I’m a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite because of Notorious B.I.G. I am a hypocrite because of Big Pun. I am a hypocrite because of Sam Cooke. I am a hypocrite because of James Brown, Bobby Brown and Chris Brown. I am a hypocrite because of Rick James. I am a hypocrite because of …(and this one hurts most of all) Nas.
Today TMZ published a story about Philadelphia Eagles Defensive End Chris Long labeling John Lennon a bad person. Ostensibly because he physically abused women during his life. This led to a back and forth Twitter exchange between Long and a Lennon fan who insisted things were too complicated to label Lennon a bad guy. To which Chris Long replied “Shut the fuck up”.
We are experiencing a moment in American discourse where (especially among those of us who have opted in to social media) it is becoming easier to establish a baseline for acceptable behavior. We have almost all identified a common language that makes it easier to express ideas without fully understanding them. To know what “social justice” or “white privilege” is or to label yourself a feminist without truly doing the work besides tacking on a few hashtags at the end of your scorching hot tweets.
But rightly or wrongly those of us who consider ourselves on the right side of history have begun demanding better behavior than our predecessors. (I stress this doesn’t apply to anyone who wants to Make America Great Again). We’ve coalesced around a set of common values that doesn’t attempt to transcend race, religion, gender or sexual orientation but instead it attempts to include those considerations in our execution of these ideals. Witness the Parkland shooting survivors reaching out to include the urban youth of Chicago in their crusade against the gun lobby. Those who recognize their privilege and instead of jealously hoarding it like a precious commodity extend it to the marginalized are the manifestation of the slow incremental progress of a shared respect for human rights.
In other words as we evolve socially at a snail’s pace our standards for behavior evolve. The marginalized are no longer voiceless and at this point if you remain ignorant to their pleas for justice that is a willful ignorance that results either from a personal antipathy or an irresponsible apathy.
When Chris Long reached back through the annals of time to remind the worshippers of the vastly overrated Beatles that John Lennon himself (their Patron saint) was a confessed abuser of women I had a brief gloating smirk at the hypocrisy of that Lennon fan who rushed into the fray to defend his hero. Then I stopped myself because I’m a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite because of Notorious B.I.G. I am a hypocrite because of Big Pun. I am a hypocrite because of Sam Cooke. I am a hypocrite because of James Brown, Bobby Brown and Chris Brown. I am a hypocrite because of Rick James. I am a hypocrite because of …(and this one hurts most of all) Nas.
All of these men have been accused of, proven to be, or admitted to physically abusing women. And yet I haven’t seen my behavior towards them change. I haven’t labeled any of them bad guys although a few of them most assuredly are. What standard should I hold them to? I see the hypocrisy within myself because when I hear about new rappers with whom I have no attachment being abusive towards women I instantly and reflexively reject them. You won’t hear me rocking too much with XXXtenacion and I’ve had my fill of Kodak Black. Neither of them will be getting any intentional spin in my rotation. But even that is inconsistent after all Kevin Gates kicked a female fan and although I don’t have a decades deep respect for him I check for his music.
You have to right to do what you want. In life you will most certainly make choices that contradict other choices. The only time this is truly problematic is when you to try to preach purity to others. Chris Long doesn’t want to hear any moral equivocation when it comes to John Lennon. Part of this is admittedly for him that he is no fan of the Beatles. The other part of this is that he’s not trying to convert John Lennon’s fans. You decide for yourself what can turn you off from an artist beyond their music. If abusing women in his youth automatically makes John Lennon a bad guy then I’m confident in his line of work Chris Long has embraced some bad guys as teammates.
I’m pretty sure most of us have some bad guys amongst our family and friends. This is not to excuse any one’s actions or provoke a circular debate. If you tell me Nas is a bad guy and I reply “It’s complicated” feel free to tell me to “Shut the fuck up”.
It seems we are having a moment in America. Let me correct that it seems we are having a Moment with a capital M in America. What the activists and commentators on social media are doing is raising awareness to the level that traditional media has been forced to respond and in some cases alter the narrative that reinforces white supremacy in the majority of these cases.
But sometimes we need more than the immediate reaction to current events. Before we can start to think of solutions to our current standing in society we must accurately diagnose the problem. Michelle Alexander has done a pretty good job articulating one of the more pressing issues in her book The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration In the Age Of Colorblindness .
In this book she advances the premise that the disastrous war on drugs and the “tough on crime” mentality in the national consciousness since at least the 1980’s is actually a root cause of the problems plaguing the black community in America and not a result of a pre-existing affinity for crime among the urban poor as the common media narrative would have you believe. It’s empowering to finally have someone exhaustively examine this topic. When discussing the idea that blackness has inherent criminality in the view of society you rarely find someone who can succinctly articulate the valid points that support your reasoning.
But when confronted with statistics and some general facts about our current state of mass incarceration one with a firm grasp on reality would be hard pressed to deny the inequity that exists in our judicial system. Explored in depth in this book is the execution of the drug war itself. Although drugs are used at almost identical rates by white and black youths the drug war has almost exclusively been waged in neighborhoods of color. The prison population that hovers at nearly 50% black despite the fact that we never make up more than 14% of the US population should be a clue that some sort of unnatural selection is being made. And although the media makes a big deal about the arrest and prosecution of violent criminals the majority of African-Americans branded felons by the state have been convicted of non violent drug offenses and are subject to harsh mandatory sentences that even some prosecutors and judges fear are too harsh.
Also explored is the stigma attached to someone labeled a felon in this country. If you are an African-American convicted of a felony your role as a functioning member of society is essentially over. The harsh truth is that another system of control has been constructed in America. Slavery and Jim Crow existed to exploit and expand inequity. Mass Incarceration is nothing short of genocide. A society actively working to weaken an entire population without implicitly invoking race so that it can sleep at night believing that it somehow has realized Martin Luther King’s dream. But for most of us reducing MLK to platitudes about colorblindness isn’t a solution it’s actually part of the problem. Read this book for the rest of the diagnosis.
If The United States Of America were a nation of robust empathy and moral temerity then no amount of racist agitprop would have had any noticeable effect on our election.
Last week we learned that a company called Cambridge Analytica used some dubious methods to collect and sell data from Facebook for profit. Most of the reporting on this story has been about the unethical way in which this data was collected and exploited. But what troubles me more personally is what the data suggested. America’s failure to grapple with the legacy of race has metastasized into a terminal cancer that has the potential to kill us all. It was so easy to stir the seeds of racial resentment among not only the least educated whites but among large swaths across every single segmentation to the point where a plurality of white voters are ensnared in the delusion. And thus begat Trump.
If The United States Of America were a nation of robust empathy and moral temerity then no amount of racist agitprop would have had any noticeable effect on our election. However we are extremely weak in that area. America’s obsession with race is surpassed only with its need to appear to not be racist. Even as study after study after study empirically confirms what all people of color know in their hearts to be true: that American racism is a malevolent force making our nation weaker. You will read a lot in the press about “racial resentment” but let’s be clear here what they mean is out and out racism. And the levers of power and privilege are such that in this case the moral crime must be reported timidly as to not offend the perpetrators. Because they represent a sizable portion of the audience.
It’s incredible how racism works in our society. Racism isn’t just about attitudes and actions, it’s about language, it’s about power, and it’s about the lens through which interpret all of the above. The 2016 serves a serious case study in which all the ways racism has made our country vulnerable. All throughout the election you heard about the travails of the “white working class”. The media never interrogated our society to ask what the most important part of that phrase was. What is so remarkable about white people that they need their own special subset of the working class? Why would their interests be any different than that of the Latino working class or the African-American working class? The answer to those questions which the media never got around to asking are simple. The culture of whiteness has been shaped to view the economic upliftment of non white people as being at the expense of white people. The forces of tribalism, nationalism and racism have conspired to create a toxic, entitled, and embittered population. This is so clear that when turned into a statistical model Cambridge Analytica, Russia, and the Republican Party are able to deftly exploit it. They don’t need to know anything about Trump other than that his rise upsets Blacks and Latinos that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.
The same Republican Party that touted family values in the wake of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in the White House have largely acquiesced control of their party to a man who bragged about sexual assault and had multiple affairs throughout his 3 marriages. Racism is a cancer and Trump is a tumor. He has weakened our resolve. He has exploited the divides in our country and he is governing a nation for the 1 percent while exploiting the unique ignorance of his supporters.
If Americans stopped being racist we would be safer as a country. Sure both political parties might still be in the thrall of special interests and corporate lobbyists. But those lobbyist themselves would be demanding policies that actually helped us economically. A sensible immigration policy not based on xenophobia and fear mongering but on the net economic benefit of immigration would be a start. A school reform policy that saw black and brown and even poor white children as the raw material for a new tech based economy. (Teach these kids how to code) would be next. A new GI bill that served to rectify the inherent injustice of the WWII era where white veterans came home to create the middle class and while black veterans were deposited in slums and ghettos. Imagine a non racist America where these ideas were feasible based on face value alone.
Knowing that the resentment and hatred of minorities is a prevalent force in our politics is only half the battle. The other half is to find and support candidates who will openly acknowledge and address this. As such for me any candidate mentioning specifically the “white working class” will get an automatic side eye from me. There you again making exceptions and pleas for the hateful to drop their psychological bags and join the rest of us. I need a candidate to learn from the failures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You can’t work with people who hate you. You have to work around them. We must stand fast in what we believe in even as the opposition wavers.
In a way we are lucky it is Donald Trump and not someone with more class, dignity and sophistication. Someone with the charm of Ronald Reagan, the false piety of George W. Bush or the sheer sinister maneuverability of Richard Nixon might do more serious permanent damage to our world. No Trump is the accidental president. Someone who probably didn’t even want the office but most likely has been blackmailed by a foreign government into taking it. He’s a rich con artist, a vain fool, a sexual abuser and an unrepentant racist. And he’s sitting at the highest seat in the land. Every second he sits in that chair he exposes the lie that his supporters care about anything or anyone but themselves. I’ll sign off by repeating one of my everlasting truths: to the greedy, the ignorant and the hateful Trump is all of you.
What I notice immediately near the beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ iteration of Black Panther was that this wasn’t a hard reboot of the character. While this may be counterintuitive for non-comic book readers nowadays when Marvel starts with a number 1 issue we start with a story that’s pretty much already in progress. I had not read a Black Panther comic in about 10 years so I was pretty unfamiliar with where the character was in the context of the current Marvel Universe timeline.
Coates does a great job getting you up to speed. T’Challa is currently the King of Wakanda (there have been times in the continuum where he has abdicated the throne or otherwise been usurped either by a family member, friend, or foe) and his sister (who has ruled as Queen at some point) is currently in the spirit world. The head of his royal guard (an all-female elite fighting force known as the Dora Milaje) has gone rogue to free her lover who was about to be executed for treason. If you read any online critiques of comic books you’ll know that Marvel’s books have had more success with diversity than its Cinematic Universe. But the film universe’s introduction of Black Panther is probably the main reason this book exists right now. That the editors at Marvel had the idea to get respected Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates to try his hand at the complicated mythology of Wakanda is a gift for the significant overlap in their two fan-bases. This is not to say that everyone who reads Coates grew up as a Black Panther fan. But if you are the type of person that follows a writer like Coates and a comic book fan there is a chance that you fall in that sector on the Venn Diagram.
Coates background as a poet serves him well in this endeavor. While expectations may be unreasonably high, Marvel fans are typically used to the interweaving story arcs in comic books. Coates here is threading the needle with three separate character arcs. We follow the rebel Dora Milaje lovers ( whose very existence is making a statement denouncing homophobia) as they free women and children from modern slavery, there is also the Panther’s sister Shuri as she continues her journey through and eventually out of the spirit world and of course there is the main event T’Challa himself as he stamps out the last seeds of rebellion and attempts to make amends to a citizenry that is understandably skeptical because of recent government sanctioned atrocities.
Over the first year and a half of Coates run we’ve seen the Black Panther universe expand to three books and then contract back to one. If you are looking for consistency stick with the main story told by Coates. In it he grapples with the concept of a benign monarchy and the unifying power of an external threat. He doesn’t have to go out of his way to weave political statements into the narrative as Black Panther’s very existence is a political statement. Hopefully the spotlight shined on T’Challa by this Friday’s major film release will see this book get the props it deserves.