Category Archives: Cultural Essays

Now Available! ~ Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence

Killing Trayvons

Skin privilege. When you’re black it seems the hardest thing to explain to whites. Even the most conscious or liberal whites sometimes don’t quite get it. Or as Langston Hughes once said, “A liberal is one who complains about segregated railroad cars but rides in the all white section.”

The killing of Trayvon Martin in February 2012 rang yet another alarm about the costs of that privilege. Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence tracks the case and explores why Trayvon’s name and George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict symbolized all the grieving, the injustice, the profiling and free passes based on white privilege and police power: the long list of Trayvons known and unknown.

With contributions from Robin D.G. Kelley, Rita Dove, Cornel West and Amy Goodman, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Alexander Cockburn, Etan Thomas, Tara Skurtu, bell hooks and Quassan Castro, June Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Tim Wise, Patricia Williams, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Vijay Prashad, Rodolfo Acuna, Jesmyn Ward and more, Killing Trayvons is an essential addition to the literature on race, violence and resistance.

Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence is set to be released early Summer 2014.

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Editors:

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike!: The Fundamentals of Black Politics.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the editor of CounterPunch. His books include Whiteout (with Alexander Cockburn), Grand Theft Pentagon, and Born Under a Bad Sky.

JoAnn Wypijewski regularly writes for The Nation and CounterPunch. Her books include Painting by Numbers.

Published by CounterPunch Books.

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Filed under 1ST LOOK | KAG Book Promotion, American Culture, American Politics, Black Culture | United States, Black Politics, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Cultural Essays, Drug Policy, Human Rights, Law Enforcement, Obama Administration, Poetry, Police Abuse|Brutality|Killings, Protest, The Obama Administration, The Press, white supremacy, Work of Comrades

Ignorance is no excuse for slurring Jeremy Lin | By Kevin Alexander Gray

I’m a basketball fan. 

I root for the Chicago Bulls, NY Knicks and Houston Rockets.  In that order.

The only time I don’t pull for the Knicks or Rockets is when they play the Bulls.

Jeremy Lin ~ NY Knick Point Guard

Yet like many, I’m in Jeremy Lin’s corner.

I like Knicks’ guard. I like his game – except the turnovers and his waiting just a tad to late to dish it off in the paint.  Hopefully, he’ll become a better player.

Even so, what I like most about the young athlete is his patience with ignorance.

Facing bigotry isn’t a new thing for the American-born player of Taiwanese descent in the NBA. While playing at Harvard, during a game against Georgetown in Washington, a spectator yelled “Sweet-and-sour pork!” from the stands.  He’s been called “chink” more than once during his college days.

One would hope that attitudes and behavior would change at the professional level.

Then again, one can never underestimate the capacity of  people to be ignorant or stupid. 

In one interview Lin spoke of watching Michael Jordan on TV as a kid and then running outside to his backyard goal to try to duplicate MJ’s shot.  Yet having a black hero isn’t enough to satisfy some.  Boxer Floyd Mayweather tweeted:  “…Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”

Some of the bigotry even perplexes Lin:  “People say things like ‘he’s deceptively quick’ or ‘he’s quicker than he looks.’  What does that mean?”  Maybe the answer can be found in  Knicks’ fan and movie director Spike Lee’s tweets describing Lin as:  Jeremy “Kung Fu Hustle” Lin, Jeremy “Crouching Tiger” Lin & Jeremy “Hidden Dragon” Lin.

After a stellar performance from Lin, Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock took to his Twitter to congratulate Lin. “Jeremy Lin is legit!” he tweeted.  Then he followed with a penis joke: “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight.” 

There was also the Madison Square Garden (MSG) Network airing a spectator-made poster depicting Lin’s face above a fortune cookie with the slogan “The Knicks Good Fortune.

On the Nick DiPaolo and Artie Lange show which runs weekday nights on Cumulus Media’s San Francisco station KNBR 1050, one host urged listeners to call in with the most racist joke about Lin they could think of. He offered a “joke” about “Lin having to do teammate Carmelo Anthony’s laundry as an example of what he was looking for.”

ESPN editor Anthony Federico was fired and anchor Max Bretos (whose wife is Asian) suspended for 30 days when they led a story with the headline — “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.”

Some suggest that “Frederico is 28 years old. Could his ignorance be generational? …50-somethings know that chink is a racial epithet for Asians, we heard it growing up. Would a 20-something know this?”  Perhaps the “consequence of this offense should have been sensitivity training and a second chance?”

Federico said he understands why he was fired. “ESPN did what they had to do.” He said he has used the phrase “at least 100 times” in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story.

A gracious Lin, gave Federico and Bretos a pass: “They’ve apologized, and so from my end, I don’t care anymore.  You have to learn to forgive, and I don’t even think that was intentional.”

Yet the ESPN staffers weren’t the only ones to use the term and Lin in the same sentence. Knicks radio voice Spero Dedes did it too.

On his final call of the Knicks’ loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Dedes said “For the first time in what has been a remarkable two-week run, Jeremy Lin shows a chink in the armor. The Knicks’ seven-game winning streak ends against the Hornets as they fall for the first time since February the 3rd.”

Doubtless, “chink in the armor” is a common phrase.  It means there’s a dent in the armor caused by an imperfection borne in the forging process or a by a sword fight. The chink is the weakest point in the shield.

Chink is also as well-known a slur as “gook.” Some believe it derived from the sound the hammer made when the Chinese workers of the 1800’s, often enslaved and exploited, struck the iron or steel spikes into the railway ties. Others say it is simply a shortened version of Chinese.

California Rep. Judy Chu (D) slammed the ESPN headline, saying she did not believe using the phrase was an innocent mistake: “…if he [Federico] was using it all those times, that is extremely sad. The word was used since the 1880s to demean Chinese Americans and to deprive them of rights, and it is used on playgrounds specifically to humiliate and to offend Asian Americans. So I don’t know where he’s been all this time.”

Some people just can’t seem to get their minds around an Asian-American basketball player who’s got game.

Back in 1997 when a young Tiger Woods was burning up the PGA, FrankFuzzy” Zoeller referred to Woods as “that little boy” and urged him “not to order fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner next year.”  People could not get their minds around an black golfer who could play the game.

Even so, imagine the outrage if a black athlete was referred to as a “nigger in the woodpile” which – in racist parlance and “the mind’s eye” is analogous to the ESPN headline. What if someone ran a headline: “Special Olympics athlete retarded in efforts to win gold medal”? 

Lin has faced a barrage of mindless ignorance.   In a court of law, pleading ignorance is no excuse.  A good parent will tell their child the same.  They would also add – ignorance in curable. No matter how embedded.  That’s the victory.

(Thanks to Karen, Judith, both Deborah(s), Jane, Karen and other facebook friends who contributed to the discussion on Lin | Note ~ Lin is not the first Asian-American to play professional basketball in the United States or the first Asian-American to play for the Knicks. In 1947, the Knickerbockers drafted Wataru (Wat) Misaka, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound — yes, 5-7, 150 pounds — point guard.)

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Filed under Cultural Essays, Essays, racism, Sports, Uncategorized, white supremacy

Eric Hobsbawm | C (for Crisis)

London Review of Books

C (for Crisis)

Eric Hobsbawm

The Morbid Age: Britain between the Wars by Richard Overy

 

There is a major difference between the traditional scholar’s questions about the past – ‘What happened in history, when and why?’ – and the question that has, in the last 40 years or so, come to inspire a growing body of historical research: namely, ‘How do or did people feel about it?’ The first oral history societies were founded in the late 1960s. Since then the number of institutions and works devoted to ‘heritage’ and historical memory – notably about the great 20th-century wars – has grown explosively. Studies of historical memory are essentially not about the past, but about the retrospect to it of some subsequent present. Richard Overy’s The Morbid Age demonstrates another, and less indirect, approach to the emotional texture of the past: the difficult excavation of contemporary popular reactions to what was happening in and around people’s lives – one might call it the mood music of history.

Though this type of research is fascinating, especially when done with Overy’s inquisitiveness and surprised erudition, it presents the historian with considerable problems. What does it mean to describe an emotion as characteristic of a country or era; what is the significance of a socially widespread emotion, even one plainly related to dramatic historical events? How and how far do we measure its prevalence? Polling, the current mechanism for such measurement, was not available before c.1938. In any case, such emotions – the extremely widespread dislike of Jews in the West, for instance – were obviously not felt or acted on in the same way by, say, Adolf Hitler and Virginia Woolf. Emotions in history are neither chronologically stable nor socially homogeneous, even in the moments when they are universally felt, as in London under the German air-raids, and their intellectual representations even less so. How can they be compared or contrasted? In short, what are historians to make of the new field?

The specific mood Overy looks into is the sense of crisis and fear, ‘a presentiment of impending disaster’, the prospect of the end of civilisation, that, in his view, characterised Britain between the wars. There is nothing specifically British or 20th-century about such a mood. Indeed, in the last millennium it would be hard to point to a time, at least in the Christian world, when it found no significant expression, often in the apocalyptic idiom constructed for the purpose and explored in Norman Cohn’s works. (Aldous Huxley, in Overy’s quotation, sees ‘Belial’s guiding hand’ in modern history.) There are good reasons in European history why the sense that ‘we’ – however defined – feel under threat from outside enemies or inner demons is not exceptional.

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Born Toward Dying by Richard John Neuhaus

[This essay was originally published in the February 2000 issue of First Things.]


We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word “good” should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good.

Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent.

Death is the most everyday of everyday things. It is not simply that thousands of people die every day,that thousands will die this day, although that too is true. Death is the warp and woof of existence in the ordinary, the quotidian, the way things are. It is the horizon against which we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and the next morning we awake to find the horizon has drawn closer. From the twelfth-century Enchiridion Leonis comes the nighttime prayer of children of all ages: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take.” Every going to sleep is a little death, a rehearsal for the real thing.

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