Keith Ellison, Allan Dershowitz, and the American Left

After a crisis of authority–who am I to have a hiphop blog?–I’m back, trying to find my public voice again, trying to reclaim it from the din of Facebook where I’ve produced what I’m sure is a very detailed data profile of my political opinions without ever having to write them out for myself.

But I have a lot of opinions. Let me state some of them here. I might not cite everything. If you don’t believe me, get googling. Now let’s talk about the DNC electing Tom Perez as chair on Saturday.

For going on forty years, Israeli apartheid has poisoned the coalition-building of the American Left. As far back as the 1970s, as soon as U.S. Black folks started standing in solidarity with dispossessed Palestinians, the Black-Jewish cooperation of the Civil Rights era was over.

[Update 2/28: If you haven’t yet, read Bernie Sanders’s speech to progressive Jewish American PAC J-Street now.]

stokeley-carmichael1.jpeg

Stokely Carmichael speaking at Berkeley in 1966. Image via Radio Open Source.

Writing for The Hill last week, criminal lawyer and pro-Israel hawk Allan Dershowitz said that he would leave the Democratic Party if Keith Ellison was elected DNC chair, arguing that Ellison’s affiliation with folks like Louis Farrakhan and Stokely Carmichael made him an unrepentant anti-Semite.  Continue reading

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On White Girls Being Dredged From the Woods

avery

Steven Avery’s mugshot, via hellogiggles.com

Last night, my boyfriend and I started watching Making a Murderer, the new Netflix documentary series that suddenly everyone is talking about the way last year everyone talked about Serial. It’s a drawn-out real-life series that explores the contradictory story of Steven Avery, a maybe-maybe-not murderer and rapist.

As we settled into bed to watch the show, Ryan said, “I think he’s an accused rapist.”

“I think he’s a murderer,” I replied.

This was a coded conversation. Over the past year or two of must-watch TV, I’ve developed (and communicated) a real aversion to shows scripted around the same boring sex crime, where a young white woman’s mutilated body is unearthed from the elements, from woods or water or some grimy basement. In fact, my boyf and I have come to share–several times now–a moment of recognition and resignation when we realize that another of the shows everyone is raving about is, at its core, about investigating the disappearance, abuse, rape, and death of some white woman who is never a character but instead plays the canvas that the white guys in the show get to puffer up their masculinity around. How trite.

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Kyle Chandler in Netflix’s Bloodline

Thank you True Detective, thank you Lake of the Woods, thank you Making a Murderer, thank you Bloodline. That last one was hard to take. I thought this show was about a family trying to hold their hotel business together against the creepy rising waters of the Everglades? Oh, and also Kyle Chandler, the town detective, has to slowly pull a pale Latino woman’s mutilated teenage body from the dark dikes, then lay her out on a table so that the camera can slowly, slowly pan over the gruesome makeup this actress with no speaking lines spent so much time receiving, so we can see how much empathy he has, give him a good excuse to look real torn up. Fun. He looks upset about it

It’s not that I don’t want sexual assault stories told. I’m a survivor; our stories are important. It’s that these stories aren’t really about us. They’re medeival, hero’s stuff, chivalrous men discovering, protecting, avenging. The rape victims never matter in TV stories about rape.

***

In several pieces of writing about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, I’ve suggested that America’s ongoing fascination with the Kardashians’ penchant for dating Black men is rooted in a hundred-year-old lynching narrative in which white women are continually at risk for defilement and death by oversexualized, dangerous Black men. Peep the assault scene in Birth of a Nation, Woodrow Wilson’s favorite movie, in which the white woman character dares to open her family’s gate and immediately makes herself vulnerable–neigh, responsible, even–for being chased off a cliff by a unrestrained postbellum Black man.

In an essay for The American Reader I wrote a year ago, I considered the seeming absurdity of the Kardashians’ total domination of pop-media spaces that previous summer, even as news of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, and the protests that followed, spread (with little help from major news networks) around the globe. I argued that “cumulatively, what we are watching is a dissimulation of a lynching, where the murder happens in one corner of our screen while our coy rationales withdraw into the manifolds of popular culture.” That is, if we zoom out a bit from the individual television programs and look at the wider picture, what we see is a hypermediated recycling of the same story that was told under Jim Crow to justify lynchings, a story about the threat unrestrained Black men pose to white women’s bodies. The obsessive fixation with stories of white women’s despoilment on TV is a Pavlovian bell ringing through cultural history, calling up our country’s worst memories and worst arguments as it tenaciously fights against progress–against police reform, against prison abolition, against integration of the public schools, against affordable college, against the payment of college athletes, against anything that could allow a Black man to walk freely around in the open air in a neighborhood where a White girl might open her gate–a resistance as powerful as the one culture waged a hundred years ago when Black activists fought to protect their own from being murdered for an endless list of insipid excuses.

 

black widows.JPG

Cultural fear-mongering on the cover of Star

One of the most surprising things about Making a Murderer is how, in the second episode, we see Steven Avery become a cause celebre for criminal justice reform in Wisconsin in the 1990s. Ah yes, the plight of the blue-eyed blondie who looks like every other blue-eyed blondie in Wisconsin demands the attention and sympathy of state lawmakers. I couldn’t help thinking what a diversion this had to be of justice-based activism in Wisconsin, when the face of wrongful incarceration is a smiling white guy, in the state that has been ranked the actual worst for Black Americans in the nation. HuffPo actually named Milwaukee–the regional capital of the area where Making a Murderer takes place–as the worst city for African Americans in the nation. Yet Steven Avery becomes the face of criminal justice reform, a face so compelling that without being sued or threatened, state lawmakers tried to rustle up a 6-figure settlement for him.

Can you imagine government functionaries producing reparations for a person of color without any external pressure to do so?

And then, in the second episode, we get another dead, raped white girl, a twenty-something, actually, who only talks once because mostly she’s missing or dead, laid out in the woods somewhere waiting for us to imagine what cruelty she experienced, waiting for white men to argue their goodness and integrity over the backdrop of her naked ass.

Netflix originals are cool and all, but where is the network that is ready to tell the real, diverse, systemic, important, exciting stories that this planet is brimming with? Stories of war, migration, agriculture, drugs, extortion, exploitation, mining, slaughterhouses, activism, revolution? From the perspective, goddamnit, of someone other than the white men who are invariably running things? I’m ready to watch them–and I think I’m not the only one.

 

White @BernieSanders Supporters, We Need to Embrace #BlackLivesMatter

from seattleglobalist.com

On Friday afternoon, Black Lives Matters protestors disrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle.

From the crowd there were calls that the protestors should be arrested or even tased, prompting Black Lives Matter Seattle founder Marissa Janae Johnson to declare, “I was going to tell Bernie how racist Seattle is, but you already did this for you.”

Since then, discussion has raged over Black Lives Matter-Seattle’s choices. Bernie’s defenders have wondered aloud: Why interrupt the most left candidate? Why not protest the Republican debate? Why not interrupt Hillary Clinton? And, more defensively, don’t the protestors understand Sanders is their best bet? Don’t other peoples’ concerns matter? Is this kind of raucous misbehavior the real way to get change? And supporters of BLM-Seattle have replied: Yes. There is no time for respectability or patience when Black people are being murdered every single day.

I am writing to other white supporters of Bernie Sanders — because yes, I support him, and I am white — to say that we need to embrace #BlackLivesMatter.

Keep reading on Medium.

Thin Ice: on #RachelDolezal and Being a White Ally

via AwesomelyLuvvie.com

via AwesomelyLuvvie.com

Why Rachel Is Wack is now well established. I’ll let the Black women who articulated it best for me speak here for themselves:

Writer Blue Telusma wrote on Facebook: “”It’s offensive that she decided to put on black womanhood like an outfit. as a black woman who has a healthy self esteem I’m clear that my identity isn’t a fad…Offensive that my trans brothers and sisters who are killed in the street and ostracized by their families at alarming rates… are being compared to a liar – simply cause folks don’t “get it'”

Alicia Walters wrote in The Guardian: “Dolezal managed to put on an identity – that of a black woman – in a way that renders invisible the experiences that actually forged for us our identities as black women…She represented us and gained status in both black and white communities as one of us, even though she could have worn her whiteness and talked to white people about their racism – something sorely needed in a town like Spokane.”

Luvvie blogged: “”Why couldn’t she just be a very vocal white ally? I am a firm believer that we need them, because racism is not a system that Black people can “fix.” It has been created, upheld and perpetuated by Rachel’s skin folks so white people HAVE to be a part of the solution. She could have been active in the NAACP as a white woman and took her place as an anti-racism white activist. She could actually use her white privilege to create space and elevate other people of color. Instead, she is playing the part of the people she purports to be fighting for, appropriating the culture in a role that is full of mimicry of hairstyles and repetition of theory, as well as a dollop of stereotypes to make it really authentic.”

And Jamila Lemieux wrote for Ebony: “We don’t say enough about how the racism of White women—who often escape scrutiny because the public face of racism is The White Man—harms people of color. We forget how the aggression of police when encountering Black bodies is often tied to the idea that these people present a danger to the fragility of White womanhood and how the word of a White woman will nearly almost always be believed over that of a Black man or Black woman (or a Black child, which is frightening, considering how many White women are teaching Black kids that they don’t necessarily value or believe in.)”

I’ve been teaching writing using hiphop for five years now. Yep, I’ve been a white woman the whole time. A Jewish white woman, cisgendered, with all the attendant privileges that entails. Unlike my colleagues of color who teach Black cultural products in class, I’m not subject to skeptical course evaluations that question my motives or lambast a supposed agenda (see this article [PDF], and there’s lots more on this phenomenon). And I do have a social justice agenda–one I have been free to pursue in the classroom with very, very little resistance from my white students.

Me reading a speech at a TGB rally last winter. Another member pointed out to me how easily I'd centered myself in the group's public image, even though I joined relatively late.

Me reading a speech at a TGB rally last winter. Another member pointed out to me how easily I’d centered myself in the group’s public image, even though I joined relatively late.

Despite thinking I was “doing the work” all these years, though, this past year was the first time I became enmeshed in a true activist community: THE General Body, an interracial group of students, faculty, and staff working for a broad array of united causes at Syracuse University. Doing activism in community with this truly diverse group–across age, race, ability, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, activism experience, university status–I was subject, regularly and rightly, to critique.

I’ve been thinking over the last few months of the metaphor of “thin ice” to describe the position of a white person doing justice work for and with Black people and people of color, and studying Black culture in the academy.  At first I was resentful of some folks’ suspicion of me, the intimations that I needed to prove I was really down for the cause, both through my words and my deeds. But I have come to respect, and expect, folks’ suspicion of me. And why not? Rachel Dolezal only reminds us how wack white folks can be. But even more saliently, I have come to recognize that my resentment at having to prove myself was itself a function of my learned privilege–the privilege of always having been given the benefit of the doubt. My whole life–and this goes on still–whenever I’ve interrupted some teacher, store clerk, public official–I am always given the benefit of the doubt.

It’s time for me to own that as a white woman in integrated, activist, pro-Black spaces, and a white academic engaging Black artists and authors in my scholarship, I am always–and ought to be–on thin ice. I am in danger of making a wrong step–centering myself and my feelings, expecting my privilege to still hold, acting condescending, saying something offensive or plain wrong–and getting called out for it, falling through the ice. And oo-wee does that cold water sting. It takes your breath away. It makes me want to thrash and lash out. But it is also informative, that icy water, if I can be still enough to feel it: still enough to feel how my very feelings have been conditioned by white supremacy, how I’ve learned that my hurt is more important than other people’s, how much power my fear has in this racist world.

Feeling that hurt and processing it, really listening to the critique I get, is how I learn how to act, speak, and be better, so I can focus on the work. I feel lucky there are people who love me enough to explain what I’m doing wrong–because, to quote SethTheSophist, “this ain’t the learning annex,” and they don’t owe me shit. But I’ve learned this year that it is worth the trouble to walk on thin ice. It is worth speaking carefully and, also carefully–and infrequently–soliciting critique. It is worth, sometimes, feeling cold.

Rachel Dolezal’s story is strange and uniquely 2015. But stories like this catch on because they resonate with us, for a diversity of reasons. In my case, she reminds me of the value and the hard work (as Tim Wise has also noted) of being a white social justice activist–hard work Rachel apparently attempted to avoid.

Kylie’s Kornrows

Just as Amandla Sternberg’s video comes out and gets high circulation (at least in my social media feeds) as not just an amazing piece of digital writing by a black teenage actress but also as some damn correct reporting…

…we get Kyle at Coachella…

  

…a festival for rich Angelenos (in a poverty-stricken rural valley) who often come bedecked in boho, native-appropriating fashion. 

from Buzzfeed, “16 things you definitely shouldnt wear to coachella”

It’s important to note the not only visual, but linguistic character of Kylie’s appropriation of blackness here. From her caption, “bad bitch” and “bad bitch alert” are both phrases from hiphop and black youth discourse, with their practices of semantic inversion.  And Khloe’s previous Instagram post is a Dubsmash dubbing of herself and kylie lip synching as black men say “I love you, bitch/ I ain’t never gonna stop lovin you, bitch.” I’ve noticed this site quickly gain popularity over the last week, and jokes already often seem to be based around lip synching to heavy ethnic or regional dialect. This kind of linguistic sampling is not so different from what in iggy azaleas case has been called “verbal blackface.” 

  

Anyway, have a great weekend!! 

Homely Genres and the Michael Brown Autopsy Report

first page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

first page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On Tuesday night, as I was checking my Twitter feed just before sleep, the autopsy report on Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown was released. How strange, to see this boy’s death described in the vague and also explicit detail of a bureaucratic, quasi-medical discourse. Someone had sat down and written this. I wondered who.

Now that I look at it again I see it was written by Wendell Payne, Medicological Investigator. Oddly, it does not seem to be dated, even though the first words of the prose narrative are “At 1330 hours.”

My immediate response was to screenshot each page, because, as Kanye once said, “They gonna take this off the internet real quick.”

The document contains a lot of information that we already knew, that Michael Brown lay in the street for hours while the crowds gathered, the panic rising—but here they are conveyed in the clear, firm language of the government:

There I was met by numerous officers of the St. Louis County Police Department and they directed my attention to the deceased who was located in the middle of the roadway with his head pointed west and his feet east….The deceased was lying in the prone position.

The deceased was cool to the touch. Rigor mortis was slightly felt in his extremities.

In the freshman composition class I teach we are researching “homely” genres, those genres people write in every day without even thinking about it as writing: e-mails, text messages, facebook posts, but also professional genres like case files, medical reports, and broadcast scripts, not to mention application forms and essays, tax forms, letters to contest parking tickets, and so forth.

What homely genres have you written in lately?

The term “homely” comes from Carolyn Miller’s seminal 1984 article “Genre as Social Action,” in which Miller consolidates previous rhetorical and discursive study of genre and lays the foundation for a given genre to be analyzed, beyond its language, format, or situation, “on the action it is used to accomplish.”

To consider as potential genres such homely discourse as the letter of recommendation, the user manual, the progress report, the ransom note, the lecture, and the white paper, as well as the euology the apologia, the inaugural, the public proceeding, and the sermon, is not to trivialize the study of genres; it is to take seriously the rhetoric in which we are immersed and the situations in which we find ourselves. (Miller)

After the release of the autopsy report that night, the tweets came out fast and furious. Was the report fabricated? Lying? Was the medical examiner biased?

These questions matter, but they won’t be answered by this report. But this report is important: very, very important. Miller writes that “as a recurrent, significant action, a genre embodies an aspect of cultural rationality.”

That is: this autopsy report tells us about the logics and movements of our culture. It gives a text, an example of a genre–that is, the medical autopsy report produced by a police force–what is natively labeled “Narrative Report of Investigation”–an artifact about which we can ask, “Who wrote you, and for what audience? How were you circulated? Who typed you, printed you, held you, e-mailed you, handed you off? Who leaked you? And, in your original function, what were you supposed to accomplish?”

When I read the report last night, I gasped. I covered my mouth. I was horrified. But that is not the report’s intention, because I am not its audience. This genre wants everything to seem normal–or at least, accounted for. And it is, accounted for, for the most part. The report describes how Michael Brown was arrayed in the street according to the compass rose, it describes what he was wearing and what he objects were near him, like his flip-flops, and it describes his nine (9) gunshot wounds, and his “abrasions.”

detail from Michael Brown autopsy report, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

detail from Michael Brown autopsy report, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Stamped below this description, in the bottom margin of the page, in red ink: NOT FOR SECONDARY RELEASE.

What is not known is how exactly Officer Wilson’s weapon discharged nine times into the dead man’s body, only that “during the struggle the Officers weapon was un-holstered. The weapon discharged during the struggle.” The report continues:

The deceased the ran down the roadway. Officer WILSON then began to chase the deceased. As he was giving chase to the deceased, the deceased turned around and ran towards Officer WILSON. Officer WILSON had his service weapon drawn, as the deceased began to run towards him, he discharged his service weapon several times.

As this is preliminary information it was not known in which order or how many time the officer fired his weapon during the confrontation.

Let’s pause with the language. Officer WILSON has a name, but Michael Brown does not. In this report, Michael Brown is a zombie, a “deceased” who can run away from a skirmish and then run back towards the officer who has already discharged his weapon at least once. He must be a zombie, this deceased, because what kind of person charges a police officer whose weapon is drawn and which weapon has already fired at least once, when they were tussling while the officer was still inside his squad car?

This is genre functioning, that tiny, crucial decision to call the dead person not by their name but by “the deceased.” A question for further research might be whether medical examiner reports of people who were not shot by police officers are also called “the deceased.”

last page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

last page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The last line of the report notes, “Any additional information will follow in the usual supplemental manner.”

The usual manner. This is the power of this genre: to usher its subject matter, that is the state-sanctioned murder of an unarmed teenage boy, into a file in a filing cabinet to which other documents can be added and consulted and called forth and held secret from the press and marked “Not for Secondary Release,” this stream of documentation and memo and language and mostly correct spelling and grammar and headers and signatures and case numbers that say everything is accounted for and is being handled and nothing is wrong in the universe where the correct papers have been filed.

Of course, everything is wrong. Everything is wrong! I can use all caps and expletives and images and links and embedded tweets all day long, but nothing in this blog post can make that report seem as abnormal as it makes itself, its own existence and the “preliminary information” it contains normal, filed, stamped, sealed, delivered, accounted for.

Last class I asked my students to read a blog post and then copied them my own homework by mistake, and none of them e-mailed me to say the link seemed weird. Only when I went into our discussion board and saw student after student comment how confusing it was, did I check the link and see I’d had them read about ancient greek rhetorician Aspasia of Miletus by accident, that the title was not the title on the syllabus or even on the link, let alone that the content was nonsensical in the context of our class. But words pass by our eyes and we are so used to them being there we don’t even ask what they are or why they’re there or who wrote them or what they are supposed to do, we just accept that this is the language that fills the homework and these are the papers in the Brown, Michael file.

These papers, this stream of memos, this is the stuff of colonial land treaties and apartheid laws and illegal wars and vast coverups of abuse: a series of memos pushed by paper pushers, filed by paper filers, read but not really read, injustice furthered again in that “genteel bureaucratic way” that injustice has of reinstantiating itself.

There is more to say, there always is, but this is a blog post, and blog posts are supposed to be short. Til soon.

Put Tupac on the SAT Exam

Tupac's handwritten poem "The Rose that Grew From Concrete," via cleeclothing.com

Tupac’s handwritten poem “The Rose that Grew From Concrete,” via cleeclothing.com

Imagine what would happen if Tupac’s “Changes” appeared on the SAT Reading exam:

  • Every high school in the country would scramble to start teaching its students to close-read rap songs
  • Rappers would suddenly be acknowledged as writers of poetry, whose lyrics contain the same poetic, narrative, and rhetorical devices–metaphor, irony, anaphora, character, apostrophe, setting, motifs, anecdote, allusion–as other canonized literary texts
  • The SAT would have to acknowledge dialect diversity, preface its “Complete these sentences correctly” section with “Using Standard English…,” and critical language awareness would suddenly appear in high school English curricula
  • Curriculum planners and students would see contemporary writing as worthy of study 

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iDialogues: on racism, the Clippers, and what to do now

[like you, I’ve been obsessively following this story for the last two days. what follows is a text message conversation I just had with a friend and major sports fan, supplemented with some of the texts we reference. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments. -TB]

Embedded image permalink

via @BuzzFeedNews: “Clippers Turn Warmups Inside Out Before Playoff Game After Owner’s Racism Controversy”

https://twitter.com/tessalaprofessa/status/460492328541511680 https://twitter.com/tessalaprofessa/status/460492482136924162 photo1

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