Walking the Obama Criticism Tightrope

June 1, 2013

Philippe Petit in midst of his high-wire crossing between the Twin Towers, New York City, August 7, 1974. (http://www.talktalk.co.uk).

Philippe Petit in midst of his high-wire crossing between the Twin Towers, New York City, August 7, 1974. (http://www.talktalk.co.uk).

These are the times in which we live. Where a critique of a phrase, speech, demeanor or policy can leave someone like me on the outs with White progressives or blindly devoted Obama supporters. Or a comment that could be used to paint me as an Uncle Tom and a Black socialist revolutionary at the same time. It’s crazy these days whenever the subject of President Barack Obama, (or Michelle Obama, or the Obama Administration) comes up.

I’ve probably done about thirty blog posts and nearly 1,000 tweets related to the politics and policies of President Obama and his administration over the past five and a half years. Most of them have been positive, or at least hopeful. I genuinely like the man, his wife and his kids, at least from afar, in part as a result of reading his books. My distaste for his centrist political decision-making, for policies that have left the nation stagnant economically, educationally, socially and geopolitically are all well documented here and on Twitter as well.

Yet it’s hard for most people I’ve encountered to separate how they feel about the man and his family and what they think about his presidency and politics. I’ve found myself having to defend my writings about Obama against a tide of rabid far-right Americans. They’re mostly White and male, and mostly making arguments that approach the ravings of psychotic serial killers. Theirs is an imagined President Obama, one who conspired with his mother for the presidency from the womb. One whose policies range from socialist and Kenyan one minute to fascist and Islamic the next. They absolutely refuse to admit they’re ape-shit over this Black guy as POTUS, his Black wife as First Lady, and his Black children living in the White House.

I’m used to the ravings of this lunatic fringe, though. They are a familiar enough sort. The academic version of these folks were the ones who insisted that I was a plagiarist because of the quality of my writing. So when I get their often idiotic ramblings and significantly misspelled, often grammatically incorrect responses, I laugh nervously, knowing that you don’t have to be literate to be dangerous.

Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls on tightrope with feet in peach baskets, July 4, 1876. (George E. Curtis [1830-1910] via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls on tightrope with feet in peach baskets, July 4, 1876. (George E. Curtis [1830-1910] via Wikipedia). In public domain.

But I also have to deal with two other camps on Obama, one steeped in policy criticism, the other in ecclesiastical praise and worship. Progressives, mostly White (though hardly as exclusive as the rabid right), have been on a rampage about President Obama’s use of executive privilege since day three of his presidency. To be sure, I’ve made many of the same criticisms about the use of drone strikes and the murdering of American citizens (not to mention Pakistani and Yemeni innocents) abroad, about the continued use of Gitmo to hold dozens of folk who have been proven to not be terrorists. Not to mention the Obama Administration’s ineffective use of political capital on the economy, K-12 and higher education, and even healthcare.

Still, my not-as-left-as-me comrades tend to act as if they were clairvoyant about the missteps that the Obama Administration would take and make back in ’08 and early ’09, even though they voted and actively supported his election in the first place.

Yet there’s no group more annoying than Obama’s blind supporters. They are Black and White, but both tend to be elites who think that they’re liberals but are really Clinton-esque centrists. They seem to praise President Obama’s every word, every step and every decision. When there’s a clear-cut issue on which to criticize his administration — such as the huge increase in drone strikes and the sequester agreement of ’11 — they remain as silent as church mice. It’s as if Obama’s White House is the Forbidden City and his army of supporters the eunuchs who run the place, never telling the emperor what he actually needs to hear.

So with any criticism of President Obama or even Michelle Obama comes the insinuation that how dare I beat up on the nation’s first Black president. “He’s doing all that he can, but Congress and the GOP stand in his way,” they often say. Or “leave Michelle alone,” some say, noting her active (yet completely ineffective) efforts to tackle childhood obesity as an example of her grace.

Forbidden City tour, with actors playing emperors, eunuchs and concubines, June 1, 2013. (http://www.newmantours.com).

Forbidden City tour, with actors playing emperors, eunuchs and concubines, June 1, 2013. (http://www.newmantours.com).

My last set of comments on Obama came on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, noting their “hard truths” speeches about the plight of African Americans in today’s America, calling for Black graduates of Bowie State University and Morehouse College to take up the mantle of personal responsibility. I said it was the wrong speech for the wrong audience at the wrong time. Except that their audience was really their White supporters watching on TV, not the Black students who already knew too well that mantle.

My tweets brought representatives from all sides out to praise or blast my comments. I was an Uncle Tom one minute, absolutely right the next, and then a socialist making excuses for Black pathologies a minute later. I think the next time I do a post on Obama, I’m riding a unicycle!


Glad Obama’s In, But Nothing to Celebrate

January 21, 2013

President Barack Obama takes his first oath of office, US Capitol, January 20, 2009. (DoD photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, USAF/Wikipedia). In public domain.

President Barack Obama takes his first oath of office, US Capitol, January 20, 2009. (DoD photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, USAF/Wikipedia). In public domain.

Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly supported President Barack Obama for election in ’08 and again in ’12, as my blog posts and my thousands of tweets show over the past five years. I’ve admonished neo-cons, naysayers, liberals and racists on my pages over the past half-decade for their ridiculous statements about the president’s ancestry, motivations and policies.

But, even with all of this, I’ve gleaned flaws in President Obama’s approach to domestic and foreign policy, to his administration’s continuing Bush’s work on the semi-police state, to his whole-cloth acceptance of K-12 education “reform” and backing off on regulations for the for-profit higher education institution world (see my posts “Can Do No Wrong” [March '10], “Bad Conversations and Education Reform” [November '10], “The POTUS and The Last Airbender” [December '10],  “For the Love of a Lockout & an Impasse” [July '11], “Emancipation and Compromise” [this month] and “Why Obama Is Only A Failed Centrist President” [this month]).

The recent fiscal cliff solution, the extension of widespread surveillance powers over our email, cell phone calls, text messages (and, presumably, blogs, tweets and Facebook pages like my own as well), and the ho-hum approval of $633 billion in appropriations for the Defense Department’s budget this year, though, give me even less of a reason to celebrate President Obama’s second inauguration.

Crowd at National Mall morning of President Obama's inauguration, January 20, 2009. (DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin, USAF/Wikipedia). In public domain.

Crowd at National Mall morning of President Obama’s inauguration, January 20, 2009. (DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin, USAF/Wikipedia). In public domain.

Without a doubt, he was a better choice than that dumb-ass sycophant Mitt Romney. If only because Romney’s entire raison d’être as president would’ve been to allow the rich and corporations another round of economic rape, destroying the American middle class, and pushing the working poor and welfare poor into oblivion in the process.

Obama’s win in November, however, was a sigh of relief for me, not really a jumping-for-joy moment. Now, after witnessing the fiscal cliff debacle, it is obvious that the next four years will be more of the same lukewarm, milk-toast domestic proposals, hardline national security and military policies, and half-baked rhetoric that we were all a part of in President Obama’s first term. By 2017, if I’m still alive to write and tweet, here’s what will remain before us as major crises when Obama leaves office:

National debt; universal health care reform; higher education reform; student aid; student loan policy; minimum wage; living wage; union-busting; long-term unemployment; long-term underemployment; de-industrialization; Wall Street/banking deregulation; housing/mortgage crisis; comprehensive immigration reform; federal tax code; rendition and torture; warrantless wiretapping/surveillance; drone strikes on innocent civilians; upgrading the electrical grid; crumbling infrastructure (roads, bridges, water and sewage systems); PreK-12 education reform; social mobility; green jobs; environmental pollution; cap-and-trade; global warming/climate change; nuclear proliferation; Medicare/Medicaid solvency; religious tolerance; racial/ethnic tensions; women’s reproductive rights; over-incarceration of poor men and women of color; police brutality; gun violence; violent crimes; domestic terrorism; cybersecurity; military-industrial complex; racial/gender/age/sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace; school privatization/high-stakes testing/charter schools/voucher programs; border security, the War on Drugs, prison-industrial complex; voter disenfranchisement; decriminalization of marijuana (and other drugs); post-trauma stress disorder for war veterans and the poor; lingering effects of the Great Recession; funding for public mental health facilities; high-speed rail; food security and policy; prescription drug abuse; Big Pharma; Social Security “reform;” obesity/diabetes/high-blood pressure and other long-term illnesses; and GMOs.

Aerial views of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy,  New Jersey coast taken during a search and rescue mission, October 30, 2012.  (Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, USAF/Wikipedia). In public domain.

Aerial views of Hurricane Sandy damage, New Jersey coast [climate change as example of crises that will go unaddressed during Obama's second term], October 30, 2012. (Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, USAF/Wikipedia). In public domain.

Now, you tell me. Do I really have any reason to see today as a day of celebration?


Why Obama Is Only A Failed Centrist President

January 7, 2013

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I don’t say what I have to say about President Barack Obama lightly. But in light of the recent “fiscal cliff deal”  and the negotiations process that preceded it, I’ve now become convinced that Obama will be seen as a pretty good president. Period. Obama hasn’t been a unique president, despite his race or relatively humble beginnings. Obama is hardly a great president, either. Nor will Obama be a transformational president. If anything, Obama falls right in line with every American president since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

The fact is, Obama is a centrist president, beholden to the military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex, Wall Street and corporate interests, just like Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 before him. That Obama is Black and intellectual in his approach matters little in terms of actual policies or in the path that he and his administration have taken toward incremental policies and half-baked compromises. Based on some of Obama’s policies, I could even make the argument that the President is a borderline neo-conservative, although I don’t think you can generalize this argument to every policy.

This has been an argument I’ve made in my US History courses over the past couple of years. When I’ve raised the idea that Nixon was a liberal Republican, that President Bill Clinton was a neo-con (see the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and TANF welfare reform in 1996 as but two examples), and that Obama is hardly a liberal at all, my students have collectively gasped. How dare I say that Nixon was more liberal than Clinton, that Obama is somewhere between a centrist and a neo-con!

But then I’ve worked with them through discussion to talk about the major domestic and foreign policy agendas of the past seven presidents in comparison to our current president. On so many issues, from the US relationship with Israel to the War on Drugs, from welfare reform to financial deregulation, from a re-escalation of the Vietnam War to the surge in Afghanistan, there hasn’t been a nanometer of space of difference in executive branch decision-making. Whether the people in these positions of power have been Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, or Obama and Hillary Clinton.

So I’ve had my students work through parts of Obama’s agenda. The surge and gradual drawing down of US military forces in Afghanistan, in which part of their role is nation-building. “How is that any different from Bush 43?,” I’ve asked. The historic Affordable Care Act, a so-called universal health care bill that fails to cover 20 million Americans and works through complex networks of government subsidies and private insurers, a neo-con plan that failed as an alternative to single-payer under Clinton in 1994. “How is this really a liberal or progressive idea?,” I’ve asked. The continuing War on Drugs, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the highest rates of deportation of undocumented immigrants ever. “But yeah, Obama’s a liberal!,” I’ve said sarcastically in concluding this discussion with my students.

Some folks, like the reformed neo-con Bruce Bartlett, have compared the Democratic Party of recent years to the liberal Republicans of yesteryear. Bartlett, though, has stopped short of calling Democrats centrist neo-cons, which is in fact a much more apt description. Bartlett also stopped short in time, as he argued that the tipping point for the Democratic Party’s movement from left-of-center to right-of-center began with President Clinton in the 1990s. But that’s incorrect. The tipping point began when the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition of labor unions and blue-collar Whites, Southern whites, Catholics and Blacks fell apart as part of a backlash against President Lyndon Johnson’s support of the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty in the late-1960s.

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the  Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Most Americans, though, don’t have the knowledge or luxury of taking a long view of history and their lives in attempting to put Obama in context. The media’s constant coverage of every trumped-up, imagined or real crisis hardly helps matters, either. They assume on behalf of the public the idea that there are two equal and opposite sides to every issue and every argument, which means most journalists failed geometry in high school. As a result, most Americans believe that Obama’s a liberal because the media consistently makes the false claim that all Democrats are liberals and that a Black guy with a Harvard law degree who used to be a community organizer must be a liberal.

How is a budget cutting agenda that puts Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare on the table as entitlements (and not a paid-for weak social safety net) a liberal idea or policy agenda? How is coming out reluctantly in favor of gay marriage some great progressive stance, comparable to President Kennedy’s speech in favor of civil rights in 1963? How is consistently giving into oligarchic conservatives by pushing hard for a meager tax increase on the most privileged members of our nation — the people who benefited the most from 40 years of policies that have greatly increased the gap between rich and poor — part of a liberal strategy? It isn’t and they aren’t.

Obama being three steps to Congress’ left on gay marriage and a tax increase is an incredibly weak counterargument to the fact that he’s a centrist. And a failed one at that, as his centrism has been based on garnering bipartisan support of weak legislation in terms of socioeconomic appropriations and strong legislation in terms of defense and Big Brother-esque laws. Obama has pushed climate change, long-term unemployment and underemployment, social mobility and real education reform either off his presidential agenda or into the hands of the private sector.

Thank you, but no, Obama’s a centrist, not a liberal. If you want to see a liberal policymaker in action, the nearest place to go these days is Ottawa, not Washington.


Emancipation and Compromise

January 1, 2013

Statuary by the US Capitol, Washington, DC, December 25, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP).

Statuary by the US Capitol, Washington, DC, December 25, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP).

Today marks 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln issued an order as Commander-in-Chief that granted freedom to slaves in territories that remained in rebellion against the Union. It enabled Lincoln to become know as the Great Emancipation, and paved the road for the passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery in the US, nearly three years later. This is a great thing to remember on this New Years Day, and yet, the Emancipation Proclamation exemplifies flaws in the political tactics of our leaders.

We seldom see real, lasting changes in our nation. Our Founding Fathers wrote our very Constitution with the expressed purpose of protecting “life, liberty, and property,” specifically the property of rich White male slaveowners and merchants. Lincoln used his office to strip the Southern one-percenters of the Civil War period of the one thing that was central to their “way of life,” the liberty of owning African slaves, of treating humans as property.

But even Lincoln’s proclamation was as much political posturing as it was an order on the road to emancipation and abolition. It would take the bulk of 1863, 1864 and 1865 to bring enough of the Confederate states under Union Army control to make emancipation a reality for three out of four million slaves. Border states and areas already under Union Army would only be forced to free the other one million slaves with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865. This wasn’t exactly a great compromise, especially for the slaves and for abolitionists.

Fast-forward a century and a half to our tumultuous Congress and jelly boned White House. They’re fighting over tax cuts that should’ve never been enacted in ’01, or expanded in ’03. The cuts should’ve expired two years ago instead of fourteen hours ago. The compromise that the Senate passed at 2 am today is weaker than the Emancipation Proclamation. At least Lincoln knew that he had an Army and Navy that could enforce it over time. In the case of President Barack Obama, Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, the compromise deal is worth about as much as Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” Munich Agreement with Hitler in September 1938, and led indirectly to World War II less than a year later.

"Kicking the can down the road" cartoon, September 23, 2012. (Clay Bennett/ Chattanooga Times Free Press).

“Kicking the can down the road” cartoon, September 23, 2012. (Clay Bennett/ Chattanooga Times Free Press).

The media loves to say that “both sides need to compromise to make a deal.” President Obama loves to say that “no side can get a hundred percent of what they want.” Let’s follow this line of thought by looking at the compromises that led to the Civil War and Lincoln’s proclamation. Here’s seventy-six years of compromise (starting with the US Constitution):

  • Kicking can of end of US participation in international slave trade to 1808;
  • African slaves (not term used) equated to three-fifths of a person for political representation purposes;
  • Missouri Compromise of 1819 (creating distinction between slave and free states at the 36°30′ parallel);
  • Gag Resolution (forbade Congress from debating anti-slavery bills on the floor of the House and (essentially) the Senate between 1836 and 1844);
  • The Compromise of 1850, which tore up the Missouri Compromise, opening up new territories for slavery’s expansion, while allowing California into the Union as a free state; and
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) officially declared policy of “popular sovereignty,” that each territory in its petition for statehood could determine to be a state that allowed or did not allow slavery.

Years of compromise led to increasing violence to protect or destroy slavery (including “Bleeding Kansas” and John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid in 1859), and of course, to the Civil War. So while Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was itself a compromise, it might as well have been an ultimatum compared to the previous seven decades of inaction and negotiation.

Emancipation Proclamation reproduction, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center,  Cincinnati, OH, (photo taken November 15, 2009). (Wikipedia). In public domain.

Emancipation Proclamation reproduction, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, OH, (photo taken November 15, 2009). (Wikipedia). In public domain.

Not that taxes, spending and the social safety net are the same as slavery. But after nearly four decades of declining social mobility, expanding economic inequality and every conceivable break in favor of the wealthy and corporations, isn’t it time to stop compromising our lives and our children’s lives?

Unless we consider the reality that Congress is only doing what its greedy Civil War-era predecessors did a century and a half ago. That the White House is too beholden to moneyed interests to stand for anything that truly helps ordinary Americans. That it will take something far more serious than the Great Recession (or even something potentially as violent as the Civil War) to make this group finally find religion.


President Obama vs. Fake Obama Today

November 6, 2012

Eddie Million’s Obama Effigy, Moreno Valley, CA, October 22, 2012. (Moreno Valley Press-Enterprise).

I’ve already voted, a week ago Sunday at my early voting polling place in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. So Election Day for me today is both a matter of waiting and reflecting on the past four years. What I’ve come to realize is that this election has never been about Mitt Romney, Republicans, the Tea Baggers or even President Barack Obama’s actual record. No, this election has been between the President Obama who has let us down versus the President Obama who has sullied the White House because he’s a nigger in the minds of millions of Americans (I hate that word, but it sums up the sentiments of a third of the electorate very well).

Both views refuse to take what President Obama has and hasn’t been able to do into account, to treat him as we would any other president. For progressives — real liberals, not the people who the media paint as liberal merely because they’re registered Democrats — President Obama has done almost nothing right since his second day in office. For some, because he hasn’t done a complete 180° turnaround on Gitmo, on the War on Terror, on immigration reform and environmental policy, Obama has merely been a continuation of Bush 43. Because Obama’s charismatic intelligence wasn’t able to turn Congress into a rubber stamp, because Obama’s magic didn’t bring real unemployment down to under five percent, progressives are less enthused this time around.

The late Michael Duncan Clarke in The Green Mile (1999), December 1999. (http://movies.com). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws – related to subject of post.

It’s almost as if many expected the late Michael Duncan Clarke’s character from The Green Mile (1999) or Will Smith’s character Bagger Vance from The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) to erupt from President Obama. No wonder the disappointment in the first Black president, who only had to face the worst set of economic, financial, social, international and environmental crises any president has ever faced, Lincoln and FDR included.

For Republicans, conservatives and racists, the issue has always been about how to keep this Islamic jihadist, socialist atheist, and communist anti-patriot from destroying the country since his first day in office. Though President Obama received nearly 68 million votes, there’s no way he earned those votes. Somehow, the Black guy either leveraged the White guilt of White liberals, or he used the Chicago machine to electronically stuff ballot boxes by the millions. Plus, of course, we need his college transcripts from Occidental and Columbia, his original birth certificate and his original application for an American passport to prove that he’s a legitimately intelligent American citizen. But somehow, none of this is about race?

Will Smith and Matt Damon in The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), August 24, 2009. (http://grist.org). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws – subject of post.

For this group, it wouldn’t have mattered if Obama had single-handedly developed perpetual nuclear fusion, warp drive for space ships and a cure for cancer. He’s a Black guy in the White House, and they can’t have this. That’s why from the moment Chief Justice John Roberts swore President Obama into office, Congressional leaders, their filthy-rich supporters and Tea Bagger racists have worked non-stop to make Obama a one-term president. They can only paint President Obama in the worst ways because an honest portrayal of him would leave this group with “he’s Black” as their only reason for opposition.

As the rest of you vote today and/or wait for the results, keep the past four years of Obama Derangement Syndrome across the political spectrum in mind, so that you vote for the real President Obama. Don’t vote for the magic man, and certainly don’t vote for the Magic Negro either.


On Dumb-Assed Ignorance and Race

August 7, 2012

Gabrielle Douglas on balance beam, Olympics Women’s Gymnastics All-Around, London, August 2, 2012. (Gregory Bull/AP).

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled “On Being An Ignit American” (February ’10). It was about how this issue of what is and isn’t “authentically” Black often has folk Black, White, Brown and Yellow thinking and speaking in stereotypes, especially Black folk, who should know better. The past week has demonstrated well how ignit some of us are or can be on this issue of race and so-called authenticity.

The thousands of ignit tweets on Gabby Douglas’ hair in the midst of her becoming the first African American to win gold the Olympic gymnastics all-around was just dumb and shameful. I mean, who the heck cares about what Douglas’ hair looked like as she hovered a good five feet over the balance beam last Thursday? Did it keep her from winning gold? Did it suddenly mean that she was no longer Black? No! All it showed was how much better an athlete, person and woman Gabby Douglas was and is than the dumb asses who decided to take issue with her hair.

Given that Douglas was competing and practicing every day, at sixteen, in a city she can’t be familiar enough with to run to a hairdresser, why would it be necessary for her to satisfy the superficial ignit folks among the Twiterati? Seriously, we don’t expect our male athletes to “get their hair did,” even though most of them have bed head on the eve of their competitions. No, the thousands of dumb-ass comments about Douglas’ hair is a reflection on a group of people who have never been passionate enough about any dream of theirs to take risks, to sacrifice, to give everything they are and have to achieve that dream. They also lie to themselves, in that being Black and female is to care more about your hair than your goals in life.

D.L. Hughley at The Huffington Post Pre-Inaugural Ball, Washington, DC, January 20, 2009. (Carl Clifford and D.L. Hughley via Flickr.com/Wikpedia). Released via cc-Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Then there’s D.L. Hughley, the master of the put-down. He’s the kind of guy that if I’d gone to high school with him in Mount Vernon, I’d killed myself from the constant ridicule, or beaten him half to death with a brick. What makes someone like Hughley dangerous as a comedian is that he thinks he’s much smarter than he really is. Hughley, though, is about as smart about race as Rush Limbaugh, and only slightly more funny.

Let’s face it, on the IQ scale of comedians on race, if Richard Pryor was a 225, Eddie Murphy a 190, and Chris Rock a 155, Hughley would be about a 72. Even Bill Burr would be a 99-108 on this scale. Hughley obviously has deep connections in the entertainment world. How else can anyone explain all the small screen opportunities he’s had the past two decades? Perhaps it’s because Hughley’s funny, if only in a pedestrian, what-is-and-isn’t-authentically-Black sort of way.

Which is why I bring Hughley up here. Last week, while thousands of folks made fun of Gabby Douglas’ hair, he gave an interview on SiriusXM Radio mocking President Barack Obama’s intellectual and calm response to criticism. Hughley said, President Obama “doesn’t seem to get that you have to be willing at some point to fight fire with fire. He’s closer to being a white kid. Intellectually, like his experiences are so different from mine that, I should say, he responds like an intellect as opposed to a regular guy.”

Yes, Hughley, or should I say, dumb ass, Obama’s experiences are different from yours. He went to Occidential College in California for two years before transferring to Columbia on an academic scholarship. He worked as a community organizer on social justice issues for four years before getting in to Harvard Law School. He was president of the Harvard Law Review, a state senator for eight years, a US Senator for four, a constitutional law professor, all before become POTUS. As your contemporary Chris Rock would say, “How the f— you expect him to sound?” Hughley, you are so seriously ignant about race and authenticity that it may be time for you to go back to school.

Don’t you Gabby Douglas’ haters and ignant folks like Hughley get it yet? There’s always been more than one way to be Black, to be human. Why should we choose to act the same way, think the same way, look the same way, to satisfy the limited way in which you see the world. You are people of the worst sort. Too ignant to truly understand the world around you, and too chicken to really better yourselves, to pursue your own dreams and success.


The “Invisible” Poor & The Middle Class Mythology

July 19, 2012

Transparent (or invisible) Woman (cropped), July 19, 2012. (http://cgtrader.com).

This past weekend, I found myself drawn into the discussion of the middle class and middle class aspirations on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes (otherwise known as “Uppers”). It was a good and yet wholly unsatisfying discussion of technical definitions of what middle class is and of the political optics of only discussing the middle class as a socioeconomic category. Chris Hayes and his guests justified this with an all-too-common refrain. “If you’re poor, you’re aspiring to be middle class,” Hayes said on Saturday. With that, Hayes and his guests rendered America’s poor invisible, and failed to see beyond the politics of invisibility in the process.

There are two issues here, and many layers within them, about America’s poor, working, on welfare, or otherwise. One issue is that journalists, commentators, political operatives and most politicians treat the poor as if they are an unknowable group of people. It’s as if they all think the same way, as if there are all Black or of color, and a complete drag on the American economy and the federal budget. And that’s on a day in which the media and politics deem America’s poor as discussable. Most of the time, America’s poor are invisible, shoved into the middle class category by commentators and politicians at every turn.

Yes, America’s middle class is struggling too, fighting tooth and nail to not slip into the class of the invisible working poor, treading water to avoid food banks and food stamps. But they have something to struggle with — and for — at least. Their homes, their cars, a retirement account, their families’ net worth, all accoutrements of being middle class in America. America’s poor don’t possess anything to struggle with or for.

Chris Hayes on a train in Switzerland, November 10, 2008. (Matthew Yglesias via Wikimedia Commons/Flickr.com). Released to public domain via cc-Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Except, maybe, with their vote, if they care to vote at all. Yet no mainstream commentator nor presidential candidate has truly spoken to their needs, their plight, to how their situation is completely interconnected with the struggles of the American middle class, not their aspirations. Not Chris Hayes, nor his weekend compadre, Melissa Harris-Perry, not President Barack Obama, and definitely not the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney.

It’s a story I’m all too familiar with, as someone who grew up in poverty in Mount Vernon, New York. Not to mention as someone who had to go to college and graduate school and then struggled for two years at part-time work before finding a job with a Ph.D. in ’99 (see my “The Five Senses of Poverty” post from July ’10). I was thirty years old by the time I earned a middle class income. Yet in all of that time, the only mainstream politician who spent time on the issues of the American poor as if these were real people was President Jimmy Carter, and we know what happened with him. Outside of my degrees and my publications, I was invisible until the fall of ’99.

Otherwise, it’s been four decades of Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton concerned with “welfare queens,” “pink Cadillacs,” and “mend it, don’t end it” welfare policies, and the media following suit. It’s like being kicked hard by someone as one is laying on the ground with broken ribs and internal hemorrhaging, as if they want to poor to die, painfully.

But it’s not just the ones with microphones and word processing programs that kill America’s poor by rendering them invisible. Despite the general notion that the media and politicians nurture — that everyone not rich aspires to be firmly entrenched in the middle class — most Americans middle class and poor aspire to be rich, wealthy, well-off.

Creflo Dollar, pastor, World Changers Church International, November 1, 2010. (Zwicky Institut via Flickr.com). In public domain.

This is the other neglected issue, whether inadvertent like with Chris Hayes and his guests on Uppers, or deliberate on the part of President Obama and Romney. Why so? Because they don’t acknowledge that it’s hard to be truly middle class in America these days. To be in the middle class, one must borrow, borrow, borrow, beg and sometimes steal while struggling to pay student loans, car notes, a mortgage and child care costs.

This wasn’t the case even thirty years ago, before the severe double-dip recession, high interest rates and inflation and Reagan Revolution took full hold. Then, a high school diploma and raw initiative was all most folks needed to find a job at a GM plant or to get an administrative job in government or with a large corporation (although, typing at 90 words per minute enhanced a woman’s chances, at least). Now, two years of college or postsecondary technical training, some experience in a specialized field, and a personal connection is the floor for a living wage — not exactly middle class. Of course, no one wants to be in the basement with nearly one in five Americans, 50 million in all, working just to be poor.

Stacks of money, April 13, 2008. (Allureme via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via cc-Attribution 3.0 License.

America’s poor and fledgling middle class both aspire to be rich (or die tryin’), and not just middle class. The rise of fundamentalist Christianity, mega-churches and the cult of prosperity as these pastors reimagine the New Testament. The endless lines for Powerball and Mega Millions whenever the pot is more than $100 million. The fascination with reality shows about the well-off or about competing to be well-off. All of this is the manifestation of the warping of the American Dream since the early 1970s, where the pursuit of riches has led to debt slavery for millions.

The old American Dream has become myth, and the old American middle class is but the story of Camelot, Timbuktu and Shangri-La. In our new world, “the poor will be with us always” has been made a plain and unyielding truth by those in power, reinforced by those with a media platform.


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