Friday, July 31, 2009

Glenn Beck Has A Problem: He's An Idiot

I had a dream last night based on one of my favorite horror movies, The Fly. Not the sexy remake with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, but the original 1950s film. In the dream, I am sitting in the garden sipping a mint julep when I hear a tinny little voice crying, "Help me! Help me!"

I whip out my magnifying glass and search for the source. There on the rose bush I spot an unusual fly with the head of Glenn Beck. Compassionate soul that I am, I whip out my eyebrow tweezers, carefully place them around Beck's little head, squeeze them shut, and pinch his tiny head off. Then I wake up. The best dreams always end too soon.

Glenn Beck's most recent anti-Obama comments are in character with his ongoing Obama-is-the-Antichrist rants. I don't watch his "news" show often, a small dose of Beck gives me the vapors. However, his recent pronouncements regarding President Obama weren't made on his own show but while he was a guest on the Fox and Friends morning show.

Beck and the rest of the Fox friends were discussing Professor Henry Gates, Jr.'s recent encounter with the Cambridge police and the president's comments about the incident. According to Beck, President Obama has exposed himself as a person with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."

Beck's assertion was challenged on the air by Fox host Brian Kilmeade, who noted that most of the people who work for the nation's first black president are white. However, Beck was ready with a quick response. "I'm not saying he doesn't like white people," Beck said. "He has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist."

I know that Beck is just one guy, but he's one guy with a national television show that masquerades as a news show, grounded in objective, factual information. He has quite a following; the message boards are filled with comments from the amen chorus praising Beck for exposing the truth.

Beck's comments really pissed me off and I've thought about why, as a person with a lifelong commitment to resolution through discourse and an absolute opposition to the use of violence as a solution to anything, I'd really like to kick his ass.

I've concluded that I am bone-weary of the proliferation of voices in white America who continue to scream about reverse racism or black racism. It is such an insult to the real racism endured by black Americans.

When young black men gather on a summer's night, kidnap a young white man, tie him to a truck, and drag him down the highway until he is nothing but a bloodied mass of bone and flesh, speak to me of black racism. When grown black men plant a bomb in a church and murder young white children in their Sunday best, speak to me of black racism. When a crowd of black mothers gather in Boston to hurl obscenities, racial epithets, and bricks at school buses filled with little white children, speak to me of black racism.

When white bodies dangle from tree limbs and black families, children included, mill about below, smiling as if they have just witnessed some form of pleasant entertainment, speak to me of black racism. When black entrepreneurs, realizing that there is money to be made, make and sell postcards memorializing these lynchings, speak to me of black racism.

When grown black men kidnap, torture, and murder a 14-year-old white boy because he allegedly showed too much familiarity towards a black woman, speak to me of black racism. When black men--business leaders, legislators, governors, law enforcement, and state militias--gather together and march into white communities, burning, looting, and murdering to intimidate white people from trying to exercise their rights newly granted under the federal Constitution, successfully taking away the most fundamental right of a free people, the right to vote, speak to me of black racism.

When white soldiers who return from defending their country find themselves being told that they must sit at the back of the bus, speak to me of black racism. When white people have to enter business establishments through the back door, or are barred from entry by signs reading, "No Whites Allowed," speak to me of black racism. But until these things come to pass, don't insult me or my people by calling us racists. (BTW, all of the examples that I reference are real and occurred long after the official end of slavery)

On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the pinnacle of racism, we're not even a one. It's rather surprising that we haven't become obsessed with revenge. Instead all that we have ever demanded is equality. Why does that frighten so many people so much?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Do Biscuits Have Holes?

One of my colleagues came across the biscuit holes commercial. Naturally she shared it with the rest of our office.

It's important to understand that we North Carolinians have our standards and we don't appreciate a dose of double entendre served with our biscuits, whether they be holes or whole. The largest Hardee's franchise , Boddie Noell Enterprises (BNE), headquartered in Rocky Mount, NC, is not pleased with Hardee's racy biscuit hole ads. You may wonder exactly how an ad about biscuit holes can be racy. According to BNE, the ad campaign for the biscuit holes is tasteless and inappropriate for family viewing. So far, Hardee's has said that it will not pull the ad campaign. According to the parent company, "(Hardee's) adopts a creative approach to our advertising. It is intended to communicate the core message of our premium quality food to our target audience of Young, Hungry Guys."

As we were having a brief lull in our work, my colleagues and I discussed the pros and cons of the ad that we watched, after we were done laughing. Of course we were also horrified at its tastelessness! Then our conversation segued into the origins of biscuit holes. Donut holes come from donuts, but where do biscuit holes come from? Are there biscuits running around with a hole in the center? I think that my colleague, Debra, summed it up most succinctly, "Biscuits don’t have holes . They shouldn’t go putting holes where they don’t belong."

What do you think? Is this commercial too racy or just sort of stupid, or maybe stupid and racy? Does it make you want to run right out and buy some biscuit holes?

Locate the music player in the left column and hit the pause button to stop the music and watch the video..

The text (note how they cleverly labeled the holes A and B):

Today we’re out finding out what kind of holes people prefer, donut holes or Hardee's new biscuit holes.


B-hole has it over the A-hole for sure.

Why? What do you like about it?

A-hole seems kind of small.


I just don’t like the A-hole.

B-holes are tasty and flavorful.

The A-hole is nasty.

The A-hole tastes funny.

I guess I’m just a B-hole kind of guy.

Introducing biscuit holes with icing. The best kind of holes money can buy.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Your Momma!

I hadn't planned to weigh in on Professor Gates' encounter with the Cambridge police. However, today my sister sent me a link to a Huffington Post article that confirmed my suspicions about the substantive legal issues in the case. I'd like to think that this information will be in the headlines as much as Gates' initial unfortunate encounter with the Cambridge police officers but I'm not counting on that happening, so I figure that I'll do my part in blog land.

Just in case you've been without access to the news for the last week, a brief recap of the facts. African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (aka Skip) was arrested for disorderly conduct by the Cambridge police because he verbally reprimanded a police officer investigating an allegation that Gates was attempting a break-in at a residence. Turns out the residence was Gates' own and according to officer James Crowley's police report, he ascertained that it was Gates' home before making the arrest. However, Crowley heard Gates making a phone call and asking to speak to the police chief about a racist officer. Then Gates allegedly made a series of comments to Crowley, accusing the officer of racial profiling, loudly and in disparaging terms. The entire police report is available on The Smoking Gun.

When I first heard the story, the one thing I couldn't figure out was how Gates' behavior could be construed as disorderly conduct under Massachusetts' state law. Guess what, it isn't. Talking back to a police officer, raising your voice, even talking about his or her momma, is not a crime. It seems that there is a body of Massachusetts' case law that establishes that yelling at a police officer, even while being arrested is not a crime and doesn't constitute disorderly conduct. Which brings me to all the brouhaha about President Obama's observation (solicited by a reporter's question as to his opinion on the Gates arrest) that the police "behaved stupidly." They did. Arresting someone who hasn't done anything illegal is behaving stupidly.

The message boards have been barraged with the usual nonsense from dittoheads and other mentally deficient folks. They insist that there is "reverse racism" at work and that's why the DA's office dropped the charges against Gates. Can we all say, "Nonsense!" The DA dropped the charges because there was no crime committed.

Maybe Professor Gates would have been wise to refrain from getting into a verbal dispute with Officer Crowley; however, I understand his frustration. Gates is four years older than I am. I feel confident that this was not his first encounter with what he perceived to be racial profiling; besides, the man was in his own house. There was no break-in taking place. The officer doesn't dispute that he became aware of this fact pretty early on in his interaction with Gates. Why didn't the officer just apologize to Professor Gates and move on?

Gates is a renown scholar, has hosted documentaries on PBS, published several books, and is known as a public intellectual. His biography on the Harvard faculty site is impressive. If you don't know who he is; you should. He's one of the leading voices in African-American history and culture. If you want to be enlightened and fair in race relations, one of the first steps is to learn who we are.

However, there is a larger issue here than one black scholar. If this were an isolated incident, a rare occurrence, it would just be an unpleasant incident. Racial profiling is a real issue in America. If you aren't aware of it, perhaps it's because you're not a racial or ethnic minority, or a practitioner of a faith other than Christianity. A 2004 report released by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) found that racial profiling impacted 32 million people. This is far too complex a subject to deal with in a blog entry. If you are interested and want to learn more, the AIUSA report is a good place to start. There is a link to the executive summary and the full report on the site.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Icons, Race, and Listening

I'm feeling a bit guilty because I didn't intervene more directly back in 2007 when Bill O'Reilly was suffering from foot-in-mouth disease. I did suggest in a blog entry that he should refrain from trying to help black people by making inane observations marveling at our ability to drink ice tea and eat in a restaurant without break dancing and spouting profanity; however, I didn't send Mr. O'Reilly a personal note cautioning him to never again discuss the affairs of black folks. My bad.

Last week, O'Reilly took issue with Rev. Al Sharpton's declaration that Michael Jackson was an African-American icon. Sharpton asserted that Jackson's use of his status as an entertainer to knock down doors in the music industry such as breaking the color barrier on MTV, and landing on the cover of Rolling Stone was another step in the same journey towards racial equality as evidenced by Rosa Parks decision to sit down on that bus. Sharpton also noted Jackson's considerable charitable contributions to organizations and individuals, including his bringing together the star power to produce We Are the World long before there was a Live-Aid. I agree with Sharpton's assessment; however, I don't know that all African-Americans do, but I feel confident in saying that a significant majority view MJ as an African-American icon. However, I digress; this really is not about MJ.

Let me try and explain. A few years back I was attending a birthday party for a friend who is a white male. Another guest, also a white male, whom I had never met, attempted to engage me in a conversation about what he perceived to be the problems of black folks. I attempted to dissuade him from taking this path. I was the only black guest at the party (it was very small, maybe a dozen people) and I was in no mood for a serious discussion about race. He persisted and made the fatal error of proceeding to speak of, "You people...." I really don't recall what he said after that; it's difficult to think clearly when your head is revolving and you're trying to control your impulse to do a windmill on somebody's head. My friend, the birthday boy, observed that, "White people should have more sense than to ever attempt to tell black people how to be black." I love this man. This is why we are friends.

So, Bill O'Reilly, this is an open letter to you. If you would like to be friends with black people, you must understand that neither you nor any white person gets to tell us who our icons are. You do not get to measure our blackness. You do not get to sling accusations that any of us want to be white. You don't know or understand any of us that well. If we tell you how we feel, then you need to listen and try to understand our feelings, not tell us that our feelings are invalid.

Once and for all, understand that there is no such thing as reverse racism. You made that up to soothe your conscience. Racism is unfounded hatred for a group that you perceive as being inferior to your group. Any anger that we have towards white people is not unfounded; it's based on more than 400 years of discrimination in this country, much of it legalized. We don't hate you; we just want you to acknowledge that our shared history is based on an unconscionable system of discrimination and to recognize that our anger is righteous. We don't believe that you are inferior; we never have. We have tried to blend your cultural norms and values with ours. We ask that you respect ours and recognize that they too have shaped this culture. When we express distrust of institutions that have traditionally been exclusively white and that have intentionally excluded us by starting our own institutions, that's not reverse racism; it's called survival. Understand that just because you have begun to allow everyone to play in the sandbox, it's still going to take some time before we fully believe that you really mean it. Perhaps when we get to build more of the sandboxes, we'll feel more comfortable entering them.

Please stop interjecting, "I never owned slaves!" into every discussion of race. We know that. However, do acknowledge that as a member of the majority group, you benefited from white privilege, the biggest element of which is that you didn't have to notice race. Slavery was certainly an evil, but the real horror in this country is the generations of Jim Crow, of legalized discrimination that lasted well into the 20th century. The civil rights movement wasn't about slavery; it was about the system of legalized discrimination put into place after slavery was legally outlawed to ensure that black people continued to be placed in a position of servitude and exclusion in the United States of America. This isn't ancient history; it's my life.

I know that you are tired of talking about race; so am I. Perhaps the day will come when such discussions are no longer necessary. I dream of a day when I will not turn on my television to hear a little black child trying to hold back his tears as he recounts the racial hatred that he heard from white adults who feared that the Black and Hispanic children in his summer camp group would contaminate their swimming pool. When that day comes, I'll be the first person to stop talking about race. In the meantime, Mr. O'Reilly, please feel free to speak with us, but don't presume that you can tell us who we are, or how we should feel.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

It's A Family Reunion

I have a lot of first cousins on my mother's side of the family. My grandmother birthed 17 children, four died in infancy. I never knew my Aunt Helen, she died before I was born but I knew the rest of mother's siblings. There are only four of my mother's siblings still living.

Over the years, we've gathered for a lot of funerals, often in clusters. My mother died two weeks after her oldest sister, my Aunt Mabel. After my mother's funerals we (a group of first cousins) gathered and mused as to why we had never held a family reunion. We decided to rectify this oversight and give ourselves a reason to come together other than to bury someone. The Hall (my mother's maiden name) family reunion committee was formed, consisting of my sister Rhonda, my brother James (aka Jimmy), and my cousins, Michelle, Jennifer, Betty Rose, and Laura Ann. By the third planning call the group had reduced to me, Michelle, Jennifer, and Betty Rose. The others had succumbed to the dreaded family reunion planning committee dropout syndrome.

After months of the family reunion planning committee meeting via bi-weekly conference calls, we held our first Hall Family reunion from July 3-July 5. It was well attended with 80+ family members joining in the festivities. We talked, we ate, we sang and we danced. Members of my grandmother's family, the Flemings, also participated in the reunion and I got to meet people whose names I had only heard in family stories told by my grandmother. Then there were those of us who knew each other but had not been together other than for a funeral in years and it was a delight to reconnect in an atmosphere that didn't invCheck Spellingolve sorrow. In an email to my friend Mark, I summed it up thus: "Our family reunion went well. Only one relative drank too much and she wasn't a mean drunk. There were no fights, and only a few minor insults. We may do it again in two years."

I neglected to add that I did The Twist with my cousin Betty Rose in front of a room full of people, laughed loudly and often, hugged a lot and was hugged a lot in return, and that a good time was had by all.