Sunday, July 30, 2006

Racism in America

Quick disclaimer. I'm white.

I'm sorry. I can't help it. It's just the way I was born. And some people might think that this pigmentation deficiency of mine might make me unfit to comment on racism. But you know what? I don't care. I'm going to do that anyway...
You know, it's odd. I see things like (a few months ago) the controversy over a Spanish version of "the Star Spangled Banner," and I think "racism." After all, it's related to the argument over illegal aliens, which stems from a fear of people coming over and taking your job...

At least, if you happen to pick fruit for less than minimum wage, they'll be taking your job... Not that many of us do that...

But anyway, racism is alive and well in America. Four years ago, while I was still in the Air Force, I was involved in kicking a couple of Klan members out of the service, because their "personal beliefs" had started to interfere with their ability to operate in...

OK, let's just get real. We kicked them out because they were racist. Maybe soon I'll tell you why it all came to a head. But that's not the point I'm trying to get to. So let's move on.

I will be the first to admit that there are some people who see racism entirely too easily, of course. My sister's boyfriend (oh, yeah. By the way, he's black. Sorry, I'd have brought it up before, but it's not something I tend to think about. Not that he'd be willing to admit that. But that's also another story. Let's move on...)

Where was I? Oh, right. My sister's boyfriend. He thinks that the latest version of King Kong was a racist movie. See, the natives were black, and they were shown in a negative light. And the gorilla? Well, he's big and black, so he's the symbol of the strong black man. And when he dies in the end, it's symbolic of the white man triumphing over the black man. Makes it a happy ending, so all the little blond girls can sleep well...

Or something like that, anyway.

I can't agree. The natives were, if you look, painted black. Because they worshipped Kong, and wanted to be like him. And as for Kong himself, well, he's... um.... geez, how to put this delicately...

King Kong is a gorilla. They tend to be black.

There's a lot more I could say, about how this is a reimagining of a movie from the 30's, which stays fairly true to the socio-political realities of the 30's, but I don't feel like getting into that. Let's just put it this way: sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

But there's a wider point here. Let me turn this thing over to someone older and wiser than I am. New Mexico State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino.
The Race Card
by Jerry Ortiz y Pino

It is now apparently a given in American civic dialogue that racism no longer exists in America … if indeed it ever did.

If a minority group member asserts that racism still exists in this country, that incautious soul will immediately be lashed for "playing the race card" and all further rational discussion of the topic will cease.

In fact, the minority group member who rashly points to some tangible bit of evidence that a heck of a lot more than "vestigial" racism persists here will almost certainly get slapped upside the head and charged with being a "reverse racist" … whatever that means.

So vehement is the reflexive denunciation of anyone who dares to question our national record on race that it has succeeded in silencing much of the discussion on this issue. We are laboring under the impossible delusion that "race is not a factor" in our society, that we have become truly, monumentally "colorblind."

Don’t believe any of it. We continue to drag around an enormous ball and chain firmly attached to our collective ankle, the legacy of pervasive racism. It is still easier for a white ex-con in the United States today to get a job than it is for a black person without a criminal record. And when it comes to education, the notion of racial parity increasingly sounds like nothing more than a joke.

It wasn’t always that way. In fact, as recently as the early '80s, data showed we had made some amazing gains in closing the gap between white student achievement and that of minorities. Parity in literacy, high school graduation rates, college admission and even college graduation seemed tantalizingly within our grasp. We were close to having created a society with true equality of educational opportunity.

Then, maddeningly, it began slipping backward. With the Reagan administration, the two lines charting whites and non-whites in our schools, which had been converging slowly over a 20-year period, began drifting apart. They continue to diverge today, with nothing to indicate that the disparity has even made it onto the national radar, let alone sparked any outrage.

In a recent article, Jonathan Kozol notes that American public schools are today, in 2006, more racially segregated than they were at the time of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court Decision of the mid-'50s that supposedly ended our "separate but equal" public school systems. That’s an incredible indictment.

Worse, all the numbers are shocking. Minority students drop out of high school at a higher rate than whites, graduate at a lower rate, get suspended more often than whites (even for identical offenses), and have a harder time getting into college, especially the elite upper-echelon schools that for a time actively courted minority students.

What happened? For starters, the courts have backed away from affirmative action programs in university admissions, with the consequence that fewer blacks, Latinos or Native Americans are getting in.

And in a particularly insidious move, Congress has gradually but inexorably, ever since Ronald Reagan, been "trimming" social programs for the poor. "After all, the numbers were getting better all through the '60s and '70s," so the rationale went, "so we can afford to start paring back on the props that made those improved numbers possible."

Scholarship programs were turned into loans - or into nothing. Tutoring and mentoring supportive efforts were morphed into "volunteer faith-based initiatives" … or completely wiped out. Job programs like summer youth employment, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Youth Tutoring Youth—were all axed after being labeled "ineffective."

Democrats like Bill Clinton jumped on the bandwagon, too. The carnage created by his so-called Welfare Reform and Workforce Investment legislation cannot be ignored when you start totaling up the causes for our current malaise in minority education.

In exchange for losing billions of dollars in supportive assistance programs, minorities got a "No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that has further widened the gap between the educational haves and have-nots. (In a future column, I’ll share some specific case studies that identify how NCLB is failing minority youth.)

Instead of the straight-forward traditional indicators of how we are doing educationally (drop-out and graduation rates; college admissions; literacy levels), NCLB has substituted a nightmarish complex of tests and comparisons that seem exquisitely designed to ensure that white student success will not be challenged in any way and that minority students will be kept in their place.

NCLB is up for re-authorization by Congress this year. It would be altogether appropriate for the issue of parity in public education to be raised during that crucial debate, but to do so would first require an acknowledgment that we still have a vast amount of work before us if we have any hope of converting this into a truly colorblind society.

Meanwhile, looming on the horizon, waiting its turn for our attention, is an even more difficult educational challenge: the assimilation and education of the 11 million predominately Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants already in this country.

Healing the wounds of racism; assimilating and preparing undocumented workers and their families—these are not minor bumps in the road to be dealt with through casual indifference or as an afterthought. We need to get to work. Both Congress and the president should be digging in for some heavy lifting. Instead, they piddle around. I’m getting very worried.
So there you have it. Sometimes, a gorilla is just a gorilla. But sometimes, the gorilla is actually the elephant in the room that nobody is willing to talk about.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Why am I not surprised?

This story should be stunning. We should be reeling, and angrily calling for an investigation. But it isn't going to happen. It's not enough that George W. Bush sells out to corporations, he has to give it the personal touch, too. He sells out to individuals. All part of the fine service he provides to his "base."

And you don't need to read the whole story. You don't even need to read all of the first five paragraphs: read the first two paragraphs, skip two, and read the fifth.
The federal government is moving to eliminate the jobs of nearly half the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit tax returns of some of the wealthiest Americans, specifically those who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer parts of their fortunes to their children and others.

The administration plans to cut the jobs of 157 of the agency's 345 estate tax lawyers, plus 17 support personnel, in less than 70 days. Kevin Brown, an IRS deputy commissioner, confirmed the cuts after The New York Times was given internal documents by people inside the IRS who oppose them.

The Bush administration has successfully lobbied Congress to enact measures that reduce the number of Americans who are subject to the estate tax -- which opponents refer to as the "death tax" -- but has failed in its efforts to eliminate the tax entirely.

Brown said Friday that he had ordered the staff cuts because far fewer people were obliged to pay estate taxes under President Bush's legislation.
But six IRS estate tax lawyers whose jobs are likely to be eliminated said in interviews that the cuts were just the latest moves behind the scenes at the IRS to shield people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance devices from thorough audits.

Sharyn Phillips, a veteran IRS estate tax lawyer in Manhattan, called the cuts a "back-door way for the Bush administration to achieve what it cannot get from Congress, which is repeal of the estate tax."
There really isn't much more to say after that point. This is the only Administration in the history of the world who cut taxes during a time of war. And now we're cutting them more. But we're only cutting the taxes of the people who can afford to pay.

This is why America is going broke.

There are no "conservatives" in the Republican Party any more. Why do they keep using that word to refer to themselves?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Louisiana and racist cops. And Cheesy Poofs, for that matter.

Tomorrow, there's going to be a news conference about the racist sheriff of St. Tammany Parish. But is it just an overreaction? Is the sheriff racist, or just misunderstood?

Well, first of all, has a lot to be proud of, since nobody was paying any attention to this story until they brought it to the attention of America. We have a video of the sheriff of St Tammany Parish, Jack Strain, making the following statement.
"Now I don’t get into calling people names and all that fact, but if you’re gonna walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and 'Chee Wee' hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy."
That seems pretty open. Obvious, even. The sheriff is planning to specifically target people based on their haircut. Haircuts mostly worn by black people.

Gee, I don't see how that could possibly be considered racist...

And after John Amato's blog ( - pay attention, people!) brought this to America's short attention span (on the sixth of July), suddenly the story makes the Associated Press (on the eighth of July).

And now, Annie Spell, one of the only white branch presidents of the NAACP has a relatively high-profile press conference on the subject.

To be entirely honest, the sheriff managed to confuse me a little. Having lived in N'Awlins as a kid, I know that "Chee Wees" are a cheese snack, pretty much like Cheetos. Well, OK, Chee Wees are puffed, and Cheetos are... collapsed, I guess. But if I said that they're like Cheez Doodles or Cheese Curls, I wouldn't get nearly the universal understanding, would I?

OK, so I could have gone for the cheap pop-culture reference and said "Cheesy Poofs," but that would have been a cop-out, wouldn't it?

Anyway... (crap, I knew I had a point here... what the hell was it? Oh, right...) Anyway, I have absolutely no idea how the cheesy snack food became a slang term for a hairstyle, but there it is.

So Annie Spell will be holding a press conference in Covington, Louisiana, in front of the sarcastically-named "St Tammany Parish Justice Center." If you happen to be in the neighborhood, go there.

But this isn't the first time that we've had problems with law enforcement in Louisiana and their racist attitudes toward Katrina survivors. At this stage, very few people remember a little, almost ignored story from the days of Hurricane Katrina. But while the right wing was trying to blame New Orleans natives for not evacuating (despite the fact that 26% of New Orleans residents didn't own cars - yeah, I know, it's shocking in the dawn of the 21st Century, but it's true), nobody remembers that people who tried to evacuate on foot were stopped, threatened with guns, and forced to walk back into the flooded city.

If you have any questions on this incident, direct them to Arthur Lawson, chief of the Gretna Police Department. Perhaps he has an explanation for this unchristian behavior on the part of his officers.

Hey, I'm just being fair and balanced here. We report, you decide.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


My wife forced me to be sociable this weekend.

That's not something I do well. I'm not a party-animal type of guy. I deal with people well in a business environment, because I can claim work pressures and go away. But for the most part, I'm just as happy not dealing with them.

My wife, on the other hand, has some strange, twisted pack-animal mentality that makes her want to be around other people, no matter how loud, annoying or unavoidable they are. What she has never really grasped is the fact that most people are ignorant. She doggedly assumes that people are worth knowing, rather than avoiding. I don't understand it.

But that's the way she is, and I've pretty much gotten used to it by now.

I was at least fortunate in one respect. She managed to assemble some relatively intelligent people for this party, instead of the usual gang of idiots. No children - there were a couple of teenagers, who we easily kept distracted by dangling shiny objects in front of them, and by setting up video games in the living room.

And the rest of us stood outside and drank, grilled large amounts of meat, made plenty of stupid jokes, and embarrassed the hell out of one lady's teenaged daughter (she didn't like video games, so she came out to join the adults).

We had, for anyone under twenty-one, lemonade, homemade raspberry lemonade, iced tea, milk and water. This, of course, made the teenagers unhappy, because we had our legal drug of choice (alcohol) and they didn't have any of theirs (caffeine). So the ungrateful bastards actually got up en masse, cadged money from whatever adults were nearby, and walked a half-mile to the corner store to buy Coke and Red Bull. Go figure.

As for the adults, my wife made a spectacular white sangria (it involved cheap boxed wine, apricot brandy, a lot of fruit, and some other stuff that I'll just mysteriously call "ingredients," because I wasn't technically paying attention when she told me what was in it). Plus there was wine, brandy, rum and beer. One of our guests brought Bud Light, but consented to drink real beer after I made fun of the carbonated water in his hands.

Another guest brought Mike's Hard Lemonade (actually a variety box, with a range of brightly-colored bottles), which I didn't properly make fun of because I didn't have any at the time. But I found an unopened one in the cooler the next day, and made the mistake of drinking it.

I don't think that I approve of Mike's. It tastes like Koolaid, and you can't even tell that it has 5% alcohol. This undoubtedly makes it popular with teenagers: because you can't tell it contains alcohol, and because only teenagers can drink that much high-fructose corn syrup without puking.

Trust me on this, if you see a Mike's drinker puking in pretty rainbow colors, it's because their stomach finally rebelled from all the crap, and not because of the healthy, life-sustaining alcohol in it.

But all in all, the whole thing didn't work out too badly. I was in a crowd of people all day, and I didn't kill anyone. And now my wife owes me, for putting up with all of this.

To keep balance in the universe, of course, the next day I had to cover for a coworker who was sick. I had to answer phones and do Customer Service-type work.

I suspect that it's because God hates me.