I had planned to write this before I left for my vacation, but then MJ died and I got discombobulated and before I knew it, I was off. Then returning, I was still somewhat stuck in MJ mode, it was my birthday, and I just got lazy overall. Now, most of you know already that I am a big fan of the former comic strip/current (?) tv show "The Boondocks." As some of you know, the strip and show are not too popular with some people, especially some older African Americans. Conservative Larry Elder apparently created an award on his radio talk show called "The McGruder for the Most Outrageous Statement by a Black Public Figure." This was started either in response to one of my favorite ideas from "The Boondocks," the "Most Embarrassing Black People" awards. It was nicknamed the Elder. I forget what the actual stipulations were for nomination, but I think they were pretty self-evident: any black person who acts, says, or does something so ridiculous it reflects poorly on the entire community can be nominated. Seeing as how we are a little more than halfway through the year, and it's been an interesting and somewhat angering year for race relations, I thought I might continue this tradition. So I now present my candidates for the 2009 "Most Embarrassing Black People" awards:
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
I am not going to go through the case again. It's all over the internet and tv. My dad really only holds two black scholars in high regard: Gates and Cornel West. They're both around my dad's age, and they books can be found in my parents' home back in Jersey. Growing up, I saw these two, and especially Gates, as basically the men my dad wanted to be if he had the same access to resources. I remember reading Gates' memoir, Colored People, in high school. I don't remember much about the book now, but I do recall how much it resonated with me, which is amazing since we were born 35 years apart and he's from West VA and you know where I hail from. All that said, I'm not too big a fan of his Genealogy Project, I just don't see the goal. Regardless, from an academic standpoint, the man handles his business and you have to respect that.
Given how I viewed him growing up, his arrest stuck me as completely absurd. Not in the sense that the cop is a racist or a moron, but Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the absolute last person I would imagine getting arrested anywhere (nevermind his own home). Honestly, when I found out, all I could do is laugh out loud. I also found his question to the officer, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" very ridiculous. Just say it out loud. There's something about pointing out that he is a black man in particular that stuck me as odd phrasing. I can also imagine him saying it, and putting an extra emphasis on "man." It's a statement straight out of 1990, which is strange for a man at the forefront of his field.
You may be asking how this embarrasses black people, and I am not quite sure. I think the way he has handled this situation, talking about doing a documentary on the relationship between people of color and police, but at the same time ignoring the recent cases of Shem Walker or Omar Edwards, strikes me as opportunistic and creepy. At the very least, it discomfits me given how my dad has looked to him as a shining light. Of course, I have heard that he is called the "academic capitalist" so his behavior should not shock me too much.
If you want a sense of my thoughts on this debacle, watch this clip. Harold Ford, Jr. and Carlos Watson get at what I am thinking. To sum up my thoughts really insufficiently, this was a case of "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong" on both sides. It just so happens that one of the people involved has the ability to arrest the other. I maintain that the president's comments at his press conference were fine. The media just lack the ability to deal with full sentences. More generally, you really should be reading TNC, period.
Back in college, I wrote an opinions column for my school newspaper my second semester of sophomore year. It was mostly hit or miss, in my view, but somehow signaled my arrival on campus in terms of larger, "more important" discussions. I'll have to write about my experience sometime, I guess. Anyway, that next Christmas, my dad bought me a copy of Juan Williams' Enough. At the time, I was a little familiar with Williams and some things he had written, disagreed with him a lot, and to this day, I have not even so much as opened that book. Considering the above clip, I think I made the right decision. When I watched this, my mind was blown. He cannot honestly believe what he is saying, he has to only do it because it pays well, right? I don't know, things like this kill me.
As I mentioned above, I read the blog of Ta-Nehisi Coates. A lot. I enjoy and sympathize with his perspective, and unlike a lot of bloggers for prominent publications, the comments section is actually worth reading and can help deepen your understanding of a topic. I mention all this because TNC has a strong dislike of Shelby Steele. He did claim, after all, that white guilt was responsible for our failures in Iraq. RIghtly or wrongly, I tend to be wary of black conservatives. In the case of someone like Steele, his take on Obama strikes me as incredibly dishonest. How is President Obama a "bargainer?" I can see how other successful black liberals fall under that category, but it's not a very useful generalization at all. The same is true of conservatives. There are/were people like John McWhorter, who I disagreed with all the time, but at least his arguments were well reasoned (mostly). With Steele, he is falling into his own trap of bargaining for the dominant group of his party. He lacks the ability to just admit he was wrong and adjust his views to fit the current circumstances. Instead, he makes the circumstances fit his views. As a scientist, that sort of behavior is endlessly frustrating. Also, after watching this clip, I get the feeling the choices he describes for prospective black politicians fits in with his own life experience, especially at a place like the Hoover Institution.
Like I said, I am wary of black conservatives. In my experience, some are like Shelby Steele in that when you talk to them, you get this sense that they are responding more to how they have been treated by people of all types than their claim that they have come to their views through some rigorous test of logic. I am also have issue with black conservatives complaining about identity politics, Affirmative Action, and the like while failing to self-reflect and realize that the only time they are called upon by the media in any fashion is to talk about issues of racial or ethnic identity. I very rarely see black conservative (or to some extent, liberal) commentators talk about health care, the economy, the wars or any topic without it being related in some way to race. One of the reasons I stopped writing my column was I that I tired of being the go-to person for all things related to people of color. I have very broad interests, though this blog may not reflect them all. That black conservative commentators lack the clout to talk about issues that concern all Americans shows me that their claim to be above identity politics is crap.
Anyway, there are black conservatives who have ideas that I find stupid, like Williams. There are others whose ideas I find disingenuous, like Shelby Steele. Then there is Michael Steele. For about a month or so, he was laying low and doing a good job of it. Then came this shit:
Personally, the "fried chicken and potato salad" comment is not what offended me the most. It is bizarre in his choice of potato salad as a quintessentially African American food, but I digress. For me, saying "Y'all come" is what was more bothersome. It's so incredibly lazy and shows that he simply has no idea how to make Republicans more appealing to minorities. It's also much, much too forced in terms of the way the sentence in constructed.
Of course, this is not the only embarrassing remark made by Mr. Steele. I don't have the time or the energy to go through them all. Between showing some "slum love" for Bobby Jindal, to claiming that government jobs "aren't jobs," if I think about all the things he's said, my head might explode. He'll probably win the award in a landslide, he bombarded us with nonsense at the beginning of the year. But I'm saving hope for an appearance from Stanley Crouch slapping another person. Or Jermaine Jackson, who might be one of the greasiest people on Earth.
I'll also happily take any suggestions, in the good chance I have overlooked anyone.