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Fifty Years of Black Power

[ 51 ] June 18, 2016 |


Fifty years ago this month, the term “Black Power” became known to Americans as the participants in the March Against Fear picked it up as their slogan. N.D.B. Connolly, whose book you should read, discusses both its implications for today and then goes onto criticize how historians of radical African-Americans have gone far to undermine the potency of radical Black Power scholarship by focusing their attention on popular figures like Stokley Carmichael, promoting trade books and liberal notions of inclusive diversity instead of what Black Power activists actually fought for themselves. The whole thing is a must read. But I want to focus on his discussion of how Black Power never really ended.

This year will no doubt see plenty of fitting and necessary commemorations of Black Power’s importance in American history. Still, 50th anniversaries seem as good a time as any to clear up enduring confusions. “Black Power” is not some dusty or even hallowed slogan trapped in the past. It resides in the here-and-now as a set of living political and civic commitments. It includes a healthy suspicion of white-run institutions and an enduring desire for black ownership and other forms of self-determination. It also includes a hope that an unapologetic love of black people can, indeed, become a site of interracial political consensus. Chicago’s Black Youth Project 100, Baltimore’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and scores of #BlackLivesMatter activists and their affiliates around the country represent but a handful of the groups that sharply echo the most militant political practices of the last half-century.

Not unlike Meredith’s marchers, courageous men and women over the last 50 years have also kept alive a certain intellectual fearlessness, advancing what one could fittingly call a Black Power method. A Black Power method remains both anti-racist and, often, anti-liberal in its interpretive and archival practice. Interpretively, it refuses to caricature black radicalism as doomed for failure. It also remains attentive to racism’s class and gendered dimensions, even if, like historical Black Power, it is not uniformly, or even necessarily, “progressive” on either. Projections of black unity, as Elsa Barkley Brown recently reminded, often require silencing. Thus, it still takes real intellectual work to prioritize the stories of working-class people, queer people, and women who might otherwise be erased from the historical record, either by white supremacist history-making or black bourgeois responses to it.

I consistently tell my students that the civil rights movement has no start or end. If it has a starting point, it’s the moment the first African slave entered Virginia in 1619 and it continues to the present. We just talk about the Civil Rights Movement as a thing (with capital letters) because it’s one of only two times in U.S. history that enough white people cared about the oppression of African-Americans to pass legislation to do something about it (the other time of course being during Congressional Reconstruction). Black Power is not a thing of the past. As we see in Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, the anti-Confederate flag movement, and many other places, the issues driving black activism in 2016 are in many ways not that different than in 1965 or even 1865. And some of that activism has and does today reject white-dominated liberalism and unchallenging notions of diversity. That’s certainly Connolly’s position, as the rest of this essay makes clear and even if it makes white people uncomfortable, it’s a perfectly legitimate position that if anything makes actual acceptance of black people in American life more possible.


How Netflix Uses Independent Contractor Classifications to Avoid Paying Minimum Wage

[ 54 ] June 18, 2016 |


This should obviously be a violation of federal law. But of course the vile independent contractor employment status exists to shield employers from liability, responsibility, and of course, not having to give up their 5th ivory-covered backscratcher.

Getting paid to watch movies might seem like a pretty sweet gig, but two people who worked for Netflix are now suing the streaming-media giant, claiming that the company misclassified them as contractors rather than employees so it wouldn’t have to pay them time-and-a-half for the long workweeks they incurred.

The two workers, who are aiming for class-action status, were part of “Project Beetlejuice,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. These people (Netflix doesn’t say how many it works with) get paid $10 a pop to watch movies and pick out the best stills and video clips for Netflix to use.

The issue, of course, is that a movie can run two or three hours in length, which — if you do the math — means these film buffs aren’t making a lot per hour for their services. Netflix had classified them as independent contractors, but the litigation contends that they were treated more like employees, but without the benefits of regular employment. “They’re also asking for overtime, paid vacation, and holidays, health insurance, and a 401(k) plan,” Business Insider said.

$10 a pop if the the movie is 2 hours long is all of $5 an hour. Say what you will, but watching movies for a company is absolutely work and those workers need legal compensation, not to even mention fair compensation. Just another day in the New Gilded Age.

Where Does the Sanders Movement Go From Here?

[ 123 ] June 17, 2016 |


Of all the Democratic primary postmortems I have read, the smartest is from Communication Workers of America official Bob Master. Exploring the various success and failures of the Sanders movement, he notes its potentially historic message legitimizing socialism in American politics at a time when capitalism is immersed in a long-term crisis. He then thinks on where the movement goes from here. He provides short summaries of each point and then longer thoughts about each. I am going to just quote the short summaries and provide a little commentary of my own.

1. A new national left party or a single unified organization is unlikely to emerge from the Sanders movement, but let’s build something. The Occupy encampments changed the global political discourse, but the movement’s longer-term potential was squandered by its rejection of organization-building, an anti-leadership obsession with “horizontality,” and an aversion to program. Preoccupation with “holding space” and with decentralized direct action made it impossible to create the Occupy equivalent of SNCC or SDS—an organization that could have carried forward the anti-Wall Street mobilization even after state violence dismantled the encampments. We shouldn’t make those mistakes again.

Yes on all fronts. Occupy was doomed to failure as a movement for the reasons Master states. Presumably most of the Occupy activists were deeply committed to Sanders. But of course Sanders vastly expanded upon that base. Whoever wants to be active in leftist politics absolutely needs to be committed to movement building and concrete goals. And yes, that means verticality in leadership, at least to some extent. If nothing comes of the Sanders movement in the next 4 years except grumbling about Clinton, that would be incredibly disappointing. But I do think something will come of it because the problems of inequality and disillusion that led to both Occupy and Sanders are not going away.

2. The question of race must be dealt with upfront. In order to gain credibility among constituencies of color which were reluctant to back Sanders, the new formation must unify the agendas of the Occupy, Black Lives and immigration rights movements. It must prominently engage key community and political leaders of color like Representatives Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and NYC Councilmember Jumaane Williams (who led the legislative fight against “stop and frisk”), former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, and intellectuals like Michelle Alexander, who is probably the most significant intellectual influence on millennial activists, both white and black. And from the start, the post-Sanders formation must take up issues that are immediately relevant to constituencies of color—police accountability, stopping the attack on Voting Rights, or comprehensive immigration reform, to suggest just a few examples.

Yes, yes, yes. This was of course Bernie’s primary weakness. I fully believe that whatever gets built, it will be inclusive of racial inequality because that’s what most of the people in the Sanders movement also want, even if their candidate wasn’t so great at talking about it or even recognizing it as crucial.

3. The new movement should mobilize around a limited agenda that takes on issues of economic and racial exploitation on the one hand, and the reclamation of our democracy on the other. Such an agenda should be clearly understood as an effort to hold the new President and elected Democrats at every level accountable to the yearnings of tens of millions of Americans for racial and economic justice. This issue mobilization must begin—starting at the Democratic National Convention—by uniting forces both inside and outside the Sanders campaign to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) once and for all. This is not only the right policy, but critically important for the electoral success of the Democratic Party. So called “free trade” embodies the deep contradiction between the neoliberal bankers and technocrats, on the one side, who have dominated Democratic Party economic policy-making since the Clinton Administration, and its traditional working class base, on the other. It is also now the Party’s most vulnerable Achilles heel with white working class voters, whose sense of betrayal and economic hopelessness drive Trump’s right-wing, nationalistic populism and reduce Clinton’s support among these voters to abysmally low levels. Sanders has already pushed Clinton to rhetorical opposition to the TPP; in the run up to the convention, Sanders and Clinton should work together to extract a promise from Obama that the treaty will not be taken up in the lame duck session.

Again, completely agreed. Concrete goals are a must. Opposing the TPP is an obvious target. And even if that attempt fails to win, as I fear it will, new goals must be quickly articulated and organized around.

4. Launch a massive program of grassroots political and economic education. In the waning decades of the 19th century, the Populist movement deployed a small army of “lecturers” who traveled across the Plains talking to farmers about issues of debt, credit, monetary policy and the power of Wall Street over their lives. This popular education helped build the mass base for a reform agenda that ultimately culminated in the sweeping changes of the New Deal. Our movement requires a similar commitment to mass popular education.

For this point, I highly recommend reading Master’s further explanation of what he means, which includes small group trainings and popular education methods. In other words, it’s more than just the internet. I’m not totally sure how you reach mass numbers of people through these methods, but then it’s not really necessary. Given that it only takes small numbers of people to really draw attention to an issue that sometimes can then lead to something much larger, engaging in vigorous forms of education among activists, union members, and others who are socially conscious can have a pretty big cascading effect.

5. An openly socialist current should be built within the new movement. Senator Sanders’ refusal to retreat from his identification with democratic socialism certainly ranks as one of the most remarkable features of the campaign. To those of us who can remember “Commie” as a schoolyard epithet and “duck and cover” air raid drills, let alone labor’s bitter internecine battles over U.S. imperial misadventures in Vietnam and Central America, Sanders’ open embrace of socialism and the absence of “red-baiting” in the campaign has been almost beyond imagination.

Despite what a few Sanders supporters want to believe about Clinton, there has been very little red-baiting, although that would have changed big time had Bernie won the nomination and the Republicans gone after him. The open embrace of socialism is an absolute positive, even if the definitions are quite vague at this point.

6. The “political revolution” must be driven down to the level of school boards, city councils, county legislatures, state government, and Congress. The goal is not to take over the Democratic Party, but to build an infrastructure—an independent political party—comprised of activists and elected officials, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, which can carry the agenda of the Sanders campaign forward. For the last two decades, the Working Families Party, now operating in 11 states, has worked to build the political capacity to challenge corporate, right-wing Democrats, and to help defeat right-wing Republicans in general elections. Operating as a coalition of unions, community organizations and independent progressives, a model which can leverage substantial resources, the Working Families Party has had its greatest success at the state and local level. The Party’s endorsement of Sanders was its first such national endorsement, and created some tension with several of its labor affiliates, most of which had endorsed Clinton. Nevertheless, the WFP’s political and ideological agenda is tightly aligned with that of Sanders; in a sense, Sanders is the national candidate who embodies the Party’s foundational aspirations.

Master is a big player in the Working Families Party, so I think he plays down the real problems with the WFP, which is that it is so reliant on unions for funding that it had to endorse Andrew Cuomo because that’s what the unions wanted, completely eroding its credibility with much of the left. So I’m pretty skeptical of the WFP-style method. But I do of course absolutely agree with taking the fight to the local and state level and we need to talk more seriously about how to do that, including potentially through organizations like the WFP.

Is the Transnational Ruling Class Ending?

[ 25 ] June 17, 2016 |


An interesting argument, but I think it screams of choosing the evidence to make the conclusion it wants to make:

While Naím argues that what is happening is an end to power, what he aptly describes is more like a destabilization of old structures and a shifting of power. In terms of culture, Naím sees the undermining of traditional cultures in almost entirely positive terms, as an unleashing of people’s senses of possibility. But of course, along with the undermining of traditional cultures comes the spreading of capitalist forms of culture, and that can be seen as the spread of newer forms of power as much as it can be seen as the undermining of old ones.

Naím’s book can be seen as an elegy for what sociologist William Robinson calls the “transnational ruling class.” From the end of World War II until very recently, it looked to careful observers as if the Group of 5, the Group of 20, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were able to control the rules under which the economies of the world functioned. And their power was so great that any national government that wanted to do things according to a different set of rules would be denied access to the capital needed to keep its economy flowing, and pressured until it played the political and economic games by the rules those at the top of these institutions required. Thus, that transnational ruling class had enormous power over both economic and political systems.

Robinson argues that the last part of the 20th century was characterized by a system of polyarchy, where power came to transcend national governments, and instead rested in the hands of the transnational ruling class and its governing institutions. He argues that national elections became not as significant as they once had been as mechanisms for deciding how a group of people chose to live.

And yet, Naím is partially right. We do seem to be entering a period in which the ability of the transnational ruling class to provide an orderly atmosphere for those interests to operate is crumbling. But the system of capitalism, which those institutions work to manage, continues on its merry way. The power of capitalist processes to destroy people’s lives is as powerful as ever.

What has changed is that those capitalist processes are less able to be managed by a cohesive transnational ruling class, and they are less accountable to any particular regime of control. That is largely a result of finance capital coming to dominate over the more productive forms of capital that had previously been dominant, and a result of the neoliberal policies of those very transnational institutions that have spread an ideology of laissez faire.

The power of individuals at the heads of major corporations, or at the heads of transnational institutions, does seem to be destabilizing. The forms of power that Naím and people like him have held in the past century — the power as heads of corporations, as people in government and as people at the head of transnational organizations — is shifting, and those people can no longer feel secure in their ability make things happen.

And yet for the rest of us, it is still the case that transnational capitalist processes rule our world. They are just ruling in a less orderly fashion. And whereas Robinson, the sociologist, sees the transnational ruling class anchored in institutions such as the World Trade Organization and World Bank as the rulers of this new world order, it may be that Naím is right — that even those forms of governance over the capitalist systems are losing their grip on power.

I don’t know. There’s something here. Certainly the power of international finance capital is very strong. Arguably it is stronger than government; in any case, as with the global race to the bottom in labor standards and the tax avoidance schemes of the wealthy, the wealthy have become quite adept at playing nations against each other to give rich people the better deal. But there’s nothing particularly inevitable about this or the power of finance capital more generally. Governments can indeed tame those financial institutions or work with those institutions or shape those institutions. Moreover, my first thought when reading this argument was that the real power shift after World War II was a) the end of colonialism and b) the end of the Cold War. Maybe the rise of new forms of capitalism is third. Of course, these things are all interconnected. Neocolonialism through domination of poor nations by international financial capital is a very real thing and the choices governments can make are severely constricted by this capital. But I think we more need examples than Greece to really make this argument about the decline of the global ruling class effectively.

Figured it would make an interesting comment thread at least.

What Does the Working Class Look Like?

[ 30 ] June 17, 2016 |

330 hispanic worker

Way too often in American political rhetoric, the working class means “white people.” That’s especially true among pundits who often talk of politicians needing to appeal to “the working class,” i.e., laid off white autoworkers in Michigan with out of fashion mustaches. African-American and Latino issues are seen as completely separate. They are discussed as a different demographic and the discussion of political appeals are different in ways that equate wealthy and poor minority populations as having the same interests, which is sometimes true and sometimes not. But what does the actual working class look like? Increasingly, it is made up of people of color and they will make up a majority of the working class sooner than you think, as this new Economic Policy Institute report details.

What this report finds: People of color will become a majority of the American working class in 2032. This estimate, based on long-term labor force projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and trends in college completion by race and ethnicity, is 11 years sooner than the Census Bureau projection for the overall U.S. population, which becomes “majority-minority” in 2043.

Why this matters: As of 2013, the working class—made up of working people without a college degree—constitutes nearly two-thirds (66.1 percent) of the U.S. civilian labor force between ages 18 and 64. Thus wage stagnation and economic inequality can’t be solved without policies aimed at raising living standards for the working class. Because the working class is increasingly people of color, raising working class living standards will require bridging racial and ethnic divides.

What it means for policy: The best way to advance policies to raise living standards for working people is for diverse groups to recognize that they share more in common than not, and work together toward:

Full employment
Equal pay for equal work
Universal high-quality child care and early childhood education
Strengthened collective bargaining
Higher minimum wages
Voting rights protections
Reforms to immigration and criminal justice systems

This also means we need to change how we talk about the working class immediately.

Whole Paycheck

[ 104 ] June 16, 2016 |


I too am shocked that a company founded by an anti-union libertarian jerk would completely ignore not only basic food safety principles but the FDA’s orders to do something about it.

Tree Spiking

[ 45 ] June 16, 2016 |


Unfortunately, Earth First groups are going back to their old tactic of tree spiking, which is the strategy of fighting for the earth by driving metal spikes into trees so that they will break machinery and workers’ faces. Let us examine the last time this was a big tactic for Earth First:

A tree cut down in a forest owned by Louisiana-Pacific near Elk was going through a large band saw when the jagged-tooth blade struck an 11-inch nail that had been driven into the log. The force caused a 10- to 15-foot section of the blade to fly off its track and hit millworker George Alexander, 23, in the face.

The blade ripped through Alexander’s safety helmet and face shield, tore his left cheek, cut through his jawbone, knocked out upper and lower teeth and nearly severed his jugular vein, the company said. Alexander, who has worked for the company for less than a year and was married a month ago, is resting at home and will have to undergo plastic surgery and will require false teeth, the company said.

A workers’ destroyed face in defense of Mother Earth, I guess.

The problems with tree spiking are manifold. First, in the recent Oregon case I linked to above, the trees are already cut. They can’t exactly be put back. There’s just no real point here. Second, if you want working people to truly hate environmentalists, just keep having radical greens threaten their lives. Earth First turned its back on this idiocy in the early 90s during the Judi Bari days, but of course EF is not exactly a cohesive organization and people can basically do what they want. I don’t want old growth trees to be cut either (and in fact, there’s not many being cut anymore because most mills can’t handle logs that size), but risking the lives of workers is not a good strategy to fight against it.

Bernie’s Foreign Policy Failure

[ 86 ] June 16, 2016 |


The next in my series of discussing the various postmortems of the Democratic primary will focus on Jeffrey St. Clair’s surprisingly harsh condemnation of Bernie Sanders in the pages of Counterpunch, which I’m sure really endeared him to his readers. St. Clair blames Bernie for believing his own rhetoric about his chances, misleading his supporters, his focus on blaming the Democratic Party “machine” for his losses, relying on consultants ready to throw him under the bus (although really what else was he going to do here), and, most interestingly, his many missed opportunities to stand out.

Sanders chided Clinton for her vote on the Iraq War, saying it disqualified her from being president. Yet, he never satisfactorily explained his own vote for the Clinton Crime Bill, which launched a 20-year long war on America’s blacks and Hispanics. If blacks voting for Clinton seemed irrational, blacks could easily justify a vote against Sanders for his role in backing the racially-motivated incarceration of millions of black Americans and putting 100,000 new cops onto the streets of urban America, with the predicable results ruined lives and dead youths. Payback is a bitch.

Of course, Sanders could have turned his anemic appeal to black Democratic voters to his advantage. It might have liberated him to frontally attack Obama’s dismal record (instead of huddling with him at the White House) as well as Hillary’s, without fear of losing support he never had.

His curious timidity against confronting Obama’s policies, from drone warfare to the president’s bailout of the insurance industry (AKA ObamaCare), hobbled Sanders from the starting gate. Obama and Hillary Clinton are both neoliberals, who have betrayed organized labor and pushed job-killing trade pacts across the world. Both are beholden to the energy cartels, backing widespread oil drilling, fracking and nuclear power. Both are military interventionists, pursuing wars on at least 12 different fronts, from Afghanistan to Yemen. Of course, Hillary and Obama are simply manifestations of the power structure of the Democratic Party itself, which is unapologetically hawkish. The same party Sanders belatedly joined.

But Sanders proved singularly incapable of targeting the imperialist ideology of the Obama/Clinton era. In fact, the senator is visibly uncomfortable when forced to talk about foreign policy. Even after the assassination of Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres by thugs associated with the Honduran regime, Sanders inexplicably refused to press Clinton on her backing of the Honduran coup that put Cácere’s killers into power. Similarly, Sanders awkwardly failed to land any punches against Hillary for her catastrophic Libyan debacle.

This is interesting, even if I don’t agree with all the points, nor about Hillary’s supposed responsibility for Honduras, which is far more complicated than her haters say. And saying Obama has “betrayed organized labor” really doesn’t hold water, even if you include the TPP, which is indeed terrible. But Tom Perez, arguably the best Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins, does complicate this narrative at least a little, no?

But let’s just take this from a strategic perspective. What if Bernie Sanders had even the slightest interest in foreign policy and went after Clinton from the left? No, he wouldn’t have won the primary this way either. But he would have opened up a whole new line of critique at her greatest vulnerability. Yet Bernie was either unwilling or (likely) unable to do so. His ridiculous response when asked about Latin America showed just how utterly incapable he is on foreign issues, which in a globalized world, are deeply connected to his beloved issue of inequality in the United States. Of course, Sanders’ most vocal supporters loathe Clinton for her foreign policy, but they were doing the heavy lifting for him on these issues.

Again, would it have mattered in the end? Probably not, but it would have at least meant that the Democratic nominee was going to feel real pressure from the left on foreign policy as she has on domestic and labor policy. But really, what did Bernie do to make her moderate her foreign policy stances? Not much and that’s a missed opportunity.

Model Employer

[ 11 ] June 16, 2016 |


I can see why some people are flouncing away from the Democratic Party again because both parties are the same amiright and so only real revolution will come from voting for Jill Stein, or even better, not voting at all so that your precious bodily fluids purity will be retained. After all, we all know the Democratic Party hates working people, right?

Rich Yeselson hopes the Democratic platform is going to approve of an executive order for a “model employer” clause.

The union-funded organization Good Jobs Nation developed the proposal, which has two key planks:

Preference in federal contracts and some subsidies to “model employers” who pay at least $15 per hour and meet a standard package of benefits, including health insurance and sick leave, and provide stable, full-time hours.

Contractors would have to affirm, rather than impede, the right of their employees to unionize in return for a no-strike or “labor peace” pledge by the employees.

The liberal think tank Demos calculated in 2013 that there are at least 2 million low-wage workers earning less than $12 an hour who work for companies that benefit from federal contracts.

These workers range from home health care aides whose jobs derive from Medicare and Medicaid to janitors in the federal buildings, such as the US Capitol. The hope is that the federal government would use its leverage to promote union organizing and construct a model of labor management relations for the rest of the private sector. The basic idea has gathered considerable steam at the municipal level, where 120 localities have already issued similar orders — but the federal government’s reach is clearly much further.

Yeselson goes on to accurately summarize the relationship between unions and politics in the United States, correctly stating that unions have always had to have political support in order to win anything substantial (the leftist argument that “unions should give up the political game and just organize”–which you will even hear labor historians make at scholarly labor conferences– drives me up the wall).

But while the economic legacy of wartime pro-union efforts persisted for decades, the politics that shaped those policies collapsed almost immediately due to the United States’ uniquely union-hostile business community. Unions themselves, fearful of government intrusion, have often preferred a voluntary relationship between labor and management. But in the United States labor must, to some extent, rely upon the state to ensure the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

As the historian Nelson Lichtenstein writes, “In every other capitalist nation, a strong bureaucratic state either preceded or simultaneously emerged with the multi-division firm, but this pattern was reversed in the United States.”

In other words, in America, big business — complete with a “desperate sense of individual autonomy” among owners and managers — precedes the existence of big government, leading those owners and managers to fiercely resist unionization during the New Deal era and afterward.

Moreover, the fragmentation of the business sector across a heterogeneous, continental-size nation favored decentralized economic development rather than the cooperative triad of business, labor, and government that emerged in much of Western Europe. The more disaggregated capitalist production was in the United States, the more essential it was for each firm to sustain flexible labor costs and to fight union efforts to standardize those costs across industries.

Consequently, there is absolutely no consensus in the United States in favor of the shared legitimacy of business and unions. One result is that federal labor policy oscillates wildly depending on which party controls appointments to the NLRB.

Given these structural and historical circumstances, only a national political party sympathetic to unions is able to give them a fighting chance. Given their tenuous, always contested position in the American political economy, absent the active support of the federal government for unions, they wither. And when unions wither, wage inequality rises, and civil society is impoverished as well.

And really, this goes back to the late 19th century, when American employers took a much harder line against unions than employers in Britain and France.

That’s why it makes sense for union-centered policies developed within Democratic Party politics to be a major source of the platform and further executive actions, even if legislation might not be possible. I know Hillary Clinton is history’s greatest monster and all and maybe isn’t AUTHENTIC in her beliefs about workers, but she has moved to the left significantly and likely will continue to do so as long as people are protesting in the streets for a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition, and the many other things this nation needs to fight inequality.

But hey, my feelings about authenticity and my anger toward Debbie Wasserman Schultz are more important than policies to help working Americans, so I’m voting Jill Stein and when Trump wins IT WILL TEACH THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY A LESSON THEY WON’T SOON FORGET JUST LIKE IN 2000!

What Gets in the Way of Gun Control?

[ 142 ] June 16, 2016 |

Group photo

Would you be surprised to know it’s racist white people? No, I don’t think so. From April:

Racial prejudice could play a significant role in white Americans’ opposition to gun control, according to new research from political scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In their paper, published in the journal Political Behavior in November, Alexandra Filindra and Noah J. Kaplan found that whites were significantly less likely to support gun control measures when they had recently looked at pictures of black people, than when they had looked at pictures of white people. The study, which surveyed 1,000 white respondents, also found that the higher they scored on a common measure of racial prejudice, the stronger negative effect the photos of black people had on the respondents’ support for gun control.

Taken together, those two findings “demonstrate that racial prejudice influences white opinion regarding gun regulation in the contemporary United States,” Filindra and Kaplan conclude. But why would that be the case?

Particularly with respect to the modern gun-rights movement that really took off in the ’80s and ’90s, the language “creates this distinction between ‘law-abiding citizens’ and ‘criminals,'” Filindra says. She points to the type of language that’s frequently used by gun rights groups who warn of ever-present threats by “predatory criminals” and a murkily-defined “they” who want to “take your guns away.”

“Juxtapositions of ‘law abiding citizens’ and ‘criminals’ [are] evocative of racialized themes as crime has long been associated with blacks in the white mind,” Filindra and Kaplan write.

Filindra and Kaplan say their research does not imply that all white gun owners are racist, nor that all support for gun control carries racial baggage.

But for a certain subset of white gun-rights supporters, particularly those who are inclined to hold certain prejudicial beliefs, messages about individualism and liberty and rights are understood in a very specific way.

In the mind of this type of gun owner, “I am showing my white nationalist pride in a sort of generic way through gun ownership,” Filindra posits. “This is my way of expressing my ‘more-equal-than-others’ status in a society where egalitarianism is the norm. I can’t say that some people are better and some are worse in terms of racial groups. But I can show it symbolically. I can show I’m a better citizen.”

I’m sure glad I was near my fainting couch when I read this.

This One Goes to 11. But It Should Only Go to 6.

[ 90 ] June 15, 2016 |


It’s Wednesday night and it seems like a good time to point out a cranky old man argument that I don’t agree with but that should create an amusing thread. In other words, kids these days record their music too damn loud!


[ 106 ] June 15, 2016 |


After the death of Muhammad Ali, Bob Costas, moralistic blowhard, decided he needed to set the record straight on Cassius Clay, a complicated Kentuckian who turned against slavery even though he was born into the slaveholding class. Costas needed to call Clay an abolitionist. Ta-Nehisi Coates rebukes Costas, noting correctly that Clay was not an abolitionist, but rather a complicated individual who bravely moved against slavery, even though it was against the interest of his class and society, even while he was still actually selling slaves.

Even as Clay freed those people whom he personally held enslaved on his estate, he “retained in slavery a number of Negroes who were attached to the estate without being his personal property.” When you are black and your namesake is literally a slave-holder, there is nothing ironic about calling it a “slave name.”

Now, I find Clay heroic. Clay did not ask to be a slave-holder. He was born into slave-holding and, at great financial loss to himself, freed those he personally held in bondage. This was not a small thing—collectively, enslaved people, represented the greatest asset in the country at that time. Clay, himself, took a $50,000 loss—in 1860 dollars—in order to live out his principles. He went even further—loudly denouncing slavery as evil, and thus constantly courting danger. This isn’t enough for Bob Costas. Clay can’t be a brave and complicated human. Clay has to be the wholly innocent, wholly righteous white guy in the black movie.

But Muhammad Ali would not define himself through Clay’s legacy. Ali was more interested in the legacy of Emily, the enslaved woman whom Clay sold away. That was the entire point of Ali changing his name. Unfortunately none of that could save Ali from Bob Costas’s need to be all loud an the smug of chorus of “Well, actually…” that must dog us all into our very graves.

Coates really sums up the problems with Costas, who it sounds like will mercifully retire soon. I know I just can’t wait for his simplistic monologues during Olympics coverage this summer…

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