The New York Post cartoon: this is my unsurprised face.

By now most of you have heard about the racist cartoon published in The New York Post. There’s a lot of good commentary out there on this already, and some calls to action, which I strongly urge all of you to heed.

That said, I haven’t said much about this before today because my feelings pretty much match Ta-Nehisi Coates’: meh. Maybe it helps to provide some “local context” here, because I think a lot of people don’t get what most New Yorkers do: the Post is crap. It’s a step above the National Enquirer in terms of quality, and that’s only because it doesn’t talk about aliens and its inanity has a focus — which is to be the voice of the substantial contingent of conservatives in this famously liberal city. It’s the paper version of Fox News, which isn’t surprising because it’s owned by the same guy. And because of this, I do not believe for one moment that the editor who approved that cartoon didn’t know exactly how it would be received. I think the Post is getting exactly what it wanted here.

Think about it. These are hard times for the Republicans right now. They’re struggling to find a way to reformat themselves in the wake of the backhand slap they received on November 4th. While the party’s leaders flounder in search of a vision/purpose/direction, however, the party’s ideologues don’t have this problem; they’re still repeating the same message they’ve been parroting for the past 20+ years. But with the leadership gone silent, the ideologues’ broken record is suddenly much more audible than it has been for the past couple of (campaign) years. Which is why we’ve heard so much lately from Rush “Crackhead” Limbaugh. He hasn’t been in rehab all this time, as I had naively assumed; he’s just popular again, largely because many Republican voters are desperate to hear someone, anyone, speak up for their side.

Likewise Fox News and, now, the Post. These media entities are jockeying for control of the party’s soul, in hopes of pushing back the darkness — pun intended — that might, just might, cause the Republican party to reform into something a little more representative of America and less representative of the angry white men who’ve been the party’s guiding light. So naturally we can expect some blatant appeals to the paradigms that have proven so effective for this group in the past. They’re gambling that this “back to basics” strategy will work. And it might. Despite all the slightly creepy “post-racial” camaraderie we’ve been seeing in the nation since Election Day, most of us know full well that racism isn’t dead and that a substantial percentage of the 46% who voted against Obama did so because they hate black people (even the ones who are half white). How does one rally this group in the wake of a national defeat, and let them know that somebody in Republican Land still loves them? This cartoon is one rallying cry. Expect more.

That said, I’m not certain this strategy will still work the way that Rush and the gang think. Sure, there are plenty of folks out there who will respond positively to this appeal to their baser nature. But there are also a lot of Republicans who are taking a hard look at themselves right now, and asking some hard questions about the tried-and-true ways of doing things. Already we’re seeing signs of an unheard-of revolt by some Post staffers in the wake of this cartoon. The Republican base might be OK with it, but the base is still the minority within the party, and it’s growing smaller as time passes. The rest of the Republicans, I’m guessing, are starting to read the writing on the wall: the old ways of doing things have got to change.

Before they do, though, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more dead monkeys.

Return of the revenge of the daughter of the Welfare Queen

I’ve been following this whole octuplet controversy with mixed feelings. A part of me very much groks the anger being directed at Nadya Suleman. No single person can give 14 children the care and attention they all need; hell, I’m not sure a couple could manage it. If “it takes a village” to raise one child, this woman’s going to need five boroughs, and Yonkers too.

But that didn’t account for the vehemence I’ve been seeing in the media and elsewhere about Suleman. Sure, some of it is clearly rooted in the revelation that the state will be paying for these kids’ care, and the creepy possibility that she may have blown some of that state-provided money on plastic surgery to look like Angelina Jolie. But there’s far worse examples out there of unhealthily large families, narcissistic parents, and exploitation of public resources. Why’s this one got people so riled?

Then I read this analysis of the situation, which I think does a good job of explaining the outrage.

The great storm of public fury that has been kicked up by these octuplets is more than an annoyance at the water cooler. It is a vivid demonstration of the price that our country pays every day for the comforting moral clarity of the “right to life,” a fragile construct that has always been partly about not letting pregnant women “escape responsibility” for their actions. If a mother’s life goes to hell because she can’t afford to raise a child, well, she should have thought of that when she let herself get knocked up. The child becomes a sort of righteous punishment, not a person — and, in similar fashion, those “outraged” by Suleman’s story clearly hope that she (and, inevitably, her children) will have a rough time of it. It is the worship of motherhood, and the hatred of mothers.

This analysis feels intuitively on-track to me. But I think it’s missing two additional layers of meaning.

First, I think this is not just the worship of motherhood, but worship of ideal motherhood — ideal only if it’s within the strictures of traditional marriage and patriarchial religion, and therefore controlled one way or another by men. Uncontrolled (or female-controlled, which is the same thing in some of these people’s eyes) motherhood is never desirable. Most media outlets are reporting that the father of Suleman’s children has been caught by surprise by this, and is “a bit overwhelmed”. I think the anti-abortion movement will hold up Suleman not as a heroine, but as a cautionary tale: men, control your womenfolk, or they’ll have babies as they see fit, and see what happens then?

Second, it didn’t escape my notice, when I saw clips of her on TV, that Suleman is a bit on the brown side. And I could be wrong about this, but her name seems like a derivation of a common Arabic name, Suleiman — common enough that I, a garden-variety American with about as much knowledge of Arabic culture as I have of nuclear physics, recognized it as such. I could be totally spinning in the wind here; she might be Swedish for all I know. But I can’t help wondering how much of the rage I’m seeing — not merely outrage, but murderous incandescent fury — is because the Welfare Queen specter has been raised in Americans’ minds, perhaps conflated in some weird-ass way with The Arab Threat and maybe even The Brown Conspiracy To Outbreed White People? (Suleman’s fertility doctor appears to be Indian, see. We’re all in on it!)

You remember the Welfare Queen, don’t you? Ronald Reagan created her to get elected 20 years ago, as columnist Paul Krugman notes:

As Thomas and Mary Edsall put it in their classic 1991 book, “Chain Reaction: The impact of race, rights and taxes on American politics,” “Reagan paralleled Nixon’s success in constructing a politics and a strategy of governing that attacked policies targeted toward blacks and other minorities without reference to race — a conservative politics that had the effect of polarizing the electorate along racial lines.”

Thus, Reagan repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud. He never mentioned the woman’s race, but he didn’t have to.

So even though the vast majority of welfare recipients in the US are rural whites forced into poverty by the destruction of America’s industrial economy, the association of welfare with greedy, lazy, urban brown women has become indelible in the American subconscious. And even though the pendulum seems to have swung back since Reagan’s time, and we’re now in a vaguely liberal phase, my suspicion is that this linkage still exists, hair-triggered in our national zeitgeist, ready to fire at the first sign of dusky skin and fertile ovaries. That Suleman may be of Arab ethnicity — the zeitgeist’s latest boogeywoman — just compounds the issue. Now instead of black wombs destroying America for selfish gain, we’ve got Arab wombs destroying America in order to imitate and replace white women. It’s like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers without the giant beanpods.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Suleman’s case trotted out again in about 18 months, when the Republicans start campaigning for the midterm elections. After all, if Reagan’s Cadillac-driving mystery woman could be so effective, how much more effective the collagen-injecting octuplet mom, who at least has a name?

That Wholesome Disney Image

Hey, kids! Wanna know what your role model, Miley Cyrus, does in her spare time?

Miley Cyrus doing "slant eyes"

Um. Yeahno. What they said.

Oh, and don’t read the comments at TMZ. We PoC need to watch our stress levels. No, seriously, don’t.

S.O.S., Different Year

Happy New Year, all. Took me only 5 days to get angry about something; a new record for me! Well, more annoyed than anything else. Who can really afford to get angry about all the stupid crap we see in the media? Us WoC gotta watch that blood pressure, after all.

This article in the NYT is what’s annoying me. It starts off innocently enough with a classic “duh” moment, noting that many women take dangerous risks to end their pregnancies sans medical attention or prescribed drugs. It guarantees a surge in such homemade abortions by pretty much telling the readers what drugs to ask for and how to ask for them, then how to administer them (which sounds seriously problematic to me, but fine, they’re the Times, they can afford lawyers if someone tries it, dies, and the family sues them). It goes further into “no shit, Sherlock” territory by noting the reasons women might do this: cost, shame, a desire for privacy, distrust of hospitals, yatta yatta yatta.

Very quickly, though, it becomes clear that the article is specifically focusing on a certain subset of women: primarily Dominican women in the Washington Heights area. OK, makes sense; that’s who made up the primary focus of a study by Planned Parenthood cited in the article. But see if you can spot the point in the passage below where I started to get annoyed.
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You say “Angry Black Woman” like it’s a bad thing.

Amazing!! Cal Thomas, “Syndicated Columnist” for Fox News, thinks all black women are angry. All 12+ million of us. Well, okay. Except one.

THOMAS: I want to pick up on something that Jane said about the angry black woman. Look at the image of angry black women on television. Politically you have Maxine Waters of California, liberal Democrat. She’s always angry every time she gets on television. Cynthia McKinney, another angry black woman. And who are the black women you see on the local news at night in cities all over the country. They’re usually angry about something. They’ve had a son who has been shot in a drive-by shooting. They are angry at Bush. So you don’t really have a profile of non-angry black women.

PINKERTON: Oprah Winfrey.

THOMAS: Oprah Winfrey. Yes, there you go, Oprah Winfrey.

Oh. Well, then. As long as there’s Oprah, there’s hope.

Okay, look. None of us are surprised at Fox behaving badly, now, are we? Even if they have belatedly acknowledged that the “baby mama” drama was, to put it mildly, “poor judgment”. Fortunately I don’t have to point out The Stupid here, since Daily Kos has done it so inimitably.

But he asks an important question, which I think bears repeating:

What I’m also shocked about is that this disgusting statement was made on Saturday, and the first time I heard about it was on Dan Abram’s show tonight. And he didn’t provide any analysis or discussion of the statement. Why aren’t all those people who denounced sexism during the primary race up in arms with this racist and sexist nonsense?

Yeah. That’s a good question, isn’t it? Food for thought.

Michelle Obama Watch thought about it too.

The double-whammy of race and gender make Michelle Obama an irresistible target. And the relative silence from Hillary-supporting feminists reveals a serious flaw in the idea that feminists will defend all women.

In all fairness’ sake, as people in the MOW comments pointed out, some of the third-wave feminist blogs (like Feministe) have indeed come out in defense of Michelle Obama, which I’m relieved to see. But it’s hard not to notice that there’s not nearly as much commentary about this in the feminist blogosphere as I saw when there were sexist media attacks against Hillary Clinton. Talk about angry black women — what those Fox pseudopundits really ought to be afraid of is angry white women. They’re kickass, man. I mean, there was just so much furor out there — and rightly so — over the sexism heaped upon Clinton. All the big names of feminism and politics — Steinem, Ferraro, Jong, and more. All women who speak softly and carry big no-phallic-pun-intended-sticks. I’m sure these same women are going to come out guns blazing now that Michelle is getting the same ugly treatment. It’s still sexism, right? Even if it’s compounded by racism. Sexism’s still sexism.

Right? Right? So the defense should begin any minute now. Right?

Oooh, I can’t wait to hear what Rosanne Barr or Linda Hirshman have to say about this. I mean, they’re just so articulate. (And, of course, clean.) Any minute now, I’m sure I’ll see a trifecta of blasts on the Huffington Post and the New York Times and the Washington Post, all from big-name second-wavers who are disgusted, simply disgusted, by Michelle’s treatment.

Any minute now.

Any minute.

Anyone? Anyone?


On politics and why I haven’t been blogging them lately

So when ABW invited me to become a regular contributor I did so with the understanding that I would blog about the political scene that had her so disgusted. At the time I was absolutely engaged in the process and watching news coverage of the primaries and caucuses like a fiend. Now, I can barely stomach reading the results, much less listening to the pundits going over the same ground from week to week.

Somewhere between the uproar over Rev. Wright and the lack of uproar over McCain’s connection to Rev. Hagee I find myself disheartened by our political process. I know that McCain is not Hagee and it seems so does most of America (assuming of course they’ve ever heard Hagee’s rhetoric), but that same courtesy isn’t being extended to Obama. There’s a lot of talk about his campaing floundering courtesy of his association with a “controversial” preacher as though his entire life is defined by the church. Funny how that standard only seems to apply to him in this election. We all know my laundry list of issues with Hillary’s campaign so I won’t bother to dig into why there’s not a word being said about her religious affiliations despite that Mother Jones article linking her to The Family* last year.

Lately I’m in a place where I feel like much of America has lost sight of the reason we hold elections. So, where do I go from here? I don’t know. I’ll vote in the fall one way or another, but I think our process is broken and needs an overhaul in the worst way. Unfortunately, the people in a position to overhaul it are often too caught up in sound bites to wonder why the people providing those clips aren’t focused on the actual candidates or the issues and are instead busy derailing the political conversations from where they should be, to places that have nothing to do with who is the best person for the job.

*Also known as The Fellowship, The Fellowship Foundation, and The International Foundation they are a Christian political organization led Doug Coe for the last 40 years. They are not the same group as The Family led by David Berg that was also known as Children of God.

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.

Officers in Sean Bell shooting acquitted

I don’t want to detract from the Seal Press debate, but I guess we’ll just have lots of things to discuss this weekend. Just saw this: the officers who shot Sean Bell and his friends more than 50 times have been acquitted. Continue reading