Communal holy cows, self-criticism and advancement

A John Ridley article in Esquire magazine, The Manifesto of Ascendancy for the Modern American Nigger, has reignited a debate among the black community in America. In it he argues that the black community has become trapped in the civil rights narrative and it is disempowering the community as a whole and the underclass in particular. It also means potential role models are eschewed as they don’t fit the line e.g. Powell and Rice. The debate has focused on his use of the n-word, the fact it appeared in the ‘white’ media not kept in-house in the ‘black’ media and whether forms of criticism reinforce prejudice. Perhaps it shows the power and insight of comedy (Adult comedy – flashplayer reqd). How best can communal holy cows be discussed? If internal debate fails to produce change, where should a critic express themselves? How does a community’s thinking move on from a discriminated past to a fairer today?

  • Powell and Rice are a wonderful example of the fact that skin colour makes no difference.

    Both Powell and Rice demonstrate that African Amwericans can be just as neo-con as White people, and Latin people come to think about it.
    Gonzales the Attorney General is a good example.

    As to role models, Puff Diddy, 2pack and other gangsters will remain role models as long as dissaffected youngsters are bombarded with the displays of wealth that are unachievable for the majority.

    To expect the young to work for minimum wage after being exposed to the loads of money culture is pure folly.

    If given a choice to either work at Wal-mart for minimum wage or sell drugs for ten times the minimum wage, don’t be surprised to see more and more youngsters chosing the Drug route.

    If those who are fortunate to have great wealth were to be less conspicuous with their bling then perhaps the young may consider doing the right thing.

  • Sometimes I wonder whether it’s easier to identify with – or rather to define one’s identity – along lines that are uncomplicated, tangible and clear. Political allegiance or ideology, skin colour, football team.
    The complexities that make us all similar are also the same complexities that keep us apart. We are all the same; we are all different; but we have a need to identify, to relate, to compare, and to relativise all else in our range.
    Were we to attempt to dissect and scientifically analyse those human characteristics, those contradictions and habits, those paradoxes and fears that define us all, and to stratify or compartmentalise the whole lot of us, I’m not sure we would achieve all that much.
    That we must organise is one thing; that we must differentiate and identify ourselves is an entirely different matter.

  • And it gets really silly sometimes.

  • Humpf. Why didn’t that work.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/25/education/25sorority.html?ei=5087
    &em=&en=f85e2c9ae904de9c&ex=1172725200&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1172593904-o9Z+3hHneV0901R3JCGvrg

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Art Hostage: “If given a choice to either work at Wal-mart for minimum wage or sell drugs for ten times the minimum wage, don’t be surprised to see more and more youngsters chosing the Drug route. ”

    Ah, but your street level crack-dealer does not make “ten times minimum wage.” In fact, assuming that the analysis provided in “Freakanomics” is applicable beyond the Chicago Gangster Disciples, street level guys make sub-minimum wages. Drug dealing, like poker or movie stardom, is something of an eternal tournament — some advance to the next level, some drop out of the game, new players join and the game goes on.

    More deleterious to African American youths is the amusing notion that education, proper English, etc., is “acting white” and that brutish thuggishness, misogyny and ignorance are “authentic black culture.”

  • (with apologies for failed link postings) –

    DC, if memory serves Levitt ignores the fact that the guys with the bling are kids not much older than the new guys at the bottom of the food chain, who until recently were just like them – that structure, that ladder, has a great big Made in Afro-America sticker on the side, and it is something that they can aspire to – WalMart is a white man’s business, and they have no hope of succeeding there. It is about aspirational incentive – not the immediate dollar, but the aspiration that is achievable that kids buy into.

    By the way, just (please let the link work this time) and there are two black members, both appointed in the last three years. Everyone else is shiny white and four of them are there more than 10 years.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Anthony B: “DC, if memory serves Levitt ignores the fact that the guys with the bling are kids not much older than the new guys at the bottom of the food chain, who until recently were just like them – that structure, that ladder, has a great big Made in Afro-America sticker on the side, and it is something that they can aspire to – WalMart is a white man’s business, and they have no hope of succeeding there. It is about aspirational incentive – not the immediate dollar, but the aspiration that is achievable that kids buy into. ”

    Their age does not change the nature of the tournament, Anthony. The reality, like rap or basketball is that, despite the fact that many enter the tournament, only a spare hand-handfull make it out off of the street corner, with sub-minimum wages and living with their mothers. Advancement is not rapid, nor is it automatic. The problem is that, unlike the aspiring actor or the semi-pro basketball player, the penalties for failing in the drug trade often make entering other games a bit more problematic — a good college player can do well, at least for a while, entering sales in the region he was famous in. A drug dealer rarely has the same options.

    Ultimately, their foolish choices will be the petard upon which they are hung.

    The image is what gets them in — how hard does reality have to slap them across the head for them to realize getting out. Likewise, your comment does not, in any way, invalid my rebuttal of Art Hostage’s thesis — there are few, if any, drug dealers in “traditionally black” segments, rolling in the dough. Are there winners in the tournament? Sure, but that does not mean that success is automatic. The archetypical crack dealer is not some pimped-out brother with scads of bling and a platinum grill. He’s a miserably cold project kid who makes a sub-minimum wage and exists to insulate the tournament’s winners from the penalty phase of the game.

    Anthony B: “By the way, just (please let the link work this time) and there are two black members, both appointed in the last three years. Everyone else is shiny white and four of them are there more than 10 years. ”

    Seeing as it started as a family business, there would have been the natural period when control was dominated by the family. Likewise, the upper levels would have been rather insular, given its familial origins, meaning that it would likely be slow to open to outsiders.

    As you have suggested that “working for the man” is not a “black thing,” I find it interesting that you, on one hand, emphasize that going into legitimate labor fields is not something blacks are incliined to do, then criticize a legitimate corporation for not having enough blacks on their board to pass whatever muster you seem to think they should pass? Is that not just a hint hypocritical, Anthony? It would seem as if you would like things both ways.

  • DC, the central point is that there are perceived barriers to aspiration that negate the benefits of immediate incentives. Success is never automatic, but it usually arrives younger for drug dealers (because drug dealers die younger and get replaced?) and given that the drug dealers come from the same environments, the attraction and attainability of the aspiration is more clear. How many kids are more likely to take up rugby because Brian O’Driscoll has become rich and famous? Same principle – if he can do it, I can do it. However, north side kids in Dublin perhaps don’t see it the same way, given that he came from a privileged south side family and fee paying school system, and therefore represents a kind of achievement that will always be beyond them. So, can’t win, don’t try.

    I’m not suggesting at all that blacks are less inclined to go into legitimate labour fields, that’s silly. What I am suggesting is that in Levitt’s argument, in those circumstances, the aspiration to become a rich drug dealer was more realistic than the aspiration to become more conventionally successful, and this may partially begin to explain why kids become involved in drug dealing.

    On the last point, mea culpa – I went to the WalMart board expecting to find it full of good southern bible reading, clan worshippin’ white folks and was surprised by the level of inclusiveness. Hispanics and women well represented too. I think I lost the point after that, consider it withdrawn, I’m taking myself to the woodshed.

    🙂

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Anthony B: ” the central point is that there are perceived barriers to aspiration that negate the benefits of immediate incentives.”

    Only using the laziest of analyses. If one investigates, there are myriad of opportunities, especially in municipalities that encourage minority businesses and have established set-aside programs to foster them.

    Anthony B: “Success is never automatic, but it usually arrives younger for drug dealers (because drug dealers die younger and get replaced?) and given that the drug dealers come from the same environments, the attraction and attainability of the aspiration is more clear.”

    Actually. Levitt found the contrary — that, barring some upheaval, advancement did not “usually come.” This is further supported, anecdotally, by gang members hitting up Levitt’s associate for “a good job”; as a univesrity janitor. Were pushing crack really taht good an opportunity, why see a job cleaning up after college students as a step up?

    Anthony B: “I’m not suggesting at all that blacks are less inclined to go into legitimate labour fields, that’s silly. What I am suggesting is that in Levitt’s argument, in those circumstances, the aspiration to become a rich drug dealer was more realistic than the aspiration to become more conventionally successful, and this may partially begin to explain why kids become involved in drug dealing. ”

    Actually, I think you will find that Levitt’s research and analysis indicated that success in drug-dealing was a long-shot, on par with becoming a pro-athelete or prima ballerina.

    Anthony B: “On the last point, mea culpa – I went to the WalMart board expecting to find it full of good southern bible reading, clan worshippin’ white folks and was surprised by the level of inclusiveness. Hispanics and women well represented too. I think I lost the point after that, consider it withdrawn, I’m taking myself to the woodshed. ”

    No woodshed necessary. 🙂

    As a point of reference, however, the most recent area of strength for the Klan was the rust-belt, not the Bible belt — think Indiana, not Arkansas. Also, Wal-Mart is a business, specifically a deep discounter. As such, they rely on volume and can’t really afford to be too picky about the amount of melanin their customers have.

  • Synchronize Your Dogmas

    Culture is important, race is irrelevant. Self-pity is the most pernicious of human vices.

    What amazes me about the race debate in the U.S. is not the racism, but the racialism – the idea that your skin colour is the most important thing about you and defines who you are.

    For “African-Americans” that identity is often a particular brand rooted in the ’60s counterculture and largely created by white do-gooders, which emphasizes victim status, promotes “therapeutic alienation” and opposition to the surrounding society and maintains the experience of a self-segregated underclass mired in a culture of failure as authentic, even admirable. This should be familiar in NI. Don’t even get me started on the role of the state in fostering welfare dependence.

    Like most things from the ’60s it is ridiculous and the increasing success of black Americans and the gradual lessening of institutional racism puts the lie to this identity politics fascism.

    A problem for “African-Americans” is that thanks to immigration and cultural change there is now a large number of people in the U.S. the same color as they who reject their party line on what that identity is. Hence the antagonism to Barack Obama for the crime of not being a victimocrat. It is a fact that a disproportionate number of accomplished black people in the US come from immigrant families.

    I’m also amazed by the hushed awe rap impresarios like Puffy whateverhisnameis and that Def Jam REcords clown receive. These guys have made fortunes by packaging human misery in their own community and commodifying it for the entertainment of slack-jawed white kids in the suburbs, debasing the culture of said own communities and putting the status of women back decades, no, milennia and I’m supposed to believe it’s some kind of sophisticated political statement. It’s a minstrel show. The fact that they ostentatiously flaunt their wealth to a fawning public reminds me of those West African Kings who had slave ships on their flags to advertise their power and the source of their wealth.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    SYD: “What amazes me about the race debate in the U.S. is not the racism, but the racialism – the idea that your skin colour is the most important thing about you and defines who you are. ”

    Ah, but it isn’t — last time I looked, Justice Thomas, Sec. of State Powell and Sec of State Rice were just as black as Rev. Louis Farrakhan, and yet are “house niggers” in the eyes of their ethnic cohorts. As such, there is an additional aspect, a political / idelological aspect, that goes along with racialism — if you’re not a liberal (American definition), you really just can’t be truly black.

    SYD: “Like most things from the ‘60s it is ridiculous and the increasing success of black Americans and the gradual lessening of institutional racism puts the lie to this identity politics fascism. ”

    That said, as their power wanes, the apparatchiks of race, the “blacktivists”, if you will, will cling harder and harder to their dogma. Things will get uglier, if not worse, before they get better.

    SYD: “A problem for “African-Americans” is that thanks to immigration and cultural change there is now a large number of people in the U.S. the same color as they who reject their party line on what that identity is. Hence the antagonism to Barack Obama for the crime of not being a victimocrat.”

    The main difference is that Africans and Caribbean blacks do not come form states that have the same tradition of welfare as the United States. As for Obama, I think a generous helping of his problem is that he is impeding the progress of “ole miss” Hillary, if I may use the old vernacular, although Biden comments did expose a certain condescending attitude. Politically, the Dems would like to keep them poor and dependent — a block vote on their platation, if you will. In years past, all they had to do was give a few “blacktivists” a seat at the kiddie’s table and the votes rolled in.

  • jimmy

    Perhaps the old story of race (or ethnicity, take your pick) and politics in the US, i.e. opportunity hoarding, deserves some attention here:

    http://www.clevescene.com/2007-02-21/news/black-on-black-crime/

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Jimmy: “Perhaps the old story of race (or ethnicity, take your pick) and politics in the US, i.e. opportunity hoarding, deserves some attention here.”

    Nothing new, Jimmy — just another case of blacktivists supporting their friends and selling the general population down the river. They pass the laws, make a few sweetheart deals for their political friends and fellow hacks, get caught and blame the white folk for their troubles. The common African-American stays on the plantation, votes Democratic and the cycle continues.

    Hell, you think Cleaveland is bad, take a look at Philadelphia. Mayor Street essentially hired his brother, a hot-dog vendor and “community activist” as a “consultant” for their airport.

  • Synchronize Your Dogmas

    Unfortunately saying that the answer to political inertia in the U.S. is an end to bloc voting for the Democrats doesn’t help much. Big problem – there’s only one alternative – The Republicans. What the hell are Republicans? What are they about really, once you get past the patently and demonstrably false rhetoric about smaller government, fiscal responsibility, individual rights, God Gays Guns all that? They are an impossibly schizophrenic party that should have the decency to split and maybe then give the voters some genuine choice.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    SYD: “Unfortunately saying that the answer to political inertia in the U.S. is an end to bloc voting for the Democrats doesn’t help much. ”

    Doesn’t it? As a minimum, whichever parting is pimping you would have to follow through on promises that, to date, have been just so much lip service.

    SYD: “They are an impossibly schizophrenic party that should have the decency to split and maybe then give the voters some genuine choice. ”

    As opposed to the Democrats, a party that claims to want to help African Americans but doesn’t? Every move the Dems have made to “help” the African American community has back-fired, misfired or just plain not fired. Johnson’s “Great Society” made a black father more valuable in his absence than in his presence, for example. Racial quotas and set-asides have alternately advanced unqualified applicants and tarred qualified ones as incompetants in the process. It is statistically demonstrable that racial preferences in higher education draws less prepared candidates into more competative schools, sowing the seeds of failure. These are the things the Dems have done to “help” the black community.

    If absolutely nothing else, the Republicans have had, at least in recent years, more blacks in higher offices than the Democrats. They have been solid nominations of qualified candidates, race not being an issue. Powell and Rice were not window-dressing, nominated out of some inane need for a cabinet that “looked like America.”

    Perhaps some schizophrenic party with a policy of benign neglect would be just the thing to help — I’m not sure the black community could weather much more “help.” Likewise, the Dems are no less schizophrenic — consider the lifestyle of their leaders and the ideology they espouse.

    More accurately, the two main parties in the US are not truly parties, but coalition parties, each containing a number of disparate, sometimes antagonistic interests. The name of the game in recent years has been to shave off segments, even micro-segments, of the other guy’s base electorate, the best example being the so-called “Reagen Democrats” — conservative union workers who,despite being in organized Labor, were Midwestern, hunted, fished, were at least nominally religous. The names of the splinters change, but the game stays the same.

  • Synchronize Your Dogmas

    Dread Cthulhu: Just because you criticize one party doesn’t mean you are carrying water for the other. Americans have to start thinking outside the box and realize that the current 2 party cartel of corruption they’ve got going is not divinely ordained. Both parties are bought and paid for by the same people even if George Bush starts wearing a dashiki.

    Getting back to the article, has it really ignited a firestorm of controversy? It’s in Esquire, which is not a magazine I’m familiar with but which I have the idea is a GQ type thing full of articles about wearing pointy shoes and shaving your balls. The writer’s use of the dreaded n-word is gratuitous and, as for his analysis, well, he’s no John H. McWhorter.

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  • Dread Cthulhu

    SYD: “Just because you criticize one party doesn’t mean you are carrying water for the other.”

    Never said you were. However, your analysis was one-sided and incomplete. You said, and I quote, “Unfortunately saying that the answer to political inertia in the U.S. is an end to bloc voting for the Democrats doesn’t help much. ” Now, in context of the subject, you are wrong — were the African American community to cease voting as a bloc for Democrats, it would answer the political inertia, regardless of who they voted for. Putting the black vote in play, be it for Republicans or a third party, would force the Democrats to get off their collective lily-white pretentious asses and think. The Republicans would try harder as well. Third parties would have an opportunity. As things stands, the black vote (90+% on the plantation, iirc), is part of the problem. Hell, I would applaud an effort by someone not a blacktivist trying to organize African Americans into simply voting their interests — blacks families are in favor of vouchers, whilst black “leaders” are not, just to cite one example.

    My comments on Republicans had more to do with the stasis in the African American community — Dems more or less screw them at will, with the thought of “what are they going to do, vote Republican?” and Republicans have, with a few exceptions, more or less written them off and don’t make much of an effort in their direction precisely *because* they vote as a bloc. As a result, they remain “on the plantation,” rather than being a powerful swing-vote community.

    SYD: “Americans have to start thinking outside the box and realize that the current 2 party cartel of corruption they’ve got going is not divinely ordained.”

    Oh, they know — they just lost the virtue of voting their beliefs somewhere along the way. I had five choices on the presidential ballot last time and had to touch each level and shudder, as, to my mind, each was as bad as the next, in one measure or another.

    SYD: “Getting back to the article, has it really ignited a firestorm of controversy? It’s in Esquire, which is not a magazine I’m familiar with but which I have the idea is a GQ type thing full of articles about wearing pointy shoes and shaving your balls. The writer’s use of the dreaded n-word is gratuitous and, as for his analysis, well, he’s no John H. McWhorter.”

    Actually, I suspect the author is pretty much in line with what gets said behind closed doorsin some quarters, SYD. His use of the word “nigger” is not particularly gratuitous — its not there for sniggering humor purposes or to provide some sort of faux authenticity, but to make a distinction, one the author deemed important. I suppose he could have called them “knuckleheads,” ala Cosby, but, with all due respect, since the knuckleheads have taken to calling themselves “nigger,” they might as well own the appellation all the way around.

    As for the quality of his analysis… sometimes you need a small child to stand up and announce the Emperor has no clothes. It doesn’t have to be any more sophisticated than that.