105,746

Apart from having to hide in the bunker this evening, how convenient for you, Bronx Colors user, that the media has been under fire for two days and unable to hold you accountable.

How convenient for you the media and public have changed the subject to this country’s original sin, racism.

So convenient it’s almost as if the distraction was organized.

So convenient the riot gear purchased by the feds earlier this year may have found a good use, depending on how it was distributed when received.*

What a pity personal protection equipment for the entire American health care system hadn’t been ordered at the same time the riot gear was purchased. We’ll chalk that up to another one of your gross failings.

The dust will eventually settle on the streets, the tear gas will drift away, the arrested will pay bail and head home.

And the subject will return to your gross failings because they continue to mount every day. We’ll grant you that much: your malignant neglect of your role as president to protect and defend the Constitution and the people who live within its reach is greater than that of any American president in history and grows apace.

COVID-19 US death toll, June 1. 2020 800h ET
You owe this many Americans and their surviving family and friends an apology, at a minimum, for having failed so wretchedly handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all of these deaths could have been avoided had you gotten off your ass and done what was needed in January after China and WHO announced the risk of pandemic.

Being a malignant narcissist, though, I’m sure this will only make you feel like a victim.

You’d be better off staying in your bunker, whether below the White House or on one of your goddamned golf courses. It would cost this country fewer lives if you spent the rest of your term at one of your resorts, tooling around in a taxpayer-rented golf cart, chasing a little white ball.

_________

* Links to purchase orders:

Order signed 23-MAR-2020, $25,963.10, for POLICE GEAR,DISPOSABLE CUFFS, GAS MASKS, BALLISTIC HELMETS, RIOT GLOVES

https://beta.sam.gov/awards/89062523%2BAWARD?keywords=%09%2036C26220P0825%20&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1

Order signed 17-MAR-2020, $63,333.96, for POLICE PROTECTION EQUIPMENT FOR WASHINGTON D.C. VA POLICE IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 OUTBREAK.

https://beta.sam.gov/awards/89176706%2BAWARD?keywords=%09%2036C24520P0413%20&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1

NB: 105,773 — U.S. death toll from COVID-19, June 1, 2020 8:00 a.m. ET via Wikipedia’s COVID-19 pandemic data page.

In Dire Need of Creative Extremists

MLK Memorial on the national Mall
(h/t Mobilus In Mobili CC BY-SA 2.0)

While many would point to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial  in August 1963 as his most powerful, the words from King that most move me come from a letter written four months earlier, as he sat in the Birmingham jail. It was a letter written to local pastors, who expressed support for his cause but concern for the manner in which he came to Birmingham to protest. When looking back at historical letters, there are some that are products of their time that illuminate the events of that day, but which need footnotes and commentary to explain to contemporary readers.

King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is *not* one of those letters. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s all too clear, and speaks all too clearly even now.

In that letter, King identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the hoodwearing Klanners or the politically powerful White Citizens Council folks, but the white moderate. These are folks who

  • are more devoted to order than justice
  • prefer a negative peace – the absence of tension – to a positive peace – the presence of justice
  • constantly say they agree with your goals but not your direct methods for achieving them
  • feel no problem in setting a timetable for someone else’s freedom
  • live by the myth of time, constantly urging patience until things are more convenient

Anyone who has watched the news at any time over the last three years knows that this great stumbling block to freedom and justice, the Moderate, is an all-too-familiar presence, appearing in various guises. For example . . .

  • police officers who, as one African-American after another is beaten, abused, and killed by one of their colleagues, silently watch the attack as it unfolds, who refuse to intervene, who write up reports to cover for this conduct, and who by their silence and their words defend and justify assault and murder done under the color of law;
  • staffers at ICE facilities who, as children are separated from their parents, as people are crammed into unlivable facilities, as basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap are withheld, clock in and clock out without saying a word;
  • personal assistants, co-workers, and superiors who watch as victim after victim were abused by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, and untold others, and who said nothing;
  • Susan Collins, hand-wringer extraordinaire, who expresses her deep concerns about this rightwing nominee or that destructive proposed policy, and nevertheless puts her concerns aside time and time and time again to confirm the nominee or enact the proposal into law;
  • media figures who practice “he said/she said journalism,” who twist themselves into pretzels in order to maintain their “access” to inside sources, and who refuse to call a lie a lie in the name of “balance”;
  • corporate bean counters, who place such things as quarterly profits and shareholder value ahead of worker safety and well-being, ahead of environmental concerns, or ahead of community partnership, saying “we can’t afford to . . .” when what they really mean is “we choose not to spend in order to . . .”;
  • lawyers who provide legal cover to those who abuse, torture, and terrorize, and the second group of lawyers who “let bygones be bygones” in order to not have to deal with the actions of the first group;
  • bishops and religious leaders who privately chastise abusive priests and pastors, but who fail to hold them publicly accountable and seek justice, out of a concern to not cause a scandal that would bring the religious organization into disrepute; and
  • leaders of sports programs who value winning so much that they are willing to look the other way when coaches, trainers, and doctors abuse athletes.

The tools of the Moderate are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to The Team, and the explicit and implicit power of the hierarchy. The Moderate may not be at the top of the pyramid, but as long as the Moderate can kiss up and kick down, they think they will be OK. They’ll keep their powder dry, waiting for a better time to act. But all too often, the Moderate refuses to use what they’ve been saving for that rainy day, even when they are in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.

But there are signs of hope, and we’ve seen some of them as well over the last three years:

  • career government professionals – at the State Department like Marie Yovanovitch, at the Department of Defense like Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the Department of Health and Human Services like Dr. Richard Bright, at the Department of Justice like Brandon Van Graak, and others like them – who refused to worry about personal consequences to themselves and fudge the data, ignore the facts, shade the advice,  or stand silently by while others do so;
  • passers-by to acts of injustice, who not only document what is being done but who take action to hold perpetrators to account (NY dog walkers, represent!);
  • young voices like Greta Thunberg who refuse to go along to get along, who ask the tough questions of those in power, and who question the answers that mock the truth, and old voices like Elizabeth Warren who do the same; and
  • voices of political relative newcomers like Katie Porter, AOC, Stacy Abrams, who do not let their low spot on the political totem pole (or lack of a spot at all) keep them from speaking out for justice.

This past week, longtime AIDS activist Larry Kramer passed away. He founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to care for gays stricken with AIDS, while the government turned its eyes away from the problem. Later on, he founded ACT-UP, when he saw GMHC had become too domesticated and unwilling to rock the boat when the boat desperately needed rocking. He called out the gay community and he called out government officials, even those who were trying to help like Anthony Fauci, for not doing anywhere close to what was needed.

And in many respects, it worked. Maybe not as fast as it should have, or as well as Kramer would have liked, but it made a difference. From Kramer’s NY Times obituary:

The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”

“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.

In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.

Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Which brings me back to King’s letter and the title of this post:

. . . though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We’ve got plenty of extremists like Stephen Miller and the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. We’re in dire need of more creative extremists.

Which leaves me with one question: how will you be a creative extremist today?

All COVID-19 is Local, BBQ edition

Burnt Ends from LC’s BBQ in Kansas City
(photo by stu_spivak CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here in metro KC, our five county area that straddles the MO/KS border and the Missouri River did a relatively good job of shutting down, even in the face of state-level idiocy in both Topeka and Jefferson City. School buildings were closed, large gatherings were cancelled, and when the two states finally caught up and issued state-wide orders, it meant fairly little around here because metro KC had already done much of what was prescribed. It hasn’t all been easy, of course, but folks adjusted and life has gone on.

Now, though, things just got real.

From this morning’s featured story on the KC Star’s website (with emphasis added):

Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue lucked out with a hefty contract two months ago, securing 1,200 cases of brisket at a price of $2.45 per pound. As the pandemic began, meat prices actually dropped and the restaurant snagged another 400 cases at $1.75 per pound, said owner Jerry Rauschelbach.

He said those purchases mean Arthur Bryant’s will be set for the next several months. But they also show how fast the market has moved: brisket was selling for more than $6 per pound this week, he said.

At that price, menu prices would soar by the time the meat is trimmed, smoked and served.

“If I didn’t have brisket and I had to pay $6 a pound, I would take brisket and burnt ends off my menu,” he said. “There’s just no way I could consciously serve sandwiches at 20 bucks. There’s just no way.”

For the uninitiated, a brisket is a big slab of meat with two parts – the flat and the point. The point takes longer to cook properly, so the two parts are either split and cooked separately, or they are cooked together until the flat is done and then the point goes back into the pit. It has more connective tissue that needs longer time to break down, and when done right you get a dark “bark” on the surface of the meat and some of the most tender and flavorful deliciousness on the inside. They’re generally cut in cubes and served either on a plate or a sandwich and when done right, they are spectacular.

There’s a lot of folklore around BBQ and who invented different styles or cooking methods or what kind of sauce to use, and damn near every little thing about putting meat over a fire. The origin of selling burnt ends is not folklore or in doubt: they were invented at Arthur Bryant’s. The point of the brisket was seen for years as waste when you trimmed and cooked the brisket flat for sandwich slices, and the counterman at Bryant’s would cut the point in chunks and set it up on the counter for customers to nibble on while waiting to get to the front to order their food. (Note: Bryant’s has also been legendary for its lines.) Eventually they realized “Hey, we could sell this stuff!” and so they did. And then so did everyone else in town. [Time suck warning: that link goes to a 30 minute video that will introduce you not just to burnt ends, but to a good chuck of KC’s best BBQ joints as well.]

So I’ll say it again: things are getting real in KC when Arthur Bryant’s is even contemplating having to take burnt ends off the menu.

I do not want to dismiss what’s happening in hospitals and prisons and nursing homes. That’s as real as real gets. I know a lot of folks in a meatpacking town in southeast Kansas where a cluster of cases has emerged. Things got real there, really quickly, once that hit. What I am saying here is that KC takes its BBQ seriously — as seriously as the pope takes communion — and this nugget about Arthur Bryant’s BBQ is a very KC-specific cultural sign of just how deeply this pandemic is hitting. We can deal with closing our school buildings and postponing our April elections until June and even closing our church buildings, but burnt ends going off the menu of Arthur Bryant’s (even temporarily) would truly be a sign of the apocalypse.

But if BBQ is the way Kansas City identifies the the apocalypse, it’s also how KC identifies hope.

For several years, Jim White has been active in Operation BBQ Relief. which was founded in KC by a bunch of folks in the competition BBQ world. Over the last 9 years, OBR has expanded across the country, and their crews of volunteers have taken their cookers to areas hit by natural disasters, to feed both those hit by the disaster and the emergency workers who come in trying to deal with it. When I sent Jim, Marcy, Bmaz, and some others a link to the KC Star piece, Jim replied with a link to an April 8 press release about OBR and their newest project, Operation Restaurant Relief:

In addition to deploying their trademark effort of providing hot barbecue meals to those affected by natural disasters, Operation BBQ Relief launched a new program called Operation Restaurant Relief with great success last week in Kansas City.

The new initiative revives closed restaurants by utilizing their kitchens to provide free meals to those in need and those on the front lines. As part of the effort, the restaurants will rehire laid off workers to comply with the program and receive a stipend for their participation from Operation BBQ Relief.

Jim could tell you a lot more about OBR, but he’s got a very important matter to attend to at the moment* so unless/until he shows up in the comments, let me direct you to their website at the link above. He did share with me his impression that OBR is doing “pretty amazing work for a group that is populated with folks who lean to the more conservative side of things – sometimes very conservative. They are slowly learning empathy.” This sounded familiar, and sure enough, Jim wrote in more depth about this kind of empathy after he worked on a OBR mission in Wilmington, NC.

That’s another thing about BBQ. Here in KC, despite having a long and ugly history when it comes to race, BBQ is one of those things that does better when it comes to crossing racial divides, in part because some of the most respected historic BBQ joints around here are African American. Even if someone’s favorite ‘cue doesn’t come from Bryant’s or Gates or LC’s, these places get a lot of respect. Arthur Bryant’s and the original location of the Gates chain are in areas of KC that a fair number of white folk would never dream of entering — but they’ll go there happily to get their BBQ fix if that’s their favorite.  Put it this way: BBQ lovers have very firm opinions about color and argue a lot about color, but they’re usually talking about the smoke ring when you cut the meat open or the overall doneness of what you’ve prepared, not the color of the cook’s skin or anyone else’s. And when people share a disaster response cooking line with folks who don’t look like themselves, it changes the way people see each other – that’s the empathy part.

Back in the day, I waited tables and washed dishes, so I know what restaurant life is like from the worker’s point of view. If you’ve got some money and are looking for a charity out there doing great COVID-19 work on the non-medical front, you could do a lot worse than Operation BBQ Relief and their restaurant relief program.

And if you’re a praying kind of person, you might pray that burnt ends do not disappear from the menu of Arthur Bryant’s.

Ever.

______

* Marcy, knowing what happens when BBQ lovers start talking BBQ, interrupted our email discussion before it could really get going, with the observation that this subject “would be a lovely post if any one of you had access to a blog.” Since I brought up the subject, I agreed I could write it up. Jim, for his part, begged off: “The BBQ site I hang out on is having a virtual cookoff. We had two weeks to submit an entry and I forgot to load up on interesting stuff to cook and submit. But we got a spaghetti squash in our CSA basket yesterday and I have some chicken breast and sweet peppers around. Gonna roast the squash and a bunch of veggies on the grill with the chicken and then make pasta sauce to go on it with the chicken.”

Jim may hold various heretical BBQ notions, but those words above comes from the heart of a true BBQ person. When your plans go awry (or you forget to follow them), you make do with what you’ve got — and that menu sounds delicious.

White Kids: Growing Up With Privilege In A Racially Divided America By Margaret Hagerman

The young people from Parkland who led the gun violence protests are shocking. Instead of piling up teddy bears and flowers and disappearing back into anonymity, they insist that something be done and if politicians can’t figure that out, they need to be replaced. Even more astonishingly, they reached out to other young people whose voices are just as powerful, but are not heard. For example, Emma Gonzalez came to Chicago to meet with Black and Brown kids who live under the misery of gun violence every day (the South Side for short).

The Parkland kids are from relatively affluent families. The teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School support their aspirations and hone their skills so that they are articulate and prepared to act. It is sickening that the kids from the South Side are unheard despite their own powerful voices and their best efforts. The Parkland kids recognize that disparity. How did it happen that the Parkland kids were both prepared and aware? Why are they heard when others aren’t?

Affluent white kids live in a different world from that of the poorer members of their age cohorts. They travel more, their houses are different, they have more and better things, their daily lives are different, and the expectations of their parents are different. One more thing: the kids they see every day are mostly white, and most of the parents of those kids are also affluent and white. This is the world that Margaret Hagerman studied for White Kids.

She starts by stating the obvious: our society is racialized. All social issues seem to be tied up with race, now more than ever as the right wing descends into Trumpian white nationalism expressed not only in our national politics but in our foreign policy. It has always been racialized. Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi is an excellent history of race in the US; I highly recommend it.

Hagerman identified three separate white and upper middle class neighborhoods in a Midwestern city which she calls Petersfield. She interviewed a number of families, ten closely, talking to the kids and their parents and siblings, sometimes separately and sometimes together. The kids in this ethnographic study are in middle school, mostly 10 to 13 years old. Their parents are professionals and middle to upper middle management level business people.

One community is largely conservative, one is left/liberal, and one center blue. All of the parents want to raise decent caring children, and importantly for this study, they absolutely don’t want their kids to be racists. They all want their kids to succeed academically and as adults to have the same kind of life they do; and they give the kids everything they think the kids need to achieve those goals. All of them appear to be good parents, involved in the daily lives of their children and on good terms with them.

She identifies three strategies the parents have adopted in socializing their kids, and gives us a picture of their thinking on race. The parents of the conservative community adopt a strategy of raising their kids to be color-blind, that is, they themselves believe, and want their kids to think, that racism is a thing of the past. They don’t discuss race, and when they do it’s in the context of equal opportunity. In the liberal community, the parents try to instill anti-racism in the kids, as well as awareness of their good fortune in having access to a life of privilege, and talk with their kids about what can be done. In the more centrist community, the parents talk about race and social status, and try to show their kids that race is a problem and that the kids have advantages over other children but there is more emphasis on the need to succeed academically and less on responsibility to in confront the problem.

Hagerman gives a detailed picture of those strategies in action. She reports on how the kids view race and their own privilege. The kids are bright and articulate, and forthright in explaining their views. The parents are equally forthcoming.

Several things seem especially relevant.

1. Hagerman makes it clear that the US race problem are institutional, and will not be solved by individuals. This raises questions about how change could come about which are beyond the scope of this book.

2. The color-blind strategy doesn’t work. If you teach kids that race isn’t an issue, that everyone is equal and has equal opportunities, you leave your kids poorly prepared to face the real world where there are utterly unfair racial differences. Hagerman sees a tendency among kids raised color-blind to attribute those differences to personal failings of the kids or their parents. That is certain to perpetuate the racialized structures of the US.

3. Hagerman emphasizes the agency of the kids. Their attitudes about race are informed by parents and teachers, their peer groups and siblings, and their own interactions with not-white kids. They work out solutions to the questions they have with each other, and privately. The agency of the kids is salient with some of the parents, not so much with others.

Hagerman generally approves of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of habitus, but places more importance on the agency of the kids than he does. The parents and teachers worked to instill a habitus in the kids, but there are many other people and events involved in the formation of that habitus. The Parkland kids and most of the kids in Hagerman’s study were taught from an early age to examine those lessons and encouraged to think about them for themselves. They aren’t blank slates. They are active participants in shaping their lives, even in middle school.

Hagerman says that the attitudes toward race present in middle school persist and strengthen as the kids get to high school, which seems to support Bourdieu’s assertion that habitus is learned at an early age.

If you substitute gun violence for race, you can see this in action after the Parkland murders. It seems to me, although of course I don’t know, that the Parkland kids thought that they had a responsibility to do something about gun violence. This was shocking to the right-wing pundits and their disciples. partly because they didn’t play their part in the repulsive NRA charade of grief but mostly because white kids aren’t supposed to be uppity. They are supposed to enjoy their privilege without regard to anyone else.

4. Bourdieu devoted his life to studying how the dominant class reproduces its dominance across generations so that everybody accepts it as natural and unthreatening. The Parkland kids and the kids in this study are likely to join the dominant class and are being socialized to do so. We don’t talk about domination in the US. But it seemed natural to most of us that the Parkland kids spoke out and were heard. It’s going to take so much more for the kids on the South Side to enter the dominant class, and on the whole, people seem comfortable ignoring them. The different treatment of these voices arises in large part from the structure of our racialized society.

This is an academic study, but every parent will benefit from thinking about the three strategies and the impact they have on children.

Who Taught Trump about Weaponized Migration?

Amid the ongoing family separation crisis, I want to look back at something that raised a few eyebrows among the more generalized nausea at Trump’s behavior at the G-7. The WSJ reported this comment Trump made to Shinzo Abe in the context of the horror it elicited from European leaders and along with a related comment he made to Emmanuel Macron.

At one point, Mr. Trump brought up migration as a big problem for Europe and then told Mr. Abe, “Shinzo, you don’t have this problem, but I can send you 25 million Mexicans and you’ll be out of office very soon,” according to the senior EU official who was in the room. A sense of irritation with Mr. Trump could be felt, “but everyone tried to be rational and calm,” the person said.

The EU official said at another point, in a discussion over Iran and terrorism, Mr. Trump verbally jabbed at Mr. Macron, “You must know about this, Emmanuel, because all the terrorists are in Paris,’” the senior official said.

What Trump is talking about when he suggests he could send 25 million Mexicans to Japan is weaponized migration, as envisioned here, the deliberate creation of migration influxes to take out a political leader. In spite of the salience of racism in our politics, it’s not a common concept here. But in Europe, where migration from a destabilized Northern Africa and Middle East poses (as I heard a few MEPs say just before the election in 2016) the single biggest threat to the EU project, it’s a very real concern. For some time, the political cost of her human rights approach to migration has been the key weakness Angela Merkel’s opponents exploit. And in the days since the G-7, the topic of migration has threatened, for the second time this year, to collapse Merkel’s governing coalition.

For some time, there have been signs that the migration from (especially) Syria had been weaponized in two ways: first, by the seeming release of waves of migration that in their intensity would overwhelm Europe’s ability to respond. And more importantly, by the inclusion of terrorists, including returning European Arabs, among the waves of migrations. Most notably, four of the men who attacked the Stade de France on November 13, 2015 came in with a wave of other migrants. While Europeans respond more rationally to terrorist attacks than Americans do, by tying this one to migration, it made the waves of migrants in Europe far more politically toxic than they would otherwise be.

And while it was clear that the migration from Libya and Syria was being orchestrated for maximum damage, at the time (and still) it wasn’t clear who was behind it. Turkey (as the host of many of the Syrian refugees), Saudi Arabia (which maximized the instability of Syria to support ousting Assad), and Syria itself were all possibilities. On February 25, 2016 testimony viewed as particularly inflammatory, then NATO Commander Phillip Breedlove placed the blame squarely on Russia and Syria.

To the South from the Levant through North Africa, Europe faces a complicated mix of mass migration spurred by state instability and state collapse.

And masking the movement of criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters. Within this mix, Daesh — ISIL or Daesh, as I called them, is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own with terrorist attacks. Its brutality is driving millions to flee from Syria and Iraq, creating an almost unprecedented humanitarian challenge.

Russia’s enter into the fight in Syria has wildly exacerbated the problem, changing the dynamic in the air and on the ground. Despite public pronounces (sic) to the contrary, Russia (inaudible) has done little to counter Daesh but a great deal to bolster the Assad regime and its allies. Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration from Syria. In an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.

Around the time Breedlove gave this testimony, GRU hackers would hack Breedlove as a key focus of the DC Leaks campaign that paralleled — but should in my opinion be considered a separate campaign from — the hack and leak of the DNC.

So Trump’s comment, while addressed to Abe, was instead intended for the benefit of Macron and, even more specifically, Merkel, and subsequent events have only borne out the salience of the comment.

I want to know who prepped the fantastically unprepared Trump to deliver this line. Trump knows virtually no policy well enough to deliver a zinger like this, and yet he knew how best to deliver a line to exploit the real vulnerabilities of all the European members of the G-7. And while, from the comments kicking off his campaign by inventing rapist immigrations from Mexico, Trump is perhaps at his best when he’s mobilizing racism, this comment had a more sophisticated vector than his usual bombast. Further, Trump public comments are, so often, just a regurgitation of the last person he engaged closely with. Which makes me acutely interested in who has both the access and the ability to direct his interests such that he managed this line.

There are certainly candidates in his orbit. Obviously, Stephen Miller is all too happy to politicize immigration. But in truth, it’s not clear (though the jury may still be out) that he’s any good at it. The Muslim ban has serially backfired (though we’ll see what SCOTUS says in a few hours), and unified centrists and even conservative supporters of America’s wonderful diversity against Trump in early days of his regime. The family separation policy, thus far, has provided Democrats an effective way to humanize Trump’s vicious policies, and the White House’s failure to manage the messaging of Miller’s hostage-taking has only made things worse. The other key policy effort to politicize immigration, Jeff Sessions’ focus on MS-13, has largely been a laughable dud, both because those who actually comment on the policy recognize that MS-13 is an American phenomenon, and because MS-13 has never done anything as spectacular as ISIS and Al Qaeda with which to generate visceral fear or even much press attention on the policy.

Steve Bannon, who has hob-nobbed with the European far right and is far more sophisticated than Miller, is another likely source for Trump’s remarkably sophisticated understanding of weaponized migration.

I think neither John Bolton nor John Kelly would be the culprit, the former because he’s a different kind of asshole than the racists Miller and Bannon, the latter because his racism has always lagged Trump’s and he seems to have lost much of the control he has over Trump in recent days. Mike Pompeo is also a racist, and a savvy one at that, but I’m not sure even he is cynical enough to prep this line from Trump.

Whoever it was, that line is not just horrifying on its face, but horrifying because whoever explained how weaponized migration works when wielded by competent actors seems to have privileged access to Trump right now.

Update: I first posted this at 8:27. At , Trump tweeted this:

Wilbur Ross Lets His Inner Trumpian George Wallace Bigot Freak Flag Fly

The real Mr. Magoo of the Trump Administration, Wilbur Ross, this morning went on a full court press, with the press, to promote the latest push from the Trump Administration. When did the US seek out pointed bigotry and otherism on the official census? 1950. Magoo Ross and his Commerce Department issued a racist manifesto:

“The reinstatement of a citizenship question will not decrease the response rate of residents who already decided not to respond. And no one provided evidence that there are residents who would respond accurately to a decennial census that did not contain a citizenship question but would not respond if it did (although many believed that such residents had to exist). While it is possible this belief is true, there is no information available to determine the number of people who would in fact not respond due to a citizenship question being added, and no one has identified any mechanism for making such a determination.”

Actually, that is exactly what it is going to do, and what will occur. Facts and intelligence no longer matter.

From Hansi Lo Wang at NPR:

“A lot of census watchers, former census bureau directors, other census experts have said that they are very, very concerned that there already is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, that already folks are very concerned about giving personal information to the federal government, that now if there is a citizenship question added as the Commerce Department is announcing that … a lot of immigrants, not only those who are undocumented, but anyone who maybe has ties to folks who are undocumented, may not want to … participate in the census and therefore they would not be counted, and that has direct impacts on how people are represented in this country.

“All census numbers are used to reapportion seats in Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, and also these numbers have an impact on how billions of dollars are distributed around the country … from the federal level all the way down to the local level of how school districts figure out how to divide up resources. So this could have a really big impact if immigrants are not participating in the census in 2020.”

And thank you Vanita Gupta, in the New York Times (also reinforced in an interview with MSNBC):

“Adding this question will result in a bad census — deeply flawed population data that will skew public and private sector decisions to ensure equal representation, allocate government resources and anticipate economic growth opportunities — for the next 10 years,” Vanita Gupta, the chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, said in a statement Monday night. “The stakes are too high to allow this. We urge Congress to overturn this error in judgment.”

Dianne Feinstein issued a, for once, spot on press release:

“An accurate count of everyone living in the United States is vital to our democracy. Adding a question designed to depress participation in certain communities is an assault on the foundations of this country.

“Given President Trump’s toxic rhetoric and aggressive policies toward immigrants, it’s clear his administration wants to include this question to discourage participation in immigrant communities. Individuals living in mixed-status households may be afraid to participate, fearing their responses would be used to target them or their families.

“This is particularly troubling in states like California with high immigrant populations. Without an accurate census, our state will lose federal funding for infrastructure, schools and social welfare programs we are rightly owed. Even more troubling, an undercount of our population could lead to California losing seats in Congress, disenfranchising millions of California voters.

“The administration’s claim that this question is needed to ‘permit more effective enforcement’ of the Voting Rights Act is simply not true. A citizenship question has not been included on the census since 1950, 15 years before the Voting Rights Act was passed. Instead, that data is already collected on the American Community Survey, a longer set of questions sent to more than 3.5 million American households every year.

“The census should not be a political football, used to depress responses from immigrant communities and target states like California. I’m committed to ensuring an accurate census in 2020 and will work with California’s leaders to have this citizenship question removed from the census.”

Yes. And it is a real issue. Not since George Wallace tried to block the schools from the minorities he hated, has there been such an immoral and unmitigated assault, for craven political purposes, as Trump and his merry band of bigot henchmen are putting forth now. It is the sickness that is killing America, not that which will make us great.

Can’t wait for the “Constitutional scholars” of the Federalist Society to weigh in with their full throated support of yet more rank Trump Administration bigotry and hatred. And some more “Liberal Media” stories about racist hicks in diners that support this revanchism. This is Trump’s America. And, yes, Vlad Putin must be chomping on popcorn and loving it.

We Have to Build the Future Out of the Past

(Drew Kadel points out an omission in this piece about the need for a strength of values in comments: 

“It’s important to own our own values, to know why we hold them and to have the character to hold those values in the face of opposition… you are discussing having integrity while loving people who do bad things… love (can) become sentimentalized and involve letting people off the hook (“Give him another chance”, “He’s really a good guy underneath, he doesn’t mean to always beat me”)… in loving those who violate our values, it’s important to know those values and keep them front and center. If empathy with self-pity becomes sympathy with self-pity we spiral down into moral vacuity.” Thank you for catching this, Drew!)

Science suggests to me this article may be doomed. This is because this article is about the best supported strategies for changing people’s minds, and I’m relying on facts, which studies show may be the least effective strategy.  But there’s little more I can do than give you this truth, and hope you can make it emotionally real for you. And that idea is this: we must give love to those whom the gods put in our paths. I am agnostic about who or what you call the gods. I am fundamental about love, and that love is truth.

Amongst my friends (and family) I’ve counted people who kill for money, drug dealers, criminals living on the run, fucked up teenagers, Ren faire runaways, alcoholics, rapists, alcoholic rapists, more people who kill for money (but also get praised for it), employees who routinely break monopoly law, homeless psychotics, an FBI agent, a whole troop of gutter punks, a couple of private investigators, several delinquent parents, sex addicts, a passel of sociopaths, people cheating on their spouses, and probably a bunch more ne’er-do-wells I can’t think of right now. And, of course, a lot of idiot hackers. Almost everyone I know enacts violence on the world. As Americans, we don’t even get a choice in that. The fact of our very lives is used as a justification for endless wars and global plunder. I have a friend who moved to Spain so that he could say at least his tax dollars didn’t go to fuel that violence, even if his existence still does — a choice few have the advantages or courage to make.

Most of my more reprehensible friends hide the things that make people hate them, but I have one who flaunts his worst qualities. I know him as weev. I know him from the hacker scene, and since being jailed and released he’s become famous for publicly embracing neo-nazi ideology. I talk about being friends with weev not because I’m proud of being friends with weev in particular, but because I believe I should model publicly the behaviors that I want others to take up, and this is one of them. I want other white people to be friends with the weevs, racist relatives, and bigoted co-workers in their lives. I want people to reach out to the abusive toxic men and senior executive vice presidents in their lives, because it’s the most scientifically sound way that we fight bad ideas. White people can fight white racism, men can fight toxic masculinity, we all can oppose the evil ideas that harm us. It doesn’t stop with race and gender. I want rapists to be confronted by their friends, and alcoholics to be held accountable by people who love them. I want sociopaths to find people who can be their moral compasses when they can’t build their own. Sometimes it means you can be that compass for a broken person. Doing that means you reduce the harm they do to others by standing in the way of people you care for.

At the moment it is popular to say that the only allowable engagement with poisonous thinking is intellectual: arguments and statistics, emotions restricted to admonition and demands for better behavior. But this approach is a failure, and we see that failure on every level. Study after study show that facts, statistics, and news reports only entrench people’s existing beliefs, whether those beliefs are in truth or lies.

The engagement that works is a combination of personal connection, empathy, reciprocity, and then, only then, high quality information. If it sounds like you’ve probably got to care about the person, invest in them, then you’re right, you do. That means you can’t do it with everyone on Facebook or Twitter. For me, my community is technology and science. That means it’s largely white, male, and full of hidden and overt racism and sexism. I have three choices: leave my community, ignore these faults in my community, or engage with the people who have these terrible false beliefs. Sometimes it means marshaling facts in passionate arguments, but over dinner and drinks, not verbal sparring in front of a soi-disant audience. Sometimes you do this for months or years. Sometimes it means letting someone see how much their beliefs hurt you. I’ve walked out of the room openly sobbing because of a friend who insisted on a racist stance. I’ve confessed to my own pain and humiliation as a woman while a crowd looked on. But mostly it’s not that dramatic, it just means being a thorn, always prickly about it, just bringing up that thing you’re not supposed to talk about. Sometimes when you fight with one person, another person who cares for you watches, and something in that second person’s soul begins to shift. Sometimes you don’t know for years and a friend buys you a coffee one day, and tells you that you changed their life.

Sometimes you’ll never get to know.

Healing communities takes practicing community. Just being difficult isn’t enough on its own, or Twitter would have fixed all our social ills years ago. When you start from the point of having things in common, and build on it by giving things to each other, even if it’s no more than a meal, it becomes much harder to talk about something like sexism or racism. That feeling is key, that feeling is what you’re looking for. When confrontation becomes difficult, awkward, and distressing, it means you’re invested. That’s the moment to bring it up, that’s when it’s going to matter the most. Being genuine in that moment, and confronting false beliefs, is so much harder than making an argument online or pointing at research on its own. You need to have those things in hand, but you also need to have skin in the game. That is how you kill the racism, without killing the racist. It’s how you take the toxic out of masculinity. This — and education — are the only things that work. Even if you wanted to solve the problem by killing the bad people, it doesn’t scale. That’s a blood-soaked fantasy world, and the world has soaked in enough blood already.

Shunning, like violence, often entrenches false beliefs. When we reject a person we’ve known, especially without any personal confrontation or explanation, it seems like betrayal. This only pushes that false belief farther into the world, where it can grow and do more harm.

What I have found is that listening, confrontation, and love are the most effective ways to fight the lies someone you care for is telling themselves.

The first part of facing another person’s false beliefs is to listen. Not quietly — actively. Ask questions, and stop them when you don’t understand and seek clarity. Be ready to hear anything, or the other person will hold back. Somewhere in their story of how they came to a poisonous perspective you will find out what scared them. That moment — or moments, is always there. There is always a toxic core of shame and fear. They’ll tell you where they got the belief, and why they feel they need it. Sometimes even that simple articulation can start to unwind that deadly core. Be honest with how you feel in the process, while remembering that this isn’t about your feelings. No matter what you hear, never lose sight of the person you’re with, their pain, and their potential to exceed it.

Don’t be afraid to connect their beliefs with consequences in their lives. Hateful beliefs very often come with shameful moments, but speaking that shame can take its power away, especially when you’re still there after you’ve talked about it. You’re still holding on, and that’s key. If you’re going to tell them their belief is wrong, be ready with the evidence, but also be ready to affirm them as worthy of love, and be ready to help them imagine other futures beyond what they could have hoped for at the beginning of the conversation.

This is very rarely a single conversation. These are threads to be woven into every conversation, and pushed on, but only rarely to the point of exhaustion or tears, as much for your own sake as theirs. Keep coming back, keep unwinding the shame, keep affirming the love. Be ready to have this process change you in ways you don’t expect.

People I have confronted have confronted me back with my own shame, my own failings, and my own fears. When I learned to listen, two great things happened: I got to confront and clarify my own thinking, and I got to show my friends an example of someone changing and growing because of our friendship. They’ve called me a hypocrite and been right. When I’ve faced that, and seen to my own pain and fear and shame, they’ve given me the chance to change for the better myself.

When you can face your bigoted friend, and thank them for calling you on your bigotry, they may not be that far behind you for long. The project of becoming better people is something we do in community.

None of this is comfortable, and it’s likely to make people angry. I know this not just because of the data, because it made me angry too. Examining my own false beliefs has never been particularly fun, be they about how relationships work, or race, or class, or my own family. But doing this, and the people who helped me do this, gave me a strength that is not fragile, a capacity to love and seek truth that carried me through hell and back.

St Augustine said, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” translated by Gandhi as: hate the sin and not the sinner. This beautiful phrase has been so often used as a put-down in recent years, but the sentiment it reflects saves worlds. When we’ve held false beliefs, succumbed to addictions, became sick in the mind and hated ourselves or others, the people who held us up did so by loving us and rejecting the lies we were clinging to, all at once.

In the case of my friend weev, I see a tragedy. I believe he is trying to strike out at the people who hurt him, but by propping up the same white supremacy that gave them their power in the first place. What he’s doing supports the very people who ordered violence on him, who took away his freedom, and tortured him. The same power structure that hurt him pays him a wage and gives him an attaboy now, as long as he keeps hurting people, just as he was hurt. The situation of his birth primed him to fall for a trick, and he did. He is falling for a con that’s been working in my country of birth for more than 400 years, and it hurts me to see it working again, still one person at a time, long after its original inventors are dead and dust. Torturing one group and then paying them to be guard labor over an even more tortured group is the first trick in the racism handbook.

It’s an effective lie, with its own life, and it’s hurting billions of people right now. But it is a lie. This false belief not only hurts the victims of racism, it hurts the people who hold the belief as well, robbing all of us of a future. It’s an angry and broken world that doesn’t realize there’s no point to the things we were taught to hate for. This idea keeps us fighting over scraps on a planet full of stunning abundance. I have sat with this thing all my life, and I have found it empty, hungry, and meaningless.

I have no need or desire to bring more hate and anger into this world. What’s more, I have science that can help me develop techniques to diminish the anger and hate that’s here now. Science, like all forms of truth, is a form of love.

We live for barely any time in the one tiny bit of the universe where we’ve found life. There’s no great other and opposite side in our fights, there’s only entropy, waiting to swallow everything we know back up into the chaos of the unaware and unfeeling universe. That we waste even a moment of our brief time hating each other is madness. But we do, and it’s a madness we have to deal with. Stop hating people, there’s no time for it, no possible rhyme or reason to it. Fight people’s false beliefs about the world, because they threaten not only to kill us, but also to make our extraordinary existence trivial and rob the meaning from our lives.

When we sit with our white supremacists and our addicts and abusers, we sit with our own flaws. If it weren’t so then they wouldn’t be any scarier than the open sky, or gravity, or a gun on the table, or getting old. The flaws that make us so angry are the ones that seem so close to eating us, an anger that feeds on us and turns us, like vampiracism for violence. We are not afraid of the other when we look at broken people, we are afraid of looking at ourselves and seeing the other, and then tearing ourselves apart.

Patriarchy, genders, whiteness and blackness were born as the abused children to first aristocracy, and then colonialism. They were set to fight for centuries. This is our legacy. My life, my existence and circumstance, is the product of genocide and rape, and most likely, so is yours. We all came from victims and aggressors, from slaves and slave masters going back thousands of years. Humans have been marking time in blood very possibly from the decline of all the other hominids. Now we have smart phones and social media and regularly look at ourselves from space. We watch movies about superhero powers and fractured families, and I think it’s no mistake. This is the myth of the truth of the moment — that we are powerful beyond our own understanding, and broken and angry within our dysfunctional family.

Proceed with truth and love.


My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon.

About Not Making Nice

[NB: Check the byline – this is a personal essay by me, Rayne.]

Not long ago my mother told me about an incident she found puzzling. She has an odd habit of telling me certain uncomfortable stories in a casual manner, sandwiched between other day-to-day topics; it may take some mental stuttering before I realize what it was she really told me.

Like the time she was talking about her shift in the emergency room and dropped in a passing remark that humans burnt to a crisp smell like chicken. She simply continued on, “Last night was so busy, there must have been a full moon…”

And of course I realized then as I picked my jaw up from off the floor that she needed to unload or run mad with PTSD. We share the horror she dumped on me but at least she was validated and she’s not alone with her burden.

This summer over lunch at a quaint little cafe she told me the refrigerator and stove in my parents’ Florida home needed to be replaced. My father went to the local Big Box Hardware Behemoth to replace them using the store’s credit card.

The store called her and asked her if she knew someone had the store card and was buying appliances with it. “Yes, my husband has the card,” she told the cashier. “How odd was that?” she asked me, before taking a bite from her salad and telling me about the new appliances.

Wait. Back the fuck up. I know my eyes must have bugged out of my head at this point. I asked her to repeat everything she said. My dad had a Big Box store credit card he opened to buy building supplies and appliances when they built their home a dozen years ago. He’s used it without problem up north. But now, in Florida this summer, he was told to wait until the cashier looked up his home’s hardline phone number and called the house to make sure he’s legit.

He had his fucking driver’s license and other forms of ID on him, mind you. And the cashier still called the house.

The nice white lady with the northern Midwest accent at the home number vouched for him.

The nice brown-skinned guy sporting a darker-than-usual tan because he’s been on the golf course a lot was cleared to buy appliances with his own goddamn credit card.

“Mom, that was discriminatory behavior. The cashier was racist. She just treated Dad like a second-class citizen,” I told her.

“No. Why would they do that?” She was in denial, but deep down she knew better or she would never have brought it up and slipped into our lunch chat like a rotten wedge of tomato eased onto the top of a salad.

The other person joining us for lunch gave me a side-eye and a nod. We both know my mom was both uncomfortable with what happened and yet unable to grasp the ramifications that her Asian-Pacific Islander husband, who looks like he could be Filipino or Latinx, was just treated like dirt while she wasn’t there with him to extend her invisible white privilege.

But that was just a single microaggression. There may be worse ahead.

After several reports that ICE has been randomly boarding public transportation and asking people for their identity papers, I’ve told my mother to make sure my dad carries his ID everywhere, all the time. I’ve told her to make sure her to make sure if he leaves the house he tells her where he’s headed and for how long, in case he suddenly disappears.

I can’t tell my father this. He’s a conservative, brainwashed into thinking this stuff only happens to other undeserving people, not a military veteran like him. This credit card thing was just a quirky one-off from his perspective. Never mind that the current occupant of the White House cast aspersions on the value of a birth certificate issued in Honolulu for more than a decade — which is the only kind of birth certificate my father has, born in what was then an American territory.

And never mind that ICE has picked up brown-skinned American citizens and detained them.

Mom struggled with my admonitions as much as she struggled with the idea of a racist cashier. She’s college educated, has multiple degrees in STEM fields, but she can’t see what’s in front of her, blinded by a lifetime of white privilege. She has to buffer it to accept it just the way she drops ugly things in the middle of the most innocuous conversations.

This summer my mother also dropped another nugget mid-chat; my kid brother was worried about the political environment especially because of his wife and kids. My brother is adopted, of AAPI heritage, and his spouse is of Latinx descent. They live in the Midwest near a large city, so they aren’t the only people of color in a sea of Caucasians. But they are still worried based on the little bit my mom wove into her download. Apparently my mom’s worried, too, even if she struggles to articulate what’s bothering her.

I’ve lived with the dull background noise of racism my whole life. I pass for white thanks to my mom’s StayPuft marshmallow-like genetics. My sister doesn’t pass, nor does my other brother by birth. My adopted brother definitely doesn’t pass. By passing I hear and see stuff my siblings don’t, the kind of racism white people have been reluctant to display openly but have no problem sharing when in a crowd they believe to be all white like them. This administration gave these closeted racists permission to come out and share their ugliness. They think they don’t have to spare anybody else’s feelings any more — literally, wearing t-shirts at Trump campaign rallies that read, “Fuck Your Feelings.”

With their newfound openness, I don’t need to take the time to make nice and get to know people who openly declare their belief I am not entitled to the same rights they have at best, and at worst lack the right to exist. I’m worried about family members, all Americans by birth, two of them military veterans, being detained and denied their rights simply because they are not white. I’m worried family members who are minors and in K-12 education are dealing with harassment which interferes with their learning.

Imagine how much worse this must be for African Americans. I have only just started to worry about my brother or father while their driving their car, only whether ICE will show up and nab one of them while they cut their grass, mistaking them for immigrants working as landscapers. African Americans have lived with this every day.

Making nice with racists to get inside their heads is a luxury some of us really can’t afford. Exit your denial; don’t mistake manners-as-survival-tactic for our acceptance of those who would rather see some of us dead.

Illiberal Hollywood: Kicked in its Pants by a Panther

[Graphic: Black Panther (2018) theatrical release poster, Walt Disney Studios distributor, Marvel Studios producer]

Though conservatives love to disparage the American entertainment industry as liberal, Hollywood’s business practices have been anything but. I’ve written before about its misogyny and sexism; it has only recently received the scrutiny it deserves, thanks to open protests by women actors and directors, and sadly the cascading revelations about sexual harassment and abuse.

Hollywood has likewise been racist; though minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S.’ population, minorities are poorly represented in front and behind the camera. As of 2013-14, only scripted broadcast television had seen any gains in diversity. Their numbers were stable or falling in nearly all other areas. In film alone, minorities were underrepresented by:

  • Nearly 3 to 1 among film leads
  • Nearly 3 to 1 among film directors
  • Nearly 5 to 1 among film writers

(source: UCLA Bunche Center’s 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report (pdf))

Which is why this week’s release of Disney/Marvel Studios’ live action superhero film, Black Panther, has received so much attention. The director (Ryan Coogler), screen writer (Joe Robert Cole), and leads (Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o) are all African American. This is a first for a film belonging to a major franchise (Marvel Studios), produced by a major studio, with a blockbuster-sized budget of $200 million. While there are a few roles played by white actors, they are small parts which exist to support the story — a complete inversion of racial representation typical across the majority of American films.

The film’s reception even before this week’s release was overwhelmingly ecstatic; many theaters sold out once online ticket sales were available. Reaction from viewers at advance press screenings were joyful, which sold even more tickets. Box office sales this weekend are expected to surpass the film’s budget.

Eager audience response offers a solid swat in the butt of Hollywood’s bigotry, which for too long has rejected scripts or denied minority-led/directed/written films adequate funding, saying, These films aren’t what audiences want. We’ve heard the same excuses about women-led/directed/written films, too, yet they often blow away expectations. Like Wonder Woman (female director and lead), which was the third highest grossing film last year at $412M; it would have placed higher except for the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (female lead) and long-awaited live action reboot of Beauty and the Beast (female lead).

Another refrain too often heard after a minority-led/directed/written film releases: This film exceeded expectations. Hollywood never sees this as a signal not that the film outperformed their forecasts but that audience demand is greater than films supplied. In other words, institutional racism thwarts normal free market response.

Black Panther has garnered some racist reactions, predictably from those who haven’t even seen the movie. DailyCaller’s EIC Ben Shapiro had one of the stupidest as well as most racist takes:

“‘Blade’ was not enough,” Shapiro quipped, referencing the 1998 film and subsequent two sequels that starred Wesley Snipes.

His rant lumped in Halle Berry’s appearance in Catwoman (2004) and Will Smith as lead in the Men in Black trilogy (1997, 2002, 2012), implying that African Americans should be content with what they have in film representation since they’ve been free for more than 200 years and assured their civil rights more than 50 years ago.

Never mind that his first example, Blade, though it featured Wesley Snipes as its lead was made in 1998 with a white director and writer and predominantly white cast. Ditto for the following two entries in the series, released in 2002 and 2004. Apparently black Americans shouldn’t expect to see a black lead in an action film more than once every couple of years — maybe once a year if they’re lucky.

If you’re white — and let’s face it, most of this site’s readers are — imagine a lifetime of rarely seeing anyone who looks like you in film, let alone TV. The idea that minorities, who make up such a large percentage of our population, should be satisfied with rarely ever seeing themselves in all manner of stories is repugnant. It’s both an economic and cultural apartheid. Or worse; it’s not a walling off but erasure of human beings.

It’s a pretty grotesque and deeply unaware stance coming from a guy with the family name Shapiro. It’s an insult to the writers who created Black Panther as a comic book character for Marvel — Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

There are better criticisms of the film, and they come from those who are much better informed. WaPo’s Karen Attiah interviews Kenyan journalist and broadcaster Larry Madowo on the subject of Black Panther’s fictional fantasy representation of African culture and the ‘messed up’ relationship between Africans and African Americans. Critic Leslie Lee III takes issue with Black Panther’s politics. Warning: Both critiques are spoilery, with Lee’s feedback much more so. However, these critiques are educational for a white audience unfamiliar with African culture let alone African American culture.

Based on casual feedback from creative community and fandom members alike, Black Panther may be the top grossing film this year — and in spite of its release in February, typically the slowest time in the release calendar. It may crack the all-time top 20 films for box office ticket sales.

But will this finally be enough to get through to Hollywood’s other major and minor studios that their expectations need to be reset, that minority-led/directed/written films are successful and deserve a more proportional share of the film market?

In case you’re thinking of seeing Black Panther soon, here’s a decent primer. about its place in the Marvel Studios’ Avengers mythology. I’m not going this week; I’m going a couple weeks from now to an early Monday matinee when I might have 50 percent of the theater to myself so I can take notes. I don’t expect the theater to be less than half full before then.

Living Without Shame is a Political Act

What we lost when we lost Fred Hampton

Every year on December 4th I tell people about what was done to the 21-year old revolutionary, Fred Hampton, by the government of America and his city of Chicago in 1969. But this year I wanted to talk about what Fred Hampton gave us before he was assassinated, and maybe what he could have given us if he’d lived.

The facts of the case are extensively stated elsewhere, and you can find them with ease. The simple version is this: Chicago police working with FBI went into the apartment he was in, and shot him repeatedly. They shot him until he was good and dead. But I don’t want to focus only on that, because it doesn’t do justice to Fred Hampton or what he was part of.

Hampton was a charismatic leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. The Black Panthers are a tough subject to this day, and there will most likely be people even in the comments of this article claiming that they were evil and violent and that their demise was justified. There’s a lot of reasons the greater portion of America would have hated and feared the BPP, and still does. The Black Panthers were communists at a time when communism was practically synonymous with Satanism in America. They were black liberationists at a time when much of white America was still freshly wounded by the loss of Jim Crow segregation. They refused to lay down tools of violence, originally constituting themselves as a party of self-defense particularly in areas where police brutality was killing black folk, and they frightened police with a promise that they’d shoot back.

But contrary to much of the narrative about them constructed in the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation against the BBP, the group wasn’t focused on violence. There were a few people unhinged, because there are always a few people unhinged. But on the whole the people who joined the BPP were utopian and revolutionary, and they spent more time, money, and energy building the society they wanted than shooting at the one that opposed them. They were politically astute and moral actors, setting up children’s breakfast programs and health clinics in cities across America. None more exemplified the hopeful and bright part of the Black Panthers than the brilliant Hampton, barely a grown man at the time. Think about what you were like at 20, and then think about a man without any advanced education, organizing in Chicago, coordinating aid, and uplifting people with speeches that would immortalize him and inspire generations.

Pretty good, right? He scared the living shit out of white people.

Whether Hoover and the other old guards of the white establishment were conscious of it or not, I believe the reason they hated the BPP so much, and Fred Hampton in particular, was that they refused to be ashamed. It was in everything Fred Hampton and many other panthers did. They didn’t dress in suits. They wore what they wanted to, groomed like they found themselves attractive as god made them. They spoke the English they used to communicate with each other, not the Ivy League dialect that helped make black activism easier to swallow for white folk. Their language was rich and evocative and brimmed with their emotions; a language that treated black people’s emotions as if they mattered. They celebrated themselves. Fred Hampton in particular thought so much of himself that he believed he had the right to be magnanimous to white people. He famously called for white power for white people, just one more category among many others, and invited us to be part of his vision for a socialist utopia.

He had no shame, he needed no shame. After hundreds of years of oppression he was happy to call all men his equals and companions, and afford to others the dignity he claimed for himself.

I don’t think it’s easy for most people to understand how much this would make powerful white people hate him. It is no mere repudiation of racism and capitalism. For people like Hoover, that old white establishment, it was an invalidation of reality, the order of things upended. It was worthy of any violence, any evil, to end that damned presumption, to put all the people back in their places. It was worth it to break all the laws and kill the motherfucker before he spoke another word to us, so that’s what they did. They took him away from the BPP, the black community, and the world. They tried to bury his name with him. They tried to bury his ideas and make them never matter, but in that, they failed.

Working in queer activism through the 90s, I started to understand the political mechanics of shame. As the co-president of my college’s LGBTSU, when the issue of what letters to add or subtract came up, I cut the conversation short by renaming our organization Pride. I wasn’t the first or only young queer activist to do this, the queer movement had learned the power of rejecting shame from black and feminist activism. Nothing about what was between our legs or what we did with our bodies was for you to judge. We rejected that judgement, and whether to talk about our bodies, our loves, and our sexy times, or not, became simply a personal choice.

I didn’t know about Fred Hampton, or the Black Panther Party, when I did that, but having learned my history, I don’t believe I would have had the tools to do it without them. I never became a communist or a socialist,and I don’t believe everything the BBP and Hampton did about the world. But I became a utopian, and I respect the heart it takes to be utopian. To act on being utopian makes you a revolutionary, and thus Hampton and the BPP were fated to live and die revolutionaries without their revolution. They paid terribly to give their ideas to the world. And none more than the brilliant, beautiful 21-year-old Hampton, assassinated in his sleep next to his pregnant partner, never to see his child in this world.

Every year I cry about that. Every damn year.

He’s good and dead now. I’m so sad that the old scared and twisted white men of power never let us hear him, see what he would have made. But we aren’t dead, and Hampton reaches across time to us through his speeches, through his particular utopianism, and charges us to speak our truths, without shame. To elevate each other in our endless varieties, without shame. To unashamedly fight for utopias and not settle for small lives. To believe without shame, to love without shame.


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