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cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics My people, it has been a while. Apparently a brotha cannot take a vacation without major ish going down! Jesse Jackson is crazy. Tony Snow is dead. Phil Gramm let slip McCain's true economic idiocy. And the New Yorker has generated more comments on Jack and Jill Politics than any other post. The first media request I got upon my return was to join fellow (black) comic Jordan Carlos (known for playing the role of Colbert's black friend and writing this Washington Post op ed about the lack of black comedy writers) on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show yesterday. I had been so cut off from media and cell phones that I missed the initial heat and played catch up late into the night reading over 300 comments here and articles elsewhere across the web. Here's the audio of our appearance. It's about 30 minutes, and former New Yorker cartoonist Art Spiegelman joined midway through. I have mixed feelings on the cover, but I basically come down in defense of it. You should listen to the entire show to hear the range of opinion, including my full explanation of my own, but here are the highlights. I don't believe the cartoonist or editors of the New Yorker are out to get the Obamas. Their intention, to satirize the conspiracy theories about the Obamas by combining all in one, seems clear to me even though it is not clear to all. We should, however, distinguish between what PowerLine might mean by the same image vs. The New Yorker. Satire does not have to be funny to be effective. Many criticisms I've read say "That didn't make me laugh." If you're looking for a "joke," this certainly isn't it. But if you're looking for a provocative piece of art that shines a light on something previously below the surface, this is that. Satire is hard and could always be clearer after the fact. Universal acceptance of any piece of art (and I'm sticking to "art" rather than "comedy" or "humor" intentionally) means the piece probably isn't saying much. I'm generally defensive of the artist, being one myself and having had my own satire royally misinterpreted. Years ago, I posted what I thought was an objectively funny piece about the Rapture over on dKos under the title "A Final Solution For The Religious Right." (the point was all the crazy right wing evangelicals getting beamed up by Jesus was a good thing cause they would leave us alone). Most people didn't get it and focused on the "final solution" in the headline and ripped me for making a joke "about the Holocaust." I later updated the headline to "A Final Solution For the Religious Right, But Not In A Holocaust-y Way." Similarly, the idea that this magazine cover could/should have been framed in a Karl Rovian thought bubble might have made it clearer to some, but the essential nature of the piece would be the same. I don't think this cover gives any addional "permission" to the Right. Much of the criticism focused on the hypothetical abuse of the image by the right wing. Given the poisoned environment around race and Obama's politics specifically, I understand this concern, but I would just say that I don't think Fox News needs any help from the New Yorker in the offensiveness department. We've talked about this before in terms of political positioning. The Right is going to attack Obama on patriotism regardless of how he votes or speaks or acts, so he might as well do the principled thing. So goes the argument. A similar logic applies here. Those who already believe every one of those images will see what they already believe. This cover doesn't turn new people against Obama, and the editors There is a challenge of knowing who the audience is. So much of the criticism I've read says "Well I get it, but they won't." I made this point in the show after Jordan said the New Yorker needs to "know its audience." That's a nice idea whose time has past. In the age of the Internet and low-analysis cable news, every public expression can reach every person nearly instantly. There is no "audience" because the audience is everyone. Dave Chappelle found this out when he saw some white people laughing at black people through his show rather than at the absurd jokes he was making. He decided to end the show because his real audience was getting things not meant for his intended audience. Obama and Bill Clinton found this out when Mayhill Fowler aired their semi-private statements for all the world to see. This is a tough reality for anyone expressing an idea in public, whether a magazine, comedian or politician. I understand and think the criticism is valid, however. I'm not saying that people upset by the cover are wrong or "don't get it." I've learned from my own past experience and from this campaign just how deeply frustration over an image or statement can run. Beyond the Obamas, there are those who abuse the idea of art/comedy/free speech as a cover for their own racism and hate. The white comic who uses the N word because he just wants to but excuses it as an act of artistic defiance is not the same as the artist trying to make a poignant social point. Michael Richards is not Bill Hicks. Many of us are worn down by the ignorance spewed on a regular basis about the Obamas. We've seen official debates in which his love for America is questioned. We've seen a simple cultural expression (the pound) foolishly referred to as terrorism. We've seen the contradictory fears of his Muslimness promoted at the same time as his membership in a crazy America-hating Christian church. We've seen Michelle Obama villified for things she never even said about "whitey." We will see more. When Malia and Sasha get cornrows, this country will lose its ever-lovin mind and ask, "Are the Obama children gang bangers??" In this environment, any expression that seems to add to the incessantly rising tide of stupidity and distraction will be greated with skepticism and frustration and anger. I get that, and so I don't flippantly dismiss those of you/us who are enraged. But I hope we can also see the value and acknowledge the intention behind this work and not just focus on the hypothetical interpretation and abuse by "others." I hope we can distinguish between friends and true enemies. I hope we can see the good that may yet come of this incident. The controversy and conversation is a very good thing for the real problem: the hard-to-combat whisper campaign around the Obama's patriotism. It's hard to fight rumors. Directly denying them often validates the position of those who believe in them. John Kerry will never be a war hero again to many folks. He'll be an elite, out of touch, self-aggrandizing windsurfer for the rest of his days. If the world of artists can overexpose these rumors, by the time we get to November, it really will be played out and hack. The fact that the "terrorist fist jab" is ridiculed in almost every pop-cultural outlet is a good thing. It won't change the mind of those who actually believe Obama is a terrorist, but nothing will ever satisfy that minority. They are lost to reason and should not be used as a basis for judgment. So what if Fox uses this magazine cover!. They are beyond redemption and don't really need to. They could just darken Obama's skin, broaden his nose and thicken his lips as their own track record shows them capable of such acts. The person sitting on the fence, however, will see that such beliefs are being ridiculed en masse by the popular culture and may dismiss them as they should. The fact that many in the country have been talking about this cover is ultimately a good thing (even if you think the cover itself was bad) because it brings into the light the shady theories and lets us show them for the foolishness they are.
cross-posted to jack and jill politics Liza Sabater over at Culture Kitchen breaks down another problem with the Obama Baby Mama Drama unfolding at Faux News: Michelle Malkin. (background on the baby mama drama) Liza gets at who's really behind Malkin and why it's more effective to have a brown person hating on other brown people
Update from Comment From Left Field. a great reminder that while the Baby Mama lower third was up, Malkin was saying attacks on Michelle are ok so long as they are substantive. Fox is so triflin.
Yet what's most important about all this mess is the other Michelle. La Malkin. Why do you think Fox News has on their payroll a dark-skinned Filipina who is not only their quite giddy and willing cover for the racist rants you pass as news, but also something of a news maker herself? Michelle Malkin seems to be racist Pygmalion who has been molded by her husband, Jesse Malkin. Two years ago four bloggers documented what many people were wondering at the time about the increasingly prolific Malkin : That MichelleMalkin.com and most probably Michelle Malkin the syndicated journalist and columnist and are not Michelle Malkin but the woman, her husband, Jesse Malkin and maybe indeed a small team of interns and researchers. That nowadays she has people guest blogging at MichelleMalkin.com is a complete turnaround from the early days. Michelle Malkin in 2006 had just given birth and was slugging across the country interviews and book readings all the while writing a syndicated column, making TV appearances and peppering her blog with about 6 posts a day. Every day. Including Sundays. And she would do this and boast about how she didn't have nannies, how she didn't have interns or assistants working for her. She was the super brown woman, spokeswoman for anti-immigrants and white supremacists at large. It's why finding out who really is Michelle Malkin the author became so important. Was this a xenophobic genius or is she a front for a larger right-wing juggernaut?It's an historical pattern, this getting brown people to tear down other brown folks. There's no shock value in brown folks demanding rights for immigrants or fair wages or justice of any kind. As much as people dis the professional black spokespeople for jumping on victimhood, there's a lot more money in denying racism and actually blaming the victims of systemic racism for their own oppression. I wrote and performed about this years ago in my piece, "I'll Be A Black Conservative For $240,000"
[Black conservatives] are in very short supply, but they're a must-have accessory for every ass backwards policy. Need to undo affirmative action? Find a black Supreme Court judge. Wanna bomb poor people? How bout a black National Security Advisor. Need to pimp one of the greatest underfunded federal policies since 40 acres and a mule? Armstrong Williams is your dawg!Full video here:
cross-posted to jack and jill politics and daily kos (note: i'm mad verbose. this is long. kick your feet up. get some tea. take your time with this one. I also strongly recommend you check out the comments on Jack and Jill Politics) Last week, after talking with several Hillary Clinton supporters, I had an epiphany: that which I most dislike about the darker sides of her and her campaign is just what some people see in me. It's the worst feeling, to end up displaying traits you deplore, and I'd like to explore it a bit as we move to the general election. I have never been as involved nor as invested in a political campaign as I have been this year. I've traveled to distant states, administered caucuses, knocked on doors, set up mixtapes, installed Internet access, raised and donated funds and rallied my wits and my keyboard in promotion and defense of a candidate I feel represents the best realistic shot at a national wake-up call that's long overdue. Months of cable news and blog coverage later, I know more about superdelegate math, fundraising limits and John King's stupid interactive maps than I ever, ever wanted. I've read entire biographies, full position papers and engaged in heated but productive conversations about deep policy matters on health care, energy, prisons, agriculture and Iraq. I got smarter. Stepping down from the media noise machine has been the greatest gift, and in canvassing for Obama, I learned my most valuable lessons: that people are not as stupid nor as simple as their media portrayals, that it's a lot easier to write off entire blocs of voters from the comfort of my living room and that becoming president of a nation with such diverse people and demands as the USA is just short of impossible. In all that on-the-ground work, I have and will continue to maintain that I've gotten much more out of this process than Obama has out of my work on his behalf. My level of involvement has allowed me to see the impact and power of citizen-initiated action when paired with technology, inspiration and urgent need. I've met some truly amazing people who've sacrificed even more than I. I've grown as a writer, a citizen and a human being. At the other end of the spectrum, however, I have felt driven to lash out in ways that expose the limits of my own ability to communicate. I never set out to hate Hillary Clinton or her supporters. I never thought I'd consider a vote for John McCain. I never thought I'd even jokingly threaten to burn down the city of Denver (sorry yall!). But that's exactly what I felt driven to at many moments during this season. Despite the positive lessons I learned, I have not always been able to take that high road. At the heart of my own anger lay a sense of betrayal, paranoia and a feeling that I was trapped by a family I once held in high esteem and a media that denied the validity of my experience. It began in January, shortly after Obama's Iowa victory. Many of us Obama supporters, especially black folks, were euphoric about his win in that state. On CNN I stated, "I felt like I won," after seeing the results come in. With that one victory, the world shook for a moment, and I could actually see new, previously unimaginable possibilities for the future. Within weeks, however, a troubling pattern began to emerge from the Clinton campaign. It was as if the Iowa loss set off an explosion on a snowy mountain, and a political avalanche was unleashed. Obama was accused of being a potential drug dealer, secret Muslim, "cool black guy" and other derogatory things usually tied to his race. When many of us black folks began pointing out these incidents, we were told that nothing nefarious was afoot, that we must be imagining it. There was little to no mainstream media coverage of what we were seeing. As any one who has been oppressed knows, the only thing worse than the oppression is the denial of that oppression by others, so we at JJP set up the Clinton Attacks Obama wiki in an effort to convince ourselves we weren't crazy and show the world, in a documented fashion, what distressed us. Then came South Carolina. The black vote, which had been reliably behind Clinton, looked certain to move to Obama after his strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Rather than stress the positive Clinton brand (if not results) among black voters, the Clintons decided to minimize the black vote and Obama's pending victory. There were the MLK comments and Bill Clinton's comparison of Obama to Jackson was the statement that finally put the media on to what many of us were seeing. The Clinton's star had fallen tragically and unnecessarily among black people. It was in this environment that Jack & Jill Politics really got traction. Despite having been around since the summer of 2006, our traffic truly began to grow when we started articulating this growing sense of frustration and panic over the "color arousal" tactics and code-word-laden decisions of the Clinton campaign. In many ways, we just happened to be in the right place-time and shared a sense of mission with other black political blogs like African American Political Pundit and Field Negro, among many others. Many new readers came here and found that they were not alone. The feeling was one of relief. It reminded me of finding that one other black kid in the white school. Even if you didn't talk, you could occasionally exchange knowing glances or a head nod when the teacher or a student said something racist. Over the next months, the situation escalated. Geraldine Ferraro called Obama the affirmative action candidate. Clinton campaign officials sowed dangerous seeds of discord between black and Latino constituencies. And of course, there was Reverend Wright. In most of these instances, I saw two battles. One was with a media ill-prepared to moderate a national discussion on race at any point, much less during a presidential election. Most of these organizations were unable to competently guide us through the decision to invade a country, so my expectations of their understanding of the black experience were low, and they met those expectations well. But what came as a shock, yes an actual shock, to me was to witness Hillary Clinton and her campaign, time and again, join in the ugliness. From "he wouldn't have been my pastor" to "he's an out of touch elite" to "he only has two years of experience" to "he's not a muslim as far as I know," I was repeatedly disappointed by the decisions she and her campaign made. Each one seemed designed, not just to win, not just to hurt the other candidate, but to attack the very people who, through the darkest of hours, had stood by the Clinton family in the past. As has been pointed out in the comments and as I've written before, I was so disappointed because this candidate, with all her brand name, money, establishment support and built-in advantages, so often rushed to the gutter for combat strategy. After all this, we began hearing "well, it doesn't matter" and "blacks will vote for Hillary in the end," and that's when I really actually snapped. After that, the issue moved beyond what Hillary was saying to why so many so-called Democratic leaders sat idly by, doing nothing. It moved to black superdelegates who not only bucked the overwhelming will of their constituencies, but did so in the face of clear, undeniable and unnecessary racially charged tactics that undermined not just Obama but, as rikyrah has so perfectly put it, "any black candidate who wants a shot at national politics outside a gerrymandered district." Most importantly, it became a test of the relationship between black voters and a Democratic party which for decades could rely on this demographic's loyalty beyond all others, despite the spotty record of actual results. Hillary and Obama were the actors, but the play was much, much bigger than them. Once this bridge was crossed, I fell into a heightened state of battle, and I saw everything through this lens. I became obsessed and I often became nasty. I found a community at JJP that often felt exactly as I did, and we supported each other in our justified outrage and incredulity. So the name-calling escalated: Ice Queen, Borg Queen, Tonya Harding, and beyond. Many of these terms were used in jest. All were used out of frustration and a sense of absurd, tragic comedy. As Hillary escalated her claims and false calculations (Michigan, Florida, popular vote, sniper fire, Obama voters as delusional), there was very little room left for me to escalate on top of that. I was fueled by anger and sometimes hate. Proud of me Yoda would not have been. Here's what I didn't realize. All the while I and many Obama supporters here were going through our trauma, many, but not all, Hillary supporters experienced their own version of the same. While I haven't found evidence of Obama or his campaign being involved, it is clear that the media handled gender about as ignorantly and dangerously as it handled race. How else can you explain the comparisons to Hillary as your wife in probate court or a nagging mother? Why else would it be acceptable to compare Obama's "weakness" in military aggression to his "feminine" ways? The hard part is that a) Hillary has often used the reality of sexism to shield herself from legitimate attacks, and b) by pretending this was a "horse race" for so long I believe the media helped her candidacy far more than it hurt it. She was given multiple stays of execution though she mathematically lost back in March. Still, that doesn't mean the illegitimate media attacks didn't exist and broadly. Many supporters saw the attacks on Hillary as more than that. They
were saw them as attacks on women, and so, many women who might have been on the fence or only tepid Clinton supporters rushed to her in defense of themselves and their daughters, mothers and sisters. They may have seen the desperation in many of her tactics, but they also saw themselves under siege and could excuse much of that behavior as necessary to wage this worthy battle. (True, all of these supporters didn't rush to Michelle Obama's defense as she's been dragged through the fire, but again, we're not all perfect, and that's not an excuse).
I spent hours and days even, researching all the race-baiting and ugliness going on in the media and among Clinton folks, but I never bothered to try to find out what was driving some of Hillary's staunchest supporters.
That's not quite right. I found some justifications, but the most visible ones were easy to eliminate. I don't give any weight to "Obama is a muslim who will give all our money to Africa" or "Obama stole this from Hillary" wing of Clinton supporters. But I did completely miss the experience of Clinton-supporting women who wretched at the statements of Chris Matthews and others.
In hindsight, this was a failure on my part.
Here's a video that describes some of the incidents I know I missed:
I love the part of this job that involves policy research and genuine arguments about the future. I love the biting and satirical edge many of the posts here use. I love the raw honesty that lives here for a people who are too often told their experience doesn't matter. However, I know from experience that I caused collateral damage with the tone of many of my personality-driven posts and that my own failure to try understanding the experience of those I disagreed with did me few favors.
The sad part is that I had the model right there in front of me in two forms. The first was my own experience in canvassing, where you just can't start screaming at somebody when you're on their property. The second model is Obama himself. He has largely conducted himself and his campaign with admirable grace throughout even the hottest moments in this contest. I should have just asked, "What would Obama do?"
So that's the situation I find myself in now, wondering and watching, "what would Obama do?" And I see the same steady, confident and open attitude that drew me to his candidacy in the first place. His people are talking to Clinton people (because "we shouldn't negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate"), and discussions are under way about debt retirement, campaign staffing and even cabinet positions.
I don't know how much credibility I have among the most intractable of Clinton supporters, but I know that my own inflammatory attacks against Clinton are useless and probably counterproductive at this point. I know that I'm interested in having this conversation beyond the group of people who already know where I'm coming from because it's those conversations that will help the healing process even if forgiveness is hard or impossible to come by.
This post is not a blanket apology for what this blog has become and my part in it. That's not at all what I'm saying. What we have here has grown into a truly amazing community of people fired up about much more than Obama, and I wouldn't change that for anything.
I'll always call out wrong where I see it, and I'm not saying a simple kiss and make-up will undo the damage that has been wrought. As CPL mentioned in a recent post, I think both the Clintons need to make a Herculean effort to begin the healing process. Whether by attacking MoveOn.org or dismissing the votes of entire caucus states or her remarks about RFK's assassination, the damage resulting from many of their tactics will not simply disappear without effort. As Ricky Ricardo would say, "they got some 'splainin to do," and I know I'll never look at them the same.
However, I think Obama and all of his supporters also have work to do, not in wiping the slate clean with Hillary Clinton but in really trying to understand the experience of reasonable Hillary supporters who felt they had to defend her because they were defending something much larger than her. As with all things large, we can start small. I started by talking to actual Clinton supporters I knew, and I urge any pro-Obama folk out there to do the same.
I've been making small changes to this post based on some comments from the Jack & Jill Politics fam, and I wanted to add one other point. If we are to actually succeed in changing this country, beyond the election of this particular politician, we (all people) need to at least try to see the world from the perspective of those we disagree with. Often such attempts will not be rewarded, but the attempt will reach some and, if nothing else, it will give us confidence that we've done everything possible to move forward.
I'm trying again to be the change I want to see.
Forever fired up!
- Baratunde aka Jack Turner
Dan Drinker is a Pennsylvania resident who has Down Syndrome. His brother, Will, is making a documentary about their lives and has been posting articles and videos to dandrinker.com One of the recent videos was Dan's endorsement of Obama. It's pretty touching and direct. He's got some especially complimentary (and accurate) things to say about Michelle Obama as well.