Reminiscence for the Fourth

President Barack Obama’s speech at Selma marking ‘Bloody Sunday’ anniversary — The Washington Post:

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.

the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

I miss that man. I miss his leadership, grace, and intellect. Mostly, I miss that he led by uplift and encouragement, with a vision for bending the arc of history toward justice.

How far we have fallen in so short a time. We can and will do better. That’s America, too.

Happy 242nd Fourth of July.

#BarackObama #Selma #America #FourthofJuly

∴ Despicable Donald

A tweet by Donald Trump

An appalling lie from Donald Trump obfuscating his own administration’s culpability for separating children from their families as they illegally cross the US border, and the 20% of them who have gone missing.

This policy is not the work of Democrats or the United States Congress. It is a policy decision implemented by the Trump administration itself, publicly announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions this year. Donald Trump is directly responsible for it.

Whatever has happened to those missing children is on him. His decency and fitness for the office he holds are belied by his willingness to publicly lie about the facts leading to their disappearance, despite the wealth of information disproving him.

In general, though not exclusively, Trump was swept into office on the backs of middle-aged and older white voters, both men and women. How much responsibility do you bear?

#mendacity #ignorance #DonaldTrump #illegalImmigration #families #separated

∴ Hobby Lobby manager calls cops on black customer

Noor Al-Sibai—RawStory:

Birmingham’s WVTM reported that customer Brian Spurlock both had his receipt and was well within the store’s 90-day return police when he brought the goods he wished to return to the Hobby Lobby location in Trussville. Nevertheless, the store’s manager would not let him return the most expensive of the items that Spurlock said was defective because it had already been opened.

Spurlock is black, making this another example of white folks using the police as a means of oppression.

Or maybe they’d pull this same trick on a white woman returning a defective product, right after she rode in on her pet unicorn.

See: police called by white manager of a Starbucks coffee shop on two black men waiting for a friend and arrest them; police called when three back people checked out of an AirBnB rental; or police called by white woman on a black grad student napping in her dorm common area at Yale, because, I guess, what would a black woman be doing sleeping in a Yale dorm? Living? Going to school there?


The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States states:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

“Except as a punishment for crime …”

And you thought slavery was illegal in the United States. Both Northern and Southern states, through their enactment of the infamous “black codes,” have used the cops and courts as means of keeping black and brown people in check ever since the Union gave up on Reconstruction. Today’s mass incarceration of black and brown folks far more than their proportion to the total population is but a continuation of the practice begun immediately following the Civil War.

America has a long and varied history of knocking down the black man. Slave labor began with the landing of kidnapped black Africans in 1619 (399 years under the white thumb), but the Federal codification of white claims on black bodies began in earnest with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. With that legislation officially sanctioning the right of whites to claim custody of black bodies without evidence of their slaveholding “ownership,” the United States moved to use it and the states’ law enforcement and judicial systems to keep the black man and woman in thrall. By law, a white man could point out any free black man or woman anywhere in the United States and claim them as his property on only his word.

How is Brian Spurlock’s near-arrest, and the arrest of other black and brown people across the US on trumped-up grounds anything but the descendant of these codes and laws? Each instance of false charges and incarceration is further evidence that for many, the American Dream is a nightmare, while for others of a lighter skin tone it is no more than a collective hallucination.

All men are created equalbut not equal before the law in the minds of many.

… that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The highest law of the land there, folks, written by a man who owned humans. There will come a reckoning for these crimes against humanity. We should be addressing inequity in all its forms now, rather than electing bigoted clowns to our high offices to keep white right.

#racismNeverDies #whiteSupremacy

#SayHerName: 100 Years Ago, Mary Turner Was Lynched

Lawrence Ware—VSB:

What happened next is so horrific and inhumane that I struggled with whether I should even write it. Tears obscure my vision as I write these words, yet, as America tries to ignore the bloody stain of a white supremacy as ubiquitous as it is haunting, we need to bear witness to Mary Turner. We cannot forget what she endured. It is certainly not reveling at the specter of black death to prevent time and the institutional white-washing of history to erase Turner from our collective memory, thereby retroactively saying that her life did not matter. We need to know what happened. But please understand that what comes next is triggering. What you read, you cannot unread; the mental images created, you cannot unsee.

People in this country like to think themselves as being above this kind of gruesome violence; as if the genocides we witness in other countries could never happen here. We’ve built an entire ethos on the notion of American moral exceptionalism. In fact, recent Congressional hearings about Gina Haspel, the intelligence officer nominated by the 45th president of the United States to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was all about discovering if she would live up to the moral expectations of citizens of this country. What Mary Turner and the subsequent silence about what happened in Georgia in 1918 teaches us is that America, at best, is morally compromised and, at worst, morally bankrupt.

I mentioned Mary Turner in an article this MLK Day, alongside Emmett Till and Ossian Sweet. You probably know who Till was. Turner? Click through to this post on Very Smart Brothas to read what became of her.

America is, in its contemporary conception, a fraud. It is a failed expression of an idea never quite realized and, as we read the words above, moving away from the ideal many of its people believe we’ve already obtained. Fools.

Keep dreamin’ that American dream. That’s all it is. May the scales fall from your eyes.

#lynching #whiteSupremacy

The Birth of the New American Aristocracy

Matthew Stewart takes a deep dive into American cultural and political inequality for The Atlantic:

The source of the trouble, considered more deeply, is that we have traded rights for privileges. We’re willing to strip everyone, including ourselves, of the universal right to a good education, adequate health care, adequate representation in the workplace, genuinely equal opportunities, because we think we can win the game. But who, really, in the end, is going to win this slippery game of escalating privileges?

A great, long read exploring the accumulation of wealth and blindness to privilege, the rise of resentment in American culture, and the political maneuvering that keeps us headed that way.

The analogy here to America’s Gilded Age is apt. That brief period of comfort for the top decile of our population didn’t end well.

#SecondGuildedAge #aristocracy #culture #class #race

The Racist Impact Of Michigan’s Medicaid Proposal

Arthur Delaney—HuffPost:

Michigan Republicans are pushing a new, Donald Trump-inspired bill that would require Medicaid recipients in the state’s mostly black cities to work to keep their health benefits, but exempt some of the state’s rural white residents from the same requirement.

Under the bill, Medicaid recipients in 17 mostly white counties, all represented by Republican senators, would be exempt from the work requirements, according to an analysis by the Center for Michigan, a think tank. But Medicaid recipients in the six municipalities with the highest unemployment rates, including Detroit and Flint, would have to work at least 29 hours a week to keep their health benefits. All six cities have black majorities or significant numbers of black residents.

This quote from the bill’s supporters in the Michigan Chamber of Commerce takes the lily-white cake:

“We were just trying to be helpful,” Michigan Chamber lobbyist Wendy Block told HuffPost. “It was really just a simple suggestion, not one that we’re married to.”

Tell me again how we’re all equal before the law since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Chamber may not be married to this proposal, but America sure as shit is married to its self-image as the land of opportunity. Zero self awareness, there.


VSB: Dear White People, If a Memorial Dedicated to Lynchings of Black People Makes You Uncomfortable, Good

Panama Jackson—Very Smart Brothas:

On April 26 of this year, the Equal Justice Initiative will open both a memorial and museum in Montgomery, Ala., dedicated to the victims of lynching in America post-Civil War. The memorial is called the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the museum is called the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. Both were featured with a first-look on Sunday evening’s episode of 60 Minutes.

With reporting done by Auntie O (Oprah Winfrey), the story included a trip to the memorial and museum with the Equal Justice Initiative’s director, Bryan Stevenson.

The soon-to-be-opened monument is riveting in its execution. It features more than 800 pillars hanging from the ceiling, representing the more than 800 counties in America where lynchings have been recorded, and each pillar includes the names and dates (if known) of the victims.

(Emphasis mine.)

I saw a piece about the new memorial and museum on the CBS Sunday Morning show, I think, months ago. The part where the camera came up under the hanging columns as the journalist described their meaning flat-out chilled me. My mind stumbled over their import a second or two before the words were spoken—it’s difficult not to understand what those many brown, hanging columns represent—and it felt like a wave of sadness and not a little shame washed over me.

Keep in mind this is a memorial and museum to an American tradition of oppression now almost three hundred, ninety-nine years long. It has come in varying practices and legalities and manifests no more visibly today than the over-policing of black communities nationwide. “Unarmed black man shot by police” has become commonplace.

Later in his article, Jackson writes

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. Martin Luther King Jr. said that, and the people who whitewash his mentality and messaging will one day learn what that means.

While I imagine that black people and white people who feel guilt will be the visitors of the museum—and let’s be real, it will be ripe for racist vandalism—I’m glad museums and memorials like this exist to shed more light on this country’s past.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Dr. King was a radical in his time and reviled among the majority of the majority-white population. His story has been whitewashed, his person turned into a kindly, benevolent elder, but all you need do is actually read his words to understand the change he was seeking and why folks with nothing more than their whiteness going for them hated what he was doing.

I think we’re in the early stages of repeating something extremely bloody and devastatingly consequential in American history. Its echo needn’t be violent, but every day the reality of Living While Black continues makes it more likely it’ll be a harsh awakening.

The South African policy of apartheid lasted less than American ethnic inequality. They ended their sins with a truth and reconciliation commission. It didn’t mend that country’s ethnic and economic divisions, but it did lay bare their sources and allow into political power the long-oppressed. Simple demographics may do much the same for us.

#racism #lynchings

∴ ‘Isle of Dogs’ and Japan as a Plot Device

Nina Li Coomes—The Atlantic:

Critics and viewers might argue that this invented city, which exists in a parallel universe 20 years in the future, eases the story’s burden of faithfully representing Japan. But even given this leeway, Anderson’s Megasaki at times slides dangerously close to tokenism, and often fails to truly bring to mind the country the director claims to invoke

My first awareness of a filmmaker’s flawed use of Japanese culture as a plot device came in a Medium article about Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation a couple of years ago. It was an awakening for me because that film revolves around the alienation of its two main characters from their families and their chosen lives while immersed in a confusingly alien culture, but I’d completely missed its slights to the Japanese people. The Tokyo of Lost In Translation is mentioned in this article as another example of Japanese culture and settings appropriated as a sort of Stranger In a Strange Land backdrop. It is also, as is pointed out, a caricature of a real-world culture and people.

I’m of two minds about this. While not having seen Isle of Dogs yet, I’ve watched and re-rewatched Lost In Translation. Its theme of alienation as a backdrop to Johansson’s and Murray’s Charlotte and Bob finding one another resonates powerfully with me; it is one of my most beloved stories rendered on film. At the same time, I’m somewhat taken aback and disappointed that I didn’t recognize the negative appropriation of Japanese cultural elements to tell the story. Once you see them, though, they’re impossible to miss. And yet they successfully convey a sense of disorientation through the eyes of the characters.

A better criticism asks why that is so. Is Japanese culture so different to Western eyes as to be incomprehensible, and if so does that make it an appropriate plot device?

I’d answer the former question, yes. Clearly, significant cultural differences exist and dropping a character from one into the other for his or her first time can render a comedic or even frightening, disorienting effect. Amplifying the differences for effect, though … there’s a fine line between whimsical caricature and insult.

I’m reminded of the old TV series Amos and Andy, in which caricatures of two black Americans and their interaction with one another are used to the same comedic effect. Rather than rendering their unique behavior and black American culture as a way of understanding them, they’re amplified to clown-like effect. That’s what takes place in short bursts during Lost In Translation and, I take it, in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.

I like to think I’ve become more sensitive to the differences between us in positive ways, but I’m still on the fence about this storytelling trope. Humor directed at ourselves is fair. The same directed at others says something about the “us” characters, the filmmaker, and ultimately about ourselves. And who is truly an “other?”

The degree of comedic amplification is at the heart of the question. How much is too much? How much otherness is each of us willing to tolerate in the service of humor? My answer to the latter question a few paragraphs back is I don’t know what makes for an appropriate plot device, but I can take a stab at it.

Does it insult without any sense of familiarity or affection? Does the caricaturing work to move the story along? Answering yes to the first question makes the device inappropriate. Answering no to the second makes it bad storytelling.

I do know that I simply like Lost In Translation’s story, Wes Anderson’s films in general, and expect that I’ll enjoy his Isle of Dogs. I don’t know what that says about me.

Comments are welcome.

#IsleOfDogs #LostInTranslation #culturalAppropriation

Salon: 8 ridiculous NRA defenses of the AR-15

Timothy Johnson—

In the wake of yet another massacre carried out with an AR-15 assault weapon, here are eight ridiculous defenses of the murder machine from the National Rifle Association (NRA), a major recipient of donations from assault weapons makers


These people and their like have lost their collective minds. “Banning assault weapons is like racial discrimination. Really. Preventing the sale of military-grade weapons to civilians is akin to four-hundred years of slavery, racial oppression, impoverishment, and mass incarceration? Are you nucking futs?

Read through these eight to see if anything, even one thing rings true. Do you fear a coalition marching people into extermination camps? Does anyone other than the truly unhinged fear this? Does anyone other than the paid lackey speak out about it?


#NRA #gunViolence #AR15