In any case where a young person of color has been beaten, shot and/or killed at the hands of law enforcement, there are inevitably two competing narratives: one where the victim is described by parents, family and friends in the most positive and loving light as possible and one where the victim is reduced to that of either a mere criminal or a potential criminal.
Prior to Michael Brown's fatal encounter with Ferguson P.D. Officer Darren Wilson, Brown was featured on surveillance camera at a nearby convenience store, where it appeared that he was involved in a strong-arm robbery. The events, as they unfolded on-screen, fed into the "Michael Brown is a Criminal" narrative trotted by CNN and many other mainstream news outlets. It also gave many with an already-low opinion of Brown and black Americans like him all the justification necessary to consider his life forfeit at the hands of Wilson. In other words, to say that Michael Brown deserved to die, but without actually uttering those words.
Narratives are a powerful thing. They can easily influence how Americans think or feel about an issue and sway opinion from one end to another. The pictures and footage of 1960s-era civil rights advocates suffering assault after ruthless assault at the hands of a cultural and state apparatus intent on status-quo preservation created a powerful narrative that swayed many on the side of justice. But even that narrative had to compete with the equally powerful narrative firmly codified by D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation and ruthlessly reinforced by the behaviors and actions of both cultural and state actors.
Painting Michael Brown as a deadly giant of a criminal wipes any sympathy that anyone has for what happened to him that fateful day. It encourages a mindset that figures, "he was a natural-born criminal and he had it coming. He deserved to die."
He didn't deserve to die, but that's all academic at this point.
As it turned out, he did pay for what he was suspected by many of stealing. But I suppose that's also academic at this point, too.
Michael Brown's designated status as a deadly giant and a vicious beast is nothing new. Trayvon Martin was described by many in the media and elsewhere as a powerful Uber-Negro with innate MMA training and the capacity to destroy innocent lives by sheer force of his own blackness, nevermind his actual physical appearance. The powerful narrative of the black man as a superhuman beast is a common one, carefully cultivated over the centuries as proof of his suitability and destiny in the fields of the planter class.
Sheena C. Howard's Huffington Post piece goes into detail about this powerful and long-lasting narrative and how it's shaped this country's perception of black men and women. By highlighting this prolific and persistent pathology, it's easy to understand why the American public is both in awe and in fear of the black specimen:
During the Reconstruction Period (1866 -- 1877), many Whites argued that free Blacks were a danger to society because they were animalistic beasts and savages that needed to be tamed by White slave owners. In 1901, the writer, George T. Winston stated, "The black brute is lurking in the dark, a monstrous beast, crazed with lust. His ferocity is almost demoniacal. A mad bull or tiger could scarcely be more brutal. A whole community is frenzied with horror, with the blind and furious rage for vengeance". These sentiments are eerily consistent with the ways in which Officer Darren Wilson describes Mike Brown as a "demon" in his testimony.
Since the 1930's scientists have been trying to generate evidence of superhuman physical features that characterize Black people to explain their exemplary success in sports. The century old-debate of the "slave gene" seems to resurface every four years, particularly when athletes of African descent outperform competitors at the Olympics, -- most notably in track and field.
The supposedly untamable, animalistic nature of the black man justifies mainstream America's fear of him while, at the same time, justifying his return to his proper lot in life (under the watchful eye of the slave holder). It also justifies dealing with the so-called superhuman in the most final manner possible. So instead of merely talking a man out of wielding his weapon or spending minutes ordering him to surrender peacefully, law enforcement officers are expected to respond to the dire life-or-death presence of the superhuman Negro by ending said Negro's existence, full stop.
America's pathological obsession and fear of black men, a current that runs deeply underneath the national bedrock, was useful as a way to destroy any sympathy for the black creature as he was used and abused on the farms and plantations. It remained useful for severing any sense of solidarity between poor freed blacks and their equally impoverished white counterparts, while keeping the rest of America in fear of their mere presence. And today, it's used as an effective narrative to continue justifying the actions and tactics of law enforcement agencies throughout the nation, as well as the corrupt actions of the prosecutors and the judiciary.
Sadly, enforcing that narrative always comes at a cost. For Michael Brown's family, it cost them their son. For black families across the U.S., it cost them their peace of mind and sense of justice. For America, the cost is its morals and, as some would say, its soul.
Michael Brown's death and the subsequent protests in the city of Ferguson, Missouri have laid bare a few simple, troubling facts about living in this country as a black American:
- You are always considered a danger or a threat until proven otherwise.
- As a possible threat, you are subject to the wishes and whims of law enforcement, the courts and the penal system.
- Even ordinary citizens can deal with you as they see fit if they consider you a threat, as codified in both de facto and de jure forms.
But the reason for LEO insistence on treating black Americans as a clear and present danger has little to do with criminal stats or personal experiences - those are often used as pretextual justifications for their behavior. Instead, it's a bit deeper than that:
The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. I came home at the end of this summer to find that dominion had been. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.
Ownership of and authority over the black body is something that stretches as far back as the beginning of the slave trade, when the purchase and use of involuntary African labor came into vogue. It was most apparent during the heyday of the plantation system, with the southern planter class and their allies in control of black labor and black movement. The black body was theirs to do as they saw fit.
This attitude did not vanish once the plantation system - at least in its slavery-supported form - vanished. The loss of control over the black body also meant a grievous economic loss. When black Americans began taking advantage of the Reconstruction period, there was a realization that this loss of control could be permanent. The fight against Reconstruction, the imposition of Jim Crow laws throughout the south and the use of those laws to create a new prison-supported plantation system marked the re-imposition of control over the black body.
Today, mainstream America struggles to maintain authority over the black body, to do as they see fit with it. Even if it means warehousing your body in a secure facility for decades on end. Or bruising your body to the point of disfigurement and paralysis. Or simply destroying your body outright.
It doesn't take a united organization to exercise that sort of control over the black body. Such tasks are often outsourced to ordinary individuals - people who have their own agendas, but nevertheless inherently understand the need for policing the black body. Jason Zimmerman did his part to re-impose societal control over the black body - he understood clearly what society subconsciously asked of him once he saw those black teenagers behaving in a way that suggested a lack of control.
LEO behavior in Ferguson, L.A., N.Y.C. and points elsewhere are part and parcel with the continuing need to control the black body, whether for the benefit of the scared white suburbanite, the unrepentant Lost Causer, the workaday man or woman who doesn't want to lose their job or home to "those people," the businessmen who see black bodies as a goldmine of dependable cheap labor or the politician who uses black bodies as a "tough on crime" liferaft to keep his or her career afloat.
Control of the black body has always been good for business and good for society. Yours truly doesn't expect that to stop anytime soon.
It's been established throughout history that there's nothing scarier to many Americans than the sight of a black man with a gun, let alone a large group of black men armed to the teeth.
In light of Michael Brown's death at the hands of an overzealous police department in a racially charged tinderbox of a town, it looks like I'll have to amend that, as follows:
It's been established throughout history that there's nothing scarier to many Americans than the sight of a black man.
Of course, it's not so much "fear" than it is an ingrown, almost reflexive need for "control." Today's highly-militarized law enforcement are the runaway slave patrols of the new millennium - if they're not busy funneling a growing number of able-bodied black men and women into the prison-industrial complex and the permanent underclassery that it entails, they're busy with displays like these.Walking around in full military-surplus gear. Firing tear gas into private homes. Aiming AR-15s at innocent passersby.
Make no mistake: this is state-sanctioned terrorism. It's something black America has long since been intimately acquainted with, from the moment the first batch of African slaves were dragged off the boat.
During the Jim Crow era.
During the Civil Rights era.
During the so-called era of "colorblindness" and "post-racial America."
Up to today.
And yes, there are people out there who not only support this state-sanctioned terrorism of black souls (because they're assumed to be criminals who probably definitely deserve it), but they revel in it.
RT @blocktheplate12: don't try to take cops gun & that won't happen. He's was a worthless piece of fuck and got what he deserved. #Ferguson
— Mack Lyons (@DDSSBlog) August 13, 2014
RT @blocktheplate12: @CGsmalls not at all. Sick and tired of all these fucks acting like mike brown was an innocent asshole #Ferguson
— Mack Lyons (@DDSSBlog) August 13, 2014
It's a small taste of the shit sandwich black America has had to deal with for generations on end. And there's no end to it in sight.
This and other acts of state-sanctioned terrorism is a cancer. This is the cancer that is slowly but surely killing this nation. It metastasized early on, up to the sloppy and life-threatening surgery that was the American Civil War. It went into remission with Reconstruction, but flared up in its full glory with Jim Crow. Chemotherapy came in the form of the Civil Rights movement and after that, everyone thought it would finally stay in remission and eventually disappear.
But like any virulent cancer, it never leaves. It just bides its time until the conditions are right to spread. And spread, it has. And it keeps spreading.
The cancer won't go away until America is finally ready to acknowledge that black life has the same worth as a white life, and that a black life deserves just as much protection. Until then, this country will remain in hospice, slowly awaiting the day when the cancer swallows it whole.
In this country, walking while black is a dangerous, life threatening endeavor. #MikeBrown #FergusonShooting
— Ziggy Daddy™ (@Ziggy_Daddy) August 13, 2014
Tell us something we don't know.
NOTE: The following was originally posted on July 7, 2012. For further food for thought, here's Dave Zirin's repost of Frederick Douglass's famous speech "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, a document that declared the 13 colonies under the control of and at war with Great Britain to be independent entities. Within the document's Preamble is the following phrase:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Please note that at the time, these unalienable Rights were reserved only for the white male inhabitants of this burgeoning nation. Woman and African slaves were not afforded many, if any of the rights outlined here.
In 1789, the Articles of Confederation were replaced with what would be known as the United States Constitution. This document set the tone for law and order throughout the entire young nation. Once again, the rights defined in this document were reserved only for the white male inhabitants of this nation. Women and African slaves were not afforded many, if any of the rights outlined here.
The founding fathers' failure to put paid to the question of whether a country should actually declare itself a genuine symbol of freedom when it was willing to quietly tolerate and ignore the subjugation and enslavement of millions of people in its own borders eventually led to the American Civil War, in which the southern states sought to secede to protect their interest in the "peculiar institution," among other reasons. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order calling for the freedom of nearly 3.1 million slaves within the Confederate states. Approximately 50,000 were immediately set free, with more to come as Union troops made short work of Confederate forces.
Lincoln's gesture is sometimes seen as magnanimous, but it was more a tactical maneuver designed to deprive Confederate forces of their readily available pool of manual labor and a potential source of "volunteers" to draft into service. As Lincoln said himself in his August 1862 letter to Horace Greeley:
If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . . . I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
Lincoln's first and foremost goal was to save the Union. Whether he realized that this action, along with the eventual defeat of the Confederacy in 1865 would sew the seeds of resentment, revenge and low-level retribution in the Deep South would remain uncertain, as he didn't live long enough to see any of that.
Hopscotching over the Black Codes, Jim Crow, Separate but Equal, the Civil Rights Movement and the pubic hair on Clarence Thomas' Coke can, we come to Chris Rock, whose Fourth of July tweet upset the delicate sensibilities of many Independence Day celebrators:
Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren't free but I'm sure they enjoyed fireworks
— Chris Rock (@chrisrock) July 4, 2012
Yep, this is what got him yelled at throughout the Internet and Twitter. Maybe he should have let Louis C.K. or some other white American comic "unironically" fire this one off.
Look at it this way -- during the first 89 years or so of this country's official existence, black Americans had little, if nothing to celebrate about. Most were enslaved and the scant few fortunate enough to buy their freedom could not enjoy it as their white counterparts could. For at least a hundred years afterwards, black Americans were officially second-class citizens, denied the full and unalienable rights given to their white counterparts (which now included white women). Today, efforts continue to remind black Americans that even though a guy who mostly looks like them is now the President, their black asses are still not deemed worthy of the unalienable rights they fought and died to get and to enjoy.*
For the past 188 years or so, that part in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence was, as far as blacks were concerned, a lie. And yet people still expect black Americans to suck it up, put on their patriotic faces and wave those flags around like good Americans. People expect the same of the native Americans, nevermind how the U.S., for all intents and purposes, ethnically cleansed tribe after tribe, leaving mere remnants to drink themselves into depression and death on the reservations. If someone did that to your people, it'd probably drive you to drink, too.
Black Americans have more to celebrate about Juneteenth than Independence Day. Too bad everyone tends to forget about Juneteenth. As Ta-Nehisi Coates once mentioned, everything surrounding the American Civil War is treated as a series of tragic events, at least outside of Confederate war re-enactments and antebellum society balls. Actually celebrating Juneteenth the same way we do the Fourth of July is more or less a breach of established decorum -- everything has to be Ken Burns-grade somber, like visiting the grave of an old friend. You wouldn't dance on your old friends grave...unless you hated him, right?
Perceived hatred. That's another thing that annoys me about the bitching that comes when black Americans speak up and speak out. Chris Rock's tweet was immediately construed as some sort of hatred for the Fourth of July and consequently, a hatred of white people and America. How the hell does that happen?
Apparently, unless black Americans remain in the role of white America's best (black) friend, offering only flattery, positive advice and a shoulder to lean on when they're not busy making white America look good, blacks are immediately assumed to harbor some sort of deep-seated hatred for white folk. It's almost as though it speaks to an innate fear that practically every white American has had since one of their forefathers came up with the idea of bringing black slaves onto the country: a sudden and swift revenge riot that ends with countless white heads on sticks and countless white women claimed as trophies. White America's been waiting for a "payback/revenge" plot** that most likely will never materialize. We've proven we're much better than that.
A lot of people don't want to hear the truth, especially when it comes to this country's screwed-up ethnic relations. Chris Rock tweeted an uncomfortable truth and many of us proved we couldn't handle it. We have to do something about that and it doesn't include shouting a great comedian into silence.☨ Maybe we should give that whole "unalienable rights" thing another go, this time, for all Americans, no matter their ethnicity.
* These days, even the white men and women whom were guaranteed these unalienable rights are losing them, bit by bit.
** If some of these folks started listening to James Brown's "The Payback," they'd probably get the wrong idea and piss themselves in a fit of conspiracy theorizing.
☨ Because if there's something that's practically impossible, it's shouting down a great comedian.
“If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”
Maya Angelou, the American poet and author, died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Wednesday. She was 86.
The news was confirmed to the Guardian by an assistant to Winston-Salem mayor Allen Joines. It was also confirmed in statement issued by Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, where she had served as a professor of American Studies since 1982.
Angelou’s failing health was reported as recently as Tuesday, when she canceled an appearance honoring her with a Beacon of Life Award because of “health reasons”. The ceremony was part of the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon, in Houston, Texas, part of Major League Baseball’s Civil Rights Games.
So Benghazi is a thing again. If you're wondering why John Boehner and Co. are bothering with yet another attempt to mold that tragic series of events into an impeachable moment for the president, it may have a lot to do with events like these:
Just a few miles from his family home, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) felt the wrath of the tea party Saturday, when activists in his congressional district booed and heckled the second-most powerful House Republican.
They also elected one of their own to lead Virginia’s 7th Congressional District Republican Committee, turning their back on Cantor’s choice for a post viewed as crucial by both tea party and establishment wings in determining control of the fractured state GOP.
Cantor appeared with his family at the event, where Republicans had packed the house. He was there in part to address his own reelection prospects. He faces David Brat, a tea-party backed opponent, in a June 10 primary that will be open to all voters in the district.
Any sign that Cantor’s support has slipped among the region’s most active Republicans could spell a tougher challenge during next month’s election. And some of the crowd’s reaction Saturday when Cantor took a shot at Brat made clear that the Republican majority leader has not yet fully shored up support.
“When I sit here and I listen to Mr. Brat speak I hear the inaccuracies — my family’s here.” Cantor said. As he was interrupted by the raucous crowd, Cantor’s anger was evident: “That’s enough — we are a country of free speech, so decency’s also part of this.”
When you grab the tail of the tiger, you can expect to get mauled at some point. It's little wonder that the GOP's energies have gone into calming the tiger with a bucketful of red meat (with the red meat in this case being yet another investigation into Benghazi. You do what you gotta do to keep the Tea Party tiger from getting another go at your throat.
I followed the Donald Sterling story, but I haven't had much of an inclination to blog about it as deeply as I'd like to. As I've said before, there has to be something about the subject matter that really piques my interest before I invest the time and effort to make an in-depth post I feel is worthy of DDSS. Not exactly the most efficient way to run a one-man show, but there it is.
So the fact that a rich old man who has already established himself as quite the consummate scumbag was caught on tape in the full throes of grizzled, disgruntled bigotry wasn't of much interest to me. The fact that he did all of this in fear of his paramour embracing her roots and the men comprising much of those roots wasn't all that interesting, either. Nevertheless, it's amazing how jealousy, insecurity and paranoia has the potential to render the brain into a twisted, broken mess.
The reactions were mildly interesting. I never expected the Clippers to stage a walk-off or simply refuse to not play at all, but I did find the protest they came up with a bit weak. You can turn your warm-up jerseys inside out as much as you want, but you're still on the court playing for a team owned by a man who likely sees you the same way Simon Legree saw his own charges. I understand it's all about the paper at the end of the day, but still...
Seeing ESPN drop the ball by not picking it up in the first place was no surprise, either. The media gossip mavens at TMZ did a bang-up job getting the story out there and the bloggers (with yours truly as an exception) ran marathons with it. Meanwhile, ESPN appeared too scared to report anything about Sterling until they've received the proper clearance and narrative from whomever was higher up on the media food chain.
Seeing Sterling bounced out of the NBA and, as a result, forced to relinquish Clippers ownership was a surprise. I've come to expect misbehaving millionaires and billionaires to be given slaps on the wrist, golden parachutes and generous retirement packages, so Sterling's forced exit from the league was a bit out of the ordinary and a refreshing shock for a cynic like myself.
The best thing about all of this? The man's mouth and actions along with the subsequent exposure were what got him the boot from basketball.
When dealing with the likes of Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Rand Paul, it's best to let ignorance speak for itself. As our own president remarked during his trip to Kuala Lumpur at the height of the controversy, letting your adversary make a mockery of their own self through their own words and actions is a far more effective tool than anything else you could muster. Had Sterling possessed the forethought to hide his ignorance better, he'd still be in the good graces of the NBA.
In the end, the only interesting angle in this entire story is the one that nobody else is really talking about - the fact that a league where 76.3 percent of its players and 43.3 percent of its head coaches are black, over 98 percent of the majority team owners are white. It's a bit of a problem (and it gives us plenty of unpleasant imagery to work with), but it's one that'll have to slowly work itself out as more black American entrepreneurs realize their full economic clout and make the smart moves with their money. Is owning an NBA franchise a smart move? That depends on what you want out of it, but that's not a department that yours truly specializes in.
"But Mack, wouldn't it be a problem if 76.3 percent of those NBA players were white and 98 percent of the majority owners where black?"
Good question. Advocates of a colorblind and post-racial America will likely suggest that just as long as the ownership treats their players good, there wouldn't and shouldn't be any problems at all, thus making white majority ownership of a team full of black players a non-issue. With that logic, there shouldn't be problem the other way around, either.
On the other hand, there's that unpleasant imagery to deal with. It's imagery brought to us by generations of bad history, but that's something that anyone with the time and inclination can look up for themselves.
If one could arrange every U.S. presidency on a cynic's sliding scale ranging from "above average" to "stage a coup-de-etat," George W. Bush's two terms in office would merit a "mediocre" rating. Mediocre enough to earn the 43rd President of the United States a 22% approval rating upon his exit.
As a liberally-minded individual, I could do as many of my fellow liberals would at this point and highlight the man's numerous failures during his time in office. The complete failure to take seriously information that could have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for one. Or the grand misadventure that was the Iraq War. Or the complete and utter failure of leadership showcased in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
These days, George Bush's image as a lump of a president has given way to the image of George Bush as a pretty swell guy. He's taken up painting and he's kept a largely quiet public profile as of late. At least that's the angle of Matt Bai's "life after the presidency" introspective:
But then a strange thing happens. A president leaves, and the partisan mob moves on to savaging (or defending) someone else's morality. And in contrast with the new president, or with the new breed of opposition trying to destroy him, the last guy never looks quite so monstrous anymore.
And one morning we wake up to find that the things we once admired in a politician, even one whose policies we didn't like, are still what make him essentially human and worth our respect. Turns out George H.W. Bush is an honest man with a thoughtful view of the world. Turns out Bill Clinton was the kind of agile, pragmatic leader with whom conservatives could actually find some common ground.
And what do you know: George W. Bush really does care deeply about the men and women he sent to war, and he really did want to do good for the country. And as contemptuous of government and generally arrogant as he could be, he seems almost moderate next to the tea party crowd that's turned everything in Congress upside down.
This isn't Americans revising history. It's Americans dispensing, finally, with the cartoon version of it. It's the country getting some perspective.
Granted it's hard to get a good read on a person when you're bombarded with countless different perspectives of who that person is and what he's done, especially when you don't know that person intimately. All you're left with is deeds, actions and a public persona that sets the tone for the entire nation to follow. With that said, Bush's deeds, actions and public persona all pointed to a man governed by an overwhelming sense of mediocrity and confusion - something that's never reflected well on the nation.
George W. Bush might be a guy you'd wouldn't mind knocking back a few beers with on a slow Thursday night, but he's still a terrible president. That's something that no amount of PR whitewashing can ever clean up.
And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.
The sage advice of Matthew 22:20-22 wasn't in the cards for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The man whose actions nearly precipitated armed conflict between federal agents and a devoted group of self-styled militiamen laboring under misunderstood notions of sovereignty and rugged individualism had no interest in rendering unto Uncle Sam what was rightfully his, whether it was $1 million or so in unpaid grazing fees accrued since 1993 or the 58 head of cattle that were initially impounded as a long-coming result of his failure to pay said fees.
In spite of his professed love of country and willingness to express patriotism with profound ebullience, Bundy continues to operate under the belief that the things which are Uncle Sam's are actually his and his alone. It's the same modus operandi that many militia organizations and those within the sovereignty movement operate under: for whatever reason, the governing bodies of the United States are fraudulent and therefore, the militiamen/freemen are free to operate peacefully* outside of the bounds and without interference from the U.S. government, even as they live and work on U.S. soil. Which, by the way, isn't believed to belong to the U.S. but instead falls under the governing purview of the individual U.S. states, following the old conventions of the Articles of Confederation (and tossing the Supremacy Clause out the window as a result).
The militia/freeman movement and tea-party conservatism both feature a variety of overlaps on the Venn diagram of political ideology, so it was only a matter of time before Cliven Bundy became the darling of Fox News and a folk hero among conservatives longing to stick a Second Amendment thumb into the government's eye. You can't tell yours truly that the images of "ordinary Americans" demonstrating their right to bear arms against a government they could care less for (except when it works for them) didn't give other like-minded conservatives at home the warm and fuzzies.
It all could have went south. At least, if it wasn't for the Bureau of Land Management and other federal officials not wanting to replicate the worst missteps of Ruby Ridge and Waco and if it wasn't for the protesters displaying some rather desperate and craven tendencies just to get their point across. A full-fledged shootout between federal officials (framed for this purpose as "jack-booted thugs") and heavily-armed self-styled militiamen (framed as "real American patriots) not only would have made for great television ratings, but it also would have made for a powerful expression of martyrdom that resonated throughout the tea-party contingent and beyond. The consequences of that are best left uncalculated.
It's little wonder that the BLM decided it would be best to back off and not hand Bundy and Co. the opportunity to be remembered as martyrs for a flawed cause. Instead, the FBI's taking a more mundane interest into Bundy's supporters.
Meanwhile, Cliven Bundy represents the picture-perfect embodiment of American welfare in one of its most idealistic forms. It was the massive expropriation of land from its former native owners and the introduction of homestead acts that opened the doors to settlement to the "right" sort of Americans that made it possible for Bundy to have his current livelihood**. And it's only through the generosity of the U.S. government that Bundy was and remains able to maintain his livelihood - otherwise he'd join the thousands of farmers who've lost their lands due to debt and foreclosure. There's no telling how many federal grants, subsidies and loans he's applied for so far to help bolster his ranching operations.
In return, Bundy lashes out with a generous helping of furious pseudo-patriotism, all the while using stereotypical views of black Americans and their supposed affinity towards government welfare as a foil for his own brand of "cowboy welfare":
Former conservative media darling Cliven Bundy ran into a tougher crowd on Thursday, when CNN anchor Bill Weir poked fun at both the disappearing act from his former media allies while also questioning Bundy’s claims that he should be able to graze his cattle for free on federal land.
“You are writing off a whole class of people, African-Americans as sort of dangerously dependent because they get government assistance,” Weir said, playing off of Bundy’s instantly infamous press conference earlier in the day. “At the same time, you’re grazing your cows on public land for free. So, how are you not sort of a welfare queen in a cowboy hat?”
“I might be a welfare queen,” Bundy shot back. “But I tell you something, I’m producing something for America and using a resource that nobody else can use, would use or could use and I’m putting red meat on your table. Maybe I’m not doing enough, but I’m trying.”
Bundy's own desultory views of the Negro as better off under chattel slavery serve as red meat for the legions of unreconstructed who hail Bundy as a "freedom fighter" of sorts against "government tyranny," especially now that the Oval Office is currently occupied (or "tainted" as some conservatives may say) by a "socialist Marxist Kenyan."
As with any major cause, there has to be a generous purse lurking in the shadows. In the case of Cliven Bundy, the purse strings belong to a few groups working on the behalf of billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch:
Two affiliates of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity are helping conservative media promote the cause of a Nevada rancher who has made violent threats against the federal government.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative non-profit group, was founded by and has been largely funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch. The Center for Media and Democracy reported that in its previous incarnation as Citizens for a Sound Economy, AFP received $12 million of its $18 million in funding from the Koch Family Foundation.
During the 2012 election, AFP spent $122 million in an effort to defeat President Obama and Congressional Democrats. AFP has also sponsored and organized bus rallies and town hall meetings to promote conservative ideas, including deregulation, tax cuts, and opposition to health care reform.
AFP has been at the forefront of spending in the 2014 election, launching several ads attacking the Affordable Care Act which have come under fire for inaccuracy by independent fact checkers. As of March, AFP had aired a reported 17,000 television ads.
Two of its local affiliates, Americans for Prosperity Nevada and Americans for Prosperity Colorado, have become active boosters of Bundy's actions.
AFP Nevada's Facebook page posted a graphic attacking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for spending "one million dollars" to enforce the court order to round up Bundy's cattle on federal land. Another photo attacked the Bureau for creating a designated "First Amendment Area" for protesters to gather in near the property.
Still begs the question why the Kochs would be interested in supporting the likes of Bundy and Co.:
Matador Cattle Company operates three ranches: Beaverhead near Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Spring Creek in the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas, and the historic Matador Ranch in Texas.
Acquired between 1941 and 1952 by Fred C. Koch, the ranches total about 460,000 acres under management, including about 235,000 deeded acres. They wean about 9,500 calves annually and support more than 12,000 head of cattle.
In this light, Bundy's defiance over paying his grazing fees takes on a whole different perspective. If the likes of Bundy had the power to run roughshod over the BLM, then it becomes much easier for a heavyweight like Koch Industries to steamroll the agency into accepting concessions allowing the conglomerate to access acre upon acre of formerly protected land for its various resource extraction operations.
The Kochs know what's up. As long as they can advance Bundy's interests in maintaining his livestock and livelihood with little repercussions, their own interests also take a few steps forward. If it doesn't work out, it's back to the drawing board for another plan and avenue of attack. Like any good robber baron, the Kochs are always on the lookout for any opportunity for land and profit, even if it means hitching a rough and wild ride with a welfare cowboy.
* Or so they say.
** Despite claims of his family as the area's first pioneers, official records show that the Bundys were relative newcomers to the Bunkerville area. The range where Bundy makes his living was purchased in 1948.
Ever since the ink dried on the idea that maybe, just maybe that America's non-majority members have been getting a bit of a raw deal from their culturally hegemonic counterparts, there's been a major degree of pushback. Most noticeable is the pushback against white Americans not only coming face-to-face with their own privilege, but also the feeling that they're being made to apologize profusely for it at gunpoint.
And that's where young, bright-eyed Princeton student Tal Fortgang comes in. In a recent Time article, he laments the assumption that he, as a young white male in a society where being a white male is widely considered "de rigueur," benefits from such a privilege. To counteract said assumptions, he outlines the various struggles his family endured in order to attain their very own piece of the American Dream for themselves and their offspring:
Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege.Tal Fortgang: good kid, great head on his shoulders, but he's a Star Wars stormtrooper shooting at Jedi here. The kid is missing the point, but how? Well, let's start with what wheatdogg over at Little Green Footballs has to say about it:
Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.
Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other; that my grandfather started a humble wicker basket business with nothing but long hours, an idea, and an iron will—to paraphrase the man I never met: “I escaped Hitler. Some business troubles are going to ruin me?” Maybe my privilege is that they worked hard enough to raise four children, and to send them to Jewish day school and eventually City College.
Perhaps it was my privilege that my own father worked hard enough in City College to earn a spot at a top graduate school, got a good job, and for 25 years got up well before the crack of dawn, sacrificing precious time he wanted to spend with those he valued most—his wife and kids—to earn that living. I can say with certainty there was no legacy involved in any of his accomplishments. The wicker business just isn’t that influential. Now would you say that we’ve been really privileged? That our success has been gift-wrapped?
All right, Tal Fortgang, you’re a clever lad, and a credit to my alma mater. You make some good points, noting that your immigrant grandparents fled the Nazis, and that a working class Jewish kid does not neatly fit in the “white male privilege” cohort.One of the interesting things about white privilege is that it all depends on outward appearance, at least up to a point. This explains why your average Appalachian can only dream of leaving his or her Eastern Kentucky confines to purchase their own vacation getaway estate on Cape Cod or schmooze with the likes of
I get that your father’s parents and your parents did not come from money, and your being at Princeton is a testament to their hard work and your presumed intelligence. In that, you and I are a lot alike.
But, holy shit, Tal Fortgang, you are still clueless. Before 1950 or so, Jews were not even admitted to Princeton. You’d be singing a different song if you had applied back in 1914.
And despite the lofty prose of this excerpt, the opportunity to claw one’s way up the social ladder still depends on your gender, your skin color and your mother tongue. You are committing the same sin of over-generalization as those who lump you in the “white male privilege” group by virtue of your pale skin.
Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild and company. Nevertheless, it's also why a man of color still gets odd looks whenever he attempts to integrate himself into the white collective. Getting the "swarth" out of the Italian or the "unruly papist" out of the Irish is one thing, but no one's quite figured out how to get the "negro" out of a Negro without sufficiently sullying the collective's pristine appearance.
Tal is understandably fed up with being lumped in a group by virtue of his outward appearance. Scores of young black men would likely sympathize with him on that particular account. But at the end of the day, Tal remains the right shade in a land where being the right shade lends you a far greater amount of slack and far less scrutiny than being a highly-visible outlier. It's this fact that goes sailing over Tal's head as he goes further into detail:
That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still be conquering them now.One can only assume the bolded is supposed to be a dig against black American claims of the system being institutionally predisposed to retaining men and women of color at the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder. The remainder of the message serves to remind these same folks that there are plenty of whites around who don't truck with that "white privilege" mess and have even laid their lives down in defense of freedom and civil rights.
But the fact that Tal can easily shed his Jewish vestments and effortlessly blend into the bland background that makes up most of American society is utterly lost on him. This literal "fade to white" ability helps when it comes to snagging various opportunities that those without it have to fight tooth and nail to get.
Speaking of which, it reminds me of a story someone told me of how some black Americans had to make their fortune during the heyday of Jim Crow: "you have to sneak by them." And many black Americans have had to "sneak by" people and institutions that would have denuded them of their wealth and livelihoods if given half the chance. Tal's grandparents may have had to sneak by the Waffen-SS to survive, but at least they didn't have to sneak by the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement officials interested in convict leasing once they got here.
To recap, Tal Fortgang makes several critical mistakes in his piece:
- Assuming that everyone wants him to prostrate himself in apology over white privilege as opposed to simply recognizing that it's there and being conscious of it.
- Assuming that people want him to apologize for being white, period.
- Co-opting the struggles of his grandparents as his own in an attempt to deflect accusations of enjoying white privilege.
- Ignoring his own privilege of being in a highly selective university, especially one where a broad range of doors tend to effortlessly open for its graduates. Being a Princeton student and a future Princeton grad already gives him a tremendous leg up. As mentioned earlier, it's a different level of privilege that recognizes money, lineage and of course, where you went to college.
Paul Ryan is an idiot. Most of us know this already. So it was no surprise that he would attempt to woo Obama Derangement Syndrome sufferers with the following patented dogwhistle:
The above conjures up the ages-old image of the indolent Negro and the equally old argument that a Negro whose back was not under the direct path of an overseer's whip was a Negro bound for a life of excessive sloth and inexcusable leisure. Therefore, it was nearly a moral imperative to "encourage" otherwise indolent Negroids to donate their sweat equity to the cause of hard labor for his white American betters. The
"convict lease" programs of the early 20th century were more or less an involuntary push to deliver the Negro from the ills of idleness.
Fast-forwarding to the modern era, scolding the black community over the lack of well-paying jobs and the resultant poverty is a comforting pastime for conservatives and quite a few progressives, as well. Solving the actual problems of poverty and joblessness among inner city black Americans requires a structural teardown and rebuild of our society, something that many Americans are loath to do. Instead, it's much easier to scold from afar, although that does as much good as blaming a man who woke up in the eye of a hurricane for his current predicament.
Suggesting that poverty and joblessness are cultural problems allows people to equate systemic failures among a group of people as a moral and personal failing of said group. It makes it that much easier to dismiss inner city black Americans as a lazy, shiftless lot unwilling to do a hard day's work - consequently an echo to those times when even an accusation of loitering spelled swift imprisonment under the employ of a farm or a mining company, for starters. Nevermind that job prospects for black Americans have always been dismal.
Ryan's feigned pseudo-sincerity over the inner city black American's plight exists only to gain an edge in the popularity polls and all the electoral advantages they offer.
One of the many problems that come with dealing with the fallout from ingrained, institutionalized racism isn't just knowing who your allies on the other side of the color line are, but whether or not you can trust them to not backstab you for their own gain or to score points with their own.
That's the problem W. Kamau Bell faced during his recent appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher:
Mr. Maher started off the segment with Mr. Ryan’s recent comments about inner city poverty and the cultural dynamics that perpetuate such cycles. The HBO host then asked if Mr. Ryan was simply making an honest observation or something motivated by racial ill will.Note that this comes on the heels of Paul Ryan's recent pontification on "inner city" individuals. And Mr. Bell's response?
Comedian W. Kamau Bell intimated that some sort of racial malice was involved.
“You can’t blame the people living in the inner cities, blacks and latinos, for not having jobs where there are no jobs in the inner cities. You can’t blame them when the schools suck, the hospital sucks, there’s no grocery store, all of their fathers are in jail,” Mediaite reported. The panel’s fellow left-leaning guest agreed.
Then the “Real Time” host tricked his guests, saying: “Let me read something else. Here’s something else Paul Ryan said. He said: ‘When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. They’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader — they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.’ Oh wait, that wasn’t him. That was Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama said that.”
The camera showed Mr. Bell stunned, at which point Mr. Maher turned to the audience and said: “Hushed silence! […] Is something less true if a white person says it about black people?”
“We talk to each other differently than when we talk to [white people],” Mr. Bell responded.
Which goes on to illustrate yet another problem that comes with dealing with ingrained, institutionalized racism: a sometimes deliberate lack of understanding by white American liberals of how black Americans see the problems before them, how white conservatives and the unreconstructed see them and a failure to recognize context.
The First Lady's statements come from a place of genuine concern and understanding of the problems black Americans face in the inner city.
Paul Ryan's statements come from a place of malice towards and a vocal disdain of said black Americans, for the benefit of his unreconstructed supporters and constituents.
Listening to Ryan's aired commentary, I'm reminded of Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern's similar assessment of black Americans and other minorities, this time laced in that sugary, patronizing "bless your little heart" tones that struggle to pass for feigned concern. Wondering why Negros just can't seem to get themselves together remains quite the national pastime.
Meanwhile, Bell didn't get bamboozled so much that he was caught flatfooted behind what was essentially a betrayal by someone he thought was on the same page. He tried to brace himself for getting sucker-punched by someone looking to score points by unearthing a "black leftist racist" on his show, presumably for whatever shock value that'd get him...and he still "got slept."
He was so shocked that he couldn't articulate why it was disingenuous of Maher to treat those two statements from two ideologically different people of different backgrounds as one and the same, or better yet, as vindication for anyone looking to tar and feather black liberal thinkers and commentators as somehow more racist than their white counterparts. As I've found out myself, talking about racism among such people invites accusations that it's you who's the "real racist," as the best way to "end" racism is to stop talking about it, even if it involves conversation on how to resolve it.