I was about to refer to the recent explosion of media talk about race. Then I got distracted by the very logical absurdity: an 'explosion' presumes a preceding relative silence. If there's been any doubt about the depth, breadth and increasing volume of race talk going on, do check out the latest, perhaps state of the art, digital culture channel for plugging into it.
It's the Sunday Soapbox on NPR. I won't bore with the details, some of which are a little confusing, anyway. But they seem to have a month-long project delving into race and the current politics that combines in-depth (or at least long, even for NPR) reporting, and a built in multimedia blogging system that anyone can join. I did, and if you're interested in contributing or just peeping you can get started here.
That said, while cruising this new wealth of race talk, on NPR and a few other places, I have been struck by two things. One is the frankness, however depressing, of white people who are mighty cynical about "blacks-and-whites-together" happening anytime soon.
The other was the number of whites writing that they despair because they, and/or their children, are frequent victims of black racial animosity and/or violence.
ineffable |inˈefəbəl| adjective: 1—too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words : the ineffable natural beauty of the Everglades. 2—not to be uttered : the ineffable Hebrew name that gentiles write as Jehovah.
Also add "unspeakable" to the many adjectives compounding "race" in our national pseudo conversation.
Let's treat the hit (well, until Batman struck) Will Smith movie Hancock for an opening for a short series of posts about the current state of the race debate.
Critics are quick to see another black man making white folks feel good about themselves. But they missed the fact that Hancock twists old archetypes of black-white romantic relationships nearly beyond recognition
Despite Dark Knight breaking all known records, Hancock has done over $200 million and will probably, now quietly, be the second highest grossing film of the summer. The grosses alone used to be taken as another bright ray of hope for American race reconciliation. But now the goal posts seem to be moving.
Not to make anyone jealous, but there is another blog on my heart. It's called North Bronx, Class of '70. Its grand ambition: reconnect with my generational cohort--starting with the people I shared public school with--and find out what really happened to us between the assassinations of 1968 and the primaries of 2008.
Who did you cast your first presidential vote for: Nixon or Humphrey or McGovern?
What were you doing during Disco, and when did you begin to disavow it?
When, if ever, did you first register Republican?
Why did you get married, the second time?
What kind of radical were you in college?
When did you start wearing your race/ethnic identity on your sleeve, and when did you remove it?
Why you did or (more likely) didn't vote for Dukakis?
Your first interracial relationship? Your last?
Stuff like that. And more. If you're interested, I'll be glad to extend this subject to this blog, for those not so blessed to have grown up North Bronx, but still came of age in high school cherishing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Stand.
I recently posted this essay, My View From The Bridge. I hope this tease gets you to read it:
Except, of course, I was lying.
been looking back, in some fashion, ever since I started writing in
1979. I wasn’t 10 years out of Evander when I wrote about the conflict
between races and classes that seemed to follow me wherever I went. It
followed me, of course, because it was in me, probably from 10th grade,
or maybe even since P.S. 76. I didn’t have words for it, even in
’68-’69, not long after the assassinations of King and Kennedy, and the
teachers strike that put everyone on notice: King’s dream (Rodney and
Martin Luther) of us all getting along wasn’t coming true any time soon.
illusion that we were all related by growing up listening to WABC-AM
disk jockey Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow, even though our neighborhoods
were mostly segregated, now showed cracks that should have been too big
Originally, in fact, blacks in sport were confined strictly to the
arena. Many of the biggest stars — Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Muhammad
Ali — seemed downright threatening.
went to lesser white athletes, for advertisers simply assumed that a
product's association with even a noncontroversial black player must be
off-putting to white consumers.
But, my — as well we know — how
that changed. By the 1990s, Michael Jordan was accepted as the most
prominent pitchman on the planet, and he has been primarily succeeded
by Tiger Woods.
From a cultural point of view, this sea change
in attitude in sport signaled that race did not constitute that much of
a difference in public figures — which, ultimately, of course, leads us
to Barack Obama.
...I date the emergence [of race transcendent black icon] to January 1979, when Coca-Cola first aired a commercial in which a towheaded white boy approaches former Pittsburgh Steeler defensive end Joe "Mean Joe" Greene...[the] fearsome black gridiron warrior is tired, soiled, and sore and is in no mood for fans. But, in a moment of advertising magic, "the Kid" offers up his bottle of Coke to the thirsty athlete, who downs it with gusto and a palpable sigh of release... ...This was before pro football players like Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and dozens more black stars came to epitomize the marketing image of the game, permanently taking a hefty slice of the limelight [previously reserved for] white quarterbacks in the process... ...It was one thing to legislate the integration of the races and quite another thing for a generation of white youths to begin openly idolizing the sweat off a black man's back and to have their idolatry validated and amplified by the power of a multinational marketer on national television...
I go on to call the wildly successful commercial "the first American Skin graft". And I posit that, as I wrote in 1999 or so, we had not yet begun to see the full impact of the revolution in commercial pop culture and American identity:
...Now, imagine the vision of the American dream though the eyes of Generation Y, who mostly weren't even born when "Hey, Kid" first aired. Their image of a "star athlete" is Michael Jordan (or any of a dozen black or Hispanic athletes) as much or more than anyBut Gen-Y's multicolored vision is its collective consciousness as well as the national id. white athlete...Boomers can act out their American dreams in color today because, starting in the 1980's, commercial popular culture began catching up to America's trasracial collective unconscious.
And we all know on whose shoulders the end-Boomer dreamer is riding to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, right?
Here's a link to the sermon that inspired the preceding post Let Me Boast. Like so much New Life Fellowship preaching, it ties the gospel to how we actually try to live our lives on the streets of New York. This sermon in particular uses our own multiracial church community as it's primary example.
I don't apologize for the theology, but don't let the means stand in the way of the beauty of the end. Enjoy.
"...but let him who boasts boast in the Lord" —the Apostle Paul, 2 Cor. 10:17
It dawns on me: to know where my vision, my hope for the American Race comes from, you must know something about my faith. I am most sincerely a follower of Christ, but this post is not about my belief, but the community of believers to which I belong.
I attend and am a member of New Life Fellowship Church, in Elmhurst (Queens) New York. If I boast, it is not about them, but the One who has put and binds us together. As you may or may not have read somewhere, Queens is hands down the most racially and ethnically diverse county in the United States. It can probably hold its own with any jurisdiction in the world in this matter. Some facts from the Wikipedia entry:
46% foreign born
44% white, 20% black, 18% Asian, 25% Latino
home to 10% of all American Jews
5% of Indian (as in New Delhi) Americans
no less than 138 languages are spoken, heavily, every day
Queens is also distinguished by the large absolute and relative number of middle and upper middle income African-Americans. At the 2000 census, blacks ranked No. 1 in average household income.
But statistical diversity means nothing without community. It is still a fact that even in Queens we live fairly to extremely segregated lives in America. That's where New Life comes in.
New Life-ers, twisted together by their faith in "one baptism"
Nothing can say it all, but this picture is a good start. The thing about New Life is this: I've been black, and conscious of it, ever since kindergarten. But from the first day I walked into the sanctuary (housed in a gigantic former Elks Hall on Queens Boulevard) and every day since, when I am in the building or in community with these people, my awareness of racial particularity...recedes to the point of coincidence.
Party in the sanctuary! New Life is the most dancing church you can imagine.
Like Queens, New Life has no numerical racial or ethnic majority. (Nobody talks about it, but if I had to guess I'd say we're 30% "Asian", 30% "white", 20% 'black' and 20% 'Hispanic') But unlike Queens, or the rest of New York, at New Life there's no feeling of implicit white majority, regardless of the actual numbers. To bring it back to faith, there is only a majority of one; Jesus Christ.
We don't just believe we can leap as one people in Christ. We fly.
It's not a utopia. It's deeper than such a man made idea. I believe the concept, which can be translated (though not necessarily empowered) into secular terms, can get us to realize the vision I have for this blog and this nation.
I'll be channeling more of New Life into the mix of race, politics, society and culture in posts to come.
...all I have to say is: It’s the summer of 1960. John Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Jackie are satirized on a magazine cover. She’s made up like Marie Antoinette, eating cake or some stinky cheese while looking down on mere middle-class folks. He is on his knees before the Pope, kissing much ring, while Cardinals stuff his pockets with the Vatican legislative agenda. And in the background we see Daddy Joe P., paying off a long line of folks, his body guarded by a Sheldon Leonard look-alike with a 1930’s style Tommy gun. Maybe a couple of guys in SS uniforms, too.
Okay, the stuff about Joe P. has a basis in fact. But it still wouldn’t have been funny then, or, more importantly, smart. That’s why this New Yorker cover is offensive and dumb. The conceit: They and their readers so smart and liberal and cool that they can joke about the rabid stereotypes flying about the first African-American President of the United States before he's even officially nominated, much had the opportunity that he could turn 400 years of racism on it's head in just a few years on the public stage by actually getting elected.
Because, after all, he’s their man, right?
Reminds me of that scene in Animal House, where the frat boys show up in a black club where Otis Day and the Knights are playing. Same band that played their party, very different context. One of them loud talks “Hey, Otis...my MAN,” and nearly pays with his life.
He didn’t get it. Neither did the smart folks at the New Yorker.