Thursday, July 26, 2007

Arrest the President ?

"Arrest the President!"

Those were the words once uttered by emcee Intelligent Hoodlum, who has now changed his name to Tragedy Khadaffi which I can't really say I can make any sense of. But that's not the point of this post. While putting President George W. Bush in chains and booking him with mugshots hasn't been floated in mainstream media circles, a rising chorus is speaking out about another fate, one laid in the groundworks of America's experimental democracy to take care of wayward executives--Impeachment.

Though taken "off the table" by Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, and at one time only the domain of the so-called "radical left," the idea of removing both President George Bush and Dick Cheney (who has made a 4th branch of government out of the Vice Presidency) is picking up steam in some unlikely circles. A public opinion poll from the American Research Group recently reported that more than four in ten Americans — 45% — favor impeachment hearings for President Bush and more than half — 54% — favored impeachment for Vice President Cheney. For some the matter is personal. For others it has everything to do with the tragic Iraq War. But for many it goes even deeper, as they detail the inherent dangers of an executive branch who regularly subverts democracy, ignores the Constitution, breaks laws and attempts to assert powers that border on the imperial. On Friday Jul. 13th, veteran journalist Bill Moyers sat down with John Nichols of The Nation and Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official during the Reagan administration who drafted articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton. These two unlikely allies both agree on one thing--George Bush and Dick Cheney both need to be impeached.

Click Video above to seen an excerpt and/or read transcript below. And yep, the pause function on the music box can be found at the bottom right.

From Bill Moyers Journal:

July 13, 2007

A public opinion poll from the American Research Group recently reported that more than four in ten Americans — 45% — favor impeachment hearings for President Bush and more than half — 54% — favored impeachment for Vice President Cheney.

Unhappiness about the war in Iraq isn't the only cause of the unsettled feelings of the electorate. Recent events like President Bush's pardoning of Scooter Libby, the refusal of Vice President Cheney's office to surrender emails under subpoena to Congress and the President's prohibition of testimony of former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers in front of the House Judiciary Committee have caused unease over claims of "executive privilege." In addition, many of the White House anti-terror initiatives and procedures — from the status of "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo to warrantless wiretapping — have come under legal scrutiny in Congress and the courts.

Bill Moyers gets perspective on the role of impeachment in American political life from Constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, who wrote the first article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, and THE NATION's John Nichols, author of THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT.

full transcript:


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Michael Vick, Fighting Dogs & White Outrage

First off, to make it plain, I deplore dog-fighting. I'm too much of an animal lover for that. I've given to wild life protection funds. I spend time searching for hygiene products that say "not tested on animals." No, I'm not with PETA. Neither am I a vegetarian. And I have a serious problem with some of the colonialist practices western wildlife preservation groups use in parts of the "developing world;" hiring mercenaries to shoot/kill poor African farmers seems a cruel injustice given that the profits of poaching tend to enrich foreign paymasters. I just think Homo sapiens sapiens could do a much better job in treating the other denizens of the planet, who happen to outnumber us in both population and time of residency. All of that being said, this latest Michael Vick media spectacle has been disturbing on more than one level.

Partly it's because it seems that the media has determined his guilt before trial, a dangerous precedent I usually leave to rags like Rupert Murdoch's NY Post. Then there's the unspoken of, but right beneath the surface, racial component. A trip to the real window into white America (online message boards) where people say what they *really* feel makes you think you've entered a klan rally. An elderly, trembling and sincerely passionate Congressman Byrd, real life one-time Klan member turned repentant liberal, gets up on the House floor and rails against "barbaric" practices. Already, some media stories are depicting the dog-fighting as something endemic to Hip Hop, painting pictures of violent gang-bangers high on drugs and unleashing their violent dogs in dark underground dwellings. Jason Whitlock, who is making a name for himself in his own unleashed blood-sport of black on black verbal violence, naturally jumped into the foray feet--or perhaps snarling teeth--first.

More problematic than the actual dog-fighting itself is the rush to label it now something particular to a certain group of people--the usual American boogeymen in blackface. In fact however, illegal dog-fighting is flourishing in every state, including places where blacks, Hip Hop and/or gang activity are rare. But, following the normal American theme, if the perpetrator is "black" it must be part of some larger sub cultural pathos festering among degenerate segments of society.

So Vick will now become the "face" of dog-fighting, much the way Michael Jackson became the "face" of child abuse, OJ Simpson the "face" of domestic violence, etc.

It's not that any of these acts in of themselves aren't abhorrent. Rather it's the peculiar trend, in which members of an ethnic group that make up a mere 12% of the overall American population become the poster boys for the most heinous crimes, that leaves some unsettled.

As usual in America, it's hard to tell if Michael Vick is being focused on because of his celebrity or his race. I would submit, more than likely, it's a bit of both. But, even with my shared concern for animals, it is highly bizarre that in a country that drops cluster bombs and white phosphorous on civilians, has secret prisons world wide and engages in "enhanced" interrogation techniques (torture), the *alleged* acts of one football player manages to strike such an emotional chord--where the dead bodies of men, women and children (mostly of darker hue) don't muster this type of response. When General Tommy Franks, who engineered the invasion of Iraq, infamously stated in regards to civilian casualties, "We don't do body counts," the outrage seemed quite tepid from both media pundits and the American populace as a whole.

Judging from some cursory glances at black blogs and message boards, more than a few other black people share similar sentiments. That's not to say there isn't shock and disgust at the incident as well; black people are pet owners too. However there's been a long held cynical sentiment in the black community that white people (as a collective society) care more about animals than they do about people--especially if those people are not white. As some see it, we can barely get this country to apologise for several hundred brutal years of slavery and lynching; yet the white world rises in righteous outrage over the tragic fate of several dogs--in the South no less. It's interesting to note that in their attempts to locate the origins of America's obsession with gladiatorial combat, no media outlet has yet brought up that just 150 years ago white slave owners often pitted their chained property against each other in similar spectacles, where the "civilised" white gentry would drink, gamble and wager eagerly over which of the fierce "big bucks" would best and bloody the other. Rather tragic, outrageous and barbaric if you ask me.

I usually refuse to get into a debate about "who white people like more" when it comes to animal rights--a psychologically damaging exercise in which one weighs one's worth by the whims of white folks. But when there's barely a peep about males in places like Jena, TX who may face the racial injustice of long-term prison sentences, but a media spectacle over dog-fighting, where everyone is worked into such a frenzy it reaches the hallowed halls of Congress no less, that cynicism about where white society places its concern is hard to suppress.

Seems Dave Zirin at The Edge of Sports, had some similar sentiments, from a different angle, tracing the relationship between sports, dog fighting and American violence.

Who Let the Dogs Out on Michael Vick?

By Dave Zirin

In our sweaty, panting, twenty-four-hour media culture, "presumption of innocence" seems almost quaint, the legal equivalent of a potbellied stove.

This is certainly the feel of things in the curious case of the People vs. Michael Vick. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was indicted Tuesday on federal charges of conspiracy for alleged involvement in a dogfighting operation in Virginia. The media have released the hounds.

In what can charitably be called a sprint to judgment, MSNBC's Michael Ventre opines that Vick should be "suspended for life" from the NFL: As if he has a desk inside the federal prosecutor's office, Ventre writes, "When the general public starts to hear gory tidbits about the savagery that was allegedly condoned by the Falcons' quarterback, he will be persona non grata in society, let alone the NFL."

Ventre's not the only one in attack mode. Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times has a piece called "Put the Bite on Vick Now." Mark Starr of Newsweek wants him benched immediately. And sports radio has been atwitter with coverage that can charitably be called repugnant. America Online's highly trafficked Fanhouse discussion board turned ugly. The offending posts have now been scrubbed from the board, but when I checked earlier this week, there were calls to "hang him from a tree" as well as a liberal use of the N-word. (Please tell the NAACP that it's not just rappers who say that.)

The case is no longer just about what Vick did or did not do on the property he owned in Virginia that housed an alleged dogfighting operation. It's about celebrity, racism, the South and the precarious position of the African-American athlete. As someone in the Atlanta sports-radio universe described the local populace, "Half hate him. Half don't. Why? He's a black quarterback who represents hip-hop culture."

Michael Vick is in a world of trouble. If convicted, the career of an NFL marquee player--the only quarterback ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season--now stands in serious jeopardy.

As sports legal expert Lester Munson explained on, "The government's case includes evidence that Vick and his cohorts 'tested' pit bulls for ferocity. If the dogs failed the test, the indictment charges, they were executed by hanging or drowning. In one case, with Vick present, the document says a dog was slammed to the ground until it was dead. In another incident, a dog was soaked with a hose and then electrocuted. Those aren't the sort of transgressions that lead to probation and community service. It's the kind of behavior that results in punishment, and the punishment will be jail time."

Fighting dogs is an ugly, brutal business, and none of this is to excuse anything that may or may not have happened. But whether Vick is found guilty or not, the self-righteousness of the media and the many Vick-bashers is staggering.

American culture celebrates violent sports--especially football--and is insensitive to the consequences that the weekly scrum has on the bodies and minds of its players. We love a sport where any given play can be a player's last. We accept that after 44-year-old former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters committed suicide, the autopsy revealed that his brain resembled someone with early-stage Alzheimer's due to repeated concussions. We ignore that a Hall of Fame running back, the once-unstoppable Earl Campbell, can barely get out of a car without assistance. We forget that Johnny Unitas, the greatest quarterback to play the game, couldn't grip a football by the time of his death.

But in Vick's case, when this media-massaged package of NFL fury fails to remain safely contained on the field, the sports establishment throws up its hands in horror.

I asked one player why some NFL players are attracted to dogfighting, and he said, "It's exciting, it's violent and it's high-impact." That could easily be an ad for the NFL. Another player, when I asked him about dogfighting, called it a case of "trickle-down violence," a pastime in which players make the journey from controlled to controller.

Whether Vick is guilty is for the courts to decide. Meanwhile, let's turn the magnifying glass on a society that condones so much violence in war, film and sport. Let's question the media's rush to judgment when the violence spills over into a shadow game where animals are brutally exploited in the service of violent entertainment. Let's ask why some of these fans can decry the treatment of dogs but barely acknowledge the pain of Earl Campbell. And let's all wonder whether just this once, the media will take a nice cold shower and reflect for just a moment on the role they play in this enduring hypocrisy.

Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket).


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sun Jul 15th to Sat Jul 22nd

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

Big Media touts administration news on Iran's involvement in Iraq; says little on much larger and substantial Saudi role. Media under reports, or completely misses, White House executive order on property seizure. Near news blackout on Colin Powell's criticism of White House's lack of diplomacy. Bright spot of the week: Media Matters exposes NBC correspondent who received $30K for speech attacking presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards.

Big Media Echoes White House Charges of Iran's Iraq Involvement; Ignores Larger Role of Saudia Arabia--and now Turkey.

Following White House and Pentagon spin machines, the mainstream news media has repeatedly implicated Iran in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. Much was made this week in fact on Wednesday's Senate vote of 97-0 to pass a resolution sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to censure Iran “for what it said was complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.” Yet the LA Times on July 15 published an article that showed that of the foreign fighters in Iraq, over half are from Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, these foreign fighters are Sunni and allied with the Sunni insurgency thought to be most responsible for attacks on U.S. troops, especially suicide bombers. Whatever aid Iran is giving to Iraqi factions, it is undoubtedly Shia-based, and has little to do with attacks on American forces. Though the LA Times is a mainstream news journal, even its story hardly made a blip on major media corporations. As if to underscore this blindspot, NATO ally Turkey's heavy shelling of Kurdish strongholds just inside the border of northern Iraq (on the same day the Iran Censure was passed by the U.S. Senate) hardly made a media ripple. One can understand why the Bush administration wants to single out Iran as a threat, ratcheting up the rhetoric to justify any future attacks. What isn't as clear, is why the news media seems just as eager to do so.

Media Under Reports, or Completely Misses, White House Executive Order on Property Seizure

In a little reported incident, the Bush White House issued an executive order last Tuesday that has some Constitutional scholars worried. President Bush directed the Treasury Department to block the U.S.-based financial assets of anyone deemed to have threatened "the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq" or who "undermin(e) efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq." The order targets those individuals or organizations that either "have committed, or ... pose a significant risk of committing" acts of violence with the "purpose or effect" of harming the Iraqi government or hindering reconstruction efforts. As the order states plainly, it applies to "U.S. persons," that is, American citizens. Now exactly which Americans have joined up with the Iraqi insurgency or carried out any acts to destabilize Iraq? The only possible Americans this can be directed towards would be anti-War activists, whom both Homeland Security and the Pentagon have spied upon in the past. By itself perhaps, this executive order may merely raise an eyebrow or two. But taken together with the varied other assaults on civil liberties and Constitutional law (from the abuse of signing statements to domestic spying to recent Emergency Powers acts) and this is a troubling development. Even more troubling was the fact that other than a few online sites like TPM Muckraker, the mainstream media hardly gave it even a mention. If the populace isn't kept aware of the doings of its government, exactly how are they suppose to exercise any form of civic responsibility?

News Blackout on Colin Powell's Criticism of White House's Stance Towards Hamas

The following story, near buried in the US media press, managed to make the news--in the Jerusalem Press:

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East should find some way to talk to Hamas.

"I don't think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking to account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community," Powell said in a radio interview.

He said Hamas, which controls Gaza, is not going away and enjoys considerable support among the Palestinian people.

"They won an election that we insisted upon having," Powell said. "And so, as unpleasant a group they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think through some means, the Middle East Quartet… or through some means Hamas has to be engaged."

If only our news media could at least show that amount of objectivity towards the Palestinian-Israeli situation.

Bright Spot of the Week

Media Matters: NBC Correspondent Received $30K for Speech Attacking Sen. Edwards

Despite the right-wing charge of a "liberal media," the folks at Media Matters once again showed the glaringly anti-progressive, anti-liberal, anti-left and often anti-Democrat stance that is so often found in the mainstream media. In this case, NBC chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, breaking with NBC's own code of ethics, took $30,000 from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce to address its Business EXPO 2007--during which he attacked a prominent presidential candidate, Sen. John Edwards.

For more:


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Operation Iraqi Liberation- Ever Changing Iraq "Mission"

Since this colonial misadventure began in Iraq, the Bush White House--and their lock-step GOP Congressional allies--have continually shifted the reasons for the war. What began as a search for now non-existent "Weapons of Mass Destruction" has shifted to nation building, the spreading of democracy, maintaining peace (oddly enough thru war), protecting freedom and endless other goals never mentioned before the war. Maybe we should have read the fine print. It seems the only reason that has not been given is the most obvious one--which Bush, the war supporters or the yet-cowed mainstream corporate media yet dare not name: OIL. But every once in a while there's a slip of truth. This past July 5th the Defense Minister of Australia, a Bush ally, Brendan Nelson, set off a firestorm by stating Iraq is "an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world, and Australians ... need to think what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq." Ooops! Below is an article by ThinkProgress, who has been keeping tabs on the ever changing definition of the 'Mission' in Iraq. Above is video featuring another bit of "rhetorical change wizardry"--the only thing this White House seems adept at. 2 extra pts if you noticed the acronym in the blog title.

The Ever Changing Definition of ‘Mission’ In Iraq

In June 2005, ThinkProgress noted the Bush was constantly revising the definition of our “mission” in Iraq.

Reporting on his escalation strategy this week, President Bush claimed “satisfactory” progress in many areas of the “new mission” in Iraq. Bush has changed the definition of our “mission” in Iraq so many times, he has made it impossible for the American public, U.S. forces, and the Iraqi population to have any confidence that the mission will be ever completed.


Bush: “Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.” [3/6/03]


Bush: “Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” [3/22/03]

Bush: “Our forces have been given a clear mission: to end a regime that threatened its neighbors and the world with weapons of mass destruction and to free a people that had suffered far too long.” [4/14/03]


Bush: “On Thursday, I visited the USS Abraham Lincoln, now headed home after the longest carrier deployment in recent history. I delivered good news to the men and women who fought in the cause of freedom: Their mission is complete, and major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” [5/3/03]


Bush: “The United States and our allies will complete our mission in Iraq.” [7/30/03]


Bush: “That has been our mission all along, to develop the conditions such that a free Iraq will emerge, run by the Iraqi citizens.” [11/4/03]

Bush: “We will see that Iraq is free and self-governing and democratic. We will accomplish our mission.” [5/4/04]


Bush: “And our mission is clear there, as well, and that is to train the Iraqis so they can do the fighting; make sure they can stand up to defend their freedoms, which they want to do.” [6/2/05]

Bush: “We’re making progress toward the goal, which is, on the one hand, a political process moving forward in Iraq, and on the other hand, the Iraqis capable of defending themselves. And we will — we will complete this mission for the sake of world peace.” [6/20/05]


Bush: “We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission. … Advancing the ideal of democracy and self-government is the mission that created our nation — and now it is the calling of a new generation of Americans.” [11/30/05]


Bush: “In the coming days, there will be considerable reflection on the removal of Saddam Hussein from power and our remaining mission in Iraq…By helping the Iraqi people build a free and representative government, we will deny the terrorists a safe haven to plan attacks against America.” [3/11/06]

Bush: “We will finish the mission. By defeating the terrorists in Iraq, we will bring greater security to our own country. And when victory is achieved, our troops will return home with the honor they have earned.” [3/18/06]


Bush: “In fact, we have a new strategy with a new mission: helping secure the population, especially in Baghdad. Our plan puts Iraqis in the lead.” [1/13/07]

Bush: “[I]t’s the combination of providing security in neighborhoods through these joint security stations, and training that is the current mission we’re going through, with a heavy emphasis on security in Baghdad.” [4/10/07]


Bush: “It’s a new mission. And David Petraeus is in Iraq carrying it out. Its goal is to help the Iraqis make progress toward reconciliation — to build a free nation that respects the rights of its people, upholds the rule of law, and is an ally against the extremists in this war.” [6/28/07]


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

SICKO! George Bush Hates Healthy Kids

"heartless and shortsighted."--Sen. John Edwards, Democratic presidential candidate speaking on Bush's veto threat on children's health insurance expansion.

Just when you think the Bush White House can't sink any lower, they make certain to live up to their infamy. In light of a bipartisan effort to expand the health insurance of needy children in the US, the White House has threatened to veto any such legislation. As reported in the New York Times, "The proposal would increase current levels of spending by $35 billion over the next five years, bringing the total to $60 billion." And how would it do so? By increasing our taxes? Not exactly. The money would be raised by a "federal excise tax on tobacco products....cigarettes [tax] would rise to $1 a pack, from the current 39 cents." According to the Congressional Budget Office, the plan “would reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million.” So the Bush White House would rather the tobacco companies continue to cause cancer for cheap, than to take care of children's health. Shameful... On a related note, congrats to Michael Moore. His documentary SICKO, after less than three weeks in national release, has become one of the top five grossing documentaries of all time and is being expanded to 500 new theaters.

Bush Is Prepared to Veto Bill to Expand Child Insurance

July 15, 2007

WASHINGTON, July 14 — The White House said on Saturday that President Bush would veto a bipartisan plan to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, drafted over the last six months by senior members of the Senate Finance Committee.

The vow puts Mr. Bush at odds with the Democratic majority in Congress, with a substantial number of Republican lawmakers and with many governors of both parties, who want to expand the popular program to cover some of the nation’s eight million uninsured children.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said: “The president’s senior advisers will certainly recommend a veto of this proposal. And there is no question that the president would veto it.”

The program, which insured 7.4 million people at some time in the last year, is set to expire Sept. 30.

The Finance Committee is expected to approve the Senate plan next week, sending it to the full Senate for action later this month.

Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the committee, said he would move ahead despite the veto threat.

“The Senate will not be deterred from helping more kids in need,” Mr. Baucus said. “The president should stop playing politics and start working with Congress to help kids, through renewal of this program.”

full article:

Bush Is Prepared to Veto Bill to Expand Child Insurance


Senate Panel OKS Expansion of Child Health Insurance

Bipartisan support defies Bush who has threatened veto

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times
Friday, July 20, 2007

Washington -- Defying a veto threat from President Bush, a Senate panel overwhelmingly approved on Thursday a compromise to expand health insurance for children of low-income working families by sharply hiking tobacco taxes.

The 17-4 Finance Committee vote underscored the popularity of the program, which insures about 6 million children nationwide.

The committee vote left the president isolated, at least for the time being. Six of the 10 Republicans on the panel joined all 11 Democrats in supporting the plan.

Until now, the State Children's Health Insurance Program has been a federal-state collaboration with broad support from both parties. Backers fear that its future will be jeopardized if it becomes a lightning rod for partisan politics. Legal authority for the program expires Sept. 30, and its renewal is considered the most important vote Congress will take this year on health insurance.

The program now costs the federal government about $5 billion a year, with states contributing additional money. The Senate plan would add about $35 billion in federal money over five years, enough to cover 3.3 million more out of as many as 9 million uninsured children.

full article:

Senate Panel OKS Expansion of Child Health Insurance


Monday, July 16, 2007

Stop Trying to "SAVE" Africa

This past May I wrote a blog peice called Bono's Lament for Africa- Critiquing the Best of Intentions. My purpose was to point out a disturbing trend I had been noticing for years, among even the most well-meaning individuals. Africa, long neglected except to report bizarre stories of one tragedy or another, has suddenly jumped onto the radar of the West. Turn on television shows, the news, magazines etc. and Africa is prominently featured. Or better put, it is the West's image of Africa--starving, destitute, impoverished, disease-ridden, war-torn...and the list could go on. From ONE bands to celebrities adopting babies, Africa as a dark continent of misery and woe is the cause du jour. Yet, even with such well intentions, this depiction of a diverse and vast continent is as one-sided as it's prior neglect.

What's worse, those of us in the West who paint ourselves over as missionary saviours manage to at once erase Africa's historical past as well as our responsibility for the present state of things. I wrote my past peice after being bothered by ads of white (and black) celebs depicted in face paint with the words "I Am African" plasterd underneath. Speaking to people who live on the continent of Africa or in the Diaspora, I found they were equally annoyed--some angry--about the entire affair. But, because those who do this "mean well," it is hard to point out their hypocrisy and paternalism--especially when it may seem as if the food, medicines, etc. they dole out are more important than our grievances. However, Africa need not hold its tongue and trade in its dignity for Western "aid." Because it is that very paternalist and condenscending view of Africa, those portrayals of the "Dark Continent," which lie at the heart of the exploitative relationship that creates odious debt, unfair trade, neglect, etc.

The article below is by Uzodinma Iweala, a Nigerian national who finds himself equally disturbed by the modern Western fascination with "saving" Africa. His voice echoes that of many Africans from various parts of the continent, but who are often relegated to forums and online comments. That he was afforded a space in the Washington Post may signal a coming change in the West's view of Africa (equal human beings rather than "victim projects"), but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Stop Trying To 'Save' Africa

By Uzodinma Iweala
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the "African" beads around her wrists.

"Save Darfur!" she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!

My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

"Don't you want to help us save Africa?" she yelled.

It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs.

This is the West's new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.

Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa being saved. For example, the Keep a Child Alive/" I am African" ad campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities with painted "tribal markings" on their faces above "I AM AFRICAN" in bold letters. Below, smaller print says, "help us stop the dying."

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent's corrupt leaders, warlords, "tribal" conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like "Can Bono Save Africa?" or "Will Brangelina Save Africa?" The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and "civilization."

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head -- because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West's fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West's prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

Why do the media frequently refer to African countries as having been "granted independence from their colonial masters," as opposed to having fought and shed blood for their freedom? Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?

Two years ago I worked in a camp for internally displaced people in Nigeria, survivors of an uprising that killed about 1,000 people and displaced 200,000. True to form, the Western media reported on the violence but not on the humanitarian work the state and local governments -- without much international help -- did for the survivors. Social workers spent their time and in many cases their own salaries to care for their compatriots. These are the people saving Africa, and others like them across the continent get no credit for their work.

Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa doesn't want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.

Uzodinma Iweala is the author of "Beasts of No Nation," a novel about child soldiers.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sunday Jul 8th to Sat Jul 14th

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

MSNBC's Tucker Carlson offers his expert journalistic opinion on Barak Obama--by calling him names. Media under reports damage of Bush's AIDS program on Africa. Bright spot of the week: On Democracy Now! Iraq War veterans describe "brutal techniques" used by U.S. military against Iraqi civilians.

MSNBC's Tucker Carlson "Name Calling" Problem with Obama

Tucker Carlson is a political analyst with his own television show described as "a fast paced, no-holds-barred conversation about the day’s developments in news, politics, world issues and pop culture." Too bad the best he can muster in the end is to resort to name calling. According to Media Matters, in the past two weeks Carlson has managed to refer to Barak Obama by a host of unflattering names. On July 3rd, Carlson claimed of Obama "He sounds like kind of a wuss." On the July 6th edition of his show, Carlson, in referring to a speech by Obama, stated "Well, he sounds like a pothead to me." On July 11th Carlson claimed Obama sounded "kind of wimpy," and by the 13th had come to question his gender with the comment, "Why has Barak Obama suddenly turned into Oprah?" Welcome to the new age of professional journalism.

Media Ignores Damage Bush's AIDS Program Inflicts on Africa

A popular theme in the media for the past few years has been Bush's AIDS program to Africa. Reports of increased funding to the continent have been repeatedly cited as a positive administration policy. Less publicized however, has been the voices of criticism highlighting the dangers Bush's conservative policies are having on Africa's AIDS crisis. In the American Prospect, Michelle Goldberg notes that "On July 5, Beatrice Were, the founder of Uganda's National Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, stood before hundreds of other HIV-positive women in Nairobi's vaulted city hall and denounced the Bush administration's AIDS policies." Mostly this denunciation has been because of failed abstinence-only policies that are seen as putting many more people at risk than any funding manages to save. Goldberg notes that Beatrice Were is not alone:

There were lots of voices like Were's in Nairobi last week, where the YWCA sponsored a massive international conference on women and HIV. Yet they rarely seem to break through in the United States, where the conventional wisdom holds that the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a bright spot in an otherwise execrable presidency, one that only the ideologically blinkered refuse to credit. Nick Kristof seems to repeat this notion in The New York Times every other week, and Bono affirmed it when he insisted on putting Bush on one of the 20 different covers that graced Vanity Fair's special Africa issue. "USA TODAY's Susan Page just got off the telephone with Bono. She says President Bush can count the rock star as a fan today," the newspaper's blog reported in late May. "The Grammy winner was singing the praises of the American president for his announcement today that he would propose spending an additional $30 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa, doubling the U.S. commitment."

For more, see the full article:

Media Ignores Damage Bush's AIDS Program Inflicts on Africa

Bright Spot of the Week

Democracy Now! Iraq War Veterans Speak of Violence Against Iraqi Civilians

The Nation magazine has published a startling new expose of fifty American combat veterans of the Iraq War who give vivid on-the-record accounts of the US military occupation in Iraq and describe a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts. The investigation marks the first time so many on-the-record, named eyewitnesses from within the US military have been assembled in one place to openly corroborate assertions of indiscriminate killings and other atrocities by the US military in Iraq. We speak with the article’s co-author, journalist Laila Al-Arian, and four Iraq veterans who came forward with their stories of war.

Read/Listen to Interview:

The Other War: Iraq Veterans Speak Out on Shocking Accounts of Attacks on Iraqi Civilians


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Black Snake Oil- Hot Negro Foolishness

A few years back I received several photos via email depicting black men and women in gaudy outfits and over-the-top hairstyles. I first thought I was the unintended recipient of white co-workers inner pranks. But it turned out instead that I was being invited onto the front lines of an old bit of intra-racial class warfare. In this case, blacks who considered themselves more "cultured" in the mainstream sought to degrade and humiliate blacks who often came from poor, urban or rural backgrounds. Many of the photos in this spectator sport came from a site aptly named "Hot Ghetto Mess" owned by Jamila Donaldson, a 34-year-old black lawyer.

This phenomenon is not new in our history. Stereotypes and caricatures of the black have-nots--their language, dress, habits, dance, etc.--were often mimicked by whites in black face, giving rise to the all-American entertainment of Vaudevillian Minstrel Shows. They can be traced back to older depictions of blacks, Native Americans and Asians as the freakish, exotic "other"--separate from regular humanity. Before seizing onto their whiteness, it was a depiction endured by Jews, Irish and Italians as well. Black America has also engaged in this, as in the Harlem Renaissance "New Negro" who shunned his Southern roots, probably best depicted by Adolph Caesar's hateful Sgt. Waters in the 1984 movie A Soldier's Story. What is ironic today is that Donaldson is attempting to pass off her modern exploitation as Cosby-esque "tough love." Much like Bill Cosby's anti-black/anti-poor rants, she claims her mean-spirited exhibits seek to challenge and inspire "viewers to improve themselves and their communities." Viacom owned Black Entertainment Network (BET) seems to agree, and has planned an upcoming television show. Thankfully, not everyone is buying Donaldson's well-packaged brand of snake oil, which seeks to cash in on the all-American desire for celebrity fame--even to the point of humiliating self-mockery. The blog What About Our Daughters has taken up the gauntlet to derail Donaldson's BET premiere. Hard work has caused several top sponsors to pull out, but more needs to be done...

Sponsors drop BET's 'Hot Ghetto Mess'

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES—At least two companies have pulled ads from the debut of BET's "Hot Ghetto Mess," a series that critics say puts black stereotypes on display but the channel calls "a blend of tough love and social commentary."
State Farm Insurance Cos. and Home Depot asked BET to drop their ads from the series debuting July 25, trade paper The Hollywood Reporter said Tuesday.

Viacom Corp.-owned BET confirmed that sponsors asked to be removed from the show but declined to specify the companies involved.

Other advertisers remain in place and there are no plans to change the series at this point, the channel said Tuesday.

full article:

Hot Ghetto Mess = BET’s Hottentot Venus 2007

This is a long post, but if you don’t read anything else, Read the portion about the story of Hottentot Venus and the sordid history of human displays of Black people for entertainment. Hot Ghetto Mess, Flava of Love, I Love New York and Charm School are not new.

BET executives and the creator of the site Hot Ghetto Mess, have offered numerous justifications for why it is okay for them to air an African American freak show called “ Hot Ghetto Mess.”

Reginald Hudlin says that Hot Ghetto Mess is a parenting tool ."There is a generation of people who don't know how to talk to their kids in a way that doesn't turn them off," Hudlin said. "Now they're complaining because we want to successfully engage them.” Move over Dr. Spock, Reggie Hudlin is handing out parenting advice.

full article:

For more:


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Michael Moore Smacks Up CNN & Blitzer

In this corner we have the bloated corporate news giant CNN, backed by big pharma/health insurace sponsored commericals and represented by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and anchorman Wolf Blitzer. All of this firepwer was put up against Michael Moore and his movie SICKO--and they still lost. Since July 9th, after CNN released a "Reality Check" on Moore's documentary, a war of words has erupted between the network and the director. And in each of these, CNN has gone down in flames. Click above to see for yourself. The second battle is posted below. Beneath that is the original CNN story that set it all off--judge it's fairness for yourself. A search thru Youtube should yield the rest (Moore and Gupta on Larry King). And yes, you can turn off the music on this page by checking pause on the Imeem box to your lower right.

CNN "Reality Check" on SICKO by Dr. Sanjay Gupta:


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sunday July 1st to Sat July 7th

Are You Enslaved by the Corporate Media ?

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

Media follows GOP talking point on Libby commutation furor being a partisan issue, failing to make connection to larger factors. Media under reports UN study showing more Afghans killed by NATO forces than Taliban. Bright spot of the week: Keith Olbermann at MSNBC speaks out strongly about Libby commutation and the White House administration.

Media Misses the Importance of the Libby Case and Commutation

President Bush's decision to commute the sentence of Vice President Cheney's former top aide I. "Scooter" Libby made a great deal of news this week, but fell shy of offering any context. Reducing the incident to merely "partisan" bickering, media pundits and journalists followed the White House and GOP talking point claiming Libby had only been charged with "lying." In reality, Libby was deeply embroiled in the question of who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame's undercover status. The reason that he was charged with perjury and not any other charges, was because his very act of lying and obstruction of justice hindered the investigation of Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Whatever else Libby, and by extension his boss Vice President Dick Cheney were involved with, was impossible to uncover in full--and thus prosecute--because Libby continually lied. *That* was why he was charged with perjury and sent to jail. Furthermore, the entire matter of the outting of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent was the result of her husbands' (former Iraq ambassador Joseph Wilson) challenge of the White House's WMD claim involving now debunked claims of Saddam Hussein receiving uranium from Niger. This is the missing context that too many journalists seem willing to let fall to the wayside, thus denying their audiences from fully understanding the full meaning of these events.

Media Silence on UN Report: NATO Strikes Kill More Civilians Than Taliban

Buried far beneath the headlines, a UN report released this past Friday summarized that NATO air strikes--which have stepped up in the past year--have killed more Afghans than the Taliban insurgents they were intended to target. Over 500 Afghan civilians have been reported killed this year, and the rate has dramatically increased in the last month. Other accounts by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Associated Press offered different counts, but agreed that more civilians were killed by NATO troops than by Taliban militants thus far in 2007. The climbing death toll has inflamed tensions among regular Afghans, forcing even the NATO installed President Karzai to speak out. On June 23, in response to the deaths of more than 100 civilians in a single week at the hands of U.S. and NATO forces, President Karzai called for investigations. "Afghan life is not cheap," he stated angrily, "and it should not be treated as such." Other than a few online news sources, the story has gotten little traction in the larger American press.

Keith Olbermann at MSNBC Speaks Out Strongly About Libby and the White House Administration

Olbermann gives a refreshing reminder of the important role journalism should be playing in our social and political system:


Friday, July 6, 2007

The Founding Immigrants

Disdain for what is foreign is, sad to say, as American as apple pie, slavery and lynching.--Keith C. Davis

I'm no big fan of the mainstream media when it comes to sensitive topics. Take the immigration debate. Rather than speaking on the issues that surround the subject, too often the media plays into nativism, thinly veiled racism and scape-goating. So when I read a piece in the New York Times this week that featured frank and honest discussion on America's long history of anti-immigrant hysteria, it was a pleasant surprise. Of course, the article would have to come from none other than Kenneth C. Davis, author of the popular "Don’t Know Much About" series. Insightful, Davis manages to say more on the immigration morass in one brief op-ed than all of the punditocracy in their daily reportings.

July 3, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor

The Founding Immigrants

Dorset, Vt.

A PROMINENT American once said, about immigrants, “Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”

This sentiment did not emerge from the rancorous debate over the immigration bill defeated last week in the Senate. It was not the lament of some guest of Lou Dobbs or a Republican candidate intent on wooing bedrock conservative votes. Guess again.

Voicing this grievance was Benjamin Franklin. And the language so vexing to him was the German spoken by new arrivals to Pennsylvania in the 1750s, a wave of immigrants whom Franklin viewed as the “most stupid of their nation.”

About the same time, a Lutheran minister named Henry Muhlenberg, himself a recent arrival from Germany, worried that “the whole country is being flooded with ordinary, extraordinary and unprecedented wickedness and crimes. ... Oh, what a fearful thing it is to have so many thousands of unruly and brazen sinners come into this free air and unfenced country.”

These German masses yearning to breathe free were not the only targets of colonial fear and loathing. Echoing the opinions of colonial editors and legislators, Ben Franklin was also troubled by the British practice of dumping its felons on America. With typical Franklin wit, he proposed sending rattlesnakes to Britain in return. (This did not, however, preclude numerous colonists from purchasing these convicts as indentured servants.)

And still earlier in Pennsylvania, the Scotch-Irish had bred discontent, as their penchant for squatting on choice real estate ran headlong against the colony’s founders, the Penn family, and their genteel notions about who should own what.

Often, the disdain for the foreign was inflamed by religion. Boston’s Puritans hanged several Friends after a Bay Colony ban on Quakerism. In Virginia, the Anglicans arrested Baptists.

But the greatest scorn was generally reserved for Catholics — usually meaning Irish, French, Spanish and Italians. Generations of white American Protestants resented newly arriving “Papists,” and even in colonial Maryland, a supposed haven for them, Roman Catholics were nonetheless forbidden to vote and hold public office.

Once independent, the new nation began to carve its views on immigrants into law. In considering New York’s Constitution, for instance, John Jay — later to become the first chief justice of the Supreme Court — suggested erecting “a wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of Catholics.”

By 1790, with the United States Constitution firmly in place, the first federal citizenship law restricted naturalization to “free white persons” who had been in the country for two years. That requirement was later pushed back to five years and, in 1798, to 14 years.

Then, as now, politics was key. Federalists feared that too many immigrants were joining the opposition. Under the 1798 Alien Act — with the threat of war in the air over French attacks on American shipping — President John Adams had license to deport anyone he considered “dangerous.” Although his secretary of state favored mass deportations, Adams never actually put anybody on a boat.

Back then, the French warranted the most suspicion, but there were other worrisome “aliens.” A wave of “wild Irish” refugees was thought to harbor dangerous radicals. Harsh “anti-coolie” laws later singled out the Chinese. And, of course, the millions of “involuntary” immigrants from Africa and their offspring were regarded merely as persons “held to service.”

Scratch the surface of the current immigration debate and beneath the posturing lies a dirty secret. Anti-immigrant sentiment is older than America itself. Born before the nation, this abiding fear of the “huddled masses” emerged in the early republic and gathered steam into the 19th and 20th centuries, when nativist political parties, exclusionary laws and the Ku Klux Klan swept the land.

As we celebrate another Fourth of July, this picture of American intolerance clashes sharply with tidy schoolbook images of the great melting pot. Why has the land of “all men are created equal” forged countless ghettoes and intricate networks of social exclusion? Why the signs reading “No Irish Need Apply”? And why has each new generation of immigrants had to face down a rich glossary of now unmentionable epithets? Disdain for what is foreign is, sad to say, as American as apple pie, slavery and lynching.

That fence along the Mexican border now being contemplated by Congress is just the latest vestige of a venerable tradition, at least as old as John Jay’s “wall of brass.” “Don’t fence me in” might be America’s unofficial anthem of unfettered freedom, but too often the subtext is, “Fence everyone else out.”

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of “Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned.”


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye

There was little doubt that when Transformers hit the big screen that I was going to see it. Giant shape-shifting robots are kind of my “thing.” What’s more, after god-awful failures like Ghostrider, utter-let downs like Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer and the underwhelming Spiderman 3, I needed something to restore my faith in the great-American money-consuming tradition of the summer action-packed blockbuster. Most of all however, Transformers was a piece of my childhood. So when I heard Steven Spielberg would be producing a live-action movie directed by Michael “I –blow-stuff-up” Bay, excitement doesn’t begin to explain my anticipation. So did the film live up to the hype? Was my childhood restored? Below are my scattered thoughts offered as a brief review. WARNING for the squeamish, there be minor SPOILERS ahead…


First off, there were changes from the original storyline. Big changes. But, that was something I fully expected, so no big deal. Yeah the original tale has the Autobots and Decepticons crashing to Earth four million years ago, and not just a few thousand—but eh, who’s counting? The plot of the movie, following the original theme of good versus bad robots with humans trapped in between, went something like this: Decepticons, led by Megatron, and Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, search for ultimate power source called the “Allspark” to which only human kid Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf) can lead them. Throw in a shadowy government agency, the entire military establishment, a teenage suburban American romance, blow up a lot of stuff with eye-popping special effects and you’ve got the official summer blockbuster of 2007.

The action doesn’t wait long to start in the film, with the Decepticon Blackout doing a mega-beat down number on a US military base that wets your appetite for destruction. Even when things slow down a bit to introduce the main human character of the film, there’s enough humor and teenage angst to keep you sustained. By the time the full array of mechanical heroes and villains make it into the picture you’re ready for some giant-robot gladiatorial smack downs! But…you first have to sit through silly family-themed-hi jinks of Autobots ridiculously hiding behind a house and a goofy inept government agency called Sector 7. And oh yeah, there’s this secondary competing story about young 20-something techies and hackers trying to decode alien transmissions. While both of these offer comic relief, and connect to the larger plot, they become dead weight in the general storyline. There are brief breaks of action offered by a chase scene involving Autobot Bumblebee and Decepticon Barricade, not to mention a brief trip to the desert where you see gallant U.S. soldiers fight it out with Scorponok. If you’re patient enough to laugh when prodded and sit through it all however, you get the grand prize of a full on battle royale between Autobots and Decepticons that takes place (naturally) in the middle of a populated city. The ending—which I won’t give away—is a bit confusing, and anti-climatic, but if you’ve suspended belief for this long and accepted the idea of giant robots, how much can you really complain about some holes in the plot? And oh yeah, be sure to sit through the first round of credits, as you are set up for the inevitable sequel.

Overall, you’ve got a good movie here. Somewhere between the amazingly realistic special effects and attendant explosions, there’s an actual storyline(or two) to be teased out. I don’t think it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen. It didn't “knock me out." I left the theatre as satisfied as one can be with a Michael Bay film: there was action, there were jokes, and stuff got "blow'd up" real good. Nothing more, nothing less.

Okay, so now that we have my minor review out of the way, on to some "more than meets the eye" delving.

Corporate-bots: Of course I always knew I was being marketed to as a kid by Hasbro toys, and whatever commercials lay between my Transformers cartoon. But leave it to Hollywood to take it to a whole new level. General Motors seems to have cashed in with the movie and managed to do some “transforming” of its own onto the characters. Bumblebee, originally a Volkswagen Bug, is refitted as a Chevy Camaro. Jazz, once a Porsche, is now a Pontiac Solstice. I was waiting to see if Starscream had Boeing written along his side. In the original storyline, the bodies chosen for the Autobots were the result of a probe sent out to find suitable human machinery. These new Transformers seem to owe their physical forms much more to “product placement.”

Go Army!: In the original cartoon, I hardly recall the militarization of the storyline. Mostly you had giant robots and a few humans (mechanics) who were the main characters. In this movie however, the U.S. armed forces are prominently displayed. From our fighting soldier boys in Qatar to the feisty “Rumsfeld-esque” Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight), the U.S. military gets top billing. The audience is treated to close-ups of Osprey air crafts, F-16 fighters, gunships and enough military lingo to make you think Tom Clancy was ghostwriting the script. The devastating firepower of these machines rival, or mimic, that of the giant robots. And when such force is called upon, we get to see every command make it down the line in crisp, well-disciplined, no-nonsense fashion. It’s a well-known fact that the U.S. military is often needed in these movies for both consultation and the use of equipment (from aircraft to tanks), and can often pull their endorsement if they feel offended in the smallest way. It's a marketing tool, plain and simple; a quid pro quo deal they have with Hollywood. It’s not surprising that today's military would see an action movie that is geared towards teenage boys as a perfect opportunity for propagandizing—especially since the real-life military is not currently presented as nearly as glamorous. I half-way expected an army recruiter to meet me on my way out the door. As I watched a stunning shot of what looked to be an AC-130 gunship fire heavy armor piercing rounds into a Decepticon's hide, and listened to the audience gasp in delight, I couldn’t help but think that in real life, the receiving end of that barrage is usually made up of flesh and blood, which is alot messier than metal. And I wondered if I was just watching a movie, or the U.S. military's equivalent of cartoon camels used to get kids to take up smoking.

Race Matters: Summer blockbusters are sometimes interesting windows into the racial atmosphere of America, as they attempt to appeal to not only a mass audience but that coveted young white male demographic. Sadly, Transformers offered nothing new or even remotely promising on that front. What we learned was that Latinos are to be mocked (repeatedly) for speaking Spanish—as if this was some new alien language and culture of which the average American were not aware. The scourge of cellular phone outsourcing—English challenged East Indian customer service reps—are just as annoying for brave American soldiers trying to save the world as they are for you in trying to clear up a problem with billings. And African-Americans…well…where do I begin? First, make sure the only black people of prominence in the film are two comedians—one known for playing a hard-edged cursing machine (Bernie Mac) and the other for slapstick physical humor (Anthony Anderson)—and an R&B/actor (Tyrese Gibson). That way we can learn that older black males generally call older black women their mother’s age “bitch”—and no wonder, as such older black women regularly flip people off. We also learn that even intelligent black male hackers are scared of the “poh-lice” and can’t help but be a buffoonish side-kick who manages to make even minor co-star Tom Lenk (formerly Andrew of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) look more dignified. Add an Autobot, Jazz, who upon listening to the radio to learn human speech, greets us in a booming African-American voice (Darius McCrary) with the universal language of blackness “what’s crack-a-lackin’ bitches?”—a far cry from the bluesman eloquence of Benjamin Sherman "Scatman" Crothers, who originally did the character’s voice and gave meaning to his name. And oh yes, be sure to pepper a lot of the humorous moments with references of perceived black popular culture uttered from white lips (symbolic minstrelsy, which is what makes them funny in the first place)—from “bros before ho’s” to 50 Cent references. When that's not enough, re-stage a scene out of COPS with a rotund screaming black male running from the law. The only redeeming character of color in this film is Tyrese, whose role as the “black army guy” is to shoot things and exude "cool." Not even Keith David was trotted out to play the usual tough-as-nails U.S. Defense Dept top brass. Black women, or any women of color, don't exist beyond minor cameos.

In the end my criticisms of the movie are more so social and political than they have to do with the storyline or cinematic effort. Yet a film is the sum of all those things—the plot, the acting, the visuals, the script and the social atmosphere (intended or not) it reflects. And while Transformers was a good movie, as far as blockbusters go, it didn't restore my childhood. When I first heard of them as a kid—sentient machine changing robots from a planet called Cybertron, split into opposing factions of Autobots and Decepticons, who now used Earth as a battlefield—I was an instant fan-atic. I watched the American version of the cartoon religiously and could recite stats on the characters: the megalomaniac Megatron; the arrogant and ever-ready to plot a coup, Starscream; the noble leader Optimus Prime; the younger more relatable Bumblebee. And nobody could tell me that my man Soundwave—with his attendant mini-bots like Laserbeak and Ravage—wasn’t the baaaadest cat in the galaxy! Constructicons. Dinobots. Insecticons. I was down with it all.

This Transformers movie however, even with all its wonderful new gadgets and special effects, didn't have that magic. And mind you it wasn't the mere change in storyline; there are whole Transformer Universes after all which all co-exist alongside each other. This movie is but the latest incarnation. Maybe it was the militarization of the storyline, the corporatization and the neo-Sambo roles handed out to black actors that dulled the glimmer of the movie for me. Maybe it was the tarnish that always happens once Hollywood puts its over-the-top touches on an original idea. Or perhaps it's just the inability of any film adaptation to compete with nostalgia. Don't get me wrong now, I'm happy a film was made. And I'm sure many will enjoy it for what it is. But for me that first generation of Transformers retains the title as the definite article—untouchable by our modern CGI, unaffected by the hyped special effects of never-ending explosions, minus a corporate agenda, unwilling to use racial and ethnic stereotypes for the sake of popular American "humor"—and in its own unique two-dimensional way, remains forever immortal.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Patriotism Revisited

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.

So reads an excerpt from Francis Scott Key's poem, inspired by the British bombardment of Baltimore in 1814, which would be set to song and become known as "The Star Spangled Banner." By the time it was made the national anthem of the United States of America, the poem had undergone numerous revisions and the above lines from the third verse were removed. And no wonder. Those words were an uncomfortable reminder of a troublesome past. Key had been a slave holder. And when British forces during the War of 1812 enticed slaves to fight for their side in exchange for freedom, Key and other slaveholders were outraged--not seeming to understand that those held in bondage were patriotic not to flags, forefathers or nation-states, but to the liberty denied them. This dichotomous existence has been part of what it means to be black in America, and why Frederick Douglas would ask "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" Back in 2002 I wrote an article exploring these dilemmas. I repost it here today, mostly unedited as I want it to reflect my thinking of that time, for consumption once again.

Patriotism: Red, White, Black & Blue

“What to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? ... To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, and unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass- fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings; with all your religious parades and solemnity, are to him, mere bombasts, deceptions, and pious and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

Such were the words uttered by Frederick Douglas on the eve of the Civil War. They were the sentiments of a black man, escaped from slavery, who dedicated his life to championing the cause of his fellow race yet held in bondage. They are a stinging critique and seeming rebuke of America, denouncing it for its contradictions and falsehoods. Douglas words were militant. They were fiery. They speak with righteous indignation.

And yet, Douglas was a patriot. He openly denounced ideas, led mostly by whites, to colonize freed slaves in foreign lands. Douglas backed Abraham Lincoln in his bid for presidency, openly involving himself in the American political system. Douglas heartily welcomed and backed the Civil War, which to him represented a battle against slavery. He would strongly lobby and fight for black troops to be allowed into the Union ranks, to carry the red, white and blue. In newspapers he called "men of color to arms", urging blacks to "end in a day the bondage of centuries:" to fight for their equality, show their patriotism and take on the Union cause. His sons Lewis and Charles were among the first to enlist for the cause of freedom.

(a.) Odd contradiction? (b.) A seeming dichotomy? (c.) Patriotic yet cynical? Yes to all of the above. To be red, white, blue, & black. It has been a recurring theme since the founding of the United States.

Revolutionary Patriots

It began in 1733 with the Molasses Act. Passed by England upon its American colonies, the law imposed high taxes on imported Spanish and French molasses and sugar. The colonists needed molasses from England's competitors, chiefly for making rum to be used in exchange for slaves on the West African coast. The colonies were heavily dependent on the Caribbean islands' slave-based sugar plantations for sustenance and economic prosperity. These industries were themselves dependent on the colonies to supply the ammunition and staples needed to feed themselves and to control the slave labor used to work the sugar plantations. The effects of the Molasses Act were felt from chief slave-ports like Providence and Medford to as far away as Charleston.

The colonies grew prosperous by using rum as a barter for slaves, ivory, gold and other products and were now a rival with England, who also depended on the trade of black bodies. Malachi Postlethway, an 18th century mercantilist theoretician, stated: “The African trade is the first principle and foundation of all the rest. The African trade is so very beneficial to Great Britain, so essentially necessary to the very being of her colonies, that without it neither could we flourish nor they long subsist ...”

Envious of the prosperity its colonies reaped (directly or indirectly) from the slave trade, England prohibited settlements west of the Appalachians and passed the Stamp Act. Whereas the Molasses and Sugar Acts directly involved the slave merchants and their commercial interests, the general colonial population of about 2 million had little or no concern for it. However, measures such as the Stamp Act of 1765 affected nearly everyone. Through skillful manipulation, slave traders, plantation owners and other slave-based interests used these laws to create discontent among the general populace.

These slave-mongers and/or ministers of propaganda were men like John Adams, who himself stated, "Molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence"; Thomas Jefferson, who believed black men were "void of mental endowment" and once stated “... that the orangutan preferred black women to those of his own species,” (an odd statement coming from a man who had children by his adolescent female slave); and George Washington, who once traded his slave for a barrel of rum.

This all culminated in the SECOND shot heard around the world and the start of the American Revolution. The FIRST shot lay buried in the chest of a runaway slave named Crispus Attucks. What could better typify the glaring contradiction of black American life, than a runaway slave becoming the first martyr of a nation that declared it was fighting for "freedom?" Perhaps it could be said that when it comes to black America, and its dichotomous existence, Crispus Attacks is a "founding father".

There were many blacks that fought for the 13 colonies, proudly waving the new flag. When the Revolutionary war erupted numerous blacks joined the ranks of the Continental Army. Free blacks like Cuff Smith and Cesar Prince enlisted to fight the British. The founder of African American freemasonry Prince Hall is listed in military records of the Revolution. And it is said he fought at Bunker Hill. Pictures also show free black infantrymen in the first Rhode Island Regiment or speak of them among various troops. And yet even many of these blacks were not blind to the seeming contradiction they lived. A great deal of free blacks enlisted in the Continental army hoping their service would help the newly forming nation live up to its creed of freedom, and grant the same to their black brethren held in bondage. Like Douglas would do near a century later, they understood the hypocrisy of the US yet put their hope in its grand ideals.

Many enslaved blacks also attempted to join the Continental army, some of them successful and others returned to their masters. Quite a few offered to fight for the colonists, if they would be ensured freedom for themselves and their family in return. Blacks probably figured the greatest in the Continental forces within the navy, where sailors were not always restricted by color or race. The Continental Navy openly recruited both free and enslaved blacks, mostly sought after for their prior experiences on merchant and British military vessels. Numerous blacks, many of them slaves seeking escape and freedom, sought refuge in the navy where they served in battles against the British. A common practice among some white American slave owners was to in fact substitute a slave for military service rather than enlisting themselves. Thus even those blacks that may not have been feeling a patriotic fervor, were MADE patriots - for white draft dodgers. Taking on tasks such as pilots, laborers and more these blacks earned an impressive reputation for their invaluable skills. One of the most famous black seamen was James Forten, who enlisted on the privateer Royal Louis. Altogether, it is believed some 5,000 free black patriots served in the armies and navies of the Continental forces. The amount of slaves who served within is unknown. And one of the reasons this number is unknown is because of who they sided with. The black American dichotomy was in full swing.

Revolutionary Loyalists

While there were black patriots, many of them free, the majority of enslaved blacks who fought in the Revolutionary War did not side with the 13 colonies - they fought for and cheered on the British. These black Loyalists, as those who remained faithful to the British were called in the colonies, were quite numerous. Often promising freedom, the British eagerly enticed black slaves to join their side. Many of these blacks weighed their option between their masters and their masters' enemies, and quickly chose the latter. And here we have the other side of the looking glass. This is where the complex tangle of conflicting realities that is black American patriotism begins to unravel. For if the majority of blacks in the US during the American Revolution had gotten their way, the 13 rebellious colonies would have been crushed by the British; Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Henry and the rest would have been placed on trial for treason against the royal crown; and all would have been hung by the neck until they were declared dead.

One of the key methods of disrupting the Continental army that many enslaved blacks chose, was simply running away. During the Revolution an estimated 100,000 took advantage of the disruption caused by the war and escaped, many of them heading directly to join British forces - and asking to fight. Others fled to Canada, Florida, or Native American lands. Thomas Jefferson estimated that Virginia lost 30,000 slaves in just one year. Fugitive slave Boston King was one of these individuals, risking punishment or death to flee from bondage. He endured numerous harrowing adventures during his escape, finally making it to the British forces stationed in New York where most black runaways were gathered.

Many of these runaways joined the British armies and navies outright, becoming fighters who wreaked havoc on American forces. One of the most well known of these was Colonel Tye, an escaped slave who joined the British as a guerrilla fighter. In 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey Tye captured a captain of the American militia, earning a reputation and name among the British. Comprised of enslaved blacks and lower class white loyalists, Colonel Tye's rag-tag band became known as "cow-boys". They carried out daring militia attacks throughout New Jersey, often attacking military outposts, former masters' plantations and other Americans in rebellion against the British. During the brutal winter of 1779, Tye was among an elite group of twenty-four black Loyalists, known as the Black Brigade, who joined with the Queen's Rangers: a British guerrilla unit charged with protecting British held New York City and carrying out raids for supplies. By 1780 Tye and his band were feared by white American forces: capturing and killing Continental militia members, destroying their military equipment and more. As news of Colonel Tye's feats reached an excited slave community, the American governor of NJ in a desperate move invoked martial law - fearing many more slaves would eagerly go over to the British and pick up arms against the 13 colonies.

And not only the enslaved joined the British forces. Many free blacks, believing a win by the British would bring about the end of enslavement, urged blacks (slave and free) to join the redcoats as well. In 1775, Jeremiah Thomas, a pilot, fisherman, "and Free Negroe of considerable property", was hanged and burned in Charleston in an insurrection plot in which he enticed free and enslaved blacks to join the Royal British navy.

Of course at war's end, many black Loyalists would find the British only partially honorable to their word. Of the 100,000+ slaves who looked to the British as saviors, a minuscule 3,000+ would be allowed to evacuate with them - the rest returned to their American masters or left to fend for themselves. And in further betrayal, the British sold many of the slaves who served them right back into slavery in the Caribbean. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. Yet the role of blacks in the American Revolution illustrates well the dilemma that has faced the race with regards to patriotism, Americanism and love for a country that has not always returned the sentiment.

Double Consciousness

Long after Colonel Tye and Prince Hall and some decades after the Civil War and Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois pondered the dichotomy of black American existence. And he would deem it the double-consciousness. DuBois asserted that blacks were of America, yet not so--living in two worlds that could complement or be at war with each other. And like many before him, DuBois showed how this dichotomy could affect black American life so profoundly.

DuBois was born into a new and promising America. It was a land where blacks were now declared free by the 13th Amendment, and supposedly would get to share in the American pie they had helped create. DuBois understood well that the America that existed did not erupt sui genesis, and that it owed much to blacks. After all, if there were no slave trade to help create cash crops to help generate capital and commerce -there would have been no founding fathers to declare "independence" or carry out a revolution against the British. DuBois understood that slave money did not merely disappear. Profits from the slave trade had been invested to help found everything from Brown University to the Steam Engine, a key element in the Industrial Revolution. He knew that it was the black agitators for freedom during the era of slavery that had forced America to follow through with its ideals, thus becoming a freer place for all of its citizens. DuBois understood that America was as much his as anyone else's. And yet DuBois' patriotism was tempered by the reality of the world about him - the continued dichotomy of black existence.

A White Man's Government or a Negro's Cemetery

The end of the Civil War marked a new era for black America. Recently freed slaves tested the limits of freedom by daring to reach for what only a few years prior had been beyond imagination. Blanche Kelso Bruce, an ex-slave, was representing Mississippi in the United States Senate. In Louisiana a black man, P.B.S. Pinchback sat in the governor's mansion. A black face occupied a seat on the state supreme court in South Carolina. Blacks were superintendents of education, judges, state treasurers, solicitors and major generals of militia. Blacks and whites attended the same schools while an interracial board ran the University of South Carolina. But what seemed like a dream to blacks was a bitter nightmare to white southerners. They had lost everything. Once opulent plantations lay in ruins. The wealth of the South seemed depleted. And in their minds, the fault lay at the doorsteps of their former slaves - ironically the same ones who had helped them gain such wealth in the first place. Their coveted throne of white superiority was being eroded by what they saw as "ungrateful wretches" who desired the unfathomable - the American ideal of promised equality.

To maintain their dominance whites rallied together to strip blacks from any offices of power and prevent others from gaining such positions. They first declared black politicians either ignorant or corrupt, sweeping many from power. They next went after any whites, Radical Republicans at the time, who aided blacks. But in the end it was the power base of black politicians that had to be neutralized. This lay in the black masses and the black vote. Polling places were purposefully set up far away from black communities. Those who attempted to reach them found roads conveniently blocked or ferries out of repair. Sometimes the polling places were changed without warning or notice. Stuffing of ballots was so common that one smug Democrat stated, "black Republicans may outvote us, but we can out count them". Whites established laws that discriminated against illiterate blacks or those who had been slaves at one time. Every southern state had its own method. And when these did not work, violence became a type of "final solution".

It was called "whitecapping", the use of violence to remove blacks from political posts, drive them off their land and out of their businesses. North Carolina governor Daniel Russell would proclaim that for a black man "to get above his ordained station in life is to invite assassination". Democrat General John McEnery of Louisiana stated, “We shall carry the next election if we have to ride saddle-deep in blood to do it”. A South Carolinian newspaper declared, "We must render this a white man's government or convert the land into a Negro's cemetery". It was state sponsored terrorism, plain and simple. And it went on not in some far off land, but in the very one that declared itself the land of the brave and the free.

Blacks like DuBois held onto their patriotism while in Memphis white policemen, firemen and laborers rioted against black soldiers. Forty-six blacks were killed, some 80 wounded and five black women were raped; 12 black schools and 4 black churches were burned. Blacks clutched onto Old Glory as in Lake City, South Carolina a black postmaster, his wife and infant were shot and burned to death by an angry white mob. In Wilmington, North Carolina, Reverend Charles S. Morris recalled the carnage of an anti-black riot: “Nine Negroes massacred outright; one man ... was given the privilege of running the gauntlet up a broad street ... while crowds of men lined the sidewalks and riddled him with a pint of bullets ... thousands of men and women and children fleeing in terror from their humble homes in the darkness of night ... All this happened not in Turkey, nor in Russia ... but within three hundred miles of the White House”.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma a white mob began a riot resulting in the destruction of the city's prosperous black business and residential district. In Paducah, Kentucky, a black rape suspect was lynched by a mob which then murdered a black onlooker for "expressing sympathy" for the first. In Texas, a father and his three sons were lynched for the grand crime of harvesting the first cotton in the county that year. In Waco, a mob pulled a retarded black youth from a courtroom, burned him alive, and then sold his teeth as souvenirs. In Brooks County, Georgia a mob stormed the countryside for a week killing more than 10 blacks. This included a pregnant black woman, Mary Turner, who was hung by her ankles, doused with gasoline and set afire, but not before her unborn child was cut from her stomach and trampled to death.

And the terrorism of these white Christian extremists was not confined to the South. As early as 1829 a white Cincinnati mob drove more than half of the black population from the city. From 1832 to 1849 there were no less than five anti-black riots in Philadelphia. The most infamous of the day were the anti-draft riots of New York in 1863 during the Civil War. Enraged white citizenry, fearing the competition they were certain would come with a free skilled black work force, rioted for four days. Blacks were lynched from lampposts, raped, mutilated and shot in the streets of NY. Not even a black orphanage was spared the terrorism, being burned to the ground. In 1908 for six days a white mob rioted in Springfield, Illinois lynching, shooting, raping and mutilating scores of blacks and driving hundreds more from the city. The climax of these acts of terrorism occurred in the Red Summer of 1919, as 26 anti-black riots left an unknown number dead from Chicago to Omaha. It was an "Axis of Evil", a seeming alignment by terrorist thugs that made black life a daily nightmare and trampled on America's claimed ideals.

And where were the political parties, that today jockey for the black vote? Well it would seem that "freeing slaves" and extending equality to blacks were two separate matters entirely. The Democrats of our times may now be the self-proclaimed bastions of tolerance and racial justice, but back then they were the party of the South, Jim Crow and terrorism against blacks. Frederick Douglas himself would state, “The Republican Party is the ship and all else is the sea”. But that affair proved short-lived, as even the claimed allies of blacks turned a blind eye.

Where were the champions of the pledge that asked for "liberty and justice for all? Well the author of the pledge himself, white Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, actually sympathized with the black plight, wanting to add the word "equality" to it---but his idea was dismissed. Where were the American government and its executive in chief? President Woodrow Wilson was busy watching a private screening of Birth of a Nation, a movie depicting blacks as rapist savages and the KKK as gallant heroes, at none other than the "peoples" building - the White House. He is reported to have exclaimed of the movie that is still used as a recruitment film for the Klan, "It's like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all terribly true". The enemies of American freedom were both small and powerful, not needing to hide in a cave or conceal their actions. No crusades of justice or wars of enduring freedom were ever massed against them. In fact the vast majority were never brought to justice.

This was the America that blacks endured, as the words upon the Constitution they held seemed to grow dull and fade, while the double consciousness within them raged. Yet many continued to put forth their patriotism in the face of terrorism. They continued like Ida B. Wells to appeal to the moral conscience of the land to end lynching. Like Jesse Owens some ran against the claimed Aryan "supermen of the Third Reich for their country, delivering a shattering blow against German Nazism. Others became airmen at Tuskegee even as their government unknowingly used their brethren as guinea pigs. They held onto their patriotism, believing not in the America that daily terrorists tried to create, but rather the America that promised it could be so much more.

DuBois himself would exemplify the two feuding sides of this double consciousness, extolling America's ideals of freedom and justice yet breaking down in anger and emotion at seeing the severed knuckles of a black lynch victim displayed proudly on ice in a butcher shop window. DuBois would urge blacks to fight in America's great wars, and yet work hard to build a Pan-African political ideology. In the end DuBois patriotism was stretched to its limits, and the cynic won out. While in Peking in 1959 he told a large audience-"In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a NIGGER". By the time the U.S. press published the account, DuBois was residing in Ghana, West Africa: an expatriate in self-exile from the country of his birth. Even men of steel rust.

America or AmeriKKKa?

July 4th symbolizes an odd time for black America. It is the birthday of the US, red-white-and blue, apple pie, baseball and mom. Yet it is also the birthday of the black double consciousness: a ceaseless dichotomy that never seems to rest. It was there during the 1950s and 60s, as blacks marched holding flags to fight for rights promised to them a century prior. The terrorists responded to their patriotism with dogs, high-powered water hoses and bombs that killed little girls. In one instance angry whites, opposed to bussing, held a black man down and beat him with the US flag itself. None of this went unnoticed by the youths of the movement. They watched as Civil Rights leaders like Fanni Lou Hamer and D.U. Pullium were severely beaten. They watched as Herbert Lee and Louis Allen were beaten and eventually killed. As with DuBois, the cynicism over the hypocrisy finally burst forth and gave birth to the Black Power Movement.

Patriotism took a backseat to pent-up frustration at a nation that refused to live up to its lofty ideals. Malcolm X would tell the world that he and other blacks did not live the "American dream", but the "American nightmare". He declared to America that it had two choices: live up to its ideals and grant blacks equality by way of the ballot and freedom, or suffer the consequences of the bullet. The proclamation of Patrick Henry, one time slave owner turned minor abolitionist, against his own oppressor of near two centuries prior had been hardly very different: "Give me liberty or give me death".

In his intricate knowledge of the law and his battles against capitalism, exploitation and police brutality, Huey P. Newton in his own way was declaring his double consciousness - threatening to take by force what he viewed as his right as a citizen and a human being. The Civil Rights Movement may have wanted to work within the system while many in the Black Power Movement wanted to do away with it completely, but both used the grand ideals America touted to call out her hypocrisy and demanded she live up to them or suffer the consequence.

Objection to the title or not, blacks in the US are Americans. If you pay taxes you are an American. If you expect certain rights and benefits from the country you pay taxes to, you are an American. If you support or fight against politicians and policies, you are an American. If you use the school systems, numerous public services and such, you are an American. If you go off to enlist in a war or would rather get thrown in jail as a conscientious objector during draft time, you're an American. If you vote for a candidate or write in "HANDS OFF ASSATA" on the ballot, you're still an American.

Whether you stand up and proudly say the pledge or sit and turn your back at its seeming hypocrisy, you are an American. In fact the America that exists today, the one that questions itself about freedom and liberty, would not have existed if not for the constant struggles of black Americans who condemned the country for its glaring contradictions and challenged it to live up to its ideals. What would the America of today look like if not for the Frederick Douglass', Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther Kings, etc. of its history?

How many different peoples who enter its borders owe any success they gain in part to black bodies that have fought wars not only against foreign governments abroad, but pitched battles in the streets or courthouses against their own government right here at home? Would the word freedom, equality, liberty and such mean much of anything if not for black America? Even those blacks that only recently come to the country within the last few decades become black Americans, with all the hard fought privileges or lack-there-of that exists within. I know the philosophical argument about not being American. It speaks to powerful truths. Yet with all due respect to brother Malcolm's statement about kittens and ovens, the definition of an American still stands - full diner or not; love or disgust for the country or not. And when he challenged America to choose the ballot or the bullet, he understood that part of the double consciousness that made him an American as well.

Yet the other side of that consciousness exists, often turning the patriotic into cynical criticism. For when it comes to black America's history and Old Glory, there is a hypocrisy that cannot be swept away with one hundred tragic 9-11s. It makes it difficult or downright impossible for many to dress up in red-white-and-blue, get teary eyed at hearing the national anthem or slap hands over hearts and chant "with, liberty and justice for all" - "under God" or NOT "under God". Someone should take a poll of how many black parents yet tell their children to protest the pledge by omitting words they find hypocritical, clamping mouths shut during its recital or sitting down altogether.

One side of that double consciousness may admire Thomas Jefferson for his democratic ideals of liberty and freedom. Yet like his black contemporary Benjamin Banneker, the cynical side sees him as nothing more than an oppressive, slave holding tyrant who openly expressed ideas of black inferiority - with pedophilic predilections towards young black girls he called property. And even when many manage to lock much of the cynicism away through selective amnesia and revel in America anyway, a little bitterness lingers in the background - a small but violent storm created by what seems like an endless struggle.

It's why the likes of Baldwin and DuBois left to go elsewhere, why black America has had such a flirtatious affair with Castro's Cuba, and why we still smile in glee when somebody "sticks it to da' man". It's why we are apt to believe rumors about losing Voting Rights in 2000-something (it IS a HOAX folks!). It's why we are often some of the first to criticize American foreign policy or domestic limits upon freedom, having well seen what happens when government power goes unchecked (i.e., COINTELPRO and the CIA). We're the ones who will not allow crooked cops to hide behind badges of authority and threaten to burn it all down when they get off. We're the consciousness of America, the ones that always remind her she may have come a long way - but still got quite a few miles to go.

The Greatest Patriotism

The America on paper, the one with grand ideals and virtues of liberty and freedom, is not a bad idea. In fact black America has supported that paper ideal since America's inception. So it's not that black America's double consciousness is anti-democracy, anti-freedom, or anti-liberty. Rather it's often anti-exploitation, anti-hypocrisy and anti-oppression. The dichotomy that lay buried with the bullet in Crispus Attucks' chest created patriotism beyond anything most of white America has ever known. It does not shed tears because of the color of any flag or any founding father or cracked bell in Philadelphia. Men like Jefferson and Washington are conflicted figures moreso than idols.

Instead black patriotism stands up for the greatest ideals written into the American idea. Black patriotism is loyal to freedom and justice, not jingoism and the power of might. Black patriotism calls for America to follow democracy and fairness, not only in this land but also in its dealings abroad. And black patriotism does this not to glorify any nation it may or may not pledge allegiance to, but because these noble ideals exemplify what is moral, right and just. And that is the greatest patriotism anyone can have: not to some country in time and space destined to rise and fall as all nations do, but to a set of ideas that transcend fireworks and founding fathers and speaks to the essence of the human spirit.