Author Archives: Dr. Christopher Metzler

The curious case of Michael Steele

By Christopher Metzler

metzlerLet’s face it, if Barack Obama were not president of the United States, Michael Steele would not be the “chairman” of the Republican Party. Yet Steele continues to act as if race was not the sole reason that he was selected to lead The Grim Old Party. The reality is that both race and tokenism played a significant part in his election whether he and the GOP want to admit it or not. Moreover, while he continues to chastise others for “playing the race card,” he has given himself a Black pass to do so. It is, the curious case of the pot calling the kettle black.

According to Steele, “Playing the race card shows that Democrats are willing to deal from the bottom of the deck. Our political system has no place for this type of rhetoric.”

However, “Mr. Chairman,” since you have been elected, your most significant accomplishments have included: having to apologize to Rush Limbaugh (the real head of the party), for calling him an entertainer. As you said in your apology, “My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh.” And, ” I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”  Yet when New Gingrich dismissed Rush, he did not apologize. Does the phrase ‘yessa massa’ ring a historical bell?

In an interview with Cameron Cowan of milehive.com you promised to lure more Blacks to the Republican Party by offering fried chicken and potato salad. Perhaps you would have been more successful had you also offered Kool Aid, greens, watermelon and chitterlings. Does the phrase “jump Jim Crow” ring a bell?

Implying that President Obama is a racist for asking New York Gov. Paterson to end his bid for re-election. According to your racial logic, “Mr. Chairman,” implying the race card and playing the race card are two different things. As you said recently in an op-ed in Politico, “As an African-American, I know what racism is and that is not racism. Addressing the comments by President [Jimmy] Carter who said racism is to blame in the protests against President Obama, you said, “Just like the millions of African-Americans in this country who have fought and overcome on their way to the American dream, I have experienced racism firsthand. It is something you never forget.”

So, is the race card only the race card when you deem it to be “Mr. Chairman?”

Speaking at a historically Black college near downtown Little Rock, Ark., you said, “The Republican Party walked away from the black community in the late 1960s. It was stupid. It was dumb to pursue a southern strategy and it came back to bite them in 1992.” You went on to say, the Republican Party must court Blacks if they are to regain power. Have you vetted this with your party?  The hallmark of your tenure has been making statements ostensibly on the part of your party and then having to backtrack. We thus anxiously await your forthcoming apology.

In fact, it seems that your base has rejected your fried-chicken-and-potato-salad strategy.

In response to your “outreach” several members of the Free Republic (online message boards for independent, grass-roots conservatism on the web) have written:

“Yeah, if the GOP would just offer MORE social welfare, we could get the black vote?”, “Single moms, drugs, easy credit, alcohol, disregard of the law, no education, no incentive, dependency upon the State”;

 “This guy is just begging to be pelted with Oreos again. …I just wish he would focus on the REAL causes.1. What does the black community need: tough marriage laws, reduced welfare, educational vouchers, and good understanding of Booker T. Washington’s ‘Up from slavery.’ 2. Homelessness is caused by alcohol and drug addiction, and mental health disorders. Giving money to an alcoholic is the same as yelling jump to someone standing on the side of the Golden Gate Bridge. More welfare is NOT the answer.”

Of course, these statements, which are just a small sampling of what’s been written, are not at all about race because, as you have said, “Blind charges of racism, where none exist, not only are an affront to those who have suffered the effects of racism, but it weakens our efforts to address true acts of racism and makes them more difficult to overcome.”

So, are the statements by the Freepers as they call themselves true acts of racism or simply policy disagreements infected with the stench of stereotypes? Perhaps viewing these statements as acts of racism would be to raise charges of racism where none exist.

Your stance on racism, “Mr. Chairman,” can be described as contradictory, condescending racial polemics steeped in racial perturbation. You have said, “What you will face is very subtle. It’s very quiet. It’s deceiving, but it’s there and you can’t be fooled otherwise, but I’m still a black man; when I walk in a room, you have attitudes about black folks. I can’t change that. And I’ve gotta deal with that reality regardless of my title.”

Speaking of President Obama, you said, “He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office. ‘Oh gee, wouldn’t it be neat to do that? Gee, wouldn’t it make all of our liberal guilt just go away? We can continue to ride around in our limousines and feel so lucky to live in an America with a black president.’”

So, “Mr. Chairman,” are you palling around with racists? Are you calling the kettle black? Or are you using the race card when it suits you. In the age of multitasking, critical thinkers will decide for themselves.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Obama and Paterson: Painful Politics

metzlerDr. Christopher J. Metzler

The New York Times has reported that President Obama has asked New York Governor David Paterson to drop out of the 2010 Governor’s race. While not exactly denying the report, a White House official said, “There are officials in the White House that share the concerns that are widely held in New York about the very challenging political environment confronting Governor Paterson.”

Yet New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is running into similar political headwinds with a Quinnipiac University’s poll putting Republican challenger Christopher Christie ahead by 10 points and a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll favoring Christie by five points. The White House remains unconcerned about Corzine but concerned about Paterson. Perhaps, this is a disagreement on policy.

At the risk of stating the obvious; Paterson is one of only two Black governors in the nation; Deval Patrick is the other. Thus, some will no doubt point out the supposed irony in the first Black President asking Paterson to drop out of the race. Asked on “Face the Nation” whether Obama’s decision was a racial one, and reveling in the racial optics both inside and outside of the Democratic Party, RNC Chair Michael Steele smiled goofily and said “I found that to be stunning that the White House would send word to one of only two Black governors in the country not to run for re-election.”

“That will be very interesting to see what the response from Black leadership around the country will be about the president calling the governor to step down or not run for election,” Steele quipped.

Steele, of course, was not playing the race card as Republicans never do that; they only disagree on policy. So, what is the policy disagreement here that Steele raised with his pallid attempt at sarcasm?

Of course, Governor Paterson has not helped himself with a series of maladroit decisions including: appointing a Lieutenant Governor without having the legal authority to do so, leaking information about Caroline Kennedy to the press over her failed bid to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate and replacing Clinton with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand after promising the White House that he would not do so. It is not an understatement to say that Patterson’s administration is incompetent at best and bungling at worst.          

Who could forget the rather salacious details that Paterson shared with the world about the sexual assignations that both he and his wife had outside their marriage while they were both married to each other? Paterson seemed more adept at managing peccadillo than managing the budget. Of course, Paterson is himself a beneficiary of political peccadillo as his ascension to the Governorship is because of the improper proclivities of his predecessor.

Under Governor Paterson, New York’s economic conditions have crumbled as evidenced by soaring unemployment and seemingly multitudinous job losses. So, there is reason for the citizens of New York to reject him.

However, the last time I checked (the birther issues aside) President Obama is neither a citizen nor resident of the state of New York. So, why does he have a say in who the citizens choose to lead their state? Paterson made the ultimate political transgression in Obama’s “post-racial” America; he blamed race for his declining popularity and then tried to drag Obama into the racial swamp with him.

In an interview with blogger Gerson Borrero, Paterson said, “Part of what I feel is that one very successful minority is permissible, but when you see too many success stories, then some people get nervous.” He went on to say, “I submit that the same kind of treatment that Deval Patrick is receiving right now in Massachusetts, and I’m receiving, the way in which the New York State Senate was written about, calling them a bunch of people with thick necks,” He concluded “that we’re not in the post-racial period. And the reality is that the next victim on the list — and you see it coming — is President Barack Obama.”

Did Paterson not get the message that President Obama will not engage in any discussion about the racial optics surrounding his Presidency. He believes that while race may be in the backdrop of America; his Presidency does not stand in front of that backdrop. Let’s be clear, the critique of Paterson has nothing to do with race; it has to do with his unmitigated incompetence. In fact, prior to his decline in the polls, Paterson in an interview with The Wall Street Journal said, “I don’t think this country tolerates open racial codes as it has in the past, which is a real demonstration of improvement not just in race relations but just in the decorum of political campaigns.”

So,  in addition to his political blunders, Paterson has angered a White House for whom race, not Social Security is the third rail. The President is betting that Blacks will understand that he cannot engage in any substantive discussion of race lest his presidency be defined by the reality of his race. He is also betting that Whites will reward him for not discussing race by reelecting him.

Of course, this is a political decision but do we expect a politician to make non-political decisions? That would be like expecting a doctor to make a medical decision to treat illness and then complain that his decision was medical.

 So Governor Paterson, have you asked Rev. Wright, Van Jones and Kanye West what the view is like from under the bus?

Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

The Obama Presidency in Peril?

metzler

 

By Christopher Metzler

President Obama’s presidency is in peril for two primary reasons. The first, his inability to be a transformational leader to an American public hungry for it is of his own making. The second, the thinly veiled demonstration of racism unskillfully disguised as “concern for country” is both to be expected and not of his own making.  

First, President Obama came into to office promising “change that we can believe in.” However, on the signature issue of change, health care reform, he has not led; choosing instead to send a litany of mixed messages as to whether  he would turn the Byzantine labyrinth that is the American health care system on its head. A transformational leader takes bold, decisive, innovative action if he or she believes that it is right for the country. Thus far, on health care, the President has not demonstrated transformational leadership; he has pledged fidelity to the status quo.

Time after time, the President and his team have delivered anemic polemics that were amateurish at best and incompetent at worst. These included a dreadful and inept message on the “public option” which seems to suggest that we can expect neither reasoned deliberation nor resolve from this President. Fearing that he was losing the rhetorical war, the President did what he has come to be known for; he delivered a speech. 

The problem of course is that a good speechmaker does not a transformational leader make.  While he scored some rhetorical  points, he also raised grave questions about whether he is a transformational leader. Among them, did he fail to anticipate the pitfalls of changing the American health care system? Is he aware that transformational leadership requires the ability to orate and deliver? How does he define change? Is he counting on a critical mass of the non-critical thinkers among us to follow him because he is not George W. Bush?

Leadership, in a digital and global world, requires first having a message and then taking control of the message before the message gets lost in the real or manufactured political scandals of the day. What we have seen from this White House so far is that a) they don’t understand this b) they are incapable of rapid and deliberate responses and c)  they intend to run from crisis throughout the Obama Presidency. This, of course, is counter to transformational leadership.

For example, former green jobs czar Van Jones was embroiled in controversy over comments he made prior to joining the White House. Was the White House aware of these statements? If so, did they think that in the information age the statements would not come to light? Once they came to light, why did it take them so long to act? Or does this White House think that if they ignore their opponents they will go away? The Van Jones controversy had been brewing for a long time (albeit not in the mainstream press; much like the ACORN controversy is now brewing) and the White House failed to address it at their peril while basking in reckless abandon.

The President did with Jones what he did with Rev. Wright; he took action long after the damage had been done. Are we to believe that this is transformational leadership?

On the controversy surrounding Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates, the President also demonstrated enervated leadership first calling out Crowley, the officer involved in the Gates arrest (although the President admitted that he did not know all the facts), then backing down and then inviting Gates and Crowley to the White House for an awkwardly staged and superfluous photo opportunity. 

President Obama was elected by an American public famished for leadership, not pandering. We want to know that he will take the tough decisions utilizing solid and reasoned justifications. What we have gotten so far is leadership by speechifying, thus raising the question ‘does the emperor have clothes?’

America remains deeply divided among racial lines. Despite protestations to the contrary, there are Whites in this country that simply cannot and will not accept the legitimacy of a Black Presidency. Many of the Whites of whom I write, are the ones who still challenge the fact that the President was born in the United States. Their racial logic is riotous and birthed from White supremacy. In fact, at the so called 9-12 rally, a protestor held a sign which read, “the zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lying African.”

During this relatively young Presidency, we have heard the constant refrain “we want our country back.” If this sounds eerily familiar, it is because this was the same refrain we heard during the civil rights movement when there was a move afoot to ensure equal rights for Blacks.  Of course, the Whites of whom I write deny any racial bias. I suppose that if one were to assume that racial bias means that one does not publicly use racial pejoratives when referring to the President, then one would be correct. However, during Jim Crow, it was not necessary to bar Blacks from voting because they were Black; the preferred methods included: poll taxes, voting tests and intimidation. Did this mean that racism had gone away; of course not. It meant then what it means today: racism continues to be the pig that we put lipstick on while calling it a beauty queen. It was a pig then and it is a pig now.

Moreover, so many Whites have conveniently and purposely bought into the dim-witted notion that the election of Barack Obama means the end of racism; that they have morphed into “post-racial,” “post-racists” and “post-prejudice” Americans. Race in America is built on a complex belief system that contains an array of beliefs that continue to define our existence in 2009 whether we choose to accept this or not. 

Do critical thinkers really believe that on Election Day 2008 Americans magically eliminated all of their racial attitudes and beliefs? Do critical thinkers really believe that the lack of civility surrounding political discourse in this country, from which south Carolina congressman Joe Wilson is rewarded with campaign largess for calling the President of the United States a liar during a joint address to Congress, is devoid of racial animus? 

The election of a Black President has upset the political and racial calculus in a country that could not have foreseen such an election.  Thus many Whites, including the ones of which I write, are choosing to play it both ways.  On the one hand, they are appealing to a base of unabashedly racist ideologues that wallow in a shallow pit of racial filth. On the other hand, they want to stay true to what they view as “hardy American values” from an era gone by. (Read the time before the Black President). Thus, they employ the “we want our country back” rhetoric and deeply deny any racial virulence. Not all Whites who criticize the President do so out of racial animus. The problem is that too many do and in so doing, sink deeper into racial acrimony that continues to destroy American democracy.

While we have been on the “post-racial” path for some time, the election of President Obama has lit the movement on fire. The reality is that we are infected with “post-racial” palaver. This is not a complaint but a critique. This critique allows us to question the quixotic theorem advanced by the Whites of whom I write that their “country first” rhetoric is not contaminated with racist dogma.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Racism, It’s Viral

metzlerBy Dr. Christopher Metzler

“To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds.” That’s the photo caption of Michelle Obama speaking to her daughter Malia posted on Free Republic.

Disclaimer on Free Republic:  “Free Republic does not advocate or condone racism, violence, rebellion, secession, or an overthrow of the government. ” For those of you who have argued vociferously with me that we are living in a “post-racial America” rather than an America in which Jim Crow is on steroids, you apparently have not read the daily diet of racism that the readers and bloggers on this site consume and then regurgitate. The photo caption above was posted with a blog in which comments included: “Could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there?” “They make me sick … The whole family … mammy, pappy, the free loadin’ mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin’, and especially ‘lil cuz … This is not the America I want representin’ my peeps.”

First, it is easy to dismiss these comments as isolated incidents posted on a right-wing rag. To do so, of course, would be to completely miss the point. Moreover, these comments show the continuing significance of race in a country that has become so enamored with the election of its first Black president. In fact, far too many of us are content only with the symbolism and dismiss the substance. I have heard many say that he can’t tackle race in his first term but that he will do it in his second. The result is that too many of us have accepted racism as a creature of the past and we use the election of President Obama as unequivocal proof of this.

The reality is that Bull Connor; the Grand Wizards and members of the KKK and the Aryan Nation have been replaced by the writers, editors and owners of Free Republic, who through the use of technology have more power to spread hate and racism than any of the three aforementioned entities combined.  Free Republic is the modern day racist engine that a majority of conservatives rely on to indoctrinate old and new generations of race peddlers and demagogues. Of course, the site owner is also a “sensitive” man.

According to site owner, Jim Thompson, “We should steer clear of Obama’s children. They can’t help it if their old man is an American-hating Marxist pig.” Second, far too many of us have responded to the election of President Obama simply as the removal of the most significant symbol of racism and manifestation of subordination without realizing that while significant, his election alone does not mean the entrenched racists’ mindset that continues in so much of America has simply vanished.

Racial thinking will not be cured by a single event no matter how powerful that event. Web sites like Free Republic provide a gathering place for Whites who are convinced that the election of a Black president means the end of White power and the introduction of Negro rule. For those of you who wish to quibble with me about whether President Obama is Black or multi-racial, I say that the readers of  Free Republic are not confused. Their arguments are not based in multiculturalism; they are based in naked racial stereotypes that have been and continue to be assigned to Blacks.

As one writer on Free Republic puts it “we can no longer afford to give people the benefit of the doubt simply because we do not know them personally. Our tolerance in this area has the effect of shredding the fabric of our society. It has nothing to do with being hateful, racist, or biased. It is merely a desire to maintain our society and culture.”

Third, since the president’s election, there has been an emerging cacophony of Blacks who insist that the president should stay “race neutral” because to do otherwise would relegate his presidency to the margins of history. These voices were loudest when the president boycotted the World Racism Conference, did not announce a Black person on the short list for the United States Supreme Court, chided attorney General Eric Holder for his comments that on the question of race America is a nation of cowards, said that judge Sonia Sotomayor misspoke with her wise Latina woman comment and punted in Destafano v Ricci.

It is as if the president cannot be race-conscious in his policies and govern effectively at the same time. To be sure, since his election racism has not taken a holiday and his attempts at race neutrality have been an abysmal failure. Fourth, while we have become so caught up in the symbolism of the president’s election, many of us have failed to even care that the United States Supreme Court in the Ricci case has turned back the clock, thus making it harder for racial minorities to prove racial discrimination in employment and making it harder for employers to defend employment decisions when they choose racial minorities over Whites.

I have heard very few people calling for Congress and the president to overturn that case by legislation. Yet, the very first bill that the president signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Act overturning a Supreme Court decision on equal pay. Do we wish to become so race neutral that we refuse to acknowledge the deep social context in which racial subordination is a reality in America, Black president or not?

Certainly Free Republic understands the racial context of President Obama’s election. “DIRTBAGS! All of them. Our [White House] is now a joke to the rest of the world. We have no respect and this is not going to turn out well, mark my words. We will be hit, and much worse than last time. We are now seen as weak and vulnerable. Ghetto and Chicago thugs have taken over.” Finally, regardless of whether we wish to admit it or not, the political winds that lifted the civil rights movement have shifted right.

As the posts that I have quoted from and so many others on Free Republic indicate, the election of President Obama has rewritten the racial narrative. According to the devotees, they will insist that the new narrative not trade the rights of Blacks for the safety of Whites nor would it be held hostage to the ghost of slavery.

A post to Free Republic sums up White racial thinking best: “96% of Blacks supported Zero in November. A group of 50 Blacks set upon Whites for being White in July. Decades of witnessing life. Those are a few reasons it’s back to the ’50s for this White devil, 1750s that is. As much as I can legally discriminate I will discriminate. To paraphrase Marty Balin: Everything they say we are, I’ll be. Wasn’t always this way. It is now.”

Ahh … the perils of a “post-racial America.”

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

The Flawed Logic of Anti-affirmative Action Bake Sales

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThe Affirmative Action Bake Sale is used by conservative groups on college campuses to further polarize college campuses along racial lines using affirmative action as a hammer. Writing for Fox News, Wendy McElroy said, “Through Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative groups on campuses across America are satirically and peacefully spotlighting the injustice of AA programs that penalize or benefit students based solely on gender and race.” Seeking to dramatize the “ills” of affirmative action, the groups charge different prices for baked goods based entirely on race. For example, White and Asian males may be charged $1 for a muffin while Black and Hispanic males might be charged 25 cents.

Recently Bucknell University students held such a bake sale that was shut down by the university. Citing the First Amendment, Bucknell students claimed that their free speech rights were violated. Of course, they conveniently forgot that as students at a private university, the First Amendment simply does not apply. But, the issue goes beyond the technical question of the First Amendment and whether it applies to a private university. Instead, the issue is that students such as those at Bucknell, who put on the bake sale, continue to propagate the myth that only White and Asian males are qualified to be admitted to university study.

First, far too many admissions committees make decisions to admit or deny students based strictly on quantitative factors such as test scores and “standardized” tests. The reality is that in our capitalist society, the more money one has, the more money one can spend on commercial test preparation services. Let us not forget that while the income disparity between Blacks and Whites has changed some, they are not even. Thus, more Whites than Blacks are able to purchase commercial test preparation services, increasing their quantitatives and admissions to colleges and universities.

Second, the Bucknell students chose to ignore completely affirmative action for White men, which is a staple of the admissions process of many colleges and universities. Of course, given that the right wing has so racialized the term affirmative action, they dare not apply it to White men. Instead, it is admission by legacy. Legacy admissions means that colleges and universities reserve places in the class for the children of alumni who have given significant sums of money. The reality is that those admits tend to be overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly male. In these cases, the only quantitatives that matter are the dollar value of the contribution. Often these legacy admits are outside the regular admissions process and admissions committees are blissfully unaware of them. So, why don’t the Affirmative Action Bake Sales offer a discount for legacy admits?

Third, affirmative action continues to be a divisive issue on college campuses in large part because of the elitism that affects too many universities. Students on far too many college campuses have accepted the notion that Black and Brown students who have been admitted to colleges and universities are academically inferior and could not have been admitted to the exclusive halls of academe but for naked racial preferences. Students sponsoring the Affirmative Action Bake Sale are operating from a superiority complex. The logic of that complex is that they (the predominantly White students) have been admitted strictly on merit and that the Black and Brown students were not. The Affirmative Action Bake Sale is the method by which they seek to further marginalize the Black and Brown students on their campuses. The Black and Brown students are then forced to prove that they belong by denying that affirmative action had anything to do with their admission. Of course, by virtue of the way the conversation is framed, legacy admits have nothing to prove as they are the silent elite.

Fourth, the students who have these bake sales engage in racial profiling. By choosing to offer the discount to Blacks and Hispanics, they are further advancing the stereotypes of Asians as the “model minority,” whose intellectual capabilities are on par with Whites. The assumption being that students are intelligent and thus worthy of admissions based on how close they are to a “white norm” of intelligence.

Fifth, I disagree with the Affirmative Action Bake Sale because I think that such events are ahistorical, race-baiting and political pandering of the most vitriolic kind. Moreover, students who will be our future leaders should be able to engage in serious debate without relying on divisive and trite tactics that are designed to belittle rather than engage those with whom they disagree. This is a valuable skill that they need when entering the real world. Name-calling and identity politics is in large part responsible for the racial divide that still permeates America. The students in this case are choosing to repeat these tactics. However, I do not agree that the students should be silenced in the free market place of ideas.

Finally, I am also deeply disturbed by the way the Bucknell administration chose to shut down the bake sale. Here, the school had the opportunity to mount a spirited defense of affirmative action if it assumes that affirmative action has merit. It squandered that opportunity. Wayne Bromfield, Bucknell’s general counsel wrote that students did not have the required prior permission to hand out the handbills at the cafeteria entrance.  According to Bromfield, permission is required to prevent cross-scheduling and allow management to prepare for “possible reactions” to the events, “including for the safety of those involved.”

In an academic environment, we should never send the message that academic freedom is only free when we agree with the content of the message.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Trading an Education for Thug Life

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerIn the past several weeks, we have witnessed “two Black men in a Cadillac” being accused of kidnapping a White woman. The truth was that the woman had voluntarily gone to Disney World and could not tell her husband. He would find it hard to believe that she would go to Disney. It was easier, she reasoned, that he and indeed the world would believe that Black men in a Cadillac would kidnap her. After all, according to her logic, we have a reputation for that.

We also learned that yet another plain clothes Black police officer was shot by one of his colleagues who mistook him for a criminal. We also mourned the shooting and killing of a security officer at the Holocaust Museum by a White supremacist. Leading me to ask the question: “Where can a brother go to get his reputation back?”

Ever since “Birth of a Nation” it has been popular to portray Black men as thugs and criminals.  Despite the passage of time, these image have not faded from memory. Instead, they have been used to justify racial profiling of suspects leading to the crimes of “Driving While Black,” “Walking While Black” and “Shopping While Black.”

These stereotypes apply to Black men no matter our position, education or social status. The impact of this societal marker is a sullied reputation in the minds of society as a whole. Thus, the fact that we have achieved great success and/or education does not exempt us from having our reputation come into question.

Let’s be clear that Whites are not exclusively responsible for the racial caricature of Black men as criminals.

Also bearing responsibility are some hip hop artists and scores of young Black men who would rather show us the crack of their behinds than the power of their brains. The result is a reputation for violence and base vulgarity that is coming close to being beyond repair.

First, there are simply too many White people in America, who, with reckless abandon, act on their closely held racialized stereotypes of Black men, resulting in our murder and further marginalization. What is even more disturbing is that the White people of whom I write simply refuse to admit their fidelity to the racial stereotypes. Instead, they choose to blame the routine occurrence of the murder of Black plain clothes officers by their White colleagues as “mistaken identity.” If this is to be believed, why don’t Black plain clothes officers mistake White plain clothes officers as criminals in as high a number?

Second, Susan Smith, Charles Stewart and other racially conscious criminals understand that their stories have more currency with law enforcement if the alleged perpetrator is a Black man. To be sure, both Tawana Brawley and Crystal Gail Mangum blamed their assaults on White men and both lied. Both women relied on stereotypes. The question, however, is whether their reliance on stereotypes has sullied the reputation of White men in general. Do people see White men more so as criminals now as they did before the allegations? Are Black women likely to claim that they have been abducted by White men in order to cover up a crime? Do White women clutch their pursues when White men are in the elevator with them? Most likely not. This is because in the United States few people have internalized stereotypes of White men as prone to random violence as a result of their race.  They have, however, uncritically done so with Black men.

Third, some hip hop artists, athletes and other Black celebrities are also complicit in perpetuating the stereotype of Black man as criminal and thug. One need only look at the penis-centric image of the gangsta life purveyed by the people of whom I write. They are among the most crotch-holding, gyrating images anywhere.  There is no excuse for the violent lyrics, misogyny and overreliance on the feigned masculinity they use to make their living. Their profanity-based brand of Black male masculinity is nothing more than a modern day reincarnation of the images that we fought so hard against in the Jim Crow era. The plantation has gone digital, virtual and viral. So while they crank out their latest hit, they also sell out the reputation of Black men knowingly and willingly and then decry racial profiling. Have they no shame?

Fourth, young Black boys and men have bought into the Black man as thug reputation in alarming numbers. Many of our young Black boys are choosing to fail in school because they confuse masculinity with thug life. For them it is not about how hard you study, but how hard you are. Half-dressed and half-educated, they enter a world that has already decided their fate based on a reputation that is part racist, part undeserved and fully difficult to overcome.  The reputation of Black men as strong, responsible, intelligent, contributing members of a sometimes hostile American society is close to extinction.

So, where does a Brother go to get his reputation back?

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

A Litmus Test for Commencement Speakers?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerEvery President since President Eisenhower has been invited to speak at Notre Dame’s commencements. So, why has President Obama’s invitation created such a row? It depends on who you ask.

First, many of those who oppose his invitation do so ostensibly based on Catholic social teaching and a doctrinal dedication to Catholicism.  That is, they claim that one who supports abortion rights and stem cell research and thus oppose Catholic teaching should not be honored with an invitation to speak at commencement or with an honorary degree. As a practicing Catholic I say fair enough. I would assume then that any President who opposed any tenant of Catholic teaching would not be granted this honor. My assumption is incorrect and thus the argument is flawed.

To be sure, the Obama commencement controversy is not the first. One wonders though why the amount of vitriol did not reach a fermented brouhaha when Bush41 was given the honor to deliver the Notre Dame commencement address. After all, Catholic teaching extols  the sanctity of human life without exception and makes no distinction whatsoever.  Yet Bush41 supported the death penalty and thus made the decision that “the sanctity of human life has exceptions.”  Ignoring the life question, he said in his address, “Today’s crisis will have to be addressed by millions of Americans at the personal, individual level for governmental programs to be effective. And the federal government, of course, must do everything it can do, but the point is, government alone is simply not enough.” So perhaps the vitriol depends on the political content of the speech as well as the political leanings of the protesters.

Bush 43 faced protest because of his stances on, among other things, labor and the death penalty. He said in his speech, “This University is more than a community of scholars, it is a community of conscience.” Neither Randall Terry nor Alan Keyes was present with gallows in tow.

Second, the analysis and discussion concerning the President’s invitation proves the power of the chattering class to define Obama’s Presidency in “post-racial” discourse. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, unlike all of his predecessors, the President is Black. Thus, if Notre Dame did not extend the invitation; the punditry would have certainly accused Notre Dame of being racist for refusing to extend the invitation.   “Post-racial” discourse is powerful because of its ability to ignore race and elevate “value-based” twaddle.

Third, let’s not forget that the very nature of a university is that it provides a platform for discourse even when all in the university community do not agree with the views of the speaker. Are those in opposition to the invitation suggesting that there should be a litmus test for commencement speakers? Should that litmus test be that no speaker should be invited to speak at commencement unless the speaker is in complete agreement with each and every tenet of espoused values of the University? Commencement then would be relegated to an intellectual merry-andrew buttressed by politically correct indoctrination.

 Moreover, universities would have to engage in a purging of “intellectual and community miscreants” where each and every member of the University community who does not agree with those espoused values are asked to unceremoniously  exit the University. The University then would create a list of those in opposition and then “burn them at the proverbial stake.” To be sure, Notre Dame is both Catholic and a university. Thus, the fundamental question is whether Notre Dame and others like it are Catholic universities or universities that happen to be Catholic. This is not merely an academic question nor is the difference a distinction without a difference.  Perhaps, some doctrinal and dogmatic soul searching may be in order.

The fact is that there is no university community in which all members live the espoused values of the university without deviation. To suggest otherwise is intellectually bankrupt at worst and unrealistic at best.  I am not suggesting that religious universities should not have the freedom to invite those who share our religious values to celebrate commencement. In fact the opposite is true. I am suggesting that religious universities in modern day America live, work and teach in an America that is increasingly secular, political and diverse. I am also suggesting that if we’re honest, we would admit that economics dictate that we cannot survive and thrive in an increasingly secular America if we do not find a way to interrogate secularity.  So, perhaps, the question is at what cost.

Fourth, the reality is that the Republican Party is in ataxia and they have used this invitation as a way to rally social conservatives. Both Randall Terry and Alan Keyes were arrested as part of the protest against the President’s invitation. My research did not indicate that Terry and Keyes are members of the Notre Dame University community.  Their pushing dolls in carriages despite it comic relief prove this fact. Let’s not forget that Keyes is the proverbial political bridesmaid and self-promoter.

Finally, abortion is a social and political issue that continues to divide modern day America much like slavery did. Thus, while I do not question the religious devotion of anyone involved in this debate, I do question the motives of those who have sought to politicize this invitation while pretending not to do so. The reality is that this invitation is shrouded in religion, politics and policy; I just wish that all sides would admit it rather than adopting the supercilious “holier than thou, post-racial” moniker buttressed by pretentious posturing that prevents serious debate in modern day America.

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University and the author of The Construction and Reticulation of Race in a “post-racial” America.

The Perils of a “post-racial” Presidency

metzlerBy Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

 A recent New York Times/CBS poll concluded that race relations are improving in the wake of the election of President Obama. According to the survey, about 66 percent of Americans said that race relations are generally good compared with 53 percent in July of last year. Fifty-nine percent of African-Americans – along with 65 percent of whites – now characterize the relationship between Blacks and Whites in America as ‘good,’ The New York Times proclaimed with glee, “Barack Obama’s presidency seems to be altering the public perception of race relations in the United States.” The Huffington Post also chimed in claiming that “Obama’s race relations effect is real.” 

 It seems that the single event of the election of President Obama has erased America’s racial transgressions in one fell swoop and has improved the relationship between Blacks and Whites overnight. The problem, however, is not relations between Blacks and Whites; there is no evidence yet that the election of President Obama has had more than a symbolic (but important) effect on America’s still unresolved and conflicted relationship with race.

 Obama’s election has not changed the fact that in this economic downturn, Black unemployment is at approximately 15 percent while White unemployment is at approximately eight percent. Since his election, racial profiling has not stopped, the educational achievement gap between Blacks and Whites has not narrowed. In addition, the President did not attend, nor did he send a delegation to the World Racism conference in Geneva. Thus, it can be argued that Obama’s election has had nothing but a symbolic effect on race. The difficulty with this argument is that it suffers from the same flaw in logic that is inherent in the New York Times/CBS News poll.

 First, the question in the poll was about race relations. That is, the interpersonal relationship between Blacks and Whites. But, the issue is not race relations, it is whether the President will use his bully pulpit to eradicate the substantive racial inequalities that afflict Blacks in America. Much like he will use it to bring peace to the Middle East.

Thus far, the President has been reluctant to do so in any meaningful way. He did chide Attorney General Eric Holder for stating that on the issue of race, America is a nation of cowards. The President said, “I’m not somebody who believes that constantly talking about race somehow solves racial tensions.” The issue, Mr. President, is racial progress, not racial tension. Moreover, it is about action, not talk.

 The President has given no major address on race since his election nor has he implemented any policies that suggest a more inclusive approach to substantive racial equality than any of his all White predecessors. The President’s foray into the question of race came only when as a candidate the Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened to derail his ascension to the presidency. Is this a racial harbinger of things to come?

 In a “post-racial America”, the fact that Obama is Black restricts rather than expands his ability to implement racially substantive policies. The racial calculus in America means that the President must tread lightly on race lest he lose the support of those Whites who claim to be “post-racial.” Some Whites voted for Obama because he is not in the “radical” mold of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Rather, he is in the “acceptable” role of Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Second, some will argue that he can’t do all things immediately and that he should be given more time. Fair enough. He did, however, immediately decree the closure of Guantanamo Bay, ordered a halt to torture, and rescinded several executive orders by the Bush Administration. Thus, the question, is does a “post-racial America” mean that on the issue of race, his presidency will be relegated to a symbolic footnote? Or that while he was elected to solve America’s economic and international problems, he was not elected to solve its racial problems?

Third, the United States is fascinated with grading our Presidents on their progress in their first 100 days in office. One can argue as to whether or not this is an appropriate barometer. As the pundits and analysts pontificated and analyzed, noticeably absent from the discourse was any analysis of his progress on substantive racial equality efforts. Does this suggest that the chattering class have adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the issue of race? Or does it suggest that America understands and accepts that the black community is willing to trade symbolic victory on the issue of race for substantive victory? Thus, we are willing to avoid the critique of racial avoidance that we have leveled against his all White predecessors.

Fourth, regardless of the “post-racial” moniker attached uncritically to the President’s election, there is racial reality. There are four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that are dripping in racial verisimilitude and, which, depending on how the Court rules, can set the racial clock backwards. Assuming, for example, that the Court castrates affirmative action or renders the Voting Rights Act pointless in the age of Obama; will the President sit on the racial sidelines? And if he does, will this solidify the notion that the single event of his election is proof positive that America has moved beyond race? As a candidate, if these issues threatened to derail his candidacy, would he have acted? If so, how?

Fifth, perhaps it is a question of expectations. That is, why should we expect a Black President to be more racially inclusive than a non-Black President? Or is the question whether he is a Black President or a President who happens to be Black? The fact that these questions are being asked at all suggests that despite the desire by some to “move beyond race”, it is not as simple as it seems. Thus, dismantling racial discourse and substantive racial inequality requires a shift away from the “post-racial” claptrap that has debauched the descant of the Obama victory.

This means that Black advocates for substantive racial equality should not cower in fear of interrogating the first Black President about how he plans to deal with race. It also means that Whites who support the President should ask themselves whether that support is in exchange for his not engaging in any meaningful way on the issue of race.

 Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University and author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “Post-Racial” America.

Shaping the Court: Race, Gender and Ideology

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzler2009 seems to be the year that the American electorate is turning left of center. Evidence of this include the election of President Obama, the election of a Democratic controlled Congress,  the Supreme Court of Iowa sanctioned same sex marriage, Vermont allows same sex marriage and several other states are soon to follow.  Is this left-of-center shift better for the country than the right-of-center shift? To be sure, the shift is attributed to the disappearance of the liberal wing of the Republican Party and the disappearance of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Is there a need to balance this shift? Noticeably absent from the left of center direction is the Supreme Court of the United States.  On the issue of race, Chief Justice John Roberts’ court seems poised to adopt the legal and amorphous fiction of a “color-blind” America. For example, on school desegregation the court limited the ability of school boards to implement voluntary school desegregation plans and raised significant legal and procedural hurdles for plaintiffs bringing discrimination law suits. On the court’s docket are three cases with racial implications Ricci (affirmative action), Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Mukasey (Voting Rights), and Padilla v. Kentucky (Immigration and the right to counsel).

Addressing the right-of-center approach to jurisprudence, the first bill signed by President Obama was the Lily Ledbetter Act, which sought to correct the doctrinal and ideological shift of the Roberts court on pay discrimination in particular. The new law amends Title VII, by providing, “unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this title, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.” The Ledbetter Act is a clear rebuke of the right-leaning ideological shift of the court. Of course, a president cannot govern by gaining the political muscle to overturn decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, he uses his appointments to the ostensibly independent judiciary to further his political agenda. Obama will not be the first president to do so. In fact, the right-of-center ideological shift is due to both President Bushes.

Despite the claim that presidents appoint Supreme Court justices based on qualifications and not on ideology, the ideological and political tilt of the Roberts court and courts before it reflects the ideology of the appointing president (with the exception of Justice Souter).  So fittingly, with Justice Souter resigning and President Obama set to name his replacement, what factors will the president consider?  As a candidate for president, Obama said, “I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind, and a record of excellence and integrity.” Last week he said, “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book, it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living, and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes, and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with peoples hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”  Thus, by his own admission the president seems poised to select someone who is left of center and thus solidify the ideological left-of-center and right-of-center divide that infects the judiciary.

To be sure, his appointment will not change the constitution of the court since Souter is left of center. This however, is not the question. The question is where a president promises “change that we can believe in,” does that change include not changing the ideological shift of the Supreme Court of the United States? If it does, were Americans voting for change in the politics of ideology or were Americans voting for change in party?  If Americans were voting for a change in party and not ideology, then the president would have a difficult time appointing a White man  or one who many in the left-of-center bloc would argue “thinks like a White man” to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Just like race was a factor in the Bush 41 decision to appoint Justice Clarence Thomas to the court, so too will race, gender, and age be a factor in Obama’s decision. A major consideration for the president is going to be appointing a young judge who can shape the ideological intestines of the court interminably.

The president has said he will select someone who understands the reality of everyday Americans. This unshrouds the president’s view of altering the landscape of the court by appointing justices now and in the course of his presidency who are unlike the current Supreme Court where all of the justices have come from the federal appellate courts. The model of course will not be aboriginal. The court that decided Brown v. Board (the decision declaring separate is unequal), Gideon v. Wainwright (the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution required that indigent non- capital criminal defendants be provided with counsel), Miranda v. Arizona (Miranda rights), and Loving v. Virginia (which allowed inter-racial marriage) was comprised of those who “combined empathy and understanding” in its judicial decisions. Of course, it is not the kind of “empathy and understanding” that the Roberts court has shown on the issue of race. It has chosen instead to employ the juridical framework of formal equality and the aspirational, controversial rhetorical of a “color-blind America.”  Let’s be clear. The nomination of a Supreme Court justice is among the single most political decision that a president will make. Thus, advocacy groups on all sides of the issue will pressure the president to alter the judicial landscape in their favor.

Responding to the vitriolic attack on Sen. Leahy by advocacy groups who supported current Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation, then- Sen. Obama said, “These groups on the right and left should not resort to the sort of broad-brush dogmatic attacks that have hampered the process in the past and constrained each and every senator in this chamber from making sure that they are voting on the basis of their conscience.” But, elections matter and the question is how will the president’s conscience blend with the politics of race, age and gender as well as ideology?

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “post-racial America.”

The Case Against Cultural Standardization in Tenure Decisions

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThere has been a cacophony of voices calling for the elimination of tenure in higher education. Many of those voices are ultra conservative ideologues who are using the tenure debate to excoriate what they see as a liberal-leaning academy. There is a more vexing question that is conveniently absent from the tenure reform debate. That question is the role that race plays in the decision of tenure committees in denying tenure to Black scholars. I am not suggesting that all decisions to deny tenure to Blacks is racist. I am suggesting that the committees making the decision to deny, the departments that support the decisions, the deans, provosts and presidents who uphold denial must ask themselves whether they have homogenized the tenure process, already structured around amorphous standards of scholarship and service, such that it is more likely than not that Black scholars and our scholarship will forever be relegated to the intellectual margins.

My concern is that those denying tenure are more concerned about whether their decisions are legally defensible than whether the decisions are just. That is, how many of the people who make the decisions to deny, acknowledge and act upon the structural and racial biases built into the promotion and tenure systems of most universities? Some would argue that there is no need to do so as the issue of denial is about quality and not about race. But, if this is the case are these committees suggesting that Blacks on tenure track were hired as quality scholars and then after years of teaching, researching and providing service magically become mediocre? Perhaps if they were being honest, they would say that in far too many cases, faculties hire Blacks on tenure track because of pressures — real or perceived — stemming from the underrepresentation of Blacks on the faculties of predominantly White universities, including some of the most liberal ones. In some cases, so-called diversity programs, which grant additional funding to departments to hire (not promote) more Blacks, result in an erosion of the faculty sourcing strategy therefore resulting in denial of tenure and thus termination. Do universities that employ this parochial and patronizing approach to diversifying faculties really believe that this is just? To be sure, the deliberately vague terms of “scholarship” and “quality” affects Whites who are denied tenure as well, it simply affects Blacks differently and worse.

The nature of teaching and learning in colleges and universities continues to change as the student body, and indeed the society, becomes more multicultural and multiracial. The promotion and tenure process at most colleges and universities is a bastion of pettiness, cultural antagonism and ethnocentric backslapping. The ideology and the discourse of tenure approval must become one that praises public intellectuals in all media (including new media), not one that promotes cultural disrespect for the scholarship of Black scholars thus justifying and rewarding the continuation of a community of scholars so stepped in intellectual snobbery and caste warfare that even the mention of new media and scholarship invites public disdain and mocking. To be sure the denial of tenure to any faculty member is as much a failure of the faculty as it is of the individual faculty member. But it is the faculty member denied tenure that must exit the university unceremoniously, while the members of the search committee who selected them selects another group of new faculty often with the same results. Search committees must take a more active and honest role in hiring faculty members who will ultimately succeed, not fail. This requires that the people on these committees understand and can articulate what scholarship is in a way that is specific, measurable, inclusive and achievable.

Black scholars also bear responsibility for our failure. Some of us see racism where there is none, and others fail to see it until we are denied tenure. Black scholars like all scholars have an obligation to provide quality scholarship. However, given that so much of Black America simply do not participate in the system of education, governance and the academy, we have to use public engagement scholarship to critically analyze and respond to the “Negro problem of 2009 and beyond.” This is not to suggest that all Black scholars become critical race theorists or produce Black scholarship. It is to suggest that whatever our discipline, we apply the framework of that discipline to the engagement of our communities — on campus and off. Further, those of us who accept the diversity scholarships to hire (but not promote) us must ask ourselves whether we are willing participants in our demise and thus intellectual sharecroppers.

Have we become so content with being window dressing in the halls of academe that we will never own our intellectual mindshare but simply rent it out to the academic overseers? Why do we continue to play the game when we know that the deck is stacked against us? Is it because we see no alternative? Why is it that some of us who are on tenure committees judge the scholarship of our Black colleagues in a much harsher light? Why is it that despite having tenure some of us on these committees refuse to challenge the decisions in the context of cultural standardization? It is doubtful that there is critical mass on tenure and promotion committees at colleges and universities who will adopt my thesis because the tenure process is mostly about cultural standardization, and that standardization does not benefit Black scholars. Mark Bauerlein has it correct when he writes, “The very system that academics invoke to fend off critics has become part of the problem. Ideological bias has seeped into the standards of professionalism. Peer review isn’t just the application of scholarly and scientific norms. It’s a system of incentives and rewards, and success depends entirely on what peers say about you. They examine your teaching and scholarship and deliver an inside opinion, and the process is easily corrupted.”

Black scholars and all scholars who are truly committed to justice need to insist that the rules for tenure and promotion resists cultural standardization, become specific, particular and transparent or that tenure be abolished in favor of a system that rewards quality, inclusive scholarship and service. Many institutions including so-called liberal institutions are simply not taking the opportunity to expand the definition of scholarship and quality in a way that is substantively equal. Making the case for tenure in 1940, the American Association of University Professors opined, “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.” In 2009, the peer review system at so many of our educational institutions has become infected with rank censorship and a fiefdom controlled by ostensibly liberal “royalty” who use a warped allegiance to the ever-illusive quality as a proxy for race-based decisions.

The oppressed have become the oppressors.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of the book, The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “post-racial” America.