Simple. Foolish. Thinking. Folk.

December 7, 2011

Virtual Insanity (Jamiroquai) music video screen shot, 1997. (http://www.vid81.com/). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of photo's low resolution.

On all sides of the political divide, we bear witness to some of the most unsophisticated thinking that anyone looking back on this time in history could ever possibly imagine.

It’s not just that GOP/TPers like Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry don’t know basic American history or about a constitutional amendment that directly affected their lives as young adults. It’s not just the racial, socioeconomic and gender-based bigotry that Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain have given us for months. It’s among supposedly liberal and moderate political animals as well. It makes me question not only the political process. It makes me think that we should recheck the lead content of our water (tap and bottled), our vegetables and our meat.

Gingrich’s statements over the past few weeks are much more than “unfortunate,” as Tony Kornheiser — an eighty-five-year-old impersonating a sixty-three-year-old — said on his ESPN DC radio show Tuesday. No, Gingrich’s statements are ahistorical, flat-out wrong, borderline racist, and downright nasty toward poor Americans and their children.

Say Anything... movie poster with cropped picture of Newt Gingrich at CPAC conference in Orlando, FL (taken September 23, 2011), December 7, 2011. (Quentin X and Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia/Donald Earl Collins). Released in public domain via cc by 3.0.

To a crowd in Iowa last Thursday, Gingrich said, “Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday…They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of I do this and you give me cash, unless it is illegal.” Unfortunate is when you mistakenly drop your flash drive down a garbage disposal. This was so bigoted that it was actually dumb beyond words. And even I thought Gingrich had a bigger brain than this.

This comes only a few weeks after telling the Occupy Wall Street protests to “get a job after you take a bath.” As if getting a college education only to become a $60,000 student loan debt-slave and find oneself unemployed is funny. No, Gingrich, you’re a slime ball, utterly out of touch with America and Americans. At least, any Americans who live in 2011 with less than $10 million to draw from.

But the reactionary right isn’t the only group that has spoken foolery of late, showing us how corrupt our system of politics and government is in our age. Media types of all strips have spoken like simpletons as well. Take Charles M. Blow, visual Op-Ed columnist with the New York Times, who frequents on Twitter as a “pox on both your houses” type. Somehow, though, when people talk about not voting at all, his ability to be rational declines almost as far and as fast as Newt Gingrich’s.

Usually Blow does his SMH sign when he reads 140 characters of what he considers foolishness. Not on November 21. On that day, he tweeted, “I must say that I’m shocked at the number of tweets I’m getting from ppl, seemingly prog, who sound resigned to not voting. Shocked!” Blow followed that with “Voting isn’t just about the right to complain. It’s a demonstration of power. Same as wiggling your fingers in the air, but w politicians.”

The question I have for Blow and voting purists is, what alternative universe do you think we’re living in?

Charles M. Blow, visual Op-Ed columnist, New York Times (cropped), January 18, 2009. (Flickr.com via Arlene M. Roberts). In public domain.

Where money isn’t the key to everything in American politics, and doesn’t determine everything from who runs to literally rigging the system on Election Day? And people considering the possibility of not voting are crazy? Really?

Yes, I know how many people fought and died for my right as a Black male to vote in these United States of America. I’ve been teaching about it for half my life. But that America doesn’t exist anymore. This America, this one where Gingrich, Bachmann and Perry are viable candidates, where progressives with ideas for making our nation better are told they’re being “unrealistic,” is one where normal behaviors often aren’t rational ones. In this case, voting for two sides of virtually the same coin makes no sense to many.

I, for one, will vote next year, and — barring Van Jones running or something — will vote for Obama. But unlike Gingrich or Blow, I’m not arrogant or traditional (or foolish) enough to believe that my ideas for how people should behave are the only ones worth considering.


The Land of Second Chances – For Who?

October 21, 2010

Purple Mountain Majesty, October 21, 2010. Source: http://bojack.org

I’m so tired of hearing commentators talk about how this is a country that gives people second chances. “What? Really? Are you insane?,” I think when I hear such drivel from people like Tony Kornheiser and Joe Scarborough. Do these talking heads even think about who they’re talking about or what they mean when they say the words “second chances?”

Seriously, true second chances in this country are reserved for folks who are among the elite — rich, famous, public officials, entertainers, athletes (sometimes), usually (but not always) White, almost always male and heterosexual. For these folk, America is a land of second chances. For most of us, this isn’t even a land of first chances, much less second ones. As Bruce Springsteen would say, “born down in a dead man’s town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground” is an apt description for a majority of Americans.

The working-poor and living-from-paycheck-to-paycheck sub-middle class, while doing all they can to improve the life chances of their kids, ultimately are dependent on breaks provided within our society for their kids to have a chance. It comes down to a decent, if not happy family life, with no major financial or job disruptions. And living in a decent neighborhood, along with being able to attend an above-average public school or having parents willing to scrape together the money for private or parochial school. Not to mention finding opportunities for outside opportunities for their kids to explore themselves, like through art classes, soccer teams, travel, and so many other things that make growing up more than just a biological process that occurs in chaos.

Little Pink Houses, Carole Spandau, Uploaded October 21, 2010. Source: http://fineartamerica.com

Little Pink Houses, Carole Spandau, Uploaded October 21, 2010. Source: http://fineartamerica.com

If anything goes wrong, if a kid makes even a relatively minor mistake, that first chance will go away. Homelessness, bankruptcy, poor grades, even minor criminal activity or rebellion against authority figures will short-circuit chance number one. For kids of color, especially males, a robbery, playing around with marijuana, a fight at school or repeating a grade puts them in jeopardy long before they may realize that life doesn’t grant them a whole lot of first chances to begin with.

If these kids are lucky or disciplined enough to make it to adulthood with a high-school education, that may open a door, but it still won’t grant even the first chance. As comedian Chris Rock would say, many of these kids have to “make miracles happen” — force open doors — for that first real chance for their lives.

Not so for the likes of Eliot Spitzer, Ben Roethlisberger, even (to a lesser extent) Michael Vick. These folks aren’t struggling to find themselves while living in obscurity, and have more opportunities to work with in any given day than the average American person will likely have in their lifetime. But for White males with money and/or the public spotlight, second chances are almost automatic. Spitzer has his own show on CNN. Roethlisberger would’ve only lost his job if he’d been convicted of rape. Former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle is still a respected journalist in many circles, even though he’s a proven a plagiarist and fiction writer. Vick, meanwhile, only got a second chance after he served two years hard time for dogfighting.

Even for the famous and financially fortunate — yet of color — the second chance remains elusive. Tiger Woods didn’t break any laws, didn’t commit a crime, but has spent the past year as a pariah (no need to go into the psychosis that comes with race and males of color, Black ones in particular). Jayson Blair will probably never have another shot at hardcore journalism. Maybe Blair shouldn’t have a second chance, but then, neither should Barnicle.

1%'s Playing Field cartoon (applicable to who gets second chances, too), December 28, 2013. (Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

1%’s Playing Field cartoon (applicable to who gets second chances, too), December 28, 2013. (Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

To be sure, John Edwards, Larry Craig and Jim McGreevey won’t be running for office again. But they are exceptions to the rule. Edwards could’ve jeopardized the Democratic Party’s ’08 election with his scandal, while Craig and McGreevey were outed as closeted gays involved in down-low activities. We don’t give politicians like these second chances.

So, we are a land of second chances. At least for those with the keys to the kingdom of the public arena. You just have to be straight, White, male, affluent, committed a crime before the age of twenty-one — and one that didn’t involve murder or Black-on-White crime — to have them.

As for Ray Rice, because many assume that his one act of domestic violence toward his now wife Janay Palmer Rice is the only one he’s committed, and because of all his charitable contributions, the NFL will grant him a second chance. The question isn’t whether Rice deserves a second chance. The question is why Janay Palmer Rice never had a first chance at a violence-free relationship. The answer is patriarchy, misogyny, racial animus, and increasing class inequality. What second chances, and for whom indeed!


Beware of the Blogger

August 1, 2010

Me the Evil Blogger

I have a haiku for Tony Kornheiser, host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and ESPN DC 980’s The Tony Kornheiser Show:

Beware the Blogger, for he’s only right sometimes, but wrong all the time.

This not only sums up Kornheiser’s sentiment regarding bloggers, but those of many veterans of professional journalism. But since Kornheiser’s the most recent dissenter who’s used his microphone as a weapon to whack all bloggers over their heads about blogging, I’ll work with him. Apparently a person who wants to become a print journalist today must, absolutely must, “pay their dues” in order to be great at the profession. By Kornheiser’s definition as a long-time beat sports reporter, that means years of lousy pay, traveling to godforsaken towns and villages, staying in crappy motels and eating artery-clogging food in order to hone the craft of gathering sources and doing interviews.

I have no argument against honing one’s craft. We all should do it, regardless of profession, in order to make the most of our talents and eventually become successful. What I do have a problem with, though, is the idea that bloggers somehow are taking a shortcut. It’s as if we’ve all decided to warp space-time itself instead of seeking to break the speed-of-light-barrier in order to become successful journalists and writers.

All we do, according to Kornheiser and numerous others, is “spew” and “spout opinions,” not based on anything except our guts. Apparently we’re all supposed to become old, gray and grizzled in order to have the privilege of making a decent living and being able to have a radio show and a half-hour TV gig. Still, I get it. Andrew Breitbart’s blogging crusade against anything that he considers politically left managed to drag Shirley Sherrod, Ben Jealous and NAACP and the White House along for his pitiful ride into the mud.

Yet I don’t remember too many people complaining about the blogosphere when the story about former presidential candidate John Edwards broke into the mainstream two years ago. A story that bloggers and the National Inquirer had been banging around for eight months before the real professional journalists got a hold of it. I don’t recall Kornheiser and his buddies giving folks like Mitch Albom (Detroit Free Press, bestselling author of Tuesdays With Morrie) or Bob Ryan (long-time sports reporter and columnist for the Boston Globe) too hard a time over stories that they should’ve never filed or were completely inaccurate. I don’t remember Kornheiser complaining about the plight of print journalism when the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal (New York Times, 2003) or the Mike Barnicle fabrication scandal (Boston Globe, 1998) broke.

I take offense to any journalist or writer insisting that every blogger is an unadulterated hack with zero skills necessary to be — or become — good writers or journalists. I take offense because I’ve paid my dues, thank you very much. I’ve been writing on the topic of race, culture and diversity for more than twenty years, and have been a published writer for the past seventeen years. Five and a half years of graduate school to become an American and African American historian, and the past ten years to make myself more than an academic writer. Maybe I just imagined my days without food and with holes in my sneakers back then.

Within that, years of archival research hunting for sources much more obscure than “Deep Throat.” Interviews with people in authority, with people long forgotten by the press. A year of my life just learning how to do statistical analysis. Two and a half years of post-graduate unemployment and underemployment, taking crap work and teaching part-time in order to become a better writer and a better historian. But, alas, I haven’t “paid my dues.”

I blog for three reasons. One, because it serves as a form of a journal for me, to be able to track my mood, my progress as I pursue the publication of my memoir Boy @ The Window. Two, because as long as I have something to say about a subject I know quite a bit about — and through my years of experience, I know quite a bit about a lot of things — I can write about that subject. Three, I blog because I want to build an audience, to have an honest presence in the blogosphere, where I spew more than vitriol, where what I have to say is based on research, interviews, sources, and, of course, my biases and my opinions.

To Kornheiser, I say, based on a quote from Vernon Jordan’s memoir, Vernon Can Read! (2001): “Read, Tony, Read!” Read an occasional blog like mine. Don’t just spew your opinion, you dope!


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