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Archive for the ‘race/anti-racism’ Category

This piece from anthropologist Bree Blakeman, “A fieldnote from home”:

This evening I nearly saw a man drown. I run the same route most afternoons, over the bridge and along the foreshore. This evening I was about to cross over the bridge when I saw something or someone splashing in the water. I stopped. It was a man, only a few metres from the banks of the river, and he was drowning. He kept trying to stand up before falling over, his head going under the water for a longer period of time each time he fell.

Bree writes some beautiful, beautiful pieces about Aboriginal languages on that blog, too, that are well worth reading.

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I’ve written a lot about maternal desire here and how poorly understood that motivation is.. but I’ve not considered paternal desire much before.

All through this research, Edin says, she’d never been interested in studying men. “It’s fun to write about people with a strong heroic element to the story,” she says. “Women have that. Men don’t have that. [They're] more complicated; they’re dogged with bad choices.” In addition, she admits, “I felt hostile after writing about the women. I really had their point of view in my head.”

It was Nelson who, after years of working on a book about religious experience in a black church, convinced her otherwise. Together, they spent several years canvassing Camden in search of dads to interview. They stopped men on the street and asked if they’d talk—sometimes right there on the spot. They put up flyers and worked with nonprofit groups and eventually knit together a sample of equal parts black and white men they interviewed at length over the better part of a decade.

Again, what they discovered surprised them. Rather than viewing unplanned fatherhood as a burden, the men almost uniformly saw it as a blessing. “It’s so antithetical to a middle-class perspective,” Edin says. “But it finally dawned on us that these guys thought that by bringing children in the world they were doing something good in the world.” Everything else around them—the violence, the poverty, their economic prospects—was so negative, she explains, a baby was “one little dot of color” on a black-and-white canvas.

Only a small percentage of the men, black or white, said the pregnancy was the result of an accident, and even fewer challenged the paternity. When the babies were born, most of the men reported a desire to be a big part of their lives. Among black men, 9 in 10 reported being deeply involved with their children under the age of two, meaning they had routine, in-person contact with their kids several times a month. But that involvement faded with time. Only a third of black fathers and a quarter of white fathers were still intensively involved with kids older than 10. Among the reasons, Edin identifies unstable relationships with the mothers—the average couple had been together only about six months before conceiving a child. The men also frequently struggled with substance abuse and stints in prison.

From “What if everything you know about poverty was wrong” by Stephanie Mencimer in Mother Jones.

 

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I was very flattered to be interviewed by The Wheeler Centre about writing and among other things I talked about the importance of Kiese Laymon’s essays and also, Rachel Cusk’s memoirs to me.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Rachel Cusk’s two memoirs, A Life’s Work and Aftermath, were breakthroughs for me with my writing. I was a new parent and she was the first writer I found interested in connecting her personal experiences of motherhood to the broader discussion of feminism and writing. Plus, Cusk has been prepared to go as dark as required with that pursuit. I didn’t find her books all that confronting, to be honest, but some readers did and it’s always very interesting when terribly human moments disturb people to that degree.

The other thing Cusk showed me is that you do not always have to start your conversation with readers at the beginning. Some pieces are written for beginner-level understanding – they’re extremely important − but it is perfectly acceptable to pitch other essays only to readers who are progressed on the issue. It is nice to see what your article provokes with them and to learn from their part in the conversation. (Although reading the comments on those articles where you didn’t start from the beginning and bring everyone with you might be a brutal experience).

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.. and doing it by themselves.

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Much conservative ink has been spilled boiling the problems of black America down to its absent daddies, but no one in the black community needs pundits to lecture him on family values. Deadbeat dads rank about one step below the Klan in popularity among African Americans. Hiphop may be grossly misogynistic, but you will be hard pressed to find a cultural movement that more reveres mothers and reviles fathers. (Indeed, rap’s only mother-hater of note is a white guy, Eminem.) The anti-paternal sentiment in rap expresses a larger fatigue among African Americans for “tired-ass” black men who doom kids to fatherless lives. So when Jay-Z says “Momma loves me, Pop I miss you/God help me forgive ‘em, I got some issues,” he isn’t simply having a cathartic moment, he is speaking for 70 percent of African-American children. He is also speaking for my partner and me.

From Ta-Nehisi Coates with “Confessions of a Black Mr Mom” in The Washington Monthly.

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This is truly enjoyable analysis. There’s a lot of Marxism in it, probably a bit too much for me. And in my opinion it is too blunt in its assessment of pop culture but that aside, this is a great argument..

(And hold someone close as you read this because you’re fine with hating Swept Away but he’s going to slaughter a few sacred cows too, starting with Firefly).

On Firefly:

What [shows like Firefly] do perform regularly is liberal multiculturalism, which no doubt reinforces a sense that the show’s gestural anti-statism is at least consonant with an egalitarian politics. And that is a quality that makes multiculturalist egalitarianism, or identitarianism, and its various strategic programs — anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heteronormativity, etc. — neoliberalism’s loyal opposition. Their focus is on making neoliberalism more just and, often enough, more truly efficient.

On The Help:

In both films the bogus happy endings are possible only because they characterize their respective regimes of racial hierarchy in the superficial terms of interpersonal transactions. In The Help segregationism’s evil was small-minded bigotry and lack of sensitivity; it was more like bad manners than oppression… The Help trivializes Jim Crow by reducing it to its most superficial features and irrational extremes. The master-servant nexus was, and is, a labor relation. And the problem of labor relations particular to the segregationist regime wasn’t employers’ bigoted lack of respect or failure to hear the voices of the domestic servants, or even benighted refusal to recognize their equal humanity. It was the labor relation was structure within and sustained by a political and institutional order that severely impinged on, when it didn’t altogether deny, black citizens’ avenues for pursuit of grievances and standing before the law.

On Django Unchained:

Defenses of Django Unchained pivot on claims about the social significance of the narrative of a black hero. One node of this argument emphasizes the need to validate a history of autonomous black agency and “resistance” as a politico-existential desideratum. It accommodates a view that stresses the importance of recognition of rebellious or militant individuals and revolts in black American history. Another centers on a notion that exposure to fictional black heroes can inculcate the sense of personal efficacy necessary to overcome the psychological effects of inequality and to facilitate upward mobility and may undermine some whites’ negative stereotypes about black people. In either register assignment of social or political importance to depictions of black heroes rests on presumptions about the nexus of mass cultural representation, social commentary, and racial justice that are more significant politically than the controversy about the film itself.

On Hell on Wheels:

That’s the happy face of adolescent patriarchy, its expression that doesn’t usually involve a restraining order, though it’s probably best that the brooding loner hero’s sainted wife is nearly always a martyr and thus motivation for, instead of the object of, his sadistic violence and mayhem. But in Hell on Wheels that device also reinforces the reduction of slavery to slaveholding as an individual act, a consumer preference to be negotiated within a marriage – like owning a motorcycle going to the strip club with the guys every weekend, or painting the living room magenta.

On Beasts of the Southern Wild:

The film validates their spiritually rich if economically impoverished culture and their right to it. (Actually, the Bathtub’s material infrastructure seems to derive mainly from scavenging, which should suggest a problem at the core of this bullshit allegory for all except those who imagine dumpster-diving, back-to-nature-in-the-city squatterism as a politics). Especially given its setting in south Louisiana and the hype touting the authenticity of its New Orleans-based crew and cast, Beasts most immediately evokes a warm and fuzzy rendition of the retrograde post-Katrina line that those odd people down there wouldn’t evacuate because they’re so intensely committed to place.

On Won’t Back Down:

Being a progressive is not more a matter of how one thinks about oneself than what one stands for or does in the world. The best that can be said for that perspective is that it registers acquiscence in defeat. It amounts to an effort to salvage an idea of a left by reformulating it as a sensibility within neoliberalism rather than a challenge to it.

On Swept Away:

.. their abomination completely erases the original film’s complex class and political content and replaces it with a banal – aka “universal” – story of an encounter between an older woman and a younger man, while at the same time meticulously, almost eerily, reproducing, scene by scene, the visual structure of Wertmüller’s film).

From “Why ‘cultural politics’ is worse than no politics at all” by Adolph Reed.

My problem with this debate is where does it leave us exactly..? So, too much left-wing politics is about repositioning within neoliberalism and not challenging it, and pop culture’s use of history without real politics is obscuring and undermining the very social justice causes it seeks to highlight, and our approach to making sense of racism has been derailed by a preoccupation with individuals rather than systems, and we fail to recognise in our analysis the extent to which class politics is at play in inequality because most of our analysis is done by one particular occupational class* … now what?

* Also from Reed: “the politics of a stratum of the professional-managerial class whose material location and interests, and thus whose ideological commitments, are bound up with parsing, interpreting and administering inequality defined in terms of disparities among ascriptively defined populations reified as groups or even cultures”.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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I really, really think we have a problem with neo-liberalism and therapeutic approaches to social justice at the moment, which is at the expense of collective solutions. This is a very good statement about why ‘personal responsibility’ is extremely limited as a solution to problems of the scale of racism.

An appeal to authority—even the authority of our dead—doesn’t make Barack Obama any more right. On the contrary, it shows how wrong he is. I can’t think of a single credible historian of our 500-year tenure here who has concluded that our problem was a lack of “personal responsibility.” The analysis is as old as it is flawed, and that is because it isn’t analysis at all but something altogether different. No black people boo when the president talks about personal responsibility. On the contrary, it’s often the highlight of his speeches on race. If you’ve ever lived in a black community, you might understand why. I can assemble all kinds of stats, graphs, and histories to explain black America’s ills to you. But none of that can salve the wound of leaving for work at 7 a.m., seeing young men on the stoop blowing trees, and coming home and seeing the same niggers—because this is what we say to ourselves—sitting in the same place. It is frustrating to feel yourself at war with these white folks—because that too is what we say—and see people standing on your corner who you believe to have given up the fight.

“I am not raising ‘nothing niggers,’” my mother used to tell me. “I am not raising niggers to stand on the corner.” My mother did not know her father. In my life, I’ve loved four women. One of them did not know her father and two, very often, wished they didn’t. It’s not very hard to look at that, and seethe. It’s not very hard to look at that and see a surrender, while you are out here at war, and seethe. It’s not hard to look around at your community and feel that you are afflicted by quitters, that your family—in particular—is afflicted by a weakness. And so great is this weakness that the experience of black fatherlessness can connect Barack Obama in Hawaii to young black boys on the South Side, and that fact—whatever the charts, graphs, and histories may show—is bracing. When Barack Obama steps into a room and attacks people for presumably using poverty or bigotry as an excuse to not parent, he is channeling a feeling deep in the heart of all black people, a frustration, a rage at ourselves for letting this happen, for allowing our community to descend into the basement of America, and dwell there seemingly forever.

My mother’s admonishings had their place. God forbid I ever embarrass her. God forbid I be like my grandfather, like the fathers of my friends and girlfriends and wife. God forbid I ever stand in front of these white folks and embarrass my ancestors, my people, my dead. And God forbid I ever confuse that creed, which I took from my mother, which I pass on to my son, with a wise and intelligent analysis of my community. My religion can never be science. This is the difference between navigating the world and explaining it…

.. Catharsis is not policy. Catharsis is not leadership. And shame is not wisdom.

From Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic with “The champion Barack Obama”.

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likes to drink (2011) by Daniel King, an Aboriginal Australian artist.

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.. and it is over at Hoyden About Town, if you want to join it.

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I love this from Latoya Peterson of Racialicious on various recent upsets in the world of Internet feminism, including this one. (Also, how good are quick thoughts from feminist mothers on the run? So efficient).

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