Identity News, Color Blues, & Ethnic Dues

PART ONE

Like most North Americans, diversity and division have defined my days here, which now number well over 20,000.  My parents met because my Irish, Scotch-Irish, French mother had an eye for Hispanic men, who were common as corn in South Texas, at a time when such liaisons brought ferocious reaction from parents and peers, and my father, with identical roots except German instead of French, wanted to fly fighters against North Koreans, mere gooks in the parlance of West Virginia’s hills and hollers, men and women whom his country had goaded into war.

That a deaf ear—the result of a hunting accident—would permit him no notoriety above that of a jet-engine mechanic altered the course of his training to Lackland AFB’s vast swath of the hill country South of San Antonio.  There, a ‘blind date’ brought my soon-to-be mom and dad into a heated conjunction, the result of which was me, albeit I came along in the mountainous countryside near Wheeling, instead of in the Lone Star State that conceived me.

And now, in my seventh decade hence, I sit in the higher massif of Western North Carolina, where I ponder so many years in the midst of what almost everyone around me calls race, a category as nonsensical as the notion that creatures of the same species have any relation but those of siblings, parents, offspring, various uncles or aunts, and cousins, which is what all of our sort on the planet are to each other if they do not stand in the first set of relations to any particular friend or acquaintance or stranger.  Seven billion of us live on Earth: All God’s Cousins, as I’ve entitled the first novel that I’ve been penning for myself.

I’ve composed multiple bits and pieces of scholarship, argumentation, articles, features, and research-based essays on these topics.  To initiate this litany of what is essentially a series of vignettes and anecdotes from Spindoctor’s life and times, an abstract that consists primarily of quotations from six such narratives follows here.

troy-davisA very specific item on Daily Kos concerned the judicial murder of Troy Davis for a crime that he did not commit.  Here is a useful contextualization of that point.

“Today, seven of those nine observers take back their testimony, admitting that they cannot state with any certainty who pulled the trigger and slayed an honest cop doing good work.  At least four of the seven retractors currently insist that police threats–of various sanctions against them with criminal consequences–played a gigantic role in suborning perjury against an innocent man who will die in a few weeks at our collective hands.  Mark Allen MacPhail’s death is a fact; that someone gutlessly murdered him is a fact; Troy Anthony Davis’ conviction for that soulless crime is a fact.

But we should make no mistake: copious other facts are now at hand, including and in addition to over three quarters of the eyewitnesses, who formed the sole basis for the State’s pinning this act on Mr. Davis in the first place, having recanted their statements.  Therefore, his actual guilt is at best one possibility among many others that can account for the cretinous and hateful destruction of Officer MacPhail’s life.”

That Troy Davis was Black and poor was the main surface basis for his death.  However, reporters on the ground in Savannah such as the Spindoctor, as well as observant citizens there who lived and worked in the neighborhoods where the unfortunate Mr. Davis resided, knew that at least as pertinent was that the likely perpetrator of the fatal shooting of a moonlighting policeman was a Savannah Police Department informant whose work and identity were of more importance than either a working class cop’s death or another working class bystander’s falsely and perniciously becoming a scapegoat for the officer’s murder.

Shortly after writing the futile DK plea, a more academic assessment of this sort of wrong followed, which focused mainly on the origins of what one might term an environmental justice movement, and on the documentation of wrongdoing and injustice on which any such social motion depends.  The following lines offer something like a summary of that work.

“For many centuries, a darkly ironic conception of justice ruled in Dixie.  ‘Just Us’ referred to the accurate formulation that legal remedies and the assistance of police and other governmental agents was not only decidedly not available for African Americans and other people of color—and to a large extent, poor people as well, but also that the relations with courts and the ‘long arm of the law’ generally took place as hostility, exploitation, and viciously corrupt practice. …

(Such issues extended to almost all aspects of environmental health and pollution and such other related matters).  Martin Luther King called C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow ‘the historical Bible of the civil rights movement,’ yet I imagine that very few JustMeans readers other than Jimbo have heard of the volume, let alone having read it.  The set of those who would connect this tome with energy and environment issues would contain at least one member, but probably only one member.

The Louisiana Environmental Justice Community Organizations Coalition(LEJCOC) stands for this sort of historical recognition that governs the social orientation in the present, recognizing also that ‘to support and address the needs of environmental justice communities in Louisiana: including poverty, health, racism, crime, violence and other social-economic problems’ requires the ability ‘to bring poor and environmentally-challenged communities in Louisiana to the table with governmental entities and industry ….’”

Just as in relation to the barbaric sentence against Troy Davis, so too here, then, a combination of a broader brush and more nuance than a race-based assessment is a sine qua non of progress.  Color may indeed be the key component, but it alone cannot lead either to understanding or to solutions that address these issues of environmental and other types of social wrongdoing or disparity.

A third missive, a bit wider in its outlook and yet also barely scratching this all-too-superficially plumbed surface, examined ‘race’ and mediation and social justice through a lens that used popular culture as its focal point.  “From Barkhad Abdi to Krishna’s Command About Duty” follows the fact that everything social touches on everything else of such a kind to look at questions of empire and psychology and color in relation to media and popular culture.

“The point of all of this, hopefully obvious, is that things are comprehensible if and only if an onlooker is willing to juxtapose apparently disparate pieces in such a fashion as to see the whole in relation to the parts and vice versa.  No other set of methods will ever yield outcomes other than rudimentary portraits, which in themselves have nothing to do with action, power, or possibilities of transformation. …

(In contemplating Barkhad Abdi’s Hollywood travails, for instance, one would need to consider the young performer’s roots). For many … arid milennia, the traders and warriors and clans of what we now call Somalia played a key role in the manifestation of social relations there.  They mediated markets from across the Indian ocean that shipped spices in return for hides and specie and, often enough, slaves.  They provided waystations for those who hoped to trade otherwise with subsaharan Africa, including those who wanted to purchase human flesh.  They were capable enough sailors that they made excellent merchant mariners and, more recently, pirates, such as those that Barkhad and his friends played in ‘Captain Philips,’ especially now, when sociopolitical and ecological factors have combined to impel them. …

(Layering further swatches of history and depredation and colonial and ethnic conflict onto each other is part of Abdi’s life). (In this vein) (o)ne can read of the intertwining of English imperial efforts in India and Somalia throughout Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, which tells of her ‘adventures’ in Kenya under the tutelage and protection of Farah, her Somali ‘chief-of-staff,’ in relation to all manner of other characters from Arabia, India, and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa itself.  On her departure from the country, she describes the ‘entire’ Somali population of Nairobi’s turning out to see her off.”

Anything like race, if the notion has meaning other than fetish or bugaboo, has little to do with Abdi’s plight as an underpaid actor in a hyper-privileged environment.  To look at this issue and most others in the world today necessitates that a thinker ‘intersectionalize,’ so to speak, multiple ways of contextualizing things, a process in which not only is color only one of many factors to take into account, but also its meaning is one that comes from its relations to everything else, and not at all from itself.  All such racialist tunnel vision is at best flawed and largely false.

Another—a fourth—Spindoctor blog, this also from the Solidarity Forever website examined an instance of Southern History that also revealed the complex and interconnected subtleties that make up what most people today simply ascribe to race and racism.  The case at hand in “Tearing Down the Walls” involved one of the ugliest and most effective divide-and-conquer schemes in history—the convict lease system—which continues in new forms to proffer both exploitation of and hostility among workers to those who already own everything on Earth.

Tennessee-republican-broadside-coal-creek-warThe “Coal Creek Wars” concerned the mineral and metals district that centered on Chattanooga, stretching from Birmingham to Knoxville.  In it, White supremacist attitudes toward Black workers did not keep mine owners from using often enough illegally incarcerated African Americans whenever profit or class war called them to do so, with “the stern hand” that such ‘dusky workers’ needed.’  An intense battle of classes soon became unavoidable in this context.

“One interesting aspect of this upheaval was that the miners were plus-or-minus ninety per cent White and the prisoners were almost one hundred per cent Black.  Another fascinating piece of this story was that the union and unorganized colliers, with allies from community businesses and local agriculture, repeatedly confronted the militias assigned to oversee the prison-mines, and forced the release of the Black men incarcerated their.   The victorious coal miners in such cases packed the jailed workers off to the State capitol or to Knoxville in the company of their keepers.”

Media and cultural ‘leaders’ like preachers—either universally or generally, respectively—renounced miners’ acts on their own behalf.  ”No matter that media and social leaders condemned them, however, beginning October 31, 1891, the up-in-arms miners took things a step further.  They had become irretrievably disenchanted with established norms and approaches when Governor John Buchanan, a Farmer-Labor-Alliance Democrat, whom they played a big role in electing, not only failed to find a way to end convict leasing but also led some of the militia units to East Tennessee to ‘restore order.’ …

For over a year after July, 1891, when large scale direct action began in earnest, the mining district of Tennessee became even more an armed camp than it had already been, off and on, since the end of Reconstruction.  A state of something like warfare prevailed.  Not until a year or so prior to Tennessee’s ending the convict lease in 1896—the first deep-South State to do so—did outbursts taper off and end altogether in the deep hollows of the Cumberlands, the Smokies, and the Blue Ridge.”

Again, relying on race and racism wholly fails to account for what occurred.  A different rubric, richer and more multihued, must replace an explanatory nexus based primarily, let alone exclusively, on color.

33 RACISM JV“We’re All Cousins After All” provides an overview of the material that people, at least plausibly, need to ponder in connection with this ideation, a fifth instance of Spindoctor narration.  As with the material on environmental justice, this reportage occurred on JustMeans, arguing in terms of corporate social responsibility and sustainability that issues of color, and the supremacist ideology that different coloration elicits, required more than conceptions of race in response.

“My title today alludes to a long-ago essay, one of the first that I ever published, the original of which lies at the bottom of some mile of files, or at the back of a stuffed file cabinet drawer.  It’s the answer to the ‘Jeopardy’ (prompt) that is arguably the most important inquiry that we can (make) in these days of troubled times.  ‘(T)he scientific relation between each person on earth and every other person who is not some stripe of parent, sibling, or offspring?’”

Of course, the answer is, the question, “What is a cousin?”  This past Spindoctor essay continued,

“As any who have taken the time and energy necessary to plow through what I’ve been writing can testify, much of what I convey revolves around more or less complicated skeins of relationship. …(proceeding to examine sources both scientific and Marxist in their orientation to knowledge)… This theoretical and scientific undergirding that informed my notions of color and class actually, since I was neither a philosopher nor a scientist, but a student of history, grew out of my focus, beginning as an undergraduate and continuing through forays in grad school and from then until now, on the meaning and development and possibilities of life in the Southern United States.  Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Native Son still provide clearer conceptual foundations for discerning Southern History, which revolves around the vortex of slavery and White Supremacy; and U.S. history, which revolves around the vortex of Dixie; and world history, which revolves around the vortex of the USA than do any number of ‘standard’ annals of the past. …

And through everything runs the thread that defines the fabric of Southern existence: the enslavement of tens of millions of cousins over a period of centuries, whose offspring are friends and neighbors and fellow citizens today, whose lives and prospects form a distinct, and often central, component of contemporary life–of my life.  Without doubt, the primary analytical and conceptual methods for dealing with this complex of historical fact and current conflict swirl around the idea of race, the explanatory upshot of which almost always devolves to racism. …

As today’s article unfolds itself in a reader’s mind, I ask that they repeat the accurate notation that the title advances: “We’re all cousins after all.”  (Joseph) Graves gives us a sturdy simple tool with The Race Myth, which he follows up with the expanded and updated The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium.  Matthew Hughey proffers an informative orientation to the path down which Graves wants to take us, and, quite plausibly, down which we had better move our fannies directly.

‘Graves’ work was written (first) to dismantle the so-called scientific basis … of the actual existence of race as a typology devoid of racist content and conjecture, and second, to expose the politically motivated ideological underpinnings of biological descents into the abyss of racism.  Thus, Graves examines the history of biological diversity from a modern scientific perspective.  He writes, ‘…what we call ‘race’ is the invention not of nature but of our social institutions and practices.  The social nature of racial categories is significant because social practice can be altered far more readily than can genetic constitution.’ …

(President Lincoln understood that) (s)lavery remains the central most dispositive truth of American history. …And thus spake Abraham: Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’

And we could rub the readers nose in the fact—these are as close to ‘facts,’ in any event, as we’ll ever get in relation to the past—that the recompense, the remuneration, the payback, for the two and a half centuries under the law of the lash has yet to clear the bank of history.  ‘Jim Crow,’ as we saw yesterday, and viciousness to make the blood flowing from the screen in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ seem like a mere sprinkling of mist, have predominated in relation to the ‘Black Man’s Burden’ of carrying the profitability of capital on his sturdy shoulders.

Closing our eyes to this tale, even if we don’t want to hear it, may contravene an easy path to a decent future.  The long knives of systematic gore and carnage are capable of popping up quite quickly.  We have little time, very possibly, to ‘straighten up and fly right,’ as my momma always liked to say.”

Now that’s a really long quotation from an analysis that the Spindoctor composed seven years ago almost.  It’s over 30,000 words long, and maybe a hundred people have read it.  Unfortunately, everybody on the planet ought to check it out, not that this assertion, or its possible truth, make much difference.

Fitzpatrick Color Chart
Fitzpatrick Color Chart

Undaunted nevertheless then, finally, another longform report argued that “The Race Trap” has become an insidious aspect of contemporary culture and politics.  It gives the most comprehensive and racially-centered aggregation of the Spindoctor approach to these thorny elements of the current context.

To wit:

“If a prime purpose of thinking and study and discussion and learning ends up as something like reasonable action that improves human life, then the overwhelming majority of SOP mediation that happens today in this largely intellectual and dialogic sphere is, viewed most optimistically, counterproductive and absurd.  This assertion might appear quixotic and clearly makes a disputatious claim.  However, this essay will contend that at least provisionally it proves that contention, in relation more exactly to broadcast or otherwise distributed discourse about social conflict that reputedly involves ‘race,’ ‘racial differences,’ ‘racism,’ and so forth.

In essence, because precisely one human race exists, ‘racism’ only addresses a socially developed concept about a false idea, that different races with different biological qualities in fact are a part of the human condition, a popular and yet completely incorrect conceptualization of human social relations that inevitably colors and distorts what happens among diverse social actors, probably in a completely toxic, and ultimately in a totally self-destructive, fashion. …”

This does not mean that color prejudice and White supremacy don’t exist.  On the contrary, “At least as much as any other correlative, the capacity to resist force against oneself or one’s friends or one’s family is a sine qua non of social potency.  In the United States, the uncounted thousands of police and vigilante murders—and hundreds of thousands of assaults—each decade fall with such massive disproportion on people of color, and Black folk first among these assaulted populations, that any notion that chance determines this fate must look surreal.  The very fact of the disparity is explosively ubiquitous at all compass points, both ideological and cultural, in mediated assessments from every possible place on our planet. …

(Moreover), (t)he American Civil Liberties Union summarizes (another aspect of) this malicious and detrimental incongruity, irreconcilable with anything other than vicious injustice, double-dealing, and purposeful division: “Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise: 35% of those arrested for drug possession; 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.

This skewed enforcement of drug laws has a devastating impact.  One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are currently either on probation, parole, or in prison.  One in five black men have been convicted of a felony.  In seven states, between 80% and 90% of prisoners serving time for drug offenses are black.

(Literally scores of additional examples of discrimination and vicious supremacist thinking show up.  However), (a)gain, coloration, or race, does not cause or play a significant role in this opportunism and exploitation: these malefactors come in all shades.  What turns out to be dispositive, again and again and again and again—and again—are the twin factors of geopolitical strategy, along with its scramble for resources and markets, on the one hand, and the capacity to control and dispose of vast armies of labor and muscle, as well as buckets of cash, on the other hand.  Skin color just doesn’t explain either the political economic tangles or the socioeconomic conundrums that capital causes in these struggles and then solves to its own advantage until working people of different colors—can anyone present say Cuba?!—have united to oppose bourgeois overlords. …

Arundhati Roy in 2013
Arundhati Roy in 2013

Perhaps a brilliant epigram from Arundhati Roy, a multihued writer of color, gives form and thrust to what the Spindoctor has been developing here.

‘Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it.  To deprive it of oxygen.  To shame it.  To mock it.  With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories.  Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few.  They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’

The most recent Nobelist of color guides those willing to follow to the most crucial reason for abandoning ‘race’ as an organizing principle, for rejecting ‘racism’ as the causal agent of oppression and exploitation and vicious inequity: no matter one’s ‘good intentions,’ insisting on racial categories lets the real factors that cause our woes escape notice; insisting on racial categories gives elites the chance to ‘toss a bone’ to the crushed masses that does nothing to change fundamental problems; insisting on racial categories, in a busy and crowded world, will always cause opportunity costs since one can only do so much, meaning that the real causative elements receive short shrift or no attention at all.

Whatever else the Spindoctor is, he is not a complete idiot.  He does not expect these notes to be popular.  He realizes that busy people with many beautiful ideas of their own will resist even delving into this oeuvre, let alone reading it all.

Nevertheless, to those who don’t insist on obfuscation or denial—ah, the river in Egypt—this much must be clear.  We are all cousins, unless we have an even closer kinship.  The differences among us are tiny, relative to our genetic code, our biological template.

Whatever the case may be, this recounting of a body of work is not an excuse to continue in the same vein, though I might do so in ways that would continue, at a minimum, in interesting and engaging me.  Instead, the purpose of this intellectual overview was to provide a basis for introducing an extremely personal, extremely observantly-lived existence that has—almost literally on occasion—burst with the contradictions of the rainbow coloration of the human condition—sort of a ‘Color in the Life of Cousin Jimbo’ narrative for all to ponder who see fit to do so.

This is a first installment.  A continuation, quite quickly, is forthcoming.  That’s a promise, not a threat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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