Archive for the ‘race matters’ Category

Toni Morrison: Bordered Off!

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

This post was previously at NJ Spoken Word and published on Saturday, January 08, 2005

I was in a New Jersey Borders Bookstore today searching for one of my favorite authors, Toni Morrison. book cover of 'Beloved,' by Toni Morrison, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993 I wanted to replace my copy of her book Sula. Couldn’t find the Nobel Prize Winner in the literature section. So I went to the information desk.

“I’m probably blind,” I said, “But I can’t seem to find Toni Morrison.”

“Toni Morrison? Oh she’d be in our African-American Literature section.”

“What!” My voice shot up a decibel. “Oh, so we’re all sectioned off now, huh? Okay, well, I guess that’s good. It shows how fantastically well the black book market is doing, but Toni Morrison!”

“Well, our African-American section is very popular,” said the young man.

I’m sure it is. But Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winning author, shoved off to a little section? I’m sure you have white readers running around wondering Where’s Toni Morrison? because they just don’t venture into your African-American section.”

By now the young man was nodding, probably thinking, Great, so I score the angry black woman today. However, I wasn’t glowering at him. I was nodding and smiling. You know that sort of deranged “I can’t believe this effin’ crap!” nod-and-smile.

So, Morrison’s finally broken free of always being called a great black author to being called simply a great American author only to find herself bordered-off, segregated again.

Of course, Morrison’s in good company in her section. I mean, some of our favorite authors are black, you know. Richard Wright and James Baldwin also share black space with her. I’m glad publishers finally understand that black people do read, and they are publishing our work. I’m glad that Borders has found black writers to be so lucrative that its marketing department has created a section just for black literature, and I’m sure the segregation makes locating black authors more convenient for readers. How shopper friendly! However, Toni Morrison is a great American writer. At the very least she should be in both sections, Literature and African-American literature.

Now that black authors are coming into their own in the book industry, I suppose the next hurdle will be integration…again. Or perhaps book stores and publishers will begin keeping track of black authors the same way the record industry does: “Hip Hop, R&B, and oh, the lucky bastards…Crossover.”

Tootles, y’all,

Link to Archived Comments

Do You Really Think Rush Limbaugh Does Conservatives Good?

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

This post is not a dead New Jersey blog post resurrected. It was written today, 3/07/09, in response to a conservative who’s been rattled by comments at BlogHer on a post about whether Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the GOP. It ran pretty long, and I accidentally hit the publish button when I’d meant to hit the preview button after deciding I would probably not publish the full comment at BlogHer, but still needed to get a response off my chest. It’s posted here in case anyone wanted to see what I had to say. Otherwise, I’m moving on to critical life chores.

From BlogHer Comments

What I’m about to say has nothing to do with whether Rush Limbaugh uses hate speech, whether he’s a racist or a homophobe. What I’m talking about now is motivation, and while you may have more to say about economics, I have more to say about people, perceptions, and the end goal of a communications strategy:

In my opinion, Rush is doing a service by pounding on this theme. He is an entertainer…and he is an educator. Whether or not he’s “taken the bait” offered by the administration is immaterial in my mind. If by taking the bait, he is expanding his audience base…then I say good.

I don’t know if you recall when Bill Bennett made the highly inflammatory statement that the crime rates would go down if we’d abort black babies, but if you don’t recall it, you can google it. Anyway, I wrote a post back then that is now offline but in it I asserted that Bennett, who claimed he was trying to bring pro-life issues to the forefront, was no friend of the pro-life movement if he kept talking like that.

Why? Because his statement did not cause anyone to focus on pro-life issues. It boosted attention on him his radio show for a while, and offered the opportunity for well-known hate groups to have a field day about killing off black babies, but that was that.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought Bennett had done a disservice to the pro-life movement. Many people in the pro-life movement were dismayed that he’d derailed the conversation for a while. Whatever reasoning Bennett gave for making the statement got lost and as a result there are some moderate people on the fence who may have listened to Bennett despite his being conservative who now think he lacks credibility.

When Louis Farrakhan made his comment about Hitler being wickedly great, do you think that helped his cause? I could tell you what he really meant, but does it matter? Furthermore, a narrow focus on that one statement, no matter how brilliantly someone explained what he really meant by it, can be quickly expanded to broader vision by his many other statements that sound hateful because they are.

Ironically, if you remove some of Farakhan’s bigoted, inflammatory rhetoric, he’d sound like a fiscal conservative and one that Rush Limbaugh would agree with when it comes to a view that black people should stop relying on the Federal Government for financial help:

Farrakhan preaches the virtues of personal responsibility, especially for black men, and advocates black self-sufficiency. Farrakhan’s message has appealed primarily to urban blacks and draws on a long history of black nationalists who have called for black self-reliance in the face of economic injustice and white racism. (Encarta)

Despite white fears that most black people follow Farrakhan, they don’t. If they did, the crime rate would be lower, black business would probably be thriving, and black people would probably ignore white people until there was a war over land or water right or something.

Farrakan’ s not a “black” leader. He’s a Nation of Islam leader, a religious leader who makes social commentary, but since most black people are not members of the Nation of Islam, he doesn’t have the kind of influence white people think he does. BTW, Nation of Islam and traditional Islam are not the same.

One major difference between Farrakhan and Limbaugh is motivation, however. When Farrakhan makes inflammatory statements, generally he’s not trying to boost ratings on a radio show nor is he trying to influence government policy, however, like many religious leaders he sometimes comments about government.

So, you have Farrakan, a man preaching that black people should separate themselves from white people economically and be self-reliant, and yet you don’t see a bunch of whites, not even conservatives, applauding his work. I doubt you’ll see Jewish people applauding his work. And you have many black people who used to find him credible who have stepped away. While they agree with him about self-reliance and even on some of the points he makes about the sins of America against black people, they’ve stepped away from the Farrakhan. Why do you think that is?

In addition, you’ll rarely hear other people who’ve been identified as black leaders quote Farrakhan or give him props on national radio or TV. They aren’t as hard on him as whites and so don’t shun him completely, but they’re doing nothing to promote him. And certainly, if one of them said something about him similar to what Michael Steele said about Rush Limbaugh, the one who said it wouldn’t have to go apologize. Why do you think that is?

I’ll tell you why. One, Farrakhan doesn’t have that kind of power. Two, people who want genuine dialogue about race, the economy, how we can work things through, know that they sabotage that dialogue by clinging to people who make divisive statements repeatedly. In addition, unlike what I see in Rush Limbaugh discussions, people who genuinely want to work things through will allow historical facts on the table that give leeway for people to express pain and anger regarding oppression, bu that’s another topic.

It’s been my experience that people tend to lose respect when they see anyone sabotaging a worthwhile goal for personal gain. Rush Limbaugh consistently sabotages genuine discussion because he’s found that inflammatory language rather than productive discourse earns him more money. So, we see his true allegiance. And yet conservative whites jump up and defend him constantly. I’m not talking about a few fringe people who also read KKK websites or some of the angriest people who lack education and resources defending him; I’m talking about powerful mainstream people who hold public office and ordinary, otherwise sensible, white people.

So, my point on Rush Limbaugh is that by taking the bait, actively participating in what he knew was a strawman tactic that would throw the GOP into further disarray and a tactic that is also clearly a disctraction, Limbaugh is not doing the conservative movement a favor. It’s not about keeping eyes on what’s going on in D.C. It’s about him. You think he’s pounding issues that will move you forward, but actually he’s quite crafty, keeping all eyes on Rush.

Case in point, what has this blog post forum become but a discusion about Rush Limbaugh?

It’s theater, smoke and mirrors, and he is complicit:

People keep saying let’s get back on topic. Oooh, look what they’re really doing in Washington and Obama’s administration set Rush up. If the Obama administration had a gun at Rush Limbaugh’s feet, shooting bullets to make him dance, that would indeed be a case of power slamming Rush. The truth is Rush likes the spotlight and Rush wants to dance even if his dancing and his showmanship hurts the Republican Party.

We can argue for the next four years about whether Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the conservative movement or the GOP and Republicans can keep up the talking points that he’s not because he’s not technically been elected to anything. The reality is Rush is leader because millions of conservatives follow him, defend him, and apologize to him.

They don’t want to give him up. Limbaugh to the Republicans is like the hot, seductive mistress that appeals to a man’s baser instincts and is helping to wreck his family but the man keeps going back because he likes the sex.

If anyone has a complaint that Rahm Emanuel and Obama set up Limbaugh and that they did it to take the public eye off what they’re really doing in Washington, then they should also have a complaint that Limbaugh’s played along.

Consider how differently the Steele-Limbaugh exchange would have gone if Rush had never said “I want Obama to fail,” a statement he made after knowing the Whitehouse was setting him up as the strawman, and if he had never blasted Steele for the “ugly entertainment” comment by telling Steele bascially to go back to the kitchen.

We know Emanuel’s and the Dems’ motivation for targeting Rush, and their communications strategy was easy to implement. Rush’s ego is huge and so it’s all been like shooting fish in the barrel.

The plan keeps eyes off how things are going in D.C. and has conservatives jumping up and down like specks on the sideline of the Rush parade saying “But we want to talk issues, we want to talk money.”

Limbaugh is an exceptional communicator and strategist. He knows that’s what’s going on. Why is he playing along and why do you think that’s okay?

Score: Obama administration=1, Rush Limbaugh=1, Conservative Movement=0

The colors of killers: More thoughts on the Virginia Tech crisis

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Originally posted at the dead blog, Confessions of a Jersey Goddess, Wednesday, April 18, 2007. May contain non-zombified links.

rainbowI was exhausted when I returned from covering a local election last night, but still surfing the web I saw this excellent post by Professor Kim Pearson at on covering tragedies like the Virginia Tech shooting. Both professional journalists and citizen journalists aka some bloggers should read it. (Link to post.)

The post is entitled “Covering tragedy: Emerging lessons from the Virginia Tech Killings.” One aspect of covering tragedy that Professor Kim discusses is when it’s appropriate to mention an alleged perpetrator’s race/ethnic background. She gives the following advice:

Be thoughtful about stereotypes. When the initial reporting identified the suspect as an “Asian male,” the Asian American Journalists Association felt compelled to remind journalists of the rule that race should only be included in a news story when it is clearly relevant …

I mentioned the reported ethnicity of the Virginia Tech shooter now identified as Cho Seung-Hui on the first day of this crisis in my blog. I mentioned it once from the standpoint that MSNBC reported the shooter was Asian and “experts” were already as early as 2:20 the same day discussing Asian males in western culture and again when I heard news reports that the shooter didn’t have ID and the police were trying to figure out which body was his body.

Both mentions are in the same post but the post is a rolling report with time stamps. Both times I mentioned ethnicity I questioned myself: Why tell this detail? I knew people would start trying to make a deal of the race of the shooter, and I also thought, Please let this young man be here legally; otherwise, folks are going to start getting nasty about illegal immigrants in the country.

Cho Seung-Hui was in this country legally. Reports say he moved to the United States from South Korea in 1992. However, does his nationality, ethnic background, or how he got here have any baring on his crime?

I remembered Bill O’Reilly and his shouting match with Geraldo Rivera after a drunk driving tragedy. As Rachel Sklar said in The Huffington Post, “the driver happened to be an illegal alien.” Rivera points out before the two start screaming at each other that the drunk driving tragedy is not an illegal alien story; it’s a drunk driving story.

Race: The American Obsesion

Almost immediately I saw hits to my blog from both America and countries in Asia. The surfers searched the string “Asian Virginia Tech” or “Asian shooter.” I figured the people were probably divided into four groups: (1.) those who were shocked that the shooter may have been of Asian descent, (2.) those who were Asian and felt a sense of shame that someone Asian may be connected to such horror, (3.) those who were checking out rumors or trying to verify information, and (4.) those who wanted to find a reason to villanize people of Asian descent.

When people try to make sense of tragedies and find reasons for wrongdoing, it seems some folks inevitably go for the most simplistic reasons and the most divisive too. Ethnicity of the perpetrator is an easy target to some people as they look for ways to explain horror, especially if the person who is looking for targets already leans toward racist explanations.

I also heard early that it was a “Chinese graduate student.” However, I tossed that out thinking what’s the likelihood anyone knows this soon the nationality of the shooter? They’re probably hearing this stuff from traumatized witnesses who aren’t sure yet of exactly what they saw.

It’s possible that I was more sensitive to this type of reporting because I remember being a little girl in New Orleans and how I felt every time a news reporter mentioned a crime and seemed to make a point of sharing that the alleged perpetrator was a black man. At a young age I noticed they didn’t tell you race at all if an alleged perpetrator was white.

Yet, I think the reason we have to be careful about reporting race and avoid mentioning ethnicity in crimes is not because it’s bad to give detailed descriptions that include ethnic background. Good writing in the traditional sense would say tell details when you have facts. We have to be careful with details like race/ethnicity because America suffers a type of insanity when it comes to race. Many still try to make sense of the world based on skin color and ethnicity.

I say America because I know America, but I believe this is a global problem. Consider this post that involves assigning blame in Great Britain. It seems all over the world people are keeping score about which ethnic group does what, ignoring other factors for why humans do what they do.

Race: The Pink Elephant in the Room

The Virginia Tech story reminded me of the first time a black male was the perpetrator in a mass shooting. People reported it not the way they usually report crimes committed by black people, like “Well, it’s a black man again.” They reported it like, “Oh my God! It’s a black man. I didn’t know black men did these kinds of things. I thought only white guys did that.”

Reporters didn’t come out and say it that way on the news with an air of obvious shock. Instead they pummeled experts with questions asking them to explain what it meant that a black man had done the deed rather than a middle-class white male, which had been the profile of spree killers for a years.

This brings me to profiling. Profiles for types of criminals often include race. In the case of the Baton Rouge serial killer police were accused of wasting valuable time finding the possible real killer partially because they based their investigation on a serial killer profile that such killers are intelligent but psychotic white males. They ended up arresting a black man.

There’s probably nothing wrong with considering the race of potential perpetrators when it comes to law enforcement trying to track down a certain type of crime. But when law enforcement and everyday people leap beyond that to being suspicious of all people of a certain race absent of other indicators like anti-social behavior, we place society at greater danger.

When we look at race rather than behavior we endanger ourselves because we overlook other critical clues that suggest a threat. I worked for a while at Newark International Airport and noticed a tall, well-dressed, blond-haired, blue-eyed man shooting video of baggage handlers putting bags on planes. I stood at my kiosk and observed him for a while and the thought crossed my mind, They keep telling us to report suspicious behavior. I bet nobody’s questioning what he’s doing because he doesn’t look like he’s of Arab descent. He’s a white guy. So, I went up to him smiling and asked, “What are you doing?”

He told me he was shooting video for a television station in his country. I listened to his accent and said, “Cool. Your accent? Icelandic?” He said he was from Norway and started to look uncomfortable. I said, “Oh, don’t worry about me. I work over there. I’m not with security. I’m in sales.” We talked a few minutes more and then I left. I went back to my kiosk and started scanning the corridor for security.

When I told two police officers about the man they said, “It’s not illegal to shoot video.” I said I know but shooting video of how the baggage handlers put luggage on the plane seems like something someone should check out. Then one of the officers said, “I wonder if anyone’s checked his press credentials. Show us.” I turned around and looked toward my kiosk then spotted the man with his camera quickly hauling his butt down the corridor. The officers took off after him.

I don’t know what happened and it was probably nothing. He could have been running for his flight. Nevertheless, a few days later Newark Airport was shut down for a while. Agents busted people involved in a weapons deal. The arrested were not of Arab descent. They were Europeans.

Disturbing behavior

virginia tech professor lucinda royDisturbing behavior should be our focus when we’re on the look out for crime. Not skin color or ethnicity. When we hear of horrible crimes like the one at Virginia Tech, we never hear anyone say of the shooter, “Oh, but he was so happy, helpful, laughing all the time.” We hear words like angry, loner, or withdrawn.

In the VT shooters case we hear words like “stalked women.” I wonder how long some people like the Virginia Tech shooter go with no one reaching out to them. In the case of the VT shooter, a professor, Lucinda Roy, the woman pictured in this section, did reach out to the young man, but her hands were tied to help him beyond her capabilities. More unsettling is the recent revelation that a judge had ruled Cho Seung-Hui mentally ill in 2005.

Yet even with this bit of information about mental illness we must be careful. Everyone with a mental illness is not dangerous. A mental illness could be a tendency toward light depression. Despite being associated with suicide, not all depressed people are suicidal or homicidal. Not all women who suffer bipolar disorder are attracted to young boys as some media coverage/talk show discussions suggested when child molester Debra Lafave blamed her sexual relationship with a teenage boy on mental illness.

Not all those who suffer from schizophrenia are violent. I mention schizophrenia because an expert on Oprah today said based on Cho Seung-Hui’s writings he may have had the type of break with reality indicative of some forms of schizophrenia. Notice I said “may have had” and “some.” I’ve noticed that people tend to overlook qualifiers so they can paint those unlike themselves with the broad brush of being dangerous.

If we want to be vigilant, we should look for symptoms not our misunderstanding about mental health diagnoses, and before we point fingers we should talk to a professional who knows about mental illness. Morra Aarons gives a list of red flag symptoms in her post about VT shootings and a possible domestic violence connection.

Danger: Humans crossing

I think that when it comes to crime and heinous acts we will eventually accept that ethnicity has nothing to do with our madness, that when it comes to acts of violence it’s the ugly side of our humanity that joins us: The human capacity for inhumanity to humans is the tie that binds us to deadly deeds. The human capacity for violence is the demon we must face together.

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