Race & Gender

Is a white man publicly criticizing Michelle Obama’s body racist?

Michelle Obama’s black woman’s body as publicly contested space in historical and social context

by ceejay

On August 13, Fox News contributor and psychiatrist Keith Ablow, bizarrely criticizing Michelle Obama’s efforts to encourage healthy eating for children, remarked that Michelle is a poor role model for her cause anyway as she could“stand to lose a few pounds.” When I relayed this story to my very favorite white man on earth and said that one of the several ways I found the comments so sickening was that they were racist, he replied that the comments were bad enough without my possibly appearing to “play the race card.” He is by far the most brilliant person I have ever known, but on this we will simply have to agree to disagree. I think that given the way black women’s bodies have been historically and are to this moment publicly contested space, a white man publicly making such a comment about a black woman’s body is inherently racist.

Continue reading

Journalism

Washington Post ed board to stop using racist NFL team nickname. FINALLY. But what about the sports dept?

Two decades ago the WaPo condemned the use of “Redskins.” A generation later, by god they’re doing something about it. Sorta.

Way back in 1992 the Washington Post concluded that “the time-hallowed name bestowed upon the local National Football League champions — the Redskins — is really pretty offensive.” (Emphasis mine.)

A rough estimate based on occurrences of “redskin” in a WaPo site search going back to 2005 suggests that they have since deployed the offensive term ~83,000 times.

Today they announced they will no longer use the term. By “they,” I mean the editorial board. The news and sports divisions will carry on being pretty offensive.

Small victories are better than none at all, huh?

On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone as influential as the Post ed board doing the right thing. On the other hand, well, how many of you take 22 years – more than a goddamned generation – to stop doing something once you conclude that it’s wrong? They wrote that piece when George Bush – the Elder – was still president. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Waiting for Nothing (More): Tom Kromer’s Singular (and Single) Masterpiece

Kromer’s novel of The Great Depression was his only fully achieved work…

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer (image courtesy Goodreads)

I realize I have been remiss.

Despite two updates to my 2014 reading list (see here and here) I have still more books that I’ve added. So once I finish this essay on a rather singular work of literature from The Great Depression, I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to write a short piece to still further update my reading list.

But writing about the books themselves is ever so much more enjoyable, so let’s get to that first, shall we?

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer is one of those books that rattles around in the halls of academe periodically as a “lost classic.” I first encountered it in my first full time college teaching job back in 1987 at Salem College. A now “lost and by the wind grieved” colleague, Pete Jordan, asked me if I were familiar with the work. When I told him no, he thrust a copy into my hands and told me in no uncertain terms that it was a book I should know.

I took it home and read it in an evening. (That’s not a prodigious feat – the book is more a novella than a novel and the edition I reread for this essay, a very nice remounting by the University of Georgia Press, logs in at only 130 pages). It’s an alternately engrossing and wrenching narrative based on Kromer’s time as a “stiff” (the term refers to the many hobos who spent their time drifting from town to city across the country looking for work during the depths of the economic crisis in the early 1930’s). Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship III: Music as a Function of Place

Music serves as a comment on culture – and, interestingly, that commentary can be both culture specific and universal at once…

Bob Marley in concert, 1980 (image courtesy Wikimedia)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, here, and here.)

This week’s look at the excellent scholarly discussion of popular music and protest, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest, addresses the importance of place in the emergence of specific types of music. This section of the editor Ian Peddie’s book consists of three essays on places and music as diverse as one could ever want them to be: Jamaica and reggae, the Australian Outback and aboriginal rock, and England’s “Black Country” (the heavy industry and mining country) and the emergence of “escapist” music represented by artists as diverse (at first glance) as Led Zeppelin and drum and bass pioneer Goldie.

In some ways the most interesting, if most esoteric of these essays is “‘We have survived': popular music as a representation of Australian Aboriginal cultural loss and reclamation.” This essay explores the emergence of Aboriginal rock bands, in particular the work of a group called the Wirrinyga Band. The essayist, Peter Dunbar-Hall, notes two important things about the Aboriginals bands in Australia: first, the bands serve an important cultural function in keeping alive aboriginal languages – in fact, music from Wirrinyga Band and other Aboriginal groups is used in schools to help Aboriginal students learn their native languages and cultural history; second, the Australian government actively supports its artists and offers grants and other financial supports to artists such as the Wirrinyga Band so that they can develop, and more importantly, record their work to make both the subject matter of their songs (they sing of traditional Aboriginal subjects such as spiritual and philosophical beliefs – the “Dreamtime” (a central concept in Aboriginal Animism) and the relationship of Aboriginal groups (the Wirrinyga Band are members of the Yolngu) to mainstream Australian culture.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

Nature versus nurture – peacenik’s child is joining the military

by ceejay

I remember so vividly the very first hint I ever had of her yet-to-be existence. I was in a store with my youngest sister and was suddenly so overwhelmed by fatigue that I was leaning over the shopping cart, unable to stop yawning, too weak to stand up on my own, afraid I would be unable to even drive us home. My sister, who already had two children and who knew that my husband and I had recently deliberately stopped using any birth control, began to laugh merrily and then dance circles around me, chanting “You’re pregnant, you’re pregnant, ha-ha, you’re pregnant….” It took three home pregnancy tests to finally confirm her suspicion.

Continue reading

Glenn Beck might be available for your call. Don’t delay. Dial now.*

Is there a word for espousing the practice of fine points of faith while breaking with the key themes?

888-727-BECK

I realize my views on the following topic may well be considered heretical. I’m okay with that. The folks most likely to believe that about what I think and say hold views I’m likely to find heretical. I do hope you’ll pardon me for chiming in. I’m willing to bet I’m at least as qualified to weigh in on matters of faith as Glenn Beck is, so I see this as entirely fair game.

Recently, Raw Story posted the following:

MA mayor: City to donate $5 for every angry, anti-LGBT caller Glenn Beck sends after us

If one had to guess, in a general way, the religion of the people who hate LGBT people, or at the very least, express anger to and about them, what would it be in the good ol’ US of A? In other countries, other religions might fit the bill just as easily, but I’m talking about here. Continue reading

“Hang Obama!” Is that always racist?

Correlation, causation, race, the President, and hanging

Once upon a time not so long ago, someone on the Internet expressed an opinion. I found my umbrage and took all of it. And, thinking I’m the Deathmonger Whisperer, I took it upon myself to gnaw on another huge leg of futility. I was fresh out of lamb, you see.

As one might gather from the title, the opinion expressed was none too subtle. One might even divine which side of the partisan divide excreted this little gem. Of late, I’ve taken to trying to engage rationally with those with whom I disagree…with tact and diplomacy. I know. I know. “Who are you, and what have you done with Frank?!” It’s only an exercise in futility if I actually hope to persuade someone to change their mind on an issue. Failing that, I’m learning a great many valuable things, not least of which is to vent expletives into the room instead of through my keyboard. It accomplishes just about as much, but it leaves the door open to genuine discussion.

The specific opinion expressed was that Obama is guilty of treason [citation needed] and should be hanged, as per the Constitution. Never minding for a moment that the Constitution only calls for Congress to determine the punishment without expressly stating how it should be carried out, much less that it should be death, much less that it should be capital punishment by hanging, I went with what to me (and a great many others) was the apparent (if not actual) racism implicit in the suggestion. To that end, I replied much as follows: Continue reading

LGBT

Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

When he goes to bed tonight, Tony Dungy should offer a prayer of thanks that the US isn’t at the mercy of people like him.

Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam. But not because he’s gay! No, no. Because things will happen. You know … things.

Three thoughts.

1: Look! Look! See, Michael Sam is on TV being interviewed about non-football issues. He’s being a DISTRACTION! And why? Because … well, because Tony Dungy is in the media talking about how Sam is a distraction.

Don’t start no distraction, won’t be no distraction. Just saying. Continue reading

Conservatives

American conservatives: some of the most important history you’ve probably missed

Racism or abortion? You decide.

For the sake of history and truth, this might be the most important thing you read in quite a while.

The Real Origins of the Religious Right @ Politico

Short version: evangelical “community organizers” (recognize that dig?) and bearers of false witness initially tried to fire up the right wing evangelical “moral majority” (currently only approximately 26% of the US population…hardly a majority of any kind) in support of racially segregated schools. Patron Saint of the new GOP, Ronnie Reagan, who committed treason to win the 1980 election by interfering with the release of US hostages held by Iran (somehow omitted from this article), trotted out support of racial segregation but got punched in the political junk for it and backed down. Bob Jones University, the school that took the issue all the way to SCOTUS, eventually lost, and with the case any hopes of regaining its tax-exempt status in an 8-1 decision. That’s one helluva SCOTUS decision. The one justice that supported racial segregation? Ronnie’s SCOTUS appointee Renquist. Continue reading

Breitbart & Gawker, match of the century?

Wherein I try for a more evenhanded tone

ICYMI, Breitbart recently engaged in the kind of, how should I put it, less than rigorous journalism that many have come to expect of the source. In this case, the effects would be downright comical if not for the radical xenophobia espoused by their sources and the author. Naturally, with “border crisis” being the cause du jour, in between assaults on women’s rights and genuine religious liberty, this story involves the border and what was found there.

“That’s when I saw this thing laying around. And I was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ We walked over there and I didn’t really want to pull at it not knowing what was on it. I poked a bit at it with a stick and noticed some of the Arabic writing and was just like, ‘Oh boy.’ I snapped a couple of photos and then went on our patrol.”

Continue reading

Feminism

Why can’t you ladyfolk be nicer when explaining feminism to us? [trigger warning]

A personal perspective from the front lines of the war on women

Oh. I see. Share this if you get it.

Source: name withheld for safety

In the quote that follows, “I Blame the Patriarchy” blogger Twisty addresses a question I, like all feminists, have SO often been asked: “Don’t you think you could win more men to your cause if you were nicer?” And now, now, in my late forties, my answer is a firm “NO! NO I FUCKING DON’T.”

In my thirties, while I was also busy volunteering at and raising funds for battered women’s shelters (did you know the most requested item at a women’s shelter is hair dye, to make the women harder for their abusers to spot? If you ever run across a great sale price on hair dye, buy some extra and donate it to a women’s shelter, please – they always need it) and I was volunteering at the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant, and producing “The Feminist Papers” and “The Vagina Monologues” on my campus and marching in “Take Back the Night,” and taking the stage at “Speak out against rape” and being active in my campus Women’s Studies club and writing and editing the biweekly social justice newsletter for my church, and going to college with a near-perfect 3.9 grade point average, and raising a female child under the patriarchy, often as a single parent having to bring my daughter to classes with me as my military husband was frequently deployed during this period, I was also willing to take precious time to talk to men, both online and off, who demanded that I explain feminism to them, convince them – and it was required to be sweetly, nicely, patiently, with a smiling, pleasing feminine demeanor, and I complied, used up lots of time complying. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Sinclair Lewis imagines American dictatorship: It can’t happen here … can it?

“More and more, as I think about history…I am convinced that everything that is worthwhile in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system, whatsoever.  But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.” – Doremus Jessup in Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here

 

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (image courtesy Goodreads)

It may seem strange that I choose to write about Sinclair Lewis’s dystopian satire, It Can’t Happen Here, for July 4th, the high holy day of the American ideal/experiment. Lewis’s novel is, after all, about the subversion of American democracy into a dictatorship. Worse, that dictatorship, is controlled by the leader of a political party called, presciently enough, The American Corporate State and Patriot Party. If ever someone seemed a political seer trying to warn us to consider the results of our actions, Lewis is that seer and It Can’t Happen Here is his warning. Published in 1935, the novel both reminds us of the complicated economic and political stresses of that time and, in an eerie way, reads (for anyone who has been paying attention over the last decade) like the playbook of – well, of both the “corporate citizen” and “patriot” movements within American politics.

For those who don’t know the work of Lewis (and, sadly, that will be far too many), his stock in trade as a novelist was the closely detailed, wittily sarcastic satirization of American life and culture. His masterpiece, Main Street, looks at the smug conservatism of American small towns; Babbitt is an indictment of bourgeois conformity and the practice of “boosterism” (called by another name today, but as rampant now as when Lewis wrote his novel); Arrowsmith, an inquiry into how science, specifically the practice of medicine, is affected by “expected” definitions of success; Elmer Gantry, his attempt to expose the hypocrisy of too many “big time” religious evangelists;  and Dodsworth, a critique of the wealthy (whom Lewis found intellectually empty and self-absorbed). Continue reading

CATEGORY: Racism

Open letter to the National Republican Congressional Committee

Creeps and jigaboos and death wishes, oh, my!

Dear National Republican Congressional Committee:

Your Facebook page is one of those pages that makes me answer the question, “what does a Like even mean?” in a really atypical way.  I “like” your page so I can see your posts in my news feed to keep abreast of your political positions.  Like I don’t have enough stress in a day, right? Today you had a beaut. a quote from Congressman Greg Walden, dated 6/9/14, against a backdrop of President Obama with his feet up on the desk, top-captioned “Obama is ignoring the constitution.” The quote:

“[The White House] needs to learn that Congress actually matters under the Constitution.”

Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Tristan and Isolde: Gottfried von Strassburg is All About the Love…

 Gottfried reminds us that love is complicated – and, we can assume, chemical, too….

Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg (image courtesy Goodreads)

Back to  the 2014 reading list again. After taking a break from heavier (and, in one case, more depressing) works to read a little about fly fishing in my home state, I’m back to the sort of “serious” literature you’ve come to know and be bored out of your skulls by that I, ever needing to scratch the scholarly itch, adore wading through. And so we return to medieval literature.

If you remember, the last time we visited this area was to discuss Christine de Pizan’s remarkable The Book of the City of Ladies, a tour de force of proto-feminist argumentation against the deplorable depiction of women in the late 4th-early 15th century (Pizan’s work was published in 1405).  For this essay we jump backwards a couple of hundred years to the early 13th century and look at one of the great courtly/chivalric romances, Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman: the South’s stories, demagoguery, history…

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Clansman by Thomas W. Dixon, Jr. (image courtesy Wikimedia)

We leave the 2014 reading list in this essay to consider a classic American novel of dubious repute that I read as a substitute last week when I was traveling and had forgotten my current book from the list.

Sometimes it is easiest – and wisest – to begin with a cliché. So here’s one about the place I am from and love with all my heart:

All Southerners are born storytellers….

This oft repeated claim has, as do all clichés and truisms, its basis in fact. Southerners seem to find in storytelling a needful way to explain the world and how it works. This is not to say that other regions of the United States do not feel this. But Southerners, more than people from any other region of America, are noted for their propensity to offer stories as explanations for “the way things are/were/will be/should be.” Leave it to Southerners, too, to take religion and make that all about storytelling. Continue reading

Jackie Mitchell: the legend of the woman who struck out Ruth and Gehrig

Did a woman really whiff two of the greatest sluggers of all time … back to back? We’ll never know, but it’s plausible.

My buddy Guy Saperstein sent this around last night.

The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig

One spring day my son came home from school and asked, “Do you know about the girl who struck out Babe Ruth?” Continue reading

50__s_Housewife_ad_cutout_by_AbsurdWordPreferred

Princeton Mom and the Chinese Government are on the same page

What do American conservatives and Chinese Communists have in common?

50__s_Housewife_ad_cutout_by_AbsurdWordPreferredHere’s a question I never thought I’d ask: What do the Princeton Mom, Susan Patton, and the Chinese government have in common? Answer: they both advocate educated women choosing marriage over careers.

In case you missed the Susan Patton story, she’s the Princeton alum and proud mom of “two [male] Princetonians” who wrote a letter to the Daily Princetonian advising coeds to “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” Her reasoning is interesting:

Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are.

Continue reading

Donald Sterling’s appalling racist rant: the NBA must force him out of the game NOW

Clippers owner tells girlfriend not to bring black people to his games, officially replaces Cliven Bundy as America’s racist icon of the moment.

Holy fuck. Are you kidding me?

Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, told his girlfriend not to post pictures on Instagram of herself with black people and not to bring black people to his basketball games, according to an audio recording posted by TMZ.

Ummm. Excuse me?

In the recording, Sterling and his girlfriend are fighting over a picture she posted to Instagram of herself with NBA legend Magic Johnson, and Sterling demands that she stop “broadcasting” that she associates with black people. Sterling tells his girlfriend: “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.” Continue reading

Fred-Phelps

Gay marriage: Fred Phelps’ death is the end of an era, but it isn’t the end of the fight

The passing of Fred Phelps actually makes the struggle for gay marriage and LGBT equality a little more difficult.

A few days ago I summed up the impact the late Fred Phelps exerted on American society, concluding that he was, ironically, one of the best things that ever happened to the LGBT community’s quest for social justice. A number of other observers agreed, including Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast and Peter Scheer at TruthDig, who thanked him for “his years of service to the gay rights movement.”

Continue reading