Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Racial and Class Dimensions of the Present Economic Crisis and Its Impact on American Workers



An outstanding, invaluable, and very timely piece by Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad that absolutely nails the contemporary impact of the inexorable symbiotic links between race, class, unemployment, and political economy enmeshed in a systemic recessionary/depression spiral and its devastating effects on American workers of every nationality. Here's the very grim and irrefutable truth of what the deadly structural and institutional nexus of racism, capitalism, and class exploitation has wrought.and what it ominously portends for both the immediate and long range future of this country...


The Destruction of the Black Middle Class
By Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammed
August 4, 2009
Huffington post

To judge from most of the commentary on the Gates-Crowley affair, you would think that a "black elite" has gotten dangerously out of hand. First Gates (Cambridge, Yale, Harvard) showed insufficient deference to Crowley, then Obama (Occidental, Harvard) piled on to accuse the police of having acted "stupidly." Was this "the end of white America" which the Atlantic had warned of in its January/February cover story? Or had the injuries of class -- working class in Crowley's case -- finally trumped the grievances of race?

Left out of the ensuing tangle of commentary on race and class has been the increasing impoverishment -- or, we should say, re-impoverishment -- of African Americans as a group. In fact, the most salient and lasting effect of the current recession may turn out to be the decimation of the black middle class. According to a study by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy, 33 percent of the black middle class was already in danger of falling out of the middle class at the start of the recession. Gates and Obama, along with Oprah and Cosby, will no doubt remain in place, but millions of the black equivalents of Officer Crowley -- from factory workers to bank tellers and white collar managers -- are sliding down toward destitution.

For African Americans -- and to a large extent, Latinos -- the recession is over. It occurred between 2000 and 2007, as black employment decreased by 2.4 percent and incomes declined by 2.9 percent. During the seven-year long black recession, one third of black children lived in poverty and black unemployment -- even among college graduates -- consistently ran at about twice the level of white unemployment. That was the black recession. What's happening now is a depression.

Black unemployment is now at 14.7 percent, compared to 8.7 for whites. In New York City, black unemployment has been rising four times as fast as that of whites. Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that 40 percent of African Americans will have experienced unemployment or underemployment by 2010, and this will increase child poverty from one-third of African American children to slightly over half. No one can entirely explain the extraordinary rate of job loss among African Americans, though factors may include the relative concentration of blacks in the hard-hit retail and manufacturing sectors, as well as the lesser seniority of blacks in better-paying, white collar, positions.

But one thing is certain: The longstanding racial "wealth gap" makes African Americans particularly vulnerable to poverty when job loss strikes. In 1998, the net worth of white households on average was $100,700 higher than that of African Americans. By 2007, this gap had increased to $142,600. The Survey of Consumer Finances, which is supported by the Federal Reserve Board, collects this data every three years -- and every time it has been collected, the racial wealth gap has widened. To put it another way: in 2004, for every dollar of wealth held by the typical white family, the African American family had only one 12 cents. In 2007, it had exactly a dime. So when an African American breadwinner loses a job, there are usually no savings to fall back on, no well-heeled parents to hit up, no retirement accounts to raid.

All this comes on top of the highly racially skewed subprime mortgage calamity. After decades of being denied mortgages on racial grounds, African Americans made a tempting market for bubble-crazed lenders like Countrywide, with the result that high income blacks were almost twice as likely as low income white to receive high interest subprime loans. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, Latinos will end up losing between $75 billion and $98 billion in home-value wealth from subprime loans, while blacks will lose between $71 billion and $92 billion. United for a Fair Economy has called this family net-worth catastrophe the "greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern U.S. history."

Yet in the depths of this African American depression, some commentators, black as well as white, are still obsessing about the supposed cultural deficiencies of the black community. In a December op-ed in the Washington Post, Kay Hymowitz blamed black economic woes on the fact that 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers, not noticing that the white two-parent family has actually declined at a faster rate than the black two-parent family. The share of black children living in a single parent home increased by 155 percent between 1960 to 2006, while the share of white children living in single parent homes increased by a staggering 229 percent.

Just last month on NPR, commentator Juan Williams dismissed the NAACP by saying that more up-to-date and relevant groups focus on "people who have taken advantage of integration and opportunities for education, employment, versus those who seem caught in generational cycles of poverty," which he went on to characterize by drug use and crime. The fact that there is an ongoing recession disproportionately affecting the African American middle class -- and brought on by Wall Street greed rather than "ghetto" values -- seems to have eluded him.

We don't need any more moralizing or glib analyses of class and race that could have just as well been made in the 70s. The recession is changing everything. It's redrawing the class contours of America in ways that will leave us more polarized than ever, and, yes, profoundly hurting the erstwhile white middle and working classes. But the depression being experienced by people of color threatens to do something on an entirely different scale, and that is to eliminate the black middle class.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the president of United Professionals and author, most recently, of This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation.

Dedrick Muhammad is a Senior Organizer and Research Associate of the Institute for Policy Studies.

The Witch is Melting!
Obama's Ethnic Coalition Can Become A Permanent One
By Rayfield A. Waller

News analysts are proclaiming the puzzling irrationality of the Republican party, given the blatant nature of their primitive racism toward Sonia Sotomayor during the recent senate confirmation hearings. Sotomayor, whom Republican senators relentlessly patronized, insulted, slandered, and abused during the hearings, going so far as to ignore her sterling record as a judge and her history of law journal publications and scholarly work, is objectively, the most qualified Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee in decades. Both the ABA and most academic legal experts have pretty much argued that she is more qualified to sit on the Supreme Court than John Roberts was when he breezed through senate confirmation questioning to be seated as Chief Justice!

The question is, why do Republicans seem unconcerned about their racism and their overt sexism toward Sotomayor, an attitude on their part which is leading to alienation of Latinos, the fastest growing constituency in America? Why are they so insensitive to a powerful constituency which will only grow stronger in the future??

The answer is simple, though so far woefully overlooked not just in the universally conservative, Rupert Murdock owned American mainstream media, but even overlooked by people of color in our own conversations and analyses: The GOPs are 'unconcerned about a 'Hispanic' backlash because they know that they, the Republicans, are done now as a legitimate political party anyway.

They are now a severely marginalized, left-over from the old world, regional party, made up of a very unstable and very loose affiliation of southerners, bigots, angry white males, conservative Armstrong Williams type middle class 'honk' talking Republican Black men, anti-abortionist social conservatives, gun activists, and Evil-United Nations-one-world-government conspiracy nuts.

The Republican party was long ago hijacked away from the old school, mostly rational Goldwater fiscal conservatives. Odious through their arch conservative F.A. Hayek-to-Milton Friedman philosophies were, the Goldwater and even the later Reagan vanguard of the Republicans were at least REALITY BASED THINKERS.

But--and it's a big but--the party has been in the hands of the hijackers--Christian right and the social reactionaries--who have degenerated from John Birch craziness to a much more irrational Ralph Reed/Pat Robertson,Sarah Palin element since the end of the Reagan era, and Palin is the end of the line of de-evolution. She represents crackpots such as 'Joe the Plumber' and "The Birthers" who are NON REALITY BASED THINKERS, and it is they who have been rising to ascendancy since at least the end of the first George H. W. Bush administration.

Rush Limbaugh cynically manipulates these ADD, and ACD sufferers, calling them 'ditto heads'. These are the people who shouted "Drill Baby Drill!' at the last Republican National Convention Nazi Rally.

he former rational hawks and the brain trust of the party, like David Brooks (Lehrer Report), Kevin Phillips (NPR), Peggy Noonan (NYT), Ed Rollins (former Reagan adviser), etc., are alienated now, and appalled at their party which had the audacity to accept "Joe The Plumber" being called a 'Republican adviser' by the McCain camp during the presidential campaign.

So, the Republicans are now a splinter party, which must act on solitary issue-driven focus polling to hold the splinters together. The national party leadership knows that the only way now to maintain even a fraction of their former electoral clout is to sail farther and farther hard right, farther and farther away from the traditional base of their party and farther and farther toward the non reality based splinters, to maintain that coalition--the only one available to them now.

It's the only coalition they can draw on now because President Obama has pulled together a strong ethnic coalition of Blacks, Latinos, Arab-Americans, and Asian-Americans, while solidifying a new world coalition of the former Republican centrists, the conservative moderates (whose Senate champion, Arlen Specter, switched to the Democratic party!), and progressives (former fiscally conservative moderate Republicans who have deserted the Republican party for good reason: the deficit skyrocketed under Bush, and Bush violated every single principle of fiscal conservatism. He was not perceived as a Republican by the fiscal Republicans--he was perceived as an anarchist.)

If that were not enough, the Republican fiscal base had nowhere to go but into Obama's arms due to Sarah Palin's and John McCain's campaign of outsider posturing without a trace of Republican substance. They were thus attracted to Obama's successful projection of a rational image--implying that he is the politician to run to now if one believes that the earth is not flat, that the Anti Christ is not behind the UN, and that the government is not being secretly run by reptilian alien invaders--don't laugh; those are three prominent beliefs of a larger and larger ratio of Republican rank-and-file.

Though Palin made a big public event of her trip to New York to visit with, among others, the Old Bear of Republican foreign policy, Henry Kissinger, in the end Kissinger very pubically embraced Obama's candidacy, not McCain's. An astounding development and one heralding a fatal fracture in Republican loyalty.

Back to ethnic political coalition building, which Obama excels in while Republicans are a horror on the hoof, according to polls, some Asian-Americans were on the fence about Obama's presidency, but now that Clinton and Gore have pulled off the high profile rescue of two Asian-American women from Chi-Com North Korea, good will toward President Obama among Asian-Americans is certain to get a boost, a first generation Korean-American I knew in grad school at Cornell is assuring me (Korea, she says, is one of the few issues that unite nearly every Asian national and ethnic group in America--they are all against Chi-Com style dictatorships such as North Korea President Kim Jong-Il has constructed, complete with rice-with-rocks that he feeds his people while he enjoys cognac and lobster and his cronies have swimming pools and tennis courts. This sort of late Maoist Cultural Revolution authoritarian style injustice is exactly why Asian Americans came to America in the first place, fleeing Tiananmen Square, Pol Pot, the Vietcong, and Burmese General Than Shwe, who imprisoned woman activist Aung San Suu Kyi! Freeing two Asian-American women from the type of situation that Asian Americans have bad memories about is a coup for the Democratic party, which has, after all, shown the first real concern for Asian American citizens of the US in eight years--the eight years of the Republican control of government).

In fact, if I were an adviser to the Democratic party I would do a very IN DEPTH analysis of the Asian American community and how they feel about Obama, about America, and how their present feeling relate to the sense of betrayal they felt because of Bush's and the Republicans' harassing and dehumanizing of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, falsely accusing him of treason, depriving him of due process using the Patriot Act as a vehicle to deny him civil rights, keeping him in isolation from his family while holding him in lock up, and then dropping 58 of the 59 charges against him! Then finally admitting that even the 59th charge was not legitimate! This overt attack on the dignity and humanity of an Asian American of great honor and accomplishment has not been forgotten by the Asian community, and now the rescue of Laura Ling and Euna Lee will certainly do to strengthen Obama's ethnic coalition.

So how can this coalition become a permanent one?

If URBAN Blacks and Latinos, the two largest and strongest ethnic communities in America, have the good sense now to stick TOGETHER without acting like crabs in a barrel, the rise of ethnic power (not just status, but political and economic power) has a chance of being kept in the forefront of the affairs of the current administration, and we might be able to add several more Latino(a)s, Blacks, Muslims, Arabs, and Asians to federal judgeships, ambassadorships, economic posts like the Federal Reserve system and the oversight posts of the Securities and Exchange Commission at the community levels--where true public policy power resides, to head public agencies such as FEMA, FDA, FCC, and FDIC, and add some more as cabinet members in the next administration! POWER!

I would say this, then, about the recent, 'hot' news of Mel Martinez' resignation: though there is all sorts of negative speculation about why he has resigned his senate seat, it remains true that he broke with his Republican colleagues in the senate to welcome the Sotomayor nomination and to vote for her. He, like a few other conservative senators, is symptomatic of the drift away from the dogma of the Republican senate power bloc to vote their constituents' interests rather than the party dogma. The other Republican senators who broke the embargo against Sotomayor are:

• Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.)
• Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)
• Sen. Christopher Bond (Mo.)
• Sen. Susan Collins (Maine)
• Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine)
• Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.)
• Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.)
• Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio)

Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Crist, who alienated himself from the Republican party when he refused to shut down the polls in Florida in the final hours of the election, thus assuring that Obama would win the state, is going to run for Martinez's seat. This represents the progressive edge, dwindling now, of the Republican party--this is good news for Obama.

I would imagine that Puerto Ricans, particularly female Puerto Rican Americans, would make a natural progressive bloc within the Latin(a)o community to lead the way in eliminating fracture between Latino nationalities and between Blacks and Latinos, because Puerto Ricans have the deepest cultural and historical ties to radical politics and to African American culture and interests. This is a good time to work for these things because in the wake of the ongoing dis empowerment of the old west coast, Caesar Chavez migrant coalitions of the 60's, Puerto Ricans are a natural progressive constituency in America politically and historically, with the deepest ties to urban African American political leadership (able to inspire and influence more conservative Mexicanos, and Cubanos, along with the more radical Chicano constituency).

Also key, will be Blacks and Latinos alike learning to stop being jealous and suspicious of Latino and Black leadership, and learning to see Latino and Blackv ictories as victory for ALL people of color in America, and for BOTH groups to now concentrate on defending women's issues (abortion rights, equal pay, aggregate representation on corporate boards, electoral representation consistent with women being 65 percent of the ethnic population), and defending gay and lesbian issues (9-15 percent of Blacks and Latinos ARE gay and lesbian) so that ALL our civil rights will be safe in El Barrio and in the ghetto: nobody is free in America unless women, gays, and lesbians have civil rights too, no matter HOW much backwards, reactionary Black baptist ministers say otherwise.

Blacks need to recognize what is crucial is the reality that not just any Latina, but a Puerto Rican woman who has a history of supporting affirmative action, was nominated, and has been confirmed to the Supreme Court. Not even just any Puerto Rican, in fact, but a distinctively sophisticated legal thinker who can argue the subtitles of title seven and deep appellate tradition in defending her tendency toward humanist decisions in favor of oppressed nationalities (such as in the high profile decision she reached in the New Haven firefighter's case, much maligned by the senate Republicans who grilled her, in which she decided in favor of the very spirit, as well as the letter of the law regarding affirmative action, not as a quota system but as a leveling force that makes state and local governments STOP a long tradition of favoring heterosexual, Christian White males over everybody else). Her detailed responses to Senator Jeff Sessions, who grilled her about the New Haven case made it clear that in her career so far, her role as a judge was one in which she did not act in a peremptory or a maverick manner in upholding affirmative action, but was simply following the precedent that was created by president Johnson and affirmed over and over again in thirty years of US court cases, many of which, under several presidents and several Supreme Court makeups, essentially created an entire generation of Blacks, Latinos, and women who suddenly got access to corporate, political, and social power commensurate with their true ratio of the population!

This intellectual and humanist performance in the hearings was impressive on her part, and sophisticated, yet Sessions continuously cut her off, obscured what she was saying, and changed the subject to the bogus issue of 'reverse discrimination' (a dodge that is used by Whites to obscure he complexity of the actual history and actual juridical nature of affirmative action in favor of shallow arguments over INDIVIDUAL cases of individual Whites being confronted with 'prejudice' in job acquisition and promotion).

The tactic is to ignore the history and the reality of racism and of how racism created a minority run society. Christian Whites are, of course, the minority, just as they were in Apartheid South Africa. The tactic switches the conversation away from the issue of distributive and transformational justice, which affirmative action fosters, toward a disruptive and negative argument over 'principle' (no single INDIVIDUAL should ever be discriminated against (never mind two hundred years of whites being discriminated for), and the way to 'end racism' (which was never a goal of affirmative action in the first place) is to create a 'color blind' society, and a gender 'blind' process that ignores race and gender altogether to achieve true equality. Affirmative action advocates must, as Sotomayor's decisions have, REJECT this idealist dodge, and argue courageously and unashamedly for the actual principles of affirmative action, which is distributive and transformational CHANGE in RATIOS of power to make them align more democratically with population identities. To call for 'color blind' and 'gender blind' hiring, promotion, seniority, and power allocation is essentially calling for a crooked card game to now be played straight, but only after one man has acquired all the chips and all the cards through the game having been crooked in the first place!

Sotomayor showed a grasp of all these complexities, and, unlike Judge Uncle Thomas, has throughout her career been willing to remain true to the system that made HER possible and that functions to maintain the promise of democracy itself (we cannot maintain a democracy in a minority owned, minority controlled social/political/economic system in which women, Muslims, Arabs, Gays, Lesbians, Blacks, and Latinos are slaves due to our exclusion from power).

I am sad to say that I do not see that a large enough number of African American media voices or community leaders reached the threshold of understanding of just how important Sotomayor's nomination was for and to African Americans. Black people should re-watch the confirmation hearings and study her responses closely. We need to know who our friends and our enemies are, and right now, a coalition with 'others' such as progressive Arab-Americans, and progressive Latino(a)s is the most rational means of achieving a progressive power bloc to pressure elected officials to seek parity, transformational change, promotion of the interests of people of color, and access to the incredible wealth and entitlement that America produces.

Tall orders for us all, Blacks, Latinos, Asians Arab and Muslim Americans, Gays, and Lesbians, but if we wake up and work together we can do this.

As for the Republicans, they will no longer be courting Blacks and Latinos because they are now officially a crackpot party with Rush Limbaugh firmly in leadership position.

Their humiliating disintegration, loss of electoral power, and the crumbling of their power base has only just begun. They own the media, but propaganda can only go so far to cover up what is clear for all to see:

The wicked witch is melting.

Rayfield A. Waller is a political journalist, cultural critic, poet, labor activist and adjunct Professor of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Michigan

The Looming Threat of an American Fascist Movement


This is a deadly serious article and Robinson's scholarly, incisive, and well informed analysis makes a LOT of sense--far too much for comfort actually. I seriously believe that we ignore or dismiss what she and others who have systematically studied this frightening political and cultural phenomenon to our collective peril. I have been deeply worried about the many ominous signs coming from the far right in this country for a decade now but the exponential explosion of this violent energy since President Obama took office just seven months ago tells me there something truly horrific is waiting for us all just around the corner. Like the author of this piece I believe firmly that not only are many of these people crazy and extremely dangerous but that far too many of them are organizing with the conventional Republican rightwing's support and money. Something very disturbing has entered the mass consciousness of this nation and as Robinson and others point out it is deeply rooted in white American society. The fact that it's abundantly clear that millions of people in the U.S. actively endorse, advocate, and practice racism, sexism, nativism (anti-nonwhite immigration) and homophobia and that so many high profile media demagogues are openly stoking these fires of public hatred (e.g. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, FOX News, Sean hannity, Michelle Malkin, etc., etc.) tells me that this far right movement is becoming increasingly bold, defiant, and reckless in the way that it organizes and dispenses its energy. In that light I'm particularly concerned about what stark implications all this has for the Obama Presidency (to the degree that irt represents a liberal reform tendency) as well as its corresponding effect on the rest of us who subscribe in one way or another to progressive politics that seek to both incorporate and go beyond liberal initiatives. Additionally, I would really be interested in knowing what you all think about this issue. Please reply...


Is the US on the Brink of Fascism?
Friday 07 August 2009
by: Sara Robinson
Visit article original
@The Campaign for America's Future

There are dangerous currents running through America's politics and the way we confront them is crucial.

All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's suddenly everywhere. It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot and are now looking for a space. Either way, our fascist American future now looms very large in the front windshield -- and those of us who value American democracy need to understand how we got here, what's changing now, and what's at stake in the very near future if these people are allowed to win -- or even hold their ground.

What Is Fascism?

The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:

"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Elsewhere, he refines this further as:

"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

Jonah Goldberg aside, that's a basic definition most legitimate scholars in the field can agree on, and the one I'll be referring to here.

From Proto-Fascism to the Tipping Point

According to Paxton, fascism unfolds in five stages. The first two are pretty solidly behind us -- and the third should be of particular interest to progressives right now.

In the first stage, a rural movement emerges to effect some kind of nationalist renewal (what Roger Griffin calls "palingenesis" -- a phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes). They come together to restore a broken social order, always drawing on themes of unity, order, and purity. Reason is rejected in favor of passionate emotion. The way the organizing story is told varies from country to country; but it's always rooted in the promise of restoring lost national pride by resurrecting the culture's traditional myths and values, and purging society of the toxic influence of the outsiders and intellectuals who are blamed for their current misery.

Fascism only grows in the disturbed soil of a mature democracy in crisis. Paxton suggests that the Ku Klux Klan, which formed in reaction to post-Civil War Reconstruction, may in fact be the first authentically fascist movement in modern times. Almost every major country in Europe sprouted a proto-fascist movement in the wretched years following WWI (when the Klan enjoyed a major resurgence here as well) -- but most of them stalled either at this first stage, or the next one.

As Rick Perlstein documented in his two books on Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, modern American conservatism was built on these same themes. From "Morning in America" to the Rapture-ready religious right to the white nationalism promoted by the GOP through various gradients of racist groups, it's easy to trace how American proto-fascism offered redemption from the upheavals of the 1960s by promising to restore the innocence of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America. This vision has been so thoroughly embraced that the entire Republican party now openly defines itself along these lines. At this late stage, it's blatantly racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage. Worse: it doesn't have a moment's shame about any of it. No apologies, to anyone. These same narrative threads have woven their way through every fascist movement in history.

In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power. Interestingly, in every case Paxton cites, the political base came from the rural, less-educated parts of the country; and almost all of them came to power very specifically by offering themselves as informal goon squads organized to intimidate farmworkers on behalf of the large landowners. The KKK disenfranchised black sharecroppers and set itself up as the enforcement wing of Jim Crow. The Italian Squadristi and the German Brownshirts made their bones breaking up farmers' strikes. And these days, GOP-sanctioned anti-immigrant groups make life hell for Hispanic agricultural workers in the US. As violence against random Hispanics (citizens and otherwise) increases, the right-wing goon squads are getting basic training that, if the pattern holds, they may eventually use to intimidate the rest of us.

Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."

And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.

When that unholy alliance is made, the third stage -- the transition to full-fledged government fascism -- begins.

The Third Stage: Being There

All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it "fascism" because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America's conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations -- passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of "mainstream" conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn't act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It's also our very last chance to stop it.

The Fail-Safe Point

According to Paxton, the forging of this third-stage alliance is the make-or-break moment -- and the worst part of it is that by the time you've arrived at that point, it's probably too late to stop it. From here, it escalates, as minor thuggery turns into beatings, killings, and systematic tagging of certain groups for elimination, all directed by people at the very top of the power structure. After Labor Day, when Democratic senators and representatives go back to Washington, the mobs now being created to harass them will remain to run the same tactics -- escalated and perfected with each new use -- against anyone in town whose color, religion, or politics they don't like. In some places, they're already making notes and taking names.

Where's the danger line? Paxton offers three quick questions that point us straight at it:
Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?

Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?
By my reckoning, we're three for three. That's too close. Way too close.

The Road Ahead

History tells us that once this alliance catalyzes and makes a successful bid for power, there's no way off this ride. As Dave Neiwert wrote in his recent book, The Eliminationists, "if we can only identify fascism in its mature form—the goose-stepping brownshirts, the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies—then it will be far too late to stop it." Paxton (who presciently warned that "An authentic popular fascism in the United States would be pious and anti-Black") agrees that if a corporate/brownshirt alliance gets a toehold -- as ours is now scrambling to do -- it can very quickly rise to power and destroy the last vestiges of democratic government. Once they start racking up wins, the country will be doomed to take the whole ugly trip through the last two stages, with no turnoffs or pit stops between now and the end.

What awaits us? In stage four, as the duo assumes full control of the country, power struggles emerge between the brownshirt-bred party faithful and the institutions of the conservative elites -- church, military, professions, and business. The character of the regime is determined by who gets the upper hand. If the party members (who gained power through street thuggery) win, an authoritarian police state may well follow. If the conservatives can get them back under control, a more traditional theocracy, corporatocracy, or military regime can re-emerge over time. But in neither case will the results resemble the democracy that this alliance overthrew.

Paxton characterizes stage five as "radicalization or entropy." Radicalization is likely if the new regime scores a big military victory, which consolidates its power and whets its appetite for expansion and large-scale social engineering. (See: Germany) In the absence of a radicalizing event, entropy may set in, as the state gets lost in its own purposes and degenerates into incoherence. (See: Italy)

It's so easy right now to look at the melee on the right and discount it as pure political theater of the most absurdly ridiculous kind. It's a freaking puppet show. These people can't be serious. Sure, they're angry -- but they're also a minority, out of power and reduced to throwing tantrums. Grown-ups need to worry about them about as much as you'd worry about a furious five-year-old threatening to hold her breath until she turned blue.

Unfortunately, all the noise and bluster actually obscures the danger. These people are as serious as a lynch mob, and have already taken the first steps toward becoming one. And they're going to walk taller and louder and prouder now that their bumbling efforts at civil disobedience are being committed with the full sanction and support of the country's most powerful people, who are cynically using them in a last-ditch effort to save their own places of profit and prestige.

We've arrived. We are now parked on the exact spot where our best experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country is another day we're slowly creeping across the final line beyond which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return.

How do we pull back? That's my next post.


Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future, and a consulting partner with the Cognitive Policy Works in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at Orcinus since 2006, and is a founding member of Group News Blog.

The Doctrine of White Supremacy Fuels Right Wing Conspiratorial Hysteria Over President Obama's Birth Certificate



An excellent piece on the most powerful, oppressive, and criminally destructive force in American society outside of capitalism itself--the political, cultural, and ideological doctrine of White Supremacy/racism...


Racism Is the Prime Cause for Debunked Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy Theory
By Liliana Segura
Posted on July 28, 2009


By now, everyone has heard of the "birthers," that rabid crop of self-appointed patriots who insist that Barack Hussein Obama is not a legitimate president because he is not really an American citizen. What was once a nasty little rumor in the early days of the presidential race has since evolved into a full-blown conspiracy theory whose proponents, though "viewed as irrelevant by the White House, and as embarrassing by much of the Republican Party," in the words of Politico's Ben Smith, nonetheless enjoy increasingly high-profile political support, and media coverage 9/11 "truthers" could only dream of.

The birthers' conspiracy theory -- which holds that Obama was born in Kenya, despite all evidence to the contrary -- has long been debunked. The Obama camp released a copy of his birth certificate as early as June of last year (although that only seemed to fan the flames). Yet, last week the "birthers" became big news again, after a video emerged showing Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) confronted at a town hall meeting by a woman who angrily accused him of being complicit in the cover-up of Obama's true origins. Castle, who is commonly labeled a "moderate Republican" -- and whose subsequent remark would earn him the label "RINO American Traitor" in some corners of the internet -- seemed genuinely perplexed. "Well I don't know what comment that invites," he said, to a chorus of boos. "If you're referring to the president, then he is a citizen of the United States."

The video of Castle's unfortunate run-in with the birthers hit YouTube and went viral. MSNBC put the clip on heavy rotation; "Hardball" host Chris Matthews devoted multiple segments to the topic; On CNN and on his radio show, sneering nativist Lou Dobbs fanned the flames with such remarks as, "What is the deal here? I'm starting to think we have … a document issue," and on Larry King, Dick Cheney's increasingly vocal daughter, Liz, shared her highly unempirical view that "one of the reasons you see people so concerned about this" is that "people are uncomfortable with having for the first time ever … a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas." By midweek, Jon Stewart had lampooned the birthers and their media allies on Comedy Central, a move that, given his recent distinction as the new "most trusted man in news," might have spelled the death of the birthers.

Of course, it hasn't.

This week alone, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Ok) was quoted as saying they may "have a point," while the fourth-highest ranking member of the House, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said she'd "like to see the documents." Meanwhile, an attempt by Hawaii Democrat Rep. Neil Abercrombie to pass a resolution to commemorate his state's 50th anniversary (while also proclaiming the state as President Obama’s birthplace) was temporarily blocked by Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann on Monday, only to pass a few hours later.

By now it seems everyone has put in their two cents (and then some) about the birthers. But while most media coverage has treated them as incurable wackjobs pushing a conspiracy theory to be classified alongside the moon landing "hoax" (40 years old last week!) and the (considerably larger) group of Americans who believe 9/11 was an inside job, the "truth" of Obama's birth seems to fall into a slightly different category. Like all conspiracy theories, it springs from the fertile soil of collective denial. Unlike all conspiracy theories, it thrives on a deep-rooted, racist belief: that a black man with a foreign name could never have won the presidency in the United States through anything other than trickery, deception, or fraud.

"If Barack Obama was an Irish American or a Polish American or a German American, there would be no discussion anywhere in this country about his citizenship," radio host E. Steven Collins told Chris Matthews on Thursday, in response to his fellow guest, deranged right-winger and Nixon Watergate operative G. Gordon Liddy, whose own attempt to defend the birthers should mark a low point, even for his career. "This is because many people in this nation cannot still accept the fact that a brilliant African-American is the commander-in-chief."

Tim Wise, author of Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, puts this in perspective: "When [Arnold] Schwarzenegger became governor, there were people who were saying,'hey we should amend the constitution to allow people who are naturalized citizens to maybe run for president."

"Although that didn't go anywhere -- and my guess is that the 'birthers' who are doing this crap with Obama probably wouldn't have been real keen on that idea -- notice that there was no groundswell of anger and opposition."

It's the Racism, Stupid!

Perhaps it is too obvious to say that the birthers' insistence on Obama's illegitimacy is based on racism. Even so, why isn't this collective racism at the heart of the "debate"?

"That's one of the problems with this so-called post-racial era that we're in," says Wise. "White folks in particular -- and some folks of color -- are very quick to avoid that angle at all costs, lest they be accused of somehow being the ones who are somehow racist in some way or who are thinking in racial terms."

After all, Americans have seen what happens when people of color dare to suggest that the country is anything but perfect: they are ruthlessly attacked. Take the rage over Michelle Obama's remark during the presidential campaign that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country," which was treated as unpatriotic hate speech. Or the controversy prompted by Eric Holder's remark that we are a "nation of cowards" when it comes to race.

Or, more recently, the ugly backlash against Obama's (considerably mild) remark that a judge should have a capacity for "empathy" and an understanding of "people's hopes and struggles." "Usually that's a code word for an activist judge," Sen. Orrin Hatch told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, a line that became a rallying cry against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. ("I will not vote for, and no senator should vote for, an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of or against parties before the court," Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions proclaimed at the confirmation hearing.) In the end, the obsessive harping over Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remark and right-wing accusations that she is a "reverse racist" because of her ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano (otherwise known as the Connecticut firefighters case) hijacked her confirmation hearing.

In fact, no sooner was the latest "birther" story gaining ground last week than we saw this same phenomenon on full display with a new controversy: the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In an unguarded moment, Obama dared to say what might have seemed pretty obvious to even the most superficially race-conscious: the Cambridge police, "acted stupidly" by handcuffing Gates in his own home, particularly given the "long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately." Obama's comment became national news; the networks seized on it, the blogosphere went wild, and by Friday afternoon, Obama had backtracked, issued a qualified apology, and invited the arresting officer, Sgt. Jim Crowley, to the White House for a beer.

"There's a bizarre tendency, every time a person of color criticizes white folks -- or just white racism -- to say 'that's racism,'" says Wise. "So, by that logic, Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a racist, Barack Obama is a racist, Sonia Sotomayor is a racist … Meanwhile, people like Pat Buchanan, who say Sonia Sotomayor is unqualified or that white people built the country and are basically entitled to 100 percent of everything -- they're not racist."

The attacks on Sotomayor, the hysteria over Obama's criticism of the Cambridge police, and the persistent rumors about Obama's origins seem symptomatic of something larger, something Wise believes is "the culmination of centuries of ingrained privilege and hegemonic control."

Even it you are not yourself in a position of power, "… if you've gotten used to seeing people who look like you in almost every position of authority," he says, "to then have to wake up every day and see a man of color basically running the country … is psychologically debilitating to white folks who all their lives weren't necessarily bigots or racists in any overt sense, but had simply gotten complacent with the way things were. They had internalized these notions of entitlement and superiority."

Given how deep such notions of entitlement and superiority can run, it’s hard to know to what degree the birthers are fully conscious of the racist impulses behind their crazy allegations -- or whether they are in such denial that they actually believe their own bullshit.

White Hegemony Challenged

To explain the devastating effect of Obama's presidency on those ordinary Americans who were quite happy with their white privilege, thank you, Wise quotes W.E.B. DuBois's concept of "the psychological wage of whiteness."

"A lot of white folks don't have much. They're struggling, they're hurting, but they've been able to content themselves with the idea that at least they're not black," Wise says.

"So they get this psychological wage from their whiteness. The problem is, that's a wage which is diminishing in value. If you say to yourself, 'Well I may not have much, but at least I'm not black,' and then you look around and say, 'Shit, Black is the new president!' -- now the value of your psychological wage is reduced in real dollar terms. Now you've got nothing."

In Wise's view, "The people who latch on to the birther stuff (working class and struggling middle class whites) aren't any more racist than elite white folks, but their way of expressing it is so much more raw and visceral, because: a) they may not have the filter that you get when you're elite (you sort of know when to check yourself), but also because they're the ones who feel the most threat."

Of course, white elites have their own fears over the erosion of white hegemony -- and not just televised bigots like Pat Buchanan. For a real measure of the panic over their own supremacy, a prime example is the growing number of elected officials who are pandering to -- and emboldening -- the birthers, not just by paying them lip service, but actually introducing legislation based on their outlandish claims.

This past February, Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) introduced a bill that would require presidential candidates to provide a copy of his or her birth certificate. (Posey has been widely quoted as saying he "can't swear on a stack of Bibles whether [Obama's] a citizen or not.") As David Weigel recently wrote in the Washington Independent, "While Posey initially said that he disbelieved conspiracy theories about the president's birth, he told the host of an Internet radio show that he'd discussed the possibility of Obama being removed from office over 'the eligibility issue' with 'high-ranking members of our Judiciary Committee.'"

According to Weigel, who has covered the birthers extensively, "as of July 15, nine fellow Republican members of Congress were backing the bill."

"While Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) has said that he supports the bill because he didn't know whether Obama was a citizen, other sponsors say that they weighed in to pour cold water on the conspiracy theories."

One such sponsor is Rep. John Campbell, a California Republican, who parroted this dubious claim in an interview with Chris Matthews on July 21st.

"Wouldn't you like to put all this to rest?" Campbell asked. "That's what this proposal is about." ("Nice try," Matthews responded.)

MATTHEWS: No, no. You are feeding the wacko wing of your party. Do you believe that Barack Obama is a legitimate native-born American or not?

CAMPBELL: That is not what this bill is about, Chris.
MATTHEWS: No, what do you believe?
CAMPBELL: As far as I know, yes, OK?
MATTHEWS: As far as you know?

Campbell and his ilk may be an embarrassment to more "respectable" and powerful members of the Republican party. But they have more in common than they would like to admit.

"It appears to me that the Republican party, because of the choices it has made -- going back 40 years or more -- on policy positions have guaranteed that they were destined to be, at the end of the day, the white nationalist party," says Wise.

When "your budget-cut philosophy is about cutting programs that are perceived as helping 'those people', your attacks on affirmative action are very clear, your attacks on busing are very clear, all your law and order stuff … when you sow those seeds for several decades, you ought not be surprised when a whole crop of people who have grown up with that -- that's what they're about now."

Take the new chair of the Young Republicans -- a 38-year-old woman named Audra Shay. She recently came under fire when she was caught cosigning a racist Facebook post that read "Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist … Muslim is on there side [sic] … need to take this country back from all of these mad coons … and illegals."

Shay's reply: "You tell em Eric! lol."

From "Barack the Magic Negro"; to e-mails depicting watermelons in front of the White House, to, most recently, a conservative activist's circulation of an image of Obama as a witch doctor, incidents like these are as ubiquitous now as they were during the presidential campaign. And the people yelling "terrorist" at Sarah Palin rallies or those informing John McCain that Obama is "an Arab" have not gone away. Mainstream Republicans who wish to look respectable may want to distance themselves from this "lunatic fringe," but as representatives of a party largely built on structural racism, this is a very real part of their base.

In order for the GOP to survive, says Wise, Republicans are going to have to somehow bring in more minorities -- a task that would require a fundamental revamping of the Republican identity and agenda -- or "they're gonna have to start making a lot of babies."

"I don't think the Republican party ever thought they could get a lot of black folks," Wise says. "But they thought they could get Latinos. And the reason they thought so was because of this ridiculous and fundamentally racist naivete that said, 'Well, Latinos are family-oriented so they'll be against abortion.' If you don't think white folks are that one dimensional how can you think Latinos are so one-dimensional? Well of course you can -- if you're a racist."

For a number of people, the Sotomayor confirmation hearings were a sign that the Republicans are no longer particularly set on attracting "the Latino vote," something that might make the Pat Buchanans in the party smile, but which will ultimately prove costly for the GOP as a whole. As the country's demographics evolve, the party that brought us the Willie Horton ads in the '80s will have to evolve too. And so will white Americans who continue to insist on blaming their problems on people of color.

"The birther stuff to me is part of the same narcissistic breakdown that is at the heart of every e-mail I get from a college kid or that college kid's parents who say, 'I couldn't get enough financial aid because they're giving all the scholarships to black people,'" says Wise. "This narcissism is especially evident when you watch such hateful right-wing media buffoons as Rush Limbaugh -- who supports the birthers -- and "who are just becoming totally unglued."

"On the one hand it's funny," says Wise. "On the other hand it's really frightening, because people when they're in that sort of meltdown mode don't make good decisions and do really crazy things." Take James W. Von Brunn, the white supremacist -- and "birther" himself -- who shot and killed a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in June.

It would be pushing it to see the birthers phenomenon as a a sign that white hegemony is nearing its last throes. However, "one really positive thing about Obama's presidency in regards to race" says Wise, is that "its created this nuttiness on the part of a lot white folks who have always been thinking this stuff but they just haven't been as bold with it."

"At some point it will become increasingly difficult for those who like to deny racism as a problem to continue completely burying their heads."

"At some point, people will have to say, maybe black folks aren't the crazy ones. Maybe it's not the folks of color who have lost their minds. Maybe it's you."

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special

Coverage. http://twitter.com/LilianaSegura

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/141587/

Two Takes on Henry Louis Gates by Ishmael Reed & Associated Press Journalist


July 27, 2009

How Henry Louis Gates Got Ordained as the Nation's "Leading Black Intellectual"

Post-Race Scholar Yells Racism

Now that Henry Louis Gates’ Jr. has gotten a tiny taste of what “the underclass” undergo each day, do you think that he will go easier on them? Lighten up on the tough love lectures? Even during his encounter with the police, he was given some slack. If a black man in an inner city neighborhood had hesitated to identify himself, or given the police some lip, the police would have called SWAT. When Oscar Grant, an apprentice butcher, talked back to a BART policemen in Oakland, he was shot!

Given the position that Gates has pronounced since the late eighties, if I had been the arresting officer and post-race spokesperson Gates accused me of racism, I would have given him a sample of his own medicine. I would have replied that “race is a social construct”--the line that he and his friends have been pushing over the last couple of decades.

After this experience, will Gates stop attributing the problems of those inner city dwellers to the behavior of “thirty five-year-old grandmothers living in the projects?” (Gates says that when he became a tough lover he was following the example of his mentor Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka as though his and Soyinka’s situations were the same. As a result of Soyinka’s criticisms of a Nigerian dictator, he was jailed and his life constantly threatened.)

Prior to the late eighties, Gates’ tough love exhortations were aimed at racism in the halls of academe, but then he signed on to downtown feminist reasoning that racism was a black male problem. Karen Durbin, who hired him to write for The Village Voice, takes credit for inventing him as a “public intellectual.” He was then assigned by Rebecca Penny Sinkler, former editor of The New York Times Book Review, to do a snuff job on black male writers. In an extraordinary review, he seemed to conclude that black women writers were good, not because of their merit, but because black male writers were bad. This was a response to an article by Mel Watkins, a former book review editor, who on his way out warned of a growing trend that was exciting the publisher’s cash registers. Books that I would describe as high Harlequin romances, melodramas in which saintly women were besieged by cruel black male oppressors, the kind of image of the brothers promoted by confederate novelists Thomas Nelson Page and Thomas Dixon.

Gates dismissed a number of black writers as misogynists, including me, whom he smeared throughout the United States and Europe, but when Bill Clinton was caught exploiting a young woman, sexually, he told the Times that he would “go to the wall for this president.” Feminists like Gloria Steinem defended the president as well, even though for years they’d been writing about women as victims of male chauvinists with power, the kind of guys who used to bankroll Ms. magazine.

Not to say that portraits of black men should be uniformly positive--I’vecertainly introduced some creeps in my own work--but most of the white screenwriters, directors and producers who film this material--and the professors and critics who promote it-- are silent about the abuses against women belonging to their own ethnic groups. Moreover, Alice Walker, Tina Turner and bell hooks have complained that in the hands of white script writers, directors and producers, the black males become more sinister straw men than they appear in the original texts.

There are big bucks to be made in promoting this culture. Two studios are currently fighting over the rights to a movie called “Push” about a black father who impregnates his illiterate Harlem daughter. A representative of one, according to the Times, said that the movie would provide both with “a gold mine of opportunity.”

As an example of the double standard by which blacks and whites are treated in American society, at about the same time that the Gate’s article on black misogyny was printed, there appeared a piece about Jewish American writers. Very few women were mentioned.

Gates was also under pressure for making himself the head black feminist in the words of feminist Michele Wallace as a result of his profiting from black feminist studies sales because, as she put it in the Voice, he had unresolved issues with his late mother, who was, according to Gates, a black nationalist. The black feminists wanted in. As a result, Gates invited them to join his Norton anthology project. The result was the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. One of the editors was the late feminist scholar Dr. Barbara Christian. She complained to me almost to the day that she died that she and the late Nellie Y. McKay, another editor, did all of the work while Gates took the credit. This seems to be Gates’ pattern. Getting others to do his work. Mother Jones magazine accused him of exploiting those writers who helped to assemble his Encarta Africana, of running an academic sweat shop and even avoiding affirmative action goals by not hiring blacks. Julian Brookes of Mother Jones wrote:

“Henry Louis Gates Jr. has never been shy about speaking up for affirmative action. Indeed, the prominent Harvard professor insists that he wouldn't be where he is today without it. Odd, then, that when it came to assembling a staff to compile an encyclopedia of black history, Gates hired a group that was almost exclusively white. Of the up to 40 full-time writers and editors who worked to produce Encarta Africana only three were black. What's more, Gates and co-editor K. Anthony Appiah rejected several requests from white staffers to hire more black writers. Mother Jones turned to Gates for an explanation of this apparent inconsistency.

“Did the staff members who expressed concern that the Africana team was too white have a point?”

Gates responded:

“It's a disgusting notion that white people can't write on black history--some of the best scholars of Africa are white. People should feel free to criticize the quality of the encyclopedia, but I will not yield one millimeter[to people who criticize the makeup of the staff]. It's wrongheaded. Would I have liked there to be more African Americans in the pool? Sure. But we did the best we could given the time limits and budget.”

While his alliance with feminists gave Gates’ career a powerful boost, it was his Op ed for the Times blaming continued anti-Semitism on African Americans that brought the public intellectual uptown. It was then that Gates was ordained as the pre-eminent African American scholar when, if one polled African-American scholars throughout the nation, Gates would not have ranked among the top twenty five. It would have to be done by secret ballot given the power that Gates’ sponsors have given him to make or break academic careers. As Quincy Troupe, editor of Black Renaissance Noire would say, Gates is among those leaders who were “given to us,” not only by the white mainstream but also by white progressives. Amy Goodman carries on about Gates and Cornel West like the old Bobby Soxers used to swoon over Sinatra. Last week Rachel Maddow called Gates “the nation’s leading black intellectual.” Who pray tell is the nation’s leading white intellectual, Rachel? How come we can only have one? Some would argue that Gates hasn’t written a first rate scholarly work since 1989.

CNN gave Gates’ accusation against blacks as anti-Semites a worldwide audience and so when I traveled to Israel for the first time in the year, 2000, Israeli intellectuals asked me why American blacks hated Jews so. In print, I challenged Gate’s libeling of blacks as a group in my book, Another Day at the Front, because at the time of his Op-ed, the Anti-Defamation League issued a report that showed the decline of anti-Semitism among black Americans. I cited this report to Gates. He said that the Times promised that there would be a follow up Op-ed about racism among American Jews. It never appeared. Barry Glassner was correct when he wrote in his “The Culture of Fear” that the whole Gates-generated black Jewish feud was hyped.

Under Tina Brown’s editorship at The New Yorker, Gates was hired to do hatchet jobs on Minister Louis Farrakhan and the late playwright August Wilson.

The piece on Wilson appeared after a debate between Robert Brunstein and Wilson about Wilson’s proposal for a black nationalist theater. Gates took Brunstein’s side of the argument. Shortly afterward, Brustein and Gates were awarded a million dollar grant from the Ford Foundation for the purpose of holding theatrical Talented Tenth dinner parties at Harvard at a time when regional black theater was heading toward extinction. Tina Brown, a one-time Gates sponsor, is a post-racer like Gates. Like Andrew Sullivan, a Charles Murray supporter, she gets away with the most fatuous comments as a result of Americans being enthralled by a London accent. On the Bill Maher show, she said that issues of race were passé because the country has elected a black president. This woman lives in a city from which blacks and Latinos have been ethnically cleansed as a result the policies of Mayor Giuliani, a man who gets his talking points from The Manhattan Institute. Thousands of black and Hispanic New Yorkers have been stopped and frisked without a peep from Gates and his Harvard circle of post-racers such as Orlando Patterson.

Even the Bush administration admitted to the existence of racial profiling, yet Gates says that only after his arrest did he understand the extent of racial profiling, a problem for over two hundred years. Why wasn’t “the nation’s leading black intellectual” aware of the problem? His exact words following his arrest were “What it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are, how vulnerable are all poor people to capricious forces like a rogue policemen.” Amazing! Shouldn’t “the nation’s leading black intellectual” be aware of writer Charles Chesnutt who wrote about racial profiling in 1905!

The Village Voice recently exposed the brutality meted out to black and Hispanic prisoners at New York’s Riker’s Island and medical experiments that have damaged black children living in the city. Yet Maureen Dowd agrees with Tina Brown, her fellow New Yorker, that because the president and his attorney general are black--in terms of racism--it’s mission accomplished. Makes you understand how the German citizens of Munich could go about their business while people were being gassed a few miles away. You can almost forgive Marie Antoinette. She was a young woman in her thirties with not a single face lift operation.

What is it with this post-race Harvard elite? I got to see Dick Gregory and Mort Sahl perform in San Francisco the other night, the last of the great sixties comedians. During his routine, Gregory said that he’s sending his grand kids to black historical colleges because even though he lives near Harvard and can afford to send them there, he wouldn’t “send his dog to Harvard.” Maybe he is on to something.

When Queer Power became the vogue, Gates latched on to that movement, too. In an introduction to an anthology of Gay writings, Gates argued that Gays face more discrimination than blacks, which is disputed even by Charles Blow, Times statistician, who like Harvard’s Patterson and Gates, makes tough love to blacks exclusively. Recently, he reported that the typical target of a hate crime is black, but failed to identify the typical perpetrator of a hate crime as a young white male.

Moreover, what’s the percentage of Gays on death row? The percentage of blacks? Which group is more likely to be redlined by banks, a practice that has cost blacks billions of dollars in equity? Would Cambridge police have given two white Gays the problems that they gave Gates? Why no discussion of charges of Gay racism made by Marlon Riggs, Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde? How many unarmed white Gays have been murdered by the police? How many blacks? Undoubtedly, there are pockets of homophobia among blacks but not as much as that among other ethnic communities that I could cite. The best thing for blacks would be for Gays to get married and blacks should help in this effort, otherwise all of the oxygen on the left will continue to be soaked up by this issue.

For white Gays and Lesbians to compare their struggle to that of the Civil Rights movement is like Gates comparing his situation with that of Wole Soyinka’s. Moreover, Barbara Smith says that when she tried to join the Gay Millennial March on Washington, the leaders told her to get lost. They said they were intent upon convincing white Heterosexual America that “We’re just like you.”

Will the pre-late-80s Gates be resurrected as a result of what MSNBC and CNN commentator Toure calls Gates’ wake up call? (This is the same Toure, a brilliant fiction writer, who just about wrote a post-race manifesto for The New York Times Book Review, during which he dismissed an older generation of black activists as a bunch of “Jesses”.)

Will Gates let up on what Kofi Natambu the young editor of the Panopticon Review calls his “opportunism.” Will he re-think remarks like the one he made after the election of his friend, the tough love president Barack Obama? Gates said that he doubted that the election would end black substance abuse and unmarried motherhood?

Is it possible that things are more complicated than tough love sound bites which are designed to solicit more patronage? Will he reconsider the post-race neocon line of his blog, TheRoot.com, bankrolled by The Washington Post? Will he invite writers Carl Dix and Asia Toure, who represent other African American constituencies, as much as he prints the views of far right Manhattan Institute spokesperson and racial profiling denier, John McWhorter.

Will he continue to advertise shoddy blame-the-victim and black pathology sideshows like CNN’s “Black In America,” and “The Wire?” (Predictably CNN’s Anderson Cooper turned Gates’ controversy into a carnival act. The story was followed by one about Michael Jackson’s doctors. CNN is making so much money and raising its ratings so rapidly from black pathology stories that it’s beginning to give Black Entertainment Network a run for its money, so to speak.)

Predictably, the segregated media--the spare all white jury dominating the conversation about race as usual--gave the Cambridge cop the benefit of the doubt and the police unions backed him up. The police unions always back up their fellow officers even when they shoot unarmed black suspects in the back or, in the case of Papa Charlie James, an elderly San Francisco black man, while he was laying in bed. They back each other up and “testilie” all of the time.

Will Gates listen to his critics from whom he has been protected by powerful moneyed forces, which have given him the ability to make or break academic careers, preside over the decision-making of patronage and grant-awarding intuitions. Houston A. Baker Jr.’s Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned The Ideals Of The Civil Rights Era offers mild criticisms of Gates, West and other black public intellectuals, who, according to him, are “embraced by virtue of their race transcendent ideology.” His book went from the warehouse to the remainder shelves. The Village Voice promised two installments of courageous muckraking pieces about Gates written by novelist, playwright and poet Thulani Davis; part two never appeared. Letters challenging Gates by one of Gates’ main critics at Harvard, Dr. Martin Kilson, have been censored. Kilson refers to Gates as “the master of the intellectual dodge.” And even when Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell at The Nation’s blog defied the 24-hour news cycle that has depicted Gates, a black nationalist critic, as an overnight black nationalist-- she calls him “apolitical”--she had to pull her punches. As an intellectual, she has more depth than all of the white mainstream and white progressive media’s selected “leaders of black intellection,” among whom are post-modernist preachers who can spew rhetoric faster than the speed of light.

It remains to be seen whether Gates, who calls himself an intellectual entrepreneur, will now use his “wake up call” to lead a movement that will challenge racial disparities in the criminal justice system. A system that is rotten to the core, where whites commit the overwhelming majority of the crimes, while blacks and Hispanics do the time. A prison system where torture and rape are regular occurrences and where in some states the conditions are worse than at Gitmo. California prisons hospitals are so bad that they have been declared unconstitutional and a form of torture, over the objections of Attorney General Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who leased his face to the rich and was on television the other day talking about how rough they have it. A man who is channeling his hero the late Kurt Waldheim’s attitudes toward the poor and disabled.

Gates can help lead the fight so that there will be mutual respect between law enforcement and minorities instead of their calling us niggers all the time and being Marvin Gaye’s “trigger happy” policemen. Not all of them but quite a few. Or Gates can coast along. Continue to maintain that black personal behavior, like not turning off the TV at night, is at the root of the barriers facing millions of black Americans. Will return to the intellectual rigor espoused by his hero W.E.B Dubois or will he continue to act as a sort of black intellectual Charles Van Doren? An entertainer. (An insider at PBS told me that the network is demanding that Gates back up his claims about the ancestry of celebrities with more solid proofs.)

Gates has discussed doing a documentary about racial profiling. I invite him to cover a meeting residents of my Oakland ghetto neighborhood have with the police each month. (Most of our problems incidentally are caused by the off-springs of two family households. Suburban gun dealers who arm gang leaders. The gang leader on our block isn’t black! An absentee landlord who owns a house where crack operations take place.) He can bring Bill Cosby with him. He’ll find that the problems of inner citizens are more complex than “thirty five year-old grandmothers living in the projects” and rappers not pulling up their pants and that racism remains in the words of the great novelist John A. Williams, “an inexorable force.”

Finally, in his 2002 Jefferson lecture, delivered at the Library of Congress, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., during remarks about the 18th-Century poet Phillis Wheatley in which he excoriated the attitudes of her critics in the Black Arts movement, one more time, Gates ended his lecture with: “We can finally say: Welcome home, Phillis; welcome home.”

If Gate’s ceases his role as just another tough lover and an “intellectual entrepreneur,” and takes a role in ending racial traffic and retail profiling, and police home invasions, issues that have lingered since even more Chesnutt’s time, we can say, “Welcome home, Skip; welcome home.”

Ishmael Reed is the publisher of Konch. A renowned novelist, critic, essayist, journalist, poet and teacher Reed is the critically acclaimed author of over 20 books. His new book, "Mixing It Up, Taking On The Media Bullies" was published in 2008 by Da Capo Press


A scholar in the fray: Henry Louis Gates Jr.

By Hillel Italie
Associated Press

July 27, 2009

Decades ago - long before Harvard, long before his books and documentaries - Henry Louis Gates Jr. and some friends nearly set off a brawl trying to integrate a West Virginia club.

Gates and the others were circled by a white mob. The owner screamed at the black students to leave, slamming one of them against a wall. The club was shut down, but Gates had been marked: West Virginia police, he would write in his memoir, placed him on a list of those who might be detained should race riots break out during election time.

"Someone in authority had decided I was dangerous?" he wrote. "I mean, I liked to think so."

Gates rarely has been considered a dangerous man. Gregarious, outgoing, media savvy - yes. But in the years after the confrontation in Keyser, W.Va., his unrelenting focus on black life in America was intellectual. He has written essays, compiled reference works, searched for slave narratives, produced documentaries, assembled a mighty team of colleagues at Harvard.

"He's unquestionably one of the great public intellectuals," said David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, for which Gates has been a contributor. "He puts people together; he makes a million speeches. . . . I think he has 50 honorary degrees by now."

Now a dispute with police has brought Gates down into the arena once again. He was suspected of breaking into a house - his own - and then charged with disorderly conduct after arguing with a police officer.

The charge was quickly dropped, but the news did not end, for Gates is the most well-connected of men, a friend of at least two presidents (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) and a scholar whose arrest was worthy of mention at a White House news conference.

Responding to a reporter's question Wednesday night, President Obama said that he didn't know all the facts but that the Cambridge, Mass., police "acted stupidly" by citing Gates for disorderly conduct. He later said he regretted his comments, though he believed that both Gates and the police officer overreacted.

Gates, for his part, says he is ready to move on. In a statement yesterday, he promised to do all he could so that others could learn from his arrest. "This could and should be a profound teaching moment in the history of race relations in America," Gates said.

And after a call from Obama, Gates said Friday that he would accept the president's invitation to the White House for a beer with him and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley.

Gates' life has been an almost perfect arc of energy and ascent. A mill worker's son, he graduated with honors from Yale and has devoted himself to discovering and explaining the very marrow of the black past.

As head of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, Gates has consciously tried to build upon Du Bois' scholarship and to live out, and up to, his place in what Du Bois called "The Talented Tenth" of black elites.

He has told his own story in a memoir, Colored People. Gates was born in 1950 in Piedmont, W.Va., then a segregated mill community. His first knowledge of whites was through television, in sitcoms such as The Life of Riley, which featured a factory worker, like Gates' own father. His family initially had little interest in protest, wondering why black people would want to eat at white-owned restaurants given that it was well established that whites couldn't cook.

"Civil rights took us all by surprise," wrote Gates, whose life was changed, as millions were, by the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing the "separate but equal" doctrine in public schools.

Just two years later, Gates began at the Davis Free Elementary School, integrated in 1955 and virtually the only place in Piedmont where blacks and whites gathered together. Gates arrived more determined than afraid. He was "marked out to excel," an early reader and writer "blessed with the belief that I could learn anything."

"I was all set to become the little prince of that almost all-white school," he wrote.

He was an A student who loved history and geography and would practice the way African leaders' names were pronounced by following the newscasts of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. He gave his high school valedictory address and graduated summa cum laude from Yale, where he majored in history.

To his eventual embarrassment, he wrote in his Yale application:

"As always, whitey now sits in judgment of me, preparing to cast my fate. It is your decision either to let me blow with the wind as a nonentity or to encourage the development of self. Allow me to prove myself."

He was substantial enough to get into Yale anyway, politicized enough to protest racism and the Vietnam War, but never so disheartened by his country that he didn't consider himself a part of it.

As a scholar, he has advocated African American history as part of American history, unwilling to enter the "sweepstakes of oppression."

Gates' pull is also political. He is close to the Clintons and initially supported Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential run. He has met Obama often enough to host a fund-raiser for his successful U.S. Senate race in 2004, and Gates has said he contributed the maximum allowable amount to Obama's presidential campaign.