Posted tagged ‘Racism’

The Apostasy of Jennifer Rubin

November 9, 2011

Jennifer Rubin is one of those people one simply doesn’t need to read.  Not, or not simply because she’s never right; but rather because, almost always, she is boringly, predictably wrong —  in prose that saps one’s will to live, strung together into simulations of argument that one could lay out in advance  like squares for hopscotch.

But every now and then she rouses herself from her mission — the ongoing erosion of what remains of The Washington Post’s reasons to exist — to achieve true grotesquerie.

So it goes in the affair TBogg has already chronicled, in which Rubin retweeted this message of sweetness and light; the link there leads to a blog post that Der Stürmer would have been pleased to publish (Proper names changed, of course, though the message would have stayed the same.)

Nothing to see here, really — Rubin is simply one of many shills for the peculiar notion that to love Israel obligates one to revere every last folly and viciousness of its worst elements. That she would endorse/direct readers to a steaming heap of murderous racism seems merely to be part of her brief as she sees it.

TBogg focuses on the Post’s blithe defense of the whole affair, with its ombudsman trotting the old “it’s just an opinion” fig leaf.  (Does the Post require its ombudspeople to undergo chemical sterilization, or do they just recommend it?)  For me, I’m going to trot a bit of stuff I don’t usually draw upon, science writer that I am.

That is — atheist though I  also am, I’m one of the commitedly Jewish variety, and I’m not going to let Rubin’s “opinion” pass as anything like an acceptable statement from within the tradition.  I recall what my rabbi and friend pointed out to me one time when we were discussing the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.  He opened the Tanakh, found Isiah, chapter 19, and he read out these verses:

19:24 In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: 19:25 Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.

In the context of our conversation, the exegisis is, I think, pretty damn obvious.  That Rabbi — Ben-Zion Gold, for those of you who may have encountered him — survived the Holocaust, the only member of his family to do so.  He knows from hatred, and the way verbal violence — the rhetoric that describes the subhuman, vicious other — leads to physical destruction, murder in the land.

Rubin’s Ombudsman, and her editors at the Post, may give her a pass. They shouldn’t.  This stuff kills, or at least makes such disasters that much more likely.

But whatever (lack of) consequences Rubin may face in her professional setting, it seems to me that if she is going to purport to speak for anything remotely resembling Jews or Judaism, she has a lot of ‘splainin, or rather learning to do that I strongly doubt will ever take place.  And as for the Post …  I channel my inner Brad Delong:  Why, oh why can’t we have a better press corps.

Image:  Leonardo da Vinci, Study of five grotesque heads, c. 1494

2 Black 2 B Prez: Palin Hears, Retransmits Dog Whistle

May 19, 2011

Sometimes, the quote simply speaks for itself:

“Well, talk about racism, that was a racist tinged question from David Gregory,” she said. “He made it sound like if you’re black, you are on food stamps and the President is referring to you as being on food stamps. I think that’s racist.” [Sarah Palin speaking to Sean Hannity, via TPM]

Victim politics demands that the real suffering of others must be made invisible.  In its place comes the claim of precisely the injury actually done to those others, but now alleged to be suffered by the speaker.

Everyone reading here knows this dance, of course. But still, it’s important to keep calling this out.

To do so:  let me just say as clearly as possible what, again, we all know:  that when Palin calls David Gregory racists because Mr. Gregory had the temerity to ask Gingrich a question about his use of racist signalling — why then you  have as perfect a measure as can be imagined of how much the modern Republican Party sees refighting the Civil War** (on the wrong side) as its only remaining path to power.

Bluntly:  Palin and Gingrich and a Republican Party that tolerates them trade on race fear and race hatred for political gain.  Evil is not, I think, too strong a word to describe either the sincere or cynical wielding of this particular cudgel.

It could work.  It has in the past.  And hence the obligation:  every time a Palin or a Gingrich — or any of them — plays to that voter on the margin they think they can capture with a coded appeal to racism, it’s time to name and shame.  It isn’t much, I know, but the goal is to raise the psychic cost of actually pulling the lever for and against the color of the candidates’ skin that much higher.

To put it another way:  anyone who thinks that the next election is going to be even the least bit easy isn’t paying attention.

*A false dichotomy, I know.

**Really, restaging the post-reconstruction assertion of white supremacy following Hayes-Tilden fiasco, but that’s not nearly iconic enough to put over my meaning.

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840. (And yes, I know I’ve posted this one before, but I love it and it works here.  Plus, I get to look at it whenever I head over to the MFA.)

cross posted at Balloon Juice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged…

June 16, 2009

…that the default nature of a Pat Buchanan utterance is (a) wrong, (b) hateful, (c) deliberate deceit or/and (d) all of the above.

As an aside, it’s pitiful that Buchanan, that deeply involved parent, has no f*cking clue about either the joys or riches of literature written ostensibly for children.

But enthusiastic, happy, self-celebrated ignorance is feature, not a bug of much (most? — ed.) of what passes for elite opinion on the right’s side of sane.*

To which we can only add:  what extraordinary tolerance for mediocrity of mind and absence of common decency amongst Buchanan’s employers enables him to rise above his natural medium:  muttering to interlocutors only he can hear as he staggers from curb to wall while the well-grounded around him yield all the sidewalk space he needs.

*See this piece by George Will for a type specimen of argument by unexamined expansion.  Will’s work offers what you might call a target-rich environment, but the point is that he is what passes for the high-end of right-of-center argument.  Oh well.

I know I’m delinquent in what I want to get done with this blog right now — more writing about the experience of publishing, and much more on the intersection of science, its history, and social/political/cultural pleasures.  I promise more to come tomorrow, and though I know I’ve made and broken such promises in the past., this time I really mean it.  Really.

Check this space tomorrow to see whether or not I’ve just invoked the Hollywood producer’s dialect form of the phrase f*** you.**  I hope not.

**”Q:  How does a Hollywood exec say “f*** you?”

A:  “Trust Me.”

Against Ta-Nehisi Coates…

October 24, 2008

…or rather, against his defense of white racism. The post is a meditation on why women are, in his perception, so harsh on Sarah Palin; his epiphany came when he tried to imagine a black equivalent to the Palin candidacy — and he couldn’t:

A brother in that position not only would not be considered for 2012, he would be impeached when he returned to governorship for embarrassing the state, and then have his ghetto card revoked for embarrassing the local Negrocracy.

For this, the writer is grateful, which makes perfect sense.  It’s better by far to have a strong sense of standards than some unthinking identity commitment.

That’s the implication of the Yiddish phrase, “A shande fur de goyim” — a shame before the non-Jews. Nothing could be worse than to be such a schande; it’s why Jews, or at least  those I hang with, wince with every Jack Abramoff or, to channel a different era, why Abbie Hoffman’s use of the phrase to describe Judge Julius Hoffman during the Chicago Eight trial was such a potent barb.

More deeply, we have a lot of history that tells us it is better on every level, from the moral to the practical, to be not merely no worse than the majority societies in which most Jews live, but to be closer to blameness, to bring no scandal to our names and homes. So, thus far, I’m with Ta-Nehisi.  But then he goes on to write who he could or would wish to credit for the existence of such internal correctives:

White racists have taken a lot of heat on this blog. But the truth of the matter is that they may be the single biggest promoters of black excellence in this country’s history. There is a reason Tony Dungy was the first winning coach in Tampa Bay’s history–he had to be.

Again, from where I sit looking over the ethnic/race/identity sorrows of history, I know that there is a partial truth here.   I’m enough older than Ta-Nehisi to have Jackie Robinson’s story as the archetype of the pressure on the standard-bearer.  There is no doubt that Dungy did a very hard thing — much harder than most watching him grasped, I think — but Robinson was literally in a league of his own on the need to combine superlative performance with extraordinary internal strength and self-control.  (For the record, I’m not so old that I ever saw Robinson play; but his was the story we read in grade school.)

The same dynamic played out time and again in public and in private Jewish lives — including the importance of public heroes finding someway to express both a particular and a universal greatness; think of Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch on Yom Kippur and you have a hint of the balancing act involved.

But where I think Ta-Nehisi goes wrong is in giving racists themselves credit for the excellence of a Dungy or anyone else.  I don’t doubt that there is a forged-in-fire power to the notion of proving oneself despite the efforts of those with evil intention to thwart you. But Ta-Nehisi goes astray (IMHO) when he writes this:

… A little bit of bigotry would have prevented all of this [the Palin debacle]. So to all the Ferraros out there I have one request–more racism please. It improves our stock. It makes black people, a better people.

No, it does not.  I don’t think you could or should credit racism for what Dungy can claim as his own achievement, nor that of Einstein, perhaps — or more on point for a science-and-public life blog — the life Percy Julian lived.

Percy Julian is not as well known as he should be.  Get introduced to him out here, and or watch the excellent two hour biography that NOVA broadcast a year or so ago.  Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who plays Julian, is worth the price of admission on his own, and to brag a little, my wife, Katha Seidman won her second Emmy for her design of the show.

The short form:  Julian was one of the pioneering synthetic chemists of the between the wars period and just after WW II.  If you have ever used a cortisone cream, other corticosteroid medicines, or birth control pills, you owe Dr. Julian a debt of thanks.

He had a great career; he was honored (belatedly); he got rich — all good.  He also was bedeviled by racist constraints from childhood through to the time he was getting his own company off the ground, and in particular institutional and individual bigotry kept him from the first career he intended to pursue, that of an academic chemist, pursuing whatever research that seemed to him most promising.

That he made an enormous contribution to his field as an industrial chemist is a tribute to just the kind of determined excellence Ta-Nehisi celebrates in Dungy.  But the price paid, the cost in opportunities not just lost, but actively barred has to be accounted for too.

I’ll stipulate that Ta-Nehisi knows this very well indeed. For my part, I’m lucky that my ethnic identifier, in this country at least, is farther removed than his from our own versions of the ghetto and Jim Crow.  It was my great-grandfather that made it out of the old country, and his stories have not survived the passing of the last of his own children.

I am not completely tone-deaf to irony and sarcasm either, nor the echoes of that supremely useful phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” as applied both to Governor Palin and such sometime-symbolic figures as the athlete formerly known as Pacman and Mike Tyson.

But I still think that Ta-Nehisi is undercounting the persistant tax that bigotry imposes on its targets.  You could call it the Julian tax, the daily toll exacted in the pursuit of excellence constrained within limits not of your own choosing.

I’ll stop here — but for a truly beautiful meditation that touches on this theme (and much else) look to Bill T. Jones’ memoir The Last Night on Earth.

Image:  Ben Shahn “Sign on a Restaurant, Lancaster Ohio” 1938.  Library of Congress [http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/085_disc.html].  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Go Read This: Michael Demmons/Balloon Juice edition

October 17, 2008

When Michael first showed up on John Cole’s blog, I gave him grief for what I saw as false-naive conservatism.

I was wrong, and I apologize.

Read this.

Truth To Power: Race, Hope, Steel Edition

October 2, 2008

Ta-Nehisi Coates called the speech by the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka  John Brown 2008 — and asked those who saw it on his blog to spread the word.

John Brown’s the wrong image, for all kinds of reasons — not least because he failed.  Barack Obama, by contrast has run perhaps the most relentlessly well thought out campaign in memory and I have hope that his outcome will be much different.

No: I think if we are making Civil War analogies, the connection here is to the key passage in Lincoln’s second inaugural address, perhaps his greatest speech, no matter how much his address at Gettysburg may steal the limelight.   There he said clearly what was known silently to everyone on either side of the line:

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.

All knew — but so much effort was expended trying to find some other reason to fight:  “state’s rights” being the cry that persists the most strongly to this day.

And so, as Trumka says, all know the reason that some have been persuaded that for a literally unspeakable reason, they cannot vote for Barack Obama.

And then Trumka speaks that reason.  As Ta-Nehisi says, watch and share: