Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama, Friend or Foe?

President Obama has been getting his share of criticism lately. And it isn't just coming from Fox News or the crazies who are still searching for his Kenyan birth certificate. Much of the criticism has been coming from his supporters.

The gay community and its allies are furious about the recent brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Particularly infuriating was the inference that gay marriage equates with incest.

Those of us who think that torture should be fully investigated are upset about Obama's unwillingness to pursue the matter. The u-turn he took regarding the release of torture photographs was frustrating to say the least.

Some of the reaction has been nasty. I've seen "f-you Obama" posts. I've read a litany of articles on how the gay community needs to dump Obama and the democrats. One writer even went so far as to wax nostalgic for the Bush administration - at least we knew they were going to screw us.

Then there are Obama's unwavering defenders. When Bill Maher criticized Obama for not pushing hard enough for health care and cutting carbon emissions, he received a barrage of calls from Obama supporters.

In response, Bill Maher said "He's your president, not your boyfriend."

Which reminded me of the part in Sexaholix, where John Leguizamo talks about falling in love with his girlfriend. He fell in love with her because she "calls me on my bullshit, but is sweet about it."

Real support means calling people on their bullshit, not blindly supporting every stupid thing they do.

More importantly, we don't need to chose friend or foe. It doesn't make you a foe if you criticize the president. It doesn't make you a friend if you don't. In fact, Obama needs us to be vocal and pushy. The people who don't want to see his promises fulfilled certainly will be.

We have a tendency to be unhappy with one action and extrapolate that to mean that the person is bad or failing or selling out. Life is not that simple. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out:

In general, how much one criticizes Obama is largely a function of the areas on which one tends to focus. If I had spent the week writing about Iran, I would be largely defending -- and praising -- Obama's very wise restraint, even in the face of bipartisan political pressure, when it comes to interfering in Iran's internal political disputes. His private and public refusal to cheer on all of Israel's policies is also commendable. Conversely, those who focus on gay issues have been understandably furious with the administration, and in the areas of civil liberties, secrecy, and his Justice Department generally, the administration has been nothing short of abysmal.
Finally, I'd like to respond to those people who are unhappy with some of Obama's actions, but feel we haven't given him a chance and so should keep quiet. Or maybe they think he needs to spend his political capital on health care and so can't waste it on prosecuting torturers or following through on promises to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. Or maybe they are just afraid he won't get reelected if he pisses off too many homophobes and torture supporters.

I might accept that criticism was coming too soon if it was simply a matter of not proactively following through on certain promises he made. But this is much more than that. He is actually defending the very policies he claims to be against, from the Defense of Marriage Act to indefinite detention of "suspected" terrorists.

It is not just our right, but our responsibility to point out the hypocrisy and failures of the Obama administration. That doesn't mean we are being too hard on him. It means we believe he can (and should) be who he said he was.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Significance of 'Blood Relations'

I was listening to a podcast a bit ago when one of the guests said something about her "blood," meaning her family. Every time I hear people talk about their family or ethnic group as their blood, it makes me cringe.

As someone who was adopted, I can tell you unequivocally that blood does not mean a thing. There are plenty of biological parents out there who have not done anything for their children. There are plenty of lovers out there whose bond is stronger than the bonds they have with their biological family, whether they had lifelong relationships with that family or not.

And truly, it's a bit insensitive to speak in terms that make the relationship between this country's 1.6 million adopted children and their parents seem less connected and less real.

Another thing I find truly offensive about talk of "blood" is where the talk stems from. Using the word blood to refer to relationships started in the middle ages. Talk of blood was talk of inheritance, aristocracy, and hereditary privilege.

As Benedict Anderson points out in Imagined Communities, Europeans believed that a persons stature in life was related to their blood. They brought these ideas of aristocracy and supremacy to all the lands they colonized.

European ideas about blood continue to saturate the minds of people in this country. Many people still believe in the one-drop rule, the blood of an African being so powerful that the tiniest amount makes them black (and inferior).

And talk of blood to denote family is a culturally centric notion of family. Many cultures have defined family as only those connected through the mother. Some trace lineage by the father. In some groups, children belong to everyone.

I know there are people whose only close relationships are biologically related to them. So I can understand how they might believe biology is the source of that bond. But it would be nice if people took a step back and thought about what they are really saying.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Submissive Education

In one of Maggie Anderson's interviews about the Empowerment Experiment (her effort to buy from black owned businesses for a year), she talks about how hard it is to find black owned businesses. She felt that, black people having been in this country for so long, it shouldn't be so hard to find black entrepreneurs.

Which got me thinking. Maybe it is in part because of being from this country that African Americans entrepreneurs are harder to find. Is our education and socialization system creating workers that obey rather than entrepreneurs that innovate?

When I was a kid, my father had a little office supply business. He used to leave the house every morning to go out and "make" a living. Today, you only hear people talk in terms of "earning" a living.

Education, as William Astore wrote in his article Selling Education, Manufacturing Technocrats, Torturing Souls: The Tyranny of Being Practical, has become about "a better job, higher salary, more marketable skills, and more impressive credentials."

Note the focus on others opinions. Focusing on "marketable skills" means finding out what some employer wants and then learning it. (Convenient for them as they no longer have to provide training before they start making money off of you.) "Impressive credentials" means focusing on looking good to the powers that be, rather than contributing something useful to society.

Interestingly, immigrants are 30% more likely to start a business. Perhaps the type of people who immigrate are naturally more comfortable with risk. Maybe they can't find good work elsewhere. Or maybe, some of these immigrants have not been trained to be compliant workers by our educational system.

Just a thought.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, June 12, 2009

Jewish Racism and the Perils of Assimilation

Some time ago, a friend of mine told me about an interview she listened to where a Muslim American was talking about integrating into U.S. society. He said that Jews were a model of how a group can overcome the prejudices against them and integrate.

My friend thought it was interesting given the animosity between Jews and Muslims. I thought it was interesting because I don't believe Jews necessarily represent a model of integration that new immigrants should follow.

I thought about that interview after I watched Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal's appalling video of white supremacist American Jews in Jerusalem. (Warning: This video is offensive in the extreme and not work safe.)

I was shocked when I watched the video, not because I deceived myself into thinking there were no racist Jews. I've certainly met some. I was shocked because the young adults in the video so willingly and brazenly adopted the stereotypes, language, and threats of white supremacists (with the ubiquitous appropriated blackness of American youth to boot).

Had I exhibited this KKK-like behavior, my father would have kicked my ass. It isn't so much because he thought racism was wrong (although he did). It would have been more because of his sense of self. I don't believe he thought of himself as white, at least not completely. Most Jews of his era didn't.

He was born in 1929. He was 29 when the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple was bombed by white separatists. He was 35 when Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were found dead. He may not have been marching with Martin Luther King or identifying with the people who did, but he certainly wasn't identifying with white supremacists either.

So what happened?

The people in that video clearly spent much of their lives in the United States, Somewhere along the way they became white. They embraced the worst aspects of the United States - the racism, the hatred, the violence.

The video was posted on many websites. Granted, many of the websites were focused on Israeli issues, but these kids clearly had many years in the states. People commented on what the video meant about Israel. Almost nobody commented on what the video meant about the United States.

One commenter on the Atlantic did get to the heart of the matter:

This is not really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is about American bigotry, for us Americans to think about and deal with. While these Jews too often move to Israel and contribute to the problems there, it's a fundamentally American problem that needs to be thought about and dealt with by Americans. What about America is making this happen? How is the rubric of classic American racism changing? How do we deal with it differently? What does it mean when a historically marginalized group produces bigots who migrate to the right wing?"
What it means is, they assimilated.

This week a violent anti-semitic and racist walked into the Washington DC holocaust museum and killed an African American security guard. Does anyone believe the shooter cared whether or not he was shooting a Jew or a black person?

So sadly ironic for that act of terrorism to happen the same week as this video of white supremacist Jews shows up on the internet. So sadly ironic for that act of terrorism to happen the same week as responses to that video like this one from 50 cent's website:
where were good all days when hitler ruled the world all theses pig jews should b dead now
That is assimilation we do not need.

Another thing we do not need is low expectations. So many of the comments to the video were along the lines of "that's how drunk kids act" or some such bullshit.


That's how thoughtless, heartless, little monsters act. And if they are old enough to be out at a bar drinking, they are old enough for us to stop calling them kids and start expecting them to act right.

We don't need immigrants to assimilate. We don't need more Americans to identify with the worst aspects of the dominant culture. And we don't need such low expectations for ourselves that we blow these things off. We need immigrants (and native born) to challenge the dominant culture. We need people who challenge the hierarchy, racism, classism, and violence.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

White People Lose it Over Buy Black Experiment

One of the people I follow on twitter linked to this story with the comment that it was racist. The article is about an African American couple in Chicago (John and Maggie Anderson) who have decided to only buy from black owned businesses for one year. It's called the Empowerment Experiment and WOW do some white people have their panties in a bunch over it.

A typical comment goes something like this - If a white person said they were going to buy only from white owned businesses, then it would be racist. So the other way around is racist too.


Newsflash. Most white people do only buy from white owned businesses. In fact, a whole lot of non-white people buy from only white owned businesses. In fact, even the woman who started the buy black experiment, who lives in a predominantly white suburb, said in her NPR interview "none of my money went to black businesses last year."

I lived in Santa Cruz, California for six years. Santa Cruz residents have a very strong preference for supporting locally owned businesses and keeping money in the Santa Cruz community. Santa Cruz is 90% white.

The number of black owned businesses is so small that the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't even put down a percentage. It just says "S: Suppressed; does not meet publication standards." Hispanic owned firms also get the big "Suppressed." In other words, those "Buy Local" bumper stickers around town may as well say "Buy White."

Does that mean I think people in Santa Cruz are wrong to support local businesses? No. Because, like the couple that decided to buy only from black owned businesses for a year, the intent is to spend money in a way that supports a more just world.

Does that mean there should be no discussion about those kinds of choices? No, because the local store may be owned by the grand puba of the KKK. And a black entrepreneur could be selling products made in a sweatshop.

But those are thoughtful discussions that reasonable people ought to be having. Instead, what we get are comments like this gem over on the Famuan:

Hey bmc if you told 10 white people about this stupid ebony experiment, 10 out of 10 would boycott anything black. weather be shoes of shaq, or golf clubs of tiger, stupid music of kanye. And obviously because of your childish fatherless culture way of thinking your missing the point, by the way because of this story I have boycotted anything black, Look the black community needs to stop acting like thoughtless neanderthals, stop acting childish and at least pretend you have a daddy, As someone has said made a very great valid point.. get off this Hip Hop prison jail metality culture, dont cry about what white people say, and change your so called black communitys flaws
I know I've been around too long to be surprised at this kind of shit, but I can't help it. You'd think people would at least have the sense to be ashamed of their ignorance.

The irony is that addressing what the Anderson's see as a flaw in the black community is exactly what they are trying to do with the Ebony Experiment. As well-off black people who "made it" and left their blighted inner-city neighborhoods behind, they felt they were part of the problem. Their experiment is about seeing if, by spending their money in the black community, they can help those struggling black communities.

They aren't advocating that every black person buy only from black people. In fact, they repeatedly call their commitment "extreme." Their extreme measure is meant, not only to start a conversation, but to collect real data that shows how individuals can make a difference by changing their spending habits

One commenter on the Wall Street Journal said
Right now I buy based on convienence and price. I know nothing of the owner and nor do I really want to concern myself with this issue of his color his politics or his lifestyle.
That's the real problem. If we all just buy based on convenience and price then we support some truly heinous things, all in the name of saving a few minutes or a few bucks. What if that cheap thing was made by children or slaves? What if the company who grew your bananas poisoned its workers? What if that Coca Cola you love so much is only cheap because goons beat labor organizers to death?

What if our not paying attention to who we buy from ensures a large portion of Americans remain in perpetual poverty?

Add to Technorati Favorites