Monday, March 24, 2008

Race Still Matters, Obviously: Or, Talking About Black Bitches and Whores

Obama Day After Speech

Barack Obama's Wright controversy is forcing a genuine national conversation on race, something the Clinton adminisration's national race initiative failed to do.

For all of his talk of racial transcendance,
as George Packer indicates, Obama can't get away from the issue - indeed, he's haunted by it, which has become increasingly clear in the aftermath of the Illinois Senator's speech last week on race and religion in America:

The political heart of the speech and of his campaign is a call to Americans of all races to come together, on the basis of hopes and concerns that unite them, especially economic ones. He spoke of black Americans “binding our particular grievances—for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs—to the larger aspirations of all Americans: the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who’s been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family.” Obama’s character and candidacy offer a way out of the divisive identity politics that has, in part, cost the Democratic Party its majority status since the nineteen-sixties.
Packer, of course, discusses campaign '08's build-up to Wright's "God Damn America" moment, including the Clinton campaign's own sleazy racial pandering.

But the larger point underneath all of this - that Obama's the messenger to bind all races together - is simply nonsense. It's not that Obama's insincere, he's just too caught up in the politics of racial polarization to lead us to the promised land. The fact is, we're not going to have a meaningful discussion of race when all hard-left elements of the political system remain so deeply invested in the politics of grievance, victimhood, and racial demonization. Unfortunately for Obama, he's right smack-dab in the middle of it.

Note what
Bill Kristol suggests this morning on the idea of a national conversation on race:

The last thing we need now is a heated national conversation about race.

What we need instead are sober, results-oriented debates about economics, social mobility, education, family policy and the like — focused especially on how to help those who are struggling. Such policy debates can lead to real change — even “change we can believe in.” “National conversations” tend to be pointless and result-less.

Or worse. Especially when they’re about race. In 1969, Pat Moynihan, then serving on Richard Nixon’s White House staff, wrote Nixon a memo explaining that “the issue of race could benefit from a period of ‘benign neglect.’ The subject has been too much talked about. ... We may need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades.” Moynihan, who was reacting against the wild escalation of racial rhetoric on all sides, was unfairly pilloried when the memo was leaked in 1970. But he was right then, and his argument is right now.

Unfairly pilloried?

I'll say. But it's par for the course when commentators want to talk about deep issues of race and mobility in America, especially questions of culture and personal responsibility. At the first mention of black racial deviation from America's historic norms of individualism and the culture of achievement, one is immediatly branded a racist.

Take this weekend's racial controversy around the blogosphere: Yesterday
Glenn Greenwald tried to take down Glenn Reynolds and his Easter post linking to Instapunk. It turns out that Instapunk's a group blog with some decidedly politically incorrect comments on race, including the deployment of the "n-word."

Just linking to the entry's apparently turned Reynolds in some grand kleagle white supremacist, according to the cries of outrage. This morning, for example, Lawyers, Guns and Money links Reynolds to the League of the South, a neo-separatist group with ties to the Ku Klux Klan (see also yesterday's blogging links at Memeorandum).

Tom Maguire's also discussing the issue with
a post today. He notes Instapunk's obvious political incorrectness, but also notes how just raising questions of race and culture elicits the most vituperative attacks from the left:

Frankly, there is very little in his post I would be inclined to defend, but I would be very curious to learn how widely held his viewpoints might be. As an example, I would guess his aversion to the hip-hop gangsta sub-culture is widely shared.

Well. Rather than trying to look for the message in his message, the Usual Suspects, led by Glenn Greenwald, seized on the offensive sections as an opportunity to brand Glenn Reynolds and the entire conservative movement as racists.
I'm part of that conservative movement, it turns out.

my post yesterday, I denounced Instapunk's use of the "n-word" as disgusting, but I also raised the point that questions of black culture are legitimate topics of discussion:

I would argue that Instapunk's indeed way out of the mainstream of the appropriate bounds of conservative discussion (or more precisely, language), [yet] I too feel like "smacking" guys with their pants hanging down to their hamstrings.

Am I a racist because I find that culture not only offensive, but one of the greatest challenges to black progress in the post-Civil Rights era?Hardly.

Bill Cosby makes many of the same points.
The reference to Cosby dates to his speech in 2004 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision striking down Plessy v. Ferguson's "separate but equal" doctrine - the case seen as marking the beginning of the modern civil rights era. Cosby argued that many of today's blacks aren't holding up their end of the deal. Rights come hand-in-hand with responsibility, and America's black lower-third has broken its end of the bargain.

For raising these points I too have been
attacked as racist. So note, it's not just explicitly deploying hate language that gets one labeled as racist, it's the act itself of raising important issues of black culture and responsibility (remember Bill Kristol's points above).

Well let me dwell on Bill Cosby a bit, as he's certainly one who can speak truth to power on this issue. He's spoken out much on black culture, not just on the 50th annniversary of Brown.

As Juan Williams indicates, Cosby addresses the self-defeating aspects of black behavior as part of his regular lectures, for example, in his discussions of predatory violence glorified in hip-hop music:

The raw charm of street kids boasting about the ability to rap, to put the most delightful rythyms together, was not immune from the darker forces in urban America....

Some of the gritty commentary was improvised reporting from the front lines of the increasingly violent streets of the black inner city during the explosion in violent crime that followed the crack epidemic. But before long the gritty street reporting gave way to nihilistic glorifications of the "thug life." Some of the biggest names in rap, such as Tupac Shakur, swallowed too much of their own poisonous outlaw fantasy and ended up in real-life violent confrontations with real-life controversies: prison, death. Along the same path to corruption, the early hip-hop tradition of young men bragging in their raps about being great, passionate lovers, took a wrong turn down a path degrading women as "whores" and "bitches." Time after time, raising the stakes in rap to get attention from listeners and record companies meant descending to self-hating vulgarity ... In this toxic punch, the power of good sex turned into crass odes to women showing their genitals ("Pop that pussy, ho")....

There was nothing preventing those songs from being recorded and released in massive numbers - except common sense. And common sense was dismissed by rappers and their corporate partners as feeble protests from stuck-up white people and bourgeoise black people who had lost touch with their ghetto roots ... Violence, murder, and self-hatred were marketed as true blackness - authentic black identity....

This led to one of the most interesting in-house social confrontations among black Americans so far in the twenty-first century. It is an argument that fits Bill Cosby's very public challenge to black people, especially the poor, to wise up and turn away from self-defeating behavior that limits their capacity to take advantage of the doors that opened in the fifty years since the Brown decision. Cosby specifically challenged young black women. Talking to a Milwaukee audience about rap music, he asked how many of the women considered themselves "bitches and hos." When no one raised a hand, a wide-eyed Cosby asked, "If you're not a bitch or a ho, why do you dance to that music?"
Good question.

In his interview for this book, Cosby took an even harder line on hip-hop. He pointed to a conversation with the president of Morgan State University about how young black people dress when they first come to the Baltimore school. The young women dress like prostitutes and the young men come in looking like thugs, Cosby said, as a result of rap filling radio and TV with distorted images of black people that have nothing do do with a history of self-determinatinon or pride.

Now, one can see where I'm coming from when I say, "I too feel like "smacking" guys with their pants hanging down to their hamstrings."

I teach kids like this, semester after semester. I see their academic failures first-hand. I talk to students who have no idea what a culture of academic achievement looks like. But I never give up. I never descend to lowering expectations, a true bigotry of there ever was one. I teach, tutor, and mentor, but I don't excuse the failure to master English as the result of lingering disadvantages of slavery and Jim Crow. In other words, I don't cave in to the cult of racial victimology.

An African-American today has more opportunity than at any time in American history. It's not "insitutional racism" that's holding folks back, in my view. It's the ever increasing culture of victimology and racial greivance, exacerbated by the lack of self-pride that Cosby attacks.

It's not racist to point these things out.

Liberal critics of conservatives will always raise the race card as long as there's profit to be made as a racial "challenger." Obama wants to be a racial bargainer, one who assumes good natured, honest motivations and sentiments among white Americans today. Racial challengers assume whites are closet bigots, and they've got to prove that they're down with the victimology agenda before they can get hip with the racial sensitivity mandarins of the left.

So let's bring this discusson full circle. Is Obama the "one"? Is he the messenger of true racial healing in America today? He still has potential, as Packer points out:

Obama is staking his campaign on the very point ... that the dreams and interests of hard-pressed Americans are more important than matters of race. Democrats have been trying to make that argument for a long time, while Republicans have been winning elections. For half a century, right-wing populism has been the most successful political force in America, aided greatly by the tendency of liberals to fall into the competing claims of identity groups. Obama is a black candidate who can tell Americans of all races to move beyond race. As such, he is uniquely positioned to put an end to this era, and uniquely vulnerable to becoming its latest victim.
I'll have more on this topic in future posts. In the meantime, see more commentary at Memeorandum.

Photo Credit: New York Times


Anonymous said...

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