Category Archives: politics

Diversity in Comics

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AriseTV America invited me on to discuss New York Comic Con and diversity in comics. I did the best I could in a five minute segment.

It’s a loaded subject because comics readership is increasingly diverse but the comic properties published by Marvel and DC don’t come close to adequately representing that diversity. So we are forced to look for ourselves in legacy characters that won’t necessarily remain relevant to us. That’s why I took pains to highlight Black creators like Jimmie Robinson and the great Kyle Baker, who both offer interesting work that comments on issues of race and class. I wrote a scholarly article on Nat Turner a few years back that I’ll be revisiting in my forthcoming book on race and representation in comics.

It’s not enough, but I’m happy to do my part to make sure their stories receive the wide attention they deserve.

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The President and Political Narratives

President Obama held a press conference yesterday to address the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Ferguson.

ferguson-missouri

Like many watching and commenting in real time on twitter, I found Obama’s comments on the situation in Ferguson lacking. Ezra Klein attempted to illustrate the source of our frustration: the incredibly polarized political landscape that prevents this president from ‘reaching across the aisle’ and ‘healing the nation.’ Citing Gallup polls and other data, Klein asserts that it is simply beyond this president’s power to bridge not just the divide that colors the way that we respond to racialized policing, but any partisan issue.

Still, while he accurately captures the forces that limit the president’s ability to ‘bridge the deep divides in American politics,’ Klein’s analysis ignores another choice that President Obama might have made: to challenge the rhetoric around policing, the logics that produce victims like Mike Brown.

President Kennedy did something similar 50 years ago in response to unrest at the University of Alabama when he stated “It ought to be possible in short for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.” We now take platitudes of this sort for granted, but when Kennedy made that statement public opinion was not in his favor—most white Americans looked with displeasure upon Blacks Americans attempting to desegregate schools and other public spaces in the South. So when Kennedy made his claim he was challenging the dominant political consensus of post-war America: that Blacks should not be too insistent in their demands for civil rights.

As several  influential scholars have demonstrated, the dominant racial issue of the day in the unequal policing of the African American community. This is exacerbated by the fact that communities like Ferguson rely on the fines generated from tickets and civil-forfeiture to fund local government. Given this, Obama could have mentioned that communities should not create perverse incentives that necessitate arrests to fill the public coffers. He might have lamented the fact that in many counties in America, the number one employer is the local prison. He could have contrasted the incongruity of 20 years of falling crime being accompanied by ever greater rates of imprisonment. He might have taken Congress to task for blocking the confirmation of a lawyer to head the Office of Civil Rights at the DOJ. Instead of engaging these polices, Obama instead repeated the canard that more Black men are in jail than in college and touted the supposed virtues  his My Brother’s Keeper program. Instead, Rand Paul’s statement on policing seems more progressive than the presidents. 

Obama should know better. He should be capable of reaching beyond the immediate political calculus that Klein describes to challenge the structural assumptions of the nation. It seems, despite his cool and youthful demeanor that Obama is no Kennedy, and that’s a shame.

forest>trees

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So the usual suspects in the media are commenting about Chicago losing the opportunity to host the 2016 Olympic games to Rio. Despite what they say, this effort was neither arrogant nor a fool’s errand. If that was the case, the President of Brazil, Prime Minister of Japan and the King of Spain would have skyped in their statements of support for their own bids instead of flying to Copenhagen to deliver them personally. Of course, facts will not stop Obama’s critics.

What’s truly interesting is why Chicago lost out to Rio: affirmative action. No South American nation had ever hosted the Olympics, the USA has hosted more than any country except Greece. Brazil is an emerging economy, right on the heels of China and India. US economic shenanigans almost pulled the nation into a world-wide Depression. Brazil is a multi-racial nation and Rio a sprawling city with too many guns and too much crime. The US is a multi-racial nation and Chicago a sprawling city with too many guns and too much crime. So I guess that last point evens out.

See, if William Safire or Irving Kristol were still alive they might point out the delicious irony of the US’s first Black president making an appeal for the Olympics only to lose out to another country primarily for the sake of fairness and (geographic and economic) diversity. I guess it’s much more satisfying to crow about Obama failing, even if it isn’t true.

false consciousness or just stupid?

There are lots of political commentators that find the idea of false consciousness displeasing, in part because it tends to flatten out the appeal of social processes that people find compelling by focusing solely on the economic impact of those choices. For example, that a working class family tithes 10% of their income to the church might not make financial sense, but this fails take into account the social and communal values that a struggling family might obtain from the church. This failure to understand the non-instrumential appeal of values is the primary critique leveled against Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas.

But what are we to make of Kenneth Gladney, a Black conservative tea party activist involved in an altercation while protesting Obama’s proposed healthcare plan in St. Louis?

A few days after the fight Gladney made an appearance before a

crowd of about 200 people. His attorney, David Brown…read a prepared statement Gladney wrote. “A few nights ago there was an assault on my liberty, and on yours, too.” Brown read. “This should never happen in this country.”

Supporters cheered. Brown finished by telling the crowd that Gladney is accepting donations toward his medical expenses. Gladney told reporters he was recently laid off and has no health insurance

Yes that’s right. A black man got beat up for standing up for the values of right-wing conservatives by protesting against Barack Obama’s healthcare plan and it turns out the dude has no health insurance. SMH

bringing the ruckus

I’ve been watching the Obama weekly addresses on youtube. I’m sort of addicted to the idea that his every utterance redefines what’s possible. I sincerely wish the Hillary hadn’t stolen the book title Living History, because Obama sort of puts her to shame on that front. Not that life is a competition.

Anyway, this weekends address gave me the chills. He really wants to change things, both in DC and in how the nation does its business. Peep this.

It really get good at about 3:14 in when he drops this:

I know that the insurance industry won’t like the idea that they’ll have to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that’s how we’ll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs for American families. I know that banks and big student lenders won’t like the idea that we’re ending their huge taxpayer subsidies, but that’s how we’ll save taxpayers nearly $50 billion and make college more affordable. I know that oil and gas companies won’t like us ending nearly $30 billion in tax breaks, but that’s how we’ll help fund a renewable energy economy that will create new jobs and new industries. In other words, I know these steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they’re gearing up for a fight as we speak. My message to them is this:

So am I.

Damn. He about to get all FDR up in here!

is this on the level? UPDATE

So I saw this clip over at Daily Kos. Apparently the young black youth have stopped saying N***** and started calling each other President instead. As in, “peace president” or “you presidential, son!” But watch the clip carefully.

This seems like a put on, right? At the end when the guy says a white person should never use the word president. Um, what? And the idea that a movie studio would have already over-dubbed the N-word in movies like Menace II Society. Obama’s been president exactly one month. Hollywood just doesn’t move that fast.

AND the fact that a stern teacher like the one they interview would have some kids wilding IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA. Hell no.

This is a hoax. Somebody played NY1 for the fool.

UPDATE
So I was right. This thing is a hoax. It’s pretty funny though.

strange new behavior, now with picture

I made it down to DC on Sunday in time to take my family to the concert on the Mall.  As we made our way from the DC Metro to the Mall my son tugged my sleeve and told me he wanted a flag.  I grew up listening to Public Enemy, you know, “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps”, “don’t believe the hype,” “fight the power!”

But that was then.

I brought him the flag.  He tripped happily along, waving it as he went.  I was proud of him.

sons-flag

About an hour later, my son is bored.  He doesn’t know any of these songs, he can’t reallly see what’s going on unless I hoist him up, which I can only do for a few minutes at a time (the kids are HEAVY now), its cold.  I bend down and tell him, among other things, that he shouldn’t let the flag hit the ground, that to do so is to disrespect an important symbol.  He acknowledges this and doesn’t let the flag touch earth, even as he keeps asking, “Can we go, NOW?”

A second later, as I bop along to Garth Brooks,  I realize that never in the past had I cared about the stars and stripes.  My father certainly never instilled any reverence of it into me when I was six.   I learned about how to treat the flag in elementary school, but that was borne as much out of a desire to be part of the group that got to take the flag down from the flagpole at the end of the day as it was any real sense of patriotism.

I have particular taste in music.  I hate songs that express unexamined sentitment.  I prefer the minor keys, the complicated and overwrought to the sentimental, uplifting or triumphant.  Give me Sade or Radiohead or Talib Kweli over Mariah, Dave Mathews or 50 any day.  But, as Beyonce launched into “America the Beautiful” I found my heart filled with pride.  I’ve heard the song before, but on Sunday those words…

I have no idea who I am anymore.  The intellectual detachment is increasingly difficult to maintain.  The cynicism is fading.  What’s become of me?