Dear GOP: Just shut up about black people already. Good lord.

You know…I don’t know the first thing about being black.

I’m whiter than Angel Food Cake and, except for when I lived in a foreign land, have never even lived much around people who are a whole lot darker than Angel Food Cake. My current abode is in a town known for its diversity, and it’s pretty diverse, but white people are still pretty thick on the ground. And even if I were the only white person in all of Prince Georges County, I would still not know about being black.

Because I would still be white, you see.

But here’s what I do know:

Being told who you are, what’s wrong with you and your life and your loved ones and their lives (with the added bonus of unasked for and nationally broadcast advice) by people who clearly have no idea what your life is like is a fucking pain in the ass. I may be White As White Can Be, but I am a woman, and women tend to hear this sort of thing as a matter of course, regardless of color, and so at least I have a little insight into that part of it.

If I had to hear from national leaders that me and mine don’t know how to work, or are forever gobbling up the nation’s food stamp supply, or have too many babies, or let the Democrats abort too many of our babies, or that we are being kept on a political plantation by means of a political party’s wiles and our own native gullibility — when me and mine have an actual history of actual plantations and actual slavery and actual violent control of and sundering of our families — well, I don’t know what I would do. Because I have never had to live with that. Because however enraged I may get with the blatant, noxious, dehumanizing racism that has been pouring out of the mouths of GOP figures like so many sewers over the past few months — it’s never about me.

But I’ll tell you what: It sounds exhausting. And I simply cannot imagine having to face it every day.

Post-racial America, my Angel-Food-Cake ass.

Oh, and happy Black History Month.

Black History Month Eve – 21 years ago, one Mr. Barack Obama had something to say.


He’s so – him! Plus: Now I know who Charles Hamilton Houston was. Win!

Update: Be sure to read the backstory that socioprof provides – click here!

It’s that time – Open Thread.

Okee dokee, then. Open thread until Ta-Nehisi should get around to it!

PS And if you only read one other thing here today, make it my little essay about being a papergirl, ok? I feel a certain responsibility to that one, and it’s not at all headdesk inducing.

Standard FYI clause: My rule of thumb is that I wait for 2 hours after Ta-Nehisi would usually open a thread (roughly noon, EST), and if none is forthcoming, I put one up here.

In which I blaspheme: Monotheism’s biggest failure.

Ok, that’s kind of a grand statement. Maybe I shouldn’t claim to have uncovered the single biggest failure of the world’s monotheistic faiths. But for my money, it’s certainly right up there.

As readers of this blog are surely aware, I believe in God.

I furthermore believe that God is loving and good, and that when we say that we’re made in His* image, we mean the best of us. “Our better angels” are, to my mind, those parts of the human spirit that fly up to meet their Creator and attempt to express His love, His goodness, on this earth.

I also believe, in what I take to be a very Jewish sense, that God is everywhere and yet nowhere. We are not God, but reflections of Him. He can be found in our homes and in our hearts, but He is neither in the heavens nor in the depths. He is not corporeal, and when we speak of His arms, or His voice, we are only making use of the only tools we have to imagine the unimaginable — yet should I call upon Him, His is the still, small voice that is as near as my child’s breath, as she whispers in my ear.

God is ultimately unknowable, because He is so entirely Not Us. Bigger, Grander, More Powerful beyond measure — how can it be otherwise, when He created the world and all that’s in it? And yes, I believe that the Big Bang was an act of God, and I honestly cannot understand how the one could possibly contradict the other.

What is God not, then? Where did monotheism get it wrong?

On the “perfect” part.

I don’t believe God is perfect. I don’t believe God is all-powerful, and I suspect that He is not all-knowing. I cannot, and continue to believe that He is loving.

There is too much broken and wrong in this world, too much pain and too much horror, for me to believe that our Creator has the power to fix it, and yet chooses not to.

But that’s what the world’s three biggest monotheistic faiths would have us believe. We try to explain it away — in Judaism, many say that God does only good, we just don’t always recognize it as such; some say that we call down upon ourselves the world’s horrors with our behavior — but I think that most believers choose not to think about it too much, because if we do, the whole thing shatters at the feet of a starving or murdered child.

The failure, then, is not simply in getting something so crucial so badly wrong — it’s in creating a system that demands that God’s creatures find a way to believe something truly terrible. Perhaps if we posit a Satan (in which I do not believe, but for the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and posit) we can lay the world’s woes at Satan’s feet — but then we’re positing a genuine rival to God. We’re saying that there’s someone else out there, as powerful or nearly-as powerful as God, whom God is unable to defeat. Because if God is loving and can save us from Satan’s evil hands — why the long game? Why not just be done with it?

It’s  my experience that when people in the West reject God, they’re more often than not (not always, of course, but pretty often) rejecting organized religion, and more to the point, organized Western religion’s vision of a God who is all-powerful, and yet isn’t overly concerned with starving, bloodied children.

So here’s our choice: God – all powerful, perfect and all knowing? Or loving?

I’m sticking with loving.

(And to those who would argue that I’m going pretty far out on several limbs simultaneously, I can only say: Why do you think they call it “faith”?)


*I’m comfortable with the English-language cultural convention of referring to the Divine in the male singular, but I don’t for a minute think that S/He/It is actually anything like any human. 

Waiting for the great leap forwards – Fridays with Billy.

Billy pretty much re-writes this one on an as-needed basis — this is the 2011 version, performed this past November at Keele University in the UK. Verily, he is the wisest of men!

Sample lyric:

Things have not been this bad
since the days of Margaret Thatcher
So stay calm, carry on
and watch X Factor

The World Wide Web is wonderful
if you’ve got something to sell
but opinions often summon up
a focus group from hell.

It’s best not to get distracted
and stay focused on your goals
and take my advice, don’t feed the trolls
(their mum’ll bring them, you know, milk and biscuits before they have to go to bed).

And some of you wonder why I love this man so much. How could I not?

full (original) lyricsWhat is Fridays with Billy?

The simple truth is that I fear for the President’s life.

Lately, I’ve been slacking off.

Was a time, I worried constantly about the President’s safety. This President’s safety. The safety of Barack Hussein Obama, our first African-American Commander in Chief. Indeed, I’ve been worried about him since he declared his candidacy — particularly after I wrote a letter to the editor in support of said candidacy and got in return for my trouble a letter threatening both my life and his.

But, you know. One gets lulled by the Secret Service’s success at keeping the President alive. A little numb to the endless drumbeat of hate. There’s a constant hum of noxious rhetoric, but if one were to be constantly attuned to it, one would lose one’s mind. So one has let down one’s guard.

But you know what? Guard? Back up.

It was Arizona governor Jan Brewer who did it for me, by announcing to the world that she felt “a little bit threatened” by the President when he visited her fair state the other day. Because at a certain point, you realize that they’re not even using dog whistles anymore — they’ve moved on to fog horns and disco balls.

Add up enough “skinny, ghetto crackhead” comments, enough voters yelling “string him up,” enough judges still open to the idea that the President isn’t eligible to be the President, enough “food-stamp President” pronouncements, enough tiny little white ladies saying they felt “threatened” (not to mention enough audible, shared glee when another successful black man is “put in his place“) — well, add all that up and throw in all the other horrible, nasty, brutish racism that has been on display with greater regularity in the past few months, and you’ve got a situation where it is simply far too easy to imagine someone with access to a gun getting the notion that maybe it’d be a good thing to use that gun on the uppity black man who’s running around threatening Jan Brewer and the Statue of Liberty.

I remind myself that this President has the best, deepest Secret Service protection ever received by any American leader. I remind myself that they are talented, trained, and far more aware of the threats than I am. I remind myself that worrying avails neither me nor the President anything.

And then I remember that back in 2009, the Secret Service was already reporting that “threats against the president’s life [are up] by 400 percent from his predecessor,” and I start to worry again, if for no other reason than that I have a very hard time believing that the number of death threats has decreased in the meantime.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her ilk may have gleefully moved on to fog horns and disco balls, but I do wonder if they have any real grasp of the fact that people need only be a little bit unhinged to respond to the rhetoric with violence. That a man who yells “string him up!” at a campaign event might later decide to try to put Barack Hussein Obama in his place, too. Like, I don’t know, maybe one of the guys seen in a photo posing with guns and a bullet-riddled image of the President’s face just the other day, and posted to the Facebook page of an Arizona police officer.

And then I wonder what will happen to this country if the Secret Service slips up, just once.

Dear GOP: This two & a half year old black scientist would like a word.

Why am I posting the following? Because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want.

But mostly: Awwwwwwwww! And he shares with Daddy! Come for the Science, stay for the kisses at the end!

Plus: You know you didn’t actually know this, so thank God this young man came along to teach us all.

(I tell you what though, little man is going to be very confused when he discovers the actual size of the stuff that he’s talking about).

h/t Colorlines

Tales of an 11 year old papergirl.

I posted this last year, and I think it might become an annual thing…. An ode to print media, young girls, and small towns.

(I was, of course, a girl. And on a bike. But just try to find that statue).

I used to deliver newspapers.

First it was the Chicago Daily News, then, when that venerable afternoon institution folded, the Chicago Tribune. I was about 11, 12-ish (the age my boy is now, and I occasionally ask him why he hasn’t yet found gainful employ), though I’m not sure of the exact stop and start dates.

I had a paper-girl’s bike with a huge metal basket in front and metal panniers on the sides; if I didn’t remove the papers evenly as I went along, the bike would topple over, newspaper sections slithering out and sliding across lawns. Sometimes it would topple over anyway.

I always placed each individual paper carefully between the storm and front doors; if a person’s storm was locked, I would find some other safe place to tuck it. By the end of my route, my hands would be blackened by the newsprint, a particular kind of smeary black that dries the skin and transfers itself onto everything you might subsequently touch.

I hated it.

Not just the filthy hands, but the whole experience — oh my God, I hated delivering newspapers.

I remember promising myself that I would never allow my own children to do it, because if they did, I would occasionally get saddled with the task, and I was not going to ever deliver papers again — and this from a girl growing up in a house where the mom only ever took over your job if you were literally unable to do it. It was, after all, my job — unlike some newspaper pansies, my mom didn’t throw me in the station wagon to get it done of a morning.

That was the worst of it, really. The mornings.

I didn’t like the afternoon Daily News route — it was lonely and boring, and kind of embarrassing, if you ran across someone from school, or some damn friendly adult that you knew. I would talk to myself, make up stories, essentially play make-believe at an age when I think most kids weren’t doing that anymore. It was on my paper route that I was Magna Woman, a superhero whose power came from a mysteriously exotic (if cheap) ring that I had purchased at the Field Museum on a field trip.

But the morning route — oh good God, that was just a whole other level of misery. For a child in the Midwest, it not only meant god-awful alarm-clock setting, it also mostly meant Dark.

Even if dawn arrived while I was out, I started my day in pitch black, a lighting scheme that at the time still frightened me. I seem to recall having to talk myself down daily from some inchoate fear.

And the cold. Oh God, I was always cold! I don’t have a single memory of not being cold on my morning route — and surely there were spring and summer mornings, as well. But they don’t remain. Just the cold, and the dark, and the lonely streets, and the whirligig mind of an imaginative 11 year old. Twelve year old.

One day it was about like it is as of this writing (the high for Chicago: 8, the actual temperature: 2, and the windchill? -20), and when I got to the Currens’ house, I found a note. “Emily – Ring the bell. There’s hot cocoa waiting.”

The Currens were my grandparents’ good friends, lovely people who I was always happy to see myself whenever I happened to helping out at one of my grandmother’s famous and well-loved grown-up parties. I would walk around in my best outfit with trays of crackers, and some people would look me in the 11 year old eyes, and some people wouldn’t. Some people would know the right way to be friendly, and some people wouldn’t. The Currens were always in the first group.

But it’s my sense that the Currens would have made hot cocoa for anyone who happened to arrive with a folded newspaper in sub-zero weather — they were that kind of people. When I think of them, pretty much all I see are belted robes, broad smiles, and eyes like welcome signs.

I sat, I drank, and Mr. Curren took me around on the rest of my route (here the grandparent connection might have played a role). If memory serves, they did this for me one other time, as well, each time saying “Oh, you’re welcome, Emily! Any time!”

And I know they meant it, because the one time I knocked in spite of there not being a note, in spite of the fact that it was a balmy 17 degrees or maybe 23, they wiped the sleep from their eyes and put the pot on the stove. They were good people, the Currens.

God I hated that route. But there remains within me a powerful sense of pride that I did it, that I was good at it, and that I later got a chance to actually write for the paper that I had delivered. For the girl with the topple-over bike, that was quite a heady thing.

And the Currens gave me cocoa and smiles on days like today, in the middle of coldest, darkest winter.

Gingrich, lies, damn lies, and the Palestinian people.

I am a child of the Watergate hearings.

By which I mean: I’m no fool.

I don’t believe that politics and running a country can be anything but an (at least) occasionally dirty business, I don’t believe politicians choose politics for purely altruistic reasons, and I certainly don’t believe that any of them don’t lie, or at least fudge the truth. I say this as a person who campaigned for the current President with the greatest sense of urgency, wept when he was elected, and continue to find him to be an inspiring figure. Has he lied to me yet? Probably. Or at least fudged the truth.

Having said that: There’s lying, and then there’s lying. There’s “not purely altruistic,” and then there’s “utterly and cravenly opportunistic.” When I look at the front runners in the GOP field, that’s what I see.

Mitt Romney is famous for his “flip-flopping,” which is a terribly cute little way of saying “lying through his teeth.” The man chose positions that would carry him to power, and now that he wants a different kind of power, in a different venue, he’s chosen different positions. The position is not what matters – the power is what matters. He was for gay people before he was against them, he was for health care before he was against it, and let the chips and the human lives fall where they may.

And then we have Newt Gingrich.

A man so arrogant and full of his desperate, palpable need for power, that he will slice and dice the truth with a vicious gleam in his eye and nary a by-your-leave, anything to get his hands on what he believes is rightfully his. Maybe that’s the difference between the two: Romney really wants power — but Gingrich clearly believes power is what the world owes him. And he will violently dismember any truth that might happen to get in his way.

Hence black people have no work ethic and he cheated on his wife because of his love of America. Hence the Palestinians are “an invented people… that had a chance to go many places.”

In a sense, Gingrich was right — all peoples are invented. Anyone who likes to call himself a “history professor” would know that nationalism is a modern construct, and any American should understand that sometimes peoplehood is created out of ideas and a prime location. This doesn’t make nationhood false — it just makes it human, rather than Divine.

But that wasn’t what Gingrich meant.

No, he meant that the Palestinian people don’t really exist. He meant that their claims are illegitimate, because they serve only as a foil to Israel, and thus can be disregarded, because if they’re suffering in any way, it’s their own fault. They shouldn’t have invented themselves. They should have gone away.

But the jagged edges of this lie — the semantic erasure of centuries of history and the millions of people who lived and are living it — are made that sharper by the fact that Gingrich once said something very different.

In 2005, Gingrich wrote that the Palestinian people “were in some ways among the most international and most advanced people in the Arab world,” when war broke out in 1948.

While Israelis have the right of self defense, Washington should impose three limitations on Israel: first, the White House should insist that a free hand in building a security fence does not mean a free hand to expand the Israeli settlements in a land grab. The US government should become the protector of the Palestinian people’s right to have a decent amount of land and to have continuous communications and travel between their areas. The desire of some Israelis to use security as an excuse to grab more Palestinian land should be blocked by Washington even if that requires employing financial or other leverage to compel the Israeli government to behave reasonably on the issue of settlements. It is vital to our credibility in the entire Middle East that we insist on an end to Israeli expansionism. It is vital to our humanitarian duty to the Palestinian people that we protect the weaker party from the stronger power. It is vital that the world sees that our total support for Israeli security is not matched by a one-sided support for more extreme Israeli territorial goals. (emphasis mine)

So how did the Palestinians go from “the most international and most advanced people in the Arab world” to “invented”?


Newt Gingrich wants power — believes that power to be what he deserves and the world needs — and the only way to get that power, if you’re not as rich as Croesus or Mitt Romney, is to use other people’s money.

Along comes American casino owner/billionaire Sheldon Adelson — a fiercely xenophobic American Jew who uses Israeli politics as his personal sandbox — and gives Gingrich $5 million. Boom.

Now the candidate proudly pronounces opinions that are to the right of Netanyahu (a man also propped up by Adelson’s money), in opposition to the foreign policy of his elected government, and contrary to the position of every Republican administration going back to that of the sainted Ronald Reagan.

I don’t expect politicians to be exemplary people, nor do I expect politics to be free of the influence of money. Politics is humanity, and humanity is messy.

But sometimes the scope of the ignominy is truly breathtaking — and damn the consequences, for US security, the people living with war these six and a half decades, or the world at large.

Because Newt Gingrich wants to be President.

For the masses of hordes of Golden Black Republicans and Commies ™ – open thread.

Here’s a thread. It’s open! Whooo hooo! (BTW: All are welcome, whether you hang out at Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog at The Atlantic or not. We’re nice, I promise. We just have weird names for ourselves).

Standard FYI clause: My rule of thumb is that I wait for 2 hours after Ta-Nehisi would usually open a thread (roughly noon, EST), and if none is forthcoming, I put one up here.


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