Wednesday, April 30, 2008

running headlong into the abyss

so this is going to be a post about Obama and Reverend Wright. how could it not? but i'd like to start out with a quote i was reading today on the train: it's from Jean-Paul Sartre's preface to Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth." Sartre is talking to the white european audience, explaining the value of listening to what i'm sure today's media would call Fanon's hate speech. He writes:

"Our victims know us by their scars and by their chains, and it is this that makes their evidence irrefutable. It is enough that they show us what we have made of them for us to realize what we have made of ourselves...But, you will say, we live in the mother country, and we disapprove of her excesses...You, who are so liberal and so humane, who have such an exaggerated adoration of culture that it verges on affectation, you pretend to forget that you own colonies and that in them men are massacred in your name. ...Have the courage to read this book, for in the first place it will make you ashamed, and shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary sentiment."
It is shame, also, that we as a culture and that currently white americans in relation to this reverend wright thing, run from at all costs. we would much rather feel hate than shame, because to feel hate is to find somewhere else to put the blame, but to feel shame is to know you must change. More than anything else, i think this is what is coming out as Jeremiah Wright returns to the media spotlight.

I watched Wright's interview on Bill Moyer's Journal, and I have to say I thought it was actually pretty great. but apparently i'm the only one. the word "narcissism" seems to be ringing from the hilltops, which i think is surprisingly narrow-minded and infantile, even for the new york times. its true that Wright's media fling will probably not do great things for Obama's campaign, but i very much doubt he's throwing Obama to the dogs just to get his 15 minutes of fame. He's going on national television because his belief system, his way of life, and pretty much everything he's ever known is being attacked from all sides, and this is quite possibly the only opportunity he will have to defend it. Like it or not, this campaign is forcing the nation into at least a shallow discussion on race, and that might be the best we're going to get for a while. I don't blame him for trying to add to it.

So here's the deal: Wright is being called a bigot, a hate-monger, and just plain crazy from all sides. Obama is running to get away from him, and is still getting criticism for not running fast enough. The NY times is pointing to Wright's "embracing Louis Farrakhan's anti-semitism" (aka Wright's refusal to right Farrakhan off as nothing but an anti-semite), his "crazy" yet somehow very prevalent notion that the government is CAPABLE based on past and current actions of using AIDS to kill off black people, and his apparently hateful and shocking statement that America's hands are not clean of terror as proof that Wright is everything that is Wrong with black america.


I could go point by point, starting with the fact that what Wright actually said was that he may not agree with Farrakhan, but that "when he talks, black people listen" (true), but i'm slowly learning that there's not much point in laying out logical arguments about shit like this, because bottom line, it comes back to what Sartre was saying and why i put that quote at the beginning of this post: it may be cowardly, but its easier to "pretend to forget" than it is to look at yourself through the eyes of your victims. I listened to the longer clips of Wright's sermon about 9-11 and america's chickens coming home to roost, and his "god damn america" sermon, and they were brilliant and beautiful. He makes points about how god blesses people but does not bless the governments who fail them, and about how, in his words, "violence begets violence." I read the transcript of his national press club interview and found it to be quite the opposite of "unhinged" and offensive:" he talked about the need for the United States to apologize for the atrocities we've committed in the past. He talked about reconciliation as if he'd been coached by Desmond Tutu himself. Of Louis Farrakhan he said not "i agree with him" but "he is not my enemy." He refused to stoop to the level of condemning Islam, the only kind of condemnation that everyone still loves to hear. but to admit that there is even a grain of truth in his words would be to admit your own complacence in, and the ways in which you benefit from, the oppression of black people here in the US and the terror visited on poor people across the world as a result of american imperialism and american exceptionalism. to admit he might have a point is to admit that even though Farrakhan "did not put him in chains," you did. and that doesn't look great in the mirror.

this whole argument, i'm starting to feel, is a lost cause. our generation more and more seems to be incapable of self-criticism and self-reflection, and thus incapable of seeing ourselves through anyone's eyes but our own. I think that reverend wright's resurfacing in the media was a chance for people to think critically about the things he's saying that have so offended 'liberal' white america's sensibilities, and to think critically about why some 6,000 people would choose to attend his church if his ideas were so 'radical.' but its much easier to dismiss one man as crazy than it is to confront the reality that there is an entire population within this country that thinks those same thoughts, and that while many of us may not know those people at all, may have no idea what their lives are like or why they believe the things they do, those people know us very well indeed. they "know us by their scars and chains." and they have the ability, if we choose to listen, of helping us to truly know ourselves. but if this controversy has shown anything, its that we do not choose to listen, and we do not want to hear.

"It is not right, my fellow-countrymen, you who know very well all the crimes committed in our name, it's not at all right that you do not breathe a word about them to anyone, not even to your own soul, for fear of having to stand in judgment of yourself." - Jean-Paul Sartre

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

economics can bite me.

i'm sure it has its benefits, but at harvard, "economics" means you don't have to learn anything EXCEPT economics. aka you will turn out an idiot with a fancy degree to make you think you're smart.

i'm trying to blog less about harvard because, well, i've moved on. and i think its best if harvard knew that and stopped trying to call. but its sort of difficult to let go completely when harvard just keeps making an ass out of itself. every once in a while i'm inspired (aka someone points me to a crimson article) and i feel compelled to say something about it. this is one of those times.

the subject: "a crack in the glass ceiling" written by, surprise surprise, someone without much experience, knowledge, or writing skill.

ok so as usual i have too much to say. i will try to break it down into a brief summary, followed by bullet points (or maybe numbers. i have yet to decide). that way you can just read the ones you want, but i still get to say everything i feel like saying.

summary: in an attempt to spin the democratic primary race in a new way (admittedly hard to do these days), sophomore brian j. bolduc has written an article which (possibly unintentionally) is really quite racist and sexist. the point he is TRYING to make (i think?) is actually one i kind of agree with: that electing a black man or a white woman president will probably not end racism or sexism. the points he actually manages to make with the body of his article are that jim crow wasn't a big deal, black people are oppressed because they don't get married enough, japanese people have superior work ethic to blacks and whites (but no political will/skills), and women would have equal standing in society if they would just stop having babies.

ah. i love it when people try to make complex arguments without even thinking at all, much less reading anything outside of the ec assignment that clearly inspired the article. it makes my job almost TOO easy. i almost don't even want to argue with this dude. but i will.

ok point 1 (say, i decided to go with numbers!): the pregnancy thing - no duh women have babies. and yes, the fact that they often have to take time off from work to do this contributes to their earning less/getting promoted less/getting fired more. congratulations on figuring this out, i don't think anyone has ever thought of it before. no, no wait, that can't be right. oh yes, its all coming back to me now: turns out there are actually ways to NOT punish a woman for giving birth. there are also ways of allowing the husband or partner of a new mother to participate in the whole "taking care of a baby" process so the woman who physically gave birth is not the only person legally able to take time off work. wow. crazy. i'm not even going to get into the fact that i think this dude referred to procreation as a "lifestyle choice" in his article. i guess i'm just glad that for once he wasn't talking about the gays?

2: for someone who seems so gung-ho about economics and statistics and empirical proof, i feel that this sentence feel somehow a tad short: "Married couples share certain qualities that make them more likely to succeed." ah. so when barack obama says “…many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow,” that's a generalization and a confusing of the facts. but when you say married couples are more likely to succeed, that just makes sense. the consistency literally astounds me. i'm speechless. i need to go lie down.

3: i realize i could go on for days about these little things, so let me address the major problem in the article - its complete incoherence. he's trying to make a distinction between political success and economic success, but is confused. pointing out that the economic situation of blacks improved before civil rights legislation was passed is an interesting factoid, but what does it mean? is he trying to suggest that there is no relationship at all between economic standing and social standing? is he confusing "politics" to mean pretty much anything that is not economics? does he believe that proving two things are not directly correlated proves that they are completely separate? honestly, i'm asking. because nowhere in the article does he make this clear. if i were to guess, i'd say he's trying to say that "political" forces, aka social forces, aka racism, have nothing to do with economics. and in order to prove that fact, he's tried to reduce the complex history of race in this country to an interaction (or lack thereof) of two very narrowly defined forces. obviously there's more going on - education, the economy of the nation, various social and political movements, and changes in the housing economy to name just a few things, but to try and address the interplay of these issues would be impossible in a one-page article. so instead, just write something that makes no sense!

the most irritating thing about this article really, is just that its another in a string of articles for as long as i've been reading the crimson that are just bad: they don't make sense, they're poorly written, and they contain various forms of racism and misogyny lightly veiled as 'science.' i get that its a college newspaper and that people without that much education are writing for it, and i get that learning how to be a journalist is just that - a learning process. but i fail to see how anyone can become a better writer through producing shit like this and having an editor just give it the green light with no criticism. the crimson needs to really start holding its writers to higher standards - the paper would improve, and the writers would actually learn something. which, clearly, they're not doing in class. so it may be their only hope.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


i know i don't actually post regularly enough for you to even notice when i'm gone, but for some reason i feel the need anyways to announce that i'm going out of town, so no posts from me for another 8 days at least.

on the plus side, you still have brittany! i could have just commented this on your last post, but as long as im already here, yeah. that video was like, not really funny. and if someone was actually doing that on the subway i was on, i would get REALLY mad. people around here have a nasty habit of turning anything they don't understand into a joke. but some things are actually not that funny. like homelessness.

another pet peeve: those ads on the subway telling you not to give money to homeless people, and to instead donate to an organization that provides homeless services. makes perfect sense, right? people who are begging for money on the subway COULD be getting great services elsewhere but they're just too lazy. and they're on drugs. so don't waste your money on them. because of course it makes PERFECT sense that a homeless person, given the choice between begging you for money and going to get what they need in a less humiliating and degrading way, they'd choose begging you. how about whoever made that ad campaign tries accessing some of those services, finds out there aren't actually enough, and then shuts the fuck up? jesus.

anyways, peace out. see y'all in about a week.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How am I supposed to feel?

So, if you pay any attention at all to what Kaya and I say, you'll have noticed that we both live in New York City and, as people not from the East Coast (Midwest, what-what!) we sometimes have an interesting, or at least different perspective on things that seem to be just the norm around here.
One of those things is the very visible presence of the impoverished and the homeless in the city. Sitting on corners, shaking cups or performing for bits of money, it's easy to see that not only are this city's apartment buildings and projects overflooded, but also the homeless shelters and mental illness facilities. Those of us living and working in the city are all too familiar with the occasional (and on some lines regular) subway begger or performer, coming through the crowded aisles and telling their story, singing a song, doing a dance or in some cases just flat out crying in order to get a bit of change or the grand prize of some actual paper money. And let's be real, I bet on more than one occasion you've stifled a laugh during a particularly crazy/funny/strange performance or tried not to be too obvious while rolling your eyes during a repeat performance of your local train woman's story (I swear this one girl had her speech down pact, word for word weekdays on the downtown 2 train).
So yeah, we all have our thoughts, jokes, annoyances, whatever with these situations, but now someone has actually created a video as a reaction. Take a look below.

So when I first saw this I'll be plainly honest, I thought it was kind of funny. No, more like pretty hilarious. I mean come on, satire is always good fun- and if you get into the layered nature of this joke you could make all sorts of comments on those in power taking money from the middle class workers, the suffocatingly crowded yet simultaneously painfully isolating nature of the subway and the at times ludicrous accounts given by people in order to shame tourists into pulling their quarters and dollars out of their pockets/purses. But, like all good things, this enjoyment of mine while watching this video abruptly came to an end about 10 or 15 seconds into it, turning into a strong annoyance, then a quiet, bubbling rage and finally solidifying into a sinking pit of shame in my stomach when the actual homeless man comes into the cab singing a song and the actor claims that he "can sing better than him."
I'm all for conversations on these sort of awkard and depressing social phenomena, but jokes like this, while generally amusing, don't seem to do much more than providing a cathartic release- not for the people suffering from poverty but for those "suffering" from having to look at them.
And that, my friends, is pretty problematic. :/