassment and humiliation, and offers non-blacks a chance to internalize black inferiority — and for both parties to assume that justice will not be served no matter how clear-cut the case may seem.

private knowledge as blacks navigate feelings of self-hate, self-pity, and decide how best to fight back against the world’s assumption of their innate inferiority and still love being black, and not simply tolerate it.

The Ritual is simply the performance of the spectacle, day after day, with these key underwriting features:

  • repetition (it happens again and again, seemingly without end, since this country’s inception)
  • These incidents may follow one another in quick succession, within days or weeks. One event’s grief can overshadow the other. A very essential demoralizing effect — why grieve for one of them when they all happen so fast? why grieve at all?  This is the entry point into learned helplessness. Rage must be distilled into apathy or else it becomes lethal to the oppressive regime. The ritual usually does not end in anger, but makes the full cycle through to depression and acceptance and starts anew upon another incident.
  • Outrage and call to arms (riots, protests, public displays of morning and rage, black separatism through self-sufficiency, chastising whites for being complicit with their inaction or for actively denying that it even happened, sharing information about the incident on public media) as public outrage responds then quickly retreats as event fades from public memory
  • Church folk praying for strength to forgive those who are complicit in black death, which ostensibly will also help the praying black person not to hold a grudge against American society for its deliberate blindness to the black plight.
  • The dissemination and proliferation of black death as film and image on social media in our age is meant to drive home the concept of learned helplessness, which is basically the default black mindset today, rage distilled into apathy. This reinforces a deep powerlessness as you see cops explain away everything in court.

***

Every black person in America is raging eternally beyond belief in their private life — the real difference is how it manifests itself in public life. Every black soul must — and will, no matter how much they run and hide — grapple with the incessant sermon on the mount concerning their own public worthlessness, which is meant to guarantee the adoption of private suicide, the annihilation of black intellect, agency and hope. But, take care to know that this doesn’t mean white supremacy wants to elimination of black life but merely the reins and subjugation of black spirit; it simply demands the cooperation (complicit or not) of black people in the maintenance of the laws and systems that routinely deny their basic humanity — hence the eternal return to our old friend, “the politics of respectability” as a last-resort plea to the powers that be: “Don’t hurt us or our children. We know how to render ourselves harmless, unlike those other negroes. We will get educated, speak proper English, dress appropriately and be respectful contributors to the economy. We admit to our own disposability and inferiority and hope American culture can have a civilizing effect upon us. We won’t confront white fragility with our black rage”. This has been the most common response to white power and even if it outwardly works, a piece of the soul is drawn into self-loathing every time this strategy is used. Any politic of respectability is unremitting and unabashed self-hate. What would a true politics of black liberation look like? I’m sure there are black people who can say it better for us, but a passage from the beautiful Andrea Dworkin captures the core urgency of a holy rage that nurtures neither apology nor reluctance:

“Imagine– in present time–a woman saying, and meaning, that a man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing her. Suppose there were a politics of liberation premised on that assertion–an assertion not of ideology but of deep and stubborn outrage at being misused, a resolute assertion, a serious assertion by serious women. What are serious women; are there any; isn’t seriousness about freedom by women for women grotesquely comic; we don’t want to be laughed at, do we? What would this politics of liberation be like? Where would we find it? What would we have to do? Would we have to do something other than dress for success? Would we have to stop the people who are hurting us from hurting us? Not debate them; stop them. Would we have to stop slavery? Not discuss it; stop it. Would we have to stop pretending that our rights are protected in this society? Would we have to be so grandiose, so arrogant, so unfeminine, as to believe that the streets we walk on, the homes we live in, the beds we sleep in, are ours–belong to us–really belong to us: we decide what is right and what is wrong and if something hurts us, it stops. It is, of course, gauche to be too sincere about these things, and it is downright ridiculous to be serious. Intelligent people are well mannered and moderate, even in pursuing freedom. Smart women whisper and say please.” – Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Race and Religion

We Don’t Need No “Moderates”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has apparently decided that embracing the “Blue Dog Democrats” – a group of politicians who proudly tout their commitment “to pursuing fiscally-responsible policies, ensuring a strong national defense, and transcending party lines” – is the prudent electoral strategy for the Democratic Party in 2018.  Daily Beast contributor Michael Tomasky agrees, writing that the “reality, which many liberals refuse to accept[, is that to win a majority in the House of Representatives], Democrats have to win in 20 to 25 purple districts.  And that means electing some moderates.”

If you’re in favor of Democrats joining with Republicans to enact tax cuts that go mostly to the rich, reductions in government spending on support for low- and middle-income people, and more legislation authorizing perpetual war, this strategy isn’t totally crazy.  But if you’re in favor of “single-payer health care, a much higher minimum wage, a massive infrastructure program, a top marginal…tax rate around 50 percent, a much higher payroll tax cap, and more,” which Tomasky says he is, this strategy couldn’t be more wrong.  Even if it led to a Democratic House, it would stymie your agenda.  In New York, for example, while the Blue-Dog-esque Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) gives Democrats a nominal majority in the state Senate, the IDC consistently partners with Republicans to undermine economic and social justice.  A Democratic majority doesn’t help you very much if the Democrats who get you there don’t share your values.

Importantly, there’s also no reason to believe Tomasky’s assertion that “moderate” candidates will improve Democrats’ electoral prospects.  In fact, evidence suggests an alternate strategy holds more promise in contested (or even heavily Republican) districts in 2018.

Consider recent special elections to replace Trump appointees Mick Mulvaney (South Carolina’s 5th District), Mike Pompeo (Kansas’ 4th District), Tom Price (Georgia’s 6th District), and Ryan Zinke (Montana’s At-Large seat) in the House.  Democrats pursued the Tomasky strategy (or, as former Hillary Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon seems to call it, the “Panera Breads of America” strategy) in Georgia, spending a historical record $30 million on a candidate, Jon Ossoff, who stressed deficit reduction and actively opposed both single-payer health care and taxing the rich.  The national party apparatus mostly stayed out of the other three races, but the Democratic candidates in Kansas (James Thompson) and Montana (Rob Quist) secured progressive endorsements with a platform closer to the one Tomasky theoretically supports.  Nobody paid much attention to Archie Parnell, the Democratic candidate in South Carolina, who, like Ossoff, would fit in pretty well with the Blue Dogs.

The Democrats lost all four races.  But based on how Democrats had fared in each of those districts historically, they also significantly outperformed expectations.  All of them except for Ossoff, that is, who did far better than the practically nonexistent candidate Democrats ran in the prior congressional election in Georgia’s 6th District but worse than Hillary Clinton performed there against Donald Trump.  Note also that Georgia’s 6th District is more affluent than most and thus, according to Tomasky, a place in which “the Democrat should definitely talk more about growth than fairness but can probably get away with somewhat more liberal social positions,” which basically describes how Ossoff ran his campaign.  In other words, the Democratic Party invested the most resources and got the least return on one of the “moderate” special election candidates in a district tailor-made for the Tomasky strategy.

Advocacy for single-payer health care didn’t put Thompson and Quist over the top in their races, of course, and Parnell, a “moderate” who both the party and grassroots organizers more or less ignored, came the closest to victory.  These special elections certainly don’t prove that endorsing economic justice more will win.  But they do show it can play better than a Republican-lite economic platform in heavily Republican areas, a fact also underscored by the recent results of state special elections.  In New York’s 9th Assembly District, for instance, which Trump won with 60 percent of the vote, bold progressive Christine Pellegrino just trounced her Republican challenger en route to a seat on the state assembly.

Then there’s the recent international evidence.  Jeremy Corbyn just helped the United Kingdom’s Labour Party pull off its biggest electoral swing in seventy years, defying pundit predictions of Labour’s imminent trampling from a few months before.  Some of Labour’s surge was likely due to the Conservative Party’s mistakes, but some of it was also likely due to a bold set of economic ideas Labour outlined in a new manifesto, ideas that couldn’t be more different from those the Blue Dog Democrats embrace.  Labour’s showing underscored what evidence had indicated since at least February of 2016, when I first pointed it out: Bernie Sanders was much more likely than Hillary Clinton to win a head-to-head matchup against a Republican presidential candidate that November.  That evidence only got stronger as the primary season continued; many Democrats likely wish they had taken it more seriously.  Today, Sanders – a politician about as far from the Blue Dogs as you can get in the Senate – remains the most popular politician in America.  The claim that Sanders-style economic and social justice advocacy is unworkable in the critical purple districts Tomasky references doesn’t square with the absence of moderate Democrats more popular than Sanders in those districts.

And let’s not forget that the Democratic Party has been decimated in recent years.  Not only have they lost control of the executive branch of the federal government and both chambers of Congress, they now also hold only 18 state houses, 15* governorships, and 13 state senates.  They’ve been running moderate candidates in purple districts, and that strategy doesn’t seem to be working very well.

That doesn’t mean we can be certain about what will get Democrats elected.  A candidate’s general election viability is ultimately unknowable.  It may depend on her or her opponent’s platform, debating skill, fundraising prowess, personality, or field operation.  It may hinge on the quirks of the community she’s running for office in or how much the media likes her.  It may come down to random chance.  Electability is also often a self-fulfilling prophecy; people commenting on electability and making decisions based on their perceptions of it can actually influence it and do so all the time.

The only thing we can be certain of in the electability space is political strategists’ and pundits’ poor track records.  Many of the people who claim to know what is and isn’t possible in future elections thought Bernie Sanders would barely get 15 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.  Many of them were sure that Republicans would never nominate Donald Trump, and once that prediction turned out to be wrong, were still absolutely positive that Trump would never become president.  It’s long past time we viewed their claims with skepticism, especially when there’s evidence that points the other way.

Good policy can sell.  Voters can be persuaded.  Political reality is not something that gets handed to us, but something we help create.  Candidates with economic and social justice platforms can win in purple districts, and they’ll be even more likely to do so if Democratic pundits stop assuming they can’t and start getting behind them.

*Updated from 16 to 15 on August 5, 2017, after West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced he would switch his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Thanks to Michael Sainato for the heads up!

3 Comments

Filed under 2016 Presidential Election, 2018 Elections, US Political System