Monday, November 23, 2009

My last word on "Precious"

I saw the movie Precious in Chicago before it went into wide release and expressed my opinion of it at the time. However, since then more people have seen the movie and several have found it touching and inspiring. The movie wasn't as awful as I expected, but then my expectations were low. As I've read other comments about the movie, I realize that my response is informed by my 72 years of battling racism in the United States and having seen soooooo much that informs my perception of Precious. I've seen the film industry manipulate the general public about the life of African Americans in so many insidious ways that I could write a book about it, but Donald Bogle already has.

I didn't need to see a movie to remind me that some people live horrifying lives because I've seen similar lives up close and personal. At first I thought perhaps the movie might inspire those who are struggling in hopeless situations, but at the end of the movie, Precious is single, homeless, unemployed, HIV positive, and has two children, one of whom is disabled. I'm not sure what young woman would be inspired by that. To give Precious her due, she has learned to read. Unfortunately, I know too many folks who read quite well yet who continue to struggle mightily in this winner take all society that we live in.

The "Oscar buzz" about Precious reminds me of the fact that of the 300 or more Academy Awards passed out over the years, 11 black people have been winners. Initially the winning roles were a maid, a handy man, a slave, a dishonest psychic, and a waitress. Recently the field has been widened to include those other acceptable roles for blacks: musicians--Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, and athletics--Cuba Gooding, Morgan Freeman. Louis Gossett and Forrest Whittaker are the exceptions that prove the rule, winning awards as military men.

Did I leave anybody out? Oh, yeah, Denzel Washington, one of the finest actors ever, who literally channeled his characters in the roles of two powerful and noble black men--Malcolm X and Ruben "Hurricane" Carter. The Academy Awards didn't find those to be winning performances, however, but then Denzel played a crooked cop. "This is more like it!" Hollywood apparently thought. And he won best actor for that. In my heart, Hollywood has a long, long, loooong way to go to make up for that travesty. And Precious is NOT the first step on that road.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"This country was founded on free land and free labor." Vinita Ricks

I think I've figured out why so many people in the U.S. are upset by President Obama receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace. This country was founded by people who forcibly took the land from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Narraganset, Iroquois and others who had lived here for generations. Then they yanked people from their homes in Africa to do the hard work required to make the fortunes that built the institutions to carry forward their way of life.

And the power brokers in America still believe they should take whatever they want, wherever it is: the natural resources from other parts of the world--diamonds from Africa, oil from the Middle East, etc., and all the cash from American citizens. Now we have a country where that 1% has more wealth than the bottom 95% combined.

These people actually feel so entitled to bully the world that China's growth makes them nervous. It's a threat to their hegemony. And, that's why they are incensed at Obama's Nobel prize. He is offering an America to the world that is not a bully. They don't want that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

I seldom go to movie theaters anymore, preferring Netflix and my own comfy chair, but there are a few people for whom I will go out and Michael Moore is one of them. I saw his latest yesterday and found it so disturbing that I can't stop thinking about it. I've told everyone I know to be sure to see it. M. Moore documents things I had suspected, and reveals others I never would have imagined. The movie is in turns infuriating, provocative, anguished, inspiring, occasionally humorous, but always informative. Once again I was reminded that yes, many capitalists are inhumanely greedy, but I am more offended at the greed and corruption,with rare exceptions, of our elected officials. Why do we keep electing people to office whose primary goal is self-aggrandizement? We citizens have the power to turn these people out, or in some cases, to recall them as California did several years ago with Governor Gray Davis.

These words of the sixteenth (16th) century French essayist, Michel de Montaigne describes our current situation impeccably.

"Each individual one of us contributes to the corrupting of our time: some contribute treachery, others (since they are powerful) injustice, irreligion, tyranny, cupidity, cruelty: the weaker ones bring stupidity, vanity, and idleness...."

De Montaigne lived in a monarchy. One would think his statement would be inapplicable to a democracy, but it's a perfect fit. It fits because we citizens have abdicated our responsibilities to hold elected officials accountable to us. De facto, we are allowing a monarchy to flourish, except this time, it's royal corporations, rather than royal families.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I recently returned from a week in New York City at their Fringe Theater Festival. I was there specifically to watch my son's performances of The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour. It's a marvelous show that talks bluntly about America's tradition of racism and eschews euphemisms like "minority," "the N-word," "diversity," and the other circumventions we use to avoid honest discussions of our racial divisions. I hope this show will help get this country talking about this issue that we obviously hope will go away by being ignored, except for those few occasions that capture the media's attention.

Lately, despite the media's trumpeting the "post-racial society" because we elected a president of African descent, racism is, in fact, more open and vicious than it's been since the 1950s. I've often heard nostalgic longing for those "good old days." Apparently, we are now privileged to re-live those days, with higher prices this time around.

In addition to the widely covered New York Post cartoon, Oscar Grant and Professor Gates incidents, there is and has been a steady stream of equally heinous indications of the endemism of American racism. Here are a few examples:

The alarmingly disproportionate number of innocent blacks and Latinos who are incarcerated of which Texas is the leading perpetrator.

Brandon McClelland another black man dragged to death by white men in Paris, Texas.

The "Hidden Race War" in post-Katrina New Orleans.

U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins pining for a "great white hope."

Rush Limbaugh still flogging President Obama's place of birth.

Glenn Beck

Less vicious, but equally insidious are these examples from the genteel world of book publishing where the novel Liar by Justine Larbalestier, which has an African American protagonist used a white on the cover .

And the Canadian title The Book of Negroes, a novel by Lawrence Hill was "toned down" to Someone Knows My Name for the American market. The original title was taken from an historic document of the same name that listed the Negroes who were loyal to the British during America's Revolutionary War. The original Book of Negroes lists the names of these Loyalists as they were evacuated after the war.

I vividly recall that whenever Louis Farrakhan or any other black did anything that whites considered offensive, white leaders would call on black leaders to "condemn" the black person's behavior. During President Obama's campaign for the presidency, he was pressed to condemn his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and ultimately did so.

Where are the white leaders condemning their bad actors? Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and Jon Stewart do a magnificent job of calling them out, but I want to hear political leaders condemn these outrageous examples of blatent racism.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Random Thoughts

I just saw Man on Fire for the first time and loved it! Usually, I don't care for violent movies, but I found this one deeply satisfying to that dark side of me that likes revenge. Of course the fact that Denzel Washington was in practically every scene didn't hurt. He was at his Denzelian best as the cool, ruthless assassin.

Speaking of violence, the Philadelphia Eagles have signed Michael Vick, and PETA as well as many others are outraged. I certainly don't approve of Vick's treatment of his dogs, but I save my outrage for those many occasions when human beings are treated inhumanely. For example in cases of domestic violence when law enforcement officers, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court, refuse to enforce restraining orders against men who often wind up killing or maiming women and children. I am also outraged that this country's leaders in the previous administration tortured and abused "enemy combatants" as if they were dogs. Perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall witnessing the kind of public and media outcry about that as about Vick.

I've just finished reading a book entitled A Slave No More. It's the stories of two men who stopped accepting being enslaved during the Civil War, before President Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation. In reading once again about the dilemma Lincoln faced, it reminded me of the current situation with President Obama and his health care reform. Lincoln was caught between Southerners who didn't want blacks to be free, and Northerners who didn't care if they were free or not, so long as they didn't come up North. It recalls that old African American folk saying: "In the South they don't care how close you get so long as you don't get too high. In the North, they don't care how high you get, so long as you don't get too close."

Once again, the U.S. President is faced with making the best decision for the country in the face of an entrenched opposition whose interests are selfish. Justice prevailed in Lincoln's time, although he paid the ultimate price for that victory. And justice will prevail this time as well without Obama having to die for it. However, we must continue the fight because the opposition is just as determined to preserve their power and privilege today as the slaveholders were.

Without the Left and the Right, how would we know where the middle is?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

California Has Outsmarted Itself

In their fever to "get tough on crime," Californians passed stringent inhumane laws, including, "three strikes you're out." These laws left judges with little discretion, so that people committing third offenses, sometimes for crimes as innocuous as shoplifting were given life sentences.

At one point California had a prison system whose education and work programs were a model for the rest of the country. Now the state is suffering BIG TIME from the law of unintended consequences. The short-sighted law-and-order crowd didn't think about the fact that taxpayers have to feed, clothe and shelter each prisoner, no matter how inconsequential the infraction. California's prison system is not only presently bankrupting the state, but it's bankrupting the state's future. What kind of future can California have when less money is spent on education than on prisons? The prison population exploded from 20,000 in the 1980s to 167,000 currently.

Apparently, California has allowed/is allowing their corrections officers to call the shots for the legal system because of their political clout in the form of campaign donations. It seems that Californians have gotten the leadership they deserved and paid for.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I have just read an article in Time magazine about infant mortality in the U.S. Despite our preeminence as a technologically advanced world power, our infant mortality rate in 2005 was ranked #30 among industrialized nations, below Singapore, Japan, Germany, France, and Cuba, among others. The U.S. rate has dropped since 1960 when we were #12. Is it possible that this decline is in any way related to the escalation in the cost of health care? Incidentally, many of the countries with better infant mortality rates also have universal health care.

What was amazing about this article is that until recently the focus of the research into the causes of infant mortality had been on the babies rather than on the women giving birth. Considering that human babies grow inside the bodies of their mothers, it is astonishing that no one thought that the health of the mother would affect the health of their babies, and not just in the nine months prior to birth.

When the researchers tried a small experiment providing free health care to prospective mothers for two years prior to their pregnancies, they got impressive and positive results. Another perspective served up different and helpful results.

This same article reports that the infant mortality rate for blacks in the U.S. is more than twice the rate for whites and Hispanics, including the fact that "well-educated blacks have higher preterm-birth rates than poorly educated whites--some researchers think there could be greater stress among blacks at all social strata...."

No kidding!

Fortunately, as the researchers look at the problem from different perspectives, they are learning that, like most human issues, the causes are many and complex and not easily separated into neat social categories or sound bites. However, one thing is clear, you cannot expect to have healthy babies without healthy mothers, and that requires ongoing health care, not just during the period of pregnancy.

Friday, August 7, 2009

So, Who is Henry Louis Gates Anyway?

Like many of you, I had seen a couple of Gates' television specials, but otherwise knew nothing much about him. Ishmael Reed, a west coast scholar and writer of some note himself, has more information on Gates that I believe is worth sharing. Apparently, that arrest couldn't have happened to a better guy. It will be interesting to see how Gates puts this "teachable moment" to use, aside from helping Crowley's kids get into Harvard.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Some News is More Important

To quote Eric Alterman in The Nation, "we live in media world driven by cable idiots and Murdoch minions." And these "idiots" have been in an orgiastic frenzy regarding Henry Louis Gates' arrest. While some months earlier in Paris,Texas, a hate crime that killed another black man has been virtually ignored. I know the media are in thrall to anything that happens on the east coast, let alone something to do with Harvard University, but does that render everything else (and everyone else) meaningless and not worthy of coverage? Is the brutal killing of Brandon McClelland, a black man without credentials not worth mentioning?

At the same time that the media was frothing at the mouth about whether or not a Cambridge policeman was guilty of racial profiling, the two white men, for whom forensic evidence indicated guilt in the murder of McClelland, were set free. This did not set well with blacks in Paris, Texas. Members of the Nation of Islam and the new Black Panthers protested this miscarriage of justice and were opposed by the local KKK and Nazis. However, this was not newsworthy in the mainstream media.

I predict that more such hate crimes will occur as unemployment continues to rise and prices continue to inflate. Angry, disappointed whites, who are already pissed off because we have a black president, and encouraged by the "Murdoch minions," will vent their frustrations on blacks as has been their custom in this country. I hope the mainstream media will bring attention to these signs of unrest before they become a national conflagration.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Iranian Election

What short memories we have, or is it that protested elections in the U.S. are somehow different than such protests elsewhere? Remember our 2000 presidential election? It was disputed and people took to the streets to vociferously express their disagreement with what many still consider a rigged outcome. Did we call on the leaders of other democratic countries to express their opinions of our electoral process? And when they did weigh in on our messy election, we paid no attention at all to what they had to say.

Here in the U.S. we have become so full of ourselves that we feel obligated to tell other countries (particularly non European countries) how we feel about what they do. Many politicians and elected officials are vigorously urging President Obama to be more forcefully involved in Iran's disputed election. So far the president has correctly preferred a muted response. I hope he continues to emphasize that this is a matter strictly for the Iranians. It is not our concern. Haven't we learned anything from our precipitous invasion of Iraq? Obviously, our new president has, but congress is apparently a slow learner.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New York Post Cowardice

I am not surprised that the New York Post failed to be aware that their cartoon of two policemen shooting a chimp is racist. It is yet another example of what Malcolm Gladwell referred to in Blink, that "people are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant."

Running this cartoon in a newspaper sold to the general public, then denying its racial connotations indicates that the Post editors have completely internalized this society's racist traditions. They don't even know how racist they are.

New York Post, now that your racism has been pointed out, don't be cowards. Have the courage to apologize.