Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jesse Jackson, Jr.: Black or African-American?

Jesse Jackson, Jr., as I recollect him in Massie Hall

African-Americans may be  making a serious mistake in calling themselves black rather than African-American because in doing so they are opting for polarity rather than solidarity, for disparity rather than parity, for denigration rather than elevation. In the next census, the U.S. Census Bureau will be offering African-Americans the choice of identifying themselves as either African-Americans or blacks. (See the ABC news report at the end of this post.) I believe “black: is a mistake  because African-Americans cannot win the black-and-white name game. It is like a game of Scrabble in which they always get screwed. The Black is Beautiful slogan was an attempt to rebrand Negro. While it may have increased self-esteem on an conscious level, on an unconscious level, where the waters run very deep, Black is Beautiful  intensified the association between  blacks and badness.
Blacks are not really black and whites are not really white. We are all to some degree colored and will become increasingly so as racial barriers are further erased in America. By calling themselves black, African-Americans are burdening themselves with blame they don’t deserve. They are helping perpetuate the myth they are the white man’s burden, which too many so-called white Americans, continuing the South’s racist traditions, continue to think is the case.  In the minds of racists, in the North as well as the South, the West as well as the East, and also here in the Midwest, America’s so-called heartland, “blacks” are  associated with indolence, thriftlessness, and chitlins, with illegitimacy, crime, and dependency—dependency on both illegal drugs and the so-called welfare state.
Sometime in the mid-1990’s, in a February Black History Month conference at Shawnee State University, Jesse Jackson spoke to  a small gathering in a Massie Hall classroom. Jackson was in the front of the class, conservatively dressed in suit and tie,  sitting at a desk facing the audience. When he finished with his prepared remarks,  an  African-American  girl, who looked to be of high school age,  asked  him what he thought the appropriate name for people of their race should be.  She didn’t list them, but the options were colored, African-American, black, and, though it had fallen into disfavor,  Negro. The reason the word Negro had fallen into  disfavor was because the racist epithet “nigger” was probably derived from it. Negro  was pronounced “Niggra”  in the slave South and that evolved into  ‘nigger,” with all its hostile, racist connotations. Jackson  answered the  girl’s question without hesitation or qualification. He said he was certain of one thing: he didn’t want to be called black. “Look black up in the dictionary,” I recall him saying.  “Just see what it says—most of it’s bad and negative.”

Blackguards and Blacks

      We are heir to the Judaic-Christian tradition in which darkness is the primary metaphor for  what is undesirable, if not evil.  In Genesis we are told that “darkness was on the face of the deep,” so God said, “Let there be light: and there was light.” And since light was good, “God divided the light from the darkness.” God created a segregated world in which light and darkness were separate and opposite: God and the devil, good and evil, light and darkness.  Calvinists, among the most pessimistic of Christians,  had a frightening sense of what Herman Melville called “the power of blackness,” meaning the  power of evil. For Calvinists, as well as other Christians, the devil was a black. Merriam-Webster includes, among other definitions of black, the following: “dirty, soiled; characterized by the absence of light; thoroughly sinister or evil: wicked; very sad, gloomy or calamitous; marked by the occurrence of disaster; characterized by hostility or angry discontent: sullen; indicative of condemnation or discredit; connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil.”  Could any name they might have chosen for their race be worse than the word black? Invariably, black is bad, either alone or combined with another word. Take the word  blackguard for example. Originally, a blackguard was  lower-class employee in an upper-class  British household who worked “downstairs,” in the kitchen, and guarded, figuratively if not literally,  the blackened instruments—the pots, pans, and ironware of the household. Blackguards were the bottom dwellers, doing the dirty work  in an upstairs-downstairs, class-rigid world. But, though bottom dwellers, they were nevertheless white and of the same race as their masters. But  just as the neutral word Negro evolved into nigger,  blackguard, i.e., a kitchen helper, because of its association with blackness, came to mean a “bad person.” The online dictionary Wordnik, defines blackguard as  “black in color of the skin or dress, or in character.” So, blackguard, which started out as a word reflecting class antagonism became a word reflecting racial antagonism.

Denigration as Defamation

      The word denigrate is also instructive. The Merriam-Webster definition of it is, literally, to blacken and, more figuratively, to defame or belittle. To create a neologism, denigrate means  “to negrify,” though those who use it are rarely aware of this meaning. African-Americans are more likely than whites to be aware of its racist connotations. In responding to a posting by a someone in a thread on Firedoglake, an African-American, objected to someone else’s use of denigration in a thread: “if you’re  black, can you please stop using the term ‘denigrate’ in this discussion?” he wrote. “i’m black too, friend. i say ‘ouch’ every time i read it . . .” The unintended irony in the following examples of the use of the word denigrate, compiled by Wordnik, speak for themselves: “We do not intend to denigrate southern values,” someone claimed. Denigrate  southern values? Negrify southern values? That is not what the user intended but given the racist etymology of the word, that is the absurd meaning of the statement. Here is another example Wordnik provides of the use of denigrate, which is even more absurd than the previous one:  “Some Rousseauean anthropologists protest that reports of cannibalism represent a racist desire to denigrate other cultures . . .” If instead of “to denigrate” the statement had read to defame, degrade, or impugn, then there would be no contradiction.  But to speak of denigrating  dark-skinned cultures by calling them cannibalistic is nonsense. It is like the pot calling the kettle black. These examples suggest that African-Americans cannot escape the stigma of blackness that is built into the English language.
Even a word that has nothing to do with black, such as  “niggardly,” which means parsimonious or stingy, should be avoided,  as the white aide to the  black mayor of the District of Columbia  discovered in 1999 when he characterized a stringent  D.C. budget as “niggardly.” Unlike the word Negro, niggardly has no etymological connection to nigger, but niggardly, a nearly obsolete word, sounds too much like it. There was a protest from blacks (as opposed, say,  from  African-Americans), and the white  aide, who was gay,  was fired but then rehired when the gay community protested on his behalf. The aide took it in stride, saying he had learned an important lesson. “I used to think it would be great if we could all be colorblind,” he said. “That’s na├»ve, especially for a white person, because a white person can afford to be colorblind. They don’t have to think about race every day. An African American does.”  In using the term African-American rather than black to refer to people of color, was the gay aide aware  that “black” was the racist equivalent of such sexist words as “queer,” “faggot,” and “fairy ” for the male homosexual?
Unfortunately, Jesse Jackson, Jr., did not practice what he preached in the classroom in Massie Hall. In the end he personified some of  the  negative meanings of the word black. If he didn’t turn out to be “thoroughly sinister or evil,” he did  prove to be deserving  of “condemnation or discredit.” He showed himself to be corrupt, selfish, dishonest, unprincipled, adulterous, hypocritical, conniving, spoiled, and materialistic. Though he didn’t want to be called black, he blackened the reputation of the race he was identified with, reinforcing racist stereotypes.

Blacks and African-Americans 

      But what  Jackson’s career really reflects poorly  on is not any particular race but on politicians in general. Politicians to a large extent are an embarrassment, not just to our nation,  but to our species, as is depressingly evident not only in Chicago and Washington but also in Portsmouth.  In some respects, specifically the degree of audacity, Portsmouth may be worse than Chicago and Washington, in part because the major papers in those cities, The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post, occasionally do investigative journalism, while The Portsmouth Daily Times has almost always been under the thumb of the crooks who control the city. Not even in Chicago or Washington would  a notorious blackguard, a white  drug-dealing pimp be brazenly appointed to fill a vacated elective office without a peep from anybody, especially not from local law enforcement and  the local media.  At least in Chicago and Washington the crooks occasionally get publicized, arrested, and jailed. In Portsmouth they get away with everything but murder.  In Portsmouth we had not only a drug dealing pimp being appointed to city  council we have a philandering, hypocritical, homophobic unelected mayor who just coincidentally  happens to be black.
Bill Clinton is jokingly said to have been the first black president. There is some truth to the joke, but it is not a flattering truth. Americans should be grateful that in 2008 they elected and in 2012 reelected not the first black—as Jesse Jackson Sr., was grooming Jesse Jackson,Jr., to be—but the  first  African-American president. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s, father  was speaking not as an African-American but as a black when he was overheard saying  about Obama, on a mike he didn’t realize was on, “I’d like to cut his nuts off.”  Jackson, Sr., was reportedly angry at Obama for speaking down to blacks. But what the president was actually doing was speaking up for African-Americans. 

The form that was used in the last US census.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Illustrated Ballad of Dr. Lundeen

Now that the Tenth Appellate District Court has upheld the revocation of Dr. James Lundeen's medical license, I call the attention of those have not read it to my post "The Illustrated Ballad of Dr. Lundeen." (Click on  the link below.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

OH EPA: Death by Chocolate, Death by Power Point

Jane Murray addressing panel at EPA meeting following stultifying
 Power Point presentation by Richard Duncan, on stage left

In Flohr Hall of Clark Memorial Library at Shawnee State University, on  the evening of  February 12, 2013, the Ohio EPA sponsored an Information Session and a Public Hearing regarding the draft agreement  reached between the Ohio EPA and the city of Portsmouth. In a display of bureaucratese,  somebody in government had named this kind of  agreement “Administrative Order of Content.” One of the aims of bureaucratese, as this name illustrates, is to keep the public in the dark about what is going on. The AOC in question, to use its acronym, has to do with water. When it comes to two extremely important  resources, namely water and money, Portsmouth city government has played fast and loose with state and federal laws and ordinances that are supposed to  regulate them. 
The Information part of the EPA evening, which took up the first hour, consisted almost entirely of a deadly dull Power Point presentation by Richard Duncan, the city’s man in charge of sewers. Duncan’s Power Point presentation had as one of its results, intended or not, the paralysis of most of the forty or so members of the public and city government in attendance.  Just as spiders paralyze the  insects that fall into their webs, preserving them for future consumption, Duncan with his mumbling delivery, faded slides, and hypnotic red laser pointer, rendered the audience stultified for the second hour of the meeting, the so-called Public Hearing half of the evening, during which the audience was allowed to  ask questions about the “information” that Duncan had provided in his Power Point presentation. However, when Duncan finished and the  moderator asked for questions,  there were none.  Tick, tick, tick. She waited and she waited. How embarrassing. It was like asking the paralyzed insects trapped in a spider web if they had any questions about the spider’s slide show. Finally, to  everyone’s relief, somebody finally came forward and asked a question.
Emboldened by that hearty soul, I volunteered to ask a question,  but as I approached  the microphone at the front of the hall  my foot was asleep and so was my cobwebby  brain.  I asked the panel about  subhead sections F and G on page 4 of  the draft agreement. The “Respondent” referred to at the beginning of F is the city of Portsmouth or its chief officer, the mayor. However, although Portsmouth Mayor Unelect   David Malone was in the audience he took no part in the proceedings and asked no questions, leaving Duncan to twist in the wind. The question I asked the panel on stage was how come there was no mention during the Information hour  of  the important statement in the agreement that charged the  Respondent (the city)  with repeated violations of the Sciotoville and Portsmouth  permits governing the city’s handling of  sewage water and storm water, and the violation by the city of  the  requirements of Section 301 of the Clean Water Act, the federal law governing polluted water throughout the United States. What follows is a  photocopy of the section of the agreement I am alluding to:

From the draft agreement between OH EPA and city of Portsmouth

           It was Duncan who answered my question why the charges against the city (and him principally) had not been mentioned. He said the part of the draft agreement I referred to was “boilerplate” language and didn’t really mean much. His answer like his Power Point presentation was an effort to deceive and obfuscate. The Respondent referred in F of page 4 of the draft agreement is not just anybody or any city; it applies specifically to Portsmouth, which a number of times, during storms, had discharged raw sewage into the Ohio River. I asked the panel if they agreed with Duncan that it was boilerplate language and didn’t really mean much. The EPA representative, Barbara VanTil,  sitting immediately to Duncan’s left on the panel nodded her head in agreement with him and murmured “Yes.” Her response was a revelation to me. I have always assumed the acronym EPA stood for Environment Protection Agency. I did not know it also meant Egregious Protection of Assholes. What Ms. VanTil’s response and the meeting itself revealed to me was the  likelihood that the city’s chronic sewer crisis is the result not just of the incompetence and dishonesty of politicians of Portsmouth but of the enabling of the good folks at the EPA at both the state and federal levels. They are, knowledgeable, polite, and even sweet, like chocolate, but they are also the kiss of death, like Duncan’s toxic Power Point presentation. Just today PBS released a report by the Center for Public Integrity, with the title “EPA Contaminated by Conflict of Interest” (click here.) That appeared to be the case at the meeting OH EPA hosted last evening in Portsmouth.
It must be very difficult to work for an agency like the EPA in a swing state like Ohio. In very red or very blue state, you would know where you stand. But in a swing state like Ohio, half blue and half red, the politics of environmental protection are as polluted as the sewers of Portsmouth.  I suspect that OH EPA is constantly trying to avoid getting caught in the middle, to avoid controversy and, consequently, by not taking a stand, they become enablers. The water controversy has drug on for years, as they say in southern Ohio, and will probably drag on, unresolved,  for many years more, as the OH EPA enables  as it waffles.
It’s the same with money. While the state auditor in Ohio dilly dallies the crooked politicians in Portsmouth channel money that is supposed to be used for road, bridges, and sewers to increase their own salaries and the salaries and benefits of the public employees who strongly support them. It’s the same with water. Instead of taking decisive action, the EPA treads water, enabling incompetent city employees like Duncan to discharge raw sewage into the Ohio and paralyze attendees at EPA public meetings with stultifying  Power Point presentations.  It is no wonder city politicians privately express contempt for the toothless state regulatory agencies. If former mayor Jane Murray and councilman Steve Sturgill had not been at the meeting, challenging the bureaucratese and the raw sewage,  the rest of us might still be sitting in Flohr Hall, paralyzed by  Duncan’s Power Point presentation.

. . . the rest of us might still be sitting in Flohr Hall, paralyzed by  Duncan’s Power Point presentation.