Tag Archives: 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.

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.

Of Watermelons, Chimps and Cowards

metzler 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

 

It was not that long ago that we were ushering in the “post-racial” era in American racial discourse. According to scholar John McWhorter, “So, in answer to the question, ‘Is America past racism against black people,’ I say the answer is yes.” In intellectual and ideological lockstep, Dinesh D’Souza proclaimed, “If Obama’s election means anything, it means that we are now living in post-racist America. That’s why even those of us who didn’t vote for Obama have good reason to celebrate.”  If we are to believe the inane gab fest, a single event has changed the racial calculus of America, and we should simply move on. I own several bridges in all of the major cities in the United States and will be happy to sell them to all who want to buy at a cheap price.

 

Of Watermelons

Dean Grose, the former mayor of Los Alamitos, Calif. demonstrates that America is not at all “post-racial.” Realizing that this will be the first Easter egg hunt at the White House under the Obama administration, Grose decided to send a photo by e-mail to “ a small group of friends” (yes America, he does have black friends) depicting the White House lawn festooned with watermelons and the caption, “No Easter egg hunt this year.” Asked to explain himself, Grose said that he did not mean to offend anyone and that he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons. The statement begs the question as to why he chose watermelons knowing that a black family resides in the White House and not “knowing about the racial stereotype.”

My guess is that the post-racial apologists will dismiss this as an isolated incident in a “post-racial” America. I suppose that neither Grose nor the post racialists will acknowledge that the issue is not simply the stereotype that “black people like watermelon.” It is, instead that cartoonists used the images of blacks on so-called “coon cards” often stealing watermelons, fighting over them and turning into watermelons. In some cases, the “coon cards” depicted violence against black children. These “coon cards” were very popular with white Americans and indelibly etched the image of blacks as lazy, violent thieves into the minds of many. But, I digress. According to “post-racial” logic, the single event of Obama’s election has changed all of this by ushering in a “post-racial” America in which these images no longer have the currency that they once did and reviving racists’ imagery is acceptable so long as we don’t mean to offend anyone, send it to a “small group of friends,” “apologize” if anyone was offended (not for doing something offensive) and resign. As Grose wrote when he resigned, “This was clearly my mistake, which I accept was in poor taste and I regret that it has created this cloud.” I guess that in a “post-racial America” one does not have to take responsibility for racial vitriol; just the cloud (probably “dark cloud”, it causes).

 

Of Chimps

The New York Post had been covering the story of a chimp that was kept as a pet, attacked the owner’s friend and had to be shot to death. The Post subsequently published a cartoon (ostensibly referencing the chimp story) in which two police officers shot and killed the chimp. Talking amongst themselves, the officers quipped, “They will have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” Perhaps I simply did not get the connection between the chimp story and the stimulus bill. Perhaps I did not understand why there was no reference to Congress or to Wall Street in the cartoon. Perhaps I did not understand the reference to the cognitive association between blacks and non-human apes and the scientific theory of racism. Or perhaps, I simply don’t have an appreciation for trite racial humor.

In true post-racial parlance, The Post wrote that it did not mean to offend anyone and that this cartoon had nothing to do with race. It was meant to castigate Wall Street executives and Congress, not to intimate that the President is a chimp. The problem with this, of course, is that the symbol of Wall Street is either the bull or the bear, not the chimp.

In true “post-racial” protocol, Post publisher Rupert Murdoch “apologized” if one was “insulted or offended.”

In addition to the Post, racial apologist-in-chief Ron Christie said that “as a proud black man,” he did not see himself as a chimp and that the cartoon was the proverbial tempest in the teapot. He urged us to take the cartoonist at his word that he had no racial intent. Realizing the hollowness of those arguments, Christie reminded us that Obama did not write the stimulus bill but that it was Pelosi and Reed who did. Ron Christie lives in the fictitious “post-racial America” where the single event of Obama’s election means that the images of black men as apes with violent tendencies have been completely erased. Thus, the Post was not calling Obama the chimp who wrote the stimulus bill that will “destroy America as we know it”, and thus worthy of assassination. According to Christie, in a “post-racial America,” people should be taken to task for racial vitriol only where they intend to be racists.

The history and durability of racial stereotypes and subtexts should be disregarded, and we should all simply get over race. If these concepts sound familiar, they were advanced by Harriett Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

 

 

Of Cowards

 

Speaking at a Black History Month event at the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, a nation of cowards.” The same post-racial apologists who tried to change the topic by making the Post story about Al Sharpton pounced. Declared Abigail Thernstrom, “I don’t know what nation the attorney general is living in, but it’s not the one I know. Eric Holder’s speech to Justice Department staff on February 18 was scandalously uninformed, as well as arrogant and incoherent. It should be an embarrassment to the president.” Bringing up the “post racial” rear was Ron Christie who said of the comment that it was wrong and insulting to the American people (since he speaks for all of the American people).

I now understand the rules of a “post-racial America.” First, racism is only racism when it is intentional. Second, the single event of President Obama’s election means that Americans are brave for having elected a black man. Third, we should be race-blind, not race-conscious. Finally, Michael Steele’s election as chairman of the Republican Party means that race does not matter to Republicans.

Mr. Steele, of course, ran into problems with these rules when, on D.L. Hughley Breaks the News, he declared himself the leader of the Republican Party and described Rush Limbaugh as an “entertainer” who can be “ugly” and “incendiary.” Of course, Steele forgot to check with Limbaugh (the real leader of the party) to validate Steel’s legitimacy. After Steele’s appearance on the show, he was excoriated by Limbaugh, who said, “It’s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do instead of trying to be some talking head media star, which you’re having a tough time pulling off.” Conceding that he is not the leader of the Republican Party (even though he was elected to that post), a chastened and chagrined Steele apologized to Rush, “I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. “It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not.” Ah, the beauty of a “post-racial America” where cowards are free to change the face of the party but only to the extent that the Massa allows them to do so.

 

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

 

An Obama Presidency and the Color of Fear

 

 

By Dr. Christopher Metzler

Barack Obama’s meteoric rise has caused joy for some, dismay for others and racial repellency for some Whites. Among those who are both overjoyed and nauseated at the same time are White supremacists and other hate groups. “I haven’t seen this much anger in a long, long time,” Russellville, Arkansas’ Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution, told The Washington Post in a story about the rise of hate group activity on the Internet. “Nothing has awakened normally complacent White Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly non-White president,” adds Roper.

The Internet provides the opportunity for these groups and their supporters to “gather” and exchange vitriol about a potential Obama presidency. Stormfront.org constantly rails against Obama, even comparing him to the anti-Christ. So, what is it about Obama’s rise that has caused a corresponding rise in hate by these groups? There are at least three things.

First, Blacks have always been “othered” in American culture. So, many Americans still see us as being less than human. Second, many of the people who flock to these sites to address their views on race have long accepted the mantra that “You may be poor, you may be unemployed, you may be uneducated, but at least you are White.” Third, many in these groups believe that an Obama presidency would mean that Whites will become “the emerging minority.” Realizing how they have treated Blacks, they would not want Blacks to treat them as “The New Negros.”

Since the days of slavery, to the present, Blacks have been largely treated as outside of the mainstream of America. Further, Blacks have been portrayed as lazy, ignorant, vile and base by individuals and institutions such as the courts, the police and the media. This has been done largely to ensure that we are seen as so different from the “norm” of civilized American society that racism and discrimination are justified. After all, what “normal” White person would want to associate with people who are morally, intellectually and socially inferior? This creation of a stable other has served to concretize White as superior and Black as inferior. Since White is the ideal, and Blacks can never become White, Blacks are relegated to the static and permanent “other” — to be feared, marginalized and excluded. Obama’s rise as the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee challenges this racial “logic” in ways that unnerve the people who patronize the Web sites of which I write. In their view, despite his multiracial heritage, Obama is still the much feared Black “other.” His election to the presidency would serve as a symbol that “othering” has lost its currency. The result will be a paradigmatic shift that will turn White supremacy on its veritable head. Their job then is to gather in this virtual space and let Whites know that an Obama presidency would mean that White supremacy has lost its luster. To them, Obama’s rise is an indication that the bell tolls with increasingly jarring tones for thee.

Many of my colleagues have written extensively about Whiteness as property. According to Professor Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness has functioned as self-identity in the domain of the intrinsic, personal, and psychological; as reputation in the interstices between internal and external identity; and, as property in the extrinsic, public, and legal realms. According Whiteness actual legal status converted an aspect of identity into an external object of property, moving Whiteness from privileged identity to a vested interest.” Given the prominence of Whiteness as “property” in all aspects of American life, the mere thought of Obama in the White House means, according to the racialized thinking of these White supremacist aficionados, that like the current foreclosure crisis in America, they will lose the sanctity of their house of Whiteness and see a rise in Blackness as property. Of course, this argument is simply droll.

The election of a Black person to the Presidency of the United States, without more, cannot and will not mean that the proprietary nature of Whiteness, which has been enshrined in every social, political and legal institution in the United States, will simply vanish. In fact, some Whites will point to Obama’s election, should it happen, as evidence that America has finally resolved the race question. Fear not White supremacists, there will be no wholesale plan by an Obama administration to establish a “Secretary for the Dismantling of Whiteness” or a “Secretary for the Elevation of Blackness.” Black Supremacy shall not reign anew.

Among the claims on the racist anti-Obama Web sites are the following: “Hewill make things so bad for White people that hopefully they will finally realize how stupid they were for admiring these jigaboos all these years,” White Supremacist stalwart “Darthvader” wrote on the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network Web forum, “I believe in the motto ‘Worse is Better’ and Obama certainly fits that description.” J. Ron Doggett, a Virginian who has been a key activist in the Klan, the paramilitary White People’s Party and the neo-Nazi National Alliance, wrote, “I hope Obama wins because in four years, White people just might be pissed off enough to actually do something. … White people aren’t going to do a thing until their toys are taken away from them. So things have to be worse for things to be better.” Of course, the “toys” he speaks of include power, position and access to opportunity that he and others believe is a birthright given to Whites and denied Blacks.

Some even claim that Obama’s “yes we can” mantra translates into “yes we can kill all of the White people.” This simply proves that some Whites fear that an Obama presidency would mean that they will be relegated to the status of a mere Negro. For these Whites, this is a fate worse than death in a country which entitles them to privilege based solely on the color of their skin.

In the Civil Rights Cases, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude” was unconstitutional. The majority went on to say that “when a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” (Emphasis added)

A review of the discussions on the aforementioned Web sites suggests that the fear of the Whites who are threatened by a potential Obama presidency is that they will lose their most favored status that has been granted them for oh so many centuries. This means that their rights would have to be protected to the same extent as “the ordinary Black person.” Thus, they would be subjected to racial profiling, redlining, discrimination in employment and always being the “suspect” on the 6 O’Clock News. The thought of being “The New Negroes” is just too much to take.

Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of a forthcoming book, “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (August, 2008).

 

 

A Post-Racial America?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

                 In a June 13, 2008 Op Ed in The Wall Street Journal, Ward Connerly proclaimed that “Obama is no ‘Post Racial’ Candidate. Connerly’s conclusion is based on the fact that Obama acknowledges the continuing significance of race in an ostensibly ‘post racial’ America. More importantly Obama does not support Connerly’s attempts to outlaw Affirmative Action. Thus, in Connerly’s mind; he is “one of the same tired voices who peddle arguments about institutional racism.” Connerly’s article exposes his own internalized racial inferiority as well as his fidelity to white privilege. He writes, “As millions of whites cast their votes for him in predominantly white states, I held out hope that, perhaps, he was a truly transformative leader.”

Connerly’s subtext is clear. Whites voted for Obama. In exchange for their votes, the expectation is that Obama must deny the continuing significance of race (at least in Connerly’s mind). Although not white, Connerly, it seems, has appointed himself to speak for millions of whites. Hence, he is arguing that since whites have voted for a black candidate, then race no longer matters. Since Obama is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, racism has simply disappeared. Obama is victorious, thus racism has disappeared. 

Mr. Connerly’s argument fails for at least three reasons. First, Obama cannot be a post racial “candidate” since America is still a racialized society. Second, the undeniably historic nomination of Obama does not singularly eliminate racism in one fell swoop. Lastly, employing the post-racial moniker is nothing more than an attempt to sloganeer, rather than address the continuing significance of race.

                Connerly writes, “As many readers will know, I am intimately involved in the effort to enact race-neutral initiatives around the country.” Ever the racial apologist, Connerly is attempting to end Affirmative Action in states by voter referenda because he feels that whites are increasingly the victim of discrimination and must be protected. But, why would there need to be race neutral legislation in a ‘post-racial’ America? “Post” suggests “after,” doesn’t it? So, doesn’t the need for this legislation at all suggest that America is still a society that is marked by race?

Connerly’s logic fails. The question is not whether we live in a “postracial” America, but how race affects us all as Americans. Race is contested space and Connerly’s efforts further contest the contours of that space.  Under Connerly’s logic, Obama would be “postracial” only if he accepts the Connerly definition. Neutrality, according to Connerly, does not require one to resort to a detached, objective analysis of race (if such is even possible); rather, it requires submitting to Connerly’s definition, lest one be marked as “racial.”

                Connerly and others like him are advancing the argument that Obama’s election as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States is unequivocal evidence that racism in America has ended. Under this premise, whites in predominantly white states have voted for Obama and are thus cleansing themselves of centuries-old racial demons and achieving racial salvation. As important as Obama’s ascent is to the vexing question of race, it would be a mistake to assume it is the end of racism in America. Just as it was a mistake to assume that “major combat operations in Iraq had ended” when President Bush donned a flight suit and so declared.

Admittedly, Obama’s rise suggests progress on the issue of race; however, it does not suggest the end of racism in America. For those of us who experience racism in the academy, in retail stores, on trains, on planes and other public places, we cannot simply now respond to those perpetuators of racism with “Hey, we have a black Presidential nominee, didn’t you get the memo?”

                America is the land of spin over substance and ‘post racial’ is the latest slogan to find its way into popular culture and the cultural lexicon. While the term escapes precise definition, it suggests that racism has occurred in the past, and that enlightened whites have eschewed racism as “so yesterday.” It also suggests that blacks who raise the continuing significance of race in a ‘post-racial’ America risk being relegated to the political margins as modern day race-baiters. There is a difference between issuing declarative statements proclaiming America ‘post racial’ and the reality that racism still plays a part in American life. The ‘post racial moniker’ is designed to give comfort to those who have black friends, for whom race “does not matter” and those who believe that “merit” is the great equalizer. As seductive as post-racialism is, it cannot exist in a society where the color of one’s skin still matters. “Post-racial” is another in a series of politically correct terms in which Americans avoid acknowledging the difficult issues, but instead choose to ignore them. 

                Finally, Connerly for all his ruminations about the need for a ‘post-racial’ America is trapped by the racial thinking that he is supposedly attempting to eradicate.  Me thinks the gentleman protests too much.

 

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).

 

No First Amendment Right to Call for Obama’s Assassination

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

 

The 2008 Presidential election is testing how America deals with the enduring question of racism. With Barack Obama as the presumptive Democratic nominee, America is beginning to confront its racial pedigree. The results speak for themselves. One such test occurred recently when performance artist, Yazmany Arboleda, put race, penis envy and sexism on Front Street. The artist prepared for public showing an art exhibit in a vacant storefront on West 40th Street in Midtown Manhattan with the title, “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama.”

The exhibit was shut down by law enforcement before it could go live. Arboleda protested, claiming that the exhibit was to be about “character assassination” of Obama and Clinton in the media. Arboleda also claimed “free speech.” The items in the Assassination exhibit included: hangman’s nooses, a picture of Obama and his daughters with the caption “nappy headed hoes,” masks of Obama with the title, “You too can be the next Negro President of the United States, a photograph of a large penis entitled, “once you go Barack…” and “Just Passing.” No such references were made to Clinton or her family in the collection. Despite representations to the contrary by the artist, this exhibit was intended to stoke racial animus, and did not raise a free speech issue and is further evidence that America is far from ‘Post Racial.”

There is no discernable connection between character assassination and nooses. When black men were being hung from trees it was not intended to assassinate their character. It was intended to assassinate them. Thus, it is beyond the pale to suggest that an exhibit ostensibly focused on character assassination would feature nooses. Are we to believe that the nooses are a metaphor for a sharp-tongued media who would engage in a “high-tech lynching of Obama?” To the contrary. The artist is using the nooses to advocate that Obama be hung by one. There is no other explanation.

The “Nappy Headed Hoe” card has already been played and there was nothing philosophical or metaphoric about it. Its meaning is clear: Black females, no matter their ages, are to be defined both by their hair styles and their propensity for unbridled and indiscriminate sex. Are we to believe that Don Imus and all those who use that moniker were doing so to engage in character assassination or to mark black women by gender, race and promiscuity? Moreover, if as the artist suggests, this exhibit is about the character assassination of Obama in the media, what does his daughters have to do with this?

The phallic symbol, its exaggerated size and the reference to going “Barack” all rely on the oft-held notion that black men are ruled by their penises, define masculinity by the size of their penises and that Obama is just another penis-centric black man. In fact, the artist it seems is paying homage to the pervasive stereotype from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation, Toni Morrison’s Sula and Richard Wright’s Native Son that black men are to be judged not by the size of their character, but by the size of their penises. The artist is sending a message to white men, that this election is not about substance; it is not about policy. It is not about the war in Iraq, high gas prices, economic devastation, and America’s image in the rest of the world. It is about penis envy.

The free speech argument cannot simply be evoked because the First Amendment allows us all to speak truth to power. The First Amendment states in relevant part, “Congress shall make no law …. prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Thus, any restrictions on speech must be examined carefully. In this case, is the artist right when he says that he has the right to exhibit this collection, no matter how vile or offensive people find it? Is the first amendment absolute? Under what circumstances can the government restrict speech? By shutting down the exhibit, is the government enacting a “content- based” restriction since it does not like the topic of the speech.

A complete legal analysis of free speech is beyond the scope of this post. It is well settled that free speech is not absolute and that there can be restrictions on speech. In Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, the Supreme Court of the United States held that “Certain welldefined and narrowly limited” categories of speech fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection. Thus, “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous,” and (in this case) insulting or ‘fighting’ words neither contributed to the expression of ideas nor possessed any ‘social value’ in the search for truth.” Moreover, in Brandenburg v. Ohio the Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action.

In this case, given the history of racism in America, the history of the assassination of black men by lynching and the presence of race-based hate groups in America, some of whom have openly called for Obama’s assassination, there is no question that this exhibit is likely to incite imminent lawless action. While the artist has the right to express racial views, he does not have the right to incite violence and expect that the First Amendment would give him cover. This exhibit is ripe for the restrictions envisaged by Chaplinsky and Brandenburg.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler, Esquire, is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).