Enough Already

 

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.


All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.

Birth of a Nation theatrical poster
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.

In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.

A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
— Vita

 

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Service with a Smile

 

In an exchange in Decatur, Alabama, between a police employee and a handcuffed citizen, the employee identified himself as F*ck You when the citizen asked his name. The citizen and another young man had been filming a music video outside, and there are conflicting accounts about whether they used a handgun as a prop in filming. The sight of the handgun may have prompted a passerby to call police. It is unclear if that is what brought police to the scene, but if it did, then the two young men used poor judgment in filming in public with a handgun without making it abundantly clear they were engaged in a harmless fiction.

 

Further speculation on what brought about the police encounter devolves into victim blaming and sidetracks the basic point, which is that the behavior of Officer F*ck You was clearly out of bounds and unnecessary. It turned out the two citizens had not been up to no good and there had been no need to handcuff them and illegally search at least one of them. Officer F*ck You’s thin skinned behavior is precisely the kind of escalation of an encounter with a citizen that too often ends with the police employee meting out violent street injustice. A person as hotheaded and drunk with power as Officer F*ck You has no business dealing with the public.

Hello my name is sticker
Many people dealing with the public find it helpful to wear a sticker like this one. Write in whatever name you like, but try to be nice! Image created by Eviatar Bach.

We can imagine other scenarios for the encounter in order to guess at why it went wrong, but thankfully stopped short of becoming another incident of a police employee murdering a citizen. What if the two citizens had been middle-aged white businessmen in suits and ties? Chances are higher in that case there would have been no police encounter at all, even if a passerby had spotted a handgun. Surely such fine gentlemen must have good reason for what they’re doing! Perhaps they’re police detectives filming a training video!

Had the police nonetheless been called to the scene, chances are high the police employees would have treated the two white, middle-aged men in suits with circumspection and respect while working politely toward a peaceful resolution to the problem. Had Officer F*ck You been called to the scene at all, he might have introduced himself instead as Sam-I-Am, the character in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham who beguiles another character into trying the titular foods. Or he could have said with a salty twist “Call me Ishmael”, as the narrator does at the beginning of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

“The Name Game”, a 1964 song written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase, and performed by Shirley Ellis.

There are any number of names Officer F*ck You could have used if it is the policy of the Decatur police department for employees not to identify themselves when asked by a citizen. He could have referred to such a policy as a reason for not giving any name at all. Contrary to what many people may believe, it is not a matter of law that police employees identify themselves by name, but a matter of each police department’s policy. All of the alternative tactics mentioned above would have conveyed a less hostile tenor and might have even lowered the tension. Isn’t that what a police employee is supposed to do in order to keep the peace? What purpose does it serve when a police employee gets in a citizen’s face when that person simply asks for a name and badge number? Who does it protect to belligerently retort “F*ck You! F*ck You is my name!”?
— Ed.

 

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There Are No Easy Answers

 

Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France. May 19 is also the birth date of Malcolm X, whose posthumous influence on the film Mr. Lee acknowledges with a quote from him at the end, along with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.. The quotes are about non-violent resistance to oppression (the Rev. King) and the occasional need for violence in self defense against oppressors (Malcolm X). As throughout the rest of the movie, Mr. Lee makes no judgements, but merely puts those ideas out there for the audience to consider. Do the Right Thing provokes thought; it does not provide answers, and 30 years later the state of race relations in America has hardly budged from what Mr. Lee portrayed in the film.

 

The film did not win the highest prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or, though it was nominated. It was not nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and the film that won the honor for 1989 was Driving Miss Daisy, a good film about race relations but a safe one for Hollywood, and a film that in the years since has receded in importance in the rear view mirror. Nearly 30 years later, Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but lost to another safe film about race relations, Green Book. Both Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book are films produced by largely white filmmakers for consumption by a largely white audience, and are meant to comfort white liberals without unduly upsetting white conservatives. That each received Hollywood’s highest honor is a testament to the institution’s eagerness to pat itself on the back for occasionally making a social message movie without rocking too many boats.

MartinLutherKingMalcolmX
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin in March 1964. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko for U.S. News & World Report, now in a collection at the Library of Congress.

What’s missing in that equation, of course, are African-Americans. In contrast, Spike Lee has made films for everybody, and Do the Right Thing was groundbreaking in that respect. All the characters he portrays are well rounded, with good and bad aspects to all of them. As the late film critic Roger Ebert noted, there are no heroes or villains that we can easily hang labels on. Those portrayals are more true to life than the safe, near-stereotypes portrayed in Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book. The complexity can also leave some viewers uneasy, since they desire the satisfaction of stories that follow a familiar arc leading to either a comforting conclusion or one that at least ties up some loose ends of the story. Do the Right Thing provides none of that. It is a wonder a major Hollywood studio, Universal, backed the film financially and distributed it widely. That it was popular with the public and, eventually, with most critics despite its unconventionality in style and substance is a testament to how well crafted it was by Mr. Lee and his cast and crew.

Ossie Davis as Da Mayor has a confrontation with some youths on the street in Do the Right Thing. Warning: foul language.

30 years later Do the Right Thing stays with people who view it now for the first time as much as it did with people who saw it then, prompting the same questions in their minds. A few years before Mr. Lee made the film, there was the racially charged incident at Howard Beach in the New York City borough of Queens, an incident which informed the events in Do the Right Thing. Two years after the movie came out, there was the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and despite the incident being filmed by a bystander, showing the excessive use of force by the police, the cops were subsequently cleared in court, leading to riots in black neighborhoods. There has been no end of ugly, often fatal, incidents in America like those portrayed in the movie, and they just keep coming, like waves pounding the shore. The observations Spike Lee made in Do the Right Thing about race relations in America are still relevant today; the question remains – is anybody listening well enough to change things?
— Vita

“I just want to say – you know – can we all get along? Can we, can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”
— Rodney King, speaking on television in relation to the riots in Los Angeles on May 1, 1992, after a jury acquitted the police who beat him the year before.

 

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A Pillar of Salt

 

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.”
Job 38:4, from the King James Version of the Bible.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Many Americans are probably familiar with it because it has been assigned reading in high schools when it hasn’t been banned or burned by the outraged and the self-righteous. Being assigned reading tends to sap some of the enjoyment of reading, and in that case it might be a good idea to read the book again voluntarily, as an adult.


Mr. Vonnegut was most of all a Humanist, as he himself proclaimed, and the last thing any Humanist would claim is to also be a Saint. On looking back at Vonnegut’s work, the one feature that stands out as discordant from our modern perspective is his treatment of female characters, whom he usually portrayed without much depth, and sometimes unsympathetically for no good reason. That again is viewed from our perch 50 years in the future. Mr. Vonnegut was not out of step with his times in regard to men’s views about women, sad and embarrassing as that may seem to us now. 50 years from now, who can say how people will view us for opinions and attitudes we hold in keeping with our own time?

Brand im Dresdner Zwinger D 18Jh
An anonymous painting, possibly by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712-1774), of a fire at Dresden Castle.

We must remember that until Slaughterhouse-Five came out in 1969, nearly every book and movie in Western culture depicted the Allies in World War II as the good guys, and the Axis as the bad guys, with little shading of gray to add any moral nuance. The Humanist in Mr. Vonnegut could not abide that state of affairs, particularly since he had been present as a prisoner of war at the Allied fire bombing of the German city of Dresden, a target which had virtually no military or political value. The primary reason Allied command ordered the fire bombing was to terrorize the civilian population. In doing so, the Allies sought to deal out righteous retribution for German bombing of English cities earlier in the war. Atrocities, in other words, were perpetrated to one degree or another by both sides, and that is the nature of war and part of human nature and cannot be avoided, no matter how much books and movies gloss it over and glamorize one side over the other. And so it goes – to borrow a phrase from Mr. Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse-Five was not revisionist history, but a necessary corrective to over two decades of mostly superficial accounts of World War II, at least in the popular media. It joined John Hersey’s 1946 non-fiction book Hiroshima in telling of war’s cost in suffering and the capacity for cruelty, alongside acts of kindness. In 1970, a non-fiction book written by Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, was published and changed the national discourse about relations with Native Americans, a discourse which had been dominated for over a century by white people of European descent demonizing them.

American prisoners caught in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 march to their quarters in Dresden, Germany. In February 1945, Allied air forces fire bombed the city, killing as many as 25,000 Germans, mostly women and children. The 1972 film, directed by George Roy Hill, starred Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, the character based on Kurt Vonnegut, and Eugene Roche as his friend Edgar Derby, the ranking soldier among the prisoners.

Important works by great writers and historians come along infrequently and, while nothing and no one is ever perfect, their overall worth to humanity becomes even more apparent over time than at initial publication. Mark Twain’s 1885 novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another great work that has stood the test of time, has also been subjected to periodic bouts of righteous indignation and banishment by different groups for divergent reasons over the years. Certainly we cringe today at some of its language and at the attitudes Mr. Twain portrayed, but many readers, perhaps most, understand that at the heart of the novel is the growing respect and friendship between a white boy and a black man, which in its day was a radical idea that undermined social conventions. We are all prisoners of our time and cannot, like Billy Pilgrim, the central character of Slaughterhouse-Five, become unstuck in time. But we can be charitable and preserve and cherish the greater Humanist vision given us by Kurt Vonnegut and other writers whose works have stood outside of time, imperfect as the writers and their works, like we and our works, will always be.
— Vita

 

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It Wasn’t Funny Even Then

 

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”
— Ezekiel 33:7, from the King James Version of the Bible.

Amid all the furiously backpedaling confusion promulgated by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over whether he was in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook picture of two male party goers, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) outfit, there appears to be no acknowledgment from the governor or his staff of why they seem to think blackface is less racist than wearing KKK garb. They appear to assume that it is racism lite, and therefore perhaps excusable, choosing to ignore that even in 1984 such behavior was not acceptable in general society, and certainly not seen as good clean fun. The governor professes confusion over whether he was one of the two men in the photo, but nowhere does he allow the possibility he could have been the one in the KKK outfit. He claims he was either the one in blackface or he was not in the picture at all.


This song and dance is understandable given the feelings of the greater society about the KKK. Apparently Northam feels if he needs to equivocate about his participation in racist costuming, he is safer with blackface than with the utterly out of the fold KKK. But why? Besides the ludicrous assertion that he somehow doesn’t remember participating in the activity depicted in the photo, why does he hide behind blackface as the lesser of two evils? Is ridiculing, mocking, and denigrating black people any less evil than intimidating and threatening them? They are two sides of the same coin. And no, taking the good ol’ frat boy defense that he personally meant no harm doesn’t fly.

Ralph Northam "Coonman"
Ralph Northam’s 1981 VMI yearbook photo showing his nicknames “Goose” and “Coonman”.

Lost in the national coverage of Northam’s foolish, insensitive, and casually hateful youthful behavior is reporting about his less foolish, equally insensitive, and more consciously hateful behavior regarding the Dominion Energy natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As always with things like pipelines, the planned route took it through less populous countryside, avoiding the estates of rich folks, of which there are many in Virginia’s horse country surrounding Charlottesville in central Virginia. Instead the route is planned to take it well south of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, through far poorer and far blacker Buckingham County, with a compressor station near Union Hill, a community noted historically for its population of freed black slaves.

 

2016-05-27 10 18 23 View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia to rural Buckingham County, Virginia
View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia, into rural Buckingham County. Photo by Famartin. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would roughly parallel Route 56, intersecting several miles down the road at Union Hill for the compressor station.

Late last year, Governor Northam dismissed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board who disagreed about the pipeline route and placement of the compressor station, thereby assuring a yea vote from the Board. In Virginia, it should be noted, the biggest utility player, Dominion Energy, is also the largest single donor from the energy sector to political campaigns, regardless of party affiliation. Dominion Energy is pushing the pipeline through Buckingham County and its compressor station in Union Hill. Just north of Buckingham County is Albemarle County and its plethora of country estates owned by wealthy white people. South of Buckingham County would apparently be too far out of the way, making the pipeline more expensive.

In lightly populated Buckingham County, Dominion Energy could expect easily overpowered opposition to its pipeline and compressor station from poor, mostly black communities. The only remaining obstacle was two obstinate members of the state Air Pollution Control Board, and with the help of their man in the Governor’s office, they were removed. Like the 1984 yearbook photo, Governor Northam and his friends thought they could dismiss the racism implicit in it all by taking the position that he didn’t mean it that way. How insulting! It matters not at all how these people intend their actions, as if that somehow magically exonerates them, but how their actions ultimately affect the people on the receiving end, and professed ignorance of the effects on those on the receiving end is no excuse, any more than it was for the German people when their leaders packed Jews into cattle cars and sent them to concentration camps.
— Ed.

 

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As the Twig Is Bent

 

“‘Tis education forms the common mind:
Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.”
— from Epistle to Cobham, “Of the Knowledge and Characters of Men”, a 1734 poem by Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

On Sunday evening, January 20, at the end of the weekend that started with the fracas in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 18 involving members of the Indigenous Peoples March, Covington Catholic High School participants in the March for Life, and the Black Hebrew Israelites, tens of thousands of mostly white people got worked up cheering on the Chiefs in their American Football Conference (AFC) championship game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, by enthusiastically doing numerous tomahawk chops in unison to some sort of ersatz Native American war dance chant while encouraged by the stadium public address system. While the timing of Sunday’s so-called festivities coincidentally marked the two year anniversary of the Racist-in-Chief’s inauguration, Friday’s incident in the nation’s capital more properly marked the tone he has set the past two years.


The Tomahawk Chop (5050920787)
Fans of the Atlanta Braves doing the tomahawk chop on October 3, 2010, during the last game of the baseball season. Photo by Kyle James.

The history of mostly white sports’ fans enthusiasm for tomahawk chopping goes back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the success of teams such as the Atlanta Braves in major league baseball and the Florida State Seminoles in college football brought it to the attention of the rest of the nation. Native Americans objected, as they have to the more egregiously stereotyped names of sports teams like the Washington Redskins, but no one paid them much heed, not even Ted Turner, the ostensibly liberal owner of the Braves, nor his wife at the time, actress Jane Fonda, who has often professed her liberal views. When it comes to disrespect for Native Americans, there are apparently few differences among other Americans of whatever political stripe, ethnic origin, or religious affiliation.


Rod Serling’s introduction to “He’s Alive”, a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone television series, starring Dennis Hopper.

Naturally the boys from Covington Catholic were not born with mockery and dismissal of Native Americans ingrained in their systems. They had to be instructed, as Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in the lyrics to “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”, a denunciation of racism in a song from South Pacific, the 1949 musical Hammerstein wrote with Richard Rodgers. Even if their parents didn’t teach them directly, it would be difficult for them to not pick it up from the larger culture of privileged white people, among them those who have the wherewithal to buy tickets to an AFC championship game. The larger culture of privileged white people then came to the boys’ defense, among them large media companies that went to work smearing Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder most prominently involved in the Washington fracas, and the public relations firm with connections to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that was hired by the family of Nick Sandmann, the teen wearing the MAGA hat who stood smugly smirking at Phillips, to spin media coverage in his favor.


The end of the “He’s Alive” episode.

How would it be if the tables were turned and the Washington Redskins became the Rednecks and the Kansas City Chiefs became the Crackers? There are slurs for other ethnic groups that the teams could use, all of which are highly objectionable and would of course never be used. How about instead of pantomiming a tomahawk chop, the mostly white sports fans attending games started imitating a police baton swing? Perhaps in order to add insult onto injury and further enhance their reputation for insensitivity, the fans could do it during the playing of the National Anthem while black players are kneeling in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. No doubt some white people would enjoy the activity and feel entirely justified in doing it because of the satisfaction it would grant their perversely self-pitying sense of grievance, as evidenced by the white supremacist phrase “It’s OK to be white”. Like “Make America Great Again”, it is at first glance a defensible phrase, but examine it more closely and it becomes clear it is a code hiding a host of indefensible horrors.
— Vita


The title song to the 1972 documentary Imagine, with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

 

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Who Are You?

 

Today a United States District Court judge in New York struck down an attempt by the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. Judge Jess Furman cited the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in ruling against Commerce Department head Wilbur Ross, who proposed adding the citizenship question on specious grounds. The APA allows judicial review of a rules change by a federal government agency when a lawsuit is brought by an aggrieved party or party, in this case the New York Immigration Council (NYIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among others. In other words, the APA gives citizens an avenue to check federal agencies directly, without waiting on Congress, so that agencies can’t change their rules willy nilly based on political whims.

 

2010 US Census Minority Popu Perc County
2010 census percentage change in minority population by county, showing an increase in typically Democratic voters in areas that have been Republican strongholds, such as the Southeast and the Mountain West. Illustration by U.S. Census Bureau.

The specious grounds the current presidential administration was using to add the citizenship question involved a far-fetched cover story about getting information to better enable the Justice Department to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act, when in practice the question was intended to intimidate mostly Hispanic illegal immigrants and possibly other minorities into not responding to the census questionnaire. Like state voter suppression laws, the census citizenship question could be used as a cudgel by Republicans to beat back the tide of typical Democratic voters and supporters. Illegal immigrants can’t vote, but counting their numbers usually benefits Democratic congressional districts when it comes to apportioning seats in Congress and the distribution of federal funds.

 

The history of the census in the United States is rife with political intrigue going back to the first one in 1790, when the big question involved counting of slaves. Like Hispanic illegal immigrants today, African forced immigrants in the first century of the republic could not vote, but counting their numbers was still vital for the reasons stated above. Once they could vote, after Emancipation, Southern conservatives did all in their power to ensure they could not exercise their right freely by enacting Jim Crow laws and practices to hinder them, often with threats of violence either implicit or explicit.

2010 US Census Percent Change in Hispanic Population by County
2010 census percentage change in Hispanic population by county, showing the widespread nature of the increase. Illustration by U.S. Census Bureau.

Southern white conservatives were Democrats then, in the late nineteenth century and up to the middle of the twentieth century, but shifts in national policy such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act changed that, flipping conservative Southern Democrats over to the Republican Party, where they remain today. In the meantime, African-Americans, attracted by manufacturing jobs in the North that paid better wages than agricultural labor in the South, moved away in great numbers during World War I, a mass migration which had the effect of relieving pressure on what had been the white minority in many congressional districts in the South.

2010 census reapportionment
Reapportionment of Congressional seats as determined by results of the 2010 census. State legislatures use these results to redraw districts, sometimes in grievous examples of partisan gerrymandering. Illustration by the U.S. Census Bureau.

 

Now the Republican, conservative, white population in areas around the country besides the South feels threatened by impending minority status for themselves brought on by the increasing numbers of Hispanic immigrants, legal and otherwise, and by their relatively high birthrates. Thus far their have been no serious proposals for forced sterilization of Hispanics, as their had been for black people one hundred years ago. Instead the tactics of conservative white Republicans, no longer limited to the Old South, but spread around the country, consist of a citizenship question on the census questionnaire designed to drive illegal immigrants further into hiding, and since the immigrants often end up supporting Democrats even if they cannot vote, the intimidation would have the effect of depriving Democrats of additional seats in Congress and federal funds based on population alone. Once the new citizens are able to vote, Republicans have a bevy of voter suppression tactics ready to challenge them. Jim Crow just keeps popping up in new guises, cawing at the poor and unfortunate “Who are you? Who are you?”
— Vita

 

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Through a Glass Darkly

 

“11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
— The Apostle Paul in a letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13:11-13, from the King James Version of the Bible.

DNA kits are very popular now, both for people ordering them for themselves and for those giving them as gifts. Sales of kits doubled in 2017 over all previous years, and have increased again in 2018 over 2017. Interest appears to derive mostly from curiosity about immediate ancestors, on which the kits do a good job of enlightening people, and secondarily about genetic health risks, on which the kits dealing with the subject deliver mixed results, needing confirmation from a medical professional.


One area of controversy with the results, at least for Americans, has come from links to African ancestry for European-Americans, and links to European ancestry for African-Americans. Most European-Americans, or white folks, get results that include some ancestry going back to Africa two hundred years or more, usually less than 10 percent of their total genetic makeup. Most African-Americans, or black folks, get results that include around 25 percent European ancestry.

Cesky Sternberk Castle CZ family tree 116
Portraits of six generations of the Sternberg family in Jiří Sternberg’s study, Český Šternberk Castle, Czech Republic. Photo by takato marui. Tracing ancestry is easier in the pure bred lines and close quarters of Old Europe than in the melange of ethnicities and transcontinental migrations of the New World.

Compared to the ethnic homogeneity of most Old World countries, Americans are mutts, and the melting pot was particularly active in the years of heavy immigration from Europe from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Africans brought into the country as slaves until the Civil War eventually made up a larger proportion of the total population through that period than they have since, averaging close to 20 percent of the total for the first hundred years of the republic, and settling to a range of 11 to 13 percent of the total population afterward. It shouldn’t therefore surprise white people taking DNA tests to discover they have at least a small percentage of relatively recent African ancestry.

It is interesting, however, that DNA test results for black people yield an average of 25 percent European ancestry. It is not surprising there has been mixing of the races, despite laws against miscegenation going back centuries, but that black people have a much higher percentage of European ancestry than white people have a percentage of African ancestry, and yet black people are still and always considered black. This is Pudd’nhead Wilson territory, in which even a tiny percentage of African blood is tantamount to an entirely African genetic heritage. In America, once a person has been accepted into white society, it requires a considerable amount of African genetic input, along with other factors involving economics and relationships, for a person to fall from grace, as it were, from whiteness to blackness.


The evolution of man- a popular exposition of the principal points of human ontogeny and phylogene (1896) (14594954920)
In this 1896 illustration by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), “Man” is precariously at the top of a tree encompassing all life on earth.

The grade has always been uphill, on the other hand, for black people to be accepted into American society, always predominantly white, no matter how much they were genetically European. Initial branding of blackness meant staying black in the eyes of white society until extraordinary circumstances or subterfuge intervened. In all this, what the majority of people, black and white, seemed to have missed was that racial differences were minuscule, along the lines of one half of one percent of the genetics every human being shares. Race itself is an artificial concept, a social construct, rather than a real biological divider.

It’s all in the mind, and those who would reinforce race as a divider of the human species have to perform mental and ethical gymnastics to justify their beliefs since science won’t do it for them. The idea that DNA test results with some percentage of African ancestry are showing merely what goes back millions of years for all of humanity also does not hold up. Yes, everyone on earth does have common ancestors in Africa, but that is not what the makers of DNA home test kits design them to illustrate, since they typically only research genetic relations going back several centuries, that being within the time frame for which they have reliably detailed information on background in their databases.

The immigration scene of young Vito Corleone, played by Oreste Baldini, in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film The Godfather: Part II. Unlike Vito Corleone when he matured, the majority of immigrants, then as now, do not end up engaged in dangerous and unlawful activities, despite what rabble rousing politicians want everyone to believe.

There also appears to be an assumption among even open-minded white people that since Africa is the cradle of all humanity, then Africans themselves must be genetically closer to that cradle than the rest who emigrated to far continents. African ancestry noted in the DNA test results must, they reason, be hearkening back to long ago ancestors white people share with everyone on earth. No. The test results show genetic input from recent African ancestors. And those recent African ancestors have evolved along with everyone else on earth, including Europeans, triggered by similar environmental and social changes pushing them to adapt. The European discoverers should not be so quick to flatter themselves with ideas of inherent superiority that they lose sight of how other societies have adapted quite well under unique circumstances without prizing discovery and conquest above all else as the sine qua non of human existence.
— Ed.

 

 

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Who’s Foolin’ Who?

 

For more than a decade, Republicans have been working overtime to bring Jim Crow voter suppression schemes back to the polls, this time on a nationwide basis. Their excuse is the supposed need to combat voter fraud, a decidedly small scale offense. Republicans are at their best when ginning up hysteria, however, and the frenzy they have created over voter fraud has resulted in state laws which have the side effect of stifling voter turnout by citizens who historically vote for Democratic Party candidates.

 

The most blatant case in this year’s election is the Georgia gubernatorial race, where Republican Brian Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Mr. Kemp also happens to be the Georgia Secretary of State, a position which puts him in charge of overseeing the state’s elections. He has refused to recuse himself from that position, more or less stating as his reason “Trust me.” Georgia voters can be excused for scoffing at his stance considering how Mr. Kemp has done everything in his power as Georgia Secretary of State to suppress turnout by racial minority voters. Former president Jimmy Carter, a decent man, has spoken out to urge Mr. Kemp to resign from his office as Georgia Secretary of State while he seeks the governorship, but it appears his remarks are too little too late, and at any rate are falling on deaf ears when they come to Mr. Kemp and his acolytes.

Segregated cinema entrance3
African-American patron going in the colored entrance of the Crescent Theatre in Belzoni, Mississippi, on a Saturday afternoon in October 1939. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990).

It’s bad enough that miscreants like Brian Kemp have been allowed by state legislatures to get away with Jim Crow voter suppression, and even encouraged by having those efforts codified in state law, but to then allow that person to oversee his own election is beyond belief. That’s like the referee of a football game saying “Trust me” as he suits up in the uniform of one team and plays for them while he pretends to call penalties for both sides impartially. There should be state laws prohibiting this obvious conflict of interest, but even while there are no laws on the books, simple decency would dictate that Mr. Kemp voluntarily recuse himself.

In Cleveland, Ohio, in March 2016, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke about voter suppression.

But no, we have most certainly passed beyond the bounds of simple decency in our society and in our politics. The only thing citizens can do is steel themselves to vote no matter what obstacles indecent people put in their way. They can accept rides to the polls for early voting from partisan activists, and as long as everyone is open about that there’s nothing wrong with it, no matter how Georgia State Patrol troopers may feel about it.



From her 1985 album Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, Aretha Franklin sings “Freeway of Love”.

 

This midterm election and all local and statewide elections are important for the very reason that they put in place the lawmakers who set the agenda for what happens on the national stage. It is not enough as a dutiful citizen to wake from slumber once every four years to turn out for the presidential election and then go back to sleep. That is not what Republican groups like the nefarious Project Veritas have done, who are at work every day with a kind of addled, mentally and spiritually unbalanced zeal to reshape the country in their own image. Based on the conduct of many state legislatures and school boards across the country and the draconian policies they have slipped under the door, they have been succeeding while everyone else slept.
— Vita

 

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Hail, Hail Freedonia

 

New York Giants football team co-owner Steve Tisch has spoken out publicly against the National Football League’s (NFL) new policy of punishing teams which allow players to kneel for the national anthem, saying he doesn’t intend to punish any Giants’ players for exercising their First Amendment rights to protest police brutality. Mr. Tisch also criticized the current president of the country for weighing in on the issue, particularly since he appears to misunderstand the reason for the protests and believes the players are against the flag and the anthem, and therefore America.

 

Considering the Troll-in-Chief’s poor grasp of many issues, such as his recent characterization of the small Balkan nation of Montenegro as a place filled with “very aggressive people” who could involve the United States in World War III in order to come to their aid as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is possible he does not understand the true reason for the protests initiated by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when he was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. It is equally likely he saw how many in the corporate media used the shorthand term “anthem protests” and how it caught on with much of the public who superficially skim news stories, a group of people which often includes his most loyal supporters, the Trumpkins, and he exploited people’s ignorance to mis-characterize the protests as disloyal demonstrations by spoiled, privileged athletes. There is deep irony in Chief Bone Spurs shamelessly dumping on black athletes as spoiled and privileged ingrates when many of them worked their way up from poor backgrounds to earn a lucrative spot in the limelight afforded to only a tiny percentage of those playing sports.

Stop Police Brutality - Governor's Mansion, Minnesota (27866556080)
On July 7, 2016, community members and Black Lives Matter activists gather outside the Minnesota governor’s residence in Saint Paul hours after police shot and killed Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster.

The Troll-in-Chief knew very well his Trumpkins would eat up his slanders of the black athletes. Almost all the players kneeling in protest of police brutality were black, largely because unnecessary police killings have affected black people most of all, and as such the protests were in tune with the Black Lives Matter movement. What better way for the Trumpkins to vent their resentment against millionaire black athletes than to ignore the real reason for their protests in favor of slamming them as un-American? They don’t support our troops, who died for a colored piece of cloth and a song glorifying war! Actually, if anything, those troops died defending the right of the NFL players to kneel or stand for the national anthem. That’s a complex, abstract concept, however, and for the Trumpkins it’s much easier and more satisfying to howl hateful epithets at black players for doing something they don’t like, even though the players have a perfectly legal and moral right to do it.
Warning for police brutality
Warning: Police brutality! Clip art by liftarn.

The current president has harbored a grudge against NFL owners since the 1980s when they refused him membership in their club after his ill-fated stint as owner of the New Jersey Generals franchise in the United States Football League (USFL). He probably sees stirring the pot of the “anthem protests” as revenge. He likely couldn’t care less about the real issues involved. That’s the definition of a troll. In the 1933 Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, the leaders of a small Balkan nation named Freedonia exhibit equal parts comic ineptitude, corruption, ignorance of facts while manipulating lies, and demonization of imagined internal and external enemies as a way of distracting the populace and covering their own tracks. A superficial comparison with Montenegro might come to mind, though a deeper understanding of the satire in the film reveals a more apt match with the current leaders of our country.
— Ed.

 

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