I feel that for white America to understand the significance of the problem of the Negro will take a bigger and tougher America than any we have yet known. I feel that america’s past is too shallow, her national character too superficially optimistic, her very morality too suffused with color hate for her to accomplish so vast and complex a tsk, Culturally the Negro represents a paradox: Though he is an organic part of the nation, he is excluded by the entire tide and direction of American culture. Frankly, it is felt to be right to exclude him, and it is felt to be wrong to admit him freely, Therefore if, within the confines of its present culture, the nation ever seeks to purge itself of its color hate, it will find itself at war with itself, convulsed by a spasm of emotional and moral confusion. If the nation ever finds itself examining its real relation to the Negro, it will find itself doing infinitely more than that; for the anti-Negro attitude of whites represents but a tiny part–though a symbolically significant one–of the moral attitude of the nation.
Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity, It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it connot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness. Am I damning my native land? No; for I, too, share these faults of character! And I really do not think that America, adolescent and cocksure, a stranger to suffering and travail, and enemy of passion and sacrifice, is ready to prove into its most fundamental beliefs” ~ Richard Wright, BLACK BOY, 1944.
Earlier tonight I had the opportunity to go down to the Brooklyn Bridge and witness the November 17th protest (#N17) of Occupy Wall Street (#OWS). Needless to say it was inspiring. Here’s hoping the movement can spark policy and cultural transformations.
Images by Tara L. Conley. Do not redistribute without my permission and/or without acknowledging that I am the owner/author of these images. For permissions, email: mediamakechange [at] gmail [dot] com.
Tea light candle on the Brooklyn Bridge.
To view more images, visit Flickr
To view Livestream updates from the scene, visit Media Make Change
Who are ‘white’ liberals and who are ‘black’ voters? How do these groups of people define progressive politics for themselves and collectively? The recent debate between Melissa Harris-Perry and Joan Walsh prompted me to question what’s in a name, or more precisely, what meanings we give to things. The purpose of this blog post is to lay out my thoughts about both articles mainly so I can get them out of my head. I’m not writing this piece to get “clicks” or to be invited to speak on some panel about ‘race’, or to inadvertently place myself in a salacious conversation for attention. I’m writing this post because over the past two days I found myself physically unable to ignore the issues both women brought up in their pieces, and the subsequent debates that have emerged as a result. I attempted to tweet my thoughts about both articles and the debates, but I soon realized that I needed a more reflective medium to lay out my ideas, which in this case comes in the form of a WordPress blog post. I emphatically thank both women for writing their articles and prompting me to grapple with complex ideas about identity and meaning.
As I tweeted earlier, we can never really have a genuine debate about ‘race’ in cyberspace because, more often than not, meaning, intent, and messages get lost. Talking points and choppy headlines become the narrative when they should not be. If we are to honestly engage in a discussion about ‘race’ then we need more than a 300-500 word blog post or 140 characters. This doesn’t mean, however, that online news columns, blog posts, and tweets are ineffective for critical engagement, it just means that critical engagement should not be limited to computer-mediated media texts. At this point, both Harris-Perry and Walsh’s pieces should further discussions about ‘race’ and politics offline, in both private and public spaces. They should not, however, function to continue to stifle these discussions online. As I write this piece using an online medium, I do so with the intention to continue these conversations offline and out into our respective communities.
The Unintentional Argument
As I see it, the argument from both sides has been reduced to what ‘white’ or ‘black’ people do during the Obama presidency. I can’t help but think of that tired old Def Comedy Jam shtick “white people do this while black people do that!” except in this case, it’s not so much a comedy as it is a tragedy of how we’ve come to understand our own racialized situatedness against one another. Using terms like ‘black’ voters or ‘white’ liberals as rhetorical strategies of critique do in fact generalize groups of people. Using these generalized terms may also encourage others to dismiss the social and psychological elements of ‘race’ that we all suffer from, namely pathalogized racial superiority and pathologized racial inferiority as a result of white privilege and whiteness.
The point here, it seems, is that the argument should be less about why ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ support ‘black’ and ‘white’ candidates differently, and more about interrogating how support or abandonment across all racial lines shifts according to whiteness, racial pathology, and other intersecting oppressions and political issues. I have a feeling that people may be abandoning Obama across all racial lines for reasons that both Harris-Perry and Walsh point to in their pieces (subtle racism, economy, ideology, and jadedness). Yet, there are still some ‘white’ liberals celebrating President Obama’s achievements (very very loudly) more so than some ‘black’ progressives. Is this celebration a result of ‘white’ guilt or a result of genuine support for Obama’s legislative policies based on aligned political ideology? It’s hard to say without, at the very least anecdotal evidence, because it is difficult to measure perceptions, especially when those perceptions are muddled with anxieties about self, Other, and nation.
What I Wished For
To fully understand what Harris-Perry poignantly calls “a profound and important shift in America’s electoral politics,” I wanted her and Walsh to better interrogate the underlying issues of racial angst and oppression. Instead both seem to have built and rebuilt the foundation of their arguments based on what abstract racialized groups of people think about President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, and how those perceptions influences electoral politics. I wanted both women to center their arguments on the existence of whiteness by using the language of whiteness to describe how whiteness impacts all voters across racial lines. I wished both women would have also acknowledged the taboo side of our social psychology that enjoys seeing others fail, most notably politicians.
To her credit, Harris-Perry has wisely articulated whiteness in mainstream media previously, and I celebrated her for that. (The Loop 21 has since removed my piece. But luckily for you, I link to it here).
I wrote of Harris-Perry:
During her segment [on Countdown with Keith Olberman], Harris-Lacewell [sic] noted that “some whites honestly don’t see racism,” which suggests that white privilege operates under our radar. We don’t see racism because we don’t talk about white privilege and the effects of whiteness, but rather, when talking about race relations in the U.S., we fall back on what Harris-Lacewell [sic] describes as “rhetorical acts of racial inequality.” In other words, we fail to penetrate the proverbial surface of what racism actually means.
Here I understand Harris-Perry stating that we must work to identify whiteness (especially in subversive ways) in public discourse because it is crucial to our understanding of racism and of ‘race’ relations in the U.S. The collective problems as a result of white privilege and whiteness are all shared across racial lines, whether we want to admit or acknowledge them or not. Likewise, these social and psychological effects of whiteness are illustrated by how we employ binaric racialized language, as evident in both Harris-Perry and Walsh’s pieces. With that said, I do not want readers here to think I am suggesting that a tenured professor of political science and a seasoned journalist do not understand concepts of whiteness and intersectionality, but rather I am writing to state that I had hoped for more critical discussions about ‘race’ from both thinkers, and thusly more critical engagements about ‘race’ from others who read and admire their work.
With that said, do I believe that ‘race’ plays a role in how we perceive the effectiveness of our 1st African-American president? Yes.
Do I believe that class issues and status play roles in how we perceive the effectiveness of our president; African-American, biracial, or otherwise? Yes.
Do I think there is a tendency for “white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts?” In order for this to be true for me I had to think about my personal experiences with ‘white’ people in corporate American, high school and college sports, and in academia. So, yes.
Do I think there is a tendency for ‘blacks’ to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their ‘white’ counterparts. Yes. This too plays out well in corporate American, academia, and elsewhere. This idea reminds me of the “marginalized people as saviors” trope that is not just perpetuated in Disney movies. I come across this all of the time in professional, academic, and personal spheres. This trope we tell ourselves says that we can save dominant groups because of the very nature of our marginalized gender, ‘race’, class, and/or sexuality status. Exactly who or what are we trying to save, and for what purpose? Again, this trope seems connected to our pathologizing and internalizing ‘race’, gender, class, and sexuality oppressions (as well as other identity-based oppressions).
But who can blame us?
What I see currently happening in the blogs and on Twitter is a narrative of anxiety. This narrative of anxiety began with a long and racist history in the United States and continues to play itself out in modern society entangled with gender, class, and sexuality issues. Because these issues intersect, it’s not surprising that we, wo/men, ‘blacks’, ‘whites,’ Latina/os, Asians, gays, lesbians, and poor people tend to repress and pathologize ‘race’. It becomes even more complicated as we try to understand who we are as individuals and as a country in the age of Obama. We are all trying to figure out our own ways, and it’s terribly difficult to see ourselves outside of ourselves as we shift within a paradigm of making and remaking meaning about identity, politics, and culture. Certainly, the existence of whiteness and white privilege do not make our collective task any easier.
I may be arguing a moot point. However, consider that since Harris-Perry and Walsh published their respective pieces other sorts of conversations have emerged. Some that I don’t see, at least at this point, as transforming our anxieties or racial politics in the U.S. Instead, conversations emerging from the comment sections, Twitter streams, and blog posts sound pessimistic, divisive, and animus. The “us against them” mantra has taken on new forms in this debate, and it’s not only race-based. Intra-group quarrels have risen based on class (the “Black bourgeoisie” phrase has been thrown around a few times); based on progressive politics (i.e. “we’re more progressive than them”); and based on personal encounters with individuals (i.e. “I’ve encountered Harris-Perry or Walsh before so I know how she is” so therefore something has to be wrong with her argument).
I don’t believe our president would find these conversations useful for his end goals, which I hope are about getting people jobs and reinvesting in education and social programs. I’m not sure Harris-Perry or Walsh intended for this to happen either, especially since both women have been viciously attacked on the basis of their ‘race’, gender, and class status.
So where do we go from here? I mentioned at the beginning of my post that both articles have prompted some important thoughts and discussions about ‘race’ in the U.S. Are all of these discussions meaningful? If I were to take a snapshot of the conversations going on in cyberspace now, I’d say, no. However, we can transform the conversation by 1) problematizing how we name things by shifting our focus from employing binary and arbitrary rhetorical language to interrogating underlying issues of racism and ‘race’ relations, namely by identifying and calling out whiteness and racial pathology that we all have to confront in our daily lives, and 2) making visible the meta-narrative of anxiety, which stems from intersecting oppressions that Harris-Perry and Walsh’s pieces somewhat address, albeit disjointedly.
In my perfectly feminist world both Melissa Harris-Perry and Joan Walsh planned this whole debate in some secret office where all intelligent and articulate women go to conspire for the greater good and to change the world. All along Melissa Harris-Perry and Joan Walsh wanted us to get fired up to publicly interrogate identity and meaning as I attempted to do here with this blog post. That would be my wish.
In the mean time, I leave you to ponder these thoughts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community
The white liberal must see that the Negro needs not only love but also justice. It is not enough to say, ‘We love Negroes, we have many Negro friends.’ They must demand justice for Negroes . . . The white liberal must affirm that absolute justice for the Negro means . . . that the Negro must have ‘his due’. There is nothing abstract about this. It is as concrete as having a good job, a good education, a decent house and a share of power . . . The white liberal must rid himself of the notion that there can be a tensionless transition from the old order of justice to the new order of justice.
Thank you to a special friend who pointed me to Dr. King’s words while editing this post. I believe in you and your work. I’ll see you when you come up for air. Press on, love.
During my last semester of graduate school, I sat down with my ‘white’-race father and handed him the book Learning To Be White by Thandeka. Coming off an emotionally draining two year women’s studies program, I thought it was finally time to talk with my father about whiteness and white privilege. It’s painful to write about that moment now because during that time my father was dying.
A little background: My father and I were extremely close. I was, and am, my father’s daughter completely. Growing up, I never saw my father as ‘white’. I noticed something was different about my family when he, my mother and I would walk into restaurants and confront glaring stares from people who couldn’t quite figure out how we all were related. Oh I get it!, I thought to myself, people think he’s my grandfather and mom is my sister. It was only after years of being called n*igger, Oreo, zebra, among other rich epithets, that I figured out that I wasn’t only ‘black’, but I was the brown girl with the ‘white’ daddy. For most of my adolescent and young adult life, I ignored the stares, the questions, and the name-calling because I didn’t want to be reminded that I was different from my father despite being apart of him.
So on that day when I approached my father, then 77 years old at the time, I was afraid. All of the intellectualizing in the world could not prepare me for what I said next: “Daddy, do you know what it means to be ‘white’?” He smiled at me as if to already know where the conversation was headed. He responded, “Tara, you are my daughter. That’s all that matters to me.” Then I handed him Thandeka’s book. I continued to ask questions and he simply responded by saying, “I understand.” Both of us were trying to push through a conversation that, at that point with my father nearing death, was pointless. I believe my father understood very well his place in society. Despite being elderly and on a fixed income, he knew and experienced (along with my mother) what racism meant to their family. Though neither my mother or father are African-American studies professors, both have experiential knowledge about how white privilege, whiteness, and to a larger degree, white supremacy, impact their lives and their children’s lives.
Given that my father chose not to engage me further about whiteness may very well be an example of his white privilege status. Since for me, despite being a ‘white’ man’s daughter, I will always have to contemplate how whiteness and white supremacy impact my life as a woman of color. On the other hand, perhaps his choice not to fully engage was motivated by an understanding that in reality he was dying. Instead of intellectualizing how ‘race’ separates us, he may have just wanted to enjoy my company through lighter moments of reflection.
On White Privilege
No matter how you look at it or who’s involved, white privilege, white supremacy, and whiteness hurt. As Tim Wise says, the lure of whiteness tricks everyone. More often than not, these systems perpetuate an impaired consciousness, an awareness sustained only through relative advantages and false comforts. Some of us bear the burden of superiority so to avoid losing what we think that superiority means. For others, these systems represent an invisible glass ceiling that can never be broken.
Like professor Harris-Lacewell, I too am a child of one ‘black’ parent and one ‘white’ parent and by default I also benefit from a colorist and racist system. At that moment when I looked at my ‘white’-raced father while attempting to confront difference, all I saw was my reflection. I believe also that my father saw himself through me.
To challenge white privilege, and all that it represents, we may need to look a little closer at others to better see ourselves.
Many thanks to professor Harris-Lacewell for reminding us to look at ourselves by seeing others.
Beginning this fall young folks from around the country will amp up their voices with MTV’s Choose or Lose campaign. If you recall, young people proved to be the most inspiring demographic that participated in the 2008 presidential election. This year on November 2nd, the pivotal 2010 midterm elections will be held for 37 of the 100 seats in the Senate. The stakes are high in U.S. politics. Very high. Who will win and who will lose? Certainly not those inspiring young people that will represent at the polls for issues they care about like veterans rights.
Did you know?
There are more than 1.7 million veterans of combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of whom are between 20-29 years old, according to the United States Department of Defense.
These same vets face many obstacles as they transition their way back into civilian life. Some veterans suffer from mental health illnesses like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD is the most prevalent mental health illness among current and veteran soldiers of the Iraq war.
In addition to confronting the effects of health-related illnesses, veterans are faced with the devastating reality of chronic unemployment. Our elected officials must create an effective pathway for our brave women and men to find jobs and stability upon returning home.
What can YOU do to help?
First log on to www.chooseorlose.com to receive more information about how you can mobilize your communities to take action during this year’s 2010 midterm elections. Then amplify your BRAVE voice and sign the The Bill Of Rights For American Veterans petition, which demands that our elected officials work to support our troops after war by providing proper health care, employment opportunities, and financial benefits.
It’s simple. This is your chance to make a difference in the lives of brave soldiers who cared enough to fight us. Just when you think you can’t can’t change the world with a click of the button, MTV and Choose or Lose are here to let you know that you can.
For more information about BRAVE and other MTV Pro-Social initiatives and campaigns, stay with us here at ACT or visit http://www.think.mtv.com.
“Hip-hop is the most progressive culture we’ve had in a long time, Never have so many people so eloquently described the pain and issues of a generation.” – Matulu Shakur, political prisoner since 1997.
For those who ever thought hip-hop was dead must have been asleep. Like with any movement, hip-hop shifts and transitions, but nevertheless moves relentlessly. Matulu Shakur is one of many powerful voices featured in the new documentary Black August Hip Hop Project directed by veteran journalist and filmmaker, dream hampton. The film invites audiences to listen and learn about political imprisonment and its connection to hip-hop culture. Black August chronicles parts of the 1996 The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Hip-Hop Benefit concert, which recognized political prisoners like Mumbia Abu-Jamal and those in political exile like Assata Shakur. The documentary features concert footage from hip-hop artists Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and M-1 of Dead Prez. Riveting interviews and images encapsulate the film’s brilliance as a showcase of compelling individuals and music. It’s been awhile since a hip-hop documentary of this calibar has hit the scene.
Peep the trailer below.
Recently, I had an opportunity to attend the August 26th screening for of Black August at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City. Unfortunately I was unable to grab a last minute ticket to enter the theater (my fault, of course). dream even tried to get me in but the theater was packed to capacity. ABC News cameras couldn’t even enter, which admittedly made me feel a better. Despite being a bit bummed out that I couldn’t experience what was going on in the theater, I remained in the lobby where I could still hear hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambassador perform on stage while Talib Kweli and M-1 of Dead Prez rushed passed me through the corridor.
Black August will be released on DVD this October. Stay with us for more details on how you can snag a copy of the film.
For more information on how you can bring awareness to political prisoners and support the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, visit http://www.mxgm.org
Donate now to lend your support!
You know that anti-sexist guy who we happen to come across in some off-beat progressive feminist magazine, or read about in a Women’s Studies class, or see in an independently produced documentary, yet he still seems mythical in our distant consciousness like faint familiarity? Upon coming across *that guy* we (i.e. the self-proclaimed feminists, womanists, or simply “pro-woman folk”) celebrate and lament all at once, as if to say; “Ah, yes, I’m sure that guy really does exist . . . somewhere.”
Starting things off, last night had the opportunity to attend Cornel West’s Barnes & Noble event in Midtown. Brother West was there to introduced his latest book Living and Loving Out Loud, a Memoir and rap a bit with the folks.
by Tara L. Conley
Van Jones recently resigned from his post as Special Advisor for Green Jobs in The White House, but hopefully the ideas he advocated for like green roof technology will remain.
Before coming to The White House, Van Jones had been advocating for what he called “green jobs” – the confluence of two ideas; creating new jobs while at the same time building a more cost and energy efficient environment. Among Jones’ top priorities as Special Advisor for Green Jobs was to promote ‘green roof’ technology. The idea behind this type of technology is to provide energy and cost reducing benefits to residents, business owners, and surrounding neighborhoods by building rooftop ecosystem covered with living plants. The vegetated roofs add insulation, reduce urban “heat island effects” and storm water run off, and improve the overall quality of the buildings. During the summer months, planted roofs remain cooler, reducing the need for energy guzzling air conditioners. More green rooftop projects would provide employment opportunities for urban area contractors and builders, thereby creating an entirely new sector within the green industry.
Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC political correspondent Lawrence O’Donnell addressed what might be President Obama’s last chance to rally substantial support for progressive Health Care Reform in the US. Obama will to speak before a joint session of Congress next week.
Some folks are banking on Obama’s rhetoric genius to deliver a speech that will inspire even the most cynical, namely the GOP opposition. But can a speech actually change the hearts and minds of a party hell-bent on engaging in the art of hyperbole to belly-ache and spread blatant falsehoods about real Health Care Reform? If you recall back in 1993 at the height of a similar Health Care Reform debate, former President Bill Clinton went before Congress and delivered what was at the time considered a pivotal speech on progressive Health Care Reform. The result of his monumental speech, you ask? Ask our current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. And, as Lawrence O’Donnell points out, Bill Clinton wasn’t facing nearly as much opposition upon delivering that speech as President Obama is facing now.