This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

November 30, 2009

Catch a Tiger By His Toe: Speaking Back to the Woods Affair

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Heard on this morning’s TJMS:

Tom Joyner: What’s the n-word in Swedish?

Sybil Wilkes: The same. It’s universal.

There seems to be a certain level of glee in the discussions about what might or might not have contributed to golfer Tiger Woods’ car accident near his home. Glee from all sorts of places, but right now I am interested in the glee coming from some quarters of Black folks.

I guess I should speak for myself in admitting that I have had an ambivalent relationship with Woods over the years. I am speaking for myself—but suspect others feel similarly.

I have rooted for him, and taken some level of satisfaction when he has achieved at the top of his field. I do not like golf one bit. Once when my father-in-law—an avid golfer since his childhood days—took me out to the course with him I got sunstroke and swore no golfing green would ever see my body again. Watching televised golf for me is only slightly more exciting than watching TV test color bars. But still I rooted for him and even watched SportsCenter highlight of his shots.

I have grieved for him. I sensed how close he and his father had been and knew what he must have been feeling when his first and biggest fan died. To me they made the cutest pair: the pride emanating from the elder man, Tiger with his baby face and broad grin by his side. I am not one to talk about folks “looking down from heaven” and being pleased (or displeased). I generally hope that if there is a heaven, there will be something more and better to do than keep tabs on the goings-on here on earth. But in Tiger’s case, I generally have hoped that his Dad was tuning in to tournaments and continuing to take pride in his boy’s accomplishments.

I have scratched my head at him. His characterizations of his racial identity have challenged me to walk my talk. I firmly believe that people should have the freedom to self-identify as they please, in such a way that feels authentic to them—the rest of us be damned. At the same time, I feel that choosing to self-identify as Black in a nation in which Black is degraded can be an important—and brave—political act. I believe that people should have the freedom to love who they want to love and who loves them back—the rest of us be damned. At the same time I am aware that some people in our society are deemed more “lovable” than others, and Black women are often holding the short end of the dating game desirability stick.

So against this context I took in the initial reports of Woods’ one-car collision. My first thought centered on the initial reports that his injuries were “serious.” I thought about how none of us really knows what is in store for us by dusk when we rise out of bed at dawn. How each moment is precious. How money and fame cannot protect us against the great equalizers.

Then the story seemed to stray off of the fairway into the rough. The developing story is starting to read like an action movie that starts out great, but then develops so many holes that you are no longer able to enjoy the plot or even the special effects. Your whole viewing experience dissolves into pointing out to your movie mates how implausible different aspects of the film are. This, actually, becomes the source of most of your enjoyment such that if these loose strings were somehow tied logically in the final act, you’d be disappointed. You cannot wait to review the film for all your friends and relations—telling them that they must see it for its non-intended laugh-value alone.

So the story of Tiger’s accident has developed. I’m not so much worried that he has suffered great injuries—and certainly I am no longer worried that he is on death’s door—as I am interested in the story he has given to the police (apparently) and to the public as well as the public’s reaction to that story. Which brings me back to the glee I am detecting in the reactions.

Again, I’ll speak to myself. (Though I think I could ask these same questions of others.)

I ask myself: do I feel vindicated to see that Woods is being exposed, perhaps, as a regular male human being with normal failings? Am I happy that White women may, after these rumors, no longer be perceived by some Black men as the higher value, lower drama alternative to Black women? Am I relieved that whatever happened in that driveway resulted in Tiger wearing cuts and scratched instead of his wife? Am I tickled and entertained at the implausible (though, I must say, still possibly true) details Woods is sharing with us? Am I titillated by the proactive “lawyering up” of the other woman identified in the gossip around this case? Do I secretly wish that through this experience that Woods may realize that no matter how loved and accepted he may be by mainstream media and White fans, he can still be knocked down to size (and race)?

Am I hoping I am the first to think of the following board-game-inspired punchline to some joke about the affair: Mrs. Woods, in the driveway, with a nine iron?

Am I “wrong” for any or all of these reactions?

On the other hand, do I fear that the familiar apologies for domestic violence—e.g., most of the time it’s the woman who starts it—will be given fuel? Am I sad that whatever the case may be, two little children will have to suffer the upset to their family life and privacy? Am I wary that Blacks harboring unresolved ambivalence toward Woods will be singing the same chorus as Whites harboring unresolved bigotry toward him? Will I be tricked, as I have been in the past, by letting my attention drift to this new, shiny thing instead of focusing on more important national and global matters?

November 3, 2009

What am I missing?

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**UPDATED: As of 11/4/09 the body count is now up to 10: “A judge denied bond Wednesday for a convicted rapist accused in multiple killings, saying the latest allegations are ‘gruesome’ and the ‘most serious’ he has heard during his time on the bench.” [Source] These latest developments have resulted in the case garnering front page exposure on the Nancy Grace Blog (stories here and here).

Frustrating: The story below reports that latest news on the investigation into the discovery of remains from six Black women at a convicted rapist’s home was to be aired yesterday on Nancy Grace’s CNN show. However, when I looked for further information about the story and aired report on the Nancy Grace blog, there is not an entry for it. (There is only a link back to the news story I excerpted from below. There are, predictably, several stories on Elizabeth Olten and Somer Thompson that appear on the first page of the site.)

So what am I missing? Did Grace cover the story or not? How many murdered Black women does it take to warrant a series of posts about them? (Apparently, more than six….)

…Local authorities also are attempting to trace 50-year-old Anthony Sowell’s residential history since his June 2005 prison release to learn whether there are additional victims, according to Lt. Thomas Stacho of the Cleveland Police Department.

Police arrested Sowell on Saturday, two days after discovering the decomposing bodies of five females inside his home. Another female body was discovered outside the house.

Authorities found the first two bodies while trying to serve an arrest and search warrant on Sowell related to a sexual assault investigation. Sowell was not home at the time; officers found him after a tipster told them of his whereabouts.

The decomposing bodies of the women, all of whom were African-American, could have been lying where they were found for “weeks, if not months or years,” a coroner said Saturday….[Source]

The Nancy Grace blog does have a post appearing on the front page about this case. See more commentary about this Cleveland case at From My Brown Eyed View and at Black and Missing But Not Forgotten.

October 27, 2009

Eating Obama (Again)

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Here we go again with the Obama-food-racist imagery. This time the culinary delight is fried chicken. Apparently, one of the RNC’s Facebook fans uploaded an image of the President chowing down on what appears to be a chicken wing (no word on whether it is the left wing or the right wing) with text that read, “Miscegenation is a crime against American values/Repeal Loving v. Virginia” (Source, incl. image). The image has been removed—but it seems it was up for some time before this action was taken. This reminded me of this post from a while back, so I decided to re-post.

Yes, Obama makes some folks bat-sh** crazy ravenously hungry. Not to mention scared that he’s going to be the harbinger of Black men taking up with the all the White women eating up all of America’s friend chicken….

Eating Obama

One thing I know for certain: Barack Obama sure seems to make some people hungry.

"Now, for some pie!" PunditKitchen, http://punditkitchen.com/2008/11/11/political-pictures-barack-obama-pie/

We’ve had Obama Waffles (“Change You Can Taste!”), White House lawn-grown watermellons,  and Obama Bucks to buy all of this food. More recently there have been Obama Fingers—a tasty fried chicken treat, and this frozen ice cream treat that appears to be vanilla covered in nut-sprinkled chocolate.

On a less sinister note, we’ve also witnessed portraits of Obama in the medium of over 1,000 cupcakes, Obama campaign logo cookies, and even Obama (flavored?) hot sauce.

What’s going on with all this Obama-inspired culinary activity?

Are folks just hungry, and want to combine their love of (or hate for) Barack Obama with nutritional ingestion? Are some supporters on an Obama Eucharist kind of trip, thinking they’ll witness some kind of miraculous transubstantiation after eating foodstuff emblazoned in his image? We Obama supporters often were accused of looking upon the man as Messiah. But my answer to all that was always, “Don’t hate because you have a boring snoozer of a candidate. We Dems certainly have had to suffer with such candidates in the recent past.”

As for the more negative portrayals, is food just an efficient shorthand tool for expressions of racism? In the case of the non-US food companies, do they really just have no clue? Well, at least with the frozen treats, it seems as if the whole racial “____ on the inside and ____ on the outside” meme is a feature of their product line. Clearly they know more than they seem to be letting on. But perhaps they still see the product as harmless, even complimentary? The Americans—I have no sympathy for them. Everyone past a certain age who grew up here knows what they are doing when they invoke food-related racial imagery.

**Sigh**

I don’t know. Damn the Internets, though, for bringing this constant barrage of images to our front doors/browsers. It’s going to be a long 4-8 years…

October 9, 2009

A Call to Action (and Happy Birthday, Bo)

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Good morning.  Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning.  After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, “Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s birthday*!”  And then Sasha added, “Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.”  So it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee.  Let me be clear:  I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build — a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents.  And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.  And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action — a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century….

~President Barack H. Obama, on winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

*And it is PPR_Scribe’s wedding anniversary!

“For his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples…”

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Peace.

"Peace sign in Ocean Beach." slworking2, http://www.flickr.com/photos/slworking/619836807/

"Peace sign in Ocean Beach." slworking2, http://www.flickr.com/photos/slworking/619836807/

October 1, 2009

Could Moving Pictures Hurt, Not Help?

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With the latest youtubized capture of street violence in the form of the beating death of Derrion Albert comes another round of usual blog reactions including grief, confusion, shock, sadness, dismay, anger, frustration. Blame is cast on the usual suspects: the media, rap music, parents generally, mothers (teen mothers, non-wed mothers, baby-mamas) specifically, fathers (teen fathers, absent fathers, irresponsible fathers) specifically, poverty, inadequate education, racism, neglect by the Black middle class, self-hate, gangs, culture of anti-intellectualism, the prison industrial complex, American acceptance and glorification of violence, testosterone, mental illness, and whatever I forgot to add to the list.

But the more crucial question for me is: What role do we, as bloggers, have to play in this? And I am particularly interested in whether or not bloggers have been making a conscious decision to embed or not embed the video of this crime on their blogs.

I have argued in comment sections elsewhere that I think we mainly embed videos (any videos) on our blogs because we are technically capable of embedding videos on our blogs. Perhaps in addition we feel it adds interest to the look of our sites, or adds variety to our content. Most of the time when I see embedded video clips on blogs, I see the same clip on lots and lots and lots of blogs. So the issue is not that we think folks will not be able to see the video elsewhere. We could choose to just provide a YouTube or other URL, or to just mention details of the clip and have our readers search for a viewable clip elsewhere.

Chances are, for the vast majority of buzzed-up videos, there are many opportunities for everyone with an Internet connection to find and watch the video.

The President, it turns out, has watched the captured beating of Derrion Albert. Here the argument is made that everyone should watch Derrion Albert lose his life—that it is “must-see TV”:

Back in the 1960s, we only needed to see footage of black protesters being beaten, hosed down and attacked by police dogs once to understand how bad racism was down South.

Back in 1992, we only needed to see the video of Rodney King getting beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department once to understand the boys in blue aren’t always on the right side of the law, even if a judge says otherwise.

Now, in 2009, many of us need to see the video of 16-year-old Derrion Albert being beat to death at least once to understand it’s no longer just the police and white people of whom we need to be afraid. It’s also each other.

Sorry. I do not buy that.

I think the circumstances for that kind of visual evidence today is a lot different than it was in days past. The medium is no longer new, and we are too sophisticated about special effects and other ways to make moving pictures show something that wasn’t there to be convinced of anything by video images alone. And to use Rodney King as an example? Do we not recall how that video was taken apart—frame by frame—in the courtroom, and what the jury’s verdict was? Were there really people anywhere who, before the beating of this young man in Chicago, thought that it was just police killing Us?

…So back to the bloggers.

My fear—perhaps eventually it will be an opinion, but I am not to that point yet—is that the airing such viral videos of violence  mostly contributes to an air of titilation, an atmosphere of voyeurism. I fear our blogs may become places where readers can take a peek at the horror, and then make the appropriate comments of shock, sadness, dismay, anger, frustration, blame: a kind of virtual highway rubbernecking. I fear that—in a culture in which the criminals of heinous crimes have their names remembered (Bundy, Manson, Dahmer, Gacy) but their victims are nameless—such people captured on phone cams killing other people will see themselves more as 15-minute reality super stars instead of perps caught in the act.

I talked a little here about my initial decision to not post videos when I began this blog:

I also decided that I would give my new space a kind of stripped-down, minimalist feel. Embedded videos are everywhere on the ‘Net, and on my previous blog I greatly enjoyed posting them. But I decided against posting them here. Thus, for example, when I participate in Old School Fridays I post links to audio instead of embedding video.

So the core of my first decision was more aesthetic, an attempt to try something new…to go retro in a way. Now I am thinking about whether or not my decision to go clipless should also be guided from an ethical standpoint. I am trying to be more intentional about the decisions I make as a blogger. I do not have one of the big blogs, and I am not a traditional journalist, but I do still think it is crucial for me to develop a code of “paraprofessional ethics” when it comes to what type of blog I put out into the cyber-universe.

And I am just not sure I want to be one of the sites that hosted viewings of the death of human being.

July 6, 2009

Never Can Say Good-bye: Ritualizing Death

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I know you have probably seen one, too. Sitting at a stoplight…happening to glance over to the side of the road outside your car window…you see a small roadside memorial to someone who, likely, had died near there in an automobile accident. Perhaps there was a wooden cross, a teddy bear or two, maybe a name. Last month right around all the high school and college graduations I saw a roadside memorial adorned with the tassel of the graduating senior whose commencement would forever be her or his crowning moment.

How do you react when you see such humble displays? What is the thinking of those who erect such monuments to a deceased loved one?

"PPR_Scribe's Sister, Jackson family home, Gary, IN." Image courtesy of Sister Scribe

"PPR_Scribe's Sister, Jackson family home, Gary, IN." Image courtesy of Sister Scribe

Some of the most poignant visual images following the World Trade Center attacks were the memorials that popped up on fences and street posts and building walls. For a while these were not memorials, but pleas for information on missing loved ones. “Have you seen this man?” “Do you know this woman?” But soon the hope faded and in the place of the telephone numbers and other contact information were the memorials. Images frozen in time: of a now-dead father holding a little baby, silly grin on his face as he proudly displayed his first-born…of a now-dead sister rail-side on a cruise ship, showing off the clothes she purchased for her long-awaited vacation.

These memorials were all the more stunning because of the vast scale of them. Not just a small white cross at a busy intersection, but a whole community of monuments to the deceased.

I was in “the neighborhood” the other day, buying hair supplies. During my hour or so there, I saw three people wearing “dead man” t-shirts, memorial shirts with the images, names—and the sadly brief documented lifespan—of casualties of our urban war on our citizens. The air brushed art work was stunningly beautiful. In one shirt the deceased young man posed alongside late rapper Tupac. I cannot speak for the young man, since I did not know him, but the likeness of Tupac was amazingly accurate.

How does it feel to wear such a shirt? How does it feel to have a closet full of such shirts?

Many people are turned off by the sideshow that follows the deaths of many famous people. Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Steve McNair. It has been said that we can be voyeuristic when it comes to the lives—and deaths—of those in the public eye. Sagging magazine and newspaper sales then soar. Tributes fill the airwaves. The insatiable hunger for any tidbit about the circumstances of the celebrity’s final days and death demands meals out of even the most insubstantial crumbs of half-truths, speculation, and outright lies.

Those who are mourning, or who otherwise feel a loss, can become lumped into descriptions of the three-ring circus. Maybe because they are most visible, they can become the biggest targets of public scorn and derision. “But you didn’t even know him personally.” “Why was her life worth more than any number of other human beings who died the same day, but who were not well known.” “This shows how messed up our society is—how much we worship fame and fortune.” I remember when singer/actress Aaliyah died. I read from someone, marveling at the outpouring of grief by some young people, something to the effect of, “She hadn’t even achieved that much. It is not as if she were Aretha Franklin or something.”

Who has a “right” to grieve?

"Mourners, Jackson Family Home, Gary, IN." Image courtesy Sister Scribe

"Mourners, Jackson Family Home, Gary, IN." Image courtesy Sister Scribe

Evolution has given us humans many gifts. But they come at a price. We are acutely aware of our own mortality. The deaths of others remind us how short our earthly lives are. Some of us do not so much fear death as we fear death followed by being forgotten. Being forgotten means it is as if we were never here to begin with. Being forgotten erases what brief life we had. The rituals we enact around the deaths of others—famous and not, old and young—help us to remember.

They do more, though. Somewhere there is an elderly church mother who attends every funeral of every church member or church member’s relative. She cooks for the fellowship meal following the funerals, investing her own time and meager financial resources to fry enough chicken or bake enough cheese-infused pasta to feed a horde of grieving family and friends—many who she does not even know. What is the point? Is she just some sort of voyeur who enjoys the emotions and attention? Or does she feel she is only doing for others what she hopes someone will do for her when her time comes?

Sometimes at the stoplight I see the small cross and teddy bears out of the corner of my eye and I make a point not to look. I am not in the mood to see a roadside memorial today. If I think of it at all, I think how foolhardy it was for someone to stand so close to the dangerous road that killed their loved one, just to place an old teddy bear and handmade sign that will look ratty and sad following the first heavy rain anyway.

But it is hard to escape these displays for long. At some point I will look.

June 2, 2009

S.O.S.

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"Upside down American Flag." Arthur Guy, http://www.flickr.com/photos/arthurguy/2537870504/

"Upside down American Flag." Arthur Guy, http://www.flickr.com/photos/arthurguy/2537870504/

  1. Corey Hatter
  2. Ordero Hillard
  3. Marcus Washington
  4. Andre Malcolm
  5. Arthur Tyler
  6. Sameer Conn
  7. Shaun Brown
  8. Shaun Bowens
  9. Kiyanna Salter
  10. Daniel Calderon
  11. Ernest Williams
  12. Julian King
  13. Brian Murdock
  14. Quentin Buckner
  15. Devour Robinson
  16. Dushawn Johnson
  17. Isiah Stroud
  18. Andre Stephens
  19. Esteban Martinez
  20. Itzel Fernandez
  21. Johnel Ford
  22. Rachael Beauchamp
  23. Johnny Edwards
  24. Kendrick Pitts
  25. Raheem Washington
  26. Carnell Pitts
  27. Franco Avila
  28. Gregory Robinson
  29. Lee Ivory Miller
  30. Rakeem Washington
  31. Tommie Williams
  32. Marquell Blake
  33. Juan Cazares
  34. Christina Campos
  35. Alex Arellano
  36. …(Source)

Please consider copying and pasting these children’s names to your own blog.

May 27, 2009

Read It, and Don’t Weep

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The decision by the California Supreme Court upholding last November’s Proposition 8 outcome is on-line in its entirety. It is 185 pages long, but not too complicated to understand.

The gist of the decision is not nearly as dire as some reports are making it out to be. This is not an against-marriage-equity thing; It is a procedural thing. Further, it is a California thing.

California is a funky place to do democracy. From the decision transcript (available here):

In considering this question, it is essential to keep in mind that the provisions of the California Constitution governing the procedures by which that Constitution may be amended are very different from the more familiar provisions of the United States Constitution relating to the means by which the federal Constitution may be amended.  The federal Constitution provides that an amendment to that Constitution may be proposed either by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by a convention called on the application of two-thirds of the state legislatures, and requires, in either instance, that any proposed amendment be ratified by the legislatures of (or by conventions held in) three-fourths of the states.  In contrast, the California Constitution provides that an amendment to that Constitution may be proposed either by two-thirds of the membership of each house of the Legislature or by an initiative petition signed by voters numbering at least 8 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the last gubernatorial election, and further specifies that, once an amendment is proposed by either means, the amendment becomes part of the state Constitution if it is approved by a simple majority of the voters who cast votes on the measure at a statewide election.

As is evident from the foregoing description, the process for amending our state Constitution is considerably less arduous and restrictive than the amendment process embodied in the federal Constitution, a difference dramatically demonstrated by the circumstance that only 27 amendments to the United States Constitution have been adopted since the federal Constitution was ratified in 1788, whereas more than 500 amendments to the California Constitution have been adopted since ratification of California’s current Constitution in 1879.  [Emphasis added; Citations removed for ease of reading]

Get that? Twenty seven versus 500+—in a much more expanded time frame, even. What happens now is that the fight will go on. And that fight must be, in my opinion, also on the procedural front and settled as a matter of constitutionality. I respect that many people are fighting the battle to change hearts and minds. But that can take a loooong time—if it ever happens fully at all. The dissenting opinion frames the way forward as a matter of the principle of  equal protection:

The equal protection clause is therefore, by its nature, inherently countermajoritarian. As a logical matter, it cannot depend on the will of the majority for its enforcement, for it is the will of the majority against which the equal protection clause is designed to protect.… [Emphasis added]

In other words, the rights of a minority group, who is discriminated against by a majority, cannot be decided by the decision of that majority. The dissenting opinion concludes:

…Proposition 8 represents an unprecedented instance of a majority of voters altering the meaning of the equal protection clause by modifying the California Constitution to require deprivation of a fundamental right on the basis of a suspect classification.  The majority’s holding is not just a defeat for same-sex couples, but for any minority group that seeks the protection of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

This could not have been the intent of those who devised and enacted the initiative process.  In my view, the aim of Proposition 8 and all similar initiative measures that seek to alter the California Constitution to deny a fundamental right to a group that has historically been subject to discrimination on the basis of a suspect classification, violates the essence of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and fundamentally alters its scope and meaning.  Such a change cannot be accomplished through the initiative process by a simple amendment to our Constitution enacted by a bare majority of the voters; it must be accomplished, if at all, by a constitutional revision to modify the equal protection clause to protect some, rather than all, similarly situated persons. I would therefore hold that Proposition 8 is not a lawful amendment of the California Constitution. [Emphasis added]

So the beat goes on. I have said elsewhere that this is the time for marriage equality. I think that there is a momentum, an arc of history, that is bending toward it. And I think that those who oppose same-sex marriage—no matter how passionately or sincerely they feel it—are on the wrong side of history on this one.

Time will tell. But I am not weeping.

May 12, 2009

Paint the Ghetto Green

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When you think about green, you often think about people who have a lot of money and who can afford a certain lifestyle. But really what the green economy represents is a massive opportunity for new work, new wealth and better health for all Americans.

~Van Jones,
President Obama’s special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation

"Powered Planet." PPR_Scribe

"Powered Planet." PPR_Scribe

April 15, 2009

I fuss; You fuss; We all fuss ’bout taxus

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This is it, huh. This is the new Republican strategy. The woman-diversity tactic was a wash. The We-got-our-own-Black-guy gambit was less than ideal. The scary-Black-nationalist-I-hate-Whitey-wife turns out to be a media and fashion darling. Obama can apparently send in the Seals with the best of ‘em. The First Puppy is too cute for too many folks to fret about the President “breaking a promise” to adopt a shelter dog.

So now they’re trying to rally around the taxes we all love to hate? And they adopt as part of their rallying cry a verb that has already been taken for quite a different activity? Really?

Well, thanks. Thanks for making things a little bit easier for the new administration in these super tough times. And thanks for forcing me to explain to my mother why that perky Rachel Maddow from the TV box she likes so much was laughing every time her guest said “teabagging.” After I mail in my tax check to the IRS I’ll be sure to send my next therapy bill to the RNC and Fox.

April 5, 2009

“Aiding” Africa? The Helpers Have No Clothes

One of the things I loved about the HBO broadcast of “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” is that it portrayed a different picture of the African continent than what we usually see: either a place where only exotic wild animals roam the land or a place where only famine, disease, poverty and war characterize the people.

Of course, this is not to say that the continent is problem-free. So often, however, these problems are painted as endemic to the countries and their people, with Americans and other great Westerners as those who will come in and save the day.

So it is nice to get an alternative view of the problems on the continent and what is and is not helping–and a view that is not from a non-African, White, male. Dambisa Moyo provides just such a view:

Dambisa Moyo is a unique voice in the debate over African aid. In a conversation dominated by white, male westerners—and most conspicuously by celebrities such as Bono or Bob Geldoff—Moyo is a black, African woman. Born in Zambia to a banker mother and a father who now runs an anti-corruption organization, Moyo earned her master’s from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Economics at Oxford. She’s worked as a consultant to the World Bank, and for the past eight years was the sub-Saharan economic expert for Goldman Sachs. It was at Goldman Sachs that Moyo began work on her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, released just a few weeks ago.

Moyo does not see the premise of her book as controversial, saying that to most Africans it is simply common sense:

I think it’s quite bizarre frankly, and slightly laughable, when I hear people say “Oh, the book is controversial.” My view is that it’s hardly controversial; it’s very obvious. Someone described it quite appropriately as The Emperor Has No Clothes. Because I think we all know that aid is not working. That’s why in the book I draw on literature from organizations like the World Bank. It’s somewhat bizarre that all this evidence is out there [that aid doesn’t work], but somehow we just continue to push for more. Let’s take the capitalistic system for a second. It’s quote, unquote, not working now. We have centuries of evidence that it generates wealth and delivers jobs, and yet here we are after one bad year and we’re ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. So I find it quite worrying that we can look at aid—after sixty years and one trillion dollars that haven’t worked in Africa—and we still don’t question the system. It seems the natural thing that when something has as bad a record as aid does, we should question it and want to overhaul the system.

I readily admit to not having a very good mind for macroeconomics. That is why I depend so much on the analysis of others–those who I must trust with their expertise–to get a handle on such issues. I’ve only recently begun reading books on economics, starting with two by Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World and The Future of Freedom. I’m looking forward to adding Moyo’s book to my self-imposed syllabus.

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