Thursday, March 19, 2015

Claudia Rankine On White Supremacy, Serena Williams, and the Ongoing Struggle Of African Americans For Social Justice, Cultural Independence, and Political Freedom in the United States

Claudia Rankine: Serena, Indian Wells, and Race
By Boris Kachka
March 18, 2015
Claudia Rankine arrives at the 46th NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, California. Serena Williams of USA celebrates defeating Sloane Stephens of USA during day nine of the BNP Paribas Open tennis at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 17, 2015 in Indian Wells, California. Photo: JONATHAN ALCORN/Reuters/Corbis and Julian Finney/Getty Images

"You want history to be forced to adjust itself in terms of the past.

Last week was an eventful one for the writer Claudia Rankine. On Thursday her book Citizen, a shape-shifting treatise on American racism, won a National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, having also been nominated as criticism. The following day, one of her book’s key subjects, Serena Williams, returned to Indian Wells, California, for a tournament she’d boycotted for 13 years. Serena had been booed for the entirety of her championship match there in 2001. Fans suspected that her father and coach, Richard, had engineered her sister Venus’s withdrawal from the tournament, but the Williams family reported hearing racial epithets and vowed never to return. This February, following a decade and a half of Grand Slam victories and minor controversies, Serena announced a change of heart. After an emotional first match on Friday to roaring applause, she advanced yesterday to the quarterfinals. Rankine has only caught highlights between cross-country book-tour stops, but she did find time to talk to us about the latest twist in the life of a champion for whom, as she wrote, “every look, every comment, every bad call blossoms out of history, through her, onto you.”

How did you feel about Serena breaking the boycott?

I think it’s fantastic. In her statement to Time announcing it, she said an incredible thing, and I wrote it down: “Thirteen years and a lifetime in tennis later, things feel different. A few months ago, when Russian official Shamil Tarpischev made racist and sexist remarks about Venus and me, the WTA and the USTA immediately condemned him. It reminded me how far the sport has come, and how far I’ve come too.” In essence, what she said was, for the first time, an institution stood behind me. When Tarpischev referred to the Williams sisters as “the Williams brothers” and the USTA fined him $25,000 and put him on a year’s suspension, that made all the difference. Because you can’t legislate crazy or racist, but if the rest of us stand around and let it happen, that’s when you feel like you’re totally on the outside.

Reading in Citizen that the electronic line-call system was installed partly because of a series of bad calls against Serena in 2004, I couldn’t help thinking about body cameras on cops. Both are technological remedies not only for human error but blatant bias.

Vigilance is great, but we can never have a camera at every angle. So the Darren Wilsons will exist. They will kill random black men no matter what happens. But what throws black people out of the American citizenry is when it goes to the courts and no indictments come. That’s the real problem. You can have institutions that will arrive immediately and legislate against that.

So how do you feel about the Justice Department report on Ferguson?

I think that Eric Holder showed up in this instance. And I don’t remember what school it was, but the fraternity with that song — immediately that was shut down, and that’s all that you want: a kind of communal recognition that that is not acceptable. Not that you can stop it from happening. I mean, when Richard Williams was accused of match-fixing, that is not far off from why black men are being killed. It was the immediate assumption that he’s a criminal.

He and Venus are still not coming to Indian Wells. If Serena’s making the right call in 2015, what about them?

It’s not a question of right or wrong. It’s a question of comfort level. Serena feels okay, and clearly she herself was very nervous in that first match, yeah? I mean, it was a tough match for her. The trust that Serena has based on what happened with the Russian official is something personal to her. But I don’t think you can underestimate the wound and the personal disappointment one has, because these incidents are not singular. They accumulate in the body, and you’re negotiating them all the time.

So you buy that the fining of the Russian official was the main reason Serena came back?

She did say last year she was considering it, so clearly, it’s not the only reason. But it’s never a single thing. She’s at a point in her career where she’s clearly understanding herself now as a legend. I think she is seeing herself almost as a stateswoman for the game.

The chairman of the tournament recently told the Times that Serena’s was a way of “deleting” that “terrible day” of the 2001 final from the tournament. Is that even possible?
There’s no wiping the slate clean, it’s always part of the story. The fact that the story has taken this other turn is fantastic. Serena said something like she’s glad that she can create new memories, and I think she felt overwhelmingly moved by the response of the crowd and the fans. We could see that in her tears.

Some people have attributed Serena’s polarizing moments to her family’s cliquishness, or perhaps to sexism. Is it definitely all about race, do you think?

I think so. Look, we’ve had the opportunity to watch how the president has been received. And just recently, the letter that went out behind his back — what is that?

Well, it doesn’t seem to have gone well for the Republicans.

Exactly, but still, just the sense that this is a possibility, an appropriate response. So, no. Sexism is rampant, but I think that the black body in the white imagination is still equated with bestiality, criminality, on some level. It’s one of those things that can’t seem to untangle itself.

And yet a black man is president, and a black woman is the best tennis player in the world.

Well, that’s why I think it’s fantastic that Serena’s gone back. You don’t want to stand still, you want things to keep moving. You want history to be forced to adjust itself in terms of the past. But it doesn’t mean that dynamics from the past are gone just because we have a new kind of fluidity and openness in certain areas.

How did Serena become a dominant topic in Citizen? There’s obviously a lot more going o in this country when it comes to racism.

Well, I was really interested in Tiger Woods when he arrived on the scene. My husband was a big golf fan, and he would watch and I would be in the other room listening to the commentators. The ways in which he was always being accused of breaking the rules made me begin to watch when it was on, and that somehow led me to watching Serena and Venus. Then I started playing tennis myself.

You also have a chapter on Zinedine Zidane, the Algerian-French soccer player who head-butted an opponent in a World Cup final after being taunted with racial slurs. Why do sports interest you so much as a cultural barometer?

It’s documented. You have both commentary and action simultaneously and instantaneously. So it’s not just about watching what’s happening, you’re also hearing how it’s being interpreted at the moment that it’s happening. And so part of the fascination for me as someone who teaches and reads cultural theory is, you’re not only interested in what the athlete is doing, you’re interested in the ways the commentators contextualize what is happening. And then you have your own interpretation as well.

Citizen puts Serena Williams’s struggles with judges and fans on a continuum from the insensitive comments you and your friends have heard to the killing of African-Americans by cops and vigilantes. Why was it important to unify all of these experiences in one short book?

I wanted to create a narrative that showed that these microaggressions reveal a kind of positioning that allows people then to arrive on juries, and to arrive in the Senate, and to arrive in police cars, or in New Orleans organizing evacuations; that that positioning of the white imagination is inside all people. That’s how we get to those bigger moments. We’re not in the world of self-declared white supremacists. We’re in the world of regular Americans who hold those premises or beliefs unconsciously.

What’s the remedy for that?

I think consciousness is a big step, and it shouldn’t be underestimated.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Re-election of Bebe Netanyahu in Israel and Its Grave Implications for the Middle East and Palestinian-Israeli relations


In an extremely violent, turbulent, and contentious region of the world characterized by and teeming with relentlessly dogmatic and wildly irresponsible political, religious, and ideological demagogues posing as "leaders" and "statesmen"--from Saudi Arabia to Iran, and from Egypt to Iraq, one of the worst and most opportunist in this explosive part of the world is the current prime minister of Israel Bebe Netanyahu who was shamelessly--and tragically-- re-elected to a fourth term yesterday.

A pompous overbearing rightwing hack and loudmouthed hypocritical bully (from the United States!) who thrives on blatant fear mongering within Israel itself and the overt and covert xenophobic use of the open intimidation of the Palestinian people via the cruel and oppressive expansion of Israeli settlements and propping up the apartheid like structural and institutional system "governing" Gaza and the West Bank,  Netanyahu and the Zionist rightwingers of the Likud party that Netanyahu leads are only arrogantly interested--like far too many of their authoritarian Arab counterparts and enemies in the region-- in endlessly pouring gasoline on a massive raging fire in the 'Middle East' that can only end in total mutual destruction for them all.

That no good can or will come of Netanyahu's rhetorical insistence and corresponding vicious threats that only he and his rightwing and neoliberal supporters within Israel and the rest of the world can and will determine the ultimate political, economic, social, and cultural "fate"  of the Palestinians, while they simply remain in cowed abject colonial subjugation to the Israeli righwing rulers with the even more comprehensive and oppressive support of the United States (who we should NEVER FORGET also fully backed the fascist South African regime throughout its entire history of Apartheid) is a huge understatement.

But as we all know from history-- or should know by this very late date-- political demagoguery on this scale-- no matter how it is defended or justified by its users--can only lead to not only the destruction of others but to the destruction of oneself as well. This deadend cul-de-sac is absolutely assured no matter who tries to evade it because no one ultimately escapes History--even or most especially the most powerful...Stay tuned...


Netanyahu Soundly Defeats Chief Rival in Israeli Elections
MARCH 17, 2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel celebrated with supporters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. Credit Amir Cohen/Reuters 
TEL AVIV — After a bruising campaign focused on his failings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel won a clear victory in Tuesday’s elections and seemed all but certain to form a new government and serve a fourth term, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process.

With 99.5 percent of the ballots counted, the YNet news site reported Wednesday morning that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had captured 29 or 30 of the 120 seats in Parliament, sweeping past his chief rival, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, which got 24 seats.

Mr. Netanyahu and his allies had seized on earlier exit polls that showed a slimmer Likud lead to create an aura of inevitability, and celebrated with singing and dancing. While his opponents vowed a fight, Israeli political analysts agreed even before most of the ballots were counted that he had the advantage, with more seats having gone to the right-leaning parties likely to support him.

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It was a stunning turnabout from the last pre-election polls published Friday, which showed the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog, with a four- or five-seat lead and building momentum, and the Likud polling close to 20 seats. To bridge the gap, Mr. Netanyahu embarked on a last-minute scorched-earth campaign, promising that no Palestinian state would be established as long as he remained in office and insulting Arab citizens.

Mr. Netanyahu, who served as prime minister for three years in the 1990s and returned to office in 2009, exulted in what he called “a huge victory” and said he had spoken to the heads of all the parties “in the national camp” and urged them to help him form a government “without any further ado.”

“I am proud of the Israeli people that, in the moment of truth, knew how to separate between what’s important or what’s not and to stand up for what’s important,” he told an exuberant crowd early Wednesday morning at Likud’s election party at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. “For the most important thing for all of us, which is real security, social economy and strong leadership.”

But it remained to be seen how his divisive — some said racist — campaign tactics would affect his ability to govern a fractured Israel.

Mr. Herzog also called the election “an incredible achievement.” He said he had formed a negotiating team and still hoped to lead “a real social government in Israel” that “aspires to peace with our neighbors.”

“The public wants a change,” he said at an election-night party in Tel Aviv, before the Likud’s large margin of victory was revealed by the actual vote count. “We will do everything in our power, given the reality, to reach this. In any case, I can tell you that there will be no decisions tonight.”

Based on the results reported on YNet, Mr. Netanyahu could form a narrow coalition of nationalist and religious parties free of the ideological divisions that stymied his last government. That was what he intended when he called early elections in December. President Reuven Rivlin, who in coming days must charge Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Herzog with trying to forge a coalition based on his poll of party leaders’ preferences , said shortly after the polls closed that he would suggest they join forces instead.

“I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel’s democracy and new elections in the near future,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Both camps rejected that option publicly, saying the gaps between their world views were too large. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Herzog started working the phones immediately after the polls closed, calling party heads to begin the horse-trading and deal-making in hopes of lining up a majority of lawmakers behind them.

The biggest prize may be Moshe Kahlon, a popular former Likud minister who broke away — in part out of frustration with Mr. Netanyahu — to form Kulanu, which focused on pocketbook issues. Mr. Kahlon leans to the right but has issues with the prime minister, and he said Tuesday night that he would not reveal his recommendation until the final results were tallied.

Kulanu — Hebrew for “All of Us” — won 10 seats , according to the tally YNet reported Wednesday based on 99.5 percent of ballots counted. That is enough to put either side’s basic ideological alliance over the magic number of 61 if they also win the backing of two ultra-Orthodox parties that won a total of 14 seats.

“The clearest political outcome is that Kahlon is going to be the kingmaker, and it really depends on how he is going to play his cards,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “It very much depends on Kahlon.”

Silvan Shalom, a Likud minister, told reporters that the prime minister would reach out first to Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party and to Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, two archconservatives, and “of course Moshe Kahlon,” predicting a coalition “within the next few days” of 63 or 64 seats.

“Israel said today a very clear ‘yes’ to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to the Likud to continue leading the State of Israel,” Mr. Shalom said. “We’ll do it with our allies. We’ll have a strong coalition that is able to deal with all the important issues.”

The Zionist Union said, essentially, not so fast.

Nachman Shai, a senior lawmaker from the Labor Party, which joined with the smaller Hatnua to form the new slate, said Mr. Herzog could still form a coalition, thought he did not specify how, and advised the public to “wait and see.” “They’re trying to cash the check and create a  certain atmosphere of victory," Mr. Shai told reporters. “We’ll do the same.”

The murky exit-poll predictions led to a murky reaction from the White House, where a spokesman said that President Obama remained “committed to working very closely with the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong relationship between the United States and Israel, and the president is confident that he can do that with whomever the Israeli people choose.”

The Joint List of Arab parties won 13 seats, making it the third-largest parliamentary faction. Its four component parties previously had 11.

The unity seems to have lifted turnout among Arab voters to its highest level since 1969, said the list’s leader, Ayman Odeh. Arab parties have never joined an Israeli coalition, but Mr. Odeh has indicated that he would try to help Mr. Herzog in other ways in hopes of ending Mr. Netanyahu’s tenure.

Yesh Atid, a centrist party that won a surprising 19 seats in the 2013 election, its first, earned 11 this time. The Jewish Home lost votes to Mr. Netanyahu’s swing to the right and ended up with eight, according to YNet, down from its current 12. The ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu had six, and the leftist Meretz four.

A new ultra-Orthodox breakaway faction apparently failed to pass the raised electoral threshold to enter Parliament, which means its votes will be discarded, costing the right-wing bloc.

As the results of Israel’s tight election roll in, Israelis reflect on the issues they hope the next prime minister will make priorities.

Turnout was near 72 percent, four percentage points higher than in 2013, which analysts attributed to the surprisingly close contest between the Likud and Zionist Union.

“For the first time in many years, we see a serious strengthening in the two major parties,” said Yehuda Ben Meir of the Institute for National Security Studies. “Both parties are higher up at the expense of the smaller parties, which is good for stability, and it’s a move to the center. The larger parties are always more to the center than the satellite parties.”

But Mr. Plesner of the Democracy Institute said the results showed the need for electoral reform because Israel’s “system is so fragmented, so unstable, so difficult to govern.”

Tuesday’s balloting came just 26 months after Israel’s last election, but the dynamic was entirely different. In 2013, there was no serious challenge to Mr. Netanyahu. This time, Mr. Herzog teamed up with Tzipi Livni to form the Zionist Union, an effort to reclaim the state’s founding pioneer philosophy from a right-wing that increasingly defines it in opposition to Palestinian national aspirations.

They promised to stop construction in isolated Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, to try to renew negotiations with the Palestinians, and to restore relations Mr. Netanyahu had frayed with the White House. Mostly, though, they — along with Yesh Atid and Kulanu — hammered the prime minister on kitchen-table concerns like the high cost of housing and food.

Mr. Netanyahu talked mainly about the threats of an Iranian nuclear weapon and Islamic terrorism, addressing economics only in the final days. That was also when he made a sharp turn to the right, backing away from his 2009 endorsement of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict and sounding an alarm Tuesday morning that Arabs were voting “in droves.”

Many voters complained about a bitter campaign of ugly attacks and a lack of inspiring choices.

“I am happy today to be able to vote, but I know I’ll be unhappy with the result, no matter who wins,” said Elad Grafi, 29, who lives in Rehovot, a large city south of Tel Aviv. Sneering at the likelihood of any candidate being able to form a coalition stable enough to last a full term, he added, “Anyway, I’ll see you here again in two years, right?”

In the Jerusalem suburb of Tzur Hadassah, Eli Paniri, 54, a longtime Likud supporter, said he “voted for the only person who should be prime minister: Netanyahu.”

“I am not ashamed of this,” Mr. Paniri said after weeks of Netanyahu-bashing from all sides. “He is a strong man and, most important, he stood up to President Obama.”

Reporting was contributed by Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah, Israel, and Tel Aviv; Isabel Kershner, Myra Noveck and Carol Sutherland from Jerusalem; Michael D. Shear from Washington; Diaa Hadid from the West Bank; Rina Castelnuovo from Beit Zayit, Israel; and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.

A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Netanyahu Soundly Defeats Chief Rival.