In Defense of Empire, Black Images and Nuance

Isn’t Empire returning tonight? Posted this about a year ago. Getting ahead of the hate.

BB&Gcmac's Weblog

Image matters!  I agree!  Race matters!  Absolutely! African-Americans don’t have much power in Hollywood. Check.

The images of black folk in television and film has been both marginalized and groundbreaking.  From Bert Williams, Bill Robinson, George Walker, Hattie McDaniel,  Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, to Ron O’Neal, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Diahanne Carroll, Richard Roundtree, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, our images have fit most every possible dynamic.  I am conscious of the image game.  I care about how black folk are portrayed.  If you can’t read any of the dozens of books available on the subject, Spike Lee’s somewhat satirical film, “Bamboozled,” covers the darker history and current struggles in how black images are portrayed.  It’s important to know this history. It is with this in mind that I approach the subject of critics like Dr. Boyce Watkins.  He’s been going in hard via social media…

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The Hate That Hate Produced (Part Duex)

Dog Whistle Politics:  It means putting out a message that, like a high-pitched dog whistle, is only fully audible to those at whom it is directly aimed.  The intention is to make potential supporters sit up and take notice while avoiding offending those to whom the message will not appeal.” – The Economist 

History sure has a way of repeating itself… over and over again.  Especially in an area where honest dialogue never existed.  When it comes to race, America remains for the most part in a state of cowardly denial, is willingly senile, operating within a glass bubble, exposed, but unaware.  As the Trump train powers through American politics and discourse, I am most amused by the rock throwing/hand hiding of not only the other GOP candidates, but many of their supporters who ‘act as if ‘they are put off with The Donald and his rhetoric.  I’ve spent the last eight years attempting to dialogue with them as the Obama presidency continued to reveal the obvious underbelly of white racial rage.  But all I heard was that I was making something out of nothing.  That I was race baiting.  I understand that in many cases privilege is a helluva blinder.  Anytime privilege of any kind is threatened, it feels like discrimination to the preferred beneficiary.  This is true with not only race, but gender, sexuality, class and so forth.  The Obama presidential campaign in 2007 brought to bear the threatened privilege of White America’s fear of Black progress in a post slavery post Jim Crow nation.  As the rhetoric spewed in the months leading up to November the scene played out in both a Twainian and Shakespearean fashion.

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced bussing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” — Lee Atwater, Republican Party Strategist  1981

Reagan

This was how it was during the Reagan era.  From the day he announced his campaign on Sunday August 3, 1980  in Philadelphia, MS of all places, he looked to perfect the art of Dog Whistle Code Speech.  In case you didn’t know, Philadelphia, MS in Neshoba County, was the same town where three young civil rights workers; a 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24 were murdered on June 21, 1964. The three young men were chased in their car, abducted, shot at close range, then buried in an earthen dam by the local Ku Klux Klan.  The very location indicated a message that Reagan was sending to his white conservative audience.  He chose a significant place where the empirical history of White Supremacy reigned.  In his speech he wasted no time in mentioning ‘welfare reform.  He continued to wax eager the virtues of ‘states rights.’  

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there. – Ronald Reagan 1980

States Rights/Decoded = A reference dating back to the conflict of the Civil War between the Union and the Confederate.  The Confederate believed it was the rights of states to decide whether they wanted to own slaves and endorse slavery as an institution.  Southerners who preferred slavery, and subsequently Jim Crow and segregation laws believe the federal government overstepped it’s bounds in undermining what they feel were their ‘states rights.’

Welfare Reform/DecodedA term directed towards poor or middle class whites intended to focus them on poor minorities.  Its purpose is to describe said minorities as ‘takers,’ who are lazy, unmotivated and unproductive while draining the economy, thus making it harder on white people, who are in turn hard workers.  It says nothing of the statistics regarding the percentages of actual welfare recipients.  It only assumes minorities, specifically black folk are the takers.  It’s also limited to individuals, not taking into account any corporations or corporate executives who may benefit from government ‘subsidies.’ The difference in the words ‘subsidies’ vs ‘welfare’ directly determines the response of the hearer. 

Over the last 35 years or so, the dog-whistle style worked pretty well.  Nixon, Reagan, Bushes 1 & 2, and even Clinton benefited from using coded language to project a narrative.  But something happened when Barack Obama became a serious candidate for president.  Coded language slowly began to give way to a more bold and ballistic approach as White anger and fear that the person who would become the face and symbol of leadership in these United States of America could be a black male.

Billboard_Challenging_the_validity_of_Barack_Obama's_Birth_Certificate

One of the first series of racially motivated attacks was the so called ‘birther movement’s’ questioning of Obama’s status as a United States citizen.  Many Whites including now GOP front runner Donald Trump riled that Obama was born in Kenya, East Africa as opposed to Hawaii.  Trump went on to say that he had investigators in Hawaii that would prove conclusively that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii.  Hillary Clinton’s supporters jumped in as well questioning the origin of Obama’s citizenship.  In spite of there never being such evidence presented by Trump, so many White Americans latched on to the conspiracy theory, that it became a thing; so much of a thing that eventually the White House released a copy of the ‘long form’ certificate.  This would not satisfy those who were set on believing that since the day of his birth Barack Obama was raised from birth to infiltrate the White House, take White people’s guns and make America a Muslim state, overturn the constitution and replace it with Sharia Law.  That brings us to our next conspiracy theory; which is that Obama is not a Christian.

In spite of 2016 being the last year of the second term of the Obama presidency, 43% of Whites still believe that Obama is a Muslim. This despite all of the evidence that supports the opposite.  The Obama’s were members of Trinity United Church of Christ for years.  They were married there, and both of their children were baptized at Trinity as well.  Despite that fact that there is no way in hell in 2016 that Obama could possibly hide a Muslim connection, (past or present) this suspension of reality for these White naysayers are simply ways to ostracize Obama to a group that they despise and are afraid of.  They cannot embrace Obama’s Christian faith without embracing him as their spiritual brother.  To continue the lie that he is something other than a Christian, gives them a self deceiving legitimacy in not taking him seriously, rather dismissing every word from his mouth, his authority and even his presence.  No other president or presidential candidate has ever had his/her faith questioned.  Is Christianity even a question now among any of the candidates?

During the McCain/Palin campaign the racial overtones became more and more emboldened.  Palin spoke divisively accusing Obama not being an American, like the White crowds in her audience. She linked Obama with terrorists.  The crowd in turn shouted epitaphs such as, ‘terrorist, off with his head, and kill him!”   It got so ugly and threatening that even McCain himself tried to temper the racial rhetoric by defending Obama as a ‘decent person, a decent family man and a citizen,’ the crowd booed him.  McCain tried to reason with the crowd and get the focus on Obama’s views as opposed to his race.  “We want to fight, and I will fight,” McCain said. “But I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him. I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean to say you have to be respectful.”  McCain was booed again.  What, respect a black man who has the audacity to think he can be OUR president?

Once it became apparent that Obama did indeed win the election and was going to be sworn in.  The rage was real and lay bare expressed through cable news channels.  Critics like Rudy Giuliani became one of the go to guys for disparaging anything Obama.  No matter what the issue was or what The President said or did.  Echoing the voices of White rage the GOP took note to follow the script of de-legitimizing Obama.  The racial rhetoric was starting to become less coded.  The utter disdain utterly vicereal.  Here is a round robin list of just a few examples.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  2008

South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson“YOU LIE!”  * Shouted during the middle of Obama’s first State of the Union Address.  2009

Newt Gingrich“President Barack Obama deserves to be called, ‘the most successful food stamp president in American history,’ because “47 million Americans are on food stamps.”  2012 *The food stamp reference feeds into the notion that Reagan fed into during his election that black folk were the major recipients of government assistance were poor black people.  This made white people resentful of their own perceived lack of success.  The poor people are takers.  The takers are black.  This despite that fact that when Gingrich made this statement in 2010, only 8 percent received cash welfare, while 30 percent had earnings.  Nearly half of food-stamp beneficiaries are children under 18, and about 8 percent are elderly. About 34 percent of beneficiaries are white, 22 percent are black, 17 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian or Native American, and 20 percent “race unknown.”  Gingrich knew that his audience would interpret the myth of who welfare recipients are.  The face of welfare is a black face.

Finger

After initially saying she would not meet President Obama at the airport, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer met The President with a never seen before confrontational finger to the face!

47 Republican senators committed treason against the United States by sending a letter to Iran intending to hinder Obama’s negotiations with Iran regarding a nuclear arms agreement.   2015

None of these extraordinary examples were credited to Obama’s color according to his White detractors.  Even the mantra of, ‘take our country back’ was said to be benignly focused on politics. Instead, any mention of race at all was turned on Obama’s head as being the racist.  Ben Stein called Obama, “The most racist president in American history.”  This despite the fact that previous presidents owned slaves, supported Jim Crow laws and had ties to the KKK.  Anytime Obama mentioned racial injustices such as the killing of unarmed Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman, he was accused of stirring up racial animus.  If he showed empathy to anything black, he was accused of favoring Blacks.  The irony is, that when Obama acknowledged the dog-whistle style of criticism himself, saying, they (Republicans) are trying to scare you because I don’t look like the other presidents on the dollar bill,” he was accused of playing the race card.  In other words, it was perfectly acceptable for whites to infer to Obama as the Food Stamp president.  They could say, “let’s take America back,” as if he stole it and hid the nation in a crack house somewhere.  They could freely claim all day long that race had absolutely nothing to do with their choice of words.  And yet for him to mention race at all in a fashion that didn’t denigrate black people made him a racist himself, and therefore a threat to White people.

Now we have come full circle.  The conundrum that the GOP face today is that those racial undertones and sub-tweets of rhetoric have come home to roost.  What Donald Trump says openly is what the GOP has established itself on in code that Atwater so eloquently spoke of.  Though Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and others have tried to separate themselves from the niggerization of Trump’s politics.  But they can’t escape the liable they are responsible for.  Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz’s father is responsible for some of the most racially charged diatribes on record.  As Cruz ran for the Senate in 2012, he said, “We need to send Barack Obama back to Chicago. Back to Kenya.”  Ask Ted Cruz, or any other republican if his father’s statements have anything to do with race. Trump would not only acknowledge the obvious, he’s encouraging the white rage by asking his crowds to beat up black people at his rallys.  Law enforcement authorities are arresting the assaulted instead of the ones committing these assaults on national television.  Its to the point now, that as D.L. Hughley said, “If Trump says the N-Word, he going to be president tomorrow.”  Michael Eric Dyson noted that if LBJ’s motto was, ‘The Buck Stops Here,’ For the mainstream GOP the mantra has been for Obama, ‘The Buck Must Be Stopped.’

The GOP would like to make you believe this poisonous racial environment and Trump’s political success isn’t on them.  But it absolutely is.

Memo to those:

When you called Obama weak, while he is out here killing Bin Laden, as well as other key figures in Al Qaeda and ISIS.  You are ungratefully biting the hand that has kept you safe.

When you say that other nations don’t respect us.  What you are really saying is that YOU don’t respect the president.

When you say he is a con man, you are saying he doesn’t act like your stereotypical image of what a nigger is.  (And that he is smarter than you! For his accomplishments have surpassed yours by leaps and bounds)   Those who haven’t had ONE good word to say about this president, in 7 years is fooling no one but themselves.

The birth of Trump is merely the product from 7 years of racially ejaculatory motivated hate.  Quoting Michael Jackson is not appropriate.  The the kid is definitely your son!