....LMB: "As American as White Supremacy"....

December 13, 2002

So Trent Lott, one of the most powerful leaders of the Republican party, has publicly stated that Jim Crow segregation is neat. I can't imagine that's going to help them win over minority voters in the coming elections.

When I first read the quote, I was willing to believe that Lott wasn't making a statement about policy, but was merely intending to compliment Strom Thurmond, the Senate's most lovable Cro-Magnon, on his 486th birthday. I could easily imagine a situation where Lott meant, "Gee Stromy, you're a great fella! You shoulda been president."

But in 1980, Lott again said that Thurmond should've been elected president-- but it couldn't have been a light-hearted compliment then, because Strom wasn't present... And if you believe it, some anonymous guy has contacted cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, claiming that he has a tape of Lott again wishing that Strom was president at a bill-signing in 2000. And if Lott made these comments not intending them as compliments, then you have to look at their actual content, and it ain't pretty.

Back when Strom ran for president in 1948, he had a one issue platform: segregtion now, segregation forever. Or, in Strom's own words, "I want to tell you, ladies and gentleman, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches". And Trent Lott said last week that if America had elected this redneck piece of shit president in 1948, that "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." (One wonders which "problems" Lott is referring to)

So now the media is reporting the whole event like a chess game, which political actor makes which move when, and what repercussions it might have for party politics and personal careers. But there's a lot more serious shit going on here that is not getting touched.

1) Whether or not Lott is a racist, he has been pursuing racist policies in Congress for decades.
2) "Segregation" was not just a policy of separate but equal, but a regularly violent and oppressive system to keep whites on the top of the social order. It wasn't just separate drinking fountains, but KKK attacks, lynchings, intimidation, illegal police repression, and, well, terrorism against African-Americans that lasted for about a century after the Civil War.
3) If Lott is not a racist, he is serving a racist constituency in his home state. Frankly, my opinion is that "Strom should have been president" is one of those non-racist-sounding code phrases that mainstream politicians use as a tip of the hat to bigots. It's called the "Southern strategy", and was big during the Nixon years.

But my biggest concern of all is how shallow and limited this discussion of racism is, when it could be doing so much more. I don't care if Trent Lott is a racist, I hated him before the idea had ever been broached. I'd like him, and every member of Congress to resign, and then jump into a live volcano. But plenty of white politicians and pundits seem to be trying to earn anti-racist credentials by denouncing Lott as a racist. "There, see, I am saying that the guy who said racist stuff is wrong! I still don't give a shit about minorities, and once this controversy blows over, I can go back to pretending that racism doesn't exist!"

I'm going to quote my pal Geov Parrish here, because he says it better than I will (hell, feel free to quit reading my article and read his instead):

"In Washington yesterday, on the very day Senator Lott was issuing his half- hearted 'I'm sorry if I was misunderstood' apologies, it took the famously assimilationist Clarence Thomas to remind his fellow Supreme Court justices, in arguments regarding the free speech rights of cross burners, that burning a cross is not just a source of warmth. It had been used by the KKK for a solid century as a threat of violence. It is a threat every bit as real and pointed as a mobster putting a gun to your head, and as such should be every bit as illegal. But why should Thomas' fellow justices, among the most powerful people in the country, know such a thing? We don't talk about it in polite company.

"We also don't talk about the epidemic of fatal shootings of black and other non-white citizens by police forces across the country; or of law enforcement, and laws themselves, whose very structure impacts non-white communities most heavily. (The War on Drugs is the most obvious but hardly the only example.) The 1860 United States census counted 3,950,546 slaves in the country; in 2002, we're up to over half that number of inmates in our prisons, and growing rapidly despite declining crime rates. It's a population that is heavily non-white. Outside the prison walls, from the reservation to the farmworker encampment to the ghetto, the worst poverty and the most toxic environments in America are suffered by nonwhites. People of color have lower birthweights, do worse in school, get lousier jobs, get paid less at those jobs, get worse health care, and die younger than their white counterparts. Trent Lott is a symptom. Trent Lott is not the problem here."

White America has chosen a very convenient definition for racism: "hating someone of another race." Therefore, as long as you don't go around stringing up people from other races, then you're not a racist. Hell, let's take it one step further. I know a lot of white folks that act like they're candidates for sainthood for not being bigots. Great, you've got one friend who's Chinese and another who's black. What do you want, a fucking medal?

Bottom line: it's easy for us white folks to point at Trent Lott, or Strom the fossil, or neo-nazi skinheads and denounce them for their overt, crazy racism. What's hard is actually looking at the regular racist attitudes and practices in our society, and the way that WE BENEFIT from racist institutions. And perhaps hardest of all is to decide to voluntarily give up these privileges, and to begin the work to examine our culture, minds and behaviors, and begin making changes.

Writer bell hooks has written a lot about the feminist movement, and one thing that has alwasy intrigued me was the idea of the consciousness-rasing groups that were formed at the movement's birth. Sexism is a series of beliefs, attitudes and practices, and these groups existed so that both men and women (women first), could talk and explore what they thought and felt, to get to the root of it all. Women finding out that deep down, they actually had come to believe that women were inferior to men, men finding out that they also held sexist beliefs which hurt both themselves and the women in their lives. This sort of thing was important, because without seeing the problem, you can't fix the problem. Once the people realized the sexism within them, they could start to combat those beliefs, replace harmful behaviors with helpful ones, etc.

Frankly, I think we need some consciousness-raising groups about race and race relations, but I doubt that that will ever happen. White people are very afraid of talking about race. They "know" that they aren't racist (i.e. they don't fervently hate other races), but are afraid that they'll "misspeak" and be permanently branded as racists. In the groups that hooks talked about, the thoughts, not the people who held them, were the problem. You weren't judged to be a bad person for having sexist thoughts, you identified them so you could try to conquer them. But these days, judgements would probably come. And therefore I'm pretty sure that few white people would get involved with this sort of thing. I'm an activist, but not an optimist.

This has to be one of the longer rants that I've ever written on here, but it's important. After Trent Lott is expelled or punished or what-have-you, White America will go back to pretending that racism is just a minor matter. And thanks to our popular theology of social evolution (i.e. "American society just naturally moves towards more freedom, more equality and more justice"), white folks will feel like they don't have to take any action to fix those minor problems. They'll just fix themselves, eventually.

So go ahead and flame away now. I'll take the heat, and I'll stay in the kitchen.

Posted by Jake at 02:34 PM

I would normally take into the account, with statements like Lott made, that one could be speaking out of jest or irony. But I don't think Lott has the sense of humor or cleverness to do either. It doesn't change my opinion of him anyway. Bah!

Posted by: Eric at December 15, 2002 02:21 PM
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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

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Mission: Mongolia

Jake's first attempt at homemade Mongolican barbecue:


What went right: correctly guessing several key seasonings- lemon, ginger, soy, garlic, chili.

What went wrong: still missing some ingredients, and possibly had one wrong, rice vinegar. Way too much lemon and chili.

Result: not entirely edible.

Plan for future: try to get people at Great Khan's restaurant to tell me what's in the damn sauce.

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