Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cornell Hip-Hop Inagural Conference, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2008

Click HERE or on the link on the right for the schedule of events for the weekend.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sir Charles, Spike, the Bradley Effect and the Politics of Race

Charles Barkley on CNN with Campbell Brown.

Spike Lee on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning.

It seems that as the election draws near several media outlets have been trying to get all types of political views from a variety of folk both in and outside of politics. Some of the most disturbing to me came from musical artist, Sheryl Crow and actor Dean Cain from "Lois and Clark" fame. The reason I find the views of such A (and B-list) celebrities appalling or at the very least unpalatable is because honestly who really cares what celebrities think about politics? In my view it just seems to reinforce the American obsession with celebrity and fame. Have news outlets run out of pundits to get comments from, and if that is so is this a last ditch effort for ratings? I don't know. However, I must admit that I have my own "favorite" famous folk who I actually like to hear from. So am I just as guilty as the people I am critiquing? Possibly.

The best "celebrity viewpoint" for me came from actor Matt Damon who had one of the most brilliant and brutally honest takes on Sarah Palin back in September. His thoughts on the pick of Palin as a running mate for McCain was like watching a "really bad Disney Movie."

Since Damon's comments aired on CBS almost two months ago, two of my favorite famous people have weighed in on the election and specifically the notorious "Bradley Effect" and whether or not it will be an issue for Senator Obama. The term "Bradley Effect" was coined after former Los Angeles Mayor, Tom Bradley ran for governor of California and lost the election even though early polls showed him as a clear winner going into the election in 1982. A similar situation occurred in with L. Douglas Wilder in Virginia during his victory in the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial election which was narrower than predicted by pre-election and exit polls that had given Wilder a sizable advantage.

Political scientists and other academics refer specifically to the "Bradley Effect" as social desirability bias. Simply put, it is when whitefolk say that they will support an African American candidate, but when they get behind the voting both they just can't seem to pull the lever for those of African descent. Scholars at the intersection of psychology and law, such as Gregory S. Parks and Jeffrey Rachlinski, attribute such actions to "unconscious race bias". I tend to think that it is not so "unconscious" but a continued "conscious" efforts to invest in the psychological wage of whiteness.

Both Spike Lee and Charles Barkley speak about the "Bradley Effect" and think about it differently. Lee sees it as something of the past that will not have the negative impact that some political experts believe that it will, while Barkley believes that many are underestimating the "Bradley Effect." Both men are Obama supporters but view the election and the impact of race differently. Lee sees the polls as inaccurate because they do not tap into young white voters who have grown up on Hip-Hop. Thus, his argument is that this new generation of young whites are more socially accepting of the notion of a black president, where as Barkley finds political polls ineffective because they don't (or can't) take into consideration the secretly held racist attitudes.

So what to think? Barkley and Lee approach this issue from different viewpoints from their various life experiences as well as their career paths, but provide some insightful and I think real commentary about this election. I still find it interesting that those persons who rise to the status of celebrity can get air time to have their political views held whether it is Spike Lee, Charles Barkley, or even Donald Trump. There seems to be some kind of authenticity behind them for some reason. It is almost like getting a celebrity to endorse a product. The common notion is that if famous person "Mr. X" uses it, it must be good. Of course I could be wrong.

Ultimately, the question is whether or not Obama will fall victim to the same racist practices that murdered the Bradley campaign and almost killed off Wilder's political aspirations. Spike Lee believes that Americans have moved past a place where the "Bradley Effect" is not even a salient issue for discussion. So do many others. I hope they are right.

As a Missouri native, I tend to agree with Sir Charles who thinks, "the polls are absolutely useless," in the grander scheme of things. One can never discount the issue of race and the impact that it continues to have in this nation. As an always important swing state, my home city and state (St. Louis, Missouri) will figure prominently in deciding who will occupy the oval office. St. Louis is likely one of the most segregated cities in the nation with a history of racial antagonisms going back to the Dred Scott Decision of 1857. It was at the courthouse in downtown St. Louis that Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that "black men have no rights the white man is bound to respect." Over 150 years later, I was glad to see that 100,000 citizens gathered to support Obama, and many of those faces were not those of African decent.

Historian Ira Berlin argues in his pivtoal text, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, that "race is not simply a social construction; it is a particular kind of social construction--a historical construction." Similar to class, race "cannot exist outside of a time and place" my prayer is that this time, at this historical moment, America can move to begin to address its demons of race and forge path that moves this nation in a direction of true progress and does not yield to the temptation of white nationalism.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

SNL gets it right...

Glad to see someone understands what is going on...Why is it the case that we have gotten more insightful and hard-hitting political analysis from our comedic outlets like Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Comedy Central's "Daily Show"? I guess famed writer, and fellow Missourian, Mark Twain was right about the power of satire...too bad the "Joe Six-packs" and "Pit-bull Hockey Moms" won't understand. They'll be at the Bass Pro Shop talking about how connected they feel to Palin.

"One can deliver a satire with telling force through the insidious medium of a travesty, if he is careful not to overwhelm the satire with the extraneous interest of the travesty."
-Mark Twain

Friday, October 03, 2008

Vote or DIE!

Check out Homer Simpson trying to vote in Springfield. Great satire.

Smoke and Mirrors: The Politics of Palin and the GOP

Last night the American public was treated to a preemptive strike on their intelligence. What millions viewed may be best described as the "Bush Policy" targeted at the common sense of the American citizen. The only truly scary thing aside from what we saw and heard from the running mate of Senator John McCain, is that a large segment of the American population actually agreed with the Alaska Governor.

I cannot begin to describe how infuriating, frustrating, and in some ways painful it was to watch Gov. Sarah Palin’s outright refusal to answer the questions posed to her. As the bloodletting of misguided and confusing talking points ducked and dodged Gwen Ifill's very straight forward questions, I was proud to see Senator Joe Biden masterfully and thoughtfully address the serious inquiries presented to him. He did not come off as a bully or offer the political "smack down" to Palin (as he very well could have at any moment in the debate). As I watched the debate with several colleagues, we shook our heads in disbelief to the answers, or responses of Palin. Her orations or conservative musings (more likely her reciting of their platform) should not be called "answers" as I do not think she actually addressed any particular question posed to her.

I awaited a feeding frenzy that would make the comments from the Katie Couric interview seem like a walk in the park. However, I was shocked to see that only two commentators really addressed what we saw last night...another demonstration of Palin’s unpreparedness and incompetence for the office of Vice-President (or President for that matter). Conservative leader Pat Buchanan had the audacity to say that Palin was great and did a wonderful job (I'm paraphrasing). That is really to be expected now that I think about it. What was eye-brow raising, however, was that he wasn't the only one with such a perspective.

As I flipped through CNBC, FOXNews, and even CNN, only two moderators actually presented an honest assessment of what they saw. This morning on the front page of the New York Times they have headlines that read, "In Debate GOP Ticket Survives Test" or "Palin Recaptures Her Image." CNN has a poll of viewers that actually think that Palin "defies expectations." How was the bar set? Was there a standard to measure her against, oh, right Biden. My question to my fellow Americans is "what the hell were you watching?" Now aside from those that will vote down strict party lines or perhaps, even racial ones, I cannot understand how no one is discussing how Palin’s reaffirmation of her problematic image—an image that was unveiled for all to see in two very scripted interviews, where the Alaskan governor was confusing at best.

This morning I thought maybe Gwen Ifill could have come at Palin harder, but her hands were tied due to her book coming out that allegedly mentions Obama in a favorable tone (according to Republicans). Last time I checked however, Ifill was not running for office. Moreover, from my understanding of the book, it is about the post Civil Rights generation of African American
politicians which would include Republicans such as J.C. Watts, for example, as well as Obama. Again, Biden could have just taken her out during the debate, but then the media (on both sides) would have said that Biden was "harsh" or "cold" to the neophyte politico Palin.

So at the moment I look and I see that maybe it is the case that the GOP has indeed pulled off a miracle, better yet pulled the wool over the nation's eyes. Maybe I did not see what I saw last night. Maybe Biden, in presenting actual examples of the platforms that he and Obama support, did not win the debate. For some strange reason I thought about an old Richard Pryor comedy
routine where he tells a joke about himself talking to his wife, "who you gonna believe me or your lying eyes?"

If the coverage of this debate is any indication of what is to come, the next thirty days or so are going to be long and stress filled for those of us who did not drink the elixir of untruth. I cannot shake the notion that so many people are falling for this political "Okie-doke," but then, maybe I can.

This is business as usual in American politics, particularly the politics of white nationalism. Palin's "authenticity" is rooted in a racist ideology that says "we [whites] would rather have an incompetent white woman than elect more qualified black man." Am I playing the race card? Yes I am. The "race card" as it is typically viewed has been in play since Obama decided to run for the office of President, and has been part of the explicit and implicit tactics of his adversaries. This isn't the first nor the last time that the Republican Party and Democrats too (a generation prior...look up "white primaries”) has employed the smoke and mirrors of race to convolute, complicate, and retard politics.

In historian George M. Fredickson's influential text, The Black Image in the White Mind, he examines the "development of intellectualized racist theory and ideology as it was applied to directly to the programmatically to the "problem" posed in the white mind by the presence of millions of blacks in the United States." He particularly looks at the decades following the Civil War through the first decade of the twentieth century. This time span is important because this was the era of emancipation where whites both in the North and the South had to deal with the reality of African American freedom. This “freedom” was never thought to be synonymous with the egalitarian form of governance that was espoused in the rhetoric of the founding fathers. Theirs was a herrenvolk democracy made for and by a landed, Protestant, male, white elite. As the nineteenth century came to a close there was an explosion of racist theory that sought to create a degenerate view of African Americans that went from the ivory towers of the Northeast to the dirt roads of Dixie. The maturation of Social Darwinist thought is a prime example of just how sophisticated racism became.

Frederickson argues that politicians, academicians, scientists and even writers were part of this scheme. One of the most important chapters of Frederickson’s text is “Negro as a Beast: Southern Negrophobia at the Turn of the Century.” Here he maintains that so called experts on racial theory provided a litany of studies and hypotheses that said that African Americans were not only unfit to live in a society of white men, but that they would eventually die out all together. For instance, Senator Wade Hampton of South Carolina wrote an article called the “Race Problem” where he proclaimed that offering African Americans the right to vote was “a crime against civilization, humanity, constitutional rights, and Christianity.” He later called for a complete separation of the races. He was not alone, however, other politicians consciously exaggerated figures on African American crime and sexuality (the stereotype of the Black Brute) during this time. The goal was to make a link that solidified the racist concept of “zero sum”, that argued that any rights given to African Americans would come as a direct disadvantage to their white counterparts.

This in mind, from Rev. Wright’s sermons, the speeches on race that Obama has given, and even looking at the muzzled moderator, Gwen Ifill, race is still a polarizing subject in this country. For those who saw Palin there can be no argument as to her lack of preparation for the job for which she is applying. The disillusioning affect for me is that Frederick Douglass’ words are more true now than they were when he soberly commented that there is not a “negro problem.” The problem is whether the American people can live up to their own constitution or will they give into the whimsical fantasy of the smoke and mirrors of ignorance, hate, and fear.
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Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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