Category Archives: Politics

Read an amazing book…

and then procrastinated writing about it until the very last day when I had to take it back to the library because I’m awful.

Ta-nehisi Coates, my role-model in writing, my best friend in my imagination, had this to say about the Brad Paisley/ LL Cool J collaboration, so astute I hooted out loud:

One of the problems with the idea that America needs a “Conversation On Race” is that it presumes that “America” has something intelligent to say about race. All you need do is look at how American history is taught in this country to realize that that is basically impossible.

Eula Biss, a white (although she complicates this in her book) writer, wrote a book called Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays, in 2010 and it is extraordinary. Reviewing this book in Salon, Kyle Minor writes,

Eula Biss’ “Notes From No Man’s Land” is the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the 21st century. If it has not taken up residence in the popular imagination of readers in the same way Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” did in the late 1960s, perhaps it is because we live in a time in which it is more difficult for books to assert themselves with great cultural force in the way they once did, or perhaps because Biss, unlike Didion, has yet to receive the strong support of the systems of power that bring great books to the attention of a broad readership.

I would also argue this book hasn’t received the attention it deserves because it is a prickly and uncomfortable book about race. Ta-nehisi has always been incredible on the subject of why this “conversation on race” is so rarely done right:

I have had conversations with very well-educated people who, with a straight face, have told me that there are Black Confederates. If you ask a very well educated person how the GI Bill exacerbated the wealth gap, or how New Deal housing policy helped create the ghetto they very likely will not know. And they do not know, not because they are ignorant, stupid, or immoral, they do not know because they are part of country that has decided that “not knowing” is in its interest. There’s no room for any sort of serious conversation when the basic facts of history are not accessible.

Eula Biss, in an interview about revising the essays in this book in 2008:

I was revising this collection during Obama’s campaign and I remember feeling dismay at one point because the national conversation about race in that moment felt so misguided, so atrophied, so impoverished. Almost everything I heard about race on the news was silly or stupid and so I began to worry that my book assumed some basic understandings that just didn’t exist in this country yet.

In one of her great essays, Biss describes teaching a class at the University of Iowa while working on her master’s degree:

Racism, I would discover during my first semester teaching at Iowa, does not exist. At least not in Iowa. Not in the minds of the twenty three tall, healthy, blond students to whom I was supposed to teach rhetoric…. Sexism does not exist either, at least not any more. My students considered my interest in these subjects very antiquated. These things, they informed me, with exasperation, had already been resolved a long time ago, during the sixties.

This book is so rare and so uncomfortable because it is tackling a subject most people refuse to acknowledge even exists, or refuse to acknowledge as complex. I need to buy this book, and re-read it, and stew in it, and write longer on it soon. But please read it, if you want to be challenged, and amazed, and floored.

The problems with thinking it’s a “post-racial” America…

I’ve been pretty shocked about the racist comments on Twitter about the re-election of Obama, not because I don’t think racism exists, but because of the age of the people doing it. Jezebel looked into it and many of these idiots are high school students or young college students. I think back to my time in high school, and mind you, I’m from Canada, but the n-word was extremely taboo. People heard it in rap songs, maybe occasionally mumbled it along with the lyrics, but it really wasn’t used. Not to say there wasn’t racism (I grew up in a very white province), but it wasn’t encountered widely. At that point (or at any point) in my life, if someone I knew at school put the n-word on the internet, they would be hearing from me. Loudly, and in their face.

I also came of age in the 90s, the Clinton era, the era of after school specials, and sitcoms with “messages”. If we didn’t know the n-word was bad (and we did), the point would be reiterated on one of those “heavy” episodes of Fresh Prince.

I also think back to the kids who tormented the bus monitor so horribly. They were so young, and yet so awful. Now, I don’t want to be one of those “back in my day” kind of people, and yet, I have to say it: When I was in school, children abusing an elderly woman would not happen. Other kids, definitely. But not an elderly woman.

So what is happening with these kids? Where is this hate coming from? Why are they such sociopaths?

Pop culture is a part of it. I think about the TV I watched as an 7-14 year old. It was shows like Fresh Prince (about a wealthy black family), Family Matters (about a middle-class black family), Full House (about a white family, but still heavy on the messages of tolerance), etc. I think about TV in its current form. Where are the shows about families and people of colour, other than on BET? There aren’t any. And meanwhile, while there is some diversity on Disney channel shows, and maybe even a message of tolerance too, kids (boys especially) probably age out of those shows young. And what sitcoms or general entertainment is there to fill the gap? MTV? Sixteen and Pregnant? Jersey Shore? The phrase “post-racial America” got thrown around a lot after Obama’s first win. This idea of a post-racial country leads Hollywood to believe that maybe we don’t need shows with a message about race. Throw in a few characters of colour and everything will be fine. Obviously, kids aren’t learning the message enough. I know having racist parents can have a huge effect on this, but pop culture matters.

I can think of two network sitcoms that talk about race in an astute and clever way, Community and 30 Rock. Both of these shows have diverse casts, small audiences and are hilarious. And yet they are too clever for the kind of mass consumption of a show like Fresh Prince.

Race still needs to be talked about, and talked about openly and clearly in entertainment for young people. It isn’t happening. Maybe the racist tweets from high schoolers can be tied to that.

Something to think about…

Due to excessive busyness, school-ness, travel-fatigue, etc., I largely avoided the 9/11 ten year hooplah. This, however, is one of the only things I read from the weekend, and it’s damn good.

Check out Laura Miller’s essay at Salon.com

Charged with looking beneath, behind and around such images, the novelist comes up against the question of what makes these particular violent deaths so very different from every other violent death. That isn’t easy to answer, and any answer you do come up with is likely to sound disrespectful, cynical, unfeeling and insufficiently solemn. A novelist may decide to push onward anyway, whether into sentimentality (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”) or smarmy self-aggrandizement (“The Good Life”), but in such cases, the results feel thin, vaguely false and meretricious. “It’s kryptonite to novelists,” a critic friend of mine once said about 9/11.

TNC is, once again, so eloquently right…

speaking truth to power. Give him every writing prize there is, then invent some, just for him:

I mean growing up under a systemic and literal white supremacy, whose endorsement by virtually every sector of society (government, private enterprise, church etc.) was near total. I mean having your father murdered by white racists, and watching the killer going unpunished. I mean watching the Klan harass your now widowed mother.
I mean growing up with all of that, learning to forgive, and doing the painful work of not becoming a racist yourself. I mean taking that message of forgiveness and humanism so much to heart, that you come be known for your fundamental fairness. I mean preaching that gospel of love, introspection and broad toleration, to other wounded black people. I mean being fired for preaching that gospel by the agents of the first black president of the United States who, were it not for your individual efforts, and the efforts of your compatriots would enjoy no such power.
Sherrod’s firing didn’t have much to do with policy. Still I don’t think the Obama administration was ever more wrong, more weak, and more ungracious, then when it ordered Shirley Sherrod off the highway to tender her resignation by blackberry. The symbolism of that moment, a year later, is stunning. 
Actual people died for Barack Obama to be president. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but he owed more to his elders than that. Let me not speak for Sherrod. I can only say that, having went through all of that,  I would be nursing some serious, serious anger.

Joan Walsh nails it…

NAILS IT!  Specifically, on how the Republicans and Obama don’t understand how to fix the economy:

In fact, China and Brazil have robust growth because unlike the U.S., they’re building a middle class, not taking it apart, the way we are. These supply-side economics groupies distort what’s wrong with our economy: Thanks to unemployment and the foreclosure crisis, plus almost 40 years of no income growth for working and middle class families (and even income declines for some subgroups), Americans can’t help the country consume its way out of the recession, or contribute to the recovery with tax revenues (for those who think the deficit is the biggest economic problem.) The recession itself is making recovery much, much harder, and maybe impossible: Too many workers are draining public revenue, rather than producing it. The resulting lack of demand makes employers nervous about increasing hiring or even capital investment. Obama’s inability to respond with a bigger stimulus bill and other measures to use the federal government to stimulate demand again will hurt the country, and may hurt him politically too. But it’s possible it won’t, because in 2012 he’s almost certain to run against a right-wing kook or a formerly-moderate dissembler in next year’s election.

Huma Abedin is waaaay too good for him…

In which I judge another person’s marriage at Brutish&Short.

So, no, I’m not surprised he likes to send Myspace-esque douchey photos to hot women on the internet. I am surprised, however, that he managed to marry an apparently smart, gorgeous and extremely competent woman, or more accurately, I’m surprised she married him.

On timing, cynicism-reduction, and weening myself off Amazon…

I voted today, in my slippers. There is a polling station in the lobby of my apartment building; it was embarrassingly easy.  I have spoiled my ballot in the last several federal elections, because I didn’t like the options. I still don’t really, but that goddamn mustachio’d sleazeball is growing on me.

As I voted I couldn’t get the images of Tahrir Square out of my head. People die to be able to do this. No matter how cynical I can get, there’s no way to be cynical about that.

On another non-cynical front! They killed Osama bin-Laden at a completely non-politically relevant time. Timing is  everything in this kind of situation, and obviously this is going to make Obama look good no matter when it happens. But! Why do I get the feeling that if this was 2004, bin-Laden would be chilling for a few months in Dick Cheney’s guest room until a week before the election? So good for Obama, good for Leon Panetta, and yay for them not exploiting this too much. And good for him for being so hilarious at the Correspondents dinner, and totally pwning Donald Trump.

And! I got a library card today, my very first one since I was 11 years old. The Oakville Public Library is awesome. A nice building, good book selection, just an all around great place to hang out. And it only took me eight months to discover it. Obviously, I was one of those kids who loved visiting the library when I was a kid – I was BFFs with my elementary school librarian – but since I left university, I stopped visiting them. You know what I did do? Buy a billion books instead. From Amazon, Chapters, wherever. I have spent so much money on books in the last four years, thinking that libraries wouldn’t have the books I wanted – but yay! they totally do! Now I will only buy the ones I really like, which my husband and anyone who helps us move ever again will surely appreciate!

I realize that the discoveries I made today  – voting is good, libraries are awesome – are ludicrously obvious to normal people. I guess I was too busy being a recluse in my impenetrable bubble of cynicism, running away from anything that had to do with “community” and “civic duty” to notice.

There may be hope for me yet.